Matching Labour Leaders To Oxford Nights Out

Oxford nightlife aficionado and Somerville Entz Rep, Mo Iman, compares recent Labour leaders to nights out in Oxford. 

As our beloved editor has bullied asked me to write a piece for this amazing blog, let’s use my Entz experience to match our Labour leaders to Oxford nights out.

Jeremy Corbyn

With a banger like Seven Nation Army and a sense of community so strongly related to him, Jezza can only really be a college bop – and not just any bop, he needs to be a banging college bop. I’m talking about bops like those at Catz, Wadham, or Somerville. Bops where college really bands together, and belts out songs late into the night before people help each other stagger into town. That’s a Jezza night out.

Ed Miliband

Eddy. We’ve grown to love you over the years you’ve been away from the front benches, but your leadership was under appreciated by the masses. For that reason, I’ve decided to give you the honour of being Foreplay Fridays at Plush. Cheap drinks, cheap entry and an overriding sense of cheerfulness that comes from the lighting and advertisements. Without a doubt, Ed has to be Foreplay Friday.

Tony Blair

Working our way back, we’ve got our boyo Tony. As a man of the people and three time election winner, we have to give Tony a night of significant importance. His appeal to the masses, charming ways and good looks make for a popular man, suitable for a popular night out. For these reasons, I’m gonna give him Parkend Fuzzies Wednesdays as well as Bridge Thursdays. Both are great at times (see 1997 Tony) and very questionable at others (2001/2003 Blair).

Gordon Brown

Last, but by no means least, we come to Gordon. Hated by many, loved by few – it’s quite easy to give Gordon a night out, but I’m gonna give him a full nightclub instead: Emporium. With its quirky layout and stupidly placed stage, it reminds me of the classic electronic Gordon smile ( Bless him, he did try hard and, if this was based on his chancellorship, I would probably have given him Parkend Wednesdays, a much greater honour.


Praise the Lords?

Katy Husband, OULC member, advocates abolishing the House of Lords and replacing it with an independently appointed advisory chamber. 

The mere titles of Westminster’s two chambers reflect the antiquated class distinction between the elected and appointed members. A space for those with peerage titles (as well as bishops), the House of Lords was created as a home exclusively for the land-owning aristocracy whose experience and influence was deemed superior to the common people. Not much has changed since, with the house remaining, as Tony Benn once said, a “medieval relic from a time when land ownership was a major source of political power.” As the House of Commons became more democratic with the expansion of suffrage, the people became uneasy with the non-democratic power that was blocking bills passed in the Commons. Whilst now this power has been limited to a veto, the debate surrounding the House of Lords has been bestowed on a new generation; alongside peerage titles on the sons and daughters of the old Lords.

The core objection to the House of Lords is that it is undemocratic. In an age where democracy is generally accepted to be the correct basis upon which our political systems are founded, this appointed chamber stands out, putting the UK political set-up in a league with Iran. Moreover, the type of people appointed to offer up wisdom and relevant experience are from a very narrow section of society. 54% of peers are over the age of 70, with only 2 members being under the age of 39. Only 24% are female and 44% are from London or the South East. Those representing manual occupations, policing and transport make up less than 1% of the Lords. Bishops are disproportionately represented, while Muslim representation is shamefully low. This means that not only does the Lords continue to perpetuate elitism, but it also fails to effectively provide representative knowledge and experience. The definition of “expertise” is narrowed to those individuals, mainly big businessmen, who have succeeded by exploiting the people who the Commons claims to represent; the academic elite; the upper echelons of a religion which is no longer practiced by most of our society; and ex-politicians (25% of Lords appointed since 1997 were MPs who had lost elections or resigned).

The main argument in favour of the House of Lords is that it acts as a check on government, comprised as it is by members who have no direct responsibility to the electorate and who therefore, supposedly, possess a clearer view of what is best for the country. This claim echoes Rousseau’s role for the Legislator, who knows better than the public what they really want. This, to put it frankly, is the exact kind of patronising dribble which has alienated so many working-class people from politics. The idea that a billionaire has better insight or understands the implications of cuts to tax credits more than the people affected by such cuts insults the general intelligence of the wider populace. To add further insult to injury, many of the peers do not make a habit of actually voting, unless of course it affects the vested interest of the member: Andrew Lloyd Webber famously flew back in his private jet to the UK just to vote in favour of the tax credit reform. The vested interests of the Lords were clearly highlighted in 2012 by the discovery that 1 in 4 Tory Lords were employed by commercial health providers and their lobbyists, and a study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that 124 out of 775 Lords have links to financial institutions.

So, what are the alternatives? One option is to completely democratise the chamber by making its members fully elected, akin to the American Senate. Members could have longer terms, meaning they would not be as heavily dependent on the electorate’s demands. However, these terms could be subject to greater scrutiny and higher standards than currently, say by insisting on a certain level of attendance. This reform could serve to remove the “complacent air of self-satisfaction” that Lord Adonis has claimed exists in the chamber. It would also alter the whole function of the House of Lords, instead making it a way to improve representation in government: minorities and fringe parties may have a greater opportunity to voice their opinions on government legislation. There is, however, a significant drawback to a fully elected second chamber, namely that it would result in power struggles between the Commons and Lords as both would lay claim to democratically representing the people.

Some have suggested a hybrid solution in order to avoid such a problem. Having both appointed and elected members would mean that the Commons could still maintain its democratic superiority, while the Lords would remain an advisory chamber. However, this still leaves the problem of the criteria by which we judge who the “experts” are and  which experts we prioritise. There is a danger that the voice of the appointed peers could be seen as more legitimate or taken more seriously than that of the elected peers.

Labour has historically opposed the very existence of such a bastion of privilege and wealth as the House of Lords. In keeping with this tradition, Corbyn has recently re-opened the debate about totally abolishing the archaic institution. He recognises the contradiction between being a party ‘for the many and not the few’ while upholding a parliamentary chamber that gives the rich elite disproportionate influence in our government. Abolishing the House of Lords is portrayed as the radical option, but really it seems more radical to keep an aristocratic block on Commons bills in our ‘democratic’ country. We could save on great expense through its abolition; not only on the costs of running the institution (which came to over £21 million between 2014 and 2015), but also on costs from voting based on vested interests, which hit the poorest in our society the hardest. We could join the likes of New Zealand and Denmark who do not have a second chamber and restore a purer form of democracy.

It seems sensible to remove this institution which, along with its name, belongs to the 14th century that created it. Instead, we should build a new body which could perform the function of an advisory council, but without the traditional baggage. This committee should be appointed independently, and wider representation should be prioritised. The body would have no actual power but could provide further insight if it were felt the Commons had not properly considered a bill. There should be, of course, a place in our system for contemplation, re-consideration, and pausing over important legislation. We do not need a House of Lords, however, to do this. The House and all its elitist heritage should be bulldozed, and replaced with a new vessel for checking the government, one which is better suited to the modern society we want to build.

Homelessness in Oxford: Standing up for the Voiceless

Richard Howlett, Labour candidate for Carfax, explains how helping the homeless at Iffley Open House motivated him to stand for the council to represent their concerns. 

I never expected to find myself standing for election to Oxford City Council. My journey to this role partly starts a year ago when I was spending two nights a week sleeping on the floor of a draughty, squatted former car showroom. This was the ‘Iffley Open House’, which for three months last winter provided a pop-up shelter for around twenty-five of Oxford’s rough sleepers. I was lucky enough not to be homeless but had got involved as a volunteer.

The project had been initiated by a group of housing activists, former homelessness professionals, and rough sleepers themselves. The group saw the ever increasing numbers of people on the streets, this building which had long been sat empty, and decided to act.

On the night of January 1st 2017, three volunteers slept in the space. By the second night, they had been joined by two rough sleepers. As the days wore on, the numbers grew to a motley crew of around 25 people setting up temporary home in the disused building. The site continued to provide basic accommodation until the end of February when following an eviction notice by the owners, Wadham College, the group moved on. During the two months the project remained in the space, many positives emerged: communal dinners were cooked; open days were held allowing local people to visit; clothes, bedding and food flooded in from concerned residents. The project provided a roof and warmth for two of the coldest months. It did an amazing job of raising the profile of the crisis facing the city and showed Oxford citizens’ desire to help.

However, there were many drawbacks to the initiative, and a fully informed debate about homelessness in our city deserves to understand these. Firstly, the group did not have the capacity or skills to provide people with the support needed to rebuild their lives. Understandably, mental health and addiction issues are highly prevalent amongst rough sleepers. We did our best in trying circumstances, but we were not trained, and were mostly holding down busy jobs or study. Secondly, due to our limited capacity and the immense pressure on the project, we were never able to build up the relations with the professional organisations working in the city. Thirdly, and most critically, whilst traditional hostels have standard safety procedures in place, we had none of this. There were occasions where residents and volunteers were put at significant risk as a result of dangerous behaviours. Of course these behaviours ultimately stem from the injustice of our society, but that analysis makes them no less harmful. In retrospect, the calculation that homeless people plus empty buildings equals a solution, feels a bit like 2+2=3.

Do I think these factors mean the project should not have happened? No. The alternative for many staying in the space was sleeping outside in bitter conditions. Moreover, the way the initiative brought together housing activists, students, concerned neighbours and rough sleepers themselves was an inspiring example of empowering, grassroots community action. In the face of swingeing cuts and an unfolding homelessness crisis, we showed our humanity could rise above the politics of austerity and individualism advanced by the Tory government.

As I now look to the residents of Carfax Ward to support my campaign to join the City Council, I take many lessons from those nights spent in the old VW showroom. The first is that we must recognise the value of the professional organisations working in our city. In the face of austerity unleashed since the Tory and Lib Dem coalition eight years ago, the Labour-run Oxford City Council has just increased its homelessness budget to support these very organisations. Whilst the Tory County Council has been cutting its budget in this area, the city authority has stepped in to fill the gap, most notably in commissioning a new hostel as well as smaller supported housing units. The second lesson is that our current system is unable to meet the needs of the group of rough sleepers most represented at Iffley Open House. Local authorities are banned by national rules from providing support to rough sleepers who are either non-UK nationals or have no officially recognised ‘local connection’. These people are given the option of returning home, but many do not wish to do so. Once again, there have been recent positive steps from Oxford Labour for this group. The council has supported a group of churches to set up the Oxford Winter Night Shelter – ten beds in one of seven churches, changing each night. Clearly ten beds are not enough for the scale of the problem we are facing, so Labour councillors are now rightly looking at how the model can be expanded. Thirdly, it encourages me to look at how we could support owners of temporarily empty properties (most often the University) to allow these to be re-purposed for social aims. Finally, the squat showed me the generosity, commitment and creativity of Oxford’s population in fighting homelessness.

If I am elected on May 3rd I hope to be an ally for grassroots initiatives, welcoming their energy and knowledge, as well as linking them up to the valuable experience within the sector around us. As a Labour councillor, I would see my job as aiming to represent all Carfax residents, but particularly the most marginalised in the ward. More than anyone, fellow citizens whom our society has allowed to fall on the hardest times need a voice in places of power. I would do my best to be one of those voices.

Richard Howlett is the Labour candidate for Carfax Ward in the city centre. You can follow his campaign here:

Failing the UK’s Homeless

OULC member, Patrick Morrish, considers the crisis of homelessness from a national angle. 

The efforts of Oxford Student Union’s On Your Doorstep campaign to encourage the city council to open emergency shelters every night of sub-zero temperatures and their lobbying of local MPs Anneliese Dodds and Layla Moran to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act, have ensured the issue of Oxford’s homelessness crisis has remained at the forefront of student consciousness. Armed with this awareness of the extent of the crisis in Oxford, it is the responsibility of students returning home over the Easter holidays to remember that homelessness is a national issue. We must encourage our local MPs to hold this government to account for its demonstrable failure to solve this problem.

A 2012 study by the homelessness charity Crisis revealed that of 1751 homeless people, 90% male and 10% female, the average age of death was 47 for the former and 43 for the latter, compared to 77 among the population living indoors. The number of people exposed to this risk of early fatality has risen over the eight years of Tory government. Though statistics about sleeping rough can be difficult to calculate, street counts can give an indication of the problem. Figures published in January reveal that 4,751 people slept rough on any one night in 2017. This represents a 15% increase from 2016, and double that of 2010. The North West has been hard hit, particularly Tameside, Salford, and Manchester, where rough sleeping has increased by 39% from 2016, quadrupling from 2010.

Statistics can occlude the grim reality of homelessness. Institutions which owe a duty of care to our citizens display at best apathetic, at worst malicious behaviour towards the homelessness problem. A homeless man – identified only as Kev – was found dead under a flyway in Bournemouth last month. The borough council, which had previously instructed the bus station to play bagpipe music through the night to prevent people sleeping rough, is currently defending itself against accusations that officers confiscated his sleeping bag under their auspices. Stoke-on-Trent Council, meanwhile, attempted to levy a £1000 fine for living in tents in the city centre; this is an absurd amount for people who cannot afford the £2-5 needed for Shelter accommodation. With the royal wedding on the horizon, a council leader in Windsor requested that ‘beggars’ be cleared out of the city centre so as not to spoil the show.

Theresa May’s statistical wrangling only serves to obscure the severity of the homelessness crisis. In December, the Labour MP for Tooting, Rosena Allin-Khan, asked why 2 500 children will wake up homeless on Christmas day. May flatly denied the comment, claiming that “statutory homelessness is lower now than it was for most of the period of the last Labour Government.“ But whilst the legal definition of homelessness means lacking a secure place to live, statutory homelessness involves further strict criteria. Focusing on statutory homelessness fails to reveal those in temporary accommodation, or types of ‘hidden homelessness’. For example, 75 740 households were in temporary accommodation – including night shelters, hostels, B&Bs and women’s refuges – on 31 December 2016. As Alex Cunningham, the Labour MP for Stockton North has written, children should be in “a home, not stuck in a hostel.“

Likewise, forms of ‘hidden homelessness’, such as sofa surfing or living in squats, do not appear on record. In 2013, a poll of 2000 UK adults found 32% of people have experienced this type of homelessness, or knew someone that had. Research by Crisis suggests 62% of single homeless people fall into the ‘hidden’ category.

Though the 2017 Homelessness Reduction Act expanded the duty of English local housing authorities to give advice to the homeless, and to secure accommodation for those in ‘priority need’ and the ‘unintentionally homeless’, it is unlikely that the extra £48m will cover the cost of the problem at a time when councils are struggling to make ends meet. Don’t trust the Tories to deliver on their promise to eradicate homelessness by 2027.

Austerity measures and cuts to local authority budgets are political decisions, not inevitable consequences of the 2008 crash. The exacerbation of the homelessness crisis, like the problems with education and healthcare, are the result of the Tories cutting the safety net for people most in need; the fault of a government that displays a distinct lack of sympathy for the plight of poorer citizens to whom they owe a duty of care.

Reflections on Ed Miliband’s Leadership

Disabled Members’ Officer, Rosie Sourbut, assesses Ed Miliband’s strengths and weaknesses as Labour leader, and what he should have done differently. 

I joined the Labour Party in 2012, politically awakened by the damaging impact of austerity and inspired by the fairer and more compassionate policies Ed Miliband was promoting. Ed was my first party leader and the first politician I believed in. Consequently, 2015 was the first General Election in which I felt despair and with Ed’s resignation, a feeling of total powerlessness in the face of five years that vote’s consequences. Since then, we’ve had the election of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader, experienced a surge in membership, and gained thirty more seats in the 2017 General Election, which Theresa May had called to eradicate Labour. I feel excited and hopeful that Britain could have a socialist Labour government soon. But I will always remember the Miliband years as a crucial time in my own political development, and our party’s development. Owen Jones writes that “Labour’s 2010-2015 era may well be judged by history as a necessary period of transition.” Ed moved the party on from New Labour, and paved the way for the subsequent rise of Corbyn and the embrace of a more left-wing platform.

If Ed had been elected Prime Minister in 2015, the country would look very different from how it does now. In the Miliverse, there would be rent controls, maintenance grants, enfranchised 16-year-olds, and more badgers. There would be no zero-hours contracts, no universal credit debacle, and no waiting to hear just how much worse off we’ll be after Brexit negotiations. We would have a healthier National Health Service, and weakened bank and energy company monopolies. The crises of rising poverty and homelessness, plus falling living standards would be properly addressed.

Where Ed failed was in tempering his message. During his leadership and after the election defeat, he was often accused of being too left-wing, but in reality he succumbed to the narrative that elections can only be won from the so-called “centre-ground”, a place of timidity and one where controversy is avoided. On some issues, he tried to play down his more socialist policies, but on others – crucially austerity and immigration – he fatefully allowed the Conservatives to shape the narrative. Rather than tackling the lie that Labour’s over-spending caused the financial crash, Ed’s Labour let the Tories cast themselves against all evidence as economically responsible and, instead of advocating for investment, he shamefully stuck to austerity-lite policies. Ed’s Labour let politics remain focused on traditional issues and largely ignored the modern and ongoing catastrophes requiring radical thought: planetary destruction, global inequality, animal suffering, happiness and wellbeing, the risks of automation and artificial intelligence. Labour is now beginning to engage with some of these issues, but greater long-term and international thinking is still needed.

Since Ed has stepped backed from the forefront of politics, he’s continued to be an advocate for social justice, the environment and equality, and has used his position outside of the limelight and in particular his new podcast with Geoff Lloyd to explore interesting and radical policies like Universal Basic Income, drug decriminalisation, and a land value tax. Ed’s ideas since his resignation as party leader leave me wondering what might have happened were he allowed to craft a more daring manifesto in 2015, whether the General Election campaign would have been more successful if he had been more radical, and how much better off this country would be now if we had elected a bold Miliband-led Labour in 2015.