Housing: courting injustice – 1

One thing is consistent through every change of government:  the rules about renting homes will be messed about, to harm both tenants and landlords

Housing rules are currently within the tender mercies of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose declared task is to make things better for tenants. Studies showing that every intervention has been a failure and usually counter-productive do not appear to have informed a change in direction. Obvious problems have produced reactions, but rarely wise ones.

Two initiatives are current.  Both were initiated under James Brokenshire, and since he has been unceremoniously booted out of his seat it is possible that his successor, Robert Jenrick, will change direction but until we hear that he has brought authoritative common sense to bear, we must assume that the political capital invested in the two principal ideas proposed will keep them alive.

  • Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies
  • A new Housing Court

As background assured shorthold tenancy were introduced during Margaret Thatcher’s time gradually to replace Labour’s Rent Acts. An ‘AST’ is a fixed term tenancy which, if not brought to an end by two months’ notice, will continue indefinitely until the landlord serves a notice (known in the jargon as a “Section 20 Notice’).  The new proposal is to abolish Section 20 notices, so a landlord could not get his property back unless he can prove, in court, one of a number of listed grounds for possession.  It is unlikely that these grounds will include ‘The rent is too low: I want to improve it and let it to richer tenants’.

Landlord groups have pointed out that these proposals will eliminate the possibility of short-term or interim lets, remove he opportunity for flats to be improved for anything short of a major rebuilding, and will result in numerous properties being removed from the market causing a housing shortage and higher rents overall due to supply and demand.  It also means that landlords who remain in the market will have to command higher rents in order to cushion themselves against the court costs of removing a troublesome tenant, and for the loss of capital value. One might add that tenants will stop worrying about their behaviour: they will really have to trash the place or stop paying rent before the landlord can do anything about them, and even then he has to be a landlord with the spare cash to go to court – and without rent coming in, he may not.

If a tenant refuses to move out, having received a Section 20 Notice, the court procedure should be quick: there is no defence, so the order is made, and after six months with no rent paid the bailiff (yet more cost) may throw them out.  If grounds have to be proven, then that requires a full court hearing, evidence, adjournments, a suspended order while the court gives the tenant a last chance, a new hearing when he defaults again, more evidence, and then and only then can a bailiff be engaged; and if it has got that far the tenant will not go quietly and may be enraged to trash the flat as he goes.

The result is high rents, impoverished landlords and an ever-declining quality of housing stock. Yet the proposal is championed as being for the protection of tenants. Tell that to the next tenant who moves into the trashed flat his landlord cannot afford to repair, paying through the nose to cushion the landlord’s loss and the future risks, and with no alternative because there are few flats left on the market.

The proposals did not come from the Ministry; they came from Shelter, once an honourable charity but which can now join the ranks of the fake charities, funded from our pockets to pump socialist ideas into government.  Their care for the homeless is not doubted, but the ideas they propose to help are the equivalent of helping a drowning man by pushing him deeper into the sea.

Shelter has a strong influence because it can play upon its worthiness of intent, and because it does supply advice for tenants genuinely needing help with the law. Well, I am pleased with the plumber when he does a good job, but I do not then let him and his wet hands play with the electrics too.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king:  another grip that a lobbying group like this can have is that no one else is as familiar with the Byzantine laws governing housing, and so by ensuring the continued complexity of the law, the lobbyists stay in control.

This though, and the second proposal, the Housing Court, must be the subject of a separate article.

Questions for Boris Johnson

Some of the questions we are asking ourselves of the most enigmatic Prime Minster in living memory, and my answers at least:

  • Can Boris Johnson achieve in 99 days what Theresa May and her whole team failed to manage in 3 years?

Yes.

  • Can Dominic Cummings drain the swamp?

Actually, we do not know yet what Dominic Cummings has been called in to do.  Is he a spin doctor-in-chief?  An election campaign strategist? A negotiator with the Brussels Blob?  He is a one who succeeds, but at what task?

David Cameron allegedly called Cummings a “professional psychopath” – good: we need psychopaths more than touchy-feely milksops, and a professional one is all the better.

Taming the establishment has been tried before and failed. The Long March through the Institutions is well entrenched.  David Cameron called Steve Hilton to push “positive populism” to reform the established powers, but he left frustrated. 

If it were done when ’tis done then ’tis well it were done quickly; ministers will go native in their new departments within weeks, and begin to defend them from outside attack. The who were called in as outsiders to reform the system will become insiders. That may include the Prime Minister, though his imaginative, playful turn of mind is a force to be reckoned with by even the most stolid establishmentarian.

  • Is there to be an early general election?

Who can tell?  It would be reckless in the extreme to call an election when the party’s poll ratings are still scraping around the 25% mark and in each constituency contest the conservative vote will be split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party. Watch Brecon and Radnorshire.

The buzz in the media is talk of a general election, but the media love novelty and excitement: Brenda from Bristol may have other ideas. The idea is growing that if the House of Commons blocks Brexit somehow or mars the form of it then Parliament would be dissolved and election called to secure a Conservative majority on the back of a “Boris bounce”, but that is not realistic until Brexit is secure, not least because until Britain has actually left the European Union the Brexit Party will still be queering the pitch, letting the Liberals and Labour in every time.

After Brexit we are into Christmas. Maybe in the Spring we will see new shoots, but by then the landscape may be very different.

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Our plan for the new Prime Minister

Everyone else is doing it, so why not here?

Every column inch in the dead-tree press will be filled for weeks with columnists’ own plans to save Britain / the World, and Boris Johnson knows this well, as a columnist.  To each, the only plan for success is their own and any failure to follow it is a scandalously wasted opportunity that will seem like a betrayal. The success of Team Boris came swiftly and the backlash will be quicker. 

In the meantime, it is my duty to see what plans can come from my febrile imaginings and those of my colleagues, which are, naturally, the only solution, the slightest failing in which is a criminal waste / betrayal / surrender to the Blob.

  • Leave the EU on or before Reformation Day, 31 October, with or without a deal;
  • If Brussels will not replace or amend the Withdrawal Agreement (see earlier post on that; “Fixing the Withdrawal Agreement“, then offer a unilateral post-withdrawal deal for continuing tariff-free trade.
  • Reduce taxes for all, especially the squeezed Middle Classes, or ‘customers’ as we are known in business.
  • Register the Establishment;
  • A reforming unionist agenda:
    • Do not buy nor publish maps which only show England and Wales, or only England.
    • Run through all the Acts, rules and guidance which bar Scots and Ulstermen by carelessness of wording I have a very long list by my elbow)
    • Close the Ulster Bypass, and use the government’s economies of scale to provide services equally in Ulster as such economies provide in Great Britain (another list by my elbow)
    • Root through the national curriculum to remove regional bias
  • A radical free speech initiative, inside and outside government, and inside government:
    • Sack all diversity officers and cancel all equality and diversity training;
    • Discipline or dismiss public servants who try to get colleagues sacked for transgressing codes of PC speech and behaviour;
  • Order the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stop taking orders from Shelter, and remove any civil servants who act as conduits for that charity’s political ideas.  Instead, support private landlords: they are the ones who provide homes and they will not if they are punished.
  • Abolish inheritance tax.
  • Delete the word “county” from local government terminology: those flags in the Square today are what counties are really about – community not bureaucracy
  • Drive back the Long March:
    • Stop advertising government jobs in the Guardian;
    • Stop handing cash to ex-Labour politicians under the guise of research grants
    • Other things that need doing you know perfectly well, but such deeds can only be named in the dark.
  • And while you are about it: Land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.

Well that’s for the first week. Going into August there is more to be done.

Books s

Boris, the chosen one

He has reached the top of the greasy pole at last. Roy Hattesley (I think) once called Benjamin Disraeli the only first-class stand-up comedian ever to become Prime Minister; well here we have another.  A journalist, author, historian and comedian, whose candidature was once considered a joke but who is acknowledged to be the most intelligent of all the candidates, and now the new Prime Minister.

He is an unpredictable character, and things said for show might not echo in action even for the most principled politician, though for most of them that is a good thing, the wild promises they make. For Boris Johnson, a showman to all appearances, we just cannot tell.

There is a fulsome tribute to Boris Johnson today in Quillette, by Toby Young, who has known him since Oxford: “Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man“, including a first hand account of an address by Boris to the Oxford Union which has gone down in legend.

Some things we can be pretty sure of:

  1. He will surprise his opponents;
  2. He will disappoint and frustrate his supporters;
  3. A great many MPs will be drawn from the backbenches to fill the shoes of those who cannot hack it;
  4. The coming men will themselves surprise their enemies and disappoint and frustrate their supporters;
  5. Someone will start a cry of ‘betrayal’.

When there is a change at the top, political commentators will project all their own hopes and fears on the new man and declare in all solemnity that there is only one way to go on X, Y or Z, and claim to understand exactly what is in the mind of the new PM, which is surprisingly exactly what is in the commentator’s own mind, and they will be shocked, and convinced of an establishment plot, when it does not turn out so..

Some of the displaced establishment will make grand speeches and may go off to found thinktanks or learned commissions, hoping to drink taxpayers’ money and that of generous donors for a few years yet, and these bodies may make a positive difference until captured by left-wing applicants.

Overall, and I may be the first to take an honest line on this, asked what we will see from a Boris Johnson ministry, I will say – I do not know, nor does anyone, least of all the man himself.

Books

By Boris Johnson:

Fifty years on, and the frontier is open

Fifty years ago, on 20 July 1969, an achievement now almost unimaginable greeted mankind: the first man to step upon the Moon. The complexity, the lack of room for error, and the precision of calculation which enabled it, are astounding, as are the courage and the confidence of the men who made it happen.

Ours is a timid age which is taught to despise risk or novelty or achievement for achievement’s sake. Those first steps by Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin on the surface of the Moon are of another age alien to our, and which though it was fifty years ago were far in advance of our everyday society.

However engineers have since those days advanced their art far beyond what was available in the 1960s, and although nothing as breathtaking has been done since the last Apollo mission left the Moon, rockets to orbit are now commonplace and there are new entrepreneurs making new ways into space which may one day surpass the achievements of those Americans in 1969.

There has never since been a rocket anything like the size of the Saturn V which Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins to the Moon, and the Apollo astronauts who followed them, because there has been no need for one: space launches are mainly to low-Earth orbit, with small satellites sent to the higher geo-stationary orbit. The launches to Mars and beyond have been by light probes, requiring less lift and not needing to support the life of a crew. However, ultimately it is a matter of scaling up, and when Elon Musk put a Tesla car in a Falcon Heavy rocket to send it around the Sun, he set a new standard, and practically declared war on the old, limited way of thinking. The new space race is not just for government agencies.

The major government and multi-government agencies have done well – the European Space Agency in spite of the lumbering bureaucracy has actually achieved great things, by leaving the engineers to get on with it. Monopolies though cannot achieve anything beyond what they plan for, and the disruptors have stopped biting at their ankles and started beating them.

Britain has always had an honourable place in space developments, but Britain could do nothing during the space race – the land was so incompetently governed and impoverished by it all that only one satellite was ever successfully launched in a solely British project. Those days are past though. A British project, Skylon, may revolutionise satellite launches and lead the way to further advances. A new spaceport is being built in Sutherland with capability for rocket and spaceplane launches in the specification.

Before we go too far though, we can look at developments in the Commonwealth: India is many years ahead, and the opportunities and expertise in Canada and Australia are astounding. Elon Musk of course is South African. A Commonwealth co-operation begs to be tried.

When Harold Wilson appeared on television in 1969 to congratulate the Americans for their success in landing men on the Moon, he was leading a hopeless, impoverished country further into poverty and hopelessness, and he knew that Britain could not even dream of matching the achievement. That is no longer the case. When the first man, or woman, sets foot on Mars, it is possible that he will be one born and bred under a British heaven and sent their by his fellows, or by the best from around the Commonwealth. The shadow of the last fifty years should not convince us that another nation is inevitably the leader but inspire us to our own achievements and even to surpass that which was done n those days.

Books

Fiction: