I liked Ed Miliband’s speech today. Responsibility, reward for contributing to society, reciprocity and ‘doing your bit’ have always been part of the Labour tradition and it’s good to hear the Labour leader putting it to the fore. For too long it’s been territory we surrendered too easily to the Tories. A
nd, it’s right for Ed to draw the dividing line between us and the Tories: Labour believes everyone has responsibilities, at the top and the bottom. The Tories however care a lot about benefit cheats, but have little to say on the spiralling pay of Britain’s wealth-wrecking bankers and chief executives.
His decision to draw on housing as an example was good too. If we are to maintain the legitimacy of public housing, it needs to be a more universal good – available to support working people on a range of incomes. If it becomes housing of the last resort and for the poorest only, the political argument to sustain it becomes ever harder.
It’s the same argument for the Labour Party really: at the last election, as Ed says, we became seen as the party for those on benefits and out of work – the social housing position on the political landscape. It’s hard to sustain a political party on that basis. For legitimacy, you have to make a universal offer that the majority can buy into – the NHS position on the political landscape.
Ed’s argument would see Labour move away from a position which privileged need as the main factor in getting social housing to a system where people’s contributions through work, caring, responsible behaviour were recognised in getting public help with your housing.
As readers of this blog will know – this isn’t a problem free, ‘motherhood and apple pie’ policy – it has tough consequences. There is only so much housing and the more you allocate on a contributory principle, the less there is for those in need, for whom alternative provision will need to be made.
However, I think that passes the public’s fairness test and provides a future Labour government with a strong foundation to invest in social housing and make the case for why.
The choice isn’t between social housing for the working versus social housing for the poorest, but social housing as a more universal offer, or no social housing for anyone.