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.