Yesterday Boris Johnson claimed that he was against any “Kosovo style” social cleansing of London. His words immediately found their way to their intended target: David Cameron who was out of the country on business. His choice of words was also seized upon by Nick Clegg who described them as “outrageous” while Vince Cable, the pre-election hero, accused him of being “ludicrously inflammatory”. Yet the government has failed to present a decent counter-argument to the charge that their proposed cap on housing benefit won’t force many people out of London to the periphery. The Housng Minister, Grant Shapps was in denial,
“Just because you are on housing benefit, that shouldn’t give you the ability to live somewhere, where if you are working and not on benefit you can’t. We’d all love to live in different areas, but I can’t afford to live on x street in y location. The housing benefit system has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.”
Myths and tropes.
The Leader of Westminster City Council, Cllr Colin Barrow, claimed on the BBC that people from lower incomes deliberately target his borough because of its stylish properties. Oddly enough he provided no evidence for this assertion. Remember this is the same council that sold off loads of council homes in order to gerrymander certain wards. It also sold off 3 cemeteries for 5p each.
But has Bojo gone all One Nation on the Tory Party? When someone like Johnson comes out with a statement like the one he did yesterday, you have to spend time looking for the reasons behind it. First, the mayoral elections take place in 2 years time. He has Ken Livingstone snapping at his heels and he wants to try and steal as much thunder from his as he can. Secondly, he is well aware that London relies on a lot of cheap labour and he wants to ensure that there is a massive pool of cheap labour for London’s businesses to draw from. He isn’t doing this for altruistic reasons; his reasons are the same as any other capitalist exploiter of labour.
The press have taken up differing positions: much of the right wing press is reporting how Johnson has been slapped down by Downing Street. Others tell of how Cameron and Johnson are on a collision course over benefits. Kennite claims that his hero has recanted his words. He says “I confess, however, to less sympathy for the capital’s unemployed”. Alors, quelle surprise! He then goes on to repeat every single right wing cliché in order to bolster his case, like this one,
Of course, everyone has the right to live where they choose. But nobody has the right to require the rest of us to pay for their choice. And on the whole, the real losers will be not the poor, but the private landlords who have bought up council houses and made fortunes from the taxpayer. As the state is by far the biggest customer in their market, they’ll have to cut their rents, helping every tenant – subsidised or not – and further reducing the number who lose their homes.
Maybe he didn’t see the Panorama programme about the dodgy landlords who make a fortune out of Housing Benefit? When have private landlords ever reduced their rents? Someone is being a little naïve here.
One final word: to say that the government’s proposals don’t represent a form of social cleansing would be dishonest. But for the government and its apologists to deny that the effect of the Housing Benefit cap will not force those on low incomes to move elsewhere is equally dishonest.