Lying with passion

The US vice-presidential debate, the ups and downs of Michael Gove plus all the rest of the news and

Ready to Gove-ern

“It’s not the same as the old days,” a moustachioed conference attendee adjudged. “The atmosphere in ’81, when Heath launched into Thatcher from the platform – that was electric. It’s not like that now.” Indeed it is not. Unity and suppressed smirks (grinning excessively when the markets are in freefall is indecent) were the order of the day at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

At a fringe arranged by The Times, Michael Gove compared himself to Trinny and Susannah and spoke of the necessity of the Tory makeover. Of ‘10 Days to Save the Pound’ T-shirts and anti-immigration badges, he joked “let me tell you darling, you’re sending out the wrong vibes”.

Gove, who one Labour supporter this week assured me is a “genius,” was causing a frisson among bloggers too, and not because of his sleeping arrangements when at university. The eloquent Graeme Archer noted Gove’s contribution to the Guardian’s “Tory hero” fringe , in which he put the case for Edmund Burke. He “…deserves a distinguished merit award for services to oratory, as he managed to put the case for Burke without once using the phrase 'Little Platoons,'” Archer opined.

Joining Gove on the wrong end of a Mail exposé was the former Conservative Future chairman and now Tooting candidate, Mark Clarke - a man who provokes strong reactions. Leading Tory blogger Dizzy allowed himself a moment of schadenfreude:

“What can I say, being turned over in the Sundays couldn't have happened to a nicer person. I am truly gutted for Mark who once displayed the most unbelievable arrogance and "up his own arse" attitude towards me and a couple of others.”

Long-time readers of Dizzy will recall that he has a history of animosity towards Clarke. Elsewhere, Chris Mounsey ventured that “…he will fit in nicely with all of the other hypocritical, deceitful bastards in the House of Commons”.

Conservative conference doesn’t have delegates, its members don’t vote on proposals from the leadership – they just applaud them. And so it was when Osborne wowed the party with his council tax freeze plans. The ThunderDragon wrote:

“It puts control in the hands of local councils who can decide whether or not they will choose to take part. If they make the wrong choice, they will face the wrath of their electorate when they next get a chance to vote.”

Others, like The Right Student were more equivocal:

“I do have a concern, however. It is all well and good to freeze Council Tax for two years, but what happens then? Do we go back to inflation busting rises?”

Hopi Sen questioned how it would impact on Boris’ plans for London.

Finally, the Conservative party itself has tried to get it on the citizen journalism revolution by launching its own Blue Blog. Move along, nothing to see here.

What have we learned this week?

In the week that Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr the Brass Crescent Awards open nominations to find the best Muslim bloggers. Last year’s winner, Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, also writes on faith and politics at Comment is Free. Eid Mubarak to all Muslim bloggers, and to the Jewish blogosphere - Shana tova u'metukah.

Across the Pond

After a string of hopeless media performances, many anticipated that Sarah Palin would sink McCain’s hope in yesterday’s vice presidential debate. But Clive Crook felt that, though she lost, Palin made a decent fist of her tussle with Biden:

“Whatever the reason--her sense of occasion, a change of coaching staff, who knows?--she did well enough tonight to lift the campaign's head back above water.”

Predictably, Democrat bloggers universally gave the debate to Biden. Republicans were more mixed – with Mark Levin on the right-wing NationalReview opting to instead go after her opponent:

“…Biden’s “gravitas” is derived almost entirely from the fact that he can lie with absolute passion and conviction,” he claimed.

Videos of the Week

“Our house, didn't work out like we planned/ Our house, price has dropped by fifty grand,” the Spitting Image crew sang during the 1989 house price crash. If only satire was up to that today.

Quote of the Week

“It is instructive that today we also face many of the problems we faced in the months leading up to Thatcher's 1979 election victory.”

Tony Sharp enthusiastically buys into the wildly popular new Cameron/Thatcher narrative.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.