Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Labour is betting everything on its new brand of pothole politics (Daily Telegraph)

Ed Miliband hopes local activism and 'viral’ recruitment will be an antidote to voter apathy, writes Mary Riddell.

2. How can prisoners 'work harder' when they've got nothing to do? (Guardian)

It may not be what he intended, but Chris Grayling's criticism exposes the flaws of privately run prisons, says Frances Crook.

3.  I hate Abu Qatada too – but the law’s the law (Times)

Do we seriously want the Home Secretary to ignore the pesky courts and just shove this man on a plane, asks Daniel Finkelstein.

4. Young IDS should pick his battles with care (Daily Telegraph)

Only a foolhardy politician would ask pensioners to sacrifice their free bus pass, says Joan Bakewell.

5. Why the Baltic states are no model (Financial Times)

What is possible for small, open economies is close to impossible for the large and relatively closed, writes Martin Wolf.

6. Michael Gove is winning the hearts of state heads (Daily Telegraph)

Teaching unions don’t want you to know, but head teachers support Michael Gove's education reforms, says Anthony Seldon.

7. Ed Miliband will fail if he locks himself into Tory austerity (Guardian)

Falling living standards make Labour favourite to win the next election, writes Seumas Milne. It needs policies to match the scale of the crisis.

8. Vive la change between us and the French (Daily Mail)

An Anglo-French alliance as reformers of the EU may yet come to pass, says Andrew Alexander.

9. Cash-hungry countries have encouraged the rise of tax havens (Independent)

A desire to protect the oppressed, and generate revenue, has got us to here, writes Hamish McRae.

10. What Queen Elizabeth can learn from Queen Beatrix (Guardian)

Britain's monarch enjoys huge support – but therein is the royals' vulnerability, writes Simon Jenkins. They should look to the Netherlands.

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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.