George Walford: Chickenhouses?

Eggwina – beg pardon, Edwina – Currie calls Shelter an organisation which “just moans and shelters nobody” (Sunday Times 19 Nov 89). She does not go far enough; Shelter deprived many people of the homes they might have enjoyed without its activities. It was largely responsible for a change in the Rent Acts during one of the Wilson governments, strengthening the position of tenants against landlords. Intended to benefit tenants this had the effect of driving furnished accommodation off the market to join unfurnished, and it seems to be largely because of the suffering this change created that the return, under the Tories, towards free competition in housing has aroused comparatively little public protest.

Ms. Currie’s remark applies to the reformist and revolutionary movements generally; they complain, protest, agitate, and shout about what should be done for the homeless; they do not build houses for those needing them. But neither does the Conservative Party, and neither do builders, by themselves. A little thought quickly shows the building of a house to depend upon the performance of activities extending far beyond the building trades, among them mining, transportation, education, printing, dentistry, publishing, solicitoring (they don’t like to have it called soliciting) and administration, to name only a few. The undertaking involves, in fact, the whole of society, including those who protest and agitate without ever picking up a tool. Were it not for memories of the harm done by Shelter’s well-meant but disastrous intervention housing, and sensible management of it, would receive less attention than it does.

from Ideological Commentary 44, March 1990.