Tag Archive: Grant Shapps


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“So long as they (the Proles) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance.

Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern…Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

? George Orwell, 1984

I like bingo. I used to play with my Nana on the seafront at Broadstairs. She was a demon at it. She was also a Tory Street Captain.

I like beer. Those who know me will attest I’m not averse to a pint or two. Sometimes I’d have a beer with my Tory Councillor Grandad.

I wonder what on earth my grandparents would have made of Grant Shapps truly inept online poster – tweeted out last night. How utterly patronising to the life they had worked hard to build for themselves to reduce it to such a crass stereotype.

My Grandparents loved Thatcher. It was something on which we were never, ever going to agree. (I left the arguing about this to my parents – I talked to them about other things as families who disagree do.) They loved her because to them she stood for the values they believed in and had benefited from. Social mobility – though never expressed in those terms – was a key part of their Toryism. As far as they were concerned, she was on the side of people like them. People who had worked their way up from less to more and wanted more for their kids.

The word that really stands out in that poster is “They”. The stereotype is bad. But worse is the sense that the Tories have simply “othered” anyone who isn’t “one of us”. This is Cameron’s noblesse oblige approach to leadership writ large. Pacification not power sharing.

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How many people at Conservative Central Office saw that poster before it was published? How many in Grant Shapps office alone? Who was the digital person who designed it? Who wrote the text?

How did not a single one of them spot how awful it was? How have the Tories drift so far from the sense of surety they had in their relationship with certain sections of the working and lower middle classes?

It strikes me that this ad is part of an ongoing effort to deal with the Tories’ UKIP problem. Farrage himself – or at least the carefully crafted image he chooses to project – is almost as much of a patronising stereotype. He’s the saloon bar bore made good.

But people believe Farage is one of them. He appeals as one of them. Not as someone who will dole out the odd treat, but as someone who will stand up for the things they worry about. I wish they didn’t feel this way about Farage (much as I wished the same about Thatcher) but I can’t deny that they do.

They do not feel this way about Cameron’s Conservatives and a couple of pennies off beer and bingo isn’t going to change that. Nor is being patronised about it.

In the end, this poster is a Twitterstorm in a teacup. It will blow over. It is not the poster itself that matters. In the longer term, what matters is how badly the Tories have drifted from Thatcher’s ability to speak to all classes (if not all communities – there weren’t many like my Grandparents in the North East). If they can’t arrest this shrinking of their own interests, if they continue to other those who didn’t go to the right schools and have the right ancestry, then they will continue to be the party that is not seen as representing “people like me”

A major critique from Tory commentators of Ed’s response to the budget yesterday was to call his tactics “Class War”. This Crosby-like line is a relic from the 70s we will hear a lot as the election approaches and Labour continue to push hard on the inequalities that are endemic in our society and are failing all of us.

But this poster exposes the real class warriors. Not those who wish to fight for greater equality for all, but those who simply cannot see those who aren’t like them as a true part of the conversation. They Tories have chosen – deliberately or unconsciously – to be the party where “us” is the 5% who own 20% of our national wealth  and “they” is the rest of us.

Ultimately, this is what will be their undoing.

This post first appeared on LabourList

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The Bedroom Tax is this Government’s sickest joke. It is also a perfect example of exactly how they do business. It is based on both a twisted truth and a false premise, it categorically will not achieve its stated aim (which is well understood within Government as its real aim is quite, quite different) and it hurts the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Bedroom Tax is also the perfect case study for this Coalition government.

First, you need a crisis – real or imagined (so far we’ve seen this applied to the real crisis in the economy, a largely confected crisis in welfare spending, a misunderstanding of the nature of the NHS sold as a crisis… The list goes on), in this case, the very real housing crisis.The crisis is vital. the crisis lets you act radically, no questions asked. The crisis allows the Lib Dems to suspend their morality “in the national interest”. The crisis means you have to act fast, act now and ignore all the experts telling you how wrong you are. The crisis is the Government’s invisibility cloak, it’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

It helps if the crisis has – at least in part – its roots in a failing by Labour. It is arguable that the Thatcher and Major governments did far more to cause the housing crisis than Labour. It is unarguable that Labour did little to ameliorate it and failed significantly to change or regulate the housing market or to invest in social housing adequately. It was our biggest domestic failing and the lesson that most needed learning. Indications are that it has been. But we must prove that when next in Government.

Being able to blame Labour is really important to this coalition. Hatred of Labour is the glue that binds them. If you can convince yourself something is Labour’s fault, then you can also deflect all criticisms of your solution as partisan tribalism. Lib Dems and Tories can convince themselves that the Bedroom Tax is only being opposed by that nasty Labour Party and their allies because it is them imposing it. not because it is the wrong solution – even when it is their own people coming out against them.

The Bedroom Tax was mooted to solve the problem of people “under-occupying” their properties. The theory is that people will vacate large properties they no longer need and make these available for families who need these larger homes. The people vacating will move into smaller places. The reality is – of course – quite different.

the truth is that there are not anything like the amount of smaller social home available for people to move into. Because of the aforementioned failure to build enough social housing (one of the mooted reasons for this tax remember) these homes don’t exist in anything like the number of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. But the Government know this. Their own impact assessment shows that they expect people to stay in their larger homes and to find the extra money. This blows out the water the argument that this is about the sensible reallocation of stock. It is about two things – raising money on the back of the poorest and most vulnerable people (two thirds of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled) and ideology.

Social housing is one of the most concrete examples of the welfare state in action. But it is one of the most vulnerable to attack. Like the NHS and state provided education it has been denigrated and run down by the Tories and right wing commentators for years. Sadly, unlike the NHS and State education, it was not revived by the Labour Government. New Labour learned most of its lessons in the early 80s. What started as a sensible project to learn to once again become electable became at times a calcified dogma – as stuck in the politics of the 80s as the Tories now seem to be. And little in the early 80s was more iconic than the sale of council houses. Because of that sale and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it from the public, Labour no longer looked upon building social stock as important socially or electorally. Now however, the Tories try to recreate that moment to little effect. When Grant Shapps was serving as Housing Minister and running for Party Chairman he announced the return of right-to-buy. It did the job he wanted it too – it made him popular with his Party. No one else really noticed.

The idea of Social Housing being a home for life is completely anathema to the Tories. For them the Welfare state should be nothing but the very, very bare safety net. A home for a life encourages someone to have a relationship for life with the state as provider. For the champions of small state, private equity “I’m alright Jack” economics, it makes no sense for them to encourage that. That’s why we’re seeing “Any Qualified providers” snatching as much of our NHS as possible. It’s why Free Schools are being forced into education against the will of parents and teachers. At every opportunity, the Tories and their Orange Book ideological partners will weaken the social bonds between people and state.

If those forced to are not able to cover the extra costs of the Bedroom Tax they will be forced to move to smaller accommodation in the Private Rented Sector. Because of the current differential between rents in social housing and the private sector (though through the Orwellianly named “affordable rent regime” means this differential won’t remain in place for long) their housing benefit will likely go up. The scheme will probably not save as much money for the Government as they are estimating as a result.

But that’s not important. Because this was never about better stock allocation. It was only peripherally about saving money. The Bedroom Tax is about the same thing that is at the core of every policy introduced by this gang of radical headbangers. It is about enforcing a retreat of the state’s support for its people.

The Bedroom Tax probably won’t be the thing that this Government is remembered for. It probably won’t become the shorthand for this Government’s failings (I suspect the words “Triple” and “Dip” will feature there). But it is – for me – the clearest and most obvious example of this government’s priorities and their desire to let’s their overweening ideology do its worst – with no thought at all to the human cost. And I will remember them for it.

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Churchill famously said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been”. The career of Grant Shapps is a clear example of everything that is wrong with the way politics and democracy can work against each other.

Let’s forget this week’s astonishing revelations about his extra-curricular activity - clearly it doesn’t bother Cameron enough to give him pause before promoting Shapps.

Since the election Grant Shapps has been the Housing Minister. Since the election, house building has collapsed dragging the country back into recession. At a time when waiting lists for social housing top 5 million, social housing has collapsed with a drop of 91% in building starts in the last year. Some Tory councils will build fewer than 20 new social homes over the course of this government. Shapp’s own constituency is likely to build just one new social home a year. In fact, construction data has today dropped again to the lowest levels since the height of the crash.

At a time when there should be a single-minded focus on housing provision, Shapp’s last audition piece was an interview with the Telegraph where he took one last swipe at those who live in social housing trying to re-brand this as “taxpayer supported” housing.

Let’s look at this for a moment, because it emphasises everything that is wrong with Shapps approach to this job.

Firstly, it’s a simplistic and frankly wrong. Anyone who ever collected mortgage interest tax relief on their privately owned home could be described as living in taxpayer supported housing. Secondly, the key thing Grant Shapps has been trying to push – harder than anything else – is the reinvigoration of the “right to buy”, with discounts being offered of up to £75,000. What is that if not taxpayer-supported housing? But as these homes would no longer be social stock, under Shapps’ new whim they would not be branded as such. If this announcement had been about housing it would have been yet another stupid, muddled and grossly offensive move. And it is of course all those things.

But it was not about housing. Shapps’ behaviour in this brief has never been about housing. It has been about Shapps and the promotion of his brand as  a leader of the right.

No one with an interest in housing can – with a straight face – call Grant Shapps a success. He has failed utterly in his brief. Yes this is a man constantly hailed by Tories as an up-and-comer, and spoken of regularly as a future leader. And this is precisely the problem. Shapps has the kind of brief where the needs of the populous diverge significantly from the desires of his party grassroots.

Shapps spent his whole time in the Department for Communities and Local Government tickling the Tory sweet-spot. What Shapps was saying in a interview last week was not aimed at a housing audience. Little that he’s done in the brief has been about raising the profile of housing, but all of it has been about raising the profile of Grant Shapps particularly within the Conservative Party. His failure to do anything other than greatly exacerbate the housing crisis is simply not considered as significant as the symbolism of bringing back Thatcher’s favourite policy (though with far less success and take up) and bashing social tenants and providers.

Grant Shapps was never the minister for housing. He has only ever been the Minister for the future prospects of Grant Shapps. He’s clearly succeeded in that job just as magnificently as he has failed in housing. I can only hope his replacement is an unambitious technocrat. Housing desperately needs someone who knows what they are doing and knows that what they should be doing is building more bloody houses.

I called this post Grant Shapps and the problem with politics. The problem is wider than just Shapps or his party. Labour were not quite as bad, but we were far, far, far from perfect. Our approach to the housing brief was different, but equally affected by internal politics.

We treated the role of Housing Minister as an audition slot just as much as Grant Shapps did, but in a different way. It was a ministry where a junior politician on their way up could prove that they are a safe pair of hands. This meant proving that they wouldn’t listen to the grassroots. Social housing is a huge issue for Labour members, but was unloved by New Labour. Until the very end of our time in Government, this was a role to prove your strength to Party leaders by not pleasing the grassroots. I get a strong sense from both Ed Miliband and Jack Dromey that this is no longer the case. I hope that remains so when we get back into government.

So Shapps is now Conservative Party Chairman. Well that works for me. His ambition will perhaps work better for the Tories there, but actually, I suspect his desire to lead the Tories to and from the right will do them little good in the country at large. I look forward to his being as much a success in getting the Tory Party ready for the next election as he has had in solving the housing crisis.

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