A hodgepodge approach to housing

Some unfortunate words about immigrants, the government's peculiar approach to green energy and the

Dear Marina,

I am very upset. I have always been a loyal socialist albeit in a slightly patrician and up myself kind of a way. I recently said British families should be given housing priorities over immigrants and now that ghastly Alan Johnson has compared my language (aspirational Islingtonian) with the BNP's (inarticulate and trashy). What does the dreadful little postie think he's up to?
 
Yours MH,
Barking/Islington

 
Stupid woman! Even the Tories under Michael Howard understood you could only ask: “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” No one expects a Labour luvvy to come out with a blatantly racist attitude to social welfare and justice.

All councils, as I understand it, operate a points system whereby one’s points increase with time on the waiting list and all other points are awarded for various aspects of deprivation. More points for children, being a single parent, having more adults than bedrooms, illness, disability and so forth.

I am not aware that any council takes into consideration the country of origin of those eligible for housing allocation. Indeed it’s probably a sackable offence to do so.

Allow me to enlighten you with a few facts.

Migrationwatch argues Government household projections are based on a "false assumption" that net immigration would be about 65,000 a year.
Between 1996 and 2004, however, it had averaged 140,000 annually, says the group, which spends much money fighting the false bogeyman that is “mass immigration.”

It concludes that 70% of the 370,000 housing shortfall - totalling 260,000 properties - had resulted from immigration above what had been anticipated.
So far so BNP friendly. Now consider rising demand for housing caused by people living alone.

The number of single person households increased from 2,977,000 in 1971 to 6,447,000 in 2006.

This trajectory is set to continue with people living alone accounting for 72% of annual housing growth by 2026. And no it’s not all single mums; it’s the elderly, professionals and divorcees too.

Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, the level of new house building has halved.

So yes Ms Hodge, we do face a housing crisis - caused by consecutive UK governments which not only failed to address, but have - through poor policy decisions - made worse the current housing shortage.

We can hardly blame the small-by-comparison number of people fleeing poverty and/or violence abroad – often as a result of our own foreign policies and increasingly our failure to act on climate change.

Since Alan’s message appears to have fallen on deaf ears, I suggest you send a note to self Mrs Hodge: engage brain before speaking. Otherwise your Hodgepodge approach to the facts leaves you vulnerable to accusations of being a bit of a BNP supporting idiot. And it’s a very poor look!

Dear Marina,

As a Christian I am concerned that we are not doing enough to combat climate change. My local parish council is keen to put solar panels on the church roof. But we’ve had no joy from the government whom it was assumed would want to help us. What do you suggest we do?

Green Worshiper

As a pagan, I agree. In a week when the government shows once again that its attitude to nuclear power, clearly, is a positive one it is obvious that all encouraging words on renewables have been nowt but piss and wind.

Example: Gordon Brown announces an extra £6 million funding for the Low Carbon Buildings Trust which provides grants for renewable energy projects. But two hours later the DTI closes down the scheme. It’s a case of talk global, postpone local, wouldn’t you say?

Grants are back on next week, but the drop in recent business for renewable companies of between 40 and 60% mean many already have their noses squashed up against the wall as their businesses collapse.

The DTI is obviously shagging the nuclear industry – in bed with is just too polite under the circumstances – and until that sorry department is abolished, we’ll have no positive way forward.

So why not launch a project to ensure every home in your parish is equipped with energy efficient light bulbs – a switch of 27 million bulbs would see this country’s energy needs reduced by two power stations.

If you still want to push ahead with a micro generation project, you now have to apply via the utilities companies, who frankly, have no interest in us switching power generation supplies, but have been tasked with the job anyway. God I’m depressed.

Dear Marina,

I can't believe it, the divorce (on hygiene grounds) was bad enough but now the ex has just robbed me – legally! Apparently as the homemaker she's entitled to part of my £131million beer money. What I want to know is how come she's the homemaker when we have a staff of 15 Filipino maids and the pile was built by Poles?

Ill-used of Belgravia or somewhere

Get over yourself. She’s only had 45% of the wealth you acquired as a married couple. I’m sure if life had been different – say after sixth form, where you met, you still got together but now found yourselves in debt. Then you wouldn’t be quibbling over her taking on board half the overdraft, now would you?
Given you left her for tax reasons (moving to Bermuda! Lucky you), there must be savings in the kitty. Give your ex her dues and move on.

Can’t give this any more thought – the Tories are trying to cancel our annual town fireworks display – I have some serious rebellion to organise. Not only that, but it’s the start of the festival season – so once I’ve got the local youths rioting, I’m off for a hot date round a campfire. Peace and love all. Will blog from a field next week – power supplied by renewable technologies OBVIOUSLY!!!!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue