The Madness of Housing,
an adaptation from Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds.
I bring abstracts from Murrays excellent recent book to show their relevance to the current Housing policy.
Murray starts by observing that society is going through a great crowd derangement, irrational and herd-like. He points to the financial crash in 2008 as highlighting the difference between the have’s and have not’s. Unsurprisingly, its not hard to see why a generation which can’t accumulate capital, should have any love of capitalism. Why a generation who believe they may never own their own home could be attracted to an ideological world view that promises to sort out every inequity in their own lives and across the world. – Enter the concept of ‘Social Justice’, Identity politics and Intersectionalism, or as I simply put it, the ‘someone’s better-off than me syndrome.’
This ‘social justice’ has grown legs in part to its anti-opposition question of asking if a person opposes social justice, – if so, are they advocating social injustice. Well actually in Capitalist society as opposed to Marxist or Communist cultures, rewards are earned. The noble nirvana of equality is claimed by the political left and right. Labour see equality of outcome whilst Conservatives advocate equality of opportunity.
In identity politics finds its caucuses in various sections of society that have secular interests. In The Madness of Crowds, Murray focuses on Gay, Feminist, Racial and Transexuals. But these are by far not the only secular groups seeking ‘social justice, or an easier ride, calling attention to the injustice of their unique cause.
Murray’s fascinating book cites very many shocking examples of the extremes of which social injustice has invaded. On the feminist issue I’ll cite just one example from the Guardian editor Helen Pidd in an article on 13th June 2018, ‘ Women shun cycling because of safety, not helmet hair ‘ with the sub title – Roads designed by men are killing women. The departure from the topic under discussion is hi-jacked by the feminist in an us versus them style. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/13/safety-women-cycling-roads
On the Gay issue, Murray points to the fight for equality in latter half of last century reversing historic injustice but the ‘war having been won’ the battle did not stop but took on new enemies of lesbian and bisexual. Later adding Transexuals.
The point being that as a subject matter of Gay rights and feminists had been ‘won’, but more ‘causes’ were found to join the bandwagon.
The syndrome of fighting battles that have been won until there are new ones found, or aren’t any, is illustrated by the late Australian philosopher Kenneth Minogue as “ St. George in retirement syndrome ” After slaying the dragon the brave warrior finds himself stalking the land looking for still more glorious fights. He needs his dragons ( read, sense of purpose to justify existence ) eventually after tiring himself out in pursuit of ever smaller dragons, he eventually swings his sword at thin air, imagining it to contain dragons.
Our society has become dense with people desperate to ‘man the barricades’ long after the revolution is over. Either because they mistake the barricades for home or because they have no home to go to. This overstates and therefore amplifies the problem.
A 2017 National statistics put the number of LGBT people in the UK at 1 million for the first time. UK’s Pink news described it as a landmark figure, high but ‘not high enough’ begging the question how high would that sectional interest group like it to be. To use the earlier analogy, St. George wanting and finding his dragons are multiplying.
The willingness, if not eagerness of the media and academia to be seen as authoritative voices on the latest social justice campaign has been illustrated in the Guardian article above but also perversely by academics who wrote three papers, peer reviewed and published in academic journals.
‘The conceptual penis as a social construct, proposing that the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct, arguing that the penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a gender-performative, highly fluid social construct.’ Cogent Social Sciences, 2017.
‘Human Reactions to Rape Culture, and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon.’ Claimed dog humping in Portland parks was further evidence of the rape culture. Journal of Feminist Geography, 2018
‘A thematic analysis of Table dialogue conducted a two year study of why heterosexual males would want to eat at a Hooters restaurant.’
After peer review and publishing, the authors of the above revealed they were spoof whereupon the journals swiftly unpublished them and sought to expel the academics.
Murray observes that there is absolutely nothing that can’t be said studied or claimed as long as it fitted in with pre-existing theories and presumptions.
He also gives many examples of how a sector of social justice can make claims against another, but that in the exact reverse, would be claimed as sexist. In addition to the Guardian article, the Lib Dem ( Coalition ) Equalities (sic) minister Lynne Featherstone said at the party conference in 2011 that ; ‘men were to blame for the terrible decisions made in the world economy and as a whole were the principal reason for the ‘mess the world is in’.
Interestingly although not featuring in my housing analogy, Murray gives several examples with proof that social media and Google in particular are racist and sexist, despite their stringent ‘policing’ of social media content.
A refreshing change from the old routine is also given in ‘reverse racism’ where MP Dawn Butler denounced Jamie Oliver’s punchy jerk rice recipe, questioning his right – authority to culturally appropriate Jamaican food. The anti-racists resorting to racism, as Murray puts it well.
The aim of social justice campaigners has been to take issues such as gay, women race etc and present them as a rights grievance making their case at its most inflammatory. Their desire is not to heal but divide. If you cannot rule a society then try to collapse it. You can sow doubt, division and fear and make people doubt they are really being treated fairly. Make them doubt everything and then present yourself as having the answers, details to follow in the post.
Victimhood rather than stoicism or heroism has become eagerly publicised, even sought after. To be a victim is somehow to have ‘won’ or at least got a head start in the oppression of life. Being a victim does not equal innocence, suffering from something does not make one a better person and they may be as deceitful, dishonest and rude as anyone else. The left-leaning New York Times hired a young Asian woman Sarah Jeong to the editorial board whom had a history of social media content including ; White men are bullshit, Cancel White people and Kill All Men. The paper came to her defence citing her habit of responding in that manner to abuse she had received in the past. Others tried to exonerate her by explaining that by #Kill All men, she really meant ‘it would be nice if the world sucked less for women’ !
Murray explains this as highly politicised people are prepared to interpret extreme remarks from their own political tribe in a generous and forgiving light while reading those in the opposing camp as negative and hostile as possible. ( Sound familiar ? )
If the generosity of interpretation was extended to interpreting the remarks of the opposing side, less trench-digging may be possible and one of the first steps out of the madness. If talking and listening respectfully are futile, the only tool left for us is violence. That said, whilst shielding behind the ‘don’t be offensive to me’ the tactics of ‘victim’ groups can be very harsh indeed, far more than hurt feelings.
Tactics include the Cancel Culture where group pressure is brought to bear on organisers of venues such as Universities where eminent speakers are due to lecture. The sectors of the Social justice brigade will carry out a ‘forensic analysis’ of a person’s social media and find long past controversial tweets to the slightest degree of a racial or gender issue.
An example was Toby Young who was appointed to a [voluntary] position by the government on the advisory board of higher education. From comments he had made admiring a woman’s cleavage almost a decade earlier, he was forced to withdraw from the position within weeks. Murray gives many other shocking examples, like a Asda employee sacked for sharing a Billy Connelly video, although was later re-instated.
To outline just one other, was the case of Harry Miller, an ex-Police officer who had retweeted a comment someone else had made about Transgender people. A complaint was made to the Police in Humberside where an officer visited Mr Miller’s place of work, asking to speak with him to ‘check his thinking’ ! There were no charges or argument about the legal content of the Tweet Mr Miller forwarded.
In response to a complaint from someone only disclosed as Mrs B, Humberside Police recorded a Crime report, as a Non-Crime. Following Freedom of Information, it was found that the police annually record 120,000 Non-crime hate incidents that could appear on an enhanced Data Baring search and affect future job or travel entry to certain countries.
Mr Miller at great expense and personal cost both financially and emotionally brought the case to the High Court where Justice Knowles gave a sweeping rebuke of the police action against Mr Miller.
LJ Knowles, ‘ In this country we have never had a Cheka, a Gestapo or a Stasi. We have never lived in an Orwellian society. ‘
Responding to the ruling, Helen BELCHER who co-founded Trans Media watch said .. the court didn’t define what the threshold for acceptable speech was.’ ( but it was clearly not a point of view or opinion someone disagreed with ! ) A joint defendant to the proceeding with Humberside police was the College of Policing [CoP] who had written the guidance to forces on recording ‘Non-crime hate incidents ( an incident including a report or allegation, not requiring to pass any threshold of transgressing any particular Act of parliament ) The action against the College of Policing did not succeed as the court found there were legitimate uses for the policy, if not the manner in which Humberside had implemented it. The CoP did however revise the guidance.
An interesting aspect from this incident and others, is the extent to which Social justice has permeated into policing, politics and the media.
There are a few who are pushing back against this, Douglas Murray in his book which has an absence of defamatory or hateful content, but is absolutely crammed with evidence against the Social Justice movement. Other controversial people who speak the truth that offends a section of society include Katie Hopkins and the increasingly very popular Alex Belfield, ‘The Voice of Reason’ on YouTube.
From Murray’s book, Harry Miller took the personal and expensive stance against the establishment and won. Toby Young has set up the Free Speech Union. All are formidable in their own right but there hasn’t been a concerted amalgamation. Imagine the power if another two joined them, the magnificent seven. !
Those in the business of the Private Rented sector ( PRS ) may have noticed a number of parallels from even the short abstracts of the book and I’ll elaborate further on them following.
Taking a snapshot at the PRS.
Just over 2 million Landlords, 4.5 Million tenants. About 50% of landlords renting out a single property, sometimes termed accidental landlords because they often have come into ownership of the property through inheritance as opposed to active purchase. The purchase of property by a landlord being a favourite charge against landlords for competing against first -time buyers, pushing up the price of property outside of first-time buyers reach. Whilst wrong on a number of bases, who, whether first-time buyer or landlord is going to pay more than the market value for a property. Secondly, often the type of property suited to purchase for private rental is not in the target market for first time buyers. ( too large, needing extensive – expensive renovation etc )
Only about 3 % of landlords are members of any landlord association. The largest Landlord Association, National Residential Landlord Association has a membership of approximately 80,000 and is a £6 million annual turnover organisation.
There are about a dozen regional landlord groups-associations ranging in membership from several hundred to over a thousand. Also a number of social media sites with a total readership of a few hundred thousand. Roughly, we can guesstimate about half a million landlords showing a varied interest in the increasingly complex business of renting.
About a third of England ( and whole of Wales and Scotland ) have adopted Landlord Licensing schemes much of bureaucratic and limited effectiveness. Most don’t have a property inspection element and are therefore reactive after the fact. Licensing is intended to prevent poor housing conditions, not a manner of dealing with it after an issue has come to light. There are already copious regulations that provide for local authorities to deal with housing conditions that have come to notice. What happens in practice is that the vast majority of compliant landlords without any issues in their properties, pay and enrol in a hugely bureaucratic licensing scheme, whilst the very small number of landlords with defective properties, well, just don’t apply for a licence, fly below the radar and sometimes rent to a category of tenant that is less likely to complain.
The only benefit that I will acknowledge of a licensing scheme is the requirement for landlords to undertake a days worth of training to acquaint themselves with what has become and is increasing at an ever exponential rate, a plethora of legislation and regulation. To take tenancy deposits as just one example, introduced in 2007 there have been a number of cases and there still are disputes about interpretation of the legislation and its penalties. More recently there are examples of mistakes in the How to rent booklet, its versions and dates and impact on service to tenants.
The amount and complexity ( and contradiction ) of legislation, pre-Covid, was not conducive to even a conscientious landlord complying with their legal business requirements. In fact, with the attached condition of most regulation since around 2015 being linked to the ability to use a Possession process under section 21 of the Housing Act, 1998, the minefield for landlords has become ever more dangerous. ( more on that later )
The Tenant support groups.
These fall into two distinct camps, The first are organisations that provide accommodation and food for the homeless on a short and longer term basis. Examples are The Wallich, St. Mungo’s, Centrepoint and Crisis. A number of landlords donate to these charities and organisations and there are a section of Landlords in the PRS that rent property which is conducive to providing rental accommodation to homeless people that seek settled accommodation transitioning from street homeless. It’s a misunderstood point that only a small number of street homeless are ready or capable for settled accommodation. Also, a small number of properties and locations that are suitable.
Nevertheless, Landlords are hugely supportive of these charities in a number of ways.
The second group of tenant vocalists are campaigners for tenants yet they potentially benefit a small percentage and possibly adversely affect the majority. This group don’t provide any accommodation, shelter or food.
Shelter, the Housing Charity.
Their aims ; Shelter helps millions of people every year struggling with bad housing or homelessness through our advice, support, and legal services.
And we campaign to make sure that, one day, no one will have to turn to us for help.
( From Wikipedia ) Polly Neate is chief executive of Shelter, the homelessness and housing charity which defends the right to a safe home.
She is a prominent commentator on housing, women’s rights, leadership, and wider social justice issues, and is a trustee of Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, and of the Young Women’s Trust. She was previously Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, where she helped secure legislation to criminalise coercive and controlling behaviour.
Neate influences governments and campaigns for policy change and social justice. She has regularly appeared in the media and on platforms as diverse as the Oxford Union and the first Women’s March in London. She is a journalist by profession. She has won national awards for journalism and campaigning.
Established in 1966 the organisation has exploded into a £ 71.6 Million business, although registered as a charity. There are 1318 staff on an annual salary cost totalling £ 46.1 Million. The Chief Executive is salaried in excess of £120 k /year and there are 24 staff paid between £ 60 – 110 k The average salary per staff member being over £35 k
13 Councils and 4 in the London area contract Shelter to provide a range of welfare and debt advice services. Birmingham and Sheffield multiple contract them at an annual cost of over £ 1 Million each.
A number of Scottish councils and the government also contract Shelter, to ‘bring back empty homes by establishing empty homes officers.’ The Scottish legal Aid board ( tax-payer funded ) also contract work to them. The Ministry of Communities and Local Government contract Shelter to provide housing advice and information services across England at annual cost of over £ 2 million.
Whilst the MHCLG are supposed to be non-partisan to either landlords or tenants, its not surprising to see the weight of Shelters campaigns to government as opposed to the poorer relation of landlords.
Considering the number of residential evictions annually at around 60,000 – the ‘help to millions of people’ can only be understood in terms of extraneous debt advice, not all even housing related.
Shelter advises tenants seeking Guarantors to approach relatives or the Council. Alternatively they point out there are commercial companies that will provide this service at a cost.
Advice for tenants with a poor credit history, is to seek to rent direct from a landlord rather than letting Agent, as fewer landlords carry out reference checks.
As of 2019, Shelter has over £ 9 Million invested, producing an annual return of £ 298 k. It might reasonably be expected that some of this money be used as guarantor for tenants. Perhaps on occasion when they have to pay out, they might better understand a landlords perspective.
Shelter admit they don’t provide accommodation or refreshment and are a huge Legal and debt advice commercial organisation. ( Actively seeking more ‘dragons’ ! )
Another campaign group although much smaller, is the National Private Tenants Organisation Ltd, ( known as Generation rent. )
London-based, with only 3 employees and annual voluntary contributions and grants totalling £ 140.5 k The heavy social justice backgrounds of the 7 directors are revealed on their web site profiles. In common with Shelter, they are also funded by the Oak foundation.
Although campaigning on similar issues, Generation rent can be said to be more militant than Shelter, they promote a variety of tenant activist groups around the country who’s tactics include bullying and intimidation sometimes crossing the line into criminal behaviour. A recent campaign ‘ We can’t let the landlord lobby win. Sign up here to be part of the fight to end unfair evictions,’ is an example.
With 84% of tenants being satisfied with renting, it can be seen that the percentage of tenants that support groups campaign for, is very much in the minority.
The difference between Landlords and tenant support groups will be many on various aspects of government policy or regulation but fundamentally, it comes down to a balanced perspective.
If the media or tenant support group publish occasional accounts of blatant bad landlord behaviour, certainly such that has been through due legal process, Landlords will be quick to condemn unprofessional landlords as casting a bad reputation on their business. Equal criticism of bad tenants is never heard of from support groups.
This is unfortunate as it does not inform constructive debate and more especially indirectly harms the majority of compliant tenants. This might be in a landlord having to take precautionary measures or increase rents to the market rate which hitherto had been below.
Having selected a few abstracts from Murrays book and outlined some housing issues above, I will draw some parallels.
From the Guardian article and a topic of discussion being hijacked in an ‘us versus them’ manner. I would suggest that the difference in Landlords being able to accept unsatisfactory behaviour by others in their business contrasted with the adversarial ‘join the fight against landlords’ by Generation rent is an example.
On Murrays gay issue of the ‘war having been won’ but the battle did not stop but took on new enemies. This invites consideration of housing in the era of Shelters launch in 1966. Rent controls and secure tenancies had driven investment and available rental properties to crisis point, leading to the 1988 Housing Act that brought Assured Shorthold tenancies ( the average currently lasting over 4 years ) and the ability to increase rents once a year.
It might have been thought that Shelters battle had been won, but is the organisation going to die ? No, it found new ‘dragons’ in the form of debt legal advice and Training services. It was really St. George in retirement, swinging its sword at thin air. Shelter may point to current housing shortages and ague to the contrary, but provision that has been neglected by the government is not the fault or responsibility of the private rented sector. Any property defects found amongst the small percentage of tenants who are unsatisfied can adequately be dealt with under the plethora of existing regulation.
Murray points to the argument of those proponents of social justice, confronting any challengers as inviting if they are advocating social injustice. I see similarities with the campaigns by tenant support groups against the so-called ‘No-fault’ eviction process under Section 21 of the Housing Act. 1988 ( yes, the same legislation that revived the housing sector at that time )
A section 21 notice does not require any stated grounds or reason to be proved in order to obtain a possession order, although the lengthy notice period of 2 months is twice as long as the ground based process under Section 8. What is noticeable in comparison with the social justice / in-justice point, is the tenant support groups for those complaining ‘someone’s better off than me’ are calling for the abolition of ‘No-fault’ evictions, transposing the absence of a proven ground to mean there is no fault on behalf of the tenant who’s being evicted.
Common business sense dictates that a landlord isn’t going to embark on a lengthy and expensive possession process under Section 21 if there is no reason. Its merely use of that legislation eventually and invariably secures possession. Even the government have started to use the colloquial terminology of No-Fault that has been attributed by tenant groups. Expert Housing commentators who are not Landlords highlight the pitfalls of abolishing Section 21 for the majority of tenants. https://speyejoe2.wordpress.com/2021/01/07/england-cannot-solve-its-single-homeless-crisis-and-banning-no-fault-evictions-is-dangerous-madness/
It will be a backward step going full-circle to 1988 at the expense of the majority of compliant tenants. Nevertheless, an extra Dragon to collect.
The learning from the Trans issues are that 80% of children who have desires to change gender decide against it subsequently. Like Gender, once past a certain stage, the damage is irreversible. So would the effects on the provision of housing and availability to rent for a section of society most in need.
The example of the three spoof academic studies showing that there is absolutely nothing that can’t be said or claimed if it fits in with pre-existing theories and assumptions, explains the leaning that has permeated to government in them adopting the no-fault argument – terminology. The Harry Miller account shows the level of social justice ideology straying into law such as the College of Policing. The foray into law-bending has been seen recently by the Lord Chancellor who issued instructions to bailiffs not to apply legal court orders for eviction. Upon threat of legal action, ( by JMW solicitors ) the government hastily implemented legislation to empower the Lord Chancellors instruction. ( as you might expect, as the L.C was doing the governments bidding for them. )
The aim of social justice campaigners has been shown in the Madness of Crowds to take issues or grievances at their most inflammatory. Their desire is not to heal but to divide. Generation Rent exhibits this in their campaign to ‘fight unfair evictions’ and support aggressive tenant activist groups. No doubt Generation rent might say they didn’t mean ( like Sarah Jeong, Kill All Men ) ‘fight’ landlords although their activist groups come close to this, but perhaps would suggest, “ it would be nice if the world sucked less for tenants. “
The accepted legal processes for the recovery of personal property under the Housing possession legislation has been removed from landlords since the pandemic on 26th of March and looks to continue. In order to give a financial leg-up to tenants, instead of making state responsibility welfare payments, the burden has been transferred to private landlords, often of single properties.
The equivalent in order to help genuine financial hardship for food, would have been to suspend the Theft Act in relation to shoplifting if the items were food stuffs. This is no more ridiculous than the sequestration of private rented property.
Some landlords will be in such desperate financial difficulty that whilst it could not be condoned, may feel no option but to resort to methods of evicting a rent defaulting tenant that fall outside legislation.
In June 2019, a 30 year old tenant in Chesterfield murdered his 71 year old landlord, chopping up his body and feeding it to badgers. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at Derby Crown court on 4th January 2021. In various and many indirect ways, the government has blood on its hands for the way its dealt with the pandemic, including in relation to housing. This might be death or other less violent acts.
How to escape the madness.
Murray suggests that some generosity be extended to interpreting the remarks of the opposing side, less trench-digging may be one of the first steps. I would suggest that Landlords willing to condemn bad behaviour is a step towards this and that reciprocal steps are required from tenant support groups.
MHCLG could broker this if they cleanse themselves of social justice ideology and stop knee-jerking legislation.
Tenant support groups need to accept that some tenants need and deserve eviction. Just as the majority of landlords don’t take the corner of those convicted, so should tenant groups distance themselves and not support illegal tenants, and especially recidivist tenants.
As society must constrain illegal behaviour by the few for the benefit of the everyone, Tenant support groups need to come out of the trenches and sit around the ‘honesty table’ and acknowledge that dealing with bad tenants is in the interest of the majority in rented accommodation. The slower that process, the longer the majority of compliant tenants wait for availability in an over-demand and under supply housing chain. The longer it takes to evict a minority of tenants deserving such, the longer the majority of legitimate tenants wait in the chain for rented accommodation to become available. Is this social justice for the majority ?
To the Social justice converts, the concept of a tenant deserving to be deprived of their currently occupied home is unthinkable. These multiplying ‘converts’ have been holding the same view of punishment for criminals. The ‘drift’ of such views stretch to, providing Prisoner Family Empathy – Enlightenment Training by EasyJail.co.uk “is for relevant employees, volunteers, family members, partners, friends and those who care for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
The session will provide an insight into the potential effect prison can have on the convicted person’s family, what you can do to support such families and evaluate one’s own practice and ways to improve working methods.”
Until everyone involved in the rented sector can accept that there are ‘some’ circumstances in which tenants need to be evicted, and promptly for good reason, progress is going to be difficult.
Housing difficulties are varied but fundamentally it involves shortage of supply. Disincentivising the provision of rental accommodation is definitely not going to help. Furthermore, the difficulties are not going to be best solved by an adversarial rather than collaborative approach.
As the activist Eldridge Cleaver very aptly said, ‘Your either part of the solution or your part of the problem. ‘
Comments welcome to ; YourCase@PossessionFriend.uk