One of the most recognisable of the Liberal Democrats nationally, Question Time regular Sarah Teather, came to Camden Town on Friday. As the party’s housing spokeswoman, she quite rightly attacked the Labour government’s position of holding back investment in Camden’s council homes. But that’s an easy shot.
Politicians and voters of every political complexion in Camden feel the same, that money should have been provided to help out residents living in unacceptable conditions rather than locked away for the last five years.
The basics of the dispute: Ministers won’t hand over investment because tenants did not want to follow government policy of transferring control of their homes from the local authority to an independent company known as an Arms-Length Management Organisation. It might sound like a mouthful but there are all sorts of important principles at stake here. That tenants wanted to keep a landlord that could be voted out if they were not given a fair service. That they wanted to retain the power of the democratic vote. Under an Almo, those basic rights would have been lost.
As Teather pointed out, people living in warm houses with Ikea kitchens and those hardly bothered by conditions on council estates may not see the subtleties in these arguments. But what would have been really nice to know is where she stood on the whole idea behind the government’s push towards privatisation and an answer to the simple question: are tenants better off with an Almo or under the stewardship of the council? There was no straight answer.
It’s a hard one for her as in her Brent East constutuency an Almo was set up and tenants were rewarded for surrending their tenants rights with investments in their homes. She doesn’t want to appear critical of all of that. Yet when in Camden, she doesn’t want to appear critical of our refuseniks, who held out against the bullying because they want to fight in the whole principle of municipal housing as it has traditionally been. Asked what her ideological view was, she kept repeating: ‘My ideological view is that tenants should get to choose who runs their homes’. Everyone can agree with that, Sarah, but come on, what’s better – council housing or an Almo?