Kitchen sink drama. Photo: BBC
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Shut up about Ed Miliband's two kitchens: if you kick champagne socialists out, champagne Tories will conquer

What matters is not privilege, but what you choose to do with it.

It’s funny because, up until this morning, I had thought Ed Miliband did all his cooking on a camping stove with out-of-date sausages he found in the discount bin in Aldi. It turns out the Leader of the Opposition has his own kitchen. He even has two. Or, as journalist and friend of the Milibands Jenni Russell put it, Ed and wife Justine have a kitchen and a “functional kitchenette” by their living room for “tea and quick snacks.” A politician and a barrister have money? It’s this sort of investigative revelation for which I rely on the press. Next week’s exclusive: Britain has a class system.

Whether it was a soft PR move or a personal calculation, it is telling that Miliband used his "smaller" kitchen for the original photograph. Over 24 hours, he’s found himself kicked by both sides of the dilemma waiting for anyone further left than Thatcher: Be honest about your wealth and you’re a privileged hypocrite. Hide it and you’re a liar – or, as the Daily Mail’s Sarah Vine described it, the owner of “communist-style egalitarian lino”.

This is the same trap left-wing commentators routinely find themselves in. A columnist objecting to private education will be shouted down for having gone to one themselves. A pundit criticising low pay for the average worker will be derided for how much they earn. If the entry requirement for a politician or journalist discussing progressive policies was being working class, inequality would be discussed around three times a year. Which, as a tactic, seems very convenient for anyone wanting things to stay exactly how they are. Kick out the champagne socialists and the political discourse will be (even more) defined by champagne conservatives.

Sure, it is tempting to dissect a politician’s bank balance. If we’re deciding the next election based on who has the nicest kitchen (and I’ve heard worse ideas) we could point out that David Cameron’s cost £25,000 – and is seemingly full of luxurious utensils and furniture, including a £1,600 lamp, an £800 cooker and a £140 toaster. He’d probably look at Miliband’s kitchenette and burst into tears, stamping his feet in between sobs of “What am I? Middle bloody class?” But then again, I could not care less. It is not simply that Cameron is an Eton-educated, Bullingdon Club product of the ruling class that is objectionable. It's that he's an Eton-educated, Bullingdon Club product of the ruling class who has chosen to use his position to make low-wage earners, benefit claimants, and the disabled poorer. It is not the privilege someone has that matters but what they choose to do with it.

What’s Miliband’s crime? That he advocates a mansion tax and a living wage and then goes home to a nicer-than-average house. It is smoke and mirrors. Power and money, of course, matters: both the advantage our politicians come from and what they have now. The British class system is a running joke; where cash, networks, and schooling beat talent, morals, and vision. The House of Commons and the contest for No 10 is clearly a damning example. But castigating individual politicians will do nothing to disrupt the structural inequality that helped them, rather than their cleaner, get there.

Nor will attacking Miliband for earning enough to buy a house with a spare kitchen do anything to fix the inequality that means millions of others are on zero hours, peanut benefits and fearing debt or eviction. Worse, the cycle of denial and outrage – whether it’s hiding a luxury kitchen or criticising it – actively enshrines both. We may as well make a pact: "Let's pretend there's no such thing as economic, social, and gender inequality and then do absolutely nothing about it."

Pretending our leaders – or for that matter, barristers or journalists – are largely anything but advantaged is the sort of insulting game that treats the public like children appeased by shiny colours. "Kitchens" are a distraction. Inequality, poverty, and skewed life chances matter. It would be a start to elect someone who cares they exist.

Frances Ryan is a journalist and political researcher. She writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman, and others on disability, feminism, and most areas of equality you throw at her. She has a doctorate in inequality in education. Her website is here.

Photo: Getty
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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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