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#WolmarforRichmond: Tory policy has driven up rents

Christian Wolmar

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Last night on the doorstep, I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who complained that when she had a job in central London, she was left with little more than someone on benefits after paying for childcare, travel, work clothes and so on. This was despite a good wage of £34,000 per year.

She had a point. The complexities and contradictions of the benefits system have been used by the Tories to attack the very notion of the welfare state. But it is their policies that have brought this situation about. The woman I was talking to highlighted the fact that it was housing benefits that were the key problem, as high rents meant that people were pushed into a benefits trap. They had to earn really good wages in order to be able to pay their own rent or otherwise it was not worth working. Those with kids also had to pay very high childcare costs.

It is the Tories, who over the years, pushed up rents without understanding that much of the cost ends up being born by the taxpayer. And it was the indiscriminate use of the right to buy, with very large discounts for the lucky few, which has exacerbated the situation. So instead of people paying a relatively low rent to the original council which owned their flat, they now pay a much higher amount to the private landlord who is letting out that very same flat. So the taxpayer is paying for the increase in rent which makes up the landlords profit after the flat was sold at a massive discount, again costing the taxpayer dear.

This is typical Tory ideology. While implying that the public sector is wasteful, it is policies that favour the private individual over the public realm which waste taxpayers money.

Of course this situation cannot be sorted out overnight. However, with a long term strategy of holding down rents, reducing discounts for the right to buy and building more social housing – which will be made more possible by cutting back on the numbers sold under the right to buy as this ensures there will be a long term income flow towards paying for them – Labour can begin sorting this mess out. No other party has addressed this issue and put forward a coherent solution.

Christian Wolmar

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#RichmondPark

Lib Dems pull off shock victory in Richmond Park by-election as Zac is thrown out

James Giles

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A ‘shockwave to Downing Street’ has, last night, been pulled off by the Liberal Democrats, with Sarah Olney defeating Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election.

Lib Dem challenger Ms Olney overturned Mr Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority to win by 1,872 votes. The result saw Ms Olney poll 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638, on a turnout of 41,367, or 53.6 per cent. The 21.74 per cent swing to the Lib Dems from Mr Goldsmith topped the 19.3 per cent swing the Lib Dems achieved from the Tories in the Witney by-election.

A Green Party spokesperson said: “The Green Party’s decision to stand down and the huge drop in the Labour Party vote show that people will vote tactically. It proves that there is a huge appetite and a need for proportional representation so that people can express a real preference at elections. In Sarah Olney, we now have an MP who will push for the electoral reform that we so urgently need. We look forward to working with the Liberal Democrats, Women’s Equality Party and the Labour Party in a Progressive Alliance for the 2018 local elections and the next General Election.”

 

Ms Olney said the shock victory was a rejection of the “Ukip vision” of Britain, and the politics of “anger and division”.

In her victory speech, she said: “The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

In a brief acknowledgement of the result, a clearly downcast Mr Goldsmith said: “This by-election that we have just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”

Labour’s Christian Wolmar lost his deposit as he trailed a distant third with 1,515 votes, losing 8% of the Labour vote compared to 2015.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans, stating: “This result doesn’t change anything. The Government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. Commiserations to Zac Goldsmith on his defeat. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The message is clear: The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

“This was a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives. A year and a half ago, their man won by nearly 40% and had a majority of more than 20,000. In one fell swoop we have wiped that out completely.

“If this was a general election, this swing would mean the Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it.

Mr Wolmar said voters had disliked Mr Goldsmith’s “ghastly, disgusting” bid to be London Mayor in which Labour accused him of running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan.

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