Will Boris speak out against "social cleansing"?

Mayor's warning of "social cleansing" comes true as Newham council seeks to move housing benefit cla

In October 2010, Boris Johnson memorably declared of the government's plan to cap housing benefit, "What we will not see and we will not accept [is] any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London.

"On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots".

Yet now, just nine days before the London mayoral election, we have an example of precisely that. The BBC reports that Newham council is trying to evict 500 families on housing benefit to Stoke - 135 miles north - after concluding that it can no longer afford to house them in private accommodation.

Rents have risen steeply in the borough, the site of the Olympic park, and the housing benefit cap of £400 per week has exacerbated the problem. Yet this morning on the Today programme, housing minister Grant Shapps casually asserted that "rents are actually falling, they've been lower than inflation for some time". But even if we assume that rent increases are lower than inflation, that does not equate to them falling. For those whose pay has been cut or frozen (93 per cent of new housing benefit claimants are in work), rents are certainly rising. Research by Shelter, for instance, found that while the average London wage increased by 3.8 per cent in 2010-11, private rents increased by 6.8 per cent.

Labour MP Karen Buck, one of Westminster's foremost experts on housing, notes:

We know from London Councils that 88,000 households have private rents above the new limits for housing benefit and in theory these families were meant to find new homes in places like Newham.

Obviously, even before the housing benefit cuts have really began to bite we have seen that this policy will unravel.

The problem was both predictable and predicted. The inflated housing benefit budget, which now totals £20bn, is the result of a conscious choice by successive governments to subsidise private landlords rather than invest in affordable social housing. To cap benefits, then, is to tackle the symptoms, rather than the cause.

With signs that the Tories' political woes are hitting support for Boris (yesterday's YouGov poll showed that Ken Livingstone had narrowed his lead to just two points), this story comes at an awkward moment for the Mayor of London. If he wants to indulge in some more pre-election differentiation, now would be the time to do so.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson declared that he would not accept "Kosovo-style social cleansing". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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We know what Donald Trump's presidency will look like - and it's terrifying

The direction of America's 45th president plans to take is all too clear.

Welcome to what we may one day describe as the last day of the long 20th century.

“The Trump Era: The Decline of the Great Republic” is our cover story. “Now the world holds its breath” is the Mirror’s splash, “Protesters mass ahead of Trump's presidency” is the Times’, while the Metro opts to look back at America’s departing 44th President: “Farewell Mr President” sighs their frontpage.

Of today’s frontpages, i best captures the scale of what’s about to happen: “The day the world changes”. And today’s FT demonstrates part of that change: “Mnuchin backs 'long-term' strong dollar after mixed Trump signals”. The President-Elect (and sadly that’s the last time I’ll be able to refer to Trump in that way) had suggested that the dollar was overvalued, statements that his nominee for Treasury Secretary has rowed back on.

Here’s what we know about Donald Trump so far: that his major appointments split into five groups: protectionists, white nationalists, conservative ideologues,  his own family members, and James Mattis, upon whom all hope that this presidency won’t end in global catastrophe now rests.  Trump has done nothing at all to reassure anyone that he won’t use the presidency to enrich himself on a global scale. His relationship with the truth remains just as thin as it ever was.

Far from “not knowing what Trump’s presidency will look like”, we have a pretty good idea: at home, a drive to shrink the state, and abroad, a retreat from pro-Europeanism and a stridently anti-China position, on trade for certain and very possibly on Taiwan as well.

We are ending the era of the United States as a rational actor and guarantor of a degree of global stability, and one in which the world’s largest hegemon behaves as an irrational actor and guarantees global instability.

The comparison with Brexit perhaps blinds many people to the scale of the change that Trump represents. The very worst thing that could happen after Brexit is that we become poorer.  The downside of Trump could be that we look back on 1989 to 2017 as the very short 21st century.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.