The Party Conference season is over and now there is the long hard slog to the Election.
Housing – the dog that never barks in Election campaigns – was much discussed but no-one offered real hope of any transformational policies coming along soon. Once again, voters who care about housing will be left with trying to identify ‘the least worst’.
The Tories had nothing to say other than the usual rhetoric about the ‘home ownership dream’ and yet more subsidy for the sector. Apparently they still haven’t noticed that home ownership has been in decline for 10 years: they have no analysis of why that might be. They have nothing to offer the growing number of increasingly desperate private tenants except more of the same. For social tenants and would-be social tenants it is worse than nothing. Apart from a few brave people on the liberal wing of the Party, for example @ , their desire to end traditional social rented housing dominates their thinking. Osborne’s next round of cuts makes it likely that housing grant will be slashed again and the Housing Minister has started the softening up process on that.
For Labour, Ed Balls’ new fiscal stance – no more borrowing even for investment – caused endless confusion amongst Party spokespeople, even good media performers like Andy Burnham and Caroline Flint – who were ripped apart by simple questions from Andrew Neil about the differences between capital and revenue in relation to the deficit. Regrettably the policy also dented hopes that councils might become major players in housebuilding again. Housing will have ‘higher priority’ within the existing capital programme, but how high is high and what else will become a lower priority instead?
One bold policy – getting rid of the bedroom tax – has been seized on by the party and has been repeated so often it has now been noticed by the wider public. Another bold policy – to invest in a new generation of council houses – could have been an attractive part of Labour’s platform. Now we have to wait and see if the Lyons report has enough ideas to show how Labour might deliver the commitment to 200,000 new homes a year. The proposed private rented sector reforms – moderate and sensible but still subject to regular scare stories about ‘rent control’ – mark it out from the Tories. Maybe private tenants, amongst whom there is often a low turnout because there is so much ‘churn’ in the sector, are waiting to be inspired to register and vote. At least there is something there to campaign around.
I know how to secure a Labour Government. Give me control of the newspapers for 7 months and I would guarantee a romping victory. Labour needs bolder policies, that’s for sure, but the media narrative needs to be challenged. The spin that Labour did badly in the local elections and in this week’s by-elections, and that it is all down to Ed Miliband’s leadership, should be confronted. Labour needs a stronger narrative around the deficit – it isn’t the most important economic issue facing the country – and the 2008 financial collapse, which would have happened whoever was in power. Gordon Brown handled it brilliantly, and the Tories agreed with Labour’s spending policies up until then. Vigorous debate about policy is fine, indeed it is helpful, but recent personal attacks on Ed Miliband from his own side are unforgiveable. They only feed the media monster which is wreaking revenge for his courageous stand on media excesses and the Leveson reforms.
Do I have anything to say about UKIP? They are riding the wave of media fascination, helping create the story as well as reporting it, but UKIP are still the nasty end of the nasty party. They are tapping into ‘working class Tory’ views to broaden their appeal. Their only housing policy of note is to claim that the housing shortage and waiting lists are caused entirely by ‘immigrants’, and at the moment they are getting an easy ride for that message.
And on to the LibDems. Never has a Party created such a large gap between its own policy and its performance in office. I have argued before on Red Brick that the LibDem Party’s policy on paper is the best of all the parties. But their performance in Government on housing has been worse than feeble – they have been complete patsies, supporting bedroom tax, a 60% cut in housing grant, the virtual ending of social housing, unaffordable ‘affordable rents’, doing nothing on private renting, demand subsidies for home ownership, and so on. Once again good things were said at their Conference and grand-sounding policies were passed, including an extraordinarily unlikely plan to build 300,000 houses a year, but their credibility on housing is zero. Clegg failed to mention the housing crisis in his speech, whereas housing was one of Miliband’s six priorities and even Cameron mentioned it.
So housing seems destined to have little bearing on this Election as with previous ones. I doubt if it will get beyond the usual platitudes about home ownership ladders, and maybe some scare stories about ‘rent control’. Unless Labour finds some more bold statements to make, the LibDems will trump them on housebuilding targets and the Tories will trump them on help for home owners. And a big opportunity will have been missed.