This video of George Galloway’s outright refusal to talk to an Israeli student purely on the grounds of his nationality has been doing the rounds today:
As a follow-up, I have a proposal: George Galloway Buckaroo.
The game is simple. It has three steps:
1) When you see George Galloway, adopt a big smile, let out a welcoming cry of “George! How are you?”, and offer a handshake.
2) Once you’re shaking his hand, announce “This must be weird for you, shaking the hand of an Israeli like this.”
3) Hang on for dear life. The longer the shake, the more points you get – and the greater the satisfaction of putting a bigot on the spot.
Owen Jones, that youthful paladin of the Left, has come up with an innovative idea: a new, left wing campaigning organisation. Why didn’t anyone think of that before?
Maybe he’s got a point – there is a total vacuum of socialist organisations in Britain. I mean, I’ve racked my brains and the only ones I can think of are:
the Socialist Workers Party, UK Uncut, Occupy, RESPECT, the TUC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, the Communist Party of Britain, the Fabian Society, Compass, the Socialist Unity Network, Socialist Resistance, Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, Youth Fight for Jobs, the Scottish Socialist Party, Solidarity, the Socialist Party, the Stop the War Coalition, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Coalition Against Cuts, False Economy, the Anti Academies Alliance, the Anti-Atos Alliance, Boycott Workfare, 38 Degrees, Campaign For A Fair Society, the Coalition of Resistance, the Other TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Public Services Alliance, Cuts Disgust, Defend Our NHS, the High Pay Centre, IPPR, Unite the Resistance, Right To Work, Lost Arts, the Labour Representation Committee, Queer Resistance, Tax Justice Network, the Fawcett Society, Left Unity, Women Against the Cuts and of course Owen’s own think tank “CLASS”.
With such a shortage of organisations, it’s clear that what Britain really needs is a new left wing outfit.
As Owen says, “it is a mystery that such a network does not already exist”. I guess it would do, if it wasn’t for all the splitters…
There was understandable anger at the news this week that t-shirts urging people to dance on Margaret Thatcher’s grave were on sale at the TUC Congress. While disgusting, sadly it’s nothing new that the hard left have some pretty unpleasant opinions – as I’ve reported on this blog in the past.
What is more worrying is that the organisation selling the t-shirts, the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centre, is apparently taxpayer-funded and closely tied to parts of the political establishment – far from being the independent loons the media reports have so far portrayed them as.
Take the following items as evidence:
– According to the DUWC 2011 Annual Report, their Chairman is Cllr Graham Baxter MBE, the Leader of North East Derbyshire Council, who uses his introduction to the report to rail in a partisan way against the “Tory County Council”
– On page 8 of the same report, the “Fundraising” section lists money received from Bolsover District Council, North East Derbyshire District Council and Chesterfield Borough Council, as well as grants from no less than 11 County Councillors
– The Summer 2012 edition of their “Solidarity” newsletter headlines on a new campaign launch attended by Dennis Skinner MP and Natascha Engel MP, and thanks 5 County Councillors for the allocation of their 2012 taxpayer-funded grants
The DUWC may well do a lot of valuable work – certainly you can see the potential for an organisation offering impartial advice to jobseekers. However, it seems they’ve crossed a line a long time ago from helping unemployed workers to campaigning on a party political basis in a rather unpleasant way.
Until they go back to focusing their efforts on their proper, worthwhile mission, it is surely inappropriate for them to be using taxpayers’ money for partisan campaigns.
Tomorrow, at long last, squatting becomes a criminal offence – at least in residential properties.
For libertarians, who are not normally quick to welcome the creation of new crimes given the glut of absurd and oppressive laws introduced in recent years, this is a rare bit of good news. Property rights are one of the essential foundations of a free society – the law should protect anyone’s right to gain or create property, to do with it as they wish and to sell it if they so choose.
Squatting, by contrast, is an outright assault on property rights. Someone who doesn’t own the house in question enters it, take up residence, feels unrestrained in making changes or causing damage without the owner’s consent and, under some circmstances, can even apply to seize legal ownership after a long enough stay. The law as it used to be told homeowners they had no right to enter and evict squatters, and in some circumstances the only thing the police would do was to prevent them reasserting their right to their own property.
We rightly treat burglary, theft and robbery as crimes, and we should treat the non-consensual occupation of someone’s fixed property as a crime as well. I’m glad the Government have acted to change the law.
But, as ever, there are loud voices making the opposite case – in fact, the BBC helpfully top their online article with just such an individual. There are a number of flawed arguments the squatters are putting across, and I thought it would be helpful to rebut them.
There is a homelessness problem in the UK
That’s absolutely true. Homelessness is an incredibly complex issue – there are those who due to financial problems find themselves losing their house, there are those who suffer mental health or substance absue issues and many other causes. Each of those needs a multiplicity of solutions – but stealing other people’s property isn’t one of them. If having lax laws that allowed mass squatting was a solution to the homelessness problem, then after decades of having exactly such lax laws we would have solved it. We clearly haven’t.
There’s also a false assumption that all squatters are impoverished and homeless against their will. This isn’t always the case – indeed, the pro-squatting Advisory Service for Squatters said in 2003 that “many have full time work”. This is at least in part because of a rarely mentioned but major element of squatting: those who do it out of a political ideology which opposes property rights.
Squatters aren’t breaking in
It has always been illegal to break into a building – which is why squatters are advised to say that they found an already-open route in. I say “advised to say” because it’s widely known that many squatters do break in anyway, claiming someone else conveniently came by with a crowbar ten minutes earlier and broke the locks off the property. As the ASFS says, the police “would only be able to do anything if there were witnesses”.
Morally, this is besides the point. Taking or using someone’s property without their permission is wrong in and of itself. You might be stupid to leave the keys in your car ignition and the door wide open, but it is still wrong for someone to get in and drive off.
Ludicrously, a squatter on the Today Programme this morning claimed squatting was “not taking the property off the owner” because if they wanted to they were entitled to “take us to court”. The victims of the Bernard Madoff will, I’m sure, be delighted to know they weren’t really deprived of anything because they, too, had the opportunity to go to court.
The idea that squatters would just merrily move out if someone wanted their house back is also ludicrous – they regularly force homeowners to fight lengthy legal battles through the civil courts to regain access to their property. Locks are changed, access is denied and barricades are even put up to prevent legal entry.
These buildings are permanently empty
Well, some of them are, but far from all of them. Janice Mason in Walthamstow was about to sell her house when she found it had been occupied. Peter Nahum was restoring a listed building before moving his family into it. Dr Oliver Cockerell and his wife had just gone on their summer holiday. It’s clear that this isn’t some clean dividing line between occupied homes and permanently empty houses.
In fact, this is often simply an arrogant and self-serving assumption on the squatters’ part. They look at a house and decide on limited information that it is permanently empty – when the owner may well be saving to repair it, applying for planning permission, selling their own home elsewhere and so on. A survey by the Empty Homes Agency found that in the East Midlands just 13% of the owners of empty homes planned for them still to be empty 12 months later. 42% said their home was on the market for let or sale, and 63% said it was currently being improved or repaired.
Again, even if it was the case, it wouldn’t be ok to seize them from their rightful owners. A key part of property rights and a free society is being able to do what you choose with your own property.
There are huge numbers of empty houses in Britain
This is also true – but again it is no reason to just hijack them as you see fit. There are plenty of things other than squatting that we could and should be doing to bring them back into use, often from a state of severe disrepair.
For example, despite the social goods that come about as a result of repairing such houses, doing so is still taxed at full rate VAT (this also applies to a landlord upgrading their properties, a family making their house more energy efficient and so on). The Cut the VAT campaign, which I’ve long supported, is pressing the Government to reduce this from 20% VAT to 5%. A 12.5% fall in the overall cost of repairing such houses would make a sizeable difference to the number coming back into use.
Scandalously, tens of thousands of the empty houses in the UK are in fact part of the council-owned social housing stock. These are owned by the people with the express purpose of using them to alleviate homelessness, and yet many councils don’t do anything with them. Given the fiscal situation they may well have some trouble getting the cash together to repair them all – but the policy solution for that is to sell some of the empty houses and use the capital to bring the others back into use.
Of course, we can predict the people who would vocally oppose such tax-cutting, market-based solutions to the housing shortage. They would be the same commentators on the Left who stand up for squatters’ right to occupy other people’s private property – it seems they might not want the real problems fixing after all.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Dale Farm traveller saga is the way that in the last week or so the site has largely been taken over by hard left activists. In fact, according to most reports many travellers have moved out, leaving these political protesters as the majority of the Dale Farm site’s residents.
This isn’t a new tactic – the SWP and others have long made a hobby of trying to hijack other people’s issues for their own ends. It doesn’t do the original cause any good, because their issue becomes subsumed in the broader ideological mush peddled by the hijackers. More disturbingly, the people actually affected by the issue (whether you agree with them or not) swiftly lose control of their own dispute to a clique who are more interested in having a battle than in reaching a solution.
At Dale Farm, for example, there are worrying reports from Kevin Rawlinson of The Independent that some protesters tried to stop him coming to meet traveller families who had invited him in on the grounds that “invitations from residents [are] irrelevant because they’re running by consensus now”. (Though he later noted that only some protesters took this approach).
As an illustration of this takeover, let’s look at two of the cuckoos in the Dale Farm nest.
The first was last seen making a titanic tit of himself whilst custard-pieing Rupert Murdoch – yes, it’s none other than Jonnie Marbles, AKA blundering class warrior Jonathan May-Bowles. The travellers must be delighted that they have someone with such good judgement on their side.
The second is called Dean Puckett. Mr Puckett rose to fame earlier this week as one of two protesters who had concreted their arms into a barrel at the entrance to the site only to find that the High Court was delaying the eviction by a slightly awkward four days. As well as sharing May-Bowles’ apparently poor protest judgement, Puckett has an even more colourful history. When he’s not making himself into an installation that looks like one of Mad Max’s garden ornaments, he’s also a film-maker, a former resident of the Kew Bridge Eco Village squat, one of Brian Haw’s Parliament Square campers and, err, a prominent 9/11 Truther.
As well as having made a film (“The Elephant in the Room”) all about the 9/11 “Truth” movement which seeks to rehabilitate its reputation by promoting a supposedly acceptable face of conspiracy theorists, he has now teamed up for a new film (“Crisis of Civilization”) with Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, whom he recently filmed mulling conspiracy theories about the death (or, as he calls it, “supposedly” the death) of Osama bin Laden.
You can’t help but feel the travellers at Dale Farm would have stood a better chance going it alone.