Jeremy Corbyn MP on Housing

London Labour Housing Group (LLHG): Housing Survey to all Labour Leadership and Deputy Leadership candidates

LLHG recently sent a questionnaire on 15 key housing policy issues to each of the four Labour Leadership Candidates and to each of the Deputy Leadership Candidates. We will publish the responses on Red Brick and on LLHG facebook page as they are received.

The first response comes from Jeremy Corbyn MP.

corbyn
LLHG: 1. Britain is only building half of the homes we need annually. What specific measures will you take to increase house building?

JC: The key is to get local authorities building again. In the post-war decades they used to build approximately half of our homes until they were prevented from doing so – and it was then that we saw the gap between supply and demand opening up and reach its current crisis. Through local councils, regional government in London, devolved administrations and the Homes and Communities Agency a structure already exists that can deliver a large-scale council house building programme. Public investment to make this happen is vital; and would be a social and economic win-win. For every £1 spent on housing construction an extra £2.09 is generated in the economy, and ensuring we have a supply of homes for social rent is the only way in the long run to keep the housing benefit bill down. Lifting the borrowing cap in the Housing Revenue Account would mean local authorities could borrow up to the prudential limits and thereby build more homes. Returning to having regional home building targets is needed to ensure homes are built in every area, so that our rural areas benefit from building social homes as well as our urban centres.

We also need to look at bringing in a Land Value Tax (especially on undeveloped land with planning permission) and other ‘use it or lose it’ measures to act as a strong deterrent against land banking.

LLHG 2. How would you reform the private rented sector to make it more stable and affordable for tenants? Do you support: a. a national register of landlords; b. some form of rent regulation?

JC: Yes, everyone should have a decent home that they can afford. It is currently the case that we have one of least regulated private-rented markets in Europe and spiralling housing costs.

Private landlords should be nationally registered and locally licensed, including a ‘fit and proper’ persons’ test, making sure that tenants’ rights are respected and ensuring that decent homes standards – such as minimum safety standards, and being damp and pest free – are adhered to in the private rental sector. Licensing and registration should be administered and enforced by the relevant local authority. Some London Labour councils have already done some positive work in this area with the powers currently available to them, and it has been effective in moving against some of the worst offender landlords.

Regulation of private rents should be linked to what determines whether something is affordable – average earnings levels and increases, not the local market rate for housing. We need this, alongside large-scale house-building, to stop the social cleansing of London and other major cities. We should cap rents not benefits.

LLHG 3. Will you support the proposal, backed by former Labour Housing Minister John Healey MP, that we should aim to build 100,000 homes a year for social rent?

JC: We should invest in a large scale house building programme. We should be aiming for at least 100,000 homes a year available for social rent. We need to build an additional 240,000 homes a year just to meet current demand – and we know we have a long waiting list for social homes. If we tackle our housing crisis it would help address health, education and other inequalities, strengthen local communities and naturally lead to a fall in Housing Benefit expenditure. The recent report by Capital Economics for SHOUT made the unequivocal economic and financial case for building 100,000 homes a year for social rent. We can and must be ambitious.

LLHG 4. Will you support the removal of the HRA borrowing cap, to allow councils to borrow prudentially for investment in housing?

JC: Yes.

LLHG 5. Do you agree that estate regeneration schemes should involve no net reduction in supply of social rented homes?

JC: Yes. Estate redevelopments have led to an increase in housing units overall, but as your question highlights, those available for social rent have fallen in almost all schemes. Recent research published by Unite highlighted a loss of 8,000 social rented homes already through such schemes in London alone. This, along with Right to Buy eroding our social housing stock, and the government’s plans to force councils to sell ‘high-value’ council homes on the open market when they become vacant, will effectively social cleanse whole areas of London and other cities. Estate redevelopments should instead be done for the benefit of existing and future residents, and local communities.

LLHG 6. Do you support the Right to Buy for council tenants and if so what reforms, if any, would you make to it? Do you support the extension of Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants?

JC: Right to Buy (RTB) has eroded our social housing stock, and directly contributed to the current housing crisis. If we are publicly investing in building much needed social housing then this shouldn’t be converted to private wealth – one-third of all council homes are now owned by private landlords. We need to maintain the public investment in council housing for future tenants. We used to have security of tenure for council home tenants, meaning that despite not owning the property it was very much their home – in many cases for life. We should return to that.

I will vote against extending RTB to housing association properties, and would favour ending RTB full stop.

LLHG 7. Will you sign up to LLHG, Unite and the GMB’s joint Our Homes Our London campaign against forcing councils to sell off properties in high values areas?

JC: Yes. It is important that all those who care about the future of social housing come together to oppose this policy. London needs mixed communities where low and medium paid workers can afford to live too.

LLHG 8. Do you support the Chancellor’s decision to cut social rents by 1% per year?

JC: Cutting social rents by 1% a year will undoubtedly help many with low incomes who are struggling to make ends meet. But I don’t believe that was the motivation for Osborne introducing this policy – otherwise he would impose such a regulation on the private rented sector too. It also is completely at odds with the government presumably continuing its policy of increasing rents for many new tenancies to so-called ‘affordable’ rents at up to 80% of the market rate. The Chancellor’s move is a crude attempt to say they have ‘cut’ Housing Benefit expenditure, and distract from the policy of asking those with household incomes of above £40,000 in London (£30,000 elsewhere) to pay market, or near market rents. This will have a devastating impact on people, particularly in London and other inner city areas – forcing people from their homes just for earning over a certain amount, or possibly giving people a perverse incentive not to earn more if they have the option. It will undoubtedly come at the cost of building more homes for social rent in the current climate. It does nothing to address the underlying cause of the housing crisis.

LLHG 9. Do you support policies to switch resources rapidly from meeting the benefit costs of high rents to investing in new homes at genuinely affordable rents?

JC: Yes. The majority of spending on housing in this country used to be investment in affordable housing – now the vast majority is spent on housing benefit. We need to reverse this by investing in a large scale council house building programme which will bring rents and therefore housing benefit down overall. This will require upfront investment in new affordable homes – and as the Capital Economics report set out, investment in assets that will reduce housing benefit expenditure in the future is likely to be welcomed by financial markets. . We also need to look at reducing the £14 billion tax breaks going to private landlords, and redirecting that to fund house-building.

LLHG 10. Do you agree that affordable housing definition should be based on households not spending more than 30% of net income on housing costs?

JC: Yes, this links housing costs to what determines if something actually is affordable – peoples’ incomes – rather than the wider market rates.

LLHG 11. Would you relax restrictions on building on the Green Belt?

JC: I would be very cautious about doing so. Developers will nearly always argue for the release of green belt land because it is easier for them compared to developing brownfield sites. But we don’t simply want our towns sprawling outwards with reliance on cars growing – and the green belt has prevented that to a certain extent. Any widespread relaxations would also risk inflating the land values of green belt sites, without careful planning requirements being set in place first.

LLHG 12. Would you reverse permitted development rights allowing offices, shops, and other employment spaces in dense urban areas to change asset class and be converted into flats without planning permission?

JC: Yes. By not needing planning permission there cannot be an assessment and provision for the wider facilities and infrastructure that communities need. In residential conversions this of course includes affordable housing. It also includes transport, education, health facilities, leisure centres, green spaces, community centres, libraries and entertainment – all the things that bring people together in local areas to create sustainable communities.

LLHG 13. How would you secure more affordable housing contributions from private developers through the planning system? How would you change the current approach to viability?

JC: Viability studies are being used by private developers to evade their responsibilities to build more affordable housing. Especially in London these developers and particularly landowners are making extremely large profits from the building and selling of properties. At the moment, local authorities are faced with a large imbalance of power and resources when faced with a private developer who is determined not to include affordable housing in their build. In London, there is a role I believe for the GLA to have a central resource that local councils can call on to support them when faced with a private developer wielding viability studies that say affordable housing renders a whole scheme ‘unviable’. This could include specialist support that is currently out of the reach of local councils.

LLHG 14. Would you support devolution to the Greater London Authority and city regions of control over: a. private rented sector regulation; b. Housing Association regulation; c. Right to Buy?

JC: As outlined above, I think that there needs to be a national framework for regulating our private rented sector, both landlords and rent, our Housing Associations and a national drive to increase house-building; council housing in particular. The implementation and enforcement of these schemes would then have to be done at city region and local council level. On Right to Buy, I think we should end it altogether but I recognise that there is very broad support for ending it as a mandatory right for tenants and instead for local authorities to be given the power to suspend or end Right to Buy in their local areas.

LLHG 15. Will you commit to restoring the previous Labour Government’s homelessness safety net for priority groups and to improving support for single homeless people?

JC: Yes. Rough sleeping has increased by 55% in England since 2010, and by 78% in London. Evictions of private tenants are also at record levels.

There is no excuse for anyone to be homeless in one of the richest countries in the world – and we should restore access to housing benefit for all adults.

 

About London Labour Housing Group

Labour Housing Group is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party. Formed in 1981 it represents Labour members interested in housing policy, developing ideas and proposals for inclusion in the Party’s programme at national and local level.

London Labour Housing Group was launched in January 2011 at a meeting at the House of Commons of 200 members of London Labour Party. It produced draft manifestos for the 2012 Mayoral election and the 2014 Borough elections, and worked with the Labour Party to campaign on housing issues during those elections. It has also contributed to a wide range of housing policy discussions including making a detailed submission to the national Labour Party’s review of housebuilding policy. In June it held a Housing Hustings for the Labour candidates to be London mayor, which was attended by 250 people.

LLHG can be followed @lhglondon and liked through our Facebook page. LLHG can be contacted via the Chair Tom Copley (Tom.Copley@london.gov.uk) or Secretary Steve Hilditch (Steve@hilditchonline.com).

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Mr Sad and Mr Angry

Don’t forget you can sign up to receive Red Brick posts by email – just add your email in the box on the right hand column. >>>>>>>>

It is hard to know whether to be sad or angry about the Chief Executive of Genesis Neil Hadden’s statement about the future of the association.

To recap, he told Inside Housing’s Pete Apps that the huge housing association will no longer provide affordable and social rented homes and that it will in future only build market and shared ownership homes. Even more shocking, it will review all of its existing general needs rented homes as they become vacant with a view to selling or changing tenure.

When I first went to work in Paddington, 43 years ago, Paddington Churches Housing Association (which amalgamated with others to form Genesis), along with its neighbour Notting Hill Housing Trust, was a beacon of enlightenment, working against terrible odds to bring housing relief to tenants living in the appalling slums of north Paddington and north Kensington, the home of Peter Rachman and his ilk. PCHA’s proud progress, from its formation in 1965, to a single home in 1966 (curiously, given its name, the first few properties were not in Paddington, but in the Queens Park area of Brent where I now live), to becoming a 33,000 home mega organisation, is recorded here.

As an independent charitable organisation, PCHA won the backing of both local Conservative and Labour politicians. Founded by remarkable local clergy it spoke proudly of its ‘Christian concern’ for the poor and homeless. Its first press release was headed: ‘Churches in Paddington form Housing Association to provide homes at low rent for needy Paddington families, irrespective of colour, race or creed.’ Sadly, somewhere along the line it lost its soul and forgot this mission.

Neil Hadden seeks to pin the blame on the Government, and, as we discussed on Red Brick last week, that is almost correct. Almost. He is right that the Government has no interest in providing genuinely affordable rented accommodation. It is only interested in market solutions, throwing money around in a vain attempt to revive home ownership and support private landlordism. And, nasty as they are, they are in turn trying to shuffle blame onto housing providers for failing to deliver enough homes. Inaccurate attacks on housing associations that seem to emanate from No 10 Downing Street have been very well refuted by several commentators, including Kevin Gulliver, Carl Brown, and Colin Wiles, who says that associations need a rebuttal team to defend themselves.

But it would be wrong to shift all the blame away from the big associations themselves. Large associations like Genesis and NHHT and others have been shifting their focus, as a matter of strategy, for many years. They have moved from providing social rented homes for homeless and badly housed people towards shared ownership and the intermediate market, then towards general market homes for sale or rent. The changing balance was the central struggle of my time as a Board member of NHHT in the 2000s, and maximising social rented provision was a big part of my pitch to become chair of Genesis in 2002. I failed in that bid, reaching the play offs against the distinguished winning candidate, Adrian Bell. I’m not sure what difference it would have made if I had done the job. The debate centred on pragmatic finance but what was changing underneath was the culture. Put slightly less than delicately, a brilliant developer who was a member of the NHHT board would say ‘Let’s make shed loads of money from market development, then we can spend it on what you want’. The problem was that the ‘developer’ mind-set took over, the board discussed little other than high finance and new schemes. And the money for social rented homes never seemed to come out at the other end.

By fingering the Tory Government and the associations themselves, I’m not allowing the Labour Government to get away scot-free. The continuous squeeze on grant, chasing what seemed like a good objective of getting more output for the money put in, pushed associations along the road of being more commercial, looking to make surpluses from other activities to make up for lost subsidy.

Realising where it would lead, some associations kicked up a fuss and retained their commitment to meeting the needs of homeless and badly-housed people. They deserve great credit for keeping to their principles against the odds. Pete Apps quotes Tony Stacey, chief executive of South Yorkshire Housing Association and chair of Placeshapers, who responded to Neil Hadden by saying: ‘It depends what you’re about as an organisation, and it depends on your ethics as an organisation’. That is exactly it.

Over the years, and not just recently, some of the big players gave the clear impression that they didn’t want to have to deal with the difficulties posed by building and managing social rented housing with very fine margins. Nor did they want to deal with the issues that emerge from crass poverty. I learned that the flowery language around their concept of ‘mixed communities’ really just meant having fewer social rented tenants and more home owners. Much nicer to spend your time in exciting meetings in the City, doing big land deals, juggling hundreds of millions of pounds, playing with gleaming models of shiny new developments, complaining about councils dumping difficult families through nominations, and telling the world that housing associations should cater for ‘aspiring people’.

Far from being victims pushed out forcibly into the cold commercial world by the decisions of Governments, they were instrumental in creating the policies we now suffer from. Just looking at the two associations mentioned so far, Kate Davies of Notting Hill was influential in the development of Tory policy before the 2010 election through the Localis and Centre for Social Justice think tanks, which proposed the core set of policies that have been pursued in Government. Neil Hadden worked with Policy Exchange on last year’s ‘freedoms’ report.

For years some of the larger associations have been angling for a trade-off between reducing the requirement for grant and something they like to call ‘freedoms’ – to do what they like, to be fully commercial, to set their own rents, to select their own tenants, to set the terms of their own tenancies. One response to the recent rent cut has been for some associations to look to deregister as social landlords, another destination some have been preparing for.

One argument that has emerged from amongst associations is that councils should be given a new lease of life so that they can be responsible for meeting housing need whilst  housing associations concentrate on providing market-related homes in the middle ground. Some have sold homes on the open market and ‘converted’ homes from low rents to high rents – well beyond what is required by funders – to get more money for development. Some support the right to buy for the same reason.

Although not just a London issue, there is an opportunity for a new London mayor to get tough. My angry self will argue that associations that have lost interest in meeting housing need should not get a penny in grant. They should be banned from selling, or converting to a different form of tenancy, any home provided with public grant. If they want to play developer, let them go off and do it properly without public support. My sad self would prefer the mayor to do a full audit of the activities of big associations and require them to focus on meeting housing needs again. There should be a full review of board membership – I am not against people with private sector skills being involved but they should be properly balanced with people who know something about social housing  and housing need, including tenants and residents. I would also support the mayor becoming responsible for the regulation as well as the financing of housing associations.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Crumbs from the tables of the rich

The Guardian’s Dave Hill is an astute commentator on the London scene, and chaired the London Labour Housing Group’s mayoral housing hustings with aplomb. Recently he has  written a couple of challenging (indeed provocative) pieces about Labour politicians and London development – here and here.

His central point is that we should stop and think before condemning the investment of billions of pounds in London property by rich foreigners. Dave likes a good argument, so he pulls no punches: ‘No spectacle of pious impotence is more complete than that of London’s Labour politicians railing against the global super rich. Their indignation about the power of City privilege, Mayfair billionaires and “rich foreign investors” buying “off plan” property from marketing suites in Hong Kong is dwarfed by their helplessness in the face of it.’

He argues that denouncing ‘Monopoly board London’ raises a cheer but ignores the fact that ‘without the flow of filthy lucre down the Thames much of their vision for the city will disappear into a funding gap that nothing else will fill.’  His dismissal of the Labour mayoral candidates’ ‘wish lists’ is based on his very pragmatic view that ‘politicians and planners must increasingly turn to private finance to pay for the things the public purse will not.’ He points to the evidence that one third of new affordable homes come from planning gain created by commercial development, often funded by off-plan sales abroad. Things shouldn’t be this way, he says, but this process is ‘one of the most fruitful proxies for a tax’. His challenge: do we want some extra sub-market homes, new transport infrastructure, or don’t we?

Of course Dave is right that many of the candidates’ ‘wish list’ items won’t come to pass because this Government is wholly opposed to them. It is, after all, only interested in devolution on its own terms. But I think he misses several big points.

First, some London boroughs achieve much more than others because they have the policies and determination to get more out of the system. It follows that more boroughs could also get more, and the total benefit would rise.

Secondly, some boroughs, Islington particularly, do manage to use their planning powers to get developers to behave in a more enlightened way. It is possible to negotiate away ‘poor doors’, it is possible to get new properties sold locally first, it is possible to get some homes at social rent and not just the so-called ‘affordable rent’ which often isn’t affordable at all. But, crucially, you have to want to do it, and some boroughs don’t.

Thirdly, ‘viability assessments’, the device used by developers to reduce their planning obligations (encouraged by Government and the current (alleged) mayor), can be much more effectively challenged and they can be made transparent and open for public scrutiny. Developers are making a mint on sites all over London, especially towards the centre, and it’s a farce for them to be saying a bit more planning gain makes their schemes unviable. But they will always try, it is the responsibility of public authorities to get a better deal for the community.

Linked to that point, fourthly, the recession is now over. Planning obligations were supposedly reduced to ancourage developers to keep developing despite the straightened times. If there is growth and expanding profits, it is reasonable to expect more.

Fifthly, it is vital that the Labour candidates set out their stall on policies like this. The winner has a very good chance of becoming mayor next year. They will be able to start implementing a raft of new policies that will make a difference. Johnson has rolled over for the developers and a new mayor with a different attitude will be able to achieve much more. It is not all about wish lists that will not be achievable: there are specific devolved powers that the mayor controls. In my view developers will be able and willing to pay a larger price – and they will still make lots of money.

Sixthly, the new mayor will control budgets as well as policy, including the (admittedly small) housing investment programme. This can be reprioritised to achieve more social rent, and the mayor will be able to push London’s housing associations into producing more homes for people on low incomes. Especially on public land, housing association-led development should be producing a much better result for the community.

Of course there are issues, like controlling or taxing foreign investment or taxing ‘buy to leave’ properties or penalising unreasonable land banking, that depend on Government action, and this Government is disinclined to interfere in the market. But a shift in policy is more likely if there is a Labour mayor making the case strongly, backed by Londoners. Since Dave wrote his articles, even David Cameron has expressed distaste for the dodgy provenance of some of the foreign money coming into London property and indicates support for the proposals of Transparency International. Having made this first good step, the Prime Minister could be pushed into more dynamic policies by an effective mayor.

Councils like Islington have already shown that it is possible to do much more and to achieve much more for Londoners. Of course you can’t reverse the flow of international capital but you can mitigate some of its worst effects. That’s why the mayoral race is so important.

It is also reasonable for candidates to make comment on trends and activities in London that they may not be able to directly control but can influence. It is called debate and it is important that the public in London knows what is going on and how it impacts on them.

And never forget that grabbing a few crumbs off the tables of the rich might be (just) worth doing for the moment, but trickle down will never solve the housing crisis.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So housing associations are the ‘true villains’ of the property crisis, are they?

There is much that Red Brick would criticise about housing associations – their acceptance of higher (‘affordable’) rents and low grant rates would come top of the list. But the sweeping attack they have been subjected to this week is really an attack on social housing as a whole.

The pieces in the Spectator and The Times both launch into the inflated salaries which are paid to some of the sector’s chief executives, and Red Brick is certainly not going to defend those (although notes in passing that public and social sector salaries get far more scrutiny than those in private firms). But the Spectator in particular accuses associations of being the main cause of our housing problems: that compared to the private sector they are failing to build, they are over-provided with grant and even so are building more expensively than private developers. In short, it is associations, not the private sector or the government, who have ‘no answer’ to the housing crisis.

Inside Housing has already done a fact check of the Spectator piece and there is no need here to list all the things it gets wrong. Apart from their misuse of statistics, the magazine’s language in deriding social housing is what stands out. Housing associations are supposedly ‘managing the remnants of social housing left behind after Mrs Thatcher’. Their stock is really ‘a pile of ex-council houses given to them on a plate and which were once managed by a clerk of works and a team of rent-collectors on no more than £30,000 a year’. As well as being based on a fundamental misunderstanding about where housing association stock comes from (only around half is from transfers), the Spectator clearly has an even lower opinion of council housing than it does of associations.

Let’s be clear that these attacks are all part of a softening up process in which social housing is recast as a contributor to the housing crisis rather than part of its solution. Why throw more money at housing associations when they are incompetent in comparison with the private sector? Why maintain council housing when both the people who run it and those living in it are beneath contempt? In the world inhabited by those who write for the Spectator and The Times, it’s assumed that all sensible people want to be home owners, and social housing is just getting in their way. Sell it off as quickly as possible and perhaps the stalled growth in owner-occupation, which is the real housing problem the country is facing, will be put back on track.

In quick succession the government has presented us with the breaking of a ‘ten-year’ commitment on social housing rents, a simultaneous breach of the three-year old settlement of council housing finances, the extension of right to buy to associations, enforced sales of high-value council houses, a plan to penalise tenants on modestly decent salaries if they don’t move out, and yet another threat to secure tenancies.

Insiders are making clear (if it wasn’t in any case obvious) that this is all part of a deliberate plan. This government is only interested in home ownership and doesn’t give a stuff about tenants, whichever sector they are in. Within this overall perspective, its attitude to housing associations is not unlike its approach to the BBC: like the Corporation, associations are difficult to get rid of, but by cutting their income and having them ridiculed in the right-wing press we can persuade them to sing from our song sheet, or else… . The message is: kick up a fuss about right to buy, especially if you challenge the legislation in the courts, and you’ll see what happens next. Already the DCLG has been told to reappraise its spending programmes to concentrate far more on promoting home ownership: how long before there is an announcement that the Affordable Homes Programme’s rental output is to be suspended?

Even this government will find it difficult to eradicate social housing by 2020, but we can already see that what happened to council housing in the 1980s is being dished up again, with a few differences, for what the Spectator calls the ‘remnants’ of the sector. Investment cuts, enforced sales, jeopardised business plans, falling credit ratings and – of course – lampooning of chief executives, are all on the menu. People who live in social housing will be branded even more as failures than they have been so far and, of course, by implication those who work in the sector (the ‘clerks’ and ‘rent collectors’) will be seen as losers too. How soon before Cameron dusts off the plans he started to form under the coalition, to reintroduce the disastrous and totally ineffective ‘compulsory competitive tendering’ for housing management that Margaret Thatcher tried and failed to implement?

This week it was confirmed that, because of his new policies, the Chancellor is faced with the threat that housing association borrowing might be brought into the public sector. Having £60 billion added to the national debt will be mightily inconvenient. But, if it happens, won’t the quid pro quo be even more severe attacks on housing associations? Won’t they get the blame (rather than Osborne) for having the temerity to disrupt the government’s ‘long-term economic plan,’ and be made to pay the price for their insouciance?

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The debasement of political language, or why Tony Blair 2015 would attack Tony Blair 1997 for being too left wing

I hadn’t planned to use Red Brick – a housing blog – to push my views on the Labour leadership contest, but I’ve been riled, like so many other people.

Meanwhile, the Tories are up to a lot of no good on housing, so normal service will be resumed shortly.

I suspect the entry of Tony Blair into the Leadership selection debate will have the same net effect as his entry into the General Election campaign. Not much. A few sparks flew but it wasn’t very edifying to see Blair, John Prescott and Alan Milburn all on the lunchtime news. The appearance of Blair always stirs passion, both for and against, but he seemed to me to be offering a caricature of himself.

And, as I argue below, I suspect Tony Blair 2015 would attack Tony Blair 1997 for being too left wing.

My point is about the debasement of the political language and especially what should be regarded as being ‘left wing’. It started during the election when Ed Miliband was constantly described as being ‘left wing’. This was mainly by Tories, but it was also said on the quiet by some in his own Party. The evidence was always flimsy. His views were moderate, his policies careful. His support for future cuts and a measure of continuing austerity told me he was not a man of the left. But he was a decent and sincere man who was traduced by the media during the election and by too many people in the Labour Party since.

The political language has been getting steadily worse, driven by the media. Leaving aside the silliness – ‘you’re a Tory’ matched by ‘you’re a Trot’ – all the coverage today has been about how ‘left wing’ Labour has become. This is largely because it has dared to let Jeremy Corbyn speak.

Corbyn’s appeal is that he says things clearly and people are quite surprised when they find they agree with him on many of them. Most of what he says – anti-austerity, building council houses, against privatisation, even rail nationalisation – is well supported by the public and could have been policy for a braver Labour Party. Of course he is on more controversial ground on things like Trident and the Middle East, but the attacks on him over talking to Hamas and defending some aspects of Cuba are politically cheap, as are the frequent innuendo references to Mao, Lenin and Trotsky. My own suspicion is that Jeremy would not make a comfortable or a successful Labour Leader, but mainly because his personal qualities and skill-set do not seem cut out for the role. But he has invigorated political debate: we should stop the talk of splits and relish the creative debate.

George Osborne likes to play the political chameleon, but strip away the ever helpful media and he is the same old lizard. Supposedly he has made a grab for the centre ground but he is clearly more reactionary than Thatcher in economic policy. Labour fell for his challenge on the deficit and now on welfare reform, these were errors. Much of the shadow cabinet and quite a few MPs clearly feel it is necessary to move closer to him ‘to get where the public are’. Rather than rewarding Labour’s responsibility, people see only ambiguity. Corbyn is right on these points, and if he drags Cooper and Burnham with him then that is a good thing.

Osborne’s games apart, what intrigues me is how far the political spectrum has moved to the right over the past few years. In economics, the Labour left is more moderate, indeed Keynesian, the Labour right is more free market than ever, the Tories are off with Hayek. Osborne’s view of the middle ground is that the rich should be encouraged to work harder by making them richer, the poor should be encouraged to work harder by making them poorer.

Anyway, back to my theory that Tony Blair 2015 would accuse Tony Blair 1997 of being too left wing. My evidence is the 1997 Manifesto, which included commitments to:

• Increase real terms spending on education, including cutting class sizes to 30, nursery places for all 4 year olds.
• Increase real terms spending on health, to achieve 100K off hospital waiting lists and an end to waiting for cancer surgery. Plus an end to the internal market and no privatisation of clinical services.
• A huge new spending programme (mainly through PFI) to transform the quality of hospitals and school buildings.
• A 10p starting rate of tax, a cut in VAT on fuel to 5%. A fiscal Golden Rule – only borrow to invest over the cycle, balance current spending (Jeremy Corbyn’s current position).
• A windfall levy on privatised utilities and a National Minimum Wage.
• Retention of universal child benefit for all under 16, start of tax credits.
• An ambitious programme of constitutional change – end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, devolution to Scotland and Wales, and to London, referendums on regional assemblies.
• Sign the social chapter and incorporate ECHR into British Law.
• Retain Trident and commit to 0.7% of GDP on international aid.

Trying not to forget that this is primarily a housing blog, the 1997 Manifesto was different to the 2015 one, but not in terms of its leftness or otherwise. In 1997 Labour offered support for home owners facing mortgage arrears and negative equity and action against gazumping. In social housing, capital receipts from sales would be re-invested in building new houses and rehabilitating old ones. And a commitment on privatisation here too: ‘we oppose the government’s threat to hand over council housing to private landlords without the consent of tenants and with no guarantees on rents or security of tenure’.

Private tenants living in houses in multiple occupation were to receive greater protection and there would be a proper system of licensing by local authorities. There were strong statements on homelessness, including the restoration of safety net rights and tackling street homelessness. And things for oft-forgotten leaseholders: easier purchase of freeholds and the introduction of ‘commonhold’.

I rehearse this information not to review what was achieved but to offer a contrast: it is striking that this was not a more right wing Manifesto than 2015. If anything, Tony Blair’s ground-breaking commitments on minimum wage and international development, the rebuilding programmes for schools and hospitals, and the tax changes, were significantly  more left wing and radical than the 2015 Manifesto or anything that Ed Miliband said. It is the political context that has changed.

So let’s have the debate. Let’s get out of the sound bite hustings format that the media love. Let’s talk real policy not generalisations. Let the big historic figures get on with enriching themselves and leave us alone. And let’s drop the simplistic language that only serves to confuse.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The medium is the message*

Labour is being given the runaround by the Tories and their friends in the media again, and too many people in the Party are complicit. The scale of the election defeat is described in hyperbolic terms but without any real analysis. Curiously, the language is similar to that used to describe the Tories not so long ago, consigned to the dustbin of history, become a rump. I wonder what happened to them?

Some people are trying to exploit the election result to shift the party much closer to the Tories. This is exemplified by the so-called ‘existential crisis’ report from Alan Barnard and John Braggins which was hyped, to no-one’s surprise, by the Guardian. Based on a few focus groups in marginal seats (called ‘research’ by some newspapers), the main reasons given for voters abandoning Labour were that the party: were unconvincing on economic credibility; weren’t serious about welfare reform; shouldn’t have been led by Ed Miliband; had no offer to those who wanted to get on in life; were too soft on immigration; and were too influenced by trade union leaders. There really was no need to go to all the effort. I could have predicted what they would find because focus groups have the habit of confirming the hypotheses of those who conduct them. Rather more convincing academic work since the election has pointed in a different direction for the primary reason for defeat – Scotland – and to the Tories’ clever exploitation of English voters’ fears of the SNP.

But if we accept that the focus groups represent what some people thought, the deeper question that must be addressed is why. In my view none of the assertions about Labour are true, so why do people think they are? The Tories had, and still have, control of the narrative, and we won’t win it back by copying them on the deficit or welfare reform.

Real opinion research, for example the IPSOS Mori survey for the Power of Perception by the Royal Statistical Society, reviewed here on Red Brick, showed how out of kilter public opinion is with the real facts. For example, nearly one in three people think more is spent on jobseekers allowance than pensions (in fact it’s £5bn versus £74bn). The public thinks 24% of benefit money is claimed fraudulently (in reality 0.7%). People think teenage pregnancy is 25 times more common than it actually is (15% of girls under 16 get pregnant each year, reality 0.6%). People think 31% of the population are immigrants, in reality it’s 13%.

The public is misinformed and misled on a huge scale and inevitably some adopt the views delivered to them by the media, which falls in line with the Tories at election times. Headlines feed bigotry and prejudice and offer up people to blame for all our woes. The effect is worse if the same falsehoods, especially about people on ‘welfare’, are repeated by Labour figures. People say the Party should ‘get where the public is’ but this denies the whole concept of leadership.

The media preferred David, but they really went for Ed after Leveson. Drip, drip, drip over many years. The bacon sandwich incident was repeated ad nauseam while equally unpleasant pictures of Cameron and Farage failing to eat delicately were ignored. Miliband simply would not have survived leaving his child in the pub. And then we get on to policy.

The notion that Ed Miliband was ‘too left wing’ defies credulity. Blair in 1997 would have been denounced as left wing in today’s climate. Miliband espoused tighter regulation, a bit more tax in the mix to reduce the deficit, being less draconian on benefits. The claim that he failed to appeal to ‘aspirational’ people doesn’t hold much water either: key policies like tuition fees and first time buyers did exactly that, but gained no traction.

The media hostility is also apparent in relation to the Labour Leadership contest. Forget for a moment who we each support: the contest itself is condemned as uninspiring and the candidates deemed to be of poor calibre. The contest then becomes part of Labour’s crisis not an answer to it. We forget how weak the last Tory leadership contenders were at the time – and now Cameron seems invincible. The leadership campaign is deadened by an appalling media (just how much does Liz Kendal weigh?, are all Jeremy Corbyn’s jackets beige and bought in the 1980s?), the wild exaggeration of anything the candidates say that is original at the same as they are criticised for being bland, and the constant hustings format of having to answer everything in 30 seconds, with Andrew Neil’s questions longer than the answers. The high spot so far was Corbyn’s angry response to Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s stupid questioning on Channel 4 News – more politicians should get annoyed with more journalists. We should stand up for our good democratic process and the quality of our people. Away from the glare, the London mayoral selection is a much better and free-flowing debate about real issues.

Andrew Rawnsley’s article on Jeremy Corbyn last weekend was an appalling hatchet job, not just on Corbyn but on the Party, from a supposedly high quality journalist. The names of Trotsky and Lenin are dropped in, the inference is clear. After all these years, Rawnsley has found a red under the bed. And like Joseph McCarthy, his opinions are untroubled by the truth. Worst of all, he makes no attempt to understand why Corbyn’s arguments are attractive to many in the Party – including many people who are not at all left wing and won’t vote for him in the end.

The truth is that Jeremy Corbyn is gaining support because he articulates views that many of us in the Labour Party, and many people in the country, share. Only in a world that has swung so far to the right that Ayn Rand would be denounced as a liberal can these views be seen to be extreme. Austerity is economic illiteracy. The poor are being forced to pay for the bankers’ crisis, in the UK and in Greece. We should build many more houses that people can afford to live in, and sell less to rich foreigners. It is wise to borrow for investment and to keep current spending in balance. We shouldn’t bomb people without a political strategy and hope they will like us. You don’t resolve conflicts without talking to the enemy at some point. Trident is a huge waste of money. So is HS2. So is Boris’s bridge. The level of inequality is gross, and inefficient. Corporations should pay tax. People should have rights at work. Children should not grow up in poverty. We should celebrate the Labour Government’s many achievements but temper that by admitting there were not enough of them, and there were a few terrible errors. Far from causing the recession, Gordon Brown saved the global financial system and the British banks. The country was growing before Osborne’s stupid austerity squeezed the life out of the economy.

These views are all mainstream. Agree or not, they are all withn the bounds of reason. Yet apparently they make Labour unelectable. It’s not the policies, it’s the narrative and the medium through which information goes to the public. Like most Labour people I want rid of the Tories and would compromise on almost everything to achieve that. Whoever wins I will try to get them elected. But we mustn’t let the media run the selection process like they ran the election. Because they will keep on attacking Labour until we are no longer a threat to their interests.

*’The medium is the message’ was coined by Marshall McLuhan in 1964. He argued that the medium strongly influences how the message is perceived.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tenant activists show they are the real ‘Big Society’

It was my pleasure this week to attend the TPAS awards event at Chesford Grange in Warwickshire. It was my job to introduce a new award, the Richard Crossley award for excellence in community action. Regular readers, and many others who have worked in housing over the past few decades, will know of Richard’s work for tenants and neighbourhoods in a forty year career which ended with his untimely death last year. My blog on Richard’s life can be found here.

I think attendance at events like this should be compulsory for those who have a prejudicial or even hostile view of social housing. The Chancellor seems to think it’s for losers. Some seem to see it as part of ‘welfare dependency’ whatever that is. I suspect IDS thinks social tenants should be flogged for existing. Many Tories think social housing is anti-aspirational and regrettably some in the Labour Party seem to concur. The media only ever presents a negative story, constantly referring to ghettoes and sink estates and other unsavoury things.

But the TPAS awards show the great and largely unreported side of social housing. TPAS is inundated with brilliant applications from projects all over the country, all involving social tenants who aspire for their communities and believe in supporting their neighbours. And the sponsors, some of them large corporations, seem delighted to be associated with it all.

Embedded image permalink

TV & radio presenter Mike Shaft compered the event

So many of the projects on display deserve national attention. Most have little funding and are dependent entirely on volunteers and the support of their landlord. A group of 16-19 year olds organising an anti-knife crime campaign; tenants helping other tenants to get online – digital inclusion leading to social inclusion. Tenants training themselves to become their own landlords’ scrutineers, helping improve delivery for all. Tenants raising awareness in communities about mental health issues, overcoming ignorance and prejudice.

richard july 20131 The winner of the Richard Crossley award was the Eastlands Homes Literacy Beacons Project, which has changed the lives of more than 70 tenants in East Manchester helping individuals with poor literacy skills learn to read and write and build their confidence, going on to further training or employment.

‘Tenant of the Year’ was Marjorie Marsden of Wigan and Leigh Homes, for her long term commitment to improving peoples’ homes.

And the star of the show was probably ‘Young Tenant of the Year’ Jessica Andrade of Cottsway Housing Association, who represents the views of young people to the landlord. At 14 years old, her contribution is extraordinary and her interview with host and compere Mike Shaft was knowledgeable, confident and assured.

Jessica Andrade

TPAS uses the national awards final event to raise funds for charities. This year it supported Shelter but also the Khiraule Education and Health project in north Nepal. Richard fundraised for the latter following his trekking trip to Nepal in 2012.

I went to this awards final to honour my friend and came away inspired by so many tenants doing so many great things in their communities with very little money and virtually no recognition. They are the real ‘Big Society’.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Tory message on social housing: it’s for ‘losers’

Social housing is ‘subsidised’ to the tune of £13 billion annually said George Osborne in his Budget. So ‘it’s time to act’ on the higher earners who use these taxpayer-funded subsidies. In the Guardian, Zoe Williams says that his message is that the state is for losers. In the Sun, Osborne retorts that it’s a simple matter of fairness.

Let’s deal first with the dubious claim that social housing costs the taxpayer £13 billions per year. This calculation is based on social rents being on average £3,500 below market rent levels. But calling this a subsidy is to assume that it would make economic sense to raise rents to market levels. Not only would much of the saving be absorbed by increased housing benefits, but there would be a severe work disincentive effect. In other words, the potential savings are fictional. That this is obvious is clear from another Budget measure, to bring down social rents by one per cent per year. On the same logic as the ‘subsidy’ calculation, this should require even more tax-payer subsidy. But it turns out that the Office for Budget Responsibility thinks this will save money: indeed it will be ‘the largest single measure’ in savings in the housing benefit budget apart from the overall benefits freeze. What it will do, of course, is deter social landlords from building, but perhaps we are meant to be grateful that the threat of even more ‘tax-payer subsidised housing’ has been successfully thwarted by the Chancellor.

The pay-to-stay measure has another particularly nasty twist: while housing associations will be able to keep any extra income they collect, councils will have to pay it to the Treasury. While this may well be chicken feed, along with the enforced sale of high-value properties it is yet another way in which councils are being undermined. It adds a tenth point to my recent list of government threats to social housing. Indeed, it also directly undercuts Grant Shapps’ council housing finance reforms of three years ago, when he promised in Inside Housing that from now on council housing would cease to be controlled by central government, and that councils would have the freedom to make local decisions and no longer have to ‘pay their council house rents to Whitehall’. Even the coalition’s official announcement on self-financing said that ‘councils are best placed to make decisions about how they spend money they raise locally’. Can promises made while in coalition now be broken with impunity by the new government?

But Zoe Williams puts in the wider domain a thought which must preoccupy all those who support SHOUT’s campaign for social housing: that the government’s aim is to whittle away at the sector until only a rump remains, fit only for ‘losers’. Under this scenario, better housing association property will be let at near-market rents to those who are earning half-decent incomes, but council housing that hasn’t been sold off will be let at low rents aimed at those who will never learn their lessons from Iain Duncan Smith on how to stop being feckless.

One respected housing policy commentator said immediately on hearing Osborne’s proposals that if we were going to adopt means-testing for social housing, the logical next step would for rents to be set as a percentage of incomes as in Canada and other countries where social housing is a residual sector. He added: ‘…which is also where we now look to be heading’.

In a prescient article on the role of social housing back in 2008, Mark Stephens described it as providing a ‘safety net’ in England rather than having the wider ‘affordability’ role that it has in several Northern European countries. While many housing professionals wanted social housing to cater for a broader range of income groups, the threat was a move in the opposite direction, to provide only an ‘ambulance service’. As he pointed out, in several English-speaking countries (USA, Canada, Australia and the Republic of Ireland) the social sector is much smaller as a proportion of the stock, is specifically aimed at low-income families (often with some degree of means-testing) and may even cater especially for those with support needs (e.g. what the Tory government calls ‘troubled families’). As the name suggests, the aim of an ambulance service is to move the patient on as quickly as possible, in this case into the private sector. Of course in England such an aim is undermined by so-called ‘lifetime’ tenancies, which is why another of Osborne’s proposals is to look into how they can be scrapped.

When pay-to-stay was originally proposed there was an excellent analysis of its effects by the Swindon Tenants Campaign Group. They called it a ‘petty and stupid proposal’ which would turn social housing into a tenure ‘only for the poor’. Tenants don’t want this, nor do councils or housing associations. Creating a totally false label that it is ‘tax-payer subsidised housing’ when other housing sectors are all subsidised is not accidental, it is a deliberate step towards reducing social housing to the ‘ambulance service’ that Mark Stephens warned us about. If less than a month ago it looked like social housing as we know it might be faced with either a slow death or a killer blow, after July 8 the prognosis looks even worse.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Osborne unveils the National Living Nightmare

Comedian Mark Steel (@mrmarksteel) tweeted earlier:
I’d prefer today if Andy Murray decided the budget, Alastair Cook was playing at Wimbledon, and George Osborne was facing Mitchell Johnson.

Well, a fast bouncer at Osborne feels better for Britain than the other two.

The common features of Osborne’s budgets are that there are a couple of surprises, rabbits out of the hat as the commentators like to call them, and an awful lot of spin around some clever or even stolen phrases (today Living Wage). Oh, I forgot – the other feature is that the poor always get stuffed. Appearing to give with one hand, stealing with the other, the real story is normally hidden in the detail, in un-highlighted lines in the Red Book.

Osborne is the political equivalent of that old saying, ‘the louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted the spoons’. The more Osborne talks about home ownership, the faster it falls. The more he spouts about aspiration, the fewer the people who can afford to buy. Huge sums are sprayed around the housing economy backing ever more hopeless attempts to countermand the basic fact that house values are so high that buying is unaffordable. It’s a fools errand to constantly back schemes that put prices up and make matters worse.

Just as in 2012, when Osborne ended his drive against the deficit in favour of the drive towards election victory, he has abandoned his deficit target as explained during the election campaign. He plays a curious game with the word ‘afford’. Evidently we simply cannot afford student grants, but we can afford an inheritance tax break for the 5% of estates that will benefit. We can afford to raise the threshold for the higher rate of tax but we can’t afford to pay housing benefit to 18-21 year olds. How can that be?

The word housing appeared frequently in this budget, and throughout the Red Book. There are a lot of detailed housing measures, but they are random and increasingly divorced from any notion of a housing strategy designed to ensure that the people are adequately housed.

Budgets are often described as being ‘like the curate’s egg, good in parts’. So where are the good bits? The restriction on ‘buy to let’ mortgages is probably the most sensible move they have made. Not only is this an increasingly expensive tax break – costing more than twice the total affordable housing budget – but it enables buy-to-letters to out-compete home owners trying to get into the market. He could have gone much further but restricting mortgage relief to the standard rate is a good first step towards redressing the balance of power in the market. It will be saving £665m a year by the end of the Parliament. Raising the ‘rent-a-room’ tax relief is also a good step, and only costs £15m by 2020/21 – it has been frozen for many years and could make a bigger contribution to ensuring that people have somewhere to stay.

The rest of the egg is rotten. Having spent 5 years forcing social housing rents up, now he is forcing them down, by 1% a year, ripping up the so-called ten year rent settlement of CPI+1%, apparently with no consultation and no care for the impact. Unbelievably, Osborne complains that social rents having been going up too fast because evidently there is a ‘ratchet’ of ever higher housing benefit chasing ever higher rents in social housing. It is worth noting that the Government controls all the elements of the ratchet. The ‘saving’ comes to a massive £1.45Bn by 2020/21, but that is money that will be lost to the housing system. David Orr of the NHF says this one measure will cost some 27,000 homes that now won’t be built.

One sour note for the Chancellor is that the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that their interference in the housing association sector, with the 1% rent cut on top of the right to buy extension, brings them closer to being classified as public sector organisations, which would at a stroke bring £60 bn on to the national debt.

The slow march to the gallows for social housing continues. The Government will review ‘lifetime tenancies’ (there is of course no such thing, what they mean is end security of tenure and impose time limited tenancies). The bureaucratic nightmare of ‘Pay to Stay’ is extended so people earning over £30K (£40K in London) will have to pay market rents. Market rents are of course, not affordable to anyone on those salaries in higher rent areas. The Government says it is wrong for these people to be ‘subsidised through social rents’. Their ignorance knows no bounds. No doubt the plan is that many of those who are threatened by market rents will exercise the right to buy, immediately attracting a subsidy of up to £103K. It’s simple: punish those that want to be tenants, massively reward the same people if they choose to buy the same property. And what’s worse, the money recovered by councils will be returned to the Exchequer for deficit reduction. So much for ring fenced housing revenue accounts, and so much for council house building. Housing associations, for no apparent reason, will keep what they save and be able to invest it. Pay to Stay is estimated to be worth £240 m by 2020/21 – given the difficulties in the scheme, that is a pipe dream.

The worst news is within the benefits system. In addition to the wider issue of the heavily reduced benefits cap, and the freezing of some benefit levels, from 2017 there will be no automatic right to housing support for 18-21 year olds who are out of work. There will be exceptions, supposedly for vulnerable people, but the position of people with children is not even mentioned. The likely outcome, as everyone working in the field knows, will be much higher homelessness.

The restriction to two children within tax credits will also apply to housing benefit from 2017, and the ‘family premium’ will be ended from 2016, so make sure you don’t have a third child. I suppose it’s really a family planning policy.

Private tenants and home owners get to share in the pain (no mention here of private rents going up too fast and causing pressure on housing benefit). Local Housing Allowance levels will be frozen for 4 years, creating an ever wider gap between rent and benefit received. Unemployed home owners who qualify for mortgage interest payments will in future only get a loan (but not to worry, if you get through that, you can pass a more valuable home on without paying inheritance tax).

The huge changes in benefits will hit both those who are unable to work and many of those who are in work but on low incomes. All the changes make it harder for people to meet their housing costs. Like bedroom tax, they will be forced to find cheaper accommodation (where? we ask), to meet the difference from their other income, or to become homeless. It’s an appalling choice. Getting a job is the best way out of poverty, they always say. Well, it’s not.

On second thoughts, perhaps Mitchell Johnson isn’t enough for George Osborne. I think I’d prefer to see him up against Tyson Fury.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

London LHG Housing Hustings: Tackling the Big Issues

A packed audience at the University of Westminster last night heard a passionate and knowledgeable debate about housing in the capital between all six potential Labour mayoral candidates.

gareththomasGareth Thomas addresses the packed Housing Hustings

diane abbottDiane Abbott talks to the media as she arrives

sadiqkhan2christian wolmartessa jowelldavid lammy

Left to right: Sadiq Khan, Christian Wolmar, Tessa Jowell, David Lammy.

The overall quality of the mayoral debate is significantly higher than the Leadership debate – which is being fought in the full glare of the media, with virtually all the press just waiting for opportunities to denounce whoever becomes the winning candidate, and start the ‘destroy Miliband’ operation all over again on a new person. Caution rules.

The London debate, by contrast, is largely being fought in the glare of the membership (and supportership, if there is such a word). The 250 people present last night knew their stuff, got right to the key issues, and took no rubbish. They didn’t want daft or unrealistic policies, or high blown rhetoric, but they absolutely wanted radical and practical policies that would tackle the real problems London has.

Someone tweeted that there was little focus on private renting given how many Londoners now rely on the sector: there was little disagreement and therefore nothing to argue about. All six had stories about bad landlords and Tessa described the appalling overcrowding she saw in a home in Newham. There was universal support for measures to restrain rents, to license landlords, to get tough on landlords who operate outside the law, and to either legislate against rip-off lettings agents or to set up non-profit alternatives. They all understood what could be done within the existing powers and what would need to be campaigned for. Christian was blunt: ‘The private rented sector is here to stay. We need to make it a stable place to live.’

There was also unanimity about the desirability of some form of land value tax, although there were different ways of arriving at one. Gareth was particular strong in stating that we won’t solve the housing crisis unless we sort out the land market. Christian has proposed a specific route from business rates to a land value tax in gradual steps.

Sparks flew on the issue of estate ‘regeneration’, which is becoming a big issue as developers eye up inner London estates as potential sites. David and Sadiq denounced regeneration as ‘social cleansing’. Sadiq was emphatic: ‘I will not allow council estates to be knocked down.’ Diane agreed: ‘Housing is about people and communities. What we have seen in the name of regeneration has been social cleansing.’ David was particularly  angry about what is happening in his own constituency of Tottenham in Haringey. Tessa argued that you have to start from the condition of the properties and that rebuilding may be the right solution if they produced mixed communities. She came under pressure about her supporter, Lord Andrew Adonis, who has written in support of widespread rebuilding of estates (see also a longer critique by Duncan Bowie here). Tessa and Christian had very different interpretations about what he had said.

A question about housing policies for outer London, and how Labour can win there, led to a vigorous debate about the green belt, which became David against the rest as he strongly supports building on some green belt land, because not enough houses can be achieved solely on brownfield. ‘We give more land over to golf than homes’, he said. Diane argued that it would be giving in to developers and such a policy would just put up land prices. Sadiq stressed that ‘there isn’t a single solution in outer London as each bit of outer London is different’ and said ‘I will not allow our greenbelt to be built on’.

Everyone got exercised by the use of the word ‘affordable’ but everyone used it. The word has been stripped of any meaning by the Tories, and most candidates seemed content to talk about council or social housing although Sadiq also has specific policies for creating new intermediate homes at ‘Living Rents’, by which he means one-third of incomes. All agreed it was a nonsense to link rents to market rents. In a side argument, Diane got into a row with Tessa about the level of ‘affordable’ or social housing achieved in the Olympic Park.

All of the candidates were in favour of greater devolved powers to the London mayor, although they mentioned different ones. Gareth goes furthest, saying London should be a ‘city state’ and using this example: ‘Scotland is about to cancel Right to Buy. If Scotland has the power then I want London to have that power’.

Tessa got on the wrong side of the audience on homelessness. She was, I think not unreasonably, arguing that rough sleeping will never be totally eradicated because there will always be new cases. All the candidates spoke about rough sleeping, Christian thought Boris Johnson had taken the issue seriously, the others emphatically didn’t. No-one spoke of other forms of homelessness and the growing use of temporary accommodation out of borough and sometimes out of London.

Apart from land, the issue of building new homes recurred throughout the debate. Most candidates are in favour of a new homes agency to move development along, disagreeing only in the form that it should take. Christian called for a target of 50% social housing (not just ‘affordable’) in new development and argued that ‘Increasing owner occupation should no longer be an objective. Nor should rising house prices.’ Diane doubted the usual assertion that building more new homes would bring prices under control: ‘Building more homes is necessary but building more homes is not sufficient.’ She said.

A flavour of the debate can be found through #labourhousing where there are also plenty of photographs. This is my favourite tweeter joining the debate.

Harry Leslie Smith ‏@Harryslaststand

It’s wrong that many must live like my generation did in perpetual rent poverty to keep the 1% wealthy #labourhousing

harryleslie smith

I’m sure I’ve missed many points, but hopefully this gives a taste of how it went. Please add comments if you feel I have overlooked an essential point or got something wrong.

All of the candidates are welcome to further the debate through #redbrickblog

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments