Simon Kirby, MP for Brighton Kemptown, has today floated the idea that Brighton should act as the testbed for the Government’s proposal that landlords should be responsible for checking whether their tenants are illegally in the UK. The Argus reports that Kirby argued that it was unfair for lawful residents to compete for homes against people here illegally.
Why this proposal, and why now?
In particular, is there any evidence that there is a problem? Brighton and Hove certainly has a housing crisis. Already high rents have soared, while wages – in a city with huge numbers of people working in low-wage occupations like retailing and hospitality – have, in line with national trends, fallen in real terms. Behind the affluent facade it is difficult to find a city that more acutely encapsulates the Coalition’s cost-of-living crisis than Brighton and Hove (not least because falling headline unemployment figures mask the full extent of austerity). And, ironically enough, Kirby’s proposal comes on the day that the latest ONS figures show that, yet again, prices rose faster than wages; the cost-of-living crisis continues unabashed.
But I am not aware of any evidence – any whatsoever – that illegal immigration is having any effect on housing in Brighton. And it’s notable that Kirby, on the basis of what the Argus reports, hasn’t produced any.
Moreover, it’s not just unfounded policy; it’s bad policy. Patrolling nationality is not easy – and will almost certainly be delegated by landlords to letting agencies. It’s not that it’s just about effectively privatising the work of the immigration services, offering scope for further cuts by getting landlords to do the work for free; it’s also another lucrative, profitable charge for agencies to add to the mountain of charges that agencies already levy on potential tenants. Once again, Kirby and his party show themselves to be out of touch, and wholly indifferent to the plight of those struggling with the soaring costs of housing in this city and elsewhere.
This is not about the politics of housing; it’s about the politics of fear. Like Kirby’s recent claims to have backed the campaign for a new Royal Sussex County Hospital while simultaneously arguing that it should be placed above party politics – brilliantly rebutted in this letter to the Argus – or even his claim to have saved Peacehaven post office – it’s about an MP who sees a resurgent Labour Party wiping the floor with Tories on issues like the cost of living, energy prices and the NHS, while at the same time being squeezed by UKIP’s gains in Peacehaven in the County Council elections. And, once again, the Tories respond in the only way they know – with a dog-whistle.
And we’re going to see more of this. This is the authentic Lynton Crosby strategy – as anyone who has followed the sorry state of Australian politics in recent years will know. Ignore the facts, ignore the evidence – innuendo and smear are how a party based on fear seeks to find scapegoats for the effects of its own ideologically-driven failures. It’s ironic that in seeking to seek re-election by placing himself above party politics, Kirby should mirror the politics of his masters so precisely. This is all about creating a diversion; about the recognition that, on the central economic issues, the Tory narrative of blaming the last administration and waiting Micawberishly for something to turn up as austerity wastes the economy is wearing very thin indeed
So my challenge to Brighton and Hove Tories is this: let’s have some evidence. Kirby says it’s an urgent problem – so he must know something he’s not letting on. Let’s have some actual numbers, and let’s have the raw material on which we can judge whether this policy is anything more than the dog-whistle politics of a desperate party.