Heaven knows I haven’t been an unequivocal supporter of the National Landlords Alliance. I’ve reported on its curious origins, how its members don’t acquire any of the usual rights of members and are effectively just making a donation, the Information Commissioner’s probe into them, queries about their staffing, and their overreaction to being scrutinised. And I may have mentioned them on Twitter once or twice.
Up to now, I’d always taken it for granted that the Alliance was a bad thing. Take, for example, their continuous, not to say obsessive, attacks on Shelter. Surely, nobody who cares for renters’ rights could support them when they demand the abolition of the most significant organisation providing housing advice and campaigning?
But recently I’ve been thinking: what if I’m wrong? What if the Alliance is, in fact, an unalloyed force for good?
Let’s look at the evidence. In the year or so since the Alliance was founded, the Tenant Fees Ban has come into force, the Government has announced the end of section 21 no-fault evictions – a development once practically unthinkable from a Tory Government – and the Labour Party plans to give renters the right to buy their homes from their landlords. It’s hardly a great record of success for the Alliance. In fact, for renters’ rights the past few months have been some of the best in recent years. You only have to look at the constant moaning on landlords’ forums – or the Alliance’s Twitter feed – to see that landlords feel under constant attack.
If the Alliance’s campaigning is having any effect at all, it is the precise opposite of what they intend. It’s like having the Midas touch in reverse: everything they touch turns to shit.
And it’s not hard to see why. The Alliance have an unerring, laser-like ability to fatally undermine their own argument.
Maybe there are legitimate criticisms to be made of Shelter. Any organisation which seeks to influence public policy should expect, and welcome, some public scrutiny themselves – and there’s every reason to suppose Shelter do: they’re an admirably open organisation. If the Alliance do have anything sensible to say, it is completely drowned out by relentless demands for Shelter to be wound up, and near-obsessional quote-tweeting of Shelter’s CEO’s personal Twitter:
These attacks are bizarrely self-defeating. The Alliance dislikes Shelter because they give advice to renters that landlords find personally inconvenient. But instead of explaining why they disagree, all we get are constant demands for Shelter to be abolished. Evidence-free demands like these persuade nobody, because they make no attempt to persuade. Instead, all they do is reflect badly on the organisation making them: most people, rightly, like and admire the work that Shelter do and to demand its abolition for no real reason just makes the Alliance look nasty and mean-spirited.
The Alliance’s line of attack, such as it is, is to complain that Shelter don’t directly house anyone themselves. But people aren’t stupid: they can recognise an organisation that provides advice, research and campaigning, and if they needed a reminder they need only look at the Alliance itself. One campaigning organisation is criticising another for campaigning. If it’s such a hideous crime, why does the Alliance do it? At least the majority of Shelter’s work is in giving advice which helps people to find somewhere to live or keep a roof over their heads.
Similarly, a radical policy like Labour’s proposal to introduce right-to-buy for private tenants deserves proper discussion – but to be clear, Labour have said that they will ensure that landlords will not lose out financially. Doubtless there are still legitimate criticisms, and if it’s going to be introduced it needs to be done properly. Sensible landlords organisations can make that kind of argument. But, if the Alliance has any sensible criticism, it has completely failed to make it, instead going straight for vicious and frankly bizarre ad hominem attacks on John Mcdonnell:
If you can’t come up with anything better than ranting about how your opponents are Nazis, with added mental health smears, you can’t expect to win any arguments.
There’s no point in complaining about a policy for interfering with other peoples’ property, if your own policy is to abolish a charity and seize all its money. And there’s no point in denouncing people who disagree with you as ‘vile’ – as the Alliance does to Shelter with monotonous regularity – once you’ve resorted to Nazi smears yourself.
So maybe I was wrong about the Alliance. Not only do they completely undermine their own arguments, such as they are, but they condemn all other landlords and their organisations by association. There is no point denying that they represent a significant element among landlords, and they say the kinds of things that others might be too embarrassed to admit. It’s remarkable how little criticism the Alliance receives from other landlords or their organisations. Yet the Alliance’s CEO Larry Sweeney is a one-man wrecking ball for landlords’ credibility.
Keep up the good work, Larry. You’re the renters’ best friend.
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