It appears that the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, James Landale and co have swallowed the Tory Central Office press briefing wholesale. Her headline comments were all about David Cameron’s speech ‘parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn’, occupying ‘the Labour Party’s former ground while it is consumed by its own issues’. Other commentators like Jonathan Freedland joined in. He tweeted: ‘Tories don’t just want to own centre ground, but the centre left too’. ‘The heir to Blair’ said Pippa Crerar.
The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire was an honourable exception: ‘Cameron is the VW of politics. It was another masterclass in deception… Slick, shiny and smooth but lift the bonnet and the dodgy salesman’s flogging a toxic fiddle’.
The most revealing moments after the speech came in the interview by Andrew Neil with Michael Gove. Gove had no answer except ‘Labour crashed the economy’ to Neil’s pointed questions about the Government’s complete failure to stem the fall in home ownership, its ‘lamentable’ housebuilding record, and its determination to decimate tax credits for the working poor.
Neil’s questioning got to the point of the whole Cameron speech: the language of aspiration, equality and opportunity masks an increasingly right wing agenda NOT a drift to the imagined centre-left. There may be tanks, and they may be on Labour’s lawn, but they are only there to get a better shot at the poor.
I saw only one shaft of light in Cameron’s speech – his strong statements against discrimination and in favour of equality of opportunity. The strength of his statement (if not the policies backing it up) reflects the total victory of the so-called ‘loony left’ councils in the 1980s who first shouted these messages loud and proud – and were roundly condemned by Tories and media for doing so.
Cameron gained loud applause by revealing the truth about the housing association right to buy deal. He knows they have avoided a hugely difficult legislative process. He knows they have swerved past the many and growing number of Conservatives who are opposed to it. He knows that the housing associations underplayed their hand and were scared of their own shadows. ‘Some people said this would be impossible. Housing associations would never stand for it. The legislation would never pass. Let me tell you something. Greg Clark, our brilliant communities secretary, has secured a deal with housing associations to give their tenants the Right to Buy their home.’
Housing associations would never stand for it? ….instead, they handed it to the Tories on a plate.
The rhetoric of Cameron’s speech was what we have heard many times before. Only home ownership matters and they will do everything to promote it. Of course, they will ignore the inconvenient truth that there is now a long-lasting trend (a decade) for home ownership to fall and to be replaced by private renting.
Cameron’s big new housing policy announcement, widely trailed in the morning papers, was to change planning policy so that planning agreements will in future count ‘starter homes’ as affordable housing. Planning gain has been the source of most new social housing in the past few years, and a great deal of our new local infrastructure, so that will now go south. Some interpret the new policy to be preventing social housing being achieved in planning deals rather than just including starter homes amongst a range pf option. The so-called ‘affordable housing programme’ is widely expected to be a victim of the soon to be announced spending review, with what money is available also being focused on first time buyers.
With housing associations converting more social housing to higher rents or other tenures, the big question is the one that campaigner Tom Murtha asks time and time again – who will house the poor?
From the Government and from the leaders of our large housing associations, answer comes there none.