Take Me To Your Leader Writer

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...has written more leaders (newspaper editorials) than anyone alive or dead, an honour still to be recognised by the Guiness Book of Records or the Nobel judges. I have produced them for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror, Today, the Sunday People, the Evening Post (Hemel Hempstead), the Caithness Courier and the Student (Edinburgh). My creed is: Have opinions, Will travel.

Friday 7 January 2011

Empty homes, vacant politics

The Daily Mail today reports that 30 squatters - mainly young people from Lithuania and Poland - have taken over a ten-room mansion in Highgate. Outrage!
Personally, I agree that the law on squatters is a mess. In the highly unlikely situation that my home is squatted in while I am on holiday or away for the weekend, there ought to be swifter redress.
But squatting remains very much a rare occurence.  The real question to be asked - and which, naturally, the Mail doesn't - is why this home was empty. Like tens of thousands of properties up and down the country.
There is a housing crisis in Britain and the right-wing press loves to claim it is all the fault of immigrants. Absolute nonsense. The varied causes include a growing elderly population and increasing marriage break-up.
But one major reason is that far too many homes are kept empty, often because the owners live elsewhere or have more houses than they can occupy or are simply what I call "trophy homes" - something to boast about but not to reside in.
The former LibDem MP Matthew Taylor produced an excellent report on the crisis in rural housing for the Blair government. His main recommendation - that when properties changed hands they should be liable to a change of use planning application if they weren't going to be lived in - was naturally ignored.
That mansion in Highgate left empty by its TV mogul owner could have been turned into flats that would have housed people desperate for housing. Even if they had been Lithuanian, the Mail wouldn't have had much to complain about then.

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