Labour’s knee-jerk reactions on housing

I often find two opposing knee-jerk reactions to housing when I go to Labour meetings and events. They hinge around council housing – and are lightening rods for other ideological debates.

Some members when they hear people arguing for more council housing and greater power for councils to build homes again, seem to think that this is an old Labour plot to drag Labour back to 1983 and anti-aspirational, left-wing electoral oblivion. Dennis MacShane’s article yesterday implicitly recognises that tendency in parts of the last Labour government.

Other members, when they hear that Labour should have policies on homeownership and on expanding the number of homes for private rent, seem to feel that this is a part of a ‘New Labour’, ‘Blairite’ plot to ignore Labour’s core vote, dismiss local government and focus only on middle-English homeowners.

Of course many, and I’m sure all Red Brick readers, have a more balanced view.

But, just to point out, there is no good reason why council’s should not be freer to build more housing. They have the will and many have the resources and at a time when we need as many new homes as possible, holding them back is perverse. It is also perverse to state a belief in localism and decentralisation and then not support elected councils to build the homes their communities need.

But, council housing will only ever be a small part of the overall housing system. About 16% of people live in social housing now and soon private renters will be more numerous. Despite a fall in those owning, it is still the largest tenure by far and the vast majority of people want to own their own home. Labour can’t have a housing policy that only focuses on social housing, even if a future government managed a significant expansion. It is both right and electorally necessary that Labour addresses the needs and wishes of as many as we can.

Pursuing more council housing and greater opportunities for people to own their home are not mutually exclusive.

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One Response to Labour’s knee-jerk reactions on housing

  1. Bernard Crofton says:

    I agree with you and most of McShane. As an aid to reinvigorating the economy, the policy is akin to Cameron’s credit card comment, when he told people to restrict economic activity in a recession.
    Counci-house buyers are even older than the average 1st time buyer (or they won’t get much discount) and they are generally on a higher income than average, especially per capita ( to stereotype: they buy when the kids are no longer dependant). Some of them would have contemplated buying on the open market . Getting them to stay put and exercise RTB doesn’t just take the house out of the future rental pool, it stops them buying one of the many thousands of part completed homes under construction. As a result the construction sector stays in the doldrums. And the homelss pool gets larger. Double whammy.
    There is an argument under “homes for all” for not resricting council estates to McShane’s list (asylum seekers, social cases and the homeless). This is neither the time nor place to use RTB discounts to do it. But then I was among the authors of the longest suicide note in history in 1983.

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