No-one came particularly well out of Panorama’s Bursting the House Price Bubble programme last night (though arguably better than the People’s Republic came out of University Challenge with an all-time low of one correct answer, and certainly not as badly as the cute little baby deer came out of David Attenborough’s new Life in Cold Blood series. Or rather didn’t.)

The featured property developer, Morris Properties, looked a lot less pretty than their brochures. Apparently they diddle the land registry into recording higher selling prices for their properties than was actually paid so as to keep the market buoyant, and also waive deposits from the buyer without telling the banks, who as a result are the only klutzes to have actually shelled out for these places. Ooh, clever. A fraud investigation is underway on behalf of the poor little banky-wanky-woos, who after all are only international multi-squillion dollar operations and therefore cannot possibly be expected to do complicated things like display a modicum of common sense about sloshing money at people.

Stand down, the banks are safe. But unless I am much mistaken we were also invited to emote on behalf of the buyers. Now, these were not your ordinary buyers. They were buy-to-letters, the explicit target market of Morris Properties, whose shiny promises I forget exactly, but the small print was something along the lines of “If you keep your fat middle-aged cash out of deposit accounts and pensions and all those other silly unsexy things and instead buy one of our rejuvenated rat-holes in the gun-heavy area of Nottingham, you will achieve rents of seventy thousand pounds per week and be a billionaire in one-point-three minutes (subject to market fluctuation).” Summat like that. The presenter at one point offered the puzzling shock revelation that the buy-to-let market was “totally unregulated”, by which I guess he meant it was no more regulated than any other corner of the housing market, but was particularly infested by buyers who haven’t a clue what they are doing. This is not necessarily a coincidence. I guess (I fondly imagine) there’s something about handing over x hundred thousand pounds of your own money when you don’t already have a home that makes you careful, and counteracts any natural tendency to cretinism you may have.

No such natural restraint was in evidence here. Apparently we were supposed to feel sorry for these lackwits who blithely believed the developer’s estimate of projected rents in the area without so much as turning on a computer to get confirmation, and who happily remortgaged their own living space in order to lord it over other people. Because that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it. Call me an unreconstructed cynic, but moi, I say bollocks to your retirement plan, it’s about being on a ladder above someone else who not only can’t afford the second property that you can, but can’t afford a first – what used to be called a “home” – either. Why else is the bumf littered with all that high-end market speak? Become a “property millionaire”, own a “property portfolio”. You’re buying into an aspiration there – the idea of having a property portfolio has been associated for so long with the kind of people who tend to lounge on yachts. Hey! Maybe if I buy a rathole in Nottingham and condemn another set of human beings to live in damp drudgery in it because they don’t have a choice, I too will lounge on a yacht!

A harsh judgement on a bunch of credulous bumblers whose age makes the prospect of ever extracting themselves from this mess unlikely? Bah. Of the three buy-to-letters featured, two of them hadn’t even seen the properties they bought. This isn’t about the fact that they were stupid enough to put their own houses in hock on the hardly disinterested say-so of a shiny brochure. This is about the fact that they saw no affront to human decency in not personally viewing the properties they were going to be personally responsible for foisting on other human beings in the way of living space. I am continually left open-mouthed by society’s attitude to rental property. I remember once being taken around Islington by an exceptionally nice estate agent with whom I was genuinely getting on well right up to the point when he said “Of course, people are fussy about the size of the kitchen, or whether there’s a garden or whatever, but it’s only rented, isn’t it.” Er, yes. And we have to LIVE there, this is where we will be conducting what laughably passes for our LIVES for the next six or twelve months. Somewhere about the People’s Republic I’ve got a little scrap of paper which I tore out of the furniture section of Loot for the express purpose of exercising my blood pressure (I have very low blood pressure) which carries the following ad for a sofa: “good condition but dated design; ideal for a rental property”. What in the name of arse makes you think that I’ll be happy to sit on some pile of tired old crap that you wouldn’t have in your own house? Oh no, wait, that’s a totally meaningless questions because I don’t have a choice, do I. Silly me.

When you stop to think about all this for anything above twenty seconds, whoever you are and whatever your situation, you will realise that this is just a bit sick. When did we lose sight of the basic truth that house and flats are there to be lived in? It came back rather quickly to haunt one of the buyers, whose own house is now (ooh! the delicious irony!) in danger as a result of her failed buy-to-let experiment. There’s a decent chance she’ll lose it by 2009, or as she tremulously put it, “By this time next year I could be . . . homeless.” No, you terrifyingly self-absorbed baby-booming old baggage, you’ll be a private tenant. Come on in, the dry rot’s lovely.

* Living space and, er, schadenfreude

I learn from my epolitix bulletin that:

Shadow housing minister Grant Shapps, industry expert Owen Inskip and TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp launch a Conservative Party review of home-buying. The aim is to investigate whether there is “a better, faster and less stressful way to buy and sell homes in England and Wales”.

Kirsty has been for several years one of my minor-league heroines. She sends out all manner of comforting role-model type messages – it’s okay to be bleatingly posh and have a strange sense of humour, and sometimes eat too many pies, and be really good at your job, and still wear great shoes. She wore great shoes even when picking her way down muddy farm tracks in Wales.

I don’t really know why I am surprised – that’s practically an identikit Tory girl I’ve just described. For all her quirks, it’s part of Kirsty’s calling to be unforgivingly upper-mainstream in her economic outlook. When you’re surrounded by the affluent minority, of course they look normal. The only first time buyers she ever meets have their deposit provided and a quarter of their mortgage guaranteed by mummy and daddy.

No, maybe she is not much of a loss to my liberal heart. I will sometimes develop these trashy tastes, in spite of my best efforts. Like my Nigella phase – what was I thinking? Let this be a lesson to me; I need to attach my affections to a new property programme guru, someone more eco-friendly, conceptual, aesthetic, less of a generalist, more of a specialist, someone more inclined to wear black and like European cinema…

We need to get Kevin McCloud onto a working group right away.

It’s been like a pacily-scripted US medical drama round here today. I wake up not knowing a thing about the new Liberal Conspiracy website, all seems normal, opening credits, la-la-la, I turn on my computer, have a cup of coffee, frown a bit, look briefly worried, then clutch my throat and bam! I fall to the floor as James Graham posts this, then I check my Facebook inbox and bam! my white cell count plummets as I’ve been cc’d in on an email about it, then a few hours later and bam! I’m on respiratory support and Charlotte Gore posts this, then just when it’s calming down a bit and I’ve had a few tests run, bam! Jonathan Calder posts this, and suddenly people are running round yelling, she’s seizing!

Too bad for you guys I’ve been watching House for seven solid hours.


Ok, differential diagnosis, people.

First up, worst case scenario, the Liberal Conspiracy website is a plot to draw Liberal Democrats towards Labour. That would explain the symptoms of constant use of the term “left” and why there were almost no Lib Dems at the launch (and, per Jeremy Hargreaves, they weren’t at the Hackney Empire either). Charlotte’s diagnosis is heartfelt: it’s what she would do if she had that aim. Okay, start them on the antibiotics, if that doesn’t work we’ll do a CT scan.

But at the end of part one, complications develop. A plot that every Liberal Democrat can see through instantly is not a plot. By stating, as the site does on the FAQ page, that Labour “may be the best way” to pursuing a liberal leftish agenda since they’re in power, you’re crying out for a dozen Lib Dems to bellow “Oh no they’re not!” An agenda that’s declared is not a hidden one. And if you were a Labour bacterium hoping to spread into the Lib Dems, would you send your only Lib Dem invite to the site of infection to the sharpest and most unsparing smartass in the blogosphere? Nah, no-one’s that stupid. Try again.


A bunch of conspiring lefties react to the news that James Graham has just arrived. 

Okay, it’s not an infection, it’s a virus. Using the tired old right and left terminology closes down the alternative liberal/conservative axis, thus cutting off the flow of Liberal Democrats to the heart. Bingo, we’re compromised. Any rogue yellow cells who do struggle through will be neutralised by the red and blue antibodies and anything they say will be interpreted in leftist and rightist terms. This will be profoundly unhelpful to the party. Do a lumbar puncture, order an MRI scan. Then we’ll know it’s a left-right virus.

Part two: fine, the left-right virus explains all the symptoms. But it’s pointless to complain that perpetuating leftishness and rightishness in the public mind doesn’t help the Liberal Democrats. The public need no assistance whatsoever to perpetuate the cult of left and right. They do that all by themselves. And it’s the Liberal Democrats’ job to help the Liberal Democrats.

It’s a false symptom, it would be there anyway, with or without the website. The decision to be made by Lib Dems is whether to boycott the site on these grounds or run a simple test: broach the left-and-right objection on the site, and see whether the dye shows up a tumour or not. Boring. Next.

Could be lupus (what is lupus? it’s considered as a possibility in every episode of House I’ve ever watched and I don’t know what it is. How can that be right?) No, we’ve run the tests and it’s not lupus.



Okay, we’re missing something. We still haven’t explained the symptom of liberalism. A bunch of “discontented socialists”, as Jonathan Calder has it, didn’t have to use that word. The other parties’ current sniffing around half our name is just as likely to do us good as result in a wholesale transplant. But Jonathan’s diagnosis calls for precision: allowing ourselves to be sold into a wider definition of Liberalism that covers everything from Stalinist to moderate is a return to the bad old days when…

the most important thing was to prove that you were not a Tory

Uh-huh. This fits the symptoms all right. A post by Zohra Moosa on Liberal Conspiracy practically sets this out as a raison d’etre. Yes, it is a website which sets out to prove that the contributors aren’t Tories. Is this wrong or did somebody turn over the page when I wasn’t looking?


Okay, it’s sloppy use of language, but at least it’s sloppy use of our language - that’s not the problem. The Lib Dem immune system it reacting like its under attack, something’s STILL MISSING…

Part three: time for a consult and a bit of sub-plot. What causes a political organism to flood itself with antibodies just because some fairly prominent people set up a website promoting the idea of liberalism with some leftish/socialist tweaks? What’s the biggest threat there is to the coherence of a political body? Must be time to sit soulfully in an out-of-the-way spot and play with my baseball…


Answer, the big-C word: coalition. Our white count is reacting to the early stages of what it thinks is the early lumpen growth of a Lab-Lib government. Forging bonds with the self-defining Left is perceived not only as an admittal of defeat in itself; it’s a dangerous precedent. And in a month when we’re getting some of the best press we’ve had since, well, ever, it’s no wonder the very idea of collaboration sends our read-outs skyrocketing. We’re mainlining cleggpills by the handful – we don’t need anyone else to form a liberal conspiracy. We ARE a liberal conspiracy.

Is it that simple? The cleggpills set up the conditions for any donor material introduced into the Lib Dem body to be attacked as a foreign implant? Would Liberal Conspiracy have had a better reception if they’d caught us on a downer? Were they just horribly unlucky with such a small thing as timing?

Hey, you haven’t been watching House long enough. There is no right or wrong. It’s just the mysterious, miserable, miraculous circle of political life.



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