Nick Clegg’s rhetorical flourishes are quite clever until you ponder on them for a second or two. Then the argument falls to pieces. Yesterday’s speech included a long list of things he’d said ‘no’ to within the Coalition. I suppose headlines like ‘Dr No’ and ‘The Abominable No Man’ were the desired outcome, supporting the line that the LibDems have been a brake on ‘the nasty party’.
In housing they have been the Party that likes to say yes. Or, to put it another way, the Party that rolled over to accommodate every nasty Tory policy imaginable.
60% cuts in housing investment? Yes! End social housing? Yes! Put social rents up to 80% of market rents? Yes! Bedroom Tax? Oh yes please! Make large parts of the country unaffordable to people in and out of work who need housing benefit? Yes! A new housing bubble? Yes! End security of tenure? Yes! Increase homelessness? Yes! Slash the homelessness safety net? Yes! Let Boris remove all progressive policies from the London Plan? Yes! Vote against own ‘Mansion Tax’ policy? Yes! And on it goes.
As I’ve argued before, I have no real issue with the LibDems going into Coalition with the Tories. On the economic front, Plan A has been a natural home for them since they reverted to being a classically economic liberal party following the rise of the so-called ‘Orange Liberals’ like David Laws. Vince Cable may huff and puff but the LibDems are close to George Osborne on economic theory and reasonably comfortable with austerity. Nor do I complain that they negotiated a joint platform with the Tories in the Coalition Agreement, winning some things and giving way on others. What is so dishonest is that the policies they have actually pursued in Government were not set out in the Tory or the LibDem Manifestoes, nor were they contained in the Coalition Agreement.
The genesis of the Government’s policies was the work of a little cabal of right wing Tories supported by a small number of leading people in the housing world, working through the Localis think tank. As yes men, Ministers like Andrew Stunnell, Don Foster and Steve Webb have been indistinguishable from their bosses, Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan Smith as they laid waste to the decent tradition of providing affordable housing for the poor that was established post-War by Aneurin Bevan and Harold Macmillan.
The inability of the LibDems to bring any of their Party’s policies into Government is what will condemn them in the General Election housing debate. On paper, their Party policy is very good and no doubt they will try to distance themselves from Government policy. They should be reminded, forcefully, of what they have actually done. The only consolation is that, if the next Election produces a Lab-Lib Coalition (perish the thought), it will be relatively easy to agree a common approach to housing in Government.