The Labour Leadership contest and the challenge presented by Right to Buy

A short blog on the Labour leadership contest and the latest Conservative Right to Buy policy; the latter usefully exposes shortcomings in the leadership field.

The latest labour leadership contest started, rather too hastily in my opinion, in the aftermath of the May 2015 election defeat, a defeat that I saw as an inevitable consequence of a party with no defined message or vision failing to connect with the voter. The election was lost by Labour rather than won by the Conservatives, and lost badly.

All the candidates seem to be falling over themselves to distance themselves from what they and the Party said only a few weeks ago, and got their suffering army of volunteers to repeat on the door step. That alone is enough to disqualify them from leadership, not because I agreed with what they said before or what they say now, but rather the breath-taking display of lack of honesty or principle, and frankly political nous.

One of the current contenders will emerge as leader and lead Labour to another crushing defeat in 2020; I cannot see any saviour waiting in the wings. The Conservatives of course have Boris Johnson, whose populist touch and bumbling charisma (a well-crafted act) will test the very best Labour can offer.

Now, the latest Conservative Right To Buy policy and the opportunity it presents to the Labour Leadership candidates to show that they don’t just get it but also are capable of taking the fight to the Conservative Party in a positive way.

Enabling someone to buy the pile of bricks and mortar that has been their home for a number of years is a good thing, irrespective of whether it a council let, housing association let or a let in the private sector.

It is a positive development for the tenant and society at large. It is keeping on the right side of the argument that should be focussing the attention of leadership contenders and rather than muster all the tired old arguments such as ‘loss of another affordable unit’ or ‘just another Tory bribe’.

So Labour need to support the positives and take the fight to the Conservatives by adopting the policy as Labour policy and extending it further by applying RTB to the private rental sector. This latter twist will expose the Tories for what they are, ideological small state obsessives.

I have long had the Conservative Party down as the party that supports elitism and privilege and the status quo; Labour need to expose that further by becoming the natural party of meritocracy and enterprise. For me that’s the dividing line.

To those that say RTB tenants should discharge their ownership ambition by buying in the private sector, I say they miss the point. Clearly they rent as the only option but equity argues strongly that they should always have the option of buying at some stage and get a discount based on length of tenure.

Housing, particularly affordable housing, is a huge issue and opponents of RTB point to the loss of affordable units. There is evidence to support this; in Manchester some 812 RTB transactions resulted in just 2 replacement units. But again the real point is missed.

The housing crisis is not complicated. It is a direct result of far too low housing starts, especially social housing, going back decades; aided and abetted by planning complexities and breath taking selfishness of existing home owners.

In Germany houses are built to meet demographic demand with land banks controlled locally at the municipal level. It works; real property prices have been flat for the past 20 years (except for some hot spots). Not good copy for Daily Express headline writers “South East property prices set to explode 25%” – all set in a tone suggesting property inflation on the same level as a cure for cancer.

We need to build more houses, a lot more; where these houses start (social) and end up (owner occupied) is neither here nor there; this is the point detractors of RTB miss.

In addition to greater house building, Labour need to introduce measures to systematically dampen house prices with some form of land tax together with greater local authority control of land banks

For me, the Labour Leadership contest needs to take place after the Party has worked out what it stands for otherwise it is just chasing shadows and heading for another defeat in 2020.

How the Labour leadership handles the RTB curve ball thrown by the Conservatives might just set the tone; the signs so far are predictable and depressing.









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