3 amazing facts that show Hopi Sen is wrong

OK, so. John Band and Oliver Rivers decided I was going to write in Buzzfeed house style for the next whenever, and it’s substantially less annoying to write than gawkerese or Belle Waring. Here goes.

Thousands will die or maybe they won’t

The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne isn’t happy about energy prices, much like Ed Miliband and everyone in the UK who hasn’t rammed the bill to Brenda’s Debating & Drinking Society. Ultra-Blairite Hopi Sen takes issue with this. God knows why, but he seizes on this chart to argue that everything is OK.


That’s a chart showing that not as many olds have fallen off their perch when it gets chilly in recent years. Most of the actual change there seems to have happened between about 1960 and 1990, but it does seem to have got a bit better since about 2000. Hopi’s argument is that this shows that energy privatisation is great.

Which is weird. Why? Well, look at this table.

They’re not dying because council houses


That’s right – the older your house is, and the older you are, the more likely you are to freeze. Can’t do better here than just lift a quote:

the lack of a significant relationship between deprivation and excess winter mortality suggests that in the UK those who are deprived often live in social housing, which is, on average, more energy efficient.

Hopi then tells us that the Decent Homes program spent a bunch of money insulating council flats, which is good.

Good job we’ve basically abolished those


The red bit on this chart of total UK housing construction is council houses. You’ll observe that we actually BUILT MORE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR WHEN THE GERMANS WERE DROPPING BOMBS ON US AND WE HAD NO MONEY FOR FOOD than when Hopi’s old boss was in charge. After we got rid of him, you can just see a tiny hint of red.

Also, remember I said most of the improvement in “not letting granny freeze to death like a stray dog” seems to be between 1960 and 1990? Yup. When rather more than half those houses were built.

OK, here’s a boring non-Buzzfeed bit with long words and no graphics. Look away

You can see some of the problems with the Blair government here. The first one that sticks out is that they were completely concentrated on either the extreme poor or the extreme rich.

In this case, spending money on council housing retrofits helped prevent deaths among the desperate, but only if they were council tenants. Great, but I can’t help but think New Labour: We won’t let you physically freeze to death, so long as you’ve got a council tenancy that’s as rare as hen’s teeth is a slogan betraying a certain poverty of aspiration.

Another problem is that this does nothing at all for anyone who isn’t actually going to physically freeze to death. Ed Miliband’s public stabbing of Npower is very publicly framed as a cost-of-living issue that affects everybody. This should remind us of Mike Konczal’s useful notion of pity-charity liberalism. Normal people offer humanitarian aid to essentially powerless clients, who are subject to a whole lotta intervention, badgering, and prodding to make sure they are deserving.

One of its problems is that it doesn’t build up a political coalition in its own interest. Another is that it lets the kind of people Orwell was talking about when he said that some people are drawn to socialism out of a hypertrophied sense of order let their freak-flags fly. And a further one is that it reinforces the arguments the oppo use against social security generally. It’s taking money from you! and giving it to Those People!

And finally, apparently it’s council housing that protects the vulnerable from the rapacity of the privatised energy industry. Yeah, well.


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