Labour’s headline housing policy is the pledge to build 200,000 homes per year. This policy suffers from being both not particularly popular and not being particularly right. It is also not particularly new. In 2004 the Barker review called for between 200,000 and 250,000 completions per year from the private sector. In 2007 Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that from 2016 there would be 240,000 completions per year. This graph shows what actually happened to the number of homes built by private enterprise in England over that period. Simply having a housing target will not get houses built anymore than a New Year’s resolution to get in shape will get you a 6 pack. But, you might say, Labour is in opposition, they can’t build houses. This is a fair point. However, they also can’t freeze energy prices but they have pledged to do so. You only have to compare the amount of debate there has been about Miliband’s promise to freeze energy prices with the lack of enthusiasm about the housing pledge to see that Labour’s housing policy is yet to catch the public’s imagination. Even the reaction by the audience of loyal party members to the pledge when it was announced was underwhelming. Why is this, given that most people in Britain agree that there is a ‘housing crisis’?
- It might have something to do with the fact that almost as many people oppose as support houses being built in their local area.
- It might be because people are not particularly impressed by politicians using big numbers like 200,000 per year.
- It might also be because, unlike the price freeze, this is not a policy that takes on a powerful and unpopular vested interest group. The energy companies are not popular. They are widely believed to be price gouging. A pledge to stop them raising prices is both a pledge to help ordinary people and to take on these unpopular companies.
So, what is to be done?
- I have already sketched out here some ideas for a popular housing policy centred around building starter homes
- The idea of a mansion tax is popular exactly because it takes on another unpopular powerful group (people who own mansions) and could be a way of introducing a more comprehensive land value tax.
And finally, it is worth considering the extent that housing policy is regional policy. The average house price in Stoke-on-Trent is just under £100,000, the average house price in Camden is just over £800,000. This isn’t much to do with the quality of the actual houses. Perhaps getting angry at the reasons for the lack of demand for houses in places like Stoke might be a better electoral strategy for Labour. Courtesy of Thomas Neumark at Dream Housing