Thursday, November 04, 2010

"Kosovo style social cleansing"

Bob says bollocks to the cuts
"The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs. I'll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together.

We will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots."

I once responded to a meme about what one would never do by saying I would never vote Tory. However, if I was forced to vote between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson as mayor of London, I’d be severely tested.

Ken Livingstone seems to me to be a despicable human being, arrogant, self-aggrandising, unable to apologise for his errors. The whiff of corruption, cronyism and nepotism around him his overwhelming. His palling about with fascist, theocratic, antisemitic Islamists is hard to stomach. Everything I’ve heard about his personal practice, including from people that worked with him back in the GLC glory days, reflects very badly, and I have evidence of him being incredibly abusive and offensive to close friends of mine. Most recently, his stirring of the murky waters of Tower Hamlets politics places him clearly in the Bad Guys camp.

On the other hand, he was an extremely effective mayor of London, with generally very good policies on more or less all the issues that actually matter to me, as a London resident, on a day to day basis: creating a transport infrastructure that is actually able to move masses of people around the capital every day, making our streets safer, making some contribution to alleviating the crisis of affordable housing, promoting economic development.

Boris Johnson, in contrast, seems like a very pleasant person: charming, witty, intelligent, fun, self-deprecating, erudite. But he has been a very ineffective mayor, and his policies have been far weaker than Ken’s. He has some policy strengths (on immigration, for instance, he is extremely positive), but most of his successes have been where he has continued Ken’s work rather than where he has changed it.

How are we to view Boris’ recent “Kosovo style social cleansing” comments about the Coalition government's housing benefit reform plans? Obviously, his choice of words is deeply offensive. The Serb nationalist forces didn’t move ethnic Albanians to B&Bs in Hastings (although Boris’ pals at Spiked probably think they did); they murdered them on a massive scale. The gaffe generated a fair bit of political capital for the government (witness their aging and increasingly desperate errand boy Vince Cable seizing on it, possibly the taste of cold vengeance to get over the taste of humble pie Nick and David made Vince, but not Boris, eat over the ridiculous immigration cap policy). But was what Boris saying fundamentally right?

I think that, yes, it more or less was. A policy that will drive a large amount of the poor people out of the richest boroughs of London at risk of homelessness will undoubtedly seriously intensify the drift towards social segregation that the capital’s insane housing market has been driving for a couple of decades.

On the other hand, and I admit this is a heretical statement in the company I keep, the government’s housing benefit reforms put their finger on a gross inequity in the current welfare system. It simply cannot be right that the public purse is paying for a handful of families to live in properties that most of us cannot dream of affording. There are only 139 families to whom we are paying over £50,000 in rent a year – but that’s a tiny number of families taking an awful lot of tax bills. And there are plenty more in the £25,000 a year bracket. I am also not convinced of the arguments for richer families getting universal child benefit, although the arbitrary way the government has drawn the line is clearly unfair. And I have a great deal of sympathy for the cap on the maximum benefits non-disabled families can claim – again, it quite simply cannot be right that some claimants (again, a small number) should get significantly more than the average working family. Further, and this is even more heretical in the company I keep, the main victims of these particular changes will be those with excessively large families, and I don’t see why people should breed on such an extravagant scale if they are not able to support their progeny.

However, these arguments for reform miss a number of things. First, by focusing on the claimants, we deflect attention away from those who profit from their claims. Thus my earlier statement that there are 139 families to whom we are paying over £50,000 in rent a year was an inaccurate one: they hand that rent over to private landlords, and it is the private landlords we are actually subsidising. The housing benefit system drives the most unscrupulous landlords (and unscrupulous people, in my experience, seem to me disproportionately represented in the population of landlords) to charge the highest rents they can get away with, and more to the point the current scale is based on a market rate that is grossly inflated by property speculators, corporate landlords and all the other afflictions that have made London's housing situation so unjust in the last couple of decades. If housing benefit reform will exacerbate social cleansing from inner London, it will only intensify what the market is already doing.

Second, focusing on the claimants points to the insanity of a fiscal and political climate in which the building of affordable, and in particular social, housing has been so constrained, starting with the Thatcher government’s ideological assault on social housing, including the prevention of councils from borrowing on their capital assets and the promotion of a Right To Buy policy that decimated the affordable housing stock, but continuing through Labour’s failure to address those issues. For each of the 139 landlords’ £50,000, you could build a house in London.

Third, by concentrating taxpayers’ anger on the relatively small number of abusers of the welfare system, the government is deflecting attention from the many, many more households, including working families, who are being thrown into destitution by the austerity measures, the thousands of people being cast into unemployment by their assault on the public and voluntary sectors, while they burn away what safety net that the less fortunate rely on.

I am also concerned at the back-of-a-fag-packet way the government seems to be proceeding with its welfare reforms. If they were genuinely concerned about fixing the injustices in the welfare system and in creating a system that incentives work and de-incentivises dependency (the type of reforms the Tory thinktank the Centre for Social Justice has been proposing), that’d be one thing. But instead we seem to have policies launched by fiat from Cameron’s office without any consultation or thought, one after another, totally contradicting each other. One week (with universal benefits) we are told that the justification is that those with the broadest shoulders must take on a greater share of the pain; the next week (with housing benefit) we are told that it’s because the feckless over-breeding poor people need to be social engineered into better citizens. One week we are told it’s all about “fairness”; the next we are told these are difficult decisions that need to be made to avoid public debt.

So, on reflection, I will probably not be voting Tory any time soon. 


Further reading: Phil Dickens: Quote of the day [I read that after I wrote this, and although Phil would radically disagree with a lot of what I've said, some of the things we say are strikingly similar.] History is Made at Night on the back to the 1980s vibe.

Local campaigns against the cuts: Transpontine on Lewisham's libraries and on the impact of the cuts in South London, including on higher education.

[Image via Sabcat, of a different Bob.]

28 comments:

kellie said...

When there's much to agree with, the stone in the shoe of disagreement makes itself felt all the more clearly: on excessively large families, and breeing on an extravagant scale, even if one were to presume that parents of large families were irresponsible, which I wouldn't want to, the argument should still mainly be about the welfare of the children, who were of course not party to decisions on their own births.

bob said...

That's true Kellie, and I also don't think that it's true, as some right-wing commentators claim, that welfare encourages people to produce large families.

I also realise that to make sense of my post you would have to accept that I have at least eight hands ("on the other hand... on the other hand... etc").

And I realise that there is a failure of logic in the post, in that I start off with the one instance in which I might currently consider voting Tory (for Boris against Ken), and then conclude that I won't vote Tory because of a policy that Boris himself opposes, which doesn't make sense. Although I still will not be voting for Boris!

Little Richardjohn said...

This benefit cap isn't simply a re-adjustment of levels and entitlements but a wholesale delivery of housing policy into the hands of the private sector. A privatisation of council housing stock by stealth. From now on, the ghost of Rachmann sets the rents in social housing, and therefore where the working classes can live. And not just for new tenants but for all, including those who chose their homes prudently and within their means at the time. From now on, nobody on a modest income will feel secure that they will be able to stay in the same place for more than 5 years before rising market rents drive them out, which is a scorched earth policy of community destruction. The Condems are creating a new tribe of nomads. It is poison. Don't fall for it.

darryl said...

The Tower Hamlets fiasco has tarnished Ken in my eyes - he should be working to win over the suburban vote Boris has neglected, not pissing about in that madhouse.

He was doing his penance yesterday, though - anti-cuts Ken standing outside Ladywell station endorsing the cutters of Lewisham Labour. (and against the Greens who backed him when he was mayor.) Funny old game.

between-the-lines said...

Well good on you for being a bit heretical in your post, Bob.

Benefits as they are currently structured definitely do encourage some people to bring more children into the world. And it is the young, vulnerable and disadvantaged in particular who are lured down this road, which sadly only intensifies and entrenches their disadvantage.

I know this for a fact because where I live is a place with high unemployment and very few job opportunities. It is widely, if quietly, acknowledged that the best, if not only, prospect for many young people is to have children and get benefits.

consumit said...

Perhaps the reason that Boris opposes the idea of cutting housing benefit is that poorer families will be forced out of 'poorer' areas (which happen to have high housing costs towards inner London) and into the 'richer' areas - that is, the suburbs which are responsible for his winning the Mayoralty in 2008.

Transpontine said...

Is there really any evidence that anyone chooses to have more children in order to get more benefits? No way do the increase in benefits compensate for the extra costs of a child.

People have large families for all kinds of complex cultural, familial and cultural reasons. Once you start accepting that social policy should take into account family size you are on the slippery slope to the Chinese solution (incidentally why isn't there more outrage from 'decent left' or indeed 'indecent left' about forced sterilisation in China? I suspect many share prejudices about the poor breeding).

If you're going to get excited about a few highly untypical families costing the taxpayer lots of money, better to focus on the Windsors in my opinion.

modernity said...

Ken, don't get me started on him, what a shambles...

"Benefits as they are currently structured definitely do encourage some people to bring more children into the world."

What a lot of bollocks, more Cameronism entering this unreal political debate.

kellie said...

London needs children!

In a cosmopolitan city with a mobile adult population, raising a good sized proportion of the future adult population within London seems to me to be positive for social cohesion and the advancement of the best aspects of Londonism. These children are potentially a great asset to the city and not just their families.

On more general issues of population and family sizes, I was listening to this interview with Fred Pearce earlier, where he argues against fear mongering re. global population, some of which also seems relevant here.

bob said...

Glad to have provoked a bit!

"Benefits as they are currently structured definitely do encourage some people to bring more children into the world."

I think there is no hard evidence of this, but I know of a few people, youngsters living on estates where there is very high unemployment, who have had a child to get onto the council flat ladder. I have never met anyone who has had several children in order to get more benefits. I cannot imagine that once you have, say, 3 children, with all of work and energy that involves, that you are going to make a decision to keep on having more simply to get a better deal from the welfare state, especially as the returns rapidly diminish after no.3. The reasons for having lots of children are complex. The children themselves should not, as Kellie said, be punished, even if your prejudices (my prejudices) make you (me) less sympathetic to the parents.

The Tower Hamlets fiasco has tarnished Ken in my eyes - he should be working to win over the suburban vote Boris has neglected, not pissing about in that madhouse.

Indeed. Labour had a landslide in the inner boroughs in May, but it will not necessarily repeat that without the general election voters turning out. In order to win the mayoral election, Ken should be heading to the places where Boris' vote is strong, showing them why Tory cuts are disastrous for them too, not playing to the left-wing gallery. On the other hand (yet another hand), I suppose in some twisted way he is at least playing according to principle not electoral pragmatism.

bob said...

[Ken] was doing his penance yesterday, though - anti-cuts Ken standing outside Ladywell station endorsing the cutters of Lewisham Labour. (and against the Greens who backed him when he was mayor.) Funny old game.

I am feeling bad that I never wrote the "Vote Green in Ladywell" post I meant to write. I see that last night Labour beat the Green Party's Ute Michel by just 200 votes. In fact, by almost the number of votes Lewisham For People Not Profit got, which shows how stupid it was for them to stand. The Lib Dem vote, predictably, was decimated (although less than I expected, in the context of the much lower turn-out). Labour in Lewisham seems to be carrying out the Tories' cuts with some gusto, and Steve Bullock's lack of regard for those who will suffer from them is sickening.

Perhaps the reason that Boris opposes the idea of cutting housing benefit is that poorer families will be forced out of 'poorer' areas (which happen to have high housing costs towards inner London) and into the 'richer' areas - that is, the suburbs which are responsible for his winning the Mayoralty in 2008.

This has occurred to me too, given that it is the Tory MPs in the outer boroughs who have also kicked off, rather than Tories from in the inner boroughs. Their vote is also threatened by this.

London needs children!

Statistics released by the GLA a week or so ago show that London has more than its fair share of 0-5 year olds, putting a bigger strain on maternity services, pre-school provision and reception classes than the capital can handle. But then what happens is that we leak 5-20 year olds on a massive scale, with the large numbers of school-age families leaving the capital (especially heading for the SE, SW and East of England) considerably out-numbering those coming in. Then we import huge numbers of 20-somethings, who presumably put less strain on our services, and are contributing to the economy. In the long run, over a 50 year period, "demographic inertia" means that the state of the UK as a whole will suffer from there not being enough children - the average children per woman is now in the region of 1.6, but as the age structure shifts in favour of older, post-retirement folk, we need something like 2.9 kids per mother, or else much much higher immigration than we have now... (At the moment, immigrants disproportionately contribute to that large number of 0-5 year olds, but the evidence shows that immigrant birth rates converge with non-immigrant ones in just a generation.)

--

Finally, Jogo points out the worst thing I said in this post: that Ken made the trains run on time...

He also says the "Kosovo remark is nauseating and unforgivable". Any other thoughts on the Kosovo remark?

The Contentious Centrist said...

Jogo articulated very wittily and succinctly my own unease with your judgment on Ken, Bob.

So does it all come down to a candidate's managerial capabilities? And how much of that efficiency is attributable to his particular nasty character that can ignore basic decencies in order to get a job done?

bob said...

So does it all come down to a candidate's managerial capabilities? And how much of that efficiency is attributable to his particular nasty character that can ignore basic decencies in order to get a job done?

Good question. My defence of Ken is not just his managerial abilities, but also having sensible, workable, well thought through policies. He is also a technocrat. And he is also unpleasantly ruthless in pursuing his policies. It hadn't occurred to me until reading that that his effectiveness might be related to his unpleasantness, rather than contradicting it.

I find it hard to know how to balance all those factors, though, in deciding whether the good outweigh the bad.

JM said...

Speaking of Kosovo, I dunno if you read the exile:
http://exile.ru/print.php?ARTICLE_ID=8086&IBLOCK_ID=35

Kinda accurate now since the government's been brought down:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11677809

The Contentious Centrist said...

"I find it hard to know how to balance all those factors, though, in deciding whether the good outweigh the bad."

I wouldn't be able to opine on this question. Only recently have I read Rawls' theory of justice in which he argues against this kind of utilitarian balancing act.

Maybe I would try to decide whether the good is so obviously and irrefutably good and the bad is not so bad upon closer scrutiny.

But then again, what would be my compromisable bad or good could be deemed subjective and therefore somewhat irrelevant by others whose list of moral priorities differs from mine.

However, once you accept that a person is verifiably corrupt yet you argue that he is an efficient technocrat and therefore needs to be supported, aren't you already on a slippery slope?

There is that joke about George Bernard Shaw who sees a beautiful woman at a party and asks her if she would spend the night with him for $million. Of course say the lady, all smiles. And for 50? He asks her. "Sir, what do you take me for?" the lady is offended. "I think we agree on that, says Shaw, now we are just haggling over the price...

There is no question, however, that in our culture we tend to have greater respect for the highly-priced prostitute than for her humbler sister who solicits at street corners. Why is that, I just don't understand. (Remember that awful movie with Demi Moore and Robert Redford?)

between-the-lines said...

"Why is that, I just don't understand"

The phenomenon has long been observed across many cultures and goods. The higher the price, the better people perceive something to be. More than that, status anxiety also impels many of us towards more costly items on the grounds of the greater social status attaching to expensive goods which, by definition, cannot be afforded by poorer persons.

@Mod - Bollox to you too. I speak as I find.

"3 children, with all of work and energy that involves"

Bob you're doing it all wrong then! A tip from my neighbour (who has 12 children so she should know); after the first few you get the older ones to look after the younger ones - simples.

"we need something like 2.9 kids per mother" Like we need a hole in the head. We oldies had better face facts: we can't expect to rely on young people to pay for us and wipe our backsides and all the rest for us if we hang on into our 80s 90s and 100s. Not going to happen.

Sooner rather later the human population is going to have to drop and whichever generation is old when that happens will lose out. Tough on us, but we'd better get used to reality.

modernity said...

" I speak as I find."

Yeah? But you don't do much thinking, do you?

It's not as if we haven't heard your contemptuous middle-class mindset, before.

Why not feck off over to the Daily Mail now, you'd probably feel at home there. They are full of similar nonsense.

between-the-lines said...

Lols ... Is that the best response you can come up with, Modernity?

modernity said...

Well it is Bob's blog and I like to be polite here :)

bob said...

Re Mod: Thanks for being polite.

Re Between the Lines: From the perspective of anyone trying to get a GP appointment, trying to get their first child a primary school place, needing treatment at a London hospital, it certainly feels like Britain, and London in particular, is overcrowded.

This will feel a lot worse in five years time, after five years of Con-Dem disinvestment in these sorts of services (in five years’ time, 23 out of the previous 36 years we will have been ruled by governments who have savagely reduced the quality and quantity of provision in the state education sector and in the health service. During the 18 years of Thatcher/Major government, non-emergency construction of state schools or hospitals was close to zero, and the 13 years of investment under Blair and Brown never managed to catch up.

Meanwhile, in Scandinavia, Italy, the former Soviet empire, South Korea and Japan, the population is shrinking as fertility continues to decline dramatically. Huge parts of the world, including much of Latin America and Asia, continuing population growth is fuelled only by decreased mortality as fertility has slowed or is declining. If everything continues as it is now (that is, without factoring in ecological disasters caused by peak oil and climate change), then the world’s population will plateau in the second half of this century and start declining by the end of the century.

In Britain, the ratio of post-retirement people to working age people is already quite unbalanced. This is reflected in the rapid growth in the proportion of migrant workers employed in the care industry, where wages are being pushed down and down and British workers do not apply for the jobs. The crisis in care will grow and grow in the coming decades. The working age/elder ratio will continue to get more and more unbalanced. Meanwhile, structured to ensure that British jobs require migrant workers, and unless we address lots of massive systemic issues which the present government has no interest in, the need for migrant labour will continue to grow. And the supply of migrant labour will only decline if the neo-liberal economic policies that fuck up most of the globe come to a stop.

I have no prescriptions for any of this, but we are in denial about the problems and their causes. A more punitive welfare state is not going to improve the situation, because it completely misrecognises the root of our problems.

bob said...

Re CC: Thank you for your thought-provoking comments. In the Boris v Ken choice, as in most choices I face as a voter but perhaps more starkly, I feel I have no good options. I don’t think I have ever voted for anyone without having to grit my teeth a little. The things I want politicians to do are totally beyond the realms of possibility in the current set up of our democracies. Sometimes I think the only morally credible option is to abstain, that by voting for them we are feeding a system which cannot be redeemed. But that option also seems like a moral failure.

kellie said...

I guess one person's overcrowded is another person's under-resourced. Health and education resourcing for a large number of people should be more efficient, i.e. cheaper, when centred in a city rather than spread over a wider geographical area.

I haven't looked for the GLA figures you mention, but it sounds like they might suggest that London is actually getting a cheap deal by effectively outsourcing education of some of its children to surrounding areas.

modernity said...

I think the point I was making was that "between-the-lines" essentially making a middle-class criticism of the working classes, we've seen it all before the notions of the feckless working class, the scare stories in the Daily Mail, etc

It is that mentality that implies, it's perfectly acceptable for Tarquin and Annabel to have as many kids as they please, but poor working class adults can't/shouldn't.

bob said...

Why not feck off over to the Daily Mail now, you'd probably feel at home there.

Actually, don't feck off to the Mail. Unlike, say, Socialist Unity or Lenin's Tomb, I'd like this to be a blog where people of different views can hang out, think a little, maybe change their mind.

If you're going to get excited about a few highly untypical families costing the taxpayer lots of money, better to focus on the Windsors in my opinion.

Spot on!

I haven't looked for the GLA figures you mention, but it sounds like they might suggest that London is actually getting a cheap deal by effectively outsourcing education of some of its children to surrounding areas.

This is kind of correct, although the extra London pays for its extra 0-5s probably offsets this. The GLA report is here: http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/publications/society/facts-and-figures/focus-on-london/population-migration

There's a newer one I haven't looked at yet on children's health: http://www.london.gov.uk/who-runs-london/mayor/publications/society/facts-and-figures/focus-on-london

I don’t think I have ever voted for anyone without having to grit my teeth a little.

I didn't mean by this, btw, that I think Ken is "just" another bad choice. There's a difference between being an ordinary bad politician and being a corrupt enabler of raciem.

The Contentious Centrist said...

This is just are minder of who Ken Livingstone's intellectual comrades are:

http://www.investigativeproject.org/2315/moderate-qaradawi-defends-hitler-and-nuclear

modernity said...

Sorry, Bob, but this anti-working class stuff from "between-the-lines" gets right up my nose.

What I should have said is, how different is his view of the working class from the 19th century paternalists who wanted to sterilise the poor?

There is a common theme running through the right, that many of society's problems are caused by the feckless poor, and those ideas seem to have a home amongst some Greens...

bob said...

Thanks CC for the timely reminder about the disgusting Qaradawi.

Mod, I don't know anything about BTL and don't want to defend what he is saying. I also agree that the notion of the feckless, over-breeding and undeserving poor is programmed deep into middle class consciousness. BUT, my question would be how do we respond when working class people articulate the same ideas, as many do? How do we deal with working class experience of neighbours, family members and so on who they know are, as individuals, feckless, over-breeding and undeserving? Is this simply "false consciousness", the effect of the Daily Mail?

I also want to clarify a little what I said in the post, which admittedly I said partly to be provocative. Universal child beneft means that the over-breeding Tarqins and Annabels get given tax money to subsidise their over-breeding, and I meant them too. Is it right that we pay for them? On balance, I think the idea of universal child benefit is correct, but I am not completely convinced.

ModernityBlog said...

"would be how do we respond when working class people articulate the same ideas,"

The same way we do with everyone else, tell them they are wrong.

Maybe explain about the uneven nature of capitalism, who gets the blame, etc

That's a good starting place, plus we might do to remember how these ideas have a long history, going back to Dalton?