BBC "liberals" love the BNP

What was that about left-wing bias again?

I don't want to say I told you so but . . . er . . . I told you so.

The BBC's decision to invite the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, on to Question Time next month is, in my humble view, the final nail in the coffin of the ludicrous right-wing argument that the corporation has a liberal or left-wing slant. How many bona fide liberals do you know who go out of their way to be hospitable to the BNP? How many dyed-in-the-wool leftists do you know who force Labour to rethink its policy of not sharing a platform with far-right extremists?

In fact, there are those on the centre left who believe this move by the Beeb will further legitimise the BNP's neo-fascist views -- in a confirmation of Godwin's Law, the Labour MP John Mann, chair of the all-party anti-Semitism group, said: "This is how Hitler came to power."

As it happens, I think Labour should now reconsider its policy. The genie is out of the bottle and Griffin and his odious ilk have already appeared on too many serious television and radio programmes and been treated, absurdly, as if they were ordinary politicians. (The BNP is not an ordinary political party. I despair at the number of media commentators who pretend that it is, simply because of the share they get of the national vote. I mean, how many ordinary political parties do you know that happily welcome criminals, thugs and racists to their ranks?)

I also worry that Question Time will provide the perfect populist platform from which Griffin can spew his vile, racist and bigoted views -- unless he is challenged by articulate and passionate "big beasts" from the three main political parties. It is a shame, therefore, that the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, has already refused to appear on the same programme as Griffin, for fear of lending him greater legitimacy.

Then there is the specific issue of Islam. For Griffin and the BNP, blacks and Jews are no longer the real enemies: Muslims are. In a recent Channel 4 News interview, Griffin described Islam as a "cancer" that should be removed from Europe by "chemotherapy".

I wonder, which British Muslim will QT be booking to appear with the BNP leader? Or will they allow his Islamophobic bile to go unchecked and unchallenged by its main victims? If they're struggling to come up with someone, I've checked my diary and I think I'm pretty much free every Thursday night in October. I look forward to the call from the Question Time producers at the independent production company Mentorn.

Oh, and to read an insider view of this whole affair from my colleague James Macintyre -- who worked as a producer on Question Time until 2007 and has strong views on the BNP -- you'll have to buy a copy of this week's magazine (on newsstands on Thursday).

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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