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.