The answer to the nation’s housing crisis? “Britain needs more slums.” But now the Adam Smith Institute has been forced to defend an Oxford student whose proposal to introduce favela-style living into the UK provoked death threats on social media.
In a blog published on the libertarian think-tank’s website, Theo Clifford, a Philosophy, Politics and Economics student at Merton College, Oxford, proposed sweeping away safety regulations to allow the creation of jerry-built slum dwellings designed for those who enjoy living cheek-by-jowl with their fellow poverty stricken.
“Sweeping deregulation is the only way to provide Britain with the slums it is crying out for,” wrote Clifford, who describes himself as a “recovering Lib Dem” with dreams “of being a yuppie.”
“Britain has a sore lack of proper slums,” argued Clifford, winner of the 18-21 age category of the Institute’s “Young Writer on Liberty” competition. “Government regulations designed to clamp down on ‘cowboy landlords’ restrict people’s ability to choose the kind of accommodation in which they want to live.”
Clifford suggested that communal living would be more attractive to young people, admitting that he too was struggling to get on the housing ladder.
“Housing should cater to a wide array of preferences. Some people might not feel like they need a bedroom space as large as the state expects, while others might not mind sharing a bathroom with another family if it means lower rents.”
Over-regulation is the cause of the housing crisis, Clifford claimed: “The market desperately wants to provide houses people can live in at prices they can afford – but in the eyes of local authorities these houses are too small, or too tall, or the ceilings are too low, or the windows not energy efficient enough.”
Any subtleties within the student’s argument were drowned in a sea of Twitter abuse. One critic tweeted Clifford to call him a “wet behind the ears libertarian who's never laid in bed listening to rats scuttling about his kitchen.”
Another tweeter commented: “‘Britain needs more assassinations of @Theo_Clifford’ is about as offensive as this blog.”
Theo Clifford was actually a “pseudonym”, surmised one, who suggested the nom de plume could be employed for ASI blogs titled "Hitler: A Hayekian Reappraisal" and "Why Tuberculosis Is Actually Good".
A housing law solicitor told Clifford he was “but a child & yet to learn to distinguish immediate self interest from general social benefit.”
Clifford replied to one critic:"A cramped flat you can afford is better than the sprawling detached house you can't." and asked “Wonder if my proposal for a #NationalNetflix is going to get me as many death threats as yesterday's housing essay.”
However Sam Bowman, deputy director of the Institute, sprang to his defence. “People should attack us, not him. We can take it,” he said. “Theo is making the point that disadvantaged people who are price-sensitive might prefer an energy inefficient house or one with a small bedroom than none at all.”
Bowman added: “The word slum is quite emotive. But it is what people would call these dwellings if they were allowed. Theo is asking people to think past what the word slum means to us and ask if our minimum building standards are too restrictive?”
Clifford was “an extremely smart, reasonable and pleasant chap and is destined for great things,” Bowman predicted.
Clifford did receive a surprisingly sympathetic response from the left of the political spectrum. The south-east London branch of anti-Austerity group, the People’s Assembly, tweeted: “No, Theo, the country doesn’t need more slums, but yes maybe less building regulation, something rad needed to kickstart supply.”
The Adam Smith Institute, which helped provide the intellectual foundation for Mrs Thatcher's Conservative governments, exists to promote free market thinking.
The student has previously blogged on the Liberal Democrat Voice website where he called for further deregulation of Sunday trading laws, now government policy and defined Lib Dem economic policy as a “belief in the strength of the free market to provide long-run economic growth.”
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