"Every wanton and causeless restraint of the will of the subject, whether produced by a monarch, a nobility or a popular assembly, is a degree of tyranny" - 18th Century jurist William Blackstone
After the ASBO comes the EDMO - it stands for "Empty Dwelling Management Order" and is a sort of antisocial behaviour order for houses.
Under legislation that came into force this week, local authorities can break into and seize any house left empty for six months, refurbish it and rent it out - to asylum seekers, presumably. Why they should need to do this is anyone's guess - thousands of council houses are standing empty at this moment. The exact number we don't know; we do know that in April 2000 there were 87,186 empty council houses in the UK. Why do they need more?
The answer, of course, is that they don't.
However, history shows that sooner or later local authorities will always use any powers granted to them by central government whether they need to or not, whether their actions are just or not, whether the circumstances warrant or not. We've seen it all before in their approach to parking, speed limits, speed cameras, recycling, litter, planning, health and safety - if there's a piece of legislation lying around doing nothing, some little jobsworth in a cheap suit will find a way to use it just to show how important he is.
Granted, there are some exceptions in the regulations. Second homes are exempt (so that's Dorneywood safe, then), and so are houses owned by people who work abroad. But bear in mind that these regulations are going to be enforced by local councils - not renowned for their efficiency and intelligence, I think you'll agree. Whatever the regulations say, it won't be long before some squaddy comes back from a gruelling and dangerous tour in Afghanistan or Iraq and finds fifteen Somalis in his back bedroom.
The dodgiest thing is houses belonging to old people. Suppose your ancient auntie dies and leaves you her house? She wasn't all that good at housework, and the place hasn't been redecorated in decades, so how likely are you to be able to sell it within six months? Besides, some times of year are better for selling houses than others, and you might get a better price if you wait. But you'd better not wait too long, or the jobsworths'll pounce and you'll lose control of it altogether. The regulations say that the jobsworths have to get your permission first, but … council efficiency, right? The regulations say you can sell the house even while it's subject to an EDMO, but with a Ukrainian brothel in the front bedroom, a Thai restaurant in the kitchen and several winos in the cupboard under the stairs that's going to be pretty difficult, isn't it?
Yes, we know there are lots of homeless people. Yes, we agree it's a shame that there should be 650,000 empty houses in the country. But that doesn't alter the fact that these houses belong to someone, and we should all have the right to do what we like with our own property so long as we don't annoy the neighbours. If I wanted to buy a Roller, put it in my garage and not use it, that's my decision, right? I once knew a man who did this, except that it was an E-type Jag. He said it was an investment. If some poor car-less person had asked him for a loan, you can imagine what his response would have been. I know lots of people who own boats that never leave their moorings. Would the very fragrant Ruth Kelly like to grab those, so some of our visitors from other lands can pop across the Channel and bring back their friends?
Although said fragrant lady has put this iniquitous theft into effect, do you know who dreamt it up? Why, John Prescott, of course. We might have known. The GOS is proposing some regulations of his own - they'll be called FOYW Orders. Work it out yourself.
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