Monday, 25 June 2012

Forward the abolitionists! (resisting the nouveau enclosurists)

July the 4th is an important day for many people. My mum Teresa Mary Duke was born on this date, as was  the soulful Bill Withers, radical anti-Vietnam War activist Ron Kovic and screenwriter and fine actor Colin Welland (of Kes fame). I believe it's also got something to do with Boston, tea and a widely celebrated federal holiday. It's also going to be an auspicious day this year for a chap of some considerable side-face-hair who rumour has it, will be attending and presenting his appeal before the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London at 10am at a preliminary hearing. All are invited to attend.*

The innate hectivity of the last few weeks...

It's been a hectic few weeks preparing for this day. It involves writing skeleton arguments, reading lots of legal authorities and the substantial input and invaluable assistance of certain individuals who shall remain nameless but they know who they are and I thank them. It also explains why a chap's been a little remiss in lodging new posts here on Vagrants. To those that have enquired as to the root cause of a chap's lack of  blog-diligence, one tries to keep up to speed and there are quite a few 'works in progress' waiting to be signed off so to speak. And there's always a myriad distractions that conspire like an underground cell of malign grassy knollers, to divert attention away from the fusty legal tomes and postings. Such distractions as a newly acquired interest in evolutionary biology, and hours spent pouring over a the minutiae of intensively recorded audio material by Salford's premier nouveau proggers Trojan Horse. It's a lonely existence. Naturally one tries to keep up with cutting edge developments in the world of interesting things, so the odd dip into blogger Hall's weekly festival of erudition is a must. It's always a fascinating read and never boring. Last week's posting had some resonance among a chap of some drain-piped trews, focusing on research into the causes behind homelessness, strategies for survival on the streets and how these can inform public policy, which got me to thinking, which, as regular purveyors of this site will know, is nearly always a bad thing.

Re-branding morality

Iain Duncan Festor: no relation
to the Tory millionaire or the Salford Hegemon

First things first. Although it's a bit short, I'm glad Hall has raised the matter of homelessness. It's a matter close to my heart. One of my former students was made homeless a couple of years back. It's sad tale and the roots and causes of his homelessness is something I'll be exploring in this blog in the near future. However, I found upon reading further that I'm not at all keen on the label Hall has used to describe a generic someone-lacking-in-the-employment department. It's the word- 'worklessness'. It's the new buzz word. It's everywhere. It's the political equivalent of that vile expression 'go for it' that was all the rage in the mid1980s among twats. It's akin to the silly word 'dude' that now and again still continues to stroll out of the gormless mouths of one or two Iron Maiden T-Shirt wearing berks with chronic  Bill and Ted fixations.

No. I prefer the word unemployed. It's an eminently honest word. It's contextual and it's precise and it's worth some elaboration. For example, Professor Hall is currently making quite a few academics unemployed. He's not making them 'workless'. If they're unemployed, as Chief Executive Officer and the person at whose desk the buck should stop, he's responsible. If they're 'workless' (according to the mantra), it's their own fault. 'Worklessness', in the tired old opinion of a tired old beardo-buffer, reeks of the tired old Victorian morality of the deserving and undeserving. 'Worklessness' like its bedfellow 'idleness', becomes the responsibility of the individual, not something inflicted on people by their employer or the government during yet another round of spending cuts due to a capitalist crisis. It's also a word the ludicrously haired Iain Duncan Smith bandies about quite a bit as does he his barely concealed nouveau Victorian values. I for one am all for IDS providing those claiming Job Seekers Allowance with a master class in how to produce an accurate Curriculum Vitae.(1) It's just a thought.

Prog Capitalism or Prog Rock?

Capitalism is widely portrayed as progressive. New technologies are imbued with almost supernatural properties by ostensibly intelligent types and Star Trek fans. Technology is sold to us as the provider of neat solutions to all modern day problems. Any alternative (including renewable energy) is often portrayed as backward looking, idealistic, unaffordable or unworkable. Yet despite the brave new world promised by the technologists, some things persist. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and the death of 21,000 children worldwide every day from preventable causes is highly suggestive that the equation capitalism = progressive is bollocks. Only a buffoon of the highest order could seek to counter the argument that the widespread prevalence of such social ills in modern society is more akin to the world of Charles Dickens than it is to that of Sir Jean Luc Picard. As an 'app' hasn't yet been developed to provide a solution to homelessness, I for one welcome any research into this area - homelessness that is, not 'apps'.

Prog Politics?

But David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith patently do not agree. The re-emergence as the Tories as the 'nasty party' has been duly plastered over the TV screens and 'broadsheets' as Cameron threatens to deprive 380,000 working class under 25s of £2 billion of Housing Benefits. Justifiably so, charities have attacked these proposals as an auger of increased future homelessness among young people from already impoverished backgrounds. It's unlikely any BBC newsreader will mention the fact that since the Tories-Lib Dems took power, '150,000 families have been forced onto housing benefit'. With over one million young people unemployed because of government policies and the capitalist crisis, one wonders what other ills can be apportioned to the unaccustomed shoulders of the British working class (youth section).

Partially correct Hall

Hall is partially correct when he says that '[h]omelessness is particularly complicated.'
 The causes of homelessness may be. The visible homeless (those sleeping rough on the streets) are the most obvious manifestation of this social ill. They are however just the tip of an iceberg. There's the 'temporary homeless' who may be individuals or families made homeless but placed by local authorities in private rented accommodation, as the local authority have a duty to home those in 'priority need'. And then there are what we might describe as the 'temporary-temporary homeless' who are families or usually individuals who the local authority do not deem to be a 'priority' who end up sleeping on the sofas or floors of friends. It's a class thang. That the homeless as a group is comprised of predominantly working class people, is evidenced by those disproportionately represented: black and ethnic minorities, who in 2008/09 made up around 27% of all homeless, whilst only making up 11% of the population. Unlike the working class, homelessness is socially mobile due to the global economic crisis and Tory-Lib Dem cuts. The social demographic appears to be shifting with more 'middle class' families homes repossessed and increasingly dependent on local authorities to provide a roof over middle class heads.

But I'd like to take Hall to task when he states that 'there are no simple fixes'. You see I think there are. The 'fix' I'm going to advocate, is the sort of 'fix' that you'll never find in the results of any academic research into homelessness. And readers can rest soundly in the knowledge that it won't involve encouraging people to sleep under bridges in London, which is a tad inhumane in the opinion of one whisker-chopped bench-dweller. Clearly such a policy would fall far short in providing a long-term solution to either a) homelessness or; b) unemployment. So if anyone comes across an individual advocating such policy, particularly one known as Molly Prince, who's a convicted criminal and runs a business called 'Learning Development Centre and has a 'virtual office' based at Technology House at University of SalfordManchester(2) take heed.

The medicine of ages 

Should the government build more park benches?
Having spent much time on park benches, providing solutions to intractable problems has become a chap's stock in trade. I'm sure there's a ruddy good argument for 'migrating' entire philosophy departments to local park benches. Notwithstanding, I for one would hazard caution as I'm not in the game of engendering mass cider consumption amongst academic or academic related staff-game. Yet the 'solution' a few ironweeds and myself have mulled over, and will be laid out here, is one we might describe as an 'overarching solution'. Like a stilt-wearing millipede, we believe this one has legs. It would it is argued, not only ensure that no individual should ever have to place themselves in a position of casual vulnerability on the streets, but would provide a short, medium and long-term permanent solution to the question of overcrowding and ever growing housing waiting lists. Just to give a sense of the scale of the problem, statistics show that waiting lists for 'social' housing have risen 72 per cent from 1 million in the 1990s to around 1.8 million in 2008. If nothing else, it's an indication that the neoliberal housing policies of successive governments have failed. The current proposals on offer from the Tory government to this execrable state of affairs would appear to hinge on:
  • the removal of employed status among wide sections of the population
  • removing housing benefit;
  • making increasing numbers of people homeless;
  • a return to Rachmanism and/or;
  • a return to the Dickensian squalor of overcrowding and/or;
  • a broad expansion of the concept of the 'favela' with its inevitable associated marketisation by Gok Wan in the ideological embracement of 'favela chic'.**

Duelling banjos and 'Little Ireland'

Minister for Housing Grant Shapps          
The best way to convince potential council house dwellers of the obvious merits of a system based on a living hell is to wipe away the collective memories of the multifarious 'Little Irelands' that were the hallmark of many industrialising cities. Like the re-classification of the word 'unemployment', the erasure of this facet of capitalist enterprise has been achieved through a process of gentrification. What subtle methods of persuasion have politicians used to convince sceptical council tenants that the market knows best? Things like the deep slashing of housing budgets for the building of social housing, whilst whittling away, like a cadge of banjo-hopping red-necks on speed, the protection council tenants have historically enjoyed in their tenancy agreements. Although austerity provides the rationale for the new spate of scythings, what underlies this attack is a wider neoliberal hostility to state provision. 

What's the solution smart-arse?

Given that we live in the most advanced form of technologically-based and advanced capitalism ever known among regulars of The Lamb in Eccles, providing homes for around two million families appears an insurmountable obstacle. Even if there was political will where would they be built? How could such an project be undertaken and ensure the survival of what's left of the protected greenbelt? At times like these, I always like to look at eminently logical solutions. Sometimes  the most obvious exposition provides the neatest outcome.

If the solution for unemployment is the abolition of unemployment; ie the creation of jobs (and we can argue over whether these jobs should be created in order to provide for the 'public good' as opposed to the market and the 'private good'), then the solution to homelessness, overcrowding and an acute shortage of affordable homes, would seem to be simple; ie the creation of roofs over heads. I shall not dwell on the self-evident 'two-tree feller solution': a huge investment in public works in the form of mass house building that would also remove swathes of people from the dole queues which is a bit Keynesian. I shall instead concentrate on a single, and eminently simple knacker-kick to the matter of housing the homeless (and bringing down nationally high waiting list for local authority homes).

Riker: Shall we nationalise this three dimensional square
in order to provide homes for intergalactic vagrants?
Picard: Make it so

What a waste

It doesn't need restating but I will all the same. Capitalism is marked by its propensity to create levels of waste unknown in human history. That bottle of Sainsbury's Bathroom Cleaner Original you've just used to clean your shitter may have a recyclable bottle but its trigger mechanism is destined for landfill. As capitalism has globalised, its propensity to establish large pools of mass unemployment has also globalised. It's one aspect of this waste. Unemployment wastes human potential  and is emminently wasteful of human life.

Some sums

Yet in the arena of housing, this propensity to waste is equally prevalent. Statistics show that there are estimated to be 930,000 empty homes across the UK (3) which by anyone's standards mixed-metaphorically speaking, is a massive pool of roofs. In 2009, it is estimated that in the City of London alone 10.2% of all commercial property was standing vacant.(4) Now I'd hazard a guess here that commercial property is quite sought after in the City of London. So at very conservative estimate, we might be able to state quite comfortably that around 10% of commercial property stands idle across the UK as a whole. It's probably much higher. As of January 1st 2009, the total amount of commercial floor space in the UK stood at 574.9 million square metres. Just ten percent of this figure is 57.4 million square metres. Calculations show that one Westfield Shopping Centre in London's Shepherd's Bush = 133,333.3 square metres). Currently, the equivalent of around 49 Westfield Shopping Centres lie empty across the UK, at a conservative estimate.

How many people could be housed in 48 of these developments?
It's also reported that in 2010, 1.2 million square metres (or nine Westfields) of empty commercial property was 'wiped out' after the introduction of 'empty rates' in 2008.(5) Simply put, landlords or owners of empty commercial property, instead of electing to pay rates on the empty properties, chose instead to have them demolished destroyed. Housing charity Shelter call it a housing crisis. That property should be destroyed and the land lie fallow waiting for the 'market to pick up' is in the opinion of a dyed-in-the-wool expropriator, nothing less than a crime against humanity... at a conservative estimate. So the solution we advocate is this. Empty homes should be nationalised. Empty commercial properties should be nationalised and immediately converted into homes. All privately owned land currently not in use, should be nationalised and a program of housebuilding initiated. When I say 'nationalised' I do of course mean the taking into public ownership of all this property WITHOUT COMPENSATION. I think it's a rather elegant solution. 

The world according to the Right Honourable Sir Bag O'Vind

"Utterly impracticable and not workable in a liberal democracy" I hear you stammer through your soggy Bran Flakes."What about the rights of those who own property to enjoy the right to their property?" you bellow, as your be-yolked freshly waxed moustache and piss-tweeds take a good spittle-ing. "Go back to Russia thirty years ago!" resonates across the th'web... Come... come... it's not as if the notion of private property has always existed. Clearly, and once again history shows us, that it took successive Parliamentary Acts and often armed force to ensure that the majority of the commonly held land  would end up in the hands of a minority of the population or in sums-chap speak, a mere 0.06% of the population.(6) Today what's left of the common lands represented by the commonly owned housing stock (and public buildings such as schools which of course reside on commonly owned land), is being enclosed through Parliamentary and legal acts carried out by the heirs and descendants of the original thieves.

The post war politics of consensus and the post Keynesian neoliberal politics of consensus

Not every council house tenant can afford the
private King Edward VII hospital to ensure
one's husband's urethra and bladder
gets a clean bill of health
It took five years of world war and the destruction of huge swathes of capital coupled to the very real fear of revolution among political elites to ensure that in 1945 there was political will to fundamentally rebalance the clear inequalities that existed in Britain between the wars. The Welfare State meant that for the first time in history, ordinary working people could gain access to welfare, healthcare and homes 'fit for heroes'. 'Butskellism' was the political manifestation of the consensus among political elites in the UK in the post-war period. Central to this project was cheap, affordable housing owned by the state and administered through democratically elected councils.(7) The by-product of such a huge investment was an educated and healthy workforce necessary for the rebuilding of British capitalism in a world devastated by war. It took an economic crisis of global magnitude in 1973 to break this consensus.(8) Sustained 'stagflation' in leading Western economies saw the abandonment of Keynsianism and the embracing of the new liberalism. One of the ideological flagship policies of the Thatcher government was the re-seeding of the idea that private ownership was better than public ownership, epitomised in her 'right to buy' policy. It was this policy that was responsible for unleashing privatisation into the public housing sector and has helped deplete the stock of council homes nationally. Aided by Labour's 1996 rejection of Clause Four effectively sealed a new form of consensus politics.

Two spectres and his dog went to mow a meadow...

Go on boy... bite the head off that 
monarchy over there
Nationalisation is a four letter word in ruling class circles. The spectre of 'nationalisation' has also returned to haunt the capitalist ruling class. Call it a 'bail out' if you like. But fear of total capitalist collapse forced the ruling class to embrace 21st century nationalisation with a twist. One can almost taste the bitter irony as housing budgets are slashed and millions left to rot in the purgatory that is the ever lengthening council waiting lists, all to ensure that a tiny privileged elite keep their well proportioned roofs over their own heads. But another spectre has returned to haunt political and capitalist elites. The Arab Spring has demonstrated to many hundreds of millions that we do have the power to change the world. Even the war criminal Tony Blair recognises that these revolutions are far from complete. Neoliberal political and economic policies were responsible for that. The worry for our rulers is that the crisis within capitalism is here for the foreseeable future. As the neoliberals and the nouveau enclosurists move into fifth gear in their feverish haste to stuff their mouths with gold while we're forced to subsist on the meanest cake, the ground is being laid for mass social upheaval.

Now where did I put my russet coloured jacket...?

Notes and References

* Dr G Duke v University of Salford, 10:00am at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Audit House, 58 Victoria Embankment, London, EC4Y 0DS
** The wealthy, with their innate ability to collectively accessorize, although embracing the concept of living in a shit hole poverty as a fashion item, would never of course choose to actually live in a favela as its unlikely there'd be an ideally situated Starbucks nearby.

(1) Newsnight, 19th December 2002, sourced at
(2) “Leadership Development Centre rents a subsidiary ‘virtual’ office from the university on a commercial basis and has no other relationship with us … LDCUK does not provide any other training services to staff or students.” sourced at and reported in the Guardian sourced at
(3) Empty Homes sourced at
(4) Sourced at
(5) Sourced at
(6) Kevin Cahill, Who Owns Britain, Canongate, 2001 sourced from 'A Short History of Enclosure in England' located at
(7) See Lavellete M and Penketh L, 'The Welfare State in the United Kingdom', in 'Welfare Capitalism Around the World, Ed Aspalter C, Casa verde Publishing, Hong Kong 2003, pp 61-86
(8)Bresser-Pereira LC,'The Global Financial Crisis and a New Capitalism?'May 2010, sourced at

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