Kate Osamor and her council house

Portrait of Kate Osamor, a Black woman wearing a necklace consisting of 3 solid metal bands, with a top consisting of yellow shapes on a black background.Recently the Labour MP for Edmonton, Kate Osamor, has come under criticism for still occupying a council property despite having a job that pays her a £77,000 annual salary. This is the same MP who sent a Times reporter packing when he turned up at her door to demand answers as to why she continued employing her son, who had been caught with drugs with “intent to supply” (meaning, in this case, share them with his friends) at a pop festival, as a parliamentary aide and then called the police to report him for stalking; she subsequently resigned from the shadow cabinet. Osamor has been in the role since 2015; she won re-election in 2017 with 71.5% of the vote locally, having gained 61.4% in 2015, so this is a fairly safe seat (it had been Tory from 1983 to 1997, but that was before boundary changes). She is clearly quite a popular figure as the previous incumbent, Andy Love, had seen his majority reduced at successive elections since gaining the seat in 1997 and gained only slightly following the 2010 boundary changes.

At the time she gained the house, she was a single mother, but since then has both been a student and held positions at The Big Issue and two NHS services. An MP’s salary is, in today’s climate, not the most secure job (and such people as mortgage brokers might not define it as such) but it is not poverty, and much of the criticism stems from the fact that social housing is scarce and that people who need it are being forced out of the borough, or out of London altogether. Her defenders say that social housing was meant to be mixed, not just for poor people, and that the same people on the Left criticising Kate Osamor did not criticise Bob Crow, the late RMT union leader, for doing the same for much longer and that many of them are influenced by racism.

Two good articles have been written by this. One is by Dawn Foster and the other is by Ava Vidal who has been the most vocal in pushing the racism angle. I have not much to add other than to say that if more MPs lived in council accommodation, much as with state schools (which the very rich, including some MPs, avoid assiduously), they would be better maintained and the run-downs and sell-offs that have been a constant theme of public housing policy (as seen in the Heygate estate in south-east London, which has been sold off to a major developer and most of the new dwellings are private and expensive) would not happen nearly as frequently.

I’m not convinced that all the people who criticised Kate Osamor who did not criticise Bob Crow are racist. To begin with, you cannot come to this sort of conclusion based on two incidents more than a year apart. Bob Crow is dead and Kate Osamor is not. Maybe the Bob Crow controversy did not come up on their feed so they were not motivated to respond at all. Do all the people being accused of racism now have a history of racism, or of disproportionately targeting Black politicians or other well-known people for criticism? That is a better indication that someone is racist than their criticising a single individual who happens to be Black. That said, the Daily Mirror piece which broke this ‘news’ was appalling; much of the content was about her son (Osamor was not involved in the drug offence), complete with a sullen-faced police mugshot, the irrelevant detail of the estimated value of the house, which is a fairly small terraced house in an inflated market which in any case, for her renting it and not buying it, is still a council house and will still be if and when she is finished with it. It also contains a picture of the house, which although the address is not given, the general area is and anyone could find out the address by asking a few questions of a local, at a time not long after an MP was shot dead by a racist and when women generally fear stalkers and predatory men and do not want them knowing where they live.

My hunch is that the story is part of a press vendetta against Osamor for her reaction to the Times journalist doorstepping her. Despite the Mirror being part of a rival company to the Times, which is part of the Murdoch empire, journalists shuffle between papers and sometimes write for both at the same time (see Jan Moir, who worked for both the Daily Mail and the Guardian) and the same people will edit both right-wing and left-wing newspapers at different times in their career, as did Piers Morgan. To some of us, the Times will never be forgiven for running the bogus “Muslim foster care” story last year and will always be a bastion of bigotry and purveyor of inflammatory stories about minorities they dislike, some of it downright fake, as long as the present team is in charge, but to other journalists they are fellow writers “just doing their job” and that doorstepping an MP is part of that, and something they should expect.

I can understand why some people think someone on an MP’s salary should not be occupying a council house. There are people who need them more. There are teachers, nurses and other key workers who cannot get a house near their area of work because rents and house prices are staggeringly high — the best part of a million pounds for a terraced house in inner London, all because of “good schools” or transport links to the centre of town. I know someone in that part of London who has been searching in vain for a suitable flat to rent for a year and a half (this house would not be suitable as this is a wheelchair user). However, life is not fair, and rather than resenting someone who was fortunate, we should be campaigning for more good social housing so that others can have the same thing.

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