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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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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