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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [http://www.monbiot.com/2015/10/21/home-ground// Home Ground]</center> ===
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=== <center>[[George Monbiot]]: [https://www.monbiot.com/2019/01/06/the-mind-hackers/// Owned]</center> ===
<center><span style="color:grey">Britain’s housing crisis won’t end until we face some uncomfortable truths</span></center>
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<center><span style="color:grey">As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.</span></center>
  
21st October 2015
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8th July 2019
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All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.
  
When you lend rooms to the homeless, expect cheers of approbation. When you explain why they are homeless, expect howls of execration.
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So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.
  
This is not to diss [what Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs have done http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/oct/20/giggs-and-neville-work-with-squatters-to-make-occupied-hotel-safe] – far from it. Allowing homeless squatters to stay in the building they are turning into a luxury hotel is a true act of kindness, in a sector characterised by cruelty.
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They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.
  
So extreme has the housing crisis become that scarcely anyone would claim to be unmoved by the condition of those at the bottom. The [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/homelessness-rises-by-40-with-soaring-number-of-families-sent-to-live-in-b-and-bs-10515740.html 40% rise in homelessness] over the past five years, the 2,500 families [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jun/24/homelessness-england-families-temporary-accommodation-bed-and-breakfast trapped in bed and breakfast lodgings], the slim chances for most of those who are young today of ever buying a home, and the ridiculous rents they must pay – these outcomes are lamented almost everywhere. But when you start to discuss the underlying reasons, sympathy soon gives way to anger and denial.
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It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called [https://landforthemany.uk Land for the Many.] It proposed [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/04/tackle-inequality-land-ownership-laws a set of policies] that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.
  
We are prepared to discuss certain aspects of the problem. The continued sale of council houses and the government’s broken promise to replace them rightly ignite public fury. So does [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/oct/17/right-to-buy-deal-backed-by-only-55-of-housing-associations the recent deal with housing associations], which further reduces the homes available to the poor. So do empty homes and the general failure to build, exacerbated by land hoarding on the part of speculators.
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Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7171049/Report-lays-Corbyns-proposal-grab-inheritances-tax-profits-family-house-sales.html A week ago], the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, [https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2019/06/23/labours-wealth-grab-would-iniquitous-country/ the Telegraph explained], that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.
  
But the major cause of the housing crisis? We just don’t want to know, and it’s not hard to see why. The major cause is a spectacular failure to tax those who own property.
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But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.
  
Britain’s problem is not a shortage of housing. We have a surplus of housing, more per head [http://www.dannydorling.org/books/allthatissolid/ than we have ever had before]. But its distribution is terrible. Government figures released last year reveal that 5% of homes in England and Wales meet the official definition of overcrowded]. But 69% [http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census-analysis/overcrowding-and-under-occupation-in-england-and-wales/sty-household-occupancy-and-overcrowding.html meet the official definition of underoccupied] (possessing at least one spare bedroom). Of these, half (8.1 million) had two or more spare bedrooms.
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There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add [https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7105601/James-Brokenshire-blasts-Labours-planned-tax-raid.html “an extra £374 a year] on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.
  
This is, in theory, a free country, and I’m not proposing that those who have more than they need should be forced to move. But in the midst of an acute housing crisis, you would expect fiscal policies to help match supply to demand. Current taxes do the opposite.
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The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.
  
The exemption from capital gains tax for main residences, inheritance tax breaks, a grossly unfair and regressive banding of council tax: all create powerful incentives to pour your money into a bigger house than you need, and then hold onto it. These incentives also drive up prices, by ensuring that all the gain accrues to the owner. The results include unaffordability, unsustainable levels of debt and [http://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2015/oct/04/george-osbornes-housing-based-revival-stands-on-flawed-foundations speculative bubbles].
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We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.
  
It’s absurd that the only windfall tax on house prices is stamp duty (and even more absurd that it’s the buyer who pays). When a higher turnover of stock is required, so that houses are better matched to need, the last thing you want is a tax on transactions. Surely the logical response is a tax on hoarding, calibrated to the rate of occupancy? A variable council tax is the simplest way of doing it: the more spare bedrooms you possess, the more you pay. This would help families to obtain family-sized homes, and encourage the division of very large houses.
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It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.
  
You say these things at your peril. When I [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/jan/04/take-housing-fight-wealthy first proposed such measures], in 2011, they were greeted with fury. In the Telegraph [http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100070388/force-the-well-off-to-take-a-lodger-new-year-new-fascist-egalitarian-proposal-from-the-guardian/my idea was pronounced] “far closer to fascism than the ethno-centric populism of the European radical Right”. Curiously, when the government proposed a similar measure, the [http://www.theguardian.com/society/bedroom-tax bedroom tax], aimed not, as I proposed, at property owners, but at the poorest households (tenants on housing benefit), the same people were delighted.
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The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.
  
In a [http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/sep/28/should-older-people-downsize-housing-crisis-homes recent debate in the Guardian], Joan Bakewell, who is almost the transcendental form of English liberalism, and whose own house, she says, is “worth millions”, argued that it would be “mean-spirited” to encourage “old people living alone in big houses … to sell up and make room for young and aspiring families.” I would argue that holding onto such houses while families are homeless is, in aggregate, far meaner.
 
 
But she has a solution: “Let them build more houses.” The phrasing has unfortunate resonances, but it perfectly captures the prevailing narrative. Let’s not look back at the profligate use of the space we already possess. Let’s not change the policies that encourage it. Let’s just keep building. It’s like dumping half our food in landfill then demanding that food production rises. And [http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/may/22/uk-tops-chart-of-eu-food-waste we would never do that], er, [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-politics-33634009 would we]?
 
 
I agree, as it happens, that more building is needed, and I support Labour’s proposal for 100,000 new social homes a year. But the idea that building alone will solve the problem is pure fantasy. There are [http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_393133.pdf 26.7 million households] in the UK. In 2014, [https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/annual-uk-property-transactions-statistics-2013 1,219,000 homes were traded]. So even if the government were to achieve its aim of building 200,000 homes a year, which some housebuilding experts [http://www.ft.com/cms/s/23ec2c1a-e264-11e3-a829-00144feabdc0,Authorised=false.html?siteedition=uk&_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcms%2Fs%2F0%2F23ec2c1a-e264-11e3-a829-00144feabdc0.html%3Fsiteedition%3Duk&_i_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.monbiot.com%2F2015%2F10%2F21%2Fhome-ground%2F&classification=conditional_standard&iab=barrier-app#axzz3p6meUScJ consider impossible], it would add less than 1% a year to the total stock, and increase the volume of transactions by only one sixth. In other words, unless we want to wreck vast tracts of countryside, we cannot build our way out of this crisis. If we really want to solve it, the greatest contribution must come from the redistribution of existing stock.
 
 
But not even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party will champion such obvious solutions, for fear of alienating people who bemoan the problem but don’t really want it solved. His [http://press.labour.org.uk/post/130135691169/speech-by-jeremy-corbyn-to-labour-party-annual speech to the party conference] was marked by the contrast between the strength of his feelings and the weakness of his proposals. In an act of gobsmacking capitulation, [http://press.labour.org.uk/post/130125996559/speech-by-john-healey-to-labour-party-annual Labour has appointed] the chief executive of the housebuilding firm Taylor Wimpey to “set out the ideas needed for a wide new debate”. Perhaps it could also ask Bashar al-Assad to lead its human rights review.
 
 
So we all play Marie Antoinette, proposing only to “let them build more”, while stoutly ignoring the injustice that underlies this crisis. Other people, and the countryside, must pay for our peculiar fixation with the property-based, rent-based economy.
 
 
Let’s applaud Neville and Giggs for their kindness, but let’s stop pretending that we are mere spectators. Many sympathetic people are complicit in the problem these heroes are trying to address.
 
 
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
 
[http://www.monbiot.com/ &copy;www.monbiot.com]
  
 
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Featured article(s)

Boris Johnson

George Monbiot: Owned

As I’ve found to my cost, the billionaire press seeks to kill change before it happens.

8th July 2019

All billionaires want the same thing – a world that works for them. For most, this means a world in which they are scarcely taxed and scarcely regulated, where labour is cheap and the planet can be used as a dustbin, where they can flit between tax havens and secrecy regimes, using the earth’s surface as a speculative gaming board, extracting profits and dumping costs. The world that works for them works against us.

So how, in nominal democracies, do they get it? They fund political parties and lobby groups, set up astroturf (fake grassroots) campaigns and finance social media ads. But above all, they buy newspapers and television stations. The widespread hope and expectation, a few years ago, was that news controlled by billionaires would be replaced by news controlled by the people: social media would break their grip. But social media is instead dominated by stories the billionaire press generates. As their crucial role in promoting Nigel Farage, Brexit and Boris Johnson suggests, the newspapers are as powerful as ever.

They use this power not only to promote the billionaires’ favoured people and ideas, but also to shut down change before it happens. They deploy their attack dogs to take down anyone who challenges the programme.

It is one thing to know this. It is another to experience it. A month ago, seven of us published a report to the Labour Party called Land for the Many. It proposed a set of policies that would be of immense benefit to the great majority of Britain’s people: ensuring that everyone has a good, affordable home, improving public amenities, shifting tax from ordinary people towards the immensely rich, protecting the living world and enhancing public control over the decisions that affect our lives. We showed how the billionaires and other oligarchs could be put back in their boxes. The result has been four extraordinary weeks of attacks in the Mail, Express, Sun, Times and Telegraph. Our contention that oligarchic power is rooted in the ownership and control of land has been amply vindicated by the response of oligarchic power.

Some of these reports peddle flat-out falsehoods. A week ago, the Mail on Sunday claimed that our report recommends a capital gains tax on people’s main homes. This “spiteful raid that will horrify millions” ensures “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states.” This claim was picked up, and often embellished, by all the other right-wing papers. The policy proved, the Telegraph explained, that “keeping a hard-Left Labour Party out of office is not an academic ideological ambition but a deadly serious matter for millions of voters.” Boris Johnson, Phillip Hammond and several other senior Tories weighed in, attacking our “mad” proposal.

But we made no such recommendation. We considered the idea, listed its possible advantages and drawbacks, then specifically rejected it. As they say in these papers, you couldn’t make it up. But they have.

There were dozens of other falsehoods: apparently we have proposed a “garden tax”; we intend to add “an extra £374 a year on top of what the typical household pays in council tax” (no such figure is mentioned in our report); and inspectors will be sent to people’s homes to investigate their bedrooms. Dozens of reports claim that our proposals are “plans” hatched by Jeremy Corbyn: “Jeremy Corbyn’s garden tax bombshell”; “Jeremy Corbyn is planning a huge tax raid”; “Corbyn’s war on homeowners”. Though Corbyn is aware of our report, he has played no role in it. What it contains are not his plans but our independent policy suggestions, none of which has yet been adopted by Labour. The press response gives me an inkling of what it must be to walk in his shoes, as I see my name (and his) attached to lurid schemes I’ve never heard of, and linked to Mugabe, Maduro and the Soviet Union. Not one of the many journalists who wrote these articles has contacted any of the authors of the report. Yet they harvested lengthy quotes denouncing us from senior Conservatives.

The common factor in all these articles is their conflation of the interests of the ultra-rich with the interests of the middle classes. While our proposals take aim at the oligarchs, and would improve the prospects of the great majority, they are presented as an attack on ordinary people. Progressive taxation, the protection of public space and good homes for all should strike terror into your heart.

We’ve a lodged a complaint to the press regulator, IPSO, about one of the worst examples, and we might make others. But to pursue them all would be a full-time job (we wrote the report unpaid, in our own time). The simple truth is that we are being outgunned by the brute power of billionaires. And the same can be said for democracy.

It is easy to see why political parties have become so cautious and why, as a result, the UK is stuck with outmoded institutions and policies, and succumbs to ever more extreme and regressive forms of taxation and control. Labour has so far held its nerve – and this makes its current leadership remarkable. It has not allowed itself to be bullied by the billionaire press.

The old threat has not abated – it has intensified. If a newspaper is owned by a billionaire, be suspicious of every word you read in it. Check its sources, question its claims. Withhold your support from any party that allows itself to be bullied or – worse – guided by their agenda. Stand in solidarity with those who resist it.

©www.monbiot.com

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