Last Thursday evening I attended what turned out to be a depressing meeting of my local council, Islington. Already a good example of our democracy gone wrong; where 98% of the councillors are Labour and yet only 57% of residents voted Labour. The sole opposition is a Green, Caroline Russell.
On Thursday Caroline was proposing her first motion asking the Council to support the ‘Renter’s Manifesto’ of the campaigning group Generation Rent. Caroline spoke passionately about the issues facing renters in the Borough, of insecurity - eviction by landlords who want to raise rent, fear of eviction if health and safety breaches are raised and poorly insulated, inadequately heated accommodation.
This is the motion:
SUPPORTING THE ‘RENTERS MANIFESTO’
Proposer: Cllr Caroline Russell
This Council notes - The 'Renters manifesto' published by Generation Rent, which would bring considerable improvements to the lives of private tenants in Islington. Council supports measures such as longer tenancy agreements, rent stabilisation policies, longer notice periods for tenants and a ban on letting agent fees charged to tenants, which would need to be brought in through national legislation. Council also supports measures that could be implemented locally, such as greater support for Community Land Trusts, targeted incentives for landlords, a not-for-profit letting agency and the promotion of model tenancy agreements through planning agreements.
This Council resolves – To ask the Executive Member for Housing & Development to set out his response to the manifesto and plans to develop its proposals; and to write to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government requesting that the Government consider implementing the manifesto in full.
This motion surely ought to be uncontroversial to a Labour Council. Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson proposed the same motion to the London Assembly, it was supported unamended by the Labour Assembly Members.
But in a perfect illustration of everything that is wrong with party politics the council decided that rather than be seen to support a Green motion about renters they would take time and effort to turn it in to a glorified Labour press release.
We don’t deny that the council are doing some good work on this issue, but in rejecting the Generation Rent manifesto because of party politics they have left out some key points; such as 5 year tenancies and Community Land Trusts. Not only that but their cynical refusal to work with the sole Green councillor is exactly the sort of behaviour that is turning people off politics completely.
The Leader of the Council actually walked out during Caroline’s speech, her maiden one, in what appeared very like a snub not only to Caroline but to the renters she was speaking about. And when problems with the microphone meant the volume was a little high one councillor (with in my experience a history of interrupting and condescension, particularly to women) heckled that his ear was bleeding. He was curiously silent when the same misfortune befell one of his own councillors.
Rather than a mature body making important decisions affecting a Borough the council chamber felt like a playground where the bullies have taken over.
I was really proud when Caroline called out their behaviour in a passionate speech asking why the Council had to make this issue all about them, rather than the people they were elected to serve.
The Labour councillors then wasted about 20mins reading off long grandstanding speeches about the threat to Islington from a possible ‘underground motorway’, one of the Mayors hare brained schemes. When Caroline, a transport expert, said she supported their motion but suggested the tunnel was extremely unlikely to happen and perhaps their energy should be focused on real transport issue, Mr Condescension decided to accuse her of supporting the tunnel!
There has been a lot of discussion about the distance between people and politicians recently, people are sick of distant politicians who have never had a proper job and don’t understand the real issues. With Islington Council having a reputation for developing significant number of future Labour MPs the culture in the chamber last night does not bode well for that party.
This is the Labour motion below. Caroline supported it because this is an important issue but she did so ‘feeling sick to my stomach that fellow councillors have chosen to use their time and energy for political point scoring rather than on making things better for people’. I couldn’t agree more.
Amendment to Supporting the ‘Renters Manifesto’ Motion
Moved by Cllr James Murray
Seconded by Cllr Osh Gantly
Amend motion to read -
This Council notes:
- The 'Renters manifesto' published by Generation Rent, which shares many of
the Council's concerns about the private rented sector.
- That the Executive Member for Housing and Development has been in
discussions and meetings with Generation Rent to begin working together on
This Council further notes:
- That the Council is leading the way on tackling issues affecting residents in
the private rented sector by developing plans for a not-for-profit lettings
agency that will offer private tenants and landlords a trusted and affordable
alternative to expensive or rogue lettings agents.
- The Council has supported private tenants in the borough in setting up
Islington Private Tenants to provide advice and to campaign for decency,
affordability and security in the private rented sector.
- The Council is collecting evidence to potentially establish one of the first
landlord licensing zones in Central London and has taken enforcement action
against private rented properties that were in breach of planning permission or
were in a poor condition.
- That alongside the Council's action to help those residents living in the private
rented sector, the Council is delivering the biggest building programme in a
generation of affordable homes and homes for social rent, and is committed to
protecting social rents for Islington's council tenants and to fighting to keep
rents genuinely affordable for housing association tenants.
- The Council's support for measures such as longer tenancy agreements, rent
stabilisation policies, longer notice periods for tenants and a ban on letting
agents' fees charged to tenants. These measures, and others, have been
called for by the Administration since 2010, featured in a Private Members Bill
tabled by the Member of Parliament for Islington North in 2013 and have been
adopted by the Labour Party as policies which will be implemented by the
next Labour Government.
This Council resolves to:
- Continue making a difference for private tenants in Islington with innovative
policies and to work with Islington Private Tenants to campaign for a fairer
deal for residents.- To welcome and support the Member of Parliament for Islington North’s
Regulation of the Private Rented Sector Bill 2012-13.
- To continue to make representations to both political parties, the Mayor of
London, and future Mayoral candidates, for more radical action to tackle the
housing crisis in London across tenures.