I don’t want to die in an attic, but what choice does a member of Generation Rent have?

There are too many people and not enough houses, and that the houses that do exist are either unaffordable or occupied by elderly people who, thanks to medical science – and, I should add, through no fault of their own – aren’t going anywhere fast.

I can’t remember when I realised I would never have my own property. Perhaps, like the fact that human beings cannot fly, or that the man I lost my virginity to was unlikely to be my future husband, it is something I have always known. And yet dapples of hope must have broken through my stoic resignation and allowed me, if only for a moment, to dream. Maybe I was drunk at the time.

We are in the middle of a “housing crisis”. This means, put simply, that there are too many people and not enough houses, and that the houses that do exist are either unaffordable or occupied by elderly people who, thanks to medical science – and, I should add, through no fault of their own – aren’t going anywhere fast.

This crisis hasn’t taken anyone by surprise, and yet no one, at any point throughout my adolescence, when phrases such as “housing bubble” and “property ladder” began to seep into my consciousness – before being discarded in favour of other concerns (“Should I buy a thong? Sisqó seems to like them”) – did anything about it. The result is a “squeezed generation” that has no hope of affording the average £252,798 cost of a home. If they are lucky, they will find themselves living in a perpetual flatshare or bunking up with their parents, and, if unlucky, on an interminable waiting list for social housing, or homeless. I won’t talk about the other stratum of people, those who can rely on the Bank of Mum and Dad for a deposit, because I hate them. Passionately.

(It could be that the unfairness of life struck me even before my university course-mates were bought their own flats in central London. Perhaps it was when I saw that my cousin’s doll’s house had electric lighting and real windows, while mine was roofless and inhabited by a potato with a face drawn on it.)

Having done some vague calculations, I have concluded that in order to succeed in finding a non-rented roof over my head, one of two things must happen. Either the book that I am writing with my best friend must sell millions of copies – something that is unlikely, considering how it in no way describes a naive virgin’s voyage of sexual discovery at the hands of a wealthy tycoon with a spanking fetish – or I must resign myself to living in a hovel that is completely in my boyfriend’s name. This is assuming that he is able to get a mortgage, which is unlikely, and that he will invite me to come and live with him (also touch and go, to be honest).

I am not alone in this but I am lucky in one respect, which is that my rented flat contains a living room. This is regarded as something of a luxury in my circle. Forget Elle Decoration, with its Le Creuset cookware and fairy light-festooned lifestyle porn: a living room is where it’s at. That’s prime housing space that could be filled by a warm, paying body, after all, and it means that you don’t have to eat your dinner standing up in a poky galley kitchen, or in your room, in bed.

Rents in London have become so preposterous that people are audaciously letting out spaces that push the very boundaries of habitability. A couple of years ago I went to look at an “attic room” in Kentish Town that turned out to be less room and more attic. Granted, the owners had resourcefully used some draped chiffon to conceal the loft insulation and the boiler, giving one the feeling of a sort of harem tent, but even a small person would have had trouble standing up, and my bum barely fit through the trapdoor.

So yes, we need to build more houses, certainly, but there also needs to be some kind of rent control, because private landlords basically own our asses and people are living in airing cupboards, nesting next to immersion heaters. In the Times of 24 June, Tim Montgomerie rightly pointed out that what’s missing from this debate is a political party that speaks for my generation. He then went on to claim, wrongly, that the Conservatives could still become that party.

The Conservatives will never become that political party, because they have never not had living rooms. They expect the poor to pack their children in or pay the price in benefit cuts. Rather than capping the extortionate rents charged by private landlords, they top up the difference, encouraging the hiking of rates. They have made squatting a criminal offence. The Tories are a party of old fogeys (and that includes the young ones). This debate is dominated by a disconnect – Generation Rent v the Baby Boomers – and the Tory party represents the latter with panache.

Montgomerie went on to suggest that the government create “five or six new garden cities . . . situated between London and the Midlands”. Why not just put all the young people on an island and be done with us? Our big cities will become like Paris, populated by an ageing bourgeoisie with a direct line to the noise complaints department.

I was born into a flatshare but I’m not sure I’d like to die in one. (Then again, I’d rather that than some kind of suburban holding pen for alienated young professionals.) The place I was born into was an ex-squat that had been let by the council to stop the building from crumbling, and one of my earliest memories is of falling down the stairs there.

So, actually, I did once try to fly. It did not end well.

There just aren't enough houses. Photograph: Getty Images

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

This article first appeared in the 01 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Brazil erupts

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Chuka Umunna calls for "solidarity" among Labour MPs, whoever is voted leader

The full text of shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna's speech to Policy Network on election-winning ideas for Labour's future, and the weaknesses of the New Labour project.

There has never been an easy time to be a social democrat (or “democratic socialist” as we sometimes call ourselves in Britain). Whereas the right can demonise the poor and extol the virtues of the market, and the hard left can demonise the market and extol the role of the state, our position of constraining the domination of markets and reforming the state is, by definition, more complex.

It is nonetheless the case that social democracy has a historic responsibility, in every generation, to renew democracy and preserve a civic culture. This is achieved not through soundbites and slogans, but through the hard-headed development of a progressive politics that reconciles liberty and democracy, new comers and locals to our communities, business and workers, in a common life that preserves security, prosperity and peace.  This historic mission is all the more urgent now and my determination that we succeed has grown not weakened since our election defeat last May.

But, in order to be heard, it is necessary to make balanced and reasonable argument that both animates and inspires our movement, and which is popular and plausible with the people.  The first is pre-requisite to the second; and there is no choice to be made between your party’s fundamental principles and electability. They are mutually dependent - you cannot do one without the other.

We are in the midst of choosing a new leader and it is clear to anyone who has watched the UK Labour Party leadership election this summer that amongst a significant number there is a profound rage against Third Way politics – as pursued by the likes of Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and others - as a rejection of our fundamental values.

In the UK there is a view that New Labour accepted an uncritical accommodation with global capital that widened inequality, weakened organised labour and we were too close to the US Republicans and too far from the European left.

I do not believe this is fair, not least because we rescued many of our public services from the scrap heap when we came to office in 1997 and there were very significant achievements  we should celebrate.  New Labour renewed our National Health Service in a fundamental way; we built new schools and improved existing ones; we set up new children’s centres all over the country; we brought in a National Minimum Wage; we worked with others to bring peace to Northern Ireland; we introduced civil partnerships.  Just some of our achievements.

However, though we may take issue with the critique, I do not think we can simply dismiss out of hand those who hold critical views of New Labour. Like any government, the New Labour administration made mistakes - it could and should have achieved more, and done more to challenge the Right’s assumptions about the world. In the end, it is not unreasonable to be ambitious for what your party in government can achieve in building greater equality, liberty, democracy and sustainability. It is far better we acknowledge, not reject, this ambition for a better world, as we seek to forge a new politics of the common good fit for the future.

Realising our values in office has been disrupted by globalisation and the surge of technological forces that are displacing and reshaping industry after industry.

Some argue that globalisation as an ideological construct of the right. But we must recognise that we live in an increasingly integrated world in which markets have led to an unprecedented participation of excluded people in prosperity, a rise in living standards for hundreds of millions  of people and a literacy unprecedented in human history – this is particularly so in emerging economies like my father’s native Nigeria. And the internet has led to a level of accountability that has disturbed elites.

Yet, this has been combined with a concentration of ownership that needs to be challenged, of a subordination of politics that requires creative rather than reactive thinking, and these global forces have exacerbated inequalities as well as helped reduce poverty.

So it is important that we understand the sheer scale and impact of new technologies. At the moment we are engaged in a debate about Uber and its threat to one of the last vestiges of vocational labour markets left in London, those of the black taxi cabs and their attainment of 'The Knowledge'. But the reality is that within the next decade there will be the emergence of driverless cars so we have to intensify our exploration of how to support people in a knowledge economy and the realities of lifelong learning, as well as lifelong teaching. As people live longer we will have to think about how to engage them constructively in work and teaching in new ways.

Once again, I'm addressing all of this, Social Democracy requires a balanced view that domesticates the destructive energy of capital while recognising its creative energy, that recognises the need for new skills rather than simply the protection of old ones. A Social Democracy that recognises that internationalism requires co-operation between states and not a zero sum game that protectionism would encourage.

Above all, Social Democratic politics must recognise the importance of place, of the resources to be found in the local through which the pressures of globalisation can be mediated and shaped. Our job is to shape the future and neither to accept it as a passive fate nor to indulge the fantasy that we can dominate it but to work with the grain of change in order to renew our tradition, recognising the creativity of the workforce, the benefits of democracy and the importance of building a common life.  Sources of value are to be found in local traditions and institutions.

This also requires a recognition that though demonstration and protest are important,; but relationships and conversations are a far more effective way of building a movement for political change.

One of the huge weaknesses of New Labour was in its reliance on mobilisation from the centre rather than organising. It therefore allowed itself to be characterised as an elite project with wide popular support but it did not build a base for its support within the party across the country, and it did not develop leaders from the communities it represented. It was strong on policy but weak on strengthening democratic politics, particularly Labour politics.

Over half a million people are now members, supporters or affiliated supporters of our party, with hundreds of thousands joining in the last few weeks. Some have joined in order to thwart the pursuit of Labour values but many more have joined to further the pursuit of those values, including lots of young people. At a time when so many are walking away from centre left parties across the Western world and many young people do not vote let alone join a party, this is surely something to celebrate.

So it is vital that we now embrace our new joiners and harness the energy they can bring to renewing Labour’s connection with the people. First, we must help as many them as possible to become doorstep activists for our politics. Second, I have long argued UK Labour should campaign and organise not only to win elections but to affect tangible change through local community campaigns. We brought Arnie Graf, the Chicago community organiser who mentored President Obama in his early years, over from the U.S. to help teach us how to community organise more effectively. We should bring Arnie back over to finish the job and help empower our new joiners to be the change they want to see in every community – we need to build on the links they have with local groups and organisations.

I mentioned at the beginning that in every generation Social Democracy is besieged from left and right but the achievements of each generation are defined by the strength of a complex political tradition that strengthens solidarity through protecting democracy and liberty, a role for the state and the market and seeks to shape the future through an inclusive politics. Solidarity is key which is why we must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office.

Yes, these are troubled times for social democrats. All over Europe there is a sense among our traditional voters that we are remote and do not share their concerns or represent their interests or values.  There is surge of support for populist right wing parties from Denmark to France, of more left wing parties in Greece and Spain and in Britain too. There is renewal of imperial politics in Russia, the murderous and abhorrent regime of ISIL in the Middle East, volatility in the Chinese economy and in Europe a flow of immigration that causes fear and anxiety.

But, the task of Social Democracy in our time is to fashion a politics of hope that can bring together divided populations around justice, peace and prosperity so that we can govern ourselves democratically. We have seen worse than this and weathered the storm. I am looking forward, with great optimism to be being part of a generation that renews our relevance and popularity in the years to come.

Chuka Umunna is the shadow business secretary and the Labour MP for Streatham.