Empty homes and safety deposit boxes

From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Six – order now on Kindle

Corbyn was still riding high as they cycled home together. He asked Jeremy what he thought of it all.

‘All very good,’ he said. ‘The mood was clear to see.’

‘It was jolly good, wasn’t it?’ he said, somewhat dreamily.

‘But you need to think through this housing position.’

‘Why do you say that?’

‘Well, yes, a crash plan of council housing – can’t disagree with you there, old boy. They’re much needed, especially for young families.’

‘And building them to meet that need would create thousands of skilled jobs and offer thousands of young people high quality apprenticeships. What’s not to like?’

‘You don’t say anything about the hundreds of thousands of empty homes. You’d have to build fewer houses if we seized the ones that are already built and just lying empty.’

‘But what about all the apprenticeships?’

‘We shouldn’t just employ people to dig holes and fill them. We should have an economy geared to what society needs. There are one and a half million people waiting for council housing, and you’ll reduce it to near nothing if you do it that way. And it would create jobs, too. Think of all the renovation work a project like that would require.’

‘You do realise those houses are owned by other people, don’t you?’

‘Yes, by rich people, more and more, and corporations who have nowhere to park their capital. Safety deposit boxes for the wealthy, items of speculation for the Conservative Artists.’

‘They’ll go potty if we start raising ideas like that. It would be… an infringement of their property rights.’

‘Yes, you’re right. But so what? In their eyes your rental regulations amount to the same thing. Telling people what they can and can’t charge on their properties – they’d say it’s an offence to their liberties. And they’d be right; it would be a trespass against capitalist law. But if you attempt to police the landlords against “misdemeanours”, you’ll need a bureau of inspectors so large it’ll have to have its own post code. And even then, you’ll fail.’

‘So you think we shouldn’t regulate them?’

‘You know what I’m saying. If you try to muzzle a crocodile, you’ll end up between its teeth. We should say we’ll abolish landlordism from day one.’

‘Don’t you think that would make some people rather unhappy?’

‘Undoubtedly. But I think there’d be many more who’d be over the moon. London tenants pay seventy percent of their income on rent. In the rest of the country it’s half of wages. It’s a monstrous fact, considering the pile of bricks you live in costs less than five percent of wages to maintain. Can you imagine? They complain about a lack of demand in the economy, while these parasites are sucking that kind of purchasing power out of it through rent. Evictions in London are the highest for five years, and there are already twenty thousand homeless in the capital. And for home owners, the cost is ten times the annual wage for a house – when it has already been built.’

‘Ah, well, that is a serious question,’ said Corbyn. ‘Now, surely the laws of supply and demand determine that if more houses are built, the price will go down.’

‘With that logic you could argue for giving council tenants the right to buy. That also widens the supply, as far as the market is concerned.’

‘Well, I know Thatcher didn’t have the best intentions, but it proved very popular…

‘Look,’ Corbyn continued, ‘we’re not out to promise the moon. We’re campaigning for a kinder, more equal society. Don’t you think it be kinder and more equal if, as well as allowing council tenants the right to buy, we allow private tenants that right too? Then we deal with your landlords, but in a way that’s more… digestible, for everyone.’

Jeremy paused, glancing back at his friend with suspicious eyes for a moment as they slowly thudded along an empty cobble-stone lane.

‘I take my hat off to you. You’re quite devious, when you put your mind to it. You want to use a well-known Tory policy, despised by the labour movement, and turn it against the small landlords?’

‘Yes, I suppose, only more reasonably put. What do you think?’

‘I think it’s an awful idea. Few tenants will have the cash to take it up. Landlords will push up rents to recoup as much as their mortgage as possible, for fear of being forced to sell. You’ll mobilise the entire landlord class against you, while leaving them a free hand to keep milking their tenants to fund their war chest. And to boot, you’re encouraging the Englishman’s provincial fantasy about his home being his castle. Yet it is devious, in a completely reckless sort of way.’

By the time they returned home, several miles of fresh evening air had passed through Corbyn’s lungs, cooling him considerably.

‘I mean, I suppose it was just the Left we saw today, wasn’t it? Doesn’t necessarily fit the wider mood, really… but at least you can see, undoubtedly, some people are willing to protest.’

‘You think the ‘Left’ is two-hundred thousand strong?’ said Jeremy.

‘I don’t think so. Ten thousand, at most. And did you see how young the crowd was? There were more than the usual activists out there. It was a wider layer. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each one of them will know four or five people who feel the same – and there are more besides that.’

‘Yes, but is it enough?’

‘One step at a time, eh? You’re not running for Prime Minister, yet.’

***

Throughout the course of June fifty-five thousand travelled across the sea to seek refuge in Europe.

From Jeremy and Corbyn, Chapter Six – order now on Kindle

 

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