Boris Johnson tests out a bed on his visit to the Olympic Park and Olympic Village on July 12, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Exclusive: Boris's hypocrisy on working from home

Mayor of London has worked from home despite denouncing the practice as a "skivers' paradise". 

Back in the summer of 2012, as ministers advised people to work from home during the Olympics to reduce congestion, Boris Johnson urged resistance. Denouncing the practice as a "skiver’s paradise", he declared: "Some people will see the Games as an opportunity to work from home, in inverted commas. We all know that is basically sitting wondering whether to go down to the fridge to hack off that bit of cheese before checking your emails again. I don’t want to see too many of us doing that."

Nor was this mere flippancy from the mayor. He added that working from home was "greatly overrated" and that "In my opinion people need to get in. They need to meet each other and they need to exchange ideas in an office environment."

But it seems that Boris isn't prepared to practice what he preaches. In an interview with me in this week's NS, Ken Livingstone reveals that disgruntled Tories on the London Assembly have told him that the mayor plans to start working from home on Fridays. He said: 

What I find interesting is that almost all the dirt I get on Boris comes from the Tory members on the [London] Assembly. They're really angry because he's decided he's going to start working from home on Fridays. 

When I spoke Boris's official spokesman, he told me: "Unlike Mr Livingstone, this mayor has no plans to work from home on Fridays. Unlike Mr Livingstone, this mayor's focus is on jobs and growth, infrastructure investment, housebuilding and crime. That has delivered Crossrail, the Northern Line extension, 150,000 apprenticeships, an 11 per cent fall in crime and more affordable homes, over 70,000 so far, than Mr Livingstone ever built."

But he conceded that Boris had "occasionally" worked from home before again accusing Livingstone of hypocrisy. Another mayoral source said: "These are the tired ratings of someone who lost two elections to Boris. His views are total guff; Livingstone was often absent on a Friday." But regardless of whether that is true, Boris, thanks to his earlier comments, is himself open to the charge of hypocrisy.

And whether working from home involves completing his planned biography of Churchill, plotting to stop George Osborne getting his hands on the Conservative leadership, or just gorging on cheese from the fridge, the revelation will only enhance the impression that he is a part-time mayor. One source close to City Hall said that he had "never known the place to be so quiet". 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The private renting sector enables racist landlords like Fergus Wilson

A Kent landlord tried to ban "coloured people" from his properties. 

Fergus Wilson, a landlord in Kent, has made headlines after The Sun published his email to a letting agent which included the line: "No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy."

When confronted, the 70-year-old property owner only responded with the claim "we're getting overloaded with coloured people". The letting agents said they would not carry out his orders, which were illegal. 

The combination of blatant racism, a tired stereotype and the outdated language may make Wilson seem suspiciously like a Time Landlord who has somehow slipped in from 1974. But unfortunately he is more modern than he seems.

Back in 2013, a BBC undercover investigation found 10 letting agent firms willing to discriminate against black tenants at the landlord's request. One manager was filmed saying: "99% of my landlords don't want Afro-Caribbeans."

Under the Equality Act 2010, this is illegal. But the conditions of the private renting sector allow discrimination to flourish like mould on a damp wall. 

First, discrimination is common in flat shares. While housemates or live-in landlords cannot turn away a prospective tenant because of their race, they can express preferences of gender and ethnicity. There can be logical reasons for this - but it also provides useful cover for bigots. When one flat hunter in London protested about being asked "where do your parents come from?", the landlord claimed he just wanted to know whether she was Christian.

Second, the private rental sector is about as transparent as a landlord's tax arrangements. A friend of mine, a young professional Indian immigrant, enthusiastically replied to house share ads in the hope of meeting people from other cultures. After a month of responding to three or four room ads a day, he'd had just six responses. He ended up sharing with other Indian immigrants.

My friend suspected he'd been discriminated against, but he had no way of proving it. There is no centrally held data on who flatshares with who (the closest proxy is SpareRoom, but its data is limited to room ads). 

Third, the current private renting trends suggest discrimination will increase, rather than decrease. Landlords hiked rents by 2.1 per cent in the 12 months to February 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, an indication of high demand. SpareRoom has recorded as many as 22 flat hunters chasing a single room. In this frenzy, it only becomes harder for prospective tenants to question the assertion "it's already taken". 

Alongside this demand, the government has introduced legislation which requires landlords to check that tenants can legitimately stay in the UK. A report this year by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants found that half of landlords were less likely to rent to foreign nationals as a result of the scheme. This also provides handy cover for the BTL bigot - when a black British tenant without a passport asked about a room, 58 per cent of landlords ignored the request or turned it down

Of course, plenty of landlords are open-minded, unbiased and unlikely to make a tabloid headline anytime soon. They most likely outnumber the Fergus Wilsons of this world. But without any way of monitoring discrimination in the private rental sector, it's impossible to know for sure. 

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.