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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America's cities can't police their way out of this crisis

Police deployed tear gas during anti-racism demonstrations in Los Angeles over the weekend. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

As protesters took to the streets across the United States over the weekend to express their anger at police killings of unarmed black Americans, it was hard to miss the hypocrisy coming from local authorities – including the otherwise progressive, left-leaning officials who are in power in most major American cities. 

Many US mayors and their police chiefs had issued public statements over the past week that seemed – only briefly, as it turned out – to signal a meaningful shift in the extent to which the Black Lives Matters movement is being taken seriously by those who are in a position to enact reforms. 

The sheer depravity of the most recent high-profile killing had left little room for equivocation. George Floyd, 46, died last Monday under the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, while three additional officers helped to hold Floyd down, doing nothing to aid him as he begged for them to stop and eventually lost consciousness. The officers had been attempting to arrest Floyd on suspicion of having used a counterfeit $20 bill at a deli. All four have since been fired, and Chauvin was arrested Friday on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. 

“The lack of compassion, use of excessive force, or going beyond the scope of the law, doesn’t just tarnish our badge—it tears at the very fabric of race relations in this country,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore told the Washington Post in response to the Floyd case. Meanwhile Moore’s boss, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, on Friday claimed that he understood why his city, which is no stranger to police brutality, was protesting. “We absolutely need as a nation, certainly as a city, to voice our outrage, it’s our patriotic duty to not only stand up for George Floyd but for everybody who has been killed unnecessarily, who’s been murdered for the structural racism that we have in our country,” Garcetti said. 

Normally, US police chiefs and mayors tend to ask citizens to withhold judgment on these types of cases until full investigations can be completed. But a 10-minute video recording of Floyd’s killing had made what happened plain. Police chiefs across the country – and even the nation’s largest police union, which is notorious for defending officer abuses – similarly condemned the actions of the Minneapolis officers, in a rare show of moral clarity that, combined with the arrest of Chauvin, offered at least a glimmer of hope that this time things might be different. 

As the events of the weekend have since shown, that glimmer was all too fleeting. 

In city after city over the past three days, US mayors and their police chiefs made a series of the same decisions – starting with the deployment of large, heavily armed riot units – that ultimately escalated violent confrontations between officers and protesters. Images widely shared on social media Saturday and Sunday nights made it clear that members of law enforcement were often initiating the worst of the violence, and appeared to treat protesters as enemy combatants, rather than citizens they were sworn to protect. 


In New York City, two police SUVs were seen plowing into a crowd of protesters, while elsewhere an officer was recorded pulling down a young protester’s coronavirus mask in order to pepper spray his face

In Louisville, the city where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman was fatally shot by police on 13 March, state police in riot gear were captured confiscating and destroying protesters’ supplies

In Minneapolis, forces opened fire with nonlethal rounds on residential streets, much to the shock of homeowners standing on their own front porches. 

Images of police pushing or shoving peaceful protesters were almost too numerous to count, including, in Salt Lake City, an elderly man with a cane

In many places, police also targeted journalists who were covering the protests, firing at clearly identifiable media crews with rubber bullets, injuring and even arresting reporters

Some protesters did commit acts of vandalism and looting, and the leaders of cities where that happened generally responded in the same ways. 

First, they blamed “outside agitators” for the worst protester behaviour, a claim that harkens all the way back to the civil rights era and for which the evidence is murky at best

Next, they enacted sudden curfews with little to no warning, which gave law enforcement an excuse to make mass arrests, in some cases violently. 

In a pair of widely criticized moves, Garcetti of Los Angeles closed the city’s Covid-19 testing centers and suspended the entire mass transit system Saturday evening, stranding essential workers on their way home from daytime shifts. Late Sunday night in Chicago, the city’s public school system halted its free meal distribution service for low-income children, citing “the evolving nature of activity across the city”.  

Governors in at least 12 US states, in coordination with city leaders, have since called in National Guard troops to “help”. 

At this point it’s clear that the leaders of America’s cities are in desperate need of a radically different playbook to respond to these protests. A heavily armed, militarised response to long-simmering anger toward the heavily armed, militarised approach to American policing is more than ironic – it’s ineffective. Granting police officers wider latitude to make arrests via curfews also seems destined to increase the chances of precisely the tragic, racially biased outcomes to which the protesters are reacting. 

There are other options. In places such as Flint, Michigan, and Camden, New Jersey – both poor cities home to large black populations – local law enforcement officials chose to put down their weapons and march alongside protesters, rather than face off against them. In the case of Camden, that the city was able to avoid violent clashes is in no small part related to the fact that it took the drastic step of disbanding its former police department altogether several years ago, replacing it with an entirely new structure. 

America’s cities are in crisis, in more ways than one. It’s not a coincidence that the country has tipped into chaos following months of emotionally draining stay-at-home orders and job losses that now top 40 million. Low-income Americans of colour have borne a disproportionate share of the pandemic’s ravages, and public health officials are already worried about the potential for protests to become Covid-19 super-spreading events.

All of this has of course been spurred on by the US president, who in addition to calling Sunday for mayors and governors to “get tough” on protesters, has made emboldening white nationalists his signature. Notably, Trump didn’t call on officials to get tough on the heavily armed white protesters who stormed the Michigan Capitol building over coronavirus stay-at-home orders just a few weeks ago. 

US mayors and their police chiefs have publicly claimed that they do understand – agree with, even – the anger currently spilling out onto their streets. But as long as they continue to respond to that anger by deploying large numbers of armed and armored law enforcement personnel who do not actually live in the cities they serve, who appear to be more outraged by property damage and verbal insults than by the killings of black Americans at the hands of their peers, and who are enmeshed in a dangerously violent and racist policing culture that perceives itself to be the real victim, it is hard to see how this crisis will improve anytime soon. 

Sommer Mathis is the editor of CityMetric.