A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Tower Block of Commons

I watched Tower Block of Commons on Channel 4 and cringed. It's a series where four MPs (IDS, replaced by Nadine Dorries when his wife got ill; identikit Tory boy Tim Loughton, Mark Oaten and Austin Mitchell) go and live on a council estate to find out what it's like.

Their ignorance of how a large slice of the population live was astonishing e.g. not knowing how to use a door-entry intercom system.

Austin made matters worse by decamping to middle class friends in Hull for a posh dinner party rather than eating in the flat he had been allocated - all on camera.

Oaten observed that he would "have to check if the BNP really are racist" after meeting some Barking & Dagenham BNP voters. He decided in typical Lib Dem Focus fashion to start a petition to demolish the block he was living in, without any checks to see if it's in line for regeneration anyway, or whether any funds exist to replace it.

None of them seemed to possess any casual clothes that might be worn by normal people, leading to them walking around trying to blend in in hoodies they had been given.

Only IDS seemed to be at ease speaking to local residents without sounding like he was communicating with residents of another planet.

I guess I had naively thought that because here in Hackney holding public office involves spending a lot of time on council estates either canvassing or holding surgeries or attending tenants' meetings (and people from all parties do this, not just Labour) that all MPs had some familiarity with the challenges facing many people living in social housing, be it disrepair, overcrowding, poor stock, anti-social behaviour etc. Judging by this series there are some MPs who are more familiar with life on Mars than life on a council estate.

We need more MPs who have lived or do live on council estates if we're going to get a focus on improving social housing rather than treating council tenants like the subjects of an anthropology expedition. There are Labour MPs like Andrew Smith who lives on Blackbird Leys Estate in his Oxford East constituency and don't need to be sent by a TV series to find out how their constituents live.

I also resented the way in which the series seemed to paint a picture of estates as though most residents are druggies or in a cycle of long-term benefit dependency or both. There is a dangerous conflation in public debate between the "broken Britain" narrative and estates, using council tenants as shorthand when people mean a social underclass. In fact loads of people on estates have jobs and completely responsible lifestyles and thanks to right to buy most estates have some home-owners on them.

Before anyone starts pointing fingers we don't live on an estate but both grew up on social housing estates (and feel this is an important part of how our political values and priorities were shaped) and live in a street that has a council estate on one side of the road and a mix of owner occupied and housing association properties on the other.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

George Osborne: We'll give savers a better deal

11:37 pm, February 02, 2010

Blogger Mark Still News said...

With the housing market inflated at astronomical levels there is a greater need for social housing than ever. Even if you and your partner work 4 different jobs each your never going to get a mortgage.

Many people in social housing have aspirations, but are trapped in ghetto style estates, but even if the flats are bad where else can they live at the moment?

Many decent upstanding law abiding citizens are discriminated against because they come from Council estates, this is absolutely apparelling and these gutter tv programs are doing wrong by stereotyping them as benefit scroungers and no hoper's!

11:47 pm, February 02, 2010

Anonymous Maggie (no, not Thatcher!) said...

I was surprised at how utterly clueless Austin Mitchell is. He and his wife came across as snobs, and she was particularly rude and condescending.

9:22 am, February 03, 2010

Anonymous tim f said...

Any MP going on this show was asking for it - it was obvious what it was going to be like. The sample was bound to be self-selecting. I'm not going to boost its viewing figures.

10:32 am, February 03, 2010

Anonymous Clapton Ali said...

Didn't Mo live on Holly Street Estate?

11:03 am, February 03, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found it interesting how the Labour MP was posher than the Tory ones. Ian Duncan Smith came across well & it's a shame he had to leave early. Sorry but I actually think if you did a poll to find out how many people in these tower blocks are unemployed/disabled/drug dependant - it would outnumber those who aren't. Not blaming them but it's the truth. These people need help & support - they don't need to be abandoned!

11:52 am, February 03, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Mo didn't live on the estate. She had a Victorian terraced house on either Middleton Road or Albion Drive - can't remember which but remember one of our council candidates canvassing her in 2002.

1:44 pm, February 03, 2010

Blogger Mike Hobday said...

Here's one candidate very happy to be living on a council estate! Everyone should have a 30+ yard garden!

10:05 pm, February 03, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well fuck me luke has just realised that politicians are not from working class lives

10:59 pm, February 03, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

I agree with all of that. Also from a council estate - and the problem is that in my day, there was plenty of decent social housing but after council house sales without replacement it has become residualised and is overwhelmingly occupied by poor people

Amd, like it or not - Labour really have failed in this area. The fact that there are people living in those conditions when bankers are being given literally millions just isn't acceptable - because the market isn't and never will be acceptable

12:09 am, February 04, 2010

Anonymous Dirty Euro said...

Well what is the point in voting for a tory who gets on better with working class people but then takes away their NHS, education and jobs and gives tax cuts to the rich.
This show allows the charmer to win over the person who actually does what is in the persons interests.
I do not want to live on a council estate but I know my policies would do such people better.
What do you want to form your MP to be charmed or given better public services.

11:04 am, February 04, 2010

Anonymous Stephen said...

Labour could have repealed 'right to buy' and/or built more council houses. It didn't. Yet no doubt we'll still get Labour numpties, with an eye on recapturing voters lost to the BNP, blaming immigrants for the dearth of social housing.

10:22 am, February 05, 2010

Anonymous Housing campaigner said...

Hmm. I think we need more politicians, regardless of where they live, who know their facts. Statistics show that the majority of those living in social housing do receive some kind of benefit and are not in full time employment.

I'd also like to see the back of any Labour Councillor who says 'thanks to the right to buy ' Its because of the right to buy that we lack the supply of housing that would ensure that we have mixed communities where fewer people are on benefits. As I am sure you know Luke,the current abysmal shortage is the reason that only those in the worst circumstances stand a chance of getting housed, i,e those who are on no or low income and reliant on benefits. I am sure Austin Mitchell could explain all that to you if you spent some time with him

5:15 pm, February 08, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

maybe you should get off your soapbox and tell those lazy bastards to go and get a job!

9:42 pm, February 08, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, having watched the program tonight, Austin Mitchell &his wife stood out as people who didn't have a clue about poverty stricken tower blocks. Anyone who can vote labour after watching Mitchels attitude should really have their head tested.What a simply dreadful man--and polititian.

10:16 pm, February 08, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

austin Michell, well cannot believe that he left that child without its nappy changed. The way he talked infront of children 'its shit itself' is really apparelling. he has no idea what them children must have to deal with. think also that all the MP's have no idea,that people need helping out and educating, not critised. yes these people need support to get out of this trap and motivation to want to work, but are stuck in a rut and feel there is probally no way out. however having loads of kids and dogs is not gona help the situation. dont think kids and dogs should be in tower blocks anyway.so MPs get off yr backs, stop sending our money on yr expenses and stop allowing so many people into england to be able to claim benefits and health care for free.

11:21 pm, February 08, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting bord of all this... nothing will change the covernment has allways pissed on the poor. No matter who you put in power its allways going to be for themselfs rather than the greater good. bring back guy fawkes, give them another shot at it!

7:42 am, February 10, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My local MP, Jamie Reed shares your sentiments:


8:49 am, February 18, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What really annoys me is that, Mark Oaten is trying to knock them three flats down, but where does he think he can make all them people live? No MP gives a crap about Barking and Dageham; they know we're a deprived area, but they are moving refugees from westminster and other places here.
Mark Oaten doesn't understand that, even living in a a private house here, you get effected by people who have to be a underaged mother, or foreign to get a council house.
Theses SNobs of MPs will never understand what really goes on; they're niave and won't believe that Politicians know NOTHING about their country, people, or even how much money they actually get.
This show just showed me, that politics is a waste of time, and all we need are people who really understand people who need help, I'd love tto see David Cameron and that lot to live for a week in Goresbrook housing estate.
And also, even though i live in a labour background, i can see why peoplel turn to bnp, yes , they are horrific racists, but since when do Foreign people get a better way of life, In OUR country, then English people? .

2:20 pm, March 05, 2011


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