Out And About

Written By: Cary Gee
Published: May 9, 2017 Last modified: May 9, 2017

If Labour wins the general election it has promised to introduce a ‘consumer rights revolution’ for people who rent their homes. Private landlords would not only require a licence for each property they let, but would also face fines of up to £100,000 if they fail to meet the terms of their licence. These would include such basic demands as safe wiring, freedom from damp, and no unwanted wildlife. In short, homes that are fit for human habitation.

I can’t see much wrong with that, but the Tories can. They have described the plans, which already exist in the London Labour borough of Newham, and have done much to improve local housing stock, as expensive, unworkable and ‘likely to put peoples rent up’.

And there you have it. The Tory party manifesto in a nutshell. Forget ‘strong and stable government’. The Tories’ position is clear. If you are impudent enough to demand a better house to live in, a decent local school for your child, or even a timely appointment with a doctor, then you can expect to pay for it. If you can’t afford the premiums, you have no choice but to suck it up. This is the antithesis of aspiration. It is all about tamping down expectations, unless you have the money to pay for them, and it is an odd position to adopt for a woman like Mrs May, who was lucky enough to grow up in a large comfortable house, which belonged to someone else and for which no rent was payable.

Here in Central Ealing and Acton, where housing remains one of, if not the key issue, local MP Rupa Huq is defending the smallest majority in London. In 2015 just 274 votes ensured her Tory opponent every opportunity to spend her weekends riding at home (in Gloucestershire). Roughly the same number of Labour party activists crammed into Ruskin Hall on a damp and chilly evening last week, to kickstart our election campaign. Say what you like about Jezza, but I’ve never before seen so many local party members gathered in one place. For once it was standing room only and not just because no one had remembered to put the
chairs out.

Following a practical demonstration of the art of ‘door knocking’, Dr Huq stood up to tell us that in just two years she has dealt with more than 17,000 pieces of casework, and spoken in parliament more than 400 times. Even allowing for ‘serial constituents’ I’d call that a pretty good return on the hours spent campaigning for her election in the first place. Of particular importance to me was Huq’s vote in parliament against the triggering of Article 50, which not only displayed an admirable degree of independence but a willingness to represent the views of all her constituents, rather than just those who voted for her to represent them.

Given the current state of the Labour party, expecting a majority of even 274 seems a tad optimistic. I’d be happy enough with 1. But even that will only be possible if every single person who dreads another five years of greedy Tory self-interest takes to the streets to get Labour’s message across. And it’s a popular message, albeit one too often delivered with the clarity of a batsqueak in a brass band.

A recent You-Gov poll indicated that nearly half of all voters support  an increase in public spending and higher taxes for the well-off. Just 13 per cent support the Tories current level of spending cuts. Yet when asked which party had the best taxation and economic policies 30 per cent chose the Tories and just 16 per cent chose Labour.

Similarly, more than half of the electorate is opposed to any private sector involvement in the NHS, while believing that some re-nationalisation of the railways would improve services. Both are Labour polices, but few people seem to realise this, let alone give credit where credit is due. It is therefore encumbent upon party activists, whether or not they are Corbynistas, to hold as many conversations with the electorate as is humanly possible between now and June 8. You don’t even have to be a member of the Labour party to realise what another five years of Tory (divide and) rule will mean. The loudest applause at our ‘mobilisation’ meeting was reserved for a member of the Green party who came to tell us they would not be fielding a candidate locally. They will instead urge the 1800 people in Ealing and Acton who voted Green in 2015 to vote Labour instead. Corbyn should respond by immediately excising the handbook rule which allows for Labour party members to be evicted if they campaign for candidates from other parties in an election.

When the general election was called I typed the words ‘Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse’ into the subject line of an email to a local Labour councillor. But now I’m really rather looking forward to it. Not the actual result, you understand, but getting out on the doorstep and seing the whites of the voters eyes. Nothing makes the blood run quicker than having a Tory slam the door in your face after realising that despite your uncommonly good command of the English language, you are not in fact a Tory yourself!

About Cary Gee

Cary Gee is a freelance journalist and Tribune columnist