I must start with a confession. I really don’t like Grant Shapps who for some reason is the Tory party chair. He comes across as a haughty up-market barrow boy who’d tread on his mother’s face if he thought it would advance his career or turn in a bigger profit. You know what I mean – heartless, callous and downright nasty. However, I must admit I hadn’t realised before that he’s also got a very thin skin.
He really doesn’t like anybody criticising him or his party. He doesn’t turn a hair at propagating a policy of social cleansing, evicting families for having a spare room when their child died. Nor when their son has been killed in Afghanistan (as happened to one of my constituents). Nor because someone’s disability required a second bedroom. But when an official UN rapporteur comes to Britain, with an agenda organised by the UK government, and uses the phrase ‘bedroom tax’ rather than the government’s gobbledigook ’ending the spare room subsidy’, he goes ape. Strange man – obviously caught the Tory germ of overweening arrogance rather young.
Shapps complained she hadn’t met the relevant ministers or officials. She had: she met Pickles and his junior minister, she asked to meet DWP ministers, and more than half of her meetings were with government officials. Shapps claimed, shamefully, that she hadn’t researched her subject adequately. In fact she had dozens of meetings with tenant organisations, food banks, welfare centres and local authority personnel. So Shapps’ complaints are all claptrap. What really got under his skin was that Rolnik had the temerity to say, as a special UN rapporteur, what everyone here knows perfectly well already, namely that the bedroom tax should be suspended until a full re-evaluation had been carried out of its impact on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals”.
Then Shapps made a slip. He said that the UK’s legal system had already ruled that the policy ending the bedroom tax was lawful. But Raquel wasn’t claiming it was unlawful. She was saying it was unjust and damaging to the welfare of many vulnerable people, and she was right. She was saying that housing benefit caps would make moving into privately rented accommodation increasingly difficult for the low-paid, and she was right. She was saying that homes now were allowed to stand empty in London, but also elsewhere, because they had been invested in as financial assets by the super-rich from abroad, and she was doubly right.
What Rolnik has done, wicked as it may seem to this government, is puncture Mr. Shapps’ overbearing arrogance by telling the truth.