More on the National Landlords Alliance: they don’t like it up ’em.

 

Well, I seem to have ruffled a few feathers with my previous post about the National Landlords Alliance.

First, there was this helpful post on the Property118 landlords’ forum:

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Thanks for all the extra traffic, guys. Let’s be clear, though, asking questions of one landlord organisation doesn’t make me an “anti landlord spin Doctor.”

Then there was this charming suggestion that landlords should, apparently, blacklist me:

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Cheers “Monty”, at least I have the balls to post under my own name. The idea that landlords should police the social media postings of prospective tenants for signs of ideological impurity isn’t at all creepy.

However, the Alliance (or at least it’s self-appointed CEO Larry Sweeney because, let’s face it, it’s just him) seems to think I’m using a fake name:

No, I’m not conducting a ‘hatefest’ and I am posting under my own name. Oh, and for the avoidance of doubt:

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What is instructive, however, is that Sweeney then blocked me, for having referred to the membership status of the Alliance. So allow me to set it out clearly here.

The National Landlords Alliance Ltd is a company limited by shares. As a matter of law, the members of a company with shares are the shareholders. It doesn’t appear that Sweeney is selling shares in the company, so whatever people are paying for, it isn’t membership in the legal sense.

At the very best, all that ‘members’ are getting is some kind of associate status. Members are not getting the rights of members as they would be understood in any other organisation. They do not own the Alliance. They have no control over it. They do not set its policy. They have no influence over what happens to their money once they have paid it. Sweeney can post whatever he likes in their name on the Alliance’s twitter feed or website and there is nothing they can do about it at all.

I would be genuinely interested in what members of the Alliance have actually received in return for your membership fee. Of course, ‘members’ get the warm feeling of having contributed their money for a cause they believe in. But if you’re giving your money on that basis, you’re not becoming a member, you’re making a donation. There’s nothing wrong with that – most people like to donate to causes that are important to them from time to time – but if you’re soliciting donations then you should make it clear that’s what you’re doing. If you like my blogging you can buy me a coffee but it would be wrong for me to pretend you’re doing anything except making a donation.

Meanwhile Sweeney continues to use the Alliance’s twitter account prinicipally to conduct a campaign – one might almost call it a hatefest – against Shelter.

Let’s be crystal clear. Shelter are an organisation which provides advice and guidance, and which undertakes campaigning. Like all charities, it has to be open about its accounts and it publishes an admirably clear Annual Report setting out where it gets its money from, and where it goes. Don’t take my word for any of this; read it for yourself. The idea that Shelter isn’t open about what it does is just plain wrong. And like all charities, it’s not free to spend its money however it likes (still less like Larry Sweeney likes), it is required to spend all of its money to further its objects. And the funding it has received for specific purposes – its restricted funds – it must spend only for those purposes. People donating to Shelter do so with the full knowledge of what their money is going to be spent on.

This really isn’t a difficult idea to understand: in a free society people are free to donate their money to an advice and campaigning organisation if they want to, and it’s not up to Sweeney to tell them they can’t.

Having previously called for Shelter to be abolished and its assets seized (you’d think that landlords would show a bit more respect for private property and would oppose the Stalinist expropriation of that property, but it’s a funny old world I suppose), Sweeney’s latest wheeze is to demand that Shelter should spend all its money on acting as guarantors for tenants on benefits. Over the past few days he’s tweeted the same demand around thirty times:

Now, rent guarantee schemes are a good idea, several charities and local authorities offer them. Because Shelter are full of helpful advice and guidance, you can read more about them on their website. But Sweeney’s idea is transparent nonsense, because that’s not what Shelter’s money is for, because so long as they obey the law it’s up to Shelter and their funders what they spend their money on, but mostly because it’s complete balls to say that Shelter has a “cash pile” of £60m or anything like it: it’s their entire annual income. It’s no more correct to call it a cash pile than it would be to say I can spend the whole of my annual salary in one go. It would mean Shelter’s abolition, since they’d have no money for anything else.

Sweeney spent most of Saturday involved in a bizarre Twitter spat with Labour MP Karen Buck, claiming that Buck supported his plan:

Which, naturally, she strongly denied:

All of this seems to be because he thinks that Buck liked one of his tweets, which she denies (you can look at her likes yourself and see if it’s true, it doesn’t appear to be) but in any event liking one tweet doesn’t signify complete and unconditional acceptance of your programme.

Now, anyone sensible would let the matter drop at this point. There’s no point in saying someone agrees with you when they deny it, it just makes you look stupid or dishonest or both. Sweeney, however, is less sensible and now claims that Buck really did support his plan, but for some reason has been “intimidated” into silence by Shelter:

There appears to be no evidence to support this at all. There is no reason to suppose that Buck supports Sweeney’s plan, and every reason to suppose she doesn’t: it is completely at odds with her other work and beliefs, including her work with Shelter on the Homes (Fitness of Human Habitation) Bill. Nor is there any evidence to suggest that Shelter have intimidated anyone.

Again, all of this is merely because Sweeney and similar landlords find it personally inconvenient that tenants should have access to decent advice. You can respectfully disagree with Shelter without descending into the kinds of abuse that Sweeney has employed in his Twitter feed in recent days.

But if you are a landlord who has joined the Alliance: all of this is being done in your name, and there is nothing you can do about it.

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On the curious case of the National Landlords Alliance

It appears that Fergus Wilson isn’t the only landlord with a rather overinflated sense of his own importance. Friends, we now have a new favourite example of Landlord Derangement Syndrome: allow me to introduce you to the National Landlords Alliance and its CEO, Larry Sweeney.

Sweeney announced plans for his Alliance in a post on the landlords’ website Property118 in which he asked his fellow landlords to pledge £100 for membership. He had, he told readers, been thinking of setting up the Alliance for 18 months, but had finally decided to take the plunge. You might be forgiven for thinking that £100 – a tidy sum by most people’s standards – you would be acquiring all the normal rights of membership. The right to vote for the leadership of the organisation, for example, and through them the ability to set the organisation’s policy and control its assets. Membership organisations of this type might typically be expected to be companies limited by guarantee or unincorporated associations. If you thought that about the Alliance, you would be mistaken. The National Landlords Alliance Ltd is, according to Companies House, a company limited by shares, incorporated in 2015 – considerably longer than 18 months ago – of which the sole shareholder and Director is Larry Sweeney. He owns it outright. He controls it completely. It is really not possible for anyone else to become a member in any meaningful sense. It is not clear what “members” are getting for their money. What will happen to all those membership fees? If the company makes a profit, Sweeney would appear to be able to pay it to himself as a dividend. So what do we know of the Alliance, and what it wants? Fortunately on their website they post a six point plan for the private rented sector. Here it is, in its entirety:
Yes folks, their six point plan only has five points. Perhaps the sixth point was repossessed. Section 24 is, for the uninitiated, a gradual withdrawal of a tax relief that landlords have enjoyed on some of their finance costs: a relief that homeowners don’t enjoy. It’s not a tax as such. Landlords have been fighting a rearguard action against it since George Osborne announced it in the 2015 Budget – including a court action involving Cherie Blair – but seem to have given up as the government has shown no signs of backing down. Frankly, the Chancellor isn’t going to leave a hole in the public finances no matter how much special pleading there is from landlords. And since research has shown that private tenants were among the key groups moving towards Labour at the 2017 election, he won’t be doing anything that favours landlords over any other group. The more landlords bleat about paying their taxes, the more convinced he will be that his policy is working. Both the Alliance’s website and twitter feed display an interest with Shelter which borders on the obsessional. Point 3 of their six five point plan is to
withdraw funding from Shelter the Housing charity, which does not provide housing. Redirect the £60 Million Shelter budget to provide accommodation for the needy.
Elsewhere they say:
We will campaign for the abolition of Shelter and the redirection of their £60 million budget.
According to the Alliance, their objection to Shelter is that they don’t use their income to directly house anyone. They claim, Shelter’s £60m budget ought to be used to do this and it is wrong that they don’t. This is, and let’s not beat about the bush here, completely batshit. Shelter don’t provide housing because that’s not what they’re for. They provide other services, like advice, advocacy and research. £60m is a fair sum, but even if it were all used to buy houses for people, it would help a few dozen families at best. Shelter assist thousands of people with their work. And it’s not wrong for them to spend their money the way they do; donors to Shelter do so in the full knowledge of what their money will be used for: some of it is grant funding that is given to them to deliver specific services. They couldn’t use it in any other way even if they wanted to. Yet more is income from their own shops, which is theirs to do with as they wish as long as they do so within their objects. Like every charity, Shelter are legally obliged to spend their money only within their objects, and what is really disgusting is that someone who plainly has no idea how charities work should be making a public comment so ill-informed aimed at undermining the reputation of Shelter. No, it is pretty obvious what the Alliance’s real objection to Shelter is. They don’t think that tenants ought to have access to decent advice that might enable them to stand up to their landlords. Hence their complaint that Shelter’s advisors “continually attempt to frustrate the eviction of delinquent tenants.” Sweeney is not the only person involved in running the Alliance. He has the benefit of a “policy consultant” – John Allan, a former national chairman of the Federation of Small Business. He is a former chairman, however, because in 2016 he was suspended by the FSB and subsequently replaced after allegations that he had helped a young mother to find work as a prostitute. Oh.

Fellow Remainers: Hands off the BBC

Remainers indulging in conspiracy theories about the BBC should be careful what they wish for.

Recently, it’s become fashionable in Remainer circles to attack the BBC for the apparent bias in its coverage of Brexit.

In recent days, for example, Lord Adonis’s Twitter feed has been an orgy of attacking the BBC’s impartiality, sometimes bordering on conspiracy theorising, and often using the vaguely sinister hashtag #BrexitBroadcastingCorporation :

Meanwhile Henry Porter has devoted a column in the Guardian to claiming that the BBC is abdicating its responsibilities in reporting Brexit.

Some of this, it appears, follows on from a decision by the BBC not to cover a march against Brexit, while reporting on Farage and Rees-Mogg’s publicity stunt in dumping fish into the Thames. Now, you may think that is right or wrong, but the fact remains that the BBC has to make those kinds of judgment calls all the time. I yield to no-one in my desire to see the UK remain in the EU, but as things stand we will leave next year, and the BBC has to report the news on that basis. The process of the negotiations is newsworthy and people are entitled to be informed on them and the effect they are having on British politics.

Frankly there are marches all the time and the BBC is right to be sceptical about how newsworthy they are. They are never going to be able to cover them all, and every time they don’t, people are going to complain about it. The only way they are all going to be reported is if the BBC adopts a weekly slot on the Saturday evening news to cover that week’s march. March of the Day: look away now if you don’t want to know how many people were on it.

Similarly, there’s been conspiracy theorising about the appointment of Robbie Gibb as Downing Street Director of Communications:

Really? There’s always been a crossover between journalism and political communications. Former BBC political journalist Lance Price was an adviser to Tony Blair during Lord Adonis’s time there, and went on to become the Labour Party’s Director of Communications. There’s not necessarily anything sinister about it.

Over recent years there has been a catastrophic collapse in trust in institutions: often well-deserved but insidious nonetheless. There is a reason why Farage, and Trump, and all the others want to destroy trust in the BBC and in impartial journalism, and we shouldn’t be assisting them with it.

If Britain is to remain in the EU, then it will be because there has been a firm shift in public opinion towards remain, of the kind that the Government cannot ignore. If the electorate are going to change their minds they’re not going to take it from Remainers that it’s the right thing to do: they need trusted, impartial sources of information to help them make up their minds. Undermining those sources is self-defeating.

Those indulging in conspiracy theorising against the BBC, and undermining trust in it, have fallen for the nirvana fallacy: they are comparing the real BBC with an unrealistic, idealised version of how it might be. The BBC is never going to be perfect, because it’s a fallible, man-made institution. The choice is between it as it stands, and no BBC at all. Make common cause with those who would destroy the BBC, and it will disappear and take public service broadcasting with it.

The alternatives to the BBC’s standards of journalism are the likes of Swawkbox, the Canary and Breitbart. Be careful what you wish for.

Fergus Wilson – no charges brought

Last year I reported on prospective Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate Fergus Wilson, and alleged that he was disqualified from standing due to his 2014 conviction for common assault. Subsequently, after Mr Wilson submitted nomination papers, I reported him to Kent Police for making a false declaration in his nomination papers.

Last week I was told by Kent Police that their investigation into Mr Wilson has been completed. I’m informed that Mr Wilson was interviewed as part of that investigation, and that a file has been presented to the CPS, but that no charges are to be brought against him. To bring charges, the CPS must be convinced both that there is a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it’s in the public interest to prosecute.

I was quite happy to let the matter drop there. Mr Wilson’s candidature is at an end, the election is long over and done with, and most importantly he’d promised to “ride off into the sunset” after the failure of his election campaign. He’s not a professional politician and it was over.

However, I see that the following story appears in the Medway Messenger:


fergus nocharges

I’m the complainant. I can confirm that I’ve not been spoken to by the Police in relation to this matter. I stand by my reporting I believed then, and I believe now, that my reporting was accurate and in the public interest. If the Police speak to me, I’ll defend myself vigorously.

Perhaps I’m lucky. A few days ago Mr Wilson was offering to fight a journalist who’d been unkind about his racehorse.

Fergus, it was punching someone that got you into this trouble in the first place.

On leaving Labour.

cardI’ve left the Labour Party today, the Party I first joined in 1989 and I’ve supported ever since. When Jeremy was elected Leader last year, I thought the right thing to do was to stay and fight for the kind of Party I wanted: open, moderate, internationalist, pro-EU. I’ve nothing but respect for those of my colleagues who’ve decided to stay in the Party this time, too: but for me, the end of the road has been reached.

This isn’t the Party I joined. We were always on the right side of British politics, and we always knew we wanted to make the world a better place. Labour was a family I was proud to belong to. I was proud, once, to be a Labour Councillor and Group Leader (though when it was obvious my time as Leader wasn’t a success, at least I had the decency to resign).

Labour isn’t that Party any more. It’s intolerant, it’s authoritarian, it’s a toxic place where the worst kinds of abuse are at best tolerated by the leadership. That leadership regards Hamas and Hezbollah – anti-semites, misogynists and terrorists – as friends, and Jeremy Corbyn himself has appeared on the state propaganda channel of a regime that executes homosexuals. And that’s without mentioning SinnFein/IRA…

Jeremy handed Brexit to the Tories on a plate, and the morning after the referendum result he called for the immediate triggering of Article 50. It’s as plain as anything that he rejects our membership of Nato – an international organisation that Labour helped found.

It’s not just about electoral success – though it’s plain that Jeremy can never win a General Election – but it’s become more and more obvious that the toxic mix of people who now constitute the Party’s leadership don’t care about winning. They’re more interested in sixth form debating, on building an organisation which is ideologically pure. That’s a betrayal of everyone who depends on the kind of moderate, centrist politics which this country needs. It gives safe space to the Tories to do their worst.

All of this is a repudiation of the kind of Labour Party I joined.

I don’t believe Jeremy should be Prime Minister. My continued membership of the Labour Party gives him moral and financial support. My conscience won’t allow that. And that’s why, with a heavy heart, I’ve left Labour.

Kent PCC elections: the results in detail.

This post is strictly for politics nerds. Yesterday we looked at the result of the Police and Crime Commissioner and today I want to look at the results in some more detail.

First: a health warning. Direct comparisons between this result and the 2012 election are problematic to say the least. Firstly and most obviously, the winning candidate from 2012 didn’t seek re-election and, as an independent, there’s no party we can use as a basis for comparison. Secondly, the Lib Dems didn’t stand last time. Further, low turnouts in both elections may mean that lessons for other elections are difficult to draw. Nevertheless, I think it’s a worthwhile exercise, if only as a resource for later. Throughout this post, I’m going to talk only about the first round of voting, because that was the only one in which all the parties were represented. And,

This was the result:

1st round share

The following table is the 2016 result in full, with the 2012 result for comparison, and the movement between elections (I’ve not included the Lib Dems):

From this, we can see how the parties have fared in each of the Kent districts:

Change from 2012

All of the major parties have increased their vote share in every district (except the Tories in Gravesham). That’s unsurprising: all of Ann Barnes’s votes from 2012 were up for grabs. The English Democrats’ Steve Uncles saw his vote share fall everywhere: remarkably, on a much-improved turnout his votes went down in every district too. He did particularly badly in Dartford, the district he lives in. I’m not going to pay him too much more attention, except to observe that, on the day London elected its first Muslim Mayor, race-baiting seems to be the fast-track to political oblivion.

Though the Tories won, Ukip will doubtless be pleased with these results. There are some impressive increases in vote share: particularly in Shepway, where it seems to be building up something of a power base. Labour really ought to have done better, though these results are far from disastrous for them: the fact that they didn’t do so is probably more to do with their lacklustre national performance than their local campaign. There’s little here to remind us, however, that there used to be a handful of Labour MPs in Kent: these are just the sorts of seats they need to win back if they are to have any hope of forming another Government.

Finally, the Lib Dems have slipped further into irrelevance.

Update: The Political Medway has a very comprehensive analysis of the results which is well worth a look.