We will rue the day we all decided bullying was a bad thing. The consequence is that the inept, the imbecilic and the perpetually frit will hang on to their jobs and we will become a much less efficient country. By bullying I do not mean physically beating someone up and stealing their lunch money, which is what it used to mean when it had a proper meaning. I mean telling someone they’re useless and deserve to be sacked, which is what bullying means today. As R.D. Laing might have put it, that kind of bullying is a rational response to irrationality. The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who is 5ft 6in tall, has been accused of using bullying behaviour with regard to her civil servants. Nowhere near enough bullying behaviour in my book. One imagines the chagrin amid the Sir Humphreys: ‘I have just been told what to do by a short, state-educated woman from the colonies!’ The fury and loathing turned upon Patel is a foretaste of what awaits government ministers (and advisers) when they dare to tell the civil servants that perhaps things might be done differently from here on in. It is a preliminary skirmish in a war the government must win.
The bitter — and I suspect a little racist and sexist — backlash against Patel came after she had unveiled the government’s new proposals to reduce immigration, something the average voter has been banging on about for 20 years since the doors were flung open — out of political spite and political expediency — by New Labour. Since then we have admitted a net amount of people to this country equivalent to a city the size of Exeter (250,000 people) every year. I — and most voters, according to the polls — would have preferred the net gain, if we had to have a net gain, to have been closer in size to that of the village of Chop Gate in North Yorkshire, pop. about nine. Patel’s proposals are the first serious attempt in all that time to halt the flow, for which she deserves great credit.
Who knows if it will work? If it does, Patel will have hugely alleviated that other great problem of our age, the housing crisis. I seem to be almost alone in the country in not wishing the government to pave over every inch of our landscape in order to shove up thoroughly nasty houses and all the clamorous infrastructure that accompanies them. (Bizarrely, those most voluble about climate change are also those who support tarmacking the green belt and thus supporting all those extra emissions from the new homes.) Before despoiling our crowded island further, why not look outside the box a little?
Our supposed need for new housing is based upon the flawed ‘predict and provide’ model, drawn from the expected population increase. The birth rate among indigenous Brits is pretty low. The organisation Migration Watch estimates that inward immigration is responsible for up to 45 per cent of ‘household demand’ — cut immigration and you therefore have an immediate effect upon this supposed need for new housing both now and in the future. Further, the real housing crisis we have — that homes are far too expensive — has been exacerbated by the unprecedented influx of people from abroad. The increased demand for housing has raised property prices by a good 10 per cent.
And yet when these points are made, there is a howl-round of outrage and self-righteousness. How dare you blame immigrants for our housing crisis! It’s Tory cuts and the privatisation of social housing and a refusal to build! Well, nobody is blaming the immigrants themselves, any more than they are blamed for exerting a depreciatory effect upon the wages of the very poorest paid. But they are still both a consequence of a net influx of immigration. If an extra 250,000 people arrive here every year, they will need somewhere to live, no? Denial of that patent fact is one of the more entertaining examples of liberal double-think.
The puzzle remains, though. If our birth rate is stable (immigrant birth rates excepted), how come most of our new housing need is the consequence of indigenous Brits? Again, this is a question the liberals find difficult to address. Almost all of the reasons are the consequence of progressive legislation of one kind or another. Easier divorce, the breakdown of both the nuclear family and the extended family and its replacement by fissiparous single parenthood. A diminishing of communitarianism and a concomitant wish on our behalves to live separately, apart from others.
By the same token we might also blame neoliberal economic polices — an obsession with the vaulting wealth that can be generated by home-ownership and which has led to houses being seen as simply collateral, ever to be traded up, rather than as places to live in and put down one’s roots. To which we might add the horror of unrealistic expectation: with 50 per cent of young people now attending university, rather than 10 per cent (which was about right), we have graduates emerging from their colleges with a 2:2 in Gender Studies, appalled and astonished that they cannot find a nice flat to buy in Islington on their wages from Poundland. I had this very discussion with a young chap on a train recently: he was furious at my generation for depriving him of the right to buy an apartment in London. He was 23. I’m so sorry, I said, where would you like your apartment to be? Belgravia? Docklands? Hoxton? I was 30 before I got my studio flat in Peckham. Until then I camped out in low-grade squats and housing association properties, devoid of a sense of entitlement.
So: bullying, immigration and housing. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this column please ring our help-line where a counsellor will tell you to man up and grow a pair.
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