Today this made me very sad and also very angry:
Basically the government has decided that you can only have a secure home if you are wealthy. No longer will people on low incomes have the reassurance that they have a place to live in until they die.
This wouldn’t really matter if the private rental market was fair and stable or if home ownership was a reality for anyone – in a large percentage of the UK – apart from the incredibly rich.
The proposals outlined in the new housing and planning bill are basically condemning a vast section of the population to a precarious life of fear – hence the term precariat that I mentioned in my last post.
Maybe this would be OK if wages were high and jobs were secure. They aren’t. This is yet another nail in the coffin of anything resembling a fair or even vaguely decent society. It heralds a return to a world where a large percentage of the population lives in slums -like the Brazilian favelas
I am a home owner and have been for many years. So why, you may ask, should I give a shit about the plight of people in social housing? I am sitting on a valuable pile of bricks and mortar and doing just fine – well until they put the interest rates up…
Obviously, I could argue that it is society’s right – especially a wealthy society like ours – to provide housing for people who are priced out by the market. Housing is a basic need – like food or sleep. It is on the second tier of Maslow’s pyramid. Those on the right could deride me as a bleeding heart liberal (good) and a hypocrite (are any of us without hypocrisy and is a world without hypocrisy a good thing?) and say it is all very well for me to bang on about such things, like Marie Antoinette pretending to be a shepherdess.
My argument about social housing is WAY more pragmatic. We all need it because we all need each other. A city – like London – but we could be talking about Oxford or Cambridge or Brighton or Guildford or Reading, needs people to make it work. It needs people to drive buses, look after kids, clean offices, work in shops, hospitals and schools. It needs people to fight fires and drive ambulances. It needs these people far more than it needs bankers or estate agents – even though I know some perfectly nice bankers and estate agents. The market does not value people who look after other people’s needs; it values people who move money around. Because the market is not about people, it is about money.
But cities are about people. Even rich people get ill and need care for their kids. Yes, they might not use state services, but even private hospitals need nurses and private schools need cooks. Yes, you could move poor people out to Slough, but that just would not work in a 24 hour city like London.
We need social housing because we need each other. We are all connected and interdependent. Yes, we may all be individuals, but we need each other. It is not only wrong to destroy social housing, but it is also stupid. Incredibly stupid.
Which brings me back to the book – doesn’t everything, shameless self-publicist that I am.
The book shows us how valuable social housing is – destroy it and you hollow out cities, turning them into shiny dead zones devoid of any vitality or meaning.
Resistance to what seems like an inevitability – the destruction of anything public owned – is hard, but I think we should try. We will regret if we don’t. Even if we have to go about it in some unlikely ways – the tenants of my fictitious estate team up with some pretty dubious individuals to fight off the developer. It just takes a bit of imagination and I am a great believer in the power of imagination.
Anyway. I’ll leave you with a section where celebrity activist Blake Lovelace takes on the developer’s lackey at a residents’ meeting.
The Tenants’ Hall went silent. No! It couldn’t be. Surely not? A movie star? In Kentish Town? On a Sunday? Were we all experiencing some sort of collective hallucination.
Arkont Krasniqi was the first to speak out.
“Swear down blud. It’s Blake Lovelace in ma yard. Must Instagram ma bredren innit”.
As if on cue, the occupants of the room turned their smartphones on the interloper, Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting, WhatsApping and Instagramming the presence of this deity.
“Gis a selfie Blake,” they chorused. “Please Blake, gis a selfie”. After all, bagging a celebrity selfie is the modern day equivalent of acquiring the finger or foreskin of a minor medieval saint.
“Hee hee!” cackled Blake. Such calls were like manna from heaven for this raging narcissist. He ripped off his vintage “Coal not Dole” T-shirt (bought on ebay for £300), revealing a lean and muscular chest, two nipple rings and a tattoo screaming “Solidarity”, and hurled it into the audience.
“Comrades!” he screeched. “Comrades!”
“Brothers, sisters, mums, dads, aunties, uncles, nans, grandads, Muslims, gays, disableds – the whole bleedin’ lot of you!”
The crowd sat transfixed. Blake Lovelace was talking to them. This was something else.
“Like you, I am a Lahdaner” – not strictly true as Lovelace was born in Staines – “and like you, I am disgusted by wot is ‘appening to our be-yoot-i-ful city. The City of Dickens, of Rhymin’ Slang, the City of Pearly Kings and Queens. Our workin’ class ‘eritage is bein’ sold lock and bleedin’ barrel to posh cunts like ‘im…”
Lovelace paused for a effect and all eyes were on poor Piers, his Boden polo shirt damp with perspiration.
“Or ‘is snivelling’ little mate over there…”
Cllr Davenport’s pale face grew ashen and he stared gloomily at his pointy shoes. They hurt – he just didn’t have the feet for fancy footwear.
“Luckily, comrades, luckily, there are some good people amongst you, who have asked ME, ME Blake Lovelace, to come an’ ‘elp you kick out these SCUMBAGS. We will not take it lyin’ dahn. We will shit on their bleedin’ plans and reclaim our estate.
Lovelace punched the air, his dark eyes flashing with narcissistic delight. “My God, he’s hot,” thought Lucinda. “I rilly, rilly want him to fuck me”. She looked at Weasel with misty eyes. “She really does love me,” he thought, “not that silly cunt Lovelace.” Having, said that, even Weasel was stirred by Lovelace’s speech. Weasel knew that he was making the right noises to get the protest all over Twitter. The developers would not be happy.
Piers’s slightly cracked smartphone buzzed in his pocket. It had never really recovered from being dunked in a pot of Farrow and Ball by one of the twins – Inigo or was it Orlando? Piers had never understood why Francesca insisted on giving the children such pretentious names. It must be some kind of peculiar fashion amongst housewives in Fulham – you never met a child called John or Richard or Steven. Or course they howled with derision at nouveau footballer types calling their offspring Chardonnay or Spike, but were they much better. Piers felt it was utterly debatable.
Another message from Ari. Did he never have the day off? Piers guessed Sundays were just like any other day in Tel Aviv, not that Ari was one for rest and relaxation. Piers had been to his huge, white house, complete with infinity pool and flat screen TVs in every room (including the bathroom). Ari didn’t speak to him much; he was too busy trading. In addition to owning property companies in London, New York, Tel Aviv and Sydney, Ari also liked to trade – or rather he lived to trade, riding the peaks and troughs of the market like a pirate of the seven seas. Ari had a sixth sense when it came to markets; he sold short before the 2008 crash and piled into the London property market, which had been booming ever since. Ari wasn’t sure it would last that much longer – the bullishness around it reminded him of the time when Gordon Brown told the world he had ‘abolished boom and bust’ – but he reckoned he had a least a year left of making big money. He had structured the company so that most of the liability lay with Piers if the market turned – what a ridiculous man he was! So dumb, but also so useful. Ari was sharp enough to realise that hiring someone like himself would not cut the mustard with the old fogeys in planning departments. They would see him coming a mile off. Piers was the perfect front man. He was just so English – in a way that so few people were these days, especially in London. Piers was part of the upper middle class, a dying breed in this era of global labour and global capital. He was a nice chap who had been to a nice school and spoke with a nice British accent. He was a little bit scruffy and never got to meetings on time – the perfect person to have as the front man for your dodgy deals.
Ari’s text screamed at Piers in block capitals. “WHAT’S GOING ON FAT BOY? RING NOW. WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT FLEET VILLAGE”.
No one in their right mind would buy a flat on the Fleet Estate, but Fleet Village sounded classy. Contemporary but classy. And confusing. Fleet Road ran over towards Hampstead, while the Fleet Estate was on the Holloway side of Kentish Town. Investors from Mumbai and Beijing wanted to think they were investing in Hampstead and Highgate, not Kentish Town or Holloway. They wanted the famous names that suggested money and affluence, not poverty and crime. Before working for Ari, Piers had bumbled around an advertising agency and was quite good at branding. “Fleet Village – tradition and quality in a contemporary urban setting” – every box ticked in one confusing and contradictory statement.
Piers took a deep breath. How could he tell Ari Arvatz he was standing in the middle of a room full of plebs, being whipped into a frenzy by a this utterly ghastly celeb chap on with no top on? How could he tell him that the little scheme they cooked up with that nice chap from the council was being turned into some ridiculous documentary? Piers wished he could have a word with Lucinda, but he was terrified that she would tell Francesca about the time he had asked her for BJ at Archie Blackstone’s Christmas drinks. Time for a little white lie.
“Awfully sorry, Ari old chap. Just having a game of cricket. Nothing to report. Talk tomorrow.”
Piers breathed a sigh of relief. That might buy him another 24 hours, although he doubted he could keep Ari off his back for long. Ari had been trained to interrogate suspects during his time in the IDF and he always saw through Piers’s lies almost quicker than his employee’s ability to utter them. The whole thing was a stinking pile of crap and Piers wished he could just run away. His thoughts were interrupted by a text from Francesa:
“Please go to Waitrose – need milk for twins & come home soon boiler making strange noises – need to get man in.”
Piers wanted to cry. More dreary domestic demands and more bloody bills. More bloody workmen trooping in and out of the house, their muddy boots wrecking his carpets. Why couldn’t Francesca ever send him a sexy text or tell him she loved him? Probably because she only wanted sex to reproduce and probably because he bored the shit out of her – pretty much as much as she bored him. Bloody hell, Francesca was a boring woman. But, at least it gave him an excuse to get out of this hell hole. That had to be worth something.
“Look at ‘im,” screamed Lovelace. “Look at Tory boy. Off ‘e goes. Can’t cope when the proletariat rises in protest against the ruling class.”
“Piss off Tory boy! You and your Tory boys ain’t wanted here. If you try anyfink on we will occupy these flats and set up a workers’ co-operative. Yeah! You ‘eard that right. Nah, sling yer ‘ook, as me old nan used to say. Sling yer bleedin’ hook!!!!”
Piers felt his blood boil. By golly, the man was an oik. He could do with taking down a peg or two. But he knew that this was not the time nor place, and glumly trudged away from Lovelace and the jeering yobs of the Tenants’ Hall.