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Squeezed middle: The housing bubble that hangs over our lives

Rising house prices are meant to pacify the UK, but they are not in the least bit comforting.

I take a detour down Frankie’s road on the way to Sainsbury’s and that’s when I see it: a clipped little tree in a slate-coloured pot. It is sitting innocently enough in the front garden of an ordinary house in an ordinary street. But immediately I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I’ve seen trees like this before. Years ago they spread through Islington, my childhood home, like a virulent rash. The moment they started appearing near my old flat in Stoke Newington, I knew it was all over. Shortly afterwards we moved out to the suburbs, where we live now.

Just when I thought I could relax ... now they’re here, like harbingers of doom. Because these trees – so tame, so tasteful, so not actually trees – mean property developers. They are what you do in a front garden when you don’t intend to stick around long enough to actually plant anything and watch it grow. A cursory glance at the rest of the house confirms my suspicions. The front door and the window frames are painted Farrow & Ball-esque grey. The brickwork has been cleaned up, the plantation shutters are closed. A “For Sale” sign is up outside.

“What’s going on over there?” I ask Frankie when she opens the door.

“Oh, yeah. Guess how much it’s on the market for?”

“No. I can’t bear it. Just tell me.”

“Six-fifty.”

“Piss off.” Only last year, houses on this road were selling for less than 500k. Frankie bought hers four years ago for 350. I heard a rumour that the average house price in our area has gone up by 40 per cent this year. As we own our slightly-too-small flat, I can’t deny that part of me feels greatly chuffed. It’s always nice when your net worth increases to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds without you having to lift a finger.

But during the epic journey home, as Larry stops to examine every leaf and hole in the road, I have plenty of time to mull it over. What good does this “money” actually do us? It’s not going to help us move; in fact, it will make it more difficult as the differential between flats and houses only grows as prices rise. The only way it would actually improve our quality of life would be if we moved out of the area to somewhere cheaper — north, for example. I know plenty of people who are considering it.

But I have already moved once and I am determined not to do it again. London is our home. My mum is here and so is my sister. We have friends, Larry has friends. Even baby Moe has friends, if you consider a shared love of hitting one another over the head as nascent friendship. I don’t want to start again in a new place, unless that place is a lovely terraced house on Highbury Fields.

I glance into the buggy and notice Moe has opened his eyes. I pop his dummy back in and he drifts peacefully off again. It is, I realise with grim satisfaction, the perfect analogy: house prices are nothing but a great big dummy, administered by our great leaders to keep us all quiet. And we are just sucking it up.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, iBroken

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.