An Open Letter to James Cleverly, MP

Dear James,

One of my Conservative-voting friends liked your Facebook post yesterday about why you voted against the housing bill. I just want to clear up why, in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire, I (and many others) am directing my anger partially towards you and those who voted with you, and to address some of the things written in the comments of that post. I have rented in London for four or five years now. It’s not a long time, but it’s enough that I have moved into four or five rooms (several of them in quite quick succession, which is common) and to understand the way housing works in London.

The insinuation is not that you are personally responsible for the faulty cladding on Grenfell Tower, but that you are responsible for the lack of recourse for the residents and a culture in which they were not valued. Many of the newspapers have focussed on just one clause of the Housing Bill – ‘fit for human habitation’ – but I agree with you that this is dog-whistle politics. The finer details of what you voted against are much more insidious. 

The Labour amendments to the Housing Bill were a compromise: the Bill was intended to sell off ‘higher value’ council homes (an ideological difference between a party whose focus focus is providing economic ‘freedoms’ and one whose focus is on providing welfare), which would necessitate the movement of council tenants from areas where their homes were deemed ‘high value’ and into homes that were less sought-after. What this meant in practice was selling homes in London and moving tenants outside London. This is an economic folly, for one: a city as vast and sprawling as London requires low-paid workers to do ordinary jobs which keep it ticking over, and it requires them in droves. Each Starbucks drunk, Pret eaten and taxi ridden requires a low-salaried worker during unsociable hours to provide the service. You would be surprised at some of the places that do not pay the ‘recommended living wage’ (but that is more of my personal experience, and a different story). It is not just about economics, though; it is about what we value as a society. By saying that the artists, refugees, schoolchildren, Muslims, pensioners and teaching assistants who lived in that building matter less than somebody who can pay for it says that we as a society (and you as a person) value them less than any person with a fat cheque. Their income and their race become relevant factors in the fire because these are contributing factors in their vulnerability and the thing which has marked that particular set of people as potential – and now actual – victims.

The Housing Bill implemented powers to tackle rogue landlords (the legislation you decided duplicated the ‘fit for human habitation’ clause): allowing local authorities to request a banning order, creating a database of rogue landlords and allowing tenants to apply for a repayment order. Again, this values money above people: the idea that I want money back from my landlord as a fit compensation for living in squalor is laughable. I would much rather be guaranteed a safe home than compensation. Furthermore, this legislation presupposes that the council are not the ones at fault, as they were in the case of Grenfell Tower. It presupposes that your claims are for your own home, rather than the building as a whole as in the case of Grenfell Tower. It also presupposes that your complaint falls under existing legislation that describes ‘unfit habitation’ rather than allowing that phrase to be interpreted by the judiciary on a case-to-case basis or extended in the eyes of the law.  It presupposes that you have the skills or means to bring about a claim. There are too many variables.

Those powers to tackle rogue landlords are not sufficient. I know, because I have tried to use them. The council and environmental health can do very little to a private landlord other than send a letter (an ‘improvement notice’) and wait. If you go out of your way to make your own property fit for habitation (like calling the London Fire Brigade who will install smoke alarms free of charge) then there is nothing they can do. Photographs, statements and the word of any number of tenants (past or present) are not sufficient evidence, and you must wait for a member of the council to visit you (during council hours) and write a report. For vulnerable people, who lack resources like time, money or knowledge of their rights under British law, the easiest thing is to not even go to these meagre lengths and so many landlords go without even these paltry checks to their behaviour. We as tenants have no rights. 

There are any number of things this Bill did not provide for: extortion from letting agents (it does not cost £70 to run a credit check, nor does it make sense to charge a ‘signing fee’), protection from landlords who do not use letting agents, a meaningful punishment for landlords who break the law. This Bill did not serve ordinary people. 

Privately rented properties are what I and all of my friends live in (except one friend who bought a flat and is having the building knocked down by the council – but that’s a different scandal). Many people I know live in ex-Council Flats which are rented at market price like some of the ones in Grenfell Tower (a policy which you approve of), so these ‘unfit for human habitation’ homes are not cheap, they are the standard for London living except among the elite. The association of them as the homes of the working-classes shows how little London landlords care about ‘little people’, but the victims list demonstrates that this block was for people of all walks of life, and many of the stories show the community spirit from within the block. Having lived in a house that was ‘not fit for human habitation’ as well as in several homes where the landlord (and other people with keys) has not followed legal requirements, I can only tell you about the fear I have felt in my own home and my frustration at being unable to improve my own living situation. But more than that: this letter is not written with selfish aims to improve my own lot in life. This letter is written in anger that you can dismiss your place in a culture that does not value the people who need help the most and wash your hands of your involvement in a Bill which you claim seeks to protect tenants and which I – and many others like me – know to not serve anybody. 

Furthermore, people are widely angry because of what the Housing Bill represents. To many people, the idea that landlords can vote together on any Bill represents a conflict of interests in a system which values the property-owning and wealthy above the ordinary citizens of our nation (and harks back to a time when only men of property could vote at all). A major aspect of the criticism levelled at you, and those who voted with you, is not about how you voted but about the fact that you were allowed to vote together, especially when the only collective power the residents of Grenfell Tower had was their much-publicised blog, which did not affect public policy and brought about no change. 

A few final points, to address the comments under your post: Momentum does not tell me how to think. Momentum shares information to like-minded people who often come to the same conclusion (in the same way that a person’s views often reflect the people they are friends with due to shared experience). They are a flawed organisation, and I do not just read The Canary and The Socialist Worker for my news. Make no mistake, I am similarly not happy about the political point-scoring being made of this tragedy, but it is not all coming from the Labour Party (who are, by the way, fallible) press office – if you hadn’t noticed, the image being contrasted with Theresa May by the newspapers and on social media is generally NOT of Jeremy Corbyn, but Elizabeth Windsor. 

Please do be careful in your analysis and in understanding the criticisms which are being levelled at you. The people of this nation are angry, and your indignation at our anger disrespects the dead as well as our concerns for our safety and security. I am sure that you yourself are a good landlord and therefore cannot comprehend the fear and needless expense that we renters face daily, but your misunderstanding of this issue fails the people of Braintree as well as the nation at large. Share-and-shame posts list your actions – your voting record and your expenses. If you think these actions are defensible, defend them! Don’t dismiss claims of their relevancy if you think you did the right thing. 

This is a national moment of trauma and we need to be shown that those in power understood what they must do to ensure that death on this scale can never – never! – be allowed to happen again. 

Yours sincerely,

Kitty 

Adventures in the female reproductive cycle. 

This is going to sound, potentially, very stupid and young of me, but having been on fairly heavy-duty contraception since the age of fifteen and finding that the NHS’ new brand of it did NOT work for me (#bringbackimplanon), I am only just coming to terms with my cycle. Sort-of.
I still don’t get periods. That was one of the things I looked for when I was browsing through new contraceptives – I know there are people who think that being in touch with femininity means embracing Mother Nature’s gift, but honestly I’ll take clean sheets and nice knickers above some kind of witchy holistic version of womanhood any day. This means that for years I have been defining my womanhood in other ways – in the way that I look, dress, paint my face, as well as my association with feminism and feminist literature and subcultures that are built around women (like pinup) and consider my period an inconvenience rather than any kind of marker of adulthood, femininity or shared burden.
What my new contraception HAS thrown up is a hormonal cycle that is evident in my skin, eating habits and mood. It wasn’t obvious I was moody or depressed because my body was premenstrual but my uterus wasn’t, nor was it obvious that my skin was bad for any specific reason. It is only in the third or so month of this cycle I have realised that my skin has gone fine-fine-radiant-craterface on a week-by-week basis for three months now, and that the craterface period is accompanied by sugar cravings. Frankly, I had thought it was the other way round: my demand for cake had resulted in the pockmarks my face deserved, and once I managed to rein it in (or – not want it as badly) my face went back to normal. But, as we know, correlation is not causation, and by this stage I think it is more likely that my hormones are playing havoc with my face and I will be able to predict these semi frequent breakouts but not do an awful lot about them. A shame, really, as lovely skin was the other effect I sought in a long-acting reversible contraceptive.
The grouchiness is fascinating. This is the famed wandering uterus that women have been oppressed for for aeons! Finally, I too can become too irrational to do my job, incapable of debate online and indecisive about everything! I look forward to seeing the burden my sisters have carried this many years!

I have been a bit more crabby.

I know that not all women experience biology in the same way, and I know I have been a /little/ more than a bit crabby (sarcasm probably helps me in my job, though), but I did not experience it being a big deal. I haven’t cried, haven’t panicked, haven’t expressed a deathwish towards anyone I wouldn’t have done so anyway whilst hormonal. I remain capable of rational thought and capable of holding a position of responsibility.
All in all, if I could reverse my biology in the medium term I would, and I completely understand the decision of people who don’t want children to remove themselves from female reproductive biology permanently. I do want children (in the long term), but until then I want to go about living my life and not bleeding on things or being accused of hysteria when really, it’s a bit of an inconvenience.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Counting my blessings whilst remaining level-headed about what may have gone better is difficult. I believe that in honestly appraising my life I can move forward without shame, pride or regret. I believe that a quick list once in a while will make me feel better through catharsis, and make me see that good/bad, better/not good enough are not linear things which can be achieved or not – there is always a mix in all things.

The Good:

  • Uni grades! They show my hard work, improvement and prospects.
  • I also had my mit cercs claim accepted, which means despite the worst grade I have ever achieved I am still pulling out of that module with a high 2:1 aggregate (and a meeting to discuss what went wrong)
  • A swing to the left in GE17. Renewed faith in socialist ideals nationally.
  • Great fun at the protest with my Maison Platypus buddy.
  • We made a friend who has invited us to new protests.
  • Went an entire weekend without wearing makeup, only regretted it for about a minute.
  • Lovely breakfast out with the boy on Sunday. Saw our friend for coffee after, watched good movies, ate humous.
  • Napped.
  • Next weekend am going to stay with my parents to celebrate my dad’s birthday, put music on my iPod and attend my friend’s iftar.
  • Have reached the ripe old age of 23 without getting noticeably sunburnt.
  • Several dream-esque jobs have appeared for me to apply for.
  • Have made good headway with the reading for my dissertation. Current books are all three very interesting.

The Bad:

  • The DUP/Con potential coalition/shitshow that our nation may be engaging in.
  • Had a minor breakdown that involved ugly crying for a looooong time, lying down in the street in Fitzrovia and having to be persuaded of my own worth.
  • Skipped dinner on Saturday because the boy was being picky about available options.
  • Needed to nap because energy levels were astonishingly low.
  • Left my work keys at home. This has (reassuringly? or no?) had minimum impact, just had to sign in manually and get somebody else to unlock my door.
  • No vegan bacon crispies for my lunch salad or breakfast porridge as they are in locker, key for which is attached to my work keys.
  • Applying for jobs and not hearing anything back. Even when you have chased them. Honestly, I can’t even remember which jobs I’ve applied for any more.
  • Still haven’t got my dad a birthday present. Didn’t even phone him because I am a bad daughter.

The Ugly:

  • Sunburn. I left my factor 50 at home and paid the price, with a bold red triangle on my chest and an obvious tint to my arms. Am now condemned to become a prune lady when I am old. Potentially I have burned my scalp as well as one of my students was commenting on a reddish tint in my hair.
  • Gross zit on chin. Mount Vesuvius.

Why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn.

 

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to fight the gradual creep of society to the right.

I am a socialist. The Labour Party is supposed to be a socialist party. Socialism is not the centre-left, it has grown from Marxism, it is at odds with liberal and conservative policies, and this is what I want to vote for. The reason the party system has evolved the way it has in our nation is because traditionally there has been a space for each of those stances to have a voice – whether you agree with party politics or not, it’s the role the Labour Party was conceived to play.

Maybe it’s because I’m young and I don’t yet have anything I’ll be asked to share, or maybe it’s selfish because I can’t see a path to security through any other means, but regardless, I want my vote to be for something which is properly socialist, not just wearing a red coat.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because compromise is not worth fighting for.

Could I have rallied behind Owen Smith? Liz Kendall? Andy Burnham? Could I have done anything except shrug my shoulders and said ‘fine’? Jeremy Corbyn reminded people of their passion for politics – newspaper columnists, grime musicians and grassroots campaigners stood behind him. If this was to be a ‘last hoorah’, it was not worth fighting for something cooked up to be inoffensive, half-believed in by all and fully believed in by nobody. This was an offensive move in the sense of battle strategy, not in the sense of political correctness. I would rather be the Light Brigade than the Trade Federation.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because compromise is not guaranteed to win.

One of the most common narratives played out in the media before the election was the fervent hatred of Corbynistas by Blairites, and vice-versa. Let me tell you now this is not the case – I’m not afraid to admit that Tony Blair did a great deal of good. His focus on education, Northern Ireland (although obviously we all know this was brought about by Mo Mowlam), and the minimum wage were excellent moves which were truly in the spirit of the Labour movement. I was too young to fully understand the Iraq war at the time (and thus it is with the benefit of hindsight I say) but I believe it was a dumb idea and the nation was given false facts to ensure that it happened. But the discourse from the other side of the party was far more simplistic.

Blair won.

The main accusation thrown at Corbynistas was that of not being motivated to win in a GE. Perhaps if I had been guaranteed a parliamentary majority by one of the other campaigners it might have changed my vote, but politicking ‘appropriately’ to tradition was not guaranteed a win. Could Owen Smith have pulled this morning’s results out of the bag? Liz Kendall? Their work in their constituencies ought to be applauded, and each has issues that they have campaigned hard for, but that does not mean it is worth voting for a slight increase in likelihood over a wildcard that fights for what matters to me, you… all of us.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn for integrity.

I don’t believe money has a place in political campaigning. An individual donor ought not have the power to influence the amount of leaflets that are delivered, adverts that are broadcast or newspaper coverage read.

This was made much clearer by the aggressive campaign run by the Liberal Democrats in my seat: focussing on our (admittedly widely disliked for her views) local MP and their challenger, they attempted to discredit the entire Labour Party using endless leaflets showing her with Nigel Farage (admittedly this upset me) and using tabloid-style spin to take policies out of context (i.e. ignoring the published costings) and push their own (which were also costed but which were not fairly compared). If your ideology fits on a leaflet, it’s dog-whistle politics designed to undermine your opponent.

I also don’t believe that the parliamentary Labour Party has more commitment, knowledge, or life experience than the electorate, but I firmly believe that they think they do.

All around my social media I see people sharing images of Tories who voted against fundamental rights, claimed too much on expenses, have said scandalous things or associated with scandalous people with no mention of any Labour MPs who have done similar things. A vote for Jeremy Corbyn seemed, to me, a vote to acknowledge and address anti-semitism in the Labour Party, a vote to move to attacking voting records from slander campaigns, and against the PLP’s view that they, not the electorate, are the ones that matter. Corbyn’s record as a backbencher and protester, as one of the lowest-expense-claiming MPs, and as a popular local figure in his constituency seemed, to me, an antidote to Westminster’s faith in the system. The system has not helped us.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the opposition.

I voted for a man who would stand up in parliament and challenge the government about the effect of their policies. Nobody can deny that I’ve had that, when at PMQs we have seen the voices and concerns of ordinary people elevated to a position that demands an answer. I voted to give a backbench MP permission to make trouble on a much larger scale – something which will become more important in the coming months. I gave permission for Corbyn to pressure May to resign twice this week alone.

I voted for Jeremy Corbyn because I, personally, have been betrayed by politics.

When I was 16, I skipped school to see Nick Clegg speak. I folded and delivered leaflets for the Lib Dems and saw each of the policies he pushed as right and good fall by the wayside. As he was unseated last night, we saw the effect of that: the copy of The Communist Manifesto that was passed around my school in the wake of it, the distrust of the Lib Dems courting a particular group (then: students; now: Europeans and Europhiles), his coalition friendships.

When I was 10, I used to tell people who asked what I wanted to do when I was older that I wanted to be Prime Minister and all of them – every, single one – gave the response “what, like Margaret Thatcher?” At the age of 10, having grown up in a house with two politics graduates for parents, I knew that the answer was ‘no’. But who did I want to be like? The issue was mainly one of representation – as the only female Prime Minister, that’s who a little girl ought to aspire to (god knows who children of colour must see in our system). But the issue was also – for me – who to look up to. Corbyn has pushed Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti to the front despite the obvious sacrifice to his own credibility, has more women (and his election also allowed dissenters like Jess Phillips to become more powerful) than May. He has also largely populated his cabinet with allies, which deserves some level of criticism, but I would rather vote for somebody who will allow others to come up through the ranks and positively discriminate against the ingrained racism in our system than choose proteges and yes-men.

I voted to unite the fractured left.

One of the major problems in the left is factionalisation. This has always been the case – Sparticists splitting off from Socialists, Bolsheviks against Mensheviks – and probably always will be, as it is inherently more principled on this side of the political compass (we want a better world, but what does that look like?). What I saw in Corbyn was a leader who shared views with the Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, the WE party. Not all views, of course, but ones that would allow a meaningful coalition and allow the fringes of the left – and the right, of course, but if people vote UKIP their voices must be heard – into the debate.

How do you defend the indefensible?

That’s what supporting anyone but Corbyn would have meant. It would have meant putting the last gasp of the Labour Party into something I didn’t believe in, didn’t believe could win, would stoop to levels I didn’t want to go to.

I am not naive. I am not stupid. I knew exactly what I was voting for when I voted twice  for Corbyn to lead the Labour Party and once to lead the country. I am not blindly following anybody to the dinner table, and I understand that I was also voting for instability and an uncertain future. So did the British people – they saw the benefits I did: that chaos can only hurt those benefitting from the system, that it was not worth compromising if it was our last stand. They, and I, were not blind to the hints of cronyism, the disorganisation and the people who were not willing to stand behind the leader, but we all made a conscious choice and took the rough with the smooth, as we do with all decisions.

That is why the impossible has been done. But it is also why I didn’t care if we lost this election more decisively (let’s be real, a hung parliament with somebody else as the larger party is not a victory). I’m proud of what we have achieved, and it has invigorated me to keep moving forward. This is the first time in a long time I have been proud to be interested in politics.

today is a day for trepidation and celebration.

Well. Despite having to cut nigh-on 1000 words from it (including the entire idea of society’s fear of women’s sexual agency being linked to the sublime, alas I am still not over this), my Gothic essay has served me well and I have passed the module with flying colours. I’m a mite worried about my other module – Modernism – but the grade for that is in the pigeonholes at uni so I will have to fret about that until I can go get it tonight. How well I’ve done overall this year mostly hangs in the balance of a piece of work I only submitted recently and whether a) it’s as shit as my anxiety thinks it is, and b) whether anxiety with a doctor’s note is good enough for the mitigating circumstances board. I don’t think I have a hope with it, but other people do, so we will see. I would hate to have fucked up my academic career because I was too afraid to hand in a piece of work I considered sub-standard (but was of a higher calibre than others in the class…)

I am now prepping solidly for next year – I have a stack of books, have ordered an even bigger stack of books (you honestly don’t want to know my expenditure on German poetry and Enlightenment philosophy this month – nobody should be spending that percentage of their income on Kant and chums), and made myself a bullet journal tailored specifically to the needs of my dissertation. I have begun my reading with Terry Eagleton and a new history of Germany and am making notes of everything I find interesting in the hope that a question or theme will present itself to me.

To-do

  • Pray / sacrifice / chant to any and all gods for some level of leftish success in today’s GE (if Cthulu wants blood to take away Theresa May, he shall have it)
  • Pray / sacrifice / chant to any and all gods for DREAM JOB to interview me (they said they would announce shortlisted candidates this week)
  • Stay away from the television, news and all but the most superficial social media until tomorrow. It’s not worf it, mate.

Thunder only happens when it’s raining (Freudian Shit)

I have been having very strange dreams recently. Bad dreams, but I don’t know if you can call them nightmares. Usually my nightmares are completely debilitating, strange, and focused on images or aesthetic, and I wake up sweating and in need of reassurance. These dreams are taking aspects of my life that can never meet and mashing them together to create an unnerving experience, and confusing me between the real and the unreal. I am waking up disoriented. Last night, I dreamt that my headteacher wanted to see me after school, but my boyfriend came to pick me up for date night and insisted I could see him after – we ended up wandering through my school to a colleague’s office. In addition, something happened to another member of staff which confused me greatly when I saw her and she was jolly this morning, and I had to search my mind to remember that it happened in a dream.

I hardly ever remember my dreams properly, except for nightmares (because of the way they wake me up), so this is all very new to me and very unnerving. My disorientation has been lasting too far into the morning – thank god I work with children and have a mask I wear in front of them anyway! It’s the children who tend to shake me out of it – by having to pretend to be my hunky dory perky self I slowly become her, and the dreams become last night’s problem. Although one of my students did say I look tired today… and it has been making me sluggish, and distracted.

When I was a teenager we became obsessed with online dream dictionaries, and each morning my friends and I would search for some symbol which had been there in last night’s dream. Mine were always deeply specific – not just a snake, but a snake in a glass case with an apple in its mouth, or some other thing which wasn’t there – and darker than my friends’. No joining ginger pirates on adventures for me! As such, I’m a little sceptical of Freudian dream analysis. I can well believe that dreams are the guardians of our subconscious, and that they are the key to understanding our worries. But I don’t believe these symbols can be the same for everyone – how can my experiences lead me to have a cake symbolise the same things as it would to a German scientist 100 years ago? How can teeth be the same thing to me as to my friend? And what does it mean when my dreams are no longer symbolic, but linear? The pseudo-Freud that all of this simplistic dream analysis falls apart, surely. But since I can’t afford to see a proper analyst on the regular, one who knows I’m obsessed with having white, straight teeth and have a crippling spider phobia, shit Freud will have to do.

To-Do

  • Finish introduction to Eagleton’s ‘Ideology of Aesthetics’.
  • Pick crap up off bedroom floor.
  • Write a poem.