Housing: Meet the new Tories, same as the Old Tories
David Cameron has clearly put his idea of “de-toxifying” the Tory brand high up in his list of priorities since being elected as the Conservative leader five years ago. Creating his “compassionate conservatism” was supposed to allay the fears the electorate had about the Tories being the “nasty party”.
Now many of us cynical lefties thought this was all a ploy, words (crucially not really backed up with actual policies) by an opportunistic opposition doing whatever it took to try and win power. That Cameron was no Macmillan/Heath style one nation Tory but a Thatcherite wolf trying to wear a different coat.
My blog last week was about how the CSR proves that all of these suspicions were correct, that the Tories were in fact a hard right, uber Thatcherite party resorting to type with their fiscal policies. This time I would like to focus on one specific area where the Government is getting things badly wrong in my opinion.
I guess housing is one area that can affect our lives more than pretty much anything on a day to day basis we all need somewhere to live. And given we live on a verdant (read “rains all the time”) island we are always going to spend a fair proportion of our time at home. And for most of us housing represents a massive proportion of our spending, particularly for young people.
That there is something of a crisis in housing, particularly affordable housing, is pretty uncontroversial in all political circles, what to do about this is something somewhat more open to debate.
Now, and I promise I am not making this up, the Government’s position seems to be that the essential problem in respect of affordable housing is that…. It is too affordable! Our deputy PM “Cleggsy Bear” is at pains to point out that if we increase the cost of social housing to “near market rate” then more social housing will be built… well d’uh! Doesn’t solve the problem that by drastically increasing the cost of affordable social housing it won’t be very social, or affordable.
I guess this comes to the crux of the problem. I argued in my last blog that a big part of the problems we were facing financially was due to the failure of light touch regulation, small state trust the market solutions; and how the Tory answer was “more of the same please”… This was true of finance and banking, and it is true of housing.
I have no doubt that the “right to buy” was great for all the people who benefitted from it; further I do wonder if the “left” has any real right to say that people shouldn’t aspire to own their own homes. On that basis I do not have an in principle objection to the right to buy.
However I have to say the decision to not allow Councils to replace the housing stock they sold off has been catastrophic in its effect on communities, the housing market in general and particularly the young. The price inflation caused by this fed into the over heating of the housing market; which as well as making the aspiration to own a home increasingly out of the reach of more and more young people, also contributed in a massive part to the banking problems that caused the recession.
Further the boom in “buy to let” investments has further over cooked the Market and made things more and more difficult. What we have seen is a catastrophic failure of the market to deliver what people need (affordable good quality housing) in favour of what the few “want” (loadsa money!). It seems to me to be astonishing that anyone could reach the conclusion that “more of the same” will somehow result in the situation improving magically.
Even more astonishing is that the Government seem to not understand some basic principles of the Market…. It is “supply and demand” folks. So what do we think private landlords are going to do if the price of social housing in their areas suddenly and drastically increases eh? Do we think they will act in a socially responsible way of leaving things the same for the collective good? Really, anyone think that?
Of course not, if all the council and housing association rents go up then so will the price of private rents, and by extension the value of housing and the cost of mortgages. This might represent something good for those who are already “on the boat” and own their homes (and possibly second ones) but for the poorest, and the most vulnerable in society (oh and by the way Cleggsy Bear not all poor people qualify for Housing Benefit) the housing apartheid will increase even more.
Now the worst thing is that at the same time as the government are proposing to remove the one factor that has been acting as something of a brake on rising unaffordability in the housing market they are also proposing to drastically cut housing benefit levels. So raise the prices, and cut the benefit sounds like a nice progressive policy to me.
The trouble is this will in many ways completely price poor people out of many areas. Higher rents, with cut housing benefits could lead to a massive exodus. Now I am not sure what the equivalent term for “Ethnic Cleansing” (mind you given income distributions in the UK amoung different ethnicities this very well could amount to actual ethnic cleansing in some areas) for this would be “Poverty cleansing” I suppose. Now of course the Tories do have form on this. Dame Shirley Porter was embroiled in a homes for votes scandal twenty years ago, shows that things don’t change.
If I was cynical, and wishing to continue in my polemic tone of my last blog, I might wonder if Cameron as his wealthy chums wanted to ghettoise the poor away from him and his ilk so they wouldn’t have to witness the ill effects of their cuts first hand. But as I am a progressive left wing blogger, for whom it would be churlish to point out that millionaire cabinet members will never need to worry about paying the rent due to the big old inheritances they are scheduled to receive, I shall refrain from any more incendiary “class warfare” style comments!
But the bottom line is that what they are proposing is fundamentally unfair and wrong. It leaves the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer (is that the Conservative party motto?). Clegg was roundly ridiculed for his attack on the IFS about their view on fairness (I think the ConDems wish to rebrand inequity as fairness), and this kind of a policy shows why. If the ConDem coalition finally nails the coffin in affordable housing it should finally put to bed any doubts about who these people are.
So Tory brand de-toxified? Is it hell….
Meet the new Tories, same as the Old Tories.