Tory tailspin

5828140208_8a97682643_nIt is clear, even to the casual observer, that the Conservatives are in a bit of a tangle. You could say the same about the other main political parties. But the Conservatives appear to be going through a particularly public convulsion at the moment.

They seem to have misplaced 20% of their opinion poll support over the course of 2012. Many of those potential voters appear to have transferred allegiance to UKIP. On the basis of opinion polling, some commentators are already declaring UKIP the third party of British politics, overtaking the Liberal Democrats.

Paul Goodman posted a piece at the Telegraph on the weekend arguing that the rise of UKIP was one of four factors which pointed to the conclusion that the 2015 General Election is already lost. The piece generated a rapid response among the right wing commentariat. Both Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale argued that while a Labour victory in 2015 looks likely, the result isn’t inevitable. There are steps that David Cameron can take over the next year that would revive the Conservative party’s fortunes. Grant Shapps waded in on New Year’s Eve to castigate anyone declaring that the election is already lost. This is just, in his view, being defeatist.

The question, of course, is what Cameron should do to turn things around. Inevitably, views differ. About the only point commentators seem to be closely aligned upon is that Cameron needs to make his long-promised landmark speech on Europe, with some serious substance, some time very soon.

For much of last year the Conservatives’ right wing backbenchers were making a nuisance of themselves both in the House and in the media. The clamour is for isolationism and turbocharged neoliberalism. A decisive swing to the right is claimed to be the way to see off the UKIP threat and encourage wavering right wing voters back into the fold.

Over the New Year it was the turn of the centre-right moderates and the modernisers to make an alternative case. This is a case we hear being made much less frequently. [Read more…]

Osbo’s poverty trap and pinging the elastic of reality

Message opposed to unemployment.Since they entered office the blue-tinged contingent of the Coalition has been engaged in a systematic process of stigmatising those in receipt of social security benefits. Great emphasis has been placed upon the undeserving and the fraudulent. There is support for the hard working strivers, but condemnation for the skivers. The spotlight has been on the most extreme cases of households receiving substantial financial support from social security in order to create a smoke screen for cuts in benefits to the poorest. The Tories are convinced that welfare “reform” – particularly the overall weekly benefit cap – is their most popular policy. Yet many of the components of this policy have yet to be fully implemented. The general public has yet to grasp their full impact. It may transpire that once they do, the Tories will feel they acted precipitately in drawing such a positive conclusion. [Read more…]

On “post-truth” politics

Over the last few days speeches by leading US Republicans have been scrutinized by the world’s media. Paul Ryan’s contribution has come in for widespread criticism for its lack of veracity. The Guardian published a piece subtitled A round-up of his most audacious untruths.

Even Runner’s World has joined the chase. They have been able to find no evidence that Ryan has ever, as he recently claimed, clocked a sub-3 hour marathon. For runners that would be worth checking because going sub-3 hours would make him a really top class club runner. Records suggest he has only run one marathon and he finished in just over four hours.

The completion of a marathon in a reasonable time seems to have been seen as a key achievement of many recent US (vice) presidential candidates. Something valuable to list on the CV. No doubt that’s because it’s seen as a sign of positive personal characteristics – determination, discipline, endurance and the like. So it is perhaps less odd than it first appears that it is part of the conversation. But if you are going to lie about something quite so easy to check … [Read more…]

Tory Green Belt Housebuilding Conniptions

We’re all pretty much agreed that it would be good if housing supply were a bit perkier. That is, perhaps, an understatement. The housing world is broadly united in the view that residential construction is currently in a parlous state, the housing supply deficit is chronic, and it lies at the heart of many of the housing affordability problems that have afflicted the UK housing system for a long time.

Affordability is improving in many parts of the country and for certain types of household. But the continued shortage of mortgage finance means that many potential buyers are shut out of the market.

The housing wonks have been joined in their aspiration to see an increase in housing supply by those more preoccupied with the enfeebled state of the marcoeconomy. They are looking for capital investment projects that could get up and running quickly. Housing fits the bill perfectly.

All that’s left now is to determine is what to build, where to build it, and who’s going to pay for it. So we’re almost there. [Read more…]

Is stronger regulation of private renting only a matter of time?

One of the first things Grant Shapps did when he became housing minister was shelve Labour’s plans, developed out of the 2008 Rugg Review, to implement a system of registration for private landlords and letting agents. His view was that the sector faced enough regulation already. He has subsequently backpedalled somewhat on this position. Last year’s housing strategy made some rather vague references to the need to deal with poor quality landlords. And the Localism Act’s proposals to allow local authorities to discharge duty into the private rented sector have been followed by a recognition that local authorities should take some interest in the quality of the privately rented properties being used for the purpose. But, by and large, Shapps has stuck to his line.

However, circumstances – both socio-economic and political – change. [Read more…]

Housing transformations and trajectories: My contribution to #SLFconf

[This is the text accompanying my presentation to the 2nd Social Liberal Forum Conference: “Social justice across generations”, King’s College London, 14/07/12. Not all of it was delivered on the day, because of the way the session panned out and because there’s too much of it. My thanks to my co-contributors Paula Keaveney, Emily Davey and Martin Tod – and to everyone who attended – for a really interesting session.]

We are experiencing a momentous period in UK housing – both in terms of the housing system itself and housing policy. This is not simply a product of the current economic crisis but of the crisis layered on top of longer-term and deeply-rooted problems.

We are witnessing a housing transformation on the ground. The last five or six years have seen an increase of more than a million households living in the private rented sector. This is in part because of the scarcity of mortgages for first time buyers; one of the consequences of the Global Financial Crisis.

And we are witnessing a transformation in the thinking underpinning housing policy. As those who play #shappsbingo know, Grant Shapps regularly refers to his aim of shattering the “lazy” consensus in housing policy. I don’t agree with him on much, but I think it is fair to say that there was a consensus on the broad parameters of housing policy, and that he has shattered it. Ideas that a few years ago were only whispered among the more outré right wing think tanks are now the premises upon which policy is based.

And if we don’t like the direction in which housing policy is heading then we will need to come up with some strong social liberal arguments as to why not. In my view housing policy needs refounding. [Read more…]

Financing the supply of new housing

[Originally posted at the Guardian Housing Network, 23/05/12]

We all agree that Britain needs new homes. A significant shortfall has emerged over many years and the collapse in construction simply piles on further pressure. Increasing supply is central to dealing with some acute problems facing the housing system.

Simple, but pressing questions follow. Who is going to pay? And how are they going to do it? [Read more…]

Beds, sheds, and regs

She is looking forward to returning to Hyderbad, where the living conditions will be much better.

Amelia Gentleman, Guardian, 10/05/12

This is the payoff line for an extended article about poor housing in the private rented sector in Newham. The aim is to provoke a reaction.  Conditions are so bad in our glorious capital – a global city no less – that someone would rather return to India which is, we had always presumed, at the very least a bit squalid. We should be shocked.

The article covers “beds in sheds” and headlines the instance of people found renting a walk-in freezer to live in. But it is mostly about overcrowded rented properties. And when they say overcrowded they really mean overcrowded. Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham, notes that the record case was 38 people, 16 of them children, living in one property.

We are still one of the richest countries in the world but we have people living in sheds, three generations of the same family living in a single room, or several unrelated adults sharing a room or sharing a bed. And paying considerable amounts of money for the privilege. And all this is happening only a few miles down the road from neighbourhoods in which investors are happy to pay multi-millions for properties they will barely live in. [Read more…]

Squatting again …

Over at Cif today Grant Shapps makes another attempt to make the case for the policy of criminalising all squatting of residential buildings. He makes the connection to homelessness support and rightly points out that there is more money going in to homelessness services, which may compensate for some of the homelessness generated by changing the law on squatting.

But it seems that Mr Shapps is not happy. He’s not happy with the response his proposals have received in some quarters. In particular he starts his piece by arguing that:

The fact some academics in their ivory towers and lawyers in their inns of court believe it’s morally wrong to stop this destructive behaviour only shows how completely disconnected from everyday life they have become.

One can never be sure – and, of course, I may flatter myself – but I suspect I am one of these “academics in their ivory towers” who Mr Shapps feels are so disconnected from reality sitting here at my dining table (not in an ivory tower I’m afraid). [Read more…]

Shifting underoccupiers

There is little doubt that we are facing significant problems in the housing market. Most obviously, problems of access and affordability. And there is little doubt that we must be heading towards a housing statement from the Government. Reports from think tanks and lobby groups – each trying to exert some influence over the direction of policy – are appearing with alarming regularity. Last week it was the turn of the little-known Intergenerational Foundation to produce a report called Hoarding of Housing. The report received quite a lot of media coverage. As far as I could tell most of it was negative. That seems to me both fair and unfair. [Read more…]