Undeterred by Red Brick’s comprehensive explanation of how the right wing think tank Policy Exchange failed to predict the deterioration in the government’s housing performance, and of its very limited success in prescribing policies that the government has been willing to pursue, its communications director Nick Faith is now urging the government to build ‘thousands of new, good quality homes – especially in northern, urban areas’.
His post on the Conservative Home site should bring cheer to Red Brick readers. He has a list of 32 marginals which the Tories need to target in the next election to get an overall majority. He shows that the majority of these are urban – and in many cases Midlands or Northern – seats, which makes ‘grim reading’ for Downing Street which is struggling to convince urban (and often ethnic minority) voters that government policies are working in their interests.
His first suggestion for tackling this is that David Cameron should make more visits to such places, but Nick Faith adds that he also needs a ‘narrative built around policy areas which seem authentic’ to its voters. One of the key areas is housing. Tory support runs higher among homeowners than among renters, although he says that ownership ‘transcends class divides’. He calls for thousands of homes to be built, and although he doesn’t say so specifically the implication is that these should be aimed at helping people get into homeownership who currently can’t. Construction on this scale would provide the Tories ‘with a strong message for those swing voters in the key, urban marginals. Not only that, it’s an issue that sounds authentic’.
Rather bizarrely, the post ends at that point. His readers might have expected Nick Faith to tell them how this house building boom is to be achieved. Or perhaps he thinks its only necessary to make convincing promises, not actually to build the houses? Certainly on the basis of current policies, which struggle to deliver 100,000 homes per year, his prescription falls flat on its face. As Nick Raynsford MP has just pointed out in his comprehensive analysis of the New Homes Bonus – one of the government’s key policies to stimulate house building – there is little evidence that it is pushing councils to give more planning permissions, and plenty of evidence that the NHB is promoting reuse of existing stock in many cases rather than new build.
In the last full year before the recession (2007) DCLG figures show there were 178,450 housing starts. Last year (2011) there were 98,240. The contrast is striking and voters are beginning to notice. The Tories have a dismal house building record, and changing the narrative won’t change the figures.