Thursday, 16 June 2011

Why hasn't Frank Dobson bought his council flat?

Frank Dobson may not be a dustman, or wear Gor Blimey trousers, but the Mail has discovered that the former Labour health secretary (and once upon a time the party's failed official candidate for Mayor of London) lives in a council flat. And not just any council flat - a 3-bedroomed flat in a Victorian mansion block in central London, boasting an "elegantly proportioned" hallway, a "grand mahogany stairwell" and "stunning mosaic floor". The building was scheduled for demolition before was snapped up by Camden Council in 1979, but the paper estimates that flats in the block are now worth up to £1 million.

It certainly looks a lot nicer than the highrise concrete drug-dens that pass for social housing in some parts of London. Lucky Frank.

Needless to say, Dobbo quite likes living there - although with an MP's salary, his wife's earnings as an academic, plus anything else he may be picking up along the way, he doesn't fall into most people's idea of a typical council tenant. He's not a single mother, a clan of Bangladeshi immigrants, or even a crack addict. He's not on the minimum wage, and presumably he doesn't qualify for housing benefit. So isn't it outrageous, asks the Mail, that he's living in subsidised housing at a rent of around £160 per week - about an eighth of what he might be paying if he was renting the flat privately.

Dobson justifies his occupation of the cut-price mansion flat on the grounds that London rents are "insane" and that his presence helps to create a "mixed community" - preferable, he thinks, to a "sink estate" that would be the result of the government's proposals to restrict social housing just to poor people. Arguably, having a resident MP on every council estate would lower the tone immeasurably - but that isn't the Mail's prime consideration. Rather, we are invited to feel deep-seated rage at the great deal Dobbo is getting from the taxpayer even though he could probably afford to live elsewhere. They've even gone to the trouble of finding some "affordable" properties in the general area. Affordable for the Dobsons, that is.

It's an argument worth having. But what really puzzles me is that Frank Dobson has never exercised his Right to Buy. The article implies he has been living there for thirty years - certainly, it must be a long time since Dobbo was entitled to social housing, if indeed he ever was. Like Commie union boss Bob Crow, he wouldn't have had much trouble paying off the mortage and today would be the proud owner of an expensive and desirable London property. The Mail would probably applaud him for it - yet the flat would be equally unavailable to impoverished families, and the council wouldn't be getting a penny in rent. What an idiot, though.