The Shroud Wavers Club

Today’s excellent news of two successful appeals against the Spare Room Subsidy (aka The Bedroom Tax) is welcome. The legislation should have excluded ‘carers’ from the start, and especially property modified to alleviate disability, and should not be implemented at all in situations where no properties exist to down size to.

The policy is however fair; it is not right to subsidise through housing benefit an extra bedroom if not needed,  It does not happen in the private rental sector, and most floating voters see that.

Why the implementation was so bad is anyone’s guess; perhaps some cruelty was needed as a sop to Tory grass roots. It is almost Conservative culture that the poor must have done something wrong to deserve their fate and should be punished.

Labour need to be on the right side of the argument here and not fall into a trap; unfortunately the Labour Party today has too many members and activists who believe policy should be a knee jerk reaction to individual (easily avoidable with proper implementation) cases of hardship and making the mistake of generalising from particular cases.

I would also suggest that both Right to Buy and Pay to Stay are on the right side of the argument; the British people on the whole ‘get fairness’, hence the electoral appeal of Conservative policies last May.

This inability by Labour to develop a coherent logical joined up policy and instead focus on disjointed scraps of policy on housing (in the last election we had rent controls, banning letting agencies and a rather gimmicky plan to encourage builders to channel ISA money into house building) represents little more than a nasty case of political incontinence and won’t win elections.

We need a holistic approach on housing with a specific end goal and this was blogged here

A concern is that Labour has ‘lost it’ and become irrelevant; it is currently unelectable.

Has Labour still got the capacity or the will to come up with the big, shaping ideas?

Ideas such as, to name just three

  • Promoting mass building of affordable housing with a bond issue hypothecated for that purpose. The state has a track record of building on a large scale (post WW2) while private enterprise has not.
  • Championing the concept of a Basic Income to replace parts, and eventually all, of the benefit system. The elimination of much of the overhead of a benefit system, and the demeaning culture of sanctions, would be a bonus on its own.
  • Redefining the role of the state. The Tories hate the state; it means (not necessarily though) higher taxes and resource crowding. However the state has a purpose and a proper partnership between private and state sectors benefits all. Much of the success of Germany and the Scandinavian countries are predicated on an understanding of this. The internet evolved from state funding (US Department of Defence) of Arpanet. Space travel in future generations will be provided by private enterprise, but how did it all start in the first place. UK strategic industries, energy, steel, rail to name just three, would be better served if the state played a more aggressive shaping part.

So, on housing, joined-up policy that delivers sufficient affordable housing, encourages and enables owner occupiers, but removes unfair tax advantages of owner occupiers together with support for, and proper implementation of, three Conservative policies

  • Right to Buy
  • Spare Room Subsidy
  • Pay To Stay

plus the addition of removal of Private Residence Relief to Capital Gains Tax (PPR). A feature of housing in the UK today is the ludicrous under taxing of residential property.

All policy should have an overarching destination, and Labour policy on housing should be the paradigm shift of pushing housing back to its original purpose, the provision of homes, together with making the choice between renting and buying a fair one.

Today the Labour Party is a timid beast, conservative, middle class, inward looking and out of touch, more concerned with emotional overreaction to perceived unfairness rather than rising to the challenge of an exciting rapidly changing world and developing the necessary policies.

My Party does not excite me.

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