The Film the Riot Club portrayed the life of the out of touch rich and wealthy that grew up to be Tory Ministers!
I’ve been following with interest the discussions about housing and in particular the discussions about Right to Buy from Housing Associations and the new ideas for encouraging home ownership which have flowed from the Tory Party Conference.
As you may be aware I was for 9 years the Chair of a housing association in the North West of England. Part of my job was to meet and talk to people like MPs and Council Leaders were we worked so they were aware of our work and we could work with them to see what we could do together.
I well remember a visit by a Tory MP who actually thought our housing was very well built and maintained. But then came the big But!! “But the MP said,” these houses are too good for them”. As I picked myself up off the floor the MP went on to explain, “if you make it too easy for them they won’t aspire to do better for themselves!” What was particularly interesting was one of the places which the MP had visited was an extra care home where people come to get intensive help for at most the last few years of their life. And what should an 80+ year old aspire to? Somewhere warm, well managed and caring as the end draws near. Is that too much to ask in a civilised society?
And those who are not elderly also have a right to a decent home. Many of the people housed by housing associations and councils are fine people who perhaps don’t have the silver spoon that others have been born with. They have scrimped and saved and looked after themselves, their children and their parents. They often have two or more jobs all short term on minimum wages and often juggle the multiplicity of jobs with family and other cares and duties.
Then I heard reports of an appalling speech by Jeremy Hunt at the Tory Conference. His inference is that if we don’t pay people too much they will work hard – as hard as the Chinese – and overcome their own difficulties! What crass ignorance from one who should know better. It was lapped up by the blue rinse brigade from whom one expects no better. It was nevertheless a speech of overwhelming ignorance.
I have been to China on a number of occasions. Many Chinese people live in poor conditions and with little pay above subsistence levels. I remember a student who was assigned to look after me at a conference saying that her father was a vice principal of a school and her mother a teacher. But they and their two daughters lived in a one bedroomed flat. They thought themselves quite well off and middle class and they are in comparison. Is this the Tory dream for Britain? Our working classes converted into a subsistence level bunch of coolies living in squalor?
But back to housing. Nothing in what the Tories announced at conference will, improve the housing position of the Country as a whole although it might benefit some sections of the middle and upper middle classes. What we need to ‘float the boat’ for all is more housing as a whole. The Tory proposals will not build one house for anyone. We need to divert the money paid for housing benefit tot eh multitude of buy to let landlords and spend it on building. The Tories are right that housing benefit spend has got out of hand. But they ascribe the wrong reasons for this.
They also fail to understand that unless people have a decent home then they will be storing up problems for the future. Poor housing equals poor health- poor education – poor communities – increased spending on social welfare and health care. Put people in good homes and good neighbourhoods and you save a fortune on the nation’s revenue account and have far more happy people. Isn’t that what politics should be about?
But to the Tories housing policy, benefit policy and a host of other policies and about helping people up the ladder but keeping them in their place. Their view of people is almost mediaeval. The nobs versus the slobs; the strivers versus the skivers. Of course they are right that some people in social housing are bone idle and don’t want to do things for themselves. But for every 1 or 2 of them there are 98 or 99 trying to do their best for themselves and for their families. But then I can think of more than a handful of Tory MPs who have never had a proper job either!
When I look at Her Majesty’s opposition led by Mr Corbyn I see basically the same mentality. The people at the top of Labour and many of their new members are cold war relicts! They too have a class based view of society which is out of date. When I entered politics here was a clear division of working class; middle classes and Toffs. These strata were heavily sub-strataed but basically people could relate to their peers and knew where they were and who they were.
It’s not so easy now. The big employers of labour in the factories and mines have gone. Manual labour is a fraction of what it was. The hard, dangerous work on the trawlers and down the mines has all but disappeared. Education has further blurred the distinctions. Aspirations have been hugely changed. People, no longer want to do what their Mum and Dad did they want to do better for themselves and their children.
Politicians are lagging far behind the general public in understanding the changes that our society has gone through. Labour and Tory alike see things in terms of class because that is a comfort blanket which hides them from the need to confront the new realities.
“So Kemp”, some people will be saying as they read this, “Your lot sheltered and buddied up to the Tories for 5 years it’s all your fault!” In practice, however, that is not what most people are saying. Increasingly people are giving us the credit for recognising what we shielded them from. Every disastrous statement from the Tories is one that would have been made 5 years ago if we had not been there.
I have door- knocked at more than 600 houses in the past month and it is clear that in Liverpool there is little support for the 2 ‘Js’ – Corbyn and Anderson. They fail to inspire because they fail to help people with their aspirations. Because they are incompetent and are unable to articulate a coherent view of the future. Some of those people are clearly returning to us in local elections. On average we were 9% up last week in the 10 council by-elections. Eventually the opinion polls will pick up. We will be ready!