Meet Maurice Mcleod. He’s a proper leftie, who has lived in council accommodation all his life. He pays rent for it — about £480 a month for his rather down-at-heel one-bedroom flat in Tooting. Yet due to the London property bubble it is now valued at £150,000 and if he wants to buy it he can claim a £75,000 discount thanks to George Osborne’s enhanced right-to-buy. On a bad month, Maurice says his net assets dip below £750, so he could be worth £75,000 overnight - just by taking Osborne’s (borrowed) shilling. He has written about his dilemma in the new Spectator, out today.
Maurice loathes right-to-buy, seeing it as a divisive Tory policy that has torn the heart out of council estates that were intended for the whole community rather than to enclose the poor. Furthermore, he loathes the whole rationale behind it: that a man ought to ‘move on’ in life buy buying ever-bigger houses in ever-leafier areas. What’s wrong with us as a society, he says, where we can’t judge our success by other metrics? He loathes the way that Osborne described property ownership as a basic human aspiration: what does that say about the Germans, who mostly rent? Is it humanity they lack, or aspiration? Or could Osborne be preaching a very peculiar materialistic gospel, which ought to be viewed with a mixture of bafflement and repugnance?
Maurice joins us for our podcast this week, and when I put to him that – principles aside – he could be worth £75,000 by Christmas. What would he do with that cash? He replied that his worth is not defined by his property portfolio. A noble way to see the world, without doubt. But as he says in the piece, principles are worthless until they are tested. His are being tested: if he sells out, he’ll fetch a very handsome price. The freak economic conditions of the London bubble and QE-era of low rates mean he might never again have a chance to bag £75,000 which – by his maths – is a sum he has zero chance of ever acquiring through work. The Tory devil, in the form of George Osborne, has come to tempt Maurice in his fiscal desert. Will he succumb?
I’d say so. Helen Lewis from the New Statesman, a fellow leftie, says so too: you can use a system while hating it, she says. It need not be selling out. I’d say that Maurice ought to reluctantly accept the world has moved on: perhaps council houses should not have become places where only the poor live. But that’s the situation now, and there’s a long list of people wanting a house. Maurice reads Coffee House (he wrote about the London riots for us) and I’m sure will take CoffeeHousers advice to heart. So what do we advise him to do? Comfort himself with the purity of his leftist penury - or take Osborne’s £75,000 and curse the capitalist system while he does so?
PODCAST is below – Maurice is about 18 mins in. You can subscribe through iTunes to have it delivered to your computer every week, or listen with the embedded player below: