There seem to be some calls for Labour to have a worked out housing policy as an alternative to the government’s now.
That would be a daft move.
It’s four and a half years to the next election and the government is starting the most radical process of reform to housing in a generation. Whether these reforms are successful in their own terms or not, the housing system will be very different when Labour next has a chance to implement an alternative (I assume that the Coalition will run the course).
Writing a housing policy that’s credible now is unlikely to work five years on. And trying to write a policy for five years’ time requires too much guess-work and will sounds out of touch now.
Ed Miliband and Alison Seabeck are absolutely right to wait, think and develop their ideas.
So, in the long meantime, how do we oppose the government? Here’s what I think:
- Firstly, we take the government at their word and hold them to it.
The government has some laudable rhetoric: to build more mixed communities, to build more homes and more affordable homes, to tackle worklessness in social housing, to make it easier to move within social housing. Let’s exploit the differences between their words and the effects of their policies.
- Secondly, avoid falling into any elephant traps that we live to regret, especially promises to reverse particular measures.
Reinstate security of tenure? Cut rents back to ‘traditional’ social rent? Restore the duty to house the homeless in the social sector? They might sound great ideas now, but on entering office, they probably won’t be so attractive. The future businesses of housing associations are likely to be built on these measures, as will housing provision by local authorities.
Do we want to re-enter office with pledges that immediately threaten the basis of our main housing providers? No, we don’t. And this path leaves us the defenders of a status quo which had some pretty serious faults. Needless to say that’s not a winning position.
- Set out the principles of a Labour housing policy, and one which is not beholden to what we have done in the past.
That’s the hardest task. I’ll give my starter for 10 in my next post.