You’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.
But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.
The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.
And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere.
Yesterday we saw Nick Boles, the Planning Minister, seeming to contradict earlier assurances by Nick Clegg that the new garden cities being planned by the Coalition will include provision for affordable housing. It appears that Boles, in contrast, indicated the Government is to make no explicit stipulation on the matter. Rather it will leave developers the freedom to come up with proposals which may or may not include provision for affordable housing, as the market dictates. So it is perfectly possible that Ebbsfleet may turn into an opulent enclave and make no real contribution to the housing affordability problem in the south east.
At around about the same time we received news that Conservative-controlled Milton Keynes council is not happy with some of the Coalition’s changes to the planning framework. Developers can now renegotiate planning permissions to reduce or remove the requirements to provide affordable housing. The Guardian reported the Deputy Leader as arguing that:
the problem has been caused by ministers treating builders as “poor lambs” after they “squealed” about the viability of developments where they were required to build 30% or more affordable homes. He has written to the planning minister, Nick Boles, demanding he drop a policy “that unfairly and inappropriately favours the interest of developers over the needs of present and future residents”.
And today we have a column by Anne Williams and Peter Oborne in the Telegraph that is suffused with outrage at the way in which housing policy is being conducted. The column is particular interesting because of the way that it seeks to frame the issue. The key argument is that “true Conservatives” should be appalled at the housing situation. Households with established roots in communities are being priced out. Hardworking families, even in two earner households, find ownership in their area unattainable without external assistance. It appears that policy is more interested pandering to plutocrats than the aspirations of working- and middle-class families. Whatever happened to the Conservative ambition for a broad-based property-owning democracy?
The rhetoric may be in place when the Coalition talks about housing, but the reality is that policy has been timid. And a number of the Coalition’s schemes and wheezes to get more homes built have failed to achieve even the modest impact they were intended to have.
These high profile interventions may turn out to be of little consequence. But they may signal an increasing realisation on the Right that all things housing have got badly out of kilter. If that is the case then the prospect of building a stronger cross-party consensus on the need for more radical action to address our housing problems may have clicked up a notch or two.