Notes of meeting held on 4th April 2015 at the Forge, Camden.
Present: Eddie Farrell (chair), Janos Abel, Carol McNichol, Sara Jolly, Alan Spence, Mary Fee (note-taker). Apologies: James Richmond, Michael Mulvey.
Minutes of last meeting on 28th March 2015, were approved.
Michael Mulvey’s email of 2nd April 2015:
… greetings from France where it looks as though we’re in for a chilly Easter. Thank you for the 28 March Meeting minutes. Comments:
(1) DCC Mission Statement. I shall try to get something out to you asap. I take note of Sally’s comment about the desirability of physical presence;
(2) Housing. Attached a very preliminary draft of a DCC Position Paper entitled “Housing and Work”. I have drawn heavily on the language and ideas of Kate Allen’s FT article: “How to ensure the lowest paid aren’t forced out of cities” referenced by James and on the Green Policy Paper. The issue is immensely complicated and the draft as yet incomplete and tentative, and I feel thoroughly out of my depth in the 3rd section entitled “What can be done?”
Could Janos and others help with this. I have also added some notes with ideas that may or may not commend themselves;
(3) The Super Rich and Us. Staggering! I mean the selfish stupidity of it all beggars belief! I was not at all left with the impression that the poor were portrayed as envious of the super rich and I found Peretti’s point about the super rich turning even poverty into a cash-cow very telling. Will they stop at nothing?
(4) The Mayfair Loophole. Attached, for what it’s worth, is a copy of Will Blair’s (Conservative Candidate for Holborn and St Pancras) response to 38% petitioners of which I was one;
(5) NHS, Drugs and the TTIP. All candidates in my view for DCC Position Papers. If Alan, Carol and whoever like to send me some ideas and info. I’d be happy to have a shot at drafting something;
(6) I should be very interested to learn what Democafeteers have to say about climate change and the environment;
(7) Finally, I find the Hustings Questions excellent – sufficiently naive but searching to have the beggars hoist themselves on their respective petards!
A very Happy Easter to us all, Michael
With reference to Michael Mulvey’s draft paper attached to the above email – DCC Position Paper “Housing and Work” – and an article taken from the International Property section of the Financial Times: March 13, 2015 2:32 pm: How to ensure the lowest paid aren’t forced out of cities, by Kate Allen – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/c0ee73c4-c28d-11e4- a59c-00144feab7de.html#axzz3WMQeecDv
Michael Mulvey’s paper was in three sections, The Problem, Why is this, and What can be done. Alan said yes this is what’s happening under capitalism and we need to get back to socialist solutions, he reminded us that Aneurin Bevan was minister of both Health and Housing at the same time. There were half a million houses in various stages of war damage, the first stage was to repair them, and the second stage was to build new – between 1946 and 1950 they hard organised the building of a million good quality houses. Alan passes around an article to give the background on this, and discussion reiterated many of the points made in Michael’s draft.
In relation to the government’s excuse that house-building is limited by the level of debt to GDP, Carol asked what was the level of debt to GDP back then.
It appeared that in the past the GDP argument was not made, and it was pointed out that anything said about the economics system is spurious, as the Government chooses to borrow money from the banks, it does not have to do it this way (reference the Positive Money campaign – http://www.positivemoney.org).
Also why has it become an article of faith that you are not a proper person unless you are a home-owner. Margaret Thatcher stirred up aspirations and upsetting communities.
-Alan says we need to re-examine and be informed by the mechanism by which the labour movement solved these problems in the past. Capitalism as we know it is predatory and self-destructive. We have to be be prepared to introduce mechanisms to alleviate the situation. Eddie refers to Harold MacMillan, who did build many houses, but they were cheaper. Also there were phases of upgrading, putting in bathrooms into existing council houses. Carol says in Leeds, in the 1960s they were still renovating back-to-backs. Janos says yes we should look into housing, why capitalism is so badly unable to respond to the modern world.
• James Meek, Where will we live (London Review of Books)
Alan, says the best model is in Hong Kong where the government owned all the land, with people flooding in from the mainland. They said up a housing authority and the government allocated land free of charge to the housing authority, and loaned them the money free of interest to create the buildings, here even if you owned a property, you would be leasing the land. Hong Kong has the highest number of people in local authority housing. The maximum they pay is 14% of their net income, to the housing authority, and this system holds until today. What’s beneficial about it is that if you only have one wage earner you only pay 14%, if others in the household go out to work, they also pay 13%. After a while the government would be able to pay back 50% to the local authority which would go into the fund to build housing.
Looking at these two models, Carol says the confucian tradition is very communitarian, the significant thing is that Hong Kong owns its own land. East India bureaucrats had set it up that the land should remain as a state of government possession and not be leased out. Janos says this was only because the whole territory had been leased from the Chinese, so the typical capitalism ownership of land did not apply.
In the UK, Carol said there used to be controlled rents, and guaranteed tenancies, and wondered at what point did this change? First the law changed to allow for leaseholds, then you could buy a house to rent to others, Alan says every year the rents could go up according to the retail price index, it could go up by 2% above the retail price index. If the person left, for a new person the rent could be set at any level. Eddie says in Berlin, they have strict laws on levels of rents, but even that is now being eroded. The problem has arisen that if they move people out, and upgrade the houses, they can give a new contract and put the rent up.
Eddie found the changing situation in house ownership during his lifetime pretty stark, refering to Michael Mulvey’s comment on young people trying to get on the property ladder, now; in a couple of generations this has changed from a huge percent not even considering to get on the property ladder. Janos has seen the results a policy of mixed tenancy where he lives in Camden. Alan recalls his experience when tenants in a block all owned by the Council, all paying rent – they had been moved there from bomb-damaged areas. It was a fantastic community, people helped each other. When there was a proposal to raise it to the ground, they all worked together to resist it. The right to buy disrupted the community – the rule was that after three years of residence people could buy their own home, and prices rose, so ordinary people could not refuse the offer of the high prices. It’s now very hard work organising people who are of a different class living in close proximity, (the exception being the professional guy who became treasurer of the tenants association.)
The question was discussed of whether Buy-to-Let/ Buy to Leave Is a moral way to make money. The point is that it all depends on the land, that’s why the price goes up, not just the bricks and mortar – the earned portion is maintaining the structure, the unearned portion, is based on the price of land. Janos said this changed in the 70s, when they brought in “selective employment tax”. Mary asks how Land Value Tax would operate, would it be added on to Council rates.
Janos said since it was to do with the capitalised value of the land, that it would be divided it up into yearly levies, like a kind of ground rent. In Land Value Tax Alan says the land is valued at so much per year, and this is separated out from Council rates. insurance on the property is also separately assessed, which is to do with the the rebuilding cost, this does not affect the land itself. Land Value Tax would have to revalued every year.
Regarding empty properties, currently you pay lower rates, and even without getting rents on them it’s worth waiting for the value to rise, i.e. they are “Land Banking”, e.g. Tesco’s buys up a whole area to prevent the competition from moving in. So charging the full amount could disincentivise this practice. The caveat was expressed that you cannot talk about land ownership not being allowed, however, you can talk about sharing the unearned value of the land.
With reference to “democratic deficit” the anecdotes all come around to the need for Land Value Tax, Janos says LVT would be the best source of public revenue. In answer to the question of where the revenue goes, to the government, or to the local authority, it was suggested that the revenue goes to the government for redistribution. The rates go to the Local Authority for services they provide, and in the case of businesses that go bankrupt and cannot pay, the local authority may repossess the property.
Carol said that only the Greens mention this issue in their manifesto, also the Co-op Party, but not the Labour Party. Eddie says we need to check out the exact details, he would like us to come back to this next week to move today’s agenda on. Alan said that as a former town planner, he would be interested, and it was agreed that Janos and James work together on Michael’s paper and re-present it next week.
The discussion picked up from what Carol had suggested at an earlier meeting (14th March).
The use of drugs should be decriminalised, drug addiction is a medical problem which criminalisation does nothing to solve. The criminalisation of drugs is ridiculous how can you make a plant illegal, the war on drugs merely exacerbates the problem it claims to be dealing with. There is no evidence that the illegality of a substance ever stopped anybody from using it, if criminalisation worked drugs would be difficult to obtain, this is not the case.
Janos had said that it a myth that drugs are habit-forming but Michael says this would be too much of a gift to the right-wing press. Clive had said you should not be afraid of proposing things that are controversial. and that the more we speak out in words of truth, the quicker we will see some change. Janos says if the media is rubbishing our proposals, we should challenge them. Michael felt that tactically speaking, this was not the first proposal to come up with. However, Clive had said that Russell Brand has 9 million followers on Twitter, he tackles this issue, and if we want to engage with young people of all ethnicities, we should not be afraid to do so. It’s a medical and social problem, not the kind of problem it’s held out to be. James says the legislation against drugs did not come in until 1921, and people used to send them in packages to soldiers in the front in the first world war.
In answer to Carol’s comment that it was ridiculous that drugs are illegal, Sara felt that this form of wording could cause opposition, and it was agreed that “decriminaiisation” sounds more acceptable than “legalisation”, i.e. you don’t go to prison just for possession, addicts would get the substances they need, whereas trafficking would be treated differently. This way, registered addicts would not get themselves into financial problems or prostitution, whereas now you get methadone and what addicts do is to use that a couple of days a week and fund their habit more cheaply. Instead, all drugs should be “controlled”, including Ecstacy (MDMA), including what are now called “legal highs”, and legislation should be specific, like for example, methyl alcohol being avoided.
Although they are considered less dangerous, Mary suggested that we should also be controlling e-cigarettes, and asked if this meant all drugs would be taxed in the same way that cigarettes and alcohol currently are. Carol added that people should have places to go where they can have clean needles
– Eddie agreed with this, recollecting clean “needle-exchange” having had a major impact on reducing the incidence of AIDS. He thought it was worth investigating what goes on in other countries before finalising our policy. Thus it was agreed that our statement should include the words “control” and “taxation”.
Sara suggested an amended draft as follows: The use of drugs should be decriminalised, drug addiction is a medical problem which criminalisation does nothing to solve. The war on drugs merely exacerbates the problem it claims to be dealing with. There is no evidence that the illegality of a substance ever stopped anybody from using it. If criminalisation worked drugs would be difficult to obtain, which is not the case. If drugs were fully legalised their production could be controlled for quality and safety in the same way that alcohol production is. Users would be much less inclined to experiment with potentially deadly ‘legal highs’ or adulterated substances bought on the street if they knew they could legally buy reliably produced drugs. Legally produced drugs could be taxed in the same way as alcohol and cigarettes and the proceeds could be ring-fenced for addiction treatment centres.
The NHS (and Democratic Deficit)
Alan reported on his meeting with 38Degrees. We put forward a project to them on strengthening democracy, had sent them material, and assumed they had read it but apparently not. There were only two people looking after this issue, he saw one of them, a young lady who worked in the office, but had little theoretical background, and he found it was hard to get her to look at “democratic deficit”, the fact that the NHS reform having gone through without an electoral mandate, and Magna Carts was a totally new concept. Effectively they got nowhere, and she was mainly focusing on encouraging Alan to join in with what they had been already doing since 2006, which was collecting signatures.
38Degrees had already collected half a million signatures, their method is to get signatures on a particular day, do it nationally but with each constituency taking them to their own MP, but he wondered who they would present them to once Parliament was dissolved. When it was clear that what she was asking was too much for him, she suggested trying another organisation. After the election Alan felt we should get back in touch with 38Degrees and re-focus on this, as an example of democratic deficit, and somehow involve people so that we can take it to the supreme court, because it was not a legal bill. People who signed the petition were told not to sign any other petition, but perhaps we could have other petitions as derivatives.
Currently the NHS has a business model, and 6% (Mary thought it was or 65%) of the work is privatised, they are cherry-picking the most profitable work, leaving the rest to be done by the NHS. See yellow chart on the new structure of the NHS, under the 2012 arrangements, so now the the Secretary of state has less power, it’s been devolved. Once the new government is in power they could put something new into practice – but the Labour Party has so far not made any commitment.
The only person to have looked at it is David Owen, see: Article in the Guardian, Mon 1 Dec 2014 “How to take back the NHS, before it’s too late by David Owen: The coalition’s 2012 health reform act was disastrous. It can be overturned – but time is running out” – See http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/01/david-owen-nhs-coalition-2012-health-reform-act.
Photo: The-NHS-as-celebrated-in–014.jpg ¬ National treasure: the NHS as celebrated in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. Photograph: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Next Meeting: Hustings at Camden School for Girls Weds 8th April, Democafe Sat 11th April 2015.