We need a radical approach to the housing crisis

An answer prompted by a George Monbiot article in The Guardian: Poor tenants pay for landlords to have a good time.

I agree that “government policy has created heaven for landlords and hell for tenants.” I am a tenant. I always have been, and always will be. Not through choice but because I have never been rich enough to buy. As tenants my partner and I are treated like children. Constantly reminded it’s the landlord’s house, not a property we’re paying to call our home. All tenants are made to feel as though they should be grateful to the landlord for letting us rent their property. How would you feel if someone could turn up at your door whenever they choose, and just let themselves into your home? It makes you feel vulnerable. As if you have no agency.

I think we need a radical approach to the housing crisis. One that puts tenants front and centre. Yes we need rent controls. But we also need guaranteed long term leases. Terms of five or ten years should be the standard. Everyone needs that kind of stability to make a life for themselves.

There should be a register of landlords. You need a license to drive a taxi. You should have a license to rent private property. Tenants should be able to report neglect of a property, or abusive behaviour, without fear of eviction. A register of landlords would go some way to keeping both parties safe.

I think the owners of a ghosted property should be fined. Not small, slap on the wrist fines, but value of the property fines. Investors then have a choice, sell their ghosted property, or let it at rent-controlled rates. Similarly second homes, or holiday homes, should be either treated as ghosted properties, or taxed out of existence.

Mortgages should be calculated not on earnings, but on a proven ability to pay rent. I would argue paying rent is better indicator of someone’s ability to repay a mortgage than earnings. And if lenders still require a deposit they should be offered to individuals by the government, in the same way as student loans are, and similarly administered by HMRC.

The problems with the housing market were created by decades of poor political choices. For the sake of everyone, we need to make better choices.

Facebook is not a social network, it’s a data collection machine

A response prompted by a Kari Paul article in The Guardian: Facebook launches app that will pay users for their data

The Sturdy app shows anyone who wants to see that Facebook is not a social network, it’s a data collection machine.

A new Facebook app will allow users to sell the company data on how they use competitors’ apps.

How does Facebook use the data it collects? I think it’s using our data against us. When I first wrote that sentence it came out as, “using it against it’s users.” I quickly realised, even if you don’t use Facebook, you come into contact with someone who does. Facebook knows something about you through them. When it says it’s connecting people it really is connecting people, mapping the many ways we brush against each other.

Imagine you’re walking along Piccadilly at 3.30 in the afternoon. Someone takes a picture, and posts it at 3.31. Facebook knows something about the person who posted the picture, and the location of everyone captured in the photo. What if Mark Zuckerberg was walking along Piccadilly, and at 3.32 someone spat in his face. The picture taken at 3.30 might show the assailant. It makes everyone in the picture a suspect.

Facebook gets to work cross-referencing various accounts, pulling up the latest facial recognition software. Suddenly the police are at your door, making you account for your actions between 3.15 and 3.45. You were minding your own business, but now you have to prove it. You have to prove somehow you didn’t spit in Mark Zuckerberg’s face. They’re not trying to prove you did it, you’re trying to prove you didn’t.

At this point I can hear a certain section of the population repeating a mantra, throwing it in my direction like some spunk sodden flannel, “nothing to hide nothing to fear.” That’s not an argument, it’s an accusation. You assume I have something I hide because I don’t want to account for my whereabouts.

Now imagine the world taking a sudden turn towards the authoritarian? What if people below a certain income level aren’t allowed to walk along Piccadilly? The police are at your door, questioning you about the assault on Mark Zuckerberg, but arresting you for being too poor to be on Piccadilly.

Who knows how this technology is being used, or will be used in the future? Facebook aren’t mining data because it’s fun. They’re doing it because it’s worth something. The information they collect can be used for what? Changing your purchasing habits? Telling you what you know about the world? Influencing elections?

Facebook is not a benign force. It’s a data collection machine. Now ask yourself how’s it being used?

[There’s more at stake here than just blocking no deal] LabourList: Sienna Rodgers: Labour launches cross-party effort to block no deal

This motion is only needed because there have been calls to suspend parliament. The fact that there is even talk of suspending parliament should scare everyone, even those on the side of Britain exiting the European Union. Their argument was that we should wrestle back sovereignty from Europe, not give it to an elite group of self serving politicians. Suspending parliament is not acceptable under any circumstance. That’s us slipping and sliding, scrambling and scuffing, open eyed towards totalitarianism. But that’s what happens when the world gets complicated, filled with nuance, and leaders frame every argument as a binary choice. I considered exactly this “totalitarian mindset” when I was working on one of my characters for Carr-10-n. This is an extract from something I wrote in 2013.

So the question I’m really asking is; what kind of person is attracted to totalitarianism? To answer that question you first need to ask; what allows totalitarianism to flourish? The short answer is uncertainty. In his paper “How to make enemies and influence people” (2) Alfonso Montuori characterises the “totalitarian mindset” as a response to the stress of contemporary pluralism. Basically we live in complex times full of ambiguity and uncertainty. We feel threatened. And when we’re backed into a corner we have a tendency to succumb to “simplistic, black-and-white solutions.” Montuori goes on to note that “individuals all over the world have sought relief from the uncertainty of a pluralistic world in the arms of absolute belief systems of a religious fundamentalist and/or political/nationalistic nature.” 


If that doesn’t describe the current mess nothing does. Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for a “muddy” position on Britain exiting the European Union. But muddy’s what we need. We need nuance not black and white choices. Black and white choices are what got us here in the first place. There are no easy answers in any of this, but sleepwalking a totalitarian government into office is not the answer.

[Tories are deaf to anything but their own voice.] The Guardian: Robert Booth: UN report compares Tory welfare policies to creation of workhouses

I want to write something expressing my anger at a government that has so wilfully, and aggressively attacked the poor. But I don’t have the strength to list all of their failings. I know this. Their attacks on the poor are an attack on us all. For as long as I can remember the Tories have promoted an agenda of individualism. While absolutely refusing to see how we individuals interact with all of the other individuals around us. They can’t see, or don’t care, that not everyone was created in their image. Take social care. When you reduce spending on social care, old people who end up in hospital will stay longer. They can’t be sent home if they don’t have the right kind of care waiting when they get there. Most people don’t have the privilege of a private nurse to look after them. Longer stays in hospital are one of the many reasons why waiting times in accident and emergency are so long. Now consider the recent rise in knife crime. I have no problem saying it’s a direct result of Tory cuts to youth services. At risk individuals who would’ve been helped by a youth club or a social worker, have been given over to the care of gangs. When individuals with little or no self-respect start demanding respect on the streets, challenges are met with violence. For a host of reasons these youngsters aren’t getting the care and support most of Tory politicians enjoyed growing up. They got the message you’re on your own. You have to survive by any means necessary. But they weren’t given self-belief you need to survive in a world of individuals, fighting other individuals for a slice of the pie. They weren’t taught to negotiate, or anything like conflict resolution. It’s easy for the Tories to blame bad seed individuals for young people dead on the streets. They point blank refuse to see their part in the problem. As wealth inequality rises, crime will rise. The Tories will blame the criminals, not considering their crimes in creating a society in their image. I know they’re deaf to anything but their own voice. How else could they behave the way they do?

[Boris Johnson will start fires we’ll find hard to put out.] LabourList: Sienna Rodgers: Boris Johnson is biggest threat to Corbyn and the country, say LabourList readers

I’m not sure you can extrapolate LaboutList readers to represent the wider population. But some of the statistics are a concern. “Which of the following potential candidates do you think would be most difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to beat in a general election?” Readers fear Mr. Johnson the most at 45.2%. Why? Is it because he’s the Donald Trump of British politics? A “strong personality” who can charm people? A hook upon which the dissatisfied can hang their frustration? Isn’t that Nigel Farage’s unique selling point, a voice for the angry and disaffected? I think Mr. Johnson has a better education than Trump, and is more articulate than Farage. But when the bombs start landing I’m sure he’ll do what’s best for Boris Johnson, not what’s best for this country. I heard the end of an interview on Radio 4 a couple of days ago. Two pundits talking about Mr. Johnson and the possibility of him becoming a Prime Minister. One extolled his virtues as a “man who lights up a room” when he enters. The other highlighted his considerable lack of moral character, and his bumbling indiscretions as Foreign Secretary. Both might have a point. Personally, I’m not sure I want someone who “lights up a room” as Prime Minister. He might be able to light up the country, but I fear he will start fires we’ll find hard to put out.

[This is a joke, right?] The Times: Nicola Woolcock: Private school woe over rise of state pupils at Oxbridge

The headline alone has me reaching for the expletives. “Parents fear social engineering, says leading head.” What is the system of private education if not social engineering writ large? Wealth gives them a huge advantage. It engineers the landscape around their needs, excluding the poor. The children of the wealthy are no more intelligent than the children of the poor. Poverty is not a lack of character or intellect, it’s a lack of money. The state even subsidises this privilege, letting these businesses claim charitable status, allowing them to keep huge sums on money that should be paid in VAT. It’s the arrogance of their presumption that is so infuriating. I have a private education so I have a right to a place at Oxbridge. It reminds me of some rosey cheeked fop on Question Time, answering a question about Labour plans to remove VAT loophole from public schools.

The lack of awareness when he says, “it would deny the brightest and the best” is so infuriating. The charitable status he is trying to defend denies revenue to the state. That money could be used to fund an equal or better education system than the one he benefited from. He may well be the brightest and the best. But the brightest and best what? Lightbulb? Nurse? Bus driver? Insurance broker? Hedge-fund manager? The brightest and the best means nothing if you’re standing on someone’s neck to be there. I’m afraid he comes from a long line of likeminded souls who think they’re the cream and we’re the milk. Personally, I think they’re actually the smelter and we’re the molten steel. But who’s comparing? There is one final irony in this story. The full article sits behind a pay wall, keeping out anyone too poor to pay £26 a month for their propaganda.