Dennis Skinner trolls the Queen

Josie Long nominates an unusual tradition as one of her favourite things.

In the Christmas issue of the New Statesman, comedian Josie Long nominates her favourite things of the year. One of them is this YouTube video, "Dennis Skinner trolls the Queen".

It's become an annual tradition for the Bolsover MP to heckle when Black Rod - resplendent in dark tights, and sent by the monarch - requests that MPs join him in the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament. (By tradition, the Queen cannot enter the Commons.)

Mostly, Skinner goes for laughs. In 1998 he went for: "Ey up, here comes Puss in Boots". In 2006, he shouted: "Have you got Helen Mirren on standby?"

In 2008, he asked: "Any Tory moles at the palace?" - a reference to the arrest of Tory MP Damian Green on suspicion of receiving confidential information from a civil servant. 

But this year, he went with some more edgy material, shouting: "Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start."

Tory MPs responded with cries of "shame!"

You can see an impressively full list of Skinner's heckles on Wikipedia.

Black Rod at the Opening of Parliament. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Private renter poverty has doubled in a decade - so where's Labour?

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation named housing market failures as driving poverty. 

Labour’s economic policy task is enormous. It must find a coherent argument that addresses Brexit, the “left behinds”, and a nervous business community. But there is one policy area that should be an open goal – private renting. 

The number of private renters in poverty has doubled over the last decade, according to a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Those most likely to fall into poverty are working families – there were 2.8m of these people in 2014-15, compared to 1m a decade earlier.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the report noted, after finding more than 70 per cent of private renters in poverty pay at least a third of their income in rent.

This is particularly the case if you consider the knock-on effect - housing benefit. This benefit was frozen by George Osborne, meaning that by 2015 Shelter calculated rates had fallen behind actual rents in nearly 70 per cent of England. For families out of work, of course, housing benefit is also included in the benefit cap. 

Private renter poverty is easily characterised as an inner-city problem – the kind cherished by the “metropolitan elite”. But in fact, across Great Britain as a whole, roughly one in ten children under 19 lives in a family that is privately renting and claiming housing benefit. The highest percentage was in Blackpool, followed by the Essex coastal area of Tendring, followed by London boroughs. Private renting is a trend that affects both the Remain strongholds and the Leave coastal towns.

So far, Labour has been relatively quiet on private renting. During the summer’s leadership campaign, Jeremy Corbyn promised to introduce “rent controls, secure tenancies and a charter of private tenants’ rights” (a promise he repeated as part of a longer speech in November). But this is hardly a blockbuster campaign. 

And the challenges are great. A convincing renting policy must explain how Labour would deal with a reactionary letting market industry (including pensioner voters), whether renting should be a step to buying, or an end in itself, and how new council and social housing would be allocated.

Labour could also, though, tie a rent campaign into other trends - the growing army of self-employed that find it hard to prove their wages to a landlord or mortgage lender, the working families on frozen benefits, and the employers that find their employees priced out of the local area. And pissed-off tenants are not hard to find. 

If Labour doesn’t move soon on an issue that should be its natural home, the government may steal the keys. In the Autumn Statement, Philip Hammond helped himself to Ed Miliband’s 2015 promise to ban letting agent fees. The government has also set up a working group with members of the private renting industry. (Yes, the government may also be selling off social housing under Right to Buy, but if you never had the option of social housing anyway, this may pass you by.)

Fixing the housing market takes imagination and a steeliness to take on entrenched interests. But if Labour does come up with a solution, it could touch the lives of voters, both Leave and Remain. 

 

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.