London Labour Housing Group has organised a Housing Hustings on July 2 to enable Labour Party members and registered supporters to quiz the candidates for the Labour nomination on housing. It will be chaired by Dave Hill of the Guardian.
It is good news that all six candidates for the Labour nomination who reached the threshold of receiving five nominations have been included in the forthcoming ballot. All six have given prominence to their views on housing and we can anticipate a decent debate. Below is the first in a series of pieces (in alphabetical order) on each of the candidates’ housing policies as they have been announced so far.
Diane Abbott MP on Housing
As she risks following Tony Benn into the limited ranks of left-wing national treasures, Diane Abbott still has the ability to say stuff that others are more restrained in saying. It shows how old I am that Diane is sometimes now described as a veteran. However I remember her stint as a councillor for Harrow Road Ward in Westminster (1982-86) which happened even before Shirley Porter went gerrymandering with housing policy. Diane became MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, breaking the mould as the first black woman MP. Like all black leaders in the 1980s she became a target for the right wing press and, it appears, she was even regarded by the intelligence services as a threat to the British state. Cuddling up to Michael Portillo on Andrew Neil’s sofa has softened her image somewhat and she now gets murmurs of empathetic approval rather than hisses when on programmes like Any Questions.
It is impossible to be an MP for a constituency like Hackney North and not have strong views on housing. Since she let it be known she was interested in becoming mayor, she has had plenty to say on the subject. Like all candidates, her policy statements are a mix of things that are within the mayor’s powers already and things that would need a major extension of powers, which may or may not be forthcoming in light of the new Tory Government’s supposed commitment to devolution.
She has strongly supported a return to policies which require developers to provide a share of affordable housing in developments, criticising Tory strides away from the policy which provided 3 in 5 of new affordable homes nationally in 2010. As mayor, she says, she would veto any planning application which did not match or exceed a quota of 40% affordable homes or make an equivalent contribution to a London Homes Fund. ‘Above all’, she says, ‘I would be a champion of building public housing’ and would campaign for councils to be able to borrow to build.
Diane has specifically called for priority to be given to building on London’s brownfield sites and continuing the protection given to the green belt. She argues that building on the greenbelt may be the ‘easy option’ for developers, but the homes would not be where families need them to be, would require much more expensive infrastructure, and would involve turning our backs on London’s long standing commitment to protect biodiversity.
In terms of the private rented sector, at the end of last year Diane aligned herself with Generation Rent’s position on rents, including a 50% landlord tax on those setting rents above a cap set at half the relevant local council tax band, although she later said that theirs was just one of many methods. She has called for boroughs to have the power to introduce rent controls, although it is unclear if they would have local discretion or whether all rents would be set on a formula (as proposed by Generation Rent). As mayor, she would chair a ‘Rent Board’ to implement and monitor whichever method of rent control is chosen. Writing recently, Diane commented with approval on the tightening of rent controls in Berlin, ’not a major Marxist conurbation’, saying that ‘Any major international city, without measures to stabilise rent, runs the risk of its rental market spiralling out of the ordinary person’s reach.’
Diane would also make the existing mayor’s London Rental Standard mandatory and work with boroughs to introduce city-wide landlord licensing, building on initiatives like Newham’s, to bring about a tough enforcement regime on housing standards. She supported Labour’s national plan to ban unfair lettings fees and to make longer tenancies the norm, but thought that they ‘did not go far enough’.
Diane supported the Mansion Tax ‘in principle’ because it was a redistributive proposal, but like other London MPs, criticised its implications for older Londoners who bought houses in once unfashionable parts of London that were then gentrified around them. She got into a spat with Scottish Labour Leader Jim Murphy for saying that the tax would fund additional nurses in Scotland, money that she said would be ‘expropriated from London’. More broadly she has supported proposals, for example from the London Finance Commission, that London should keep a larger share of its property taxes.
As the campaign intensifies, like all of the candidates, Diane will get more opportunities to expand on these policies and to explain how they might come to be implemented.