The real losers of this election were landlords, apparently

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

I’m trying to get out of the habit of being publicly mean about terrible press releases. It’s cheap, it’s self-indulgent, and it doesn’t require either intellectual effort or journalistic skill to point out that a stupid thing someone has said is stupid.

On the other hand, I’ve had three hours sleep, I can barely remember how verbs work, and this is a really terrible press release, so screw it.

Here’s the topline: the landlord lobby is very disappointed in Theresa May’s Conservative party. In fact, if the Tories don’t change their ways, then, well, the landlords will, well, they’ll do something, and then they’ll be sorry.

James Davis, CEO and founder of online lettings agency, Upad.co.uk, comments on the shock General Election result:

“The landlord bashing is only likely to continue with Theresa May forming a deal with the DUP to allow her to continue leading the country. There were no new pledges set out to help struggling landlords in her manifesto.”

Okay, let me stop you right there. The Tory party didn’t create either the buy to let bubble or the housing crisis it’s a part of (thanks, Tony Blair). But for the last seven years, they’ve presided over the expansion of both.

Despite some half-hearted attempts to revoke the rentiers’ privileges towards the end of George Osborne’s time as chancellor, this government has overseen a massive unearned boom in house prices. Landlords have been able to make large quantities of money on the basis of very little effort. Renters, on the other hand, have had to pay over ever larger chunks of their flatlining incomes in exchange for neither assets nor securities.

So what exactly are the landlords whining about? What do they want? A medal?

It gets worse.

“The Tories have proven that they can’t be trusted by landlords; as they continue to use them as a political football to kick around. I certainly wouldn’t let one of my properties out to a Tory as you can’t trust them!”

That exclamation mark is genuinely included in the quote, people.

Anyway:

1. I’m not quite clear on the legalities of asking someone’s political affiliation before renting a room to them, but it feels like fairly dodgy ground to me.

2. You do know that the Tories making these decisions aren’t renting, right?

 “Whilst the Conservatives have recognised that the 8 million tenants in the UK are worth supporting politically...”

Here is the full extent of the Tory manifesto’s promises to renters:

“We will also improve protections for those who rent, including by looking at how we increase security for good tenants and encouraging landlords to offer longer tenancies as standard.”

I mean they’re basically manning the barricades, aren’t they? Arm yourself, Francine, the sans-culottes are coming.

“... what they don’t seem to realise is that the changes they want to bring about for landlords, will eventually through the test of time affect tenants far more through higher rents.”

Well, no, I’m not buying this. Rents are set by the interaction between the supply of housing, the demand for that housing, and tenants’ abilities to pay. Landlords’ costs don’t come into it. The idea that they do implicitly assumes that the market would bear higher rents, but landlords don’t charge them because [reasons]. Surely more likely is that landlord-ing would become slightly less profitable, which, while annoying if you’re a landlord, is not likely to bother anyone else.

The weirdest thing about this press release is... What is James Davis, CEO and founder of online lettings agency Upad.co.uk, threatening exactly? Is he saying landlords are going to vote en masse for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party? Because he doesn’t say this explicitly, but if that’s not what he’s saying, this isn’t much of a threat is it?

I don’t think the Tory manifesto did go in for landlord bashing, if I’m honest. But if it had, I don’t think it would have been much of a problem. Landlords are among the safest groups in Britain to bash: nobody really likes them, they add very little to the economy, and they can’t take their business offshore. If there’s one group you absolutely can get away with being mean about, it’s landlords.


So we should do more of it, that’s what I’m saying.

Where was I going with this? I’ve had three hours sleep. Did I mention that?

Nope, can’t think of an ending. Please go read my thoughts on the election over on the New Statesman instead.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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More than 830 cities have brought essential services back under public control. Others should follow

A power station near Nottingham: not one owned by Robin Hood Energy, alas, but we couldn't find anything better. Image: Getty.

The wave of cities worldwide rejecting privatization is far bigger and more successful than anyone thought, according to a new report from the Transnational Institute, Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation. Some 835 cities in 45 countries have brought essential services like water, energy and health care back under public control.

The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive and less efficient is losing its momentum. Citizens and users do not necessarily have to resign to paying increasingly higher tariffs for lower standard services. The decline of working conditions in public services is not an inevitability.

And the ever larger role private companies have played in public service delivery may at last be waning. The remunicipalisation movement – cities or local authorities reclaiming privatised services or developing new options – demonstrates that cities and citizens are working to protect and reinvent essential services.

The failure of austerity and privatisation to deliver promised improvements and investments is part of the reason this movement has advanced. But the real driver has been a desire to meet goals such as addressing climate change or increasing democratic participation in service provision. Lower costs and tariffs, improved conditions for workers and better service quality are frequently reported following remunicipalisation.  Meanwhile transparency and accountability have also improved.

Where remunicipalisation succeeds, it also tends to inspire other local authorities to make similar moves. Examples are plentiful. Municipalities have joined forces to push for renewable, climate-friendly energy initiatives in countries like Germany. Public water operators in France and Catalonia are sharing resources and expertise, and working together to overcome the challenges they meet.

Outside Europe, experiments in public services are gaining ground too. Delhi set up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics across the city in 2015 as a first step to delivering affordable primary health care. Some 110 clinics were working in some of the poorest areas of Delhi as of February 2017. The Delhi government claims that more than 2.6m of its poorest residents have received free quality health care since the clinics were set up.


Local authorities and the public are benefiting from savings too. When the Nottingham City Council found out that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their energy bills, they set up a new supply company. The company, Robin Hood Energy, which offers the lowest prices in the UK, has the motto: “No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing.”

Robin Hood Energy has also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership.

Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

Remunicipalised public services often involve new forms of participation for workers and citizens. Remunicipalisation is often a first step towards creating the public services of the future: sustainable and grounded in the local economy. Inspiration can be found in the European towns and villages aiming for 'zero waste' with their remunicipalised waste service, or providing 100 per cent locally-sourced organic food in their remunicipalised school restaurants.

Public services are not good simply because they are not private. Public services must also continuously renew themselves, grow, innovate and recommit to the public they serve.

The push for remunicipalisation in Catalonia, for example, has come from a movement of citizen platforms. For them, a return to public management is not just an end in itself, but a first step towards the democratic management of public services based on ongoing civil participation.

Evidence is building that people are able to reclaim public services and usher in a new generation of public ownership. The momentum is building, as diverse movements and actors join forces to bring positive change in communities around the world.

You can read the Transnational Institute report, “Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation”, on its website.