Lyons leaps to height?

collage of photos of the industry of construction and buildingThe final report of the Lyons Housing Review – which may well be the last major party political publication on housing before the election – was published this week. How does it measure up? Has it delivered on the ambition to sort out the chronic problems of the UK’s housing supply system?

We’ve already seen plenty of political and professional reaction. And that reaction has been mixed.

Some see the Review’s 39 recommendations as adding up to a bold intervention to address the deeply-ingrained problems facing Britain’s misfiring housing market. Others have characterised the Review as representing a rather modest set of technocratic suggestions to deal with particular problems in the supply chain. Those looking for a bold new vision for housing are likely to have come away disappointed.

But we need to understand the nature and scope of the Review itself. [Read more...]

Political Economy is in the house

(First posted at reshapedebate.net, 14/10/14)

Saving For A HouseWe need a new approach to thinking about housing. Not only do we need to think differently about housing, but political economy more broadly needs to recognize the centrality of housing. It is not possible to carry out meaningful macro-social analysis without recognizing that the housing market occupies a position at the heart of capitalist society.

Those, at least, are the contentions that Manuel Aalbers and Brett Christophers (A+C) advance in Centring housing in political economy (£), a paper that recently appeared online and which will form the centrepiece of a future focus issue of Housing, Theory and Society.

A+C start with “capital” which they rightly consider “arguably the central category of political economy” and develop their argument in three parts. They:

identify the multiple (and ever more material) roles of housing when capital is considered from the perspective of each of its three primary, mutually constitutive guises: capital as process of circulation; capital as social relation; and capital as ideology. (p3)

A+C style the contemporary analysis of housing as being dominated by housing-as-policy, which is the focus of social policy analysis, and housing-as-market, which is the domain of mainstream economics. Given this reading of the terrain they argue that there is a pressing need for a political economy perspective which takes housing seriously and theorizes it as integral to capitalist dynamics. [Read more...]

Locating a plan for housing

housing coverKate Barker has been a significant presence in UK housing policy debate for a decade. Her report for the Blair government in 2004 crystallised the idea that we need to be building north of 200,000 houses a year to stabilize the housing market. And by stabilizing the market the report meant stopping real house price rises, rather than necessarily improving affordability. This idea has been floating about in the policy ether ever since, acting as a benchmark against which current policy is judged. Estimates of target housing supply have varied a bit since then as demographic projections and models get revised, but the brute fact is that actual housing supply has only exceptionally come anywhere close to hitting the sorts of numbers Barker viewed as necessary. Since the financial crisis new supply has been hovering around half what is needed.

Barker has returned to the fray with a brief book entitled Housing: Where’s the plan? The book focuses on private sector housing. Barker notes, rightly, that the social sector deserves a book length treatment of its own.

Brian has already offered his perspective on the book. I broadly agree with his assessment. Barker’s analysis is pitched at the right sort of level – we need to think broadly and systemically about the problem if we are to get any real purchase on it. Consequently simple solutions are unlikely to be adequate. The book doesn’t pin the blame on planning and move on. Barker reminds us of the powerful forces driving spatial development at the regional level. She concisely demonstrates the complexities and contradictions in the way we think about taxation in the housing market. Indeed, perhaps not surprisingly, the strongest component of the argument is the review of taxation and monetary policy. The book does a good job of conveying a sense of the interconnections within the housing system and the perverse consequences that can arise from intervention, however well-intentioned. [Read more...]

Notes from a small gathering

Last night I attended a fringe meeting entitled Ten years since the Orange Book – What should authentic liberalism look like? organised by the Institute for Economic Affairs and chaired by Isabel Hardman of the Spectator. I can’t quite remember the last time I went to an IEA event. Generally speaking I tend not to make a habit of it. Layer on top of that the fact that the hook was the OB and I wasn’t really on home territory. I went along largely out of curiosity. What might transpire in a corner of the Liberal Democrat universe that I don’t generally hang out in?

The event didn’t really take the turn I had anticipated. [Read more...]

Why vote Liberal Democrat?

brownecoverYou can tell we’re heading towards a General Election. The mud-slinging has become more vigorous. The uncosted promises of jam tomorrow are appearing more regularly. The differentiation is happening with greater urgency. And publications are starting to appear laying out the case for the various parties.

Biteback publishing has launched a series of short accessible books on the theme “Why vote X 2015: the essential guide”. Nick Herbert has written the book where X = Conservative and Suzanne Evans has chipped in where X = UKIP. The Labour version is slightly different because Dan Jarvis has edited the volume, rather than it being single authored. He also gets a Foreword by the party leader, which Dave and Nigel don’t appear to have supplied for their champions.

When we come to the Liberal Democrats what do we get? We get Jeremy Browne, that’s what. Unlike an equivalent publication written by Danny Alexander in the run up to the 2010 General Election, we don’t get a Foreword from Nick Clegg. But we do get an endorsement from David Laws: “A compelling argument for liberalism as the big idea in politics today”.

I can certainly see why one might turn to Browne for a robust position statement. But what sort of position will be stated?

Well. [Read more...]

A quick post on human rights

Today the Conservatives published their long-promised proposals for the replacement of the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, although their thunder was stolen somewhat by early publication of the announcement yesterday at Jack of Kent.

There has been plenty of speculation about what such a bill might contain, especially since David Cameron sacked Dominic Grieve as Attorney General. The assumption – which is looking increasingly accurate – was that Grieve was a serious impediment to moving the agenda forward simply by virtue of the fact that he understands and supports international law and human rights law, and the rule of law more broadly. So he had to go.

In the right wing press today Chris Grayling’s proposals have been warmly received. The proposals are combative in tone and make all sorts of noises about stopping judges from interfering from outside the UK, curtailing rights, and linking the exercise of rights to fulfilment of responsibilities. The press has been characterising this as ending the human rights “madness” and reasserting the sovereignty of the UK Parliament.

Commentary in the liberal press has been of a rather different flavour, and the more right-leaning press is by no means entirely supportive.

For all Chris Grayling’s posturing and for all the fanfare of a concerned campaign of media spin, it is, however, less clear what difference the proposals would or could make in practice. It may be, as Jonathan Freedland has argued, that achieving real difference in the law isn’t the primary objective.  [Read more...]

A bit of substance on housing to end the season?

House being builtWe’re most of the way through the Party Conference season, with only the Liberal Democrats left to play. So far it’s been a bit underwhelming on the housing policy front.

Labour offered a number of proposals. Some of them had been announced previously. Many of them were rather vague and aspirational.  Some of them looked kind of familiar – the Mansion Tax proposal most specifically. However, the proposal that many were hoping for – the big prize – relaxing the fiscal rules so that local authorities were allowed greater freedom to borrow for new development – was squashed by Ed Balls. Labour housing colleagues are now looking towards the Lyons Review – which is alleged to be emerging soon – to add a bit of ballast to the policy position.

The Conservative conference was rather short on specific housing policy announcements. Most of the announcements relevant to housing were focused on curtailing benefits to various groups deemed undeserving. I imagine one or two social landlord CEOs will be having sleepless nights worrying about their cashflows should the Conservatives be elected to govern alone come May 2015.

The eye catching announcement at the Conservative conference was the proposal to deliver 100,000 homes to first time buyers under the age of 40 at a 20% discount, with the homes to be cheaper because they’re built on brownfield industrial land. [Read more...]

The Q#3 quintet, and then some

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between July and September 2014:

  1. Uncertain terrain: Issues and challenges facing housing associations (11th May 2013)
  2. Developments in the ongoing Bedroom Tax saga (6th Sept)
  3. Why is Owen Jones so annoying? (4th July 2013)
  4. The miraculous power of welfare reform (11th Aug)
  5. The value of planning (30th Aug)

 

This quarter feels a bit like deja vu all over again.  [Read more...]

The Mansion Tax as a symptom

Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party conference earlier this week proposed an increase in spending on the NHS to be funded in part by a Mansion Tax.  This has sparked the debate about the whys and wherefores of property taxes back into life. Taxing property a topic guaranteed to send the commentariat into a frenzy. It is a topic I’ve touched on before. Property taxes can be seen as a potential solution to a range of different problems, while others seem to see them as the start of a slippery slope to the demise of capitalism.

I sent a letter on the topic to the Evening Standard yesterday. This is what I wrote: [Read more...]

Together in election dreams

You can find one or two brave souls who are willing to put a positive spin on Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference yesterday. But the dominant view among the commentariat seemed to be that it all felt rather flat and unfocused. Given this was the last big set piece before the General Election that has got to be a worry for the Labour party. Hasn’t it?

Miliband’s omission of the passage on the deficit generated a lot of excitement, although it seems likely that this was a genuine failure of memory rather than a strategic omission. He would surely have realized that any such intentional omission would be jumped on, given that it had been pre-briefed to the media. He would, wouldn’t he?

I’m not surprised Miliband forgot some of the speech. Not just because it was long, but because it lacked much shape. I wasn’t able to watch the speech being delivered but I’ve read it and it lacks any clear structure or sense of direction. It also lacked much in the way of light and shade; highs and lows. I’m not sure it will keep students of political oratory detained for very long, except perhaps as a salutary lesson on the pitfalls of overdoing the empathy and attempts at humanisation.

Others have been more scathing. After spending several paragraphs picking out some modest positives from the speech John Rentoul finishes by summarizing with this zinger: [Read more...]