Labour Needs to Prove It Can Deliver on Housing. Send for David Lammy
Theresa May went into her keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference with low expectations. In a now-infamous spectacle with a P45 prankster, her lost voice and a crumbling set, the Prime Minister managed to plunge below these expectations beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
But had May’s conference speech not been a calamity it would have simply been forgettable - it was a thin gruel on policy. Its flagship initiatives were a cap on consumer energy prices - decried as ”Marxist” when pitched by Ed Miliband - and a “revolutionary” house-building scheme that will construct a paltry five thousand homes per year. Furthermore May’s plans to expand the help-to-buy scheme will only serve to inflate house prices.
Housing is one of the issues that will decide the victors of the next general election. The housing policies in Labour’s 2017 manifesto provided a firm foundation, pledging to ban letting agent fees and ensure that properties are “fit for human habitation” in the private rented sector.
But this is only a start for dealing with the housing crisis. Rent caps may be well-intentioned but they become irrelevant if housing stocks dwindle. To give young people a foot on the housing ladder and eradicate homelessness, Labour promises to build a million homes.
It is a commendable idea but also a mammoth task. In another election campaign the Tories will fervently attack Jeremy Corbyn for a lack of economic credibility, so voters need to know exactly how Labour will accomplish their plan.
Labour should be as bold as Attlee and Bevan once were
Labour can look to its past achievements in government for reference. In Clement Attlee’s post-war government, Aneurin Bevan not only pioneered the foundation of the NHS but presided over a mass house-building programme. A million homes were built through public works and the compulsory purchase of unused land - which the current Labour leadership envisions emulating.
However, today we have to fare with the phenomena of buy-to-let landlords and councils failing to replace properties with revenues raised from Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy. So Labour should be as bold as Attlee and Bevan once were: it should not only scrap right-to-buy but give private tenants - following Alan Johnson’s suggestion - the right-to-buy properties from their landlords through rents.
Labour can even follow the lead of Tory politicians. During Winston Churchill’s second premiership, Harold Macmillan was successfully tasked with building 300,000 homes per year and became a popular Tory PM in his own right. Michael Heseltine’s commitment to regenerating Merseyside - in defiance of demands for “managed decline” - exemplifies the social transformation that can be achieved with investment guided by decisive leadership.
Labour proposes the creation of a new Housing Ministry that will both coordinate house-building and implement the new housing laws. But given Bevan complained about having too many responsibilities, it would be wiser to distinguish bricks and mortar from rules and regulations.
The Housing Ministry should purely focus on house-building, with the Department of Communities and Local Government managing regulation. Driven by a sense of urgency, the housing secretary should be a senior Cabinet minister and ideally occupied by someone with previous ministerial experience.
The ideal candidate is David Lammy, a tireless campaigner for social justice who lost a friend - the young artist Khadija Saye - in the Grenfell Tower fire, a tragedy that must prompt a sea change for tackling inequality. Struggling voters can be assured that Lammy is on their side.
Housing is fundamental to addressing many of the core issues of the day
The Tories may be weakened but Labour cannot be complacent. Though they have opened up a poll lead, the average margin would produce a minority Labour government dependent on Scottish National or Liberal Democrat support to pass legislation. Voters are still sceptical of Corbyn as a potential prime minister.
Housing is fundamental to addressing many of the core issues of the day - whether it be on mental or physical health, education, living costs and social mobility. Access to safe and affordable housing is integral to ensuring citizens have a decent quality of life and are able to participate in society.
Labour are setting out an ambitious plan on house-building. By bringing David Lammy - competent, well-briefed, compassionate - into the Shadow Cabinet now, Corbyn can begin to convince the country that he knows how to govern it.
About the author
Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.
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