Don't pretend this doesn't depress you. Photo: Matti Mattila on Flickr via Creative Commons
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In the housing crisis, blue carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like, including installing carpet in shades never found in nature.

Sometimes you find yourself browsing through £5m London houses on Zoopla. If you’re anything like me, you do so tearfully and at 3am, having realised long ago that you’ll never own a property. Throw a slice of fridge-cold leftover pizza, or a bowl of cereal into the mix and you’ve just Picassoed yourself a picture of me at nearly any given 3am.

It’s probably quite telling that, these days, I fantasise more about wooden floors than I do about women. Telling of what exactly, I have no idea, but I somehow manage to make it dirty. A belt sander, a wall splattered with paint… “Hey, reasonably-priced flat, I’ve been a very naughty London-dwelling millennial…”. I’ve developed full-on objectophilia for Georgian houses in Islington, decked out in G-Plan furniture, and I blame the housing crisis.

You want what you can’t have, right? So, this brings me to what I can have (if and when I ever earn enough to make London rent). I can have houses with blue carpets.

Here’s a potted history of the Blue Carpet that I totally didn’t just make up: it was invented in the early 90s by a slum landlord called Clive Stench. Stench, a formidable bastard, spent 37 years developing a carpet that would make his tenants abandon all hope. The completed product, a work of evil genius worthy of the early Wernher von Braun, was blue. A completely new shade of blue, in fact. One so horrible that it can’t be found anywhere in nature, because nature took one look at it and said, “Yeah right”. This design was quickly distributed to the owners of shitty rentals all over the country, and there it remains, dotted with red wine stains and plainly malevolent in its blueness.

When I look through affordable (ha!) rentals in London, the Blue Carpet is a running theme. It’s there to remind me, and millions of others like me, that a rented property in London isn’t somewhere you live; it’s somewhere you pass through on the way to death. A bit like a crap service station that doesn’t even have a Burger King.

Blue Carpet simply does a spectacular job of saying, “You’re not welcome here”. Landlords want us to know that these aren’t homes they’re renting to us for ruinous stacks of cash, they’re dismal and faceless money factories. After all, a Blue Carpeted house is just a few dehumanisingly short pens away from pastiching the interior of a Jobcentre Plus. And woe betide anyone who spills something on a Blue Carpet. It doesn’t matter that it predates John Major’s prime-ministership and already looks like it’s been jizzed on repeatedly by anyone who’s ever trodden it; there goes your deposit. Here’s a game for a lonely night in, try and imagine all of the fluids, bodily or otherwise, that went into making your Blue Carpet so sticky that it practically clicks when you walk on it.

The cruel genius of Blue Carpet is that nothing goes with it. The idea is that you take one look at it, say, “Fuck this”, deck out your bedroom with a stolen park bench and a rusty Morrisons trolley, and wait to shuffle off this mortal bedspring. The Blue Carpet was designed to break you.

The housing crisis has created a seller’s market in which landlords have the power to treat their tenants with as much contempt as they like. The Blue Carpet is a symbol of the landlord’s freedom to channel Ebenezer Scrooge having an argument with a Poundland shop assistant over the price of a pack of felt tip pens. We’re truly living in an age of Blue Carpet tyranny.

So, letting agents, please do us all one small favour and stop describing Blue Carpeted properties as “neutrally decorated”. They’re not.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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