Boosting housing supply

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 05/10/11]

The Conservatives’ proposal to resuscitate the Right to Buy through increasing discounts appears to be an attempt to bask in some of Mrs Thatcher’s reflected glory. Unlike the 1980s version, though, Mr Cameron and Mr Shapps are emphasizing that each property sold will be matched with a newly built property at “affordable” rent. This is an attempt to head off criticisms that the Right to Buy reduces the supply of “social” housing. So, it would appear, this initiative could lead to a net increase in the housing stock.

Of course, things are never as they first appear. Read more of this post

Contortions and distortions – The party conference currency

Conference season brings out the worst in British politics. No question about it. Bad jokes intended to tickle the faithful. Set piece speeches designed to rally them if they’re flagging. All sprinkled with the odd soundbite designed to hit the news headlines in the mainstream media. We are offered question and answer sessions displaying differing degrees of robustness. Some appear genuinely challenging; some appear stuffed with planted questions from oleaginous party wannabes. Most of the material is delivered in a ponderous and uninspiring manner. The lack of gifted orators among the current generation of frontbench politicians is all too obvious.

But perhaps the most depressing aspect of conference season is how disconnected from reality it can all become. Hypocrisy is inevitable in politics. There are no doubt delicate diplomatic situations in which telling the unvarnished truth would be unwise or dangerous. But the industrial scale dissembling we witness at this time of year does little except bring politicians further into disrepute.

This is perhaps most evident at the current Conservative party conference. Read more of this post

The middle classes, mansions and Mr Pickles

Last Friday’s Telegraph published a couple of brief pieces drawing on a wide ranging interview with Eric Pickles. The Communities Secretary had a few characteristically pithy observations to make in relation to the ongoing debate over the future of the 50p tax rate and the alternative mooted by the Liberal Democrats of moving to a tax on high value properties.

The Telegraph reports that Mr Pickles:

… is determined to face down Liberal Democrat sensitivities and reduce tax for the middle classes. New taxes on more expensive properties are definitely not on the agenda.

“We as a government have got to understand that middle-class families put a lot into this country and don’t take a lot out,” he says. “It would be a very big mistake to start imposing taxation on the back of changes in property values.”

Mr Pickles also goes further than some of his colleagues by insisting that the 50p higher rate of income tax should be scrapped for ideological reasons.

The Treasury is conducting a study to establish whether the new top rate actually raises much money, but the Liberal Democrats have said it is “cloud cuckoo land” to consider scrapping the tax at the moment. Mr Pickles expresses the views of many Conservatives when he says: “We always said it [the 50p rate] was temporary.

“We’ll get an assessment at the end of this financial year as to how much money we’ve got [from the tax]. But you know I’m a Conservative, I like the idea of lowering taxation.

“I believe you get more tax revenue by lowering taxation because people work harder. I like people to keep more in their pockets for their family.”

Elsewhere in the Telegraph he is reported as saying that:

“… a mansion tax on high-value homes could hit many ordinary middle-class families because of high property prices in some areas.”

“People will suddenly find themselves in a mansion and they hadn’t realised it was a mansion,” he says. “If it is only going to be mansions, the kind of thing you and I would regard as a mansion, it ain’t going to raise very much.”

It is important to put these comments in perspective. Read more of this post

Trade Unions, street marches, and ConservativeHome’s 10 Immoral Commandments

It never ceases to amaze me quite how uncharitable people at all points on the political spectrum can be toward those who don’t happen to share their perspective. Such tribalism isn’t the exclusive preserve of those who occupy any one part of the political terrain. And there’s quite a bit of it about at the moment.

I was mooching around on a couple of right wing blogs yesterday. The overriding narrative regarding the day’s demonstrations was pretty clear. They were being written off as nothing more than the work of lazy public sector trade unionists seeking to protect their non-jobs, which are funded by those hard working tax payers who work in the private sector. It’s all about self-interest.

Yet, the numbers turning up in London and the social composition of the marchers make that position barely credible. Whatever it was, it wasn’t simply a march of disgruntled and self-interested trade unionists scared of the dole queue. Read more of this post

Monbiot’s tax take and the embedding of plutocracy: an urgent concern for Liberal Democrats

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceWe are, it would appear, reaching a political watershed. There is perhaps a small window of opportunity to step back and consider where we think the country is heading. Then it could be too late. I was planning to post in response to George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardian. But his post, coupled with other developments, raises some profound issues.

Monbiot’s article gives his take on the implications of proposals for what might, at first sight, appear technical changes to corporate taxation. But he argues plausibly – if rather hyperbolically – that the changes represent  a major concession to the self-interest of multinational corporations. The net result of the changes will be to allow corporations – and banks in particular – to reduce their liability for UK tax considerably. And this is occurring, of course, at the same time as David Cameron is notably prominent in the media saying that the Government is committed to doing precisely the opposite – making sure that banks pay their share in order to help rebuild the economy. Read more of this post

Bluster and belief: Blue-tinged policy in health and housing

Today brought us two contrasting news stories which give further insight into the approach to policy making under the Coalition government. Today’s Guardian contains an interesting piece by Ben Goldacre on the reform of the NHS (available here), while the BBC have been carrying an item – triggered by a statement from the CIEH – about the problem of poor standards in the private rented sector in England, where it is estimated that 1 million properties are dangerous to live in.

What is interesting about these two policy areas is the way in which “evidence” features in the policy process and what leverage it has over the direction of policy. The contrast is sharp. Read more of this post

One and a half cheers (at least) for Mr Shapps

Our Housing Minister must be congratulated. Today’s Observer carries a front page article under the heading Minister pledges to end the housing price rollercoaster. Mr Shapps acknowledges that the rapid increases in house prices we have witnessed over the last decade have caused considerable pain for those seeking to enter the owner occupied market. Effectively many young people are completely shut out of the market by a combination of high prices and tight lending criteria – stringent deposit requirements in particular. Those without access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’ are further disadvantaged. They may be looking at heading into early middle age before being able to purchase a property. The remedy for this problem in Mr Shapps’s view is a housing market characterised by ‘house price stability’. The ideal, from his perspective, would be house price inflation of 2%, which is outstripped by the growth in real wages. This, of course, means housing becoming progressively cheaper in real terms.

This is all good stuff. It could turn out to be a defining moment in UK housing policy. Read more of this post

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