It’s a common complaint that housing issues get very little coverage in the British media. Sometimes it seems even worse when it does get some air time. So this was a relatively good weekend.
Of all the TV interviewers, Andrew Neil seems to do some prior research before his interviews and isn’t immediately befuddled by a few well-rehearsed stats thrown into the argument by the interviewee from a crib sheet.
Today on Sunday Politics, Eric Pickles looked at a chart (check here on i-player, about 27 minutes in) put up by Neil, sourced from the official ONS statistics, which clearly showed housing starts declining since the Coalition came in. No, said Eric, they’ve gone up.
Neil couldn’t believe his eyes or ears, and deserves an accolade for not only doing the work beforehand but also pressing the point as Pickles became increasingly obscure in his answers, ultimately being made to look a fool. In one extraordinary moment, Pickles said: ‘I’m not going to go onto a prestigious show like this and not know what I’m talking about.’ Well, Eric, yes you did and no you don’t.
Impressively, subsequent tweets show that Andrew Neil really had done his homework and knew, for example, the difference between the stats for starts and completions and the stats for new housebuilding as opposed to increases in the housing stock (which also take account of conversions and demolitions, for example).
Eric seemed very relieved when Neil moved on from housing starts and the impact that east European immigration might have on housing demand (dunno, I’ll let you know later, said Eric) to whether the Government is going to end fines for leaving the wrong rubbish in the wrong bin.
Similar obfuscation about housebuilding figures helped make housing the dog that didn’t bark during the London mayoral election last year. Affordable housing has collapsed, the figures show. Oh no it hasn’t said Boris Johnson, we’re going to build record numbers. And there was no challenge as he switched from starts to completions, and from history to the future, from housebuilding to affordable housebuilding, whichever suited his case the best. Eventually, the figures become meaningless, the media couldn’t be bothered, and there was no accountability for performance.
The other encouraging bit of media coverage this weekend was some fairly straight reporting of what Ed Miliband said on the regulation of the private rented sector – see the Guardian, the Metro, PoliticsHome, and Daily Mail for example. Like Andrew Neil, he gave the impression that he’d researched his topic and taken note of the detailed work done by Jack Dromey on the policy. So here for posterity is the key bit of Ed’s speech:
Jonathan Primett from Chatham wrote to us recently, complaining about rogue landlords at a time when the private rented sector is growing fast in our country. Today I want to respond to him.
Britain is in danger of having two nations divided between those who own their one homes and those who rent. If we are going to build One Nation, people who rent their homes should have rights and protections as well.
That’s about rooting out the rogue landlords. Stopping families being ripped off by letting agents. And giving new security to families who rent.
So we will introduce a national register of landlords, to give greater powers for local authorities to root out and strike off rogue landlords. We will end the confusing, inconsistent fees and charges in the private rented sector. And we will seek to give greater security to families who rent and remove the barriers that stand in the way of longer term tenancies.