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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Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women

After decades as an MP, Diane Abbott finally spoke out about the racist and sexist abuse she faces. But she's not alone. 

“Which STD will end your miserable life?” “This is why monkeys don’t belong here.” “I hope you get lynched”. These are just some of the many messages Seyi Akiwowo, a Labour councillor in Newham, told me she has been sent over the past three weeks. Akiwowo has received reams of violent and racist abuse after a video of her suggesting former empires pay reparations to countries they once colonised (and whose resources they still continue to plunder) went viral. She doesn’t expect everyone to agree with her, she said, but people seem to think they’re entitled to hurl abuse at her because she’s a black woman.

The particular intensity of misogyny directed at black women is so commonplace that it was given a name by academic Moya Bailey: misogynoir. This was highlighted recently when Diane Abbott, the country’s first and most-well known black woman MP and current shadow Home secretary, spoke out about the violent messages she’s received and continues to receive. The messages are so serious that Abbott’s staff often fear for her safety. There is an implicit point in abuse like this: women of colour, in particular black women, should know their place. If they dare to share their opinions, they’ll be attacked for it.

There is no shortage of evidence to show women of colour are sent racist and sexist messages for simply having an opinion or being in the public eye, but there is a dearth of meaningful responses. “I don’t see social media companies or government leaders doing enough to rectify the issue,” said Akiwowo, who has reported some of the abuse she’s received. Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, agreed. “The advice from social media experts is not to feed the trolls, but that vacates the public space for them," she said. But ignoring abuse is a non-solution. Although Onwurah notes the police and media giants are beginning to take this abuse seriously, not enough is being done.

Akiwowo has conversations with young women of colour who become less sure they want to go into politics after seeing the way people like Abbott have been treated. It’s an unsurprising reaction. Kate Osamor, shadow secretary of state for International Development, argued no one should have to deal with the kind of vitriol Abbott does. It’s well documented that the ease and anonymity of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have changed the nature of communication – and for politicians, this means more abuse, at a faster pace and at all hours of the day. Social media, Onwurah said, has given abuse a “new lease of life”. There needs to be a concerted effort to stop people from using these platforms to spout their odious views.

But there is another layer to understanding misogyny and racism in public life. The rapid and anonymous, yet public, nature of social media has shone a light on what women of colour already know to be a reality. Dawn Butler MP, who has previously described racism as the House of Commons’ “dirty little secret”, told me “of course” she has experienced racism and sexism in Parliament: “What surprises me is when other people are surprised”. Perhaps that’s because there’s an unwillingness to realise or really grapple the pervasiveness of misogynoir.

“Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get someone to understand the discriminatory nature of peoples’ actions,” Butler explained. “That itself is demoralising and exhausting.” After 30 years of racist and sexist treatment, it was only when Abbott highlighted the visceral abuse she experiences that politicians and commentators were willing to speak out in her support. Even then, there seemed to be little recognition of how deep this ran. In recent years, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been ridiculed for having a relationship with her in the 70s, as if a black woman’s sexuality is both intriguing and laughable; people regularly imply she’s incompetent, despite having been in Parliament for three decades and at the last general election increasing her majority by a staggering amount; she has even been derided by her own colleagues. Those Labour MPs who began the hashtag #PrayforDiane when she was off work because of illness spoke to a form of bullying that wouldn’t be acceptable in most workplaces.

These supposedly less obvious forms of racism and sexism are largely downplayed or seen as unrelated to discrimination. They might be understood through what influential scholar Stuart Hall called the “grammar of race”. Different from overtly racist comments, Hall says there’s a form of racism that’s “inferential”; naturalised representations of people - whether factual or fictional - have “racist premises and propositions inscribed in them as a set of unquestioned assumptions”. Alongside the racist insults hurled at black women politicians like Abbott, there’s a set of racialised tropes that rely on sexualisation or derision to undermine these women.

The streams of abuse on social media aren’t the only barrier people of colour – and women in particular – face when they think about getting into politics. “I don’t think there’s a shortage of people in the black community who put themselves forward to stand for office, you only have to look at when positions come up the list of people that go for the position,” Claudia Webbe, a councillor and member of Labour's ruling body the National Executive Committee told me. As one of the few black women to hold such a position in the history of the Labour party, she knows from her extensive career how the system works. “I think there is both a problem of unfair selection and a problem of BME [black and minority ethnic] people sustaining the course." Conscious and unconscious racial and gender bias means politics are, like other areas of work in the UK, more difficult to get into if you’re a woman of colour.

“The way white women respond to the way black women are treated is integral,” Osamor says, “They are part of the solution”. White women also face venomous and low-lying forms of sexism that are often overlooked, but at times the solidarity given to them is conditional for women of colour. In a leaked letter to The Guardian, Abbott’s staff criticised the police for not acting on death threats, while similar messages sent to Anna Soubry MP resulted in arrest. When the mainstream left talks about women, it usually means white women. This implicitly turns the experiences of women of colour into an afterthought.

The systematic discrimination against women of colour, and its erasure or addendum-like quality, stems from the colonial racial order. In the days of the British empire, white women were ranked as superior to colonised Asian and African women who were at different times seen as overly sexualised or unfeminine. Black women were at the bottom of this hierarchy. Women of colour were essentially discounted as real women. Recognising this does not equate to pitting white women and women of colour against each other. It is simply a case of recognising the fact that there is a distinct issue of racial abuse.

The online abuse women of colour, and black women specifically, is an issue that needs to be highlighted and dealt with. But there are other more insidious ways that racism and sexism manifest themselves in everyday political life, which should not be overlooked. “Thirty years ago I entered parliament to try and be the change I wanted to see,” Abbott wrote. “Despite the personal attacks and the online abuse, that struggle continues.” That struggle must be a collective one.

Maya Goodfellow researches race and racism in Britain. She is a staff writer at LabourList.