Shelter say that there will be more than 80,000 children homeless this Christmas. What should we do about it? I’m starting to think that maybe, just maybe, British comics don’t have all the answers.
I suspect that neither, by themselves, would be enough. In addition, there is a need to continue to bring people together to press for and campaign on this and other housing issues.
What then is the best way of bringing people together? I am going to suggest that we should follow the example of Mumsnet and not the example of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Why? Because the TUSC mobilises (or at least, tries to) whereas Mumsnet organises.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, for those of you who don’t know, is a political alliance of, amongst others, the Socialist Worker Party and the RMT trade union. You can find a list of their policies (including support for building more council housing) here.
From what I can make out, their approach to bringing people together is to mobilise people who already belong to various socialist groups or trade unions and to campaign on issues by running for election.
In the 2013 Eastleigh by-election their candidate, Daz Proctor, got 62 votes just 10 short of David Bishop, the candidate for the ‘Elvis loves Pets’ party, and over 13,000 votes short of the winner.
Mumsnet do not run candidates in elections but they have a far greater influence than the TUSC. For example, after a dinner with Justine Roberts of Mumsnet Nick Clegg came out against Conservative plans to let childminders look after a greater number of kids at any one time.
How does Mumsnet achieve this influence? By bringing people with shared interests together in a decidedly modern way. They aren’t mobilising existing groups, they are creating new networks. On the back of this network politicians seek them out and beg to be given the chance to take part in live chats on Mumsnet.
In fact, the very process of bringing people together in this way has a transformative effect on people. It’s not just that a problem shared is a problem halved, and that Mumsnet can help people feel less lonely and isolated by putting them in touch with other people who are going through similar situations. Also, according to a recent survey, 40% of people who use Mumsnet are more likely to think of themselves as feminists since they joined.
The lesson from this is surely that one of the ways to reduce the number of homeless and overcrowded families in the UK is to find new ways of connecting those families with each other, to build their power, and to connect those families with others, to show the impact that poor housing can have and, thereby, to radicalise others.