Saturday, 30 October 2010

Gimme Shelter

I’m no right-winger, you understand… (Uh-oh, you might think, there’s a pretty ominous start to a post.) But nor did I consider the ideas of the Right to be axiomatically the Devil’s work. Following the lead of my literary hero Norman Mailer, who famously reckoned himself a ‘left conservative’ I try to use both sides of my head in an argument, and to resist the sanctimony by which some on the Left persuade themselves that all human history is class struggle, one in which they are – axiomatically – on the side of the poor and oppressed, whether or not required to match word by deed.
I can’t say exactly how hard we should be cutting in the light of this grim shortfall between tax revenues and public spending, but – since it seems likely that the cost of housing benefit for people of working age has risen by £5 billion over the past five years, i.e. roughly mapping the hopeless reign of Gordon Brown – then I’m quite sure that reform of housing benefit entitlements along the lines of what the ConDems have proposed is commonsensical and overdue, with a necessary cap on accommodation provided in the private rental market, as opposed to publicly-owned housing. As such, I now seem to be of the party of Max Hastings and the Daily Mail. Eh bien.
I’m quite certain the public purse has to assist key workers to live near their place of work. And people who are put out of work need to be given a hand with their rent for a reasonable period. I’m not some Chinese martinet seeking to cap families at exactly 1 Child. But I absolutely think people should act on their estimate of how many kids ‘they can afford decently to rear’ (cf. Hastings - 'decent' is a favourite Mail word, used as if they invented decency, but there's no reason we should let them own it.) Where six-figure sums have been paid annually to families of 6-8 kids, this was extravagant before and cannot continue. I don’t make light of the fear of mass evictions from Central London: one expects this cut to bite. But however harsh the ‘correction’, I understand there will be an emergency fund for true hardship cases. Otherwise, as Hastings puts it, ‘most of us take for granted the necessity to move home if our circumstances change.’ Indeed we do.
I can’t tell how Ed Miliband’s riposte to Cameron played in the chamber but to me, and to many others, I expect, he sounded just as John Rentoul puts it, conveying “the wrong message to the country, which simply cannot understand why so many billions of taxpayers’ money is poured into such a badly-designed benefit that undermines work incentives, profits landlords and keeps property prices higher than they would otherwise be.”
In other news, I am happily of the same mind as Hastings in respect of Polly Toynbee’s worth as an inverse barometer in any political argument, though he makes his point in a gratuitous manner, marshalling assertions the truth of which I can’t verify:
"There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Polly Toynbee and her kind in their concern for Britain’s underclass, though the charge of champagne socialism sticks pretty hard on anyone who, like herself, owns a villa in Tuscany and educated her children at private schools."
Similarly, readers will know I’m with Hastings on the profoundly annoying Boris Johnson, whose sickly coveting of David Cameron’s job rolls on unabated. Please, someone, tell me London can cough up a better prospect for mayor than the Bounderby-ish Johnson or the alligator-blooded Ken Livingstone.

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