Open letter to David Cameron

Dear Mr Cameron,

Congratulations on your party’s recent election win. As an EU – not (yet) UK – citizen, I could not vote in this general elections and as such had no part in your victory. To be honest, I really don’t know who I would have voted for if I had been entitled to vote in this election; I consider myself a socialist, but none of the parties in this country appear to represent my idea of socialism.

At some point last year, my email address made it into databases used for various political parties’ mailings. I don’t mind. Time permitting I actually read the messages sent to me on behalf of you and other politicians and parties. Today I decided to attempt a reply, if only to find out whether the mail accounts used are of the annoying ‘no-reply’ type or if they are actually monitored by real people who will pass on any responses like this one. In 2015 fashion, I will post this open letter to you on my public blog as well, in the hope that other politicians might notice my ramblings too.

One of the issues that in my opinion has not been addressed sufficiently by past governments (including yours) is housing. Last month, the rent on my home in North West London increased by 36%. Yes, you read that right, THIRTY-SIX PER CENT. Like many others I am being priced out of London. Everywhere I go across London, I see homes being built, but usually these are billed as ‘luxury’ and that term is reflected in their price tags. Homes that are labelled ‘affordable’ may be affordable for higher earners and foreign investors, but they aren’t affordable at all when you compare them to London’s and Britain’s average incomes.

As much as I love London and wish to stay here, I don’t feel entitled to the city so if I cannot afford to live here, I am prepared to move elsewhere. One problem with that is, that there aren’t (m)any jobs in other areas. Another issue is that public transport is so ridiculously expensive that the cost of commuting into London for work would negate any costs saved on housing. Even though I do most of my freelance work remotely, from home, clients tend to want me to live near enough for me to turn up in person from time to time. Moreover, at times when I don’t have enough freelance work to cover all rent and bills, there are opportunities in London for part-time and/or temporary work to top up my income. Outside of London those opportunities are scarce thus the competition for them is fierce.

London does not need me as much as it needs teachers, nurses and other key workers. If I am priced out of London that’s not as bad as when key workers are. So feel free to ignore my whinges here, I am only one rather insignificant person, but the wider issue is a serious one: London needs the diversity of people of all classes, education types, incomes levels and so on and so forth, but it’s slowly losing it. London’s cosmopolitan melting pot of people is part of what makes it such a great city; greater than, say, Paris, where people appear to have been segregated per city districts, from the very richest in the heart of the city down to the very poorest in the depressing banlieus on the outskirts. I worry that’s what London could become like if, like now, the housing crisis is mostly being left for the private sector to resolve – which it won’t, at least, not by itself. I believe London’s free housing market needs more government intervention, way beyond shallow manipulation by way of help-to-buy schemes, mansion taxes, underoccupancy charges, rent controls or easing of planning regulations. What London needs is the housing supply to meet the demand for homes in ways that private investors and developers won’t provide without some serious public sector intervention.

I also believe that regions outside of London need more attention: local and national government will need to work together to push businesses to set up more than just call centres outside the capital. Doing so will not only relieve London, I think it will also preserve suburban green belts and rural beauty; more importantly, it might spur a much-needed culture change among business leaders, away from their London-centricity: London isn’t the only fabulous city in Britain with fabulous people raring to do fabulous jobs for any employers willing to offer them that opportunity. They just need to be given the chance.

The headline on your (PR agency’s copywriter’s) post-election mass email reads “now let’s make Britain greater still”. I’d be delighted to take part in any effort and am brimming with ideas towards achieving that, but I’m finding myself having to look at opportunities for work outside the United Kingdom, in places where one’s earnings might actually cover the basic cost of living. Not that I really want to go abroad – I love Britain, particularly London – but I feel I don’t really have a choice. Once again, feel free to ignore my individual whining and whingeing here, I am only one rather insignificant person. Besides, I may be anglicised, but on paper I’m still a foreigner, so my departure would benefit your net migration figures. So by all means hit me with a “Bye, Jo, don’t let the door hit you on the way out!” However, the people you really do need to worry about now are those that Britain truly wants and needs, people who seriously make Britain great(er), because more and more of them can neither afford housing in British places where there is work, nor find work in British places where there is housing. Britain’s current economic recovery is slow – which in my view is a good thing – but it’s not as steady as one might want it to be. To me, Britain’s economy looks as yet rather precarious, just shy of frail. The last thing the country needs in such a tricky state is a brain drain.

If you really want to “make Britain greater” you and every other politician in this country really need to address the subject of housing. No government since the 1980s appears to have done this sufficiently and in my opinion that is at the heart of virtually every other issue Britain is currently facing. Let’s make Britain greater by ditching any party-political point-scoring on the matter and get to work.

Yours sincerely,

Jo Hughes