Time for Young Labour to Get Serious About Rent

In this article, James Gill tells us why Young Labour should get serious about rent and what the practical steps that we can take are. James has been a Labour member since May 2015. He works in the NHS, is a member of Unite, serves on the Central Council of the Socialist Health Association and was a delegate to Young Labour conference.

The proportion of under-34s owning a house halved in the ten years between 2001/02 and 2011/12. Correspondingly, numbers living in private rented accommodation or with their parents have rocketed. Young people across the country and political spectrum are passionate about rent, and Young Labour should not ignore this opportunity to engage them. As activists, we should discuss the intervention in the private rented sector that we would like to see after 2020, and start making an impact now by involving ourselves in tenants’ networks and university rent-setting structures.

Labour Students groups have the clearest opportunities for action. Student involvement in the rent-setting process has a proven track record. The cost of halls at Oxford and Cambridge colleges is commonly negotiated with student representatives, and many rents have been held down below four thousand pounds per year. By contrast, those at non-collegiate Russell Group universities often exceed five thousand pounds per year. Labour Students groups should share knowledge about rent-setting arrangements elsewhere, and push for student involvement on their own campuses. In addition, many students’ unions now provide a mechanism for direct democracy, for example by an all-student vote. These processes can be used to create pressure and publicity.

The UCL Cut the Rent campaign has successfully used the Freedom of Information Act to probe the rate of rent rises and the size of university profit margins. The most interesting feature of their campaign is not the tactic of withholding rent, clearly a last resort precipitated by the extreme circumstances, but use of information to build a broad base of support. Bringing more facts about the cost of halls into the public domain could prompt university leaders to include students in rent-setting before it is too late. Again, this could form part of a Labour Club’s campaigning activities.

Even the most apolitical student knows that rent exceeding £3,821, the standard “not-means-tested” student loan rate outside of London, leaves their classmates with tough financial decisions. Our party, in contrast with many others, fully understands that – let’s capitalise on it.

The wider private rental sector also presents campaigning opportunities. The difficulties of the London property market are well-known. Rent controls or a land-value tax would surely please many more people than it would annoy. However, we lack a precise and concise line on rent. There’s no time like the present to work out the details so the policy can be campaigned upon. We should not be afraid to borrow ideas from outside the party, from groups with practical experience, like the Radical Housing Network. Equally, Sadiq Khan’s London Living Rent could be generalised to the rest of the UK.

Young people outside of London also face challenges in the rental market. Increasing numbers are living in Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs). These are often average-sized terraced or semi-detached houses with three to six adults crammed in. Some areas have very dense concentrations of HMOs managed by the same letting agent or landlord – that could mean thirty or forty voters in the same few streets. It could be worthwhile for local campaigners to keep an eye out for sharp practices, such as exit fees or very high non-refundable application fees, or even consider mail targeted at tenants of certain agencies.

Excessive and unfair profit margins could also be of interest. Information about sale prices of houses is often available on the internet, so these can be calculated quite accurately. Some letting agents, for example this one in Leeds, may even do the hard work for you. Few people consider a yield of over 10% for a few days work each year to be a fair reward.

Party policy on housing focuses on house-building and the right-to-buy. However, most young people realise that they will be renting for many years before buying a home becomes a possibility. Young Labour should get serious about rent – an area in which we could really make a difference.

James Gill
James Gill

We’ve made a good start, let’s capitalise on it!

In our first piece since the local elections, Jake Lewis analyses the results of the elections and talks about how Labour can move forward from here. Jake is a relatively new member of the Labour party, attending Chepstow Sixth Form College and hopes to lecture/teach politics. Concentrating on improving our democracy (both at a party democracy level and national level), Education and Free Speech, he hopes to work to make all parties accountable to the people. When not concentrating on this, he is probably busy concentrating on following the many independence movements around the world.

The past few weeks have been a turbulent and challenging time, wrought with division, anti-Semitism and an unelectable leader. That is if you believe what the mainstream media has been saying about us. Since the 5th we have in fact shown that the Labour party of old is an electable party, we have shown that the people want us now, the people believe in our message, and that the people believe in us as a whole, despite the anti-Labour messages being spread by even the BBC.

What it does show is that we have them scared. We are showing them that even with the media bringing the hammer upon us hard with a fact twisted article here or there we are still able to perform extremely well during elections. After all, we, as a party, technically did not lose a single council this election (due to losing one, but gaining another) while the Tories lost one. We only lost 14 seats, while the Tories lost 47 seats. We won every single one of the four mayoral elections, with rather considerable leads and we only lost a single seat in Wales, which was to another left wing party. Of course, these small amount of council elections don’t mean a massive amount in the grand scheme of things, but the mayors are there for a good few years, we have a minority Labour government in Wales and the only reason in my eyes that we lost more seats to the SNP in Scotland is simply due to the fact that the people there feel that the SNP is more left wing and more representative for them as well as being a broader tent for the people there thanks to being a nationalist party.

With Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London Mayoralty campaign, his message was clear: “Success has many parents and I think what’s important is the victory on Thursday was a victory for London. My point is very simple, we’ve got to stop talking about ourselves and start talking to citizens about the issues that matter to them”. Now of course the Independent did try to spin this into an attack on Jeremy Corbyn but the overall idea does not change, our party must be targeting the issues that matter most to the people. We’re not just running for our activists we’re running for all of Britain and Sadiq is right, but that doesn’t mean he’s attacking Corbyn; In fact it’s a message of unity for our party, behind who the people voted for.

After these wins we have a chance to use new found momentum, and while the group of the same name is doing a fantastic job, them alone will not be able to push the Labour party to new heights, it requires the teamwork and coordination of all member and MPs, we have just under four years to get this right before we directly take on the Conservative party, let’s get this right. Let’s not allow these other elements to divide us, let’s make sure we have these debates on policy fairly, equally and give the people of our party the vote on these issues, rather than allowing the Conservatives and mainstream media to target it as a weak spot.

We have four years before they elect a new leader, in these four years we must solidify our image, put up the policies that will bring us together against the hard-line policies of privatisation, hypocrisy and lies and finally, for the first time in our generation, bring a real Labour party into power. And won’t that be something, to do what they said couldn’t be done? I think we’ve shown them it can, and will. They’re running scared and throwing everything they can at us, let’s keep going.

Jake Lewis.jpg
Jake Lewis

On Goldsmith’s use of the 7/7 Bus

London BusIn today’s article, Chloe Hill writes about Zac Goldsmith’s use of the 7/7 bus in his Daily Mail article. Chloe is originally from London, but has spent the last six years in Scotland, graduating from the University of St Andrews in 2013. After a stint as Student Association President she worked for a Labour MP through the Scottish Referendum and 2015 elections, and has recently moved back to capital to work as a Parliamentary Assistant to a London Labour MP. Her spare time is currently take up with exploring North London and unashamedly listening to Craig David.

This photo of the bus, blown up on 7th July 2005, represents to me the worst day for London in generations. I remember the day vividly; I was on the tube trying to get in to central London for my year 10 work experience. I got as far as Vauxhall before every station got closed, and I found myself walking along the Southbank, receiving a panicked phone call from my mum, and then walking all the way home with the eerie sight of empty buses driving past.

More than that though, what I remember is watching and reading about the endless individual stories of kindness and help given, not just by the emergency services but by so many Londoners. That quote “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’”, has ever felt so true. And the one I will never forget is the driver of that bus, who did everything he could to help his passengers and then disappeared – it turned out he had walked miles in his shock and horror before being found and helped himself.

And while 7/7 was the worst day for London, I believe 8/7 was the best, when Londoners got back on the tube, and back on the buses, in defiance of the terrorists. We reclaimed our public transport and showed we would not be intimidated. The trauma of 7/7 and defiance of 8/7 created a sense of solidarity between people who were, in that moment, all just Londoners. North or South, white or brown, rich or poor, we were reminded of our commonalities in that time of vulnerability (and learnt, briefly, to talk to each other on the tube!).

Using this photo as a campaign technique (or allowing the Daily Mail to do so on your behalf) to try and associate Sadiq with that terrible day is not only a racist and despicably low form of election campaigning, it completely misunderstands what that photo represents, and it completely misunderstands London. It could only have come from a candidate that, as has been made clear during this campaign, never uses public transport and couldn’t possibly understand the solidarity felt by each of us as we got back on the tube for the morning commute on 8/7. In comparison, Sadiq Khan, then my newly elected MP, was quick to condemn the bombing and eloquent in his plan for how extremism needed to be tackled (in fact, he won the Spectators newcomer of the year award for his efforts), and has remained endlessly committed to tackling the causes of extremism, and supporting London in all it’s glorious diversity.

On May 5th we vote for a new Mayor. 11 years ago London didn’t bow to fear and threats, and I am confident it won’t on Thursday.

Chloe Hill
Chloe Hill