How do we make housing – where Labour has a public opinion lead over the Conservatives – count more in votes at Election time?

I am a founder member of the new Tribune Group of MPs because political debate in Britain – as well as in the Labour Party – needs fresh ideas and a clear left voice. The Labour programme we put to the public must be both radical, to give people the belief that things can change, and credible, to help give people the confidence that Labour can make the change.

I am also serving in Labour’s shadow cabinet, as shadow secretary of state for housing – a statement of intent that Labour in government would set up a fully-fledged housing department to meet the scale of the challenge the country now faces on housing and to reflect the public concern about housing, which is the highest in over four decades. Nowhere is a fresh centre-left case needed more than on housing.

There is no serious dispute that we need to be building more than 200 000 new homes each year in England. Some argue the target must be much higher. Yet this total has only been reached once in the last 35 years since the end of any major public housebuilding programme – in 1988 at the height of the unsustainable Lawson boom. Private house-builders have a big part to play but they build to the market, so on their own they can and will never build at the levels the country needs.

Since 2010 – during the six years David Cameron was in No 10 – there were fewer new homes built than under any other peacetime Prime Minister since Lloyd George in the 1920s.

I set out the case for public housebuilding in a recent submission I made to the Economic Affairs committee in the House of Lords when they did their inquiry into the UK housing market. The link is here.

The economic and social policy case for a big boost to public housing investment, led by both central and local government, is strong. Especially for Labour. But our challenge on the centre left is to carry political and public opinion.

I see part of the role for Tribune MPs as helping lead the re-thinking needed to tackle the deeper questions in areas such as housing to refresh our Labour political project. And these questions include:

  • How do we make the case for “good” borrowing, and reduce the scale of the current deficit?
  • How do we argue that housing is not simply a ‘privatised good’ or an individual problem, but that government has a responsibility and role in dealing with the housing crisis?
  • How do we get over the fatalism or pessimism that makes people feel “nothing can be done” about the housing problems and pressures they face?
  • How can we create a stronger common concern or desire for action, given that people’s experience and view of the housing crisis is wide-ranging – and often dependent on what their own housing circumstances are and where they live?
  • How do we make our Labour plans relevant to the pressures and aspirations that people have in the modern rapidly-changing world, and not seem like a throw-back to a period three or four decades ago when those most disadvantaged in the housing market and wider economy weren’t even born?
  • How do we make housing – where Labour has a public opinion lead over the Conservatives – count more in votes at Election time?

So it is views on the politics rather than policy, and on carrying public opinion rather than experts with us, that I’d most like to hear.

Let me and the Tribune MPs know what you think.

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  • P.S. Regarding my post earlier… to make the idea work it would probably mean that employers would have to reduce employees GROSS pay a bit, so that they can cover the extra tax themselves, but although that sounds bad, it wouldn’t really be, as the idea is that people still end up with more take home pay, after paying no tax, but a higher amount of National Insurance. 4 people in a room, an employer, an employee, a tax person, and a politician. The employer said to the employee “I have some money for you here, but I’m afraid you can’t have it all, as I have to give some of it to this tax person so they can pass it on to that politician to spend for the good of us all” It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s NOT funny, WHY is it like this? It just seems like the employee is being unnecessarily upset about money that was never going to be given to them anyway, it might as well just go straight to the tax collectors, so that the employee can’t feel annoyed about what it gets spent on. It’s like rubbing salt in the wound of never being given that money. You’ll all think I’m potty for saying this and it can’t be changed, but I’m just desperately trying to think about how voters could feel more inclined to vote Labour. I used to be a wages clerk so I saw all the separate figures that I wrote on pay slips. People have said recently that they don’t mind paying an extra penny tax as long as it definitely goes to the NHS, which tells me that people want separate pots of money designating for separate issues, so couldn’t we make national insurance a pot that covers those things that people like paying towards… This will definitely be an issue when more robots are in the work-force as you can’t tax them directly. Don’t worry as I don’t have any more crazy ideas, unless you count the ones about putting a raffle ticket dispenser in GP surgeries so patients can get a ticket for £1 to help with NHS costs, and have a draw once a month for a little prize, or to make non voters use their votes, have a draw in each constituency for a small prize at General Elections, I think I heard they tried that once in a state in America, or monitor their voting regularity and if it stays above 80% then they get a lump sum payment at the start of their retirement of a couple of thousand. And there should be a TV fundraiser for old people, like children in need, to help with care costs. Selling a raffle ticket for the NHS is not like charging, people like a little flutter for a charitable cause, they wouldn’t mind, though I guess it would take some setting up expense etc. That’s all.
  • I’m sorry about that post I made a couple of months ago, I didn’t mean to imply that I think people don’t earn the money that’s deducted in the PAYE system, really they probably earn more than they get paid Gross in truth. All I REALLY wanted to say was that I think things could be re arranged, to make voters less resentful of Labour’s plans to spend taxes. Just end tax for people earning less than 30,000 or 40,000, take National insurance instead, which could increase if tax ended. Point out that these deductions are all for NHS, state pensions, other things people like contributing towards. Then charge companies an ‘employee tax’, which may soon become a ‘robot tax’, and use that money, and money from other places, to pay for everything else, Benefits (or Universal Basic Income if you go that route that Mr McDonnell was writing on facebook about today) payments for interest on national debt, etc. I just don’t want people’s feelings about YOU spending THEIR taxes to get in the way of you being elected! You COULD promise to be like EBENEZER SCROOGE, otherwise known as George Osborne darlings, and underfund everything, OR you could re write the system, change it all so that people don’t feel as if it was all THEIR money that you’re spending. Surely this makes sense if a lot of automation is on it’s way? i wish we could tell if these comments have actually been read! Cant you put a box under them for one of you to tick when it’s been seen? You don’t have to ‘like’ it as with twitter, but it’d be nice to think we’re not talking/writing to ourselves… xxx
  • Social mobilization is the key. First, social mobilization, and after that continuous pressence in the media with a potent discourse. When humble working people get together all over the country for fighting for such a truly necessary and potentially transversal issue like every British family or individual citizen having his legitimate right to a decent home satisfied, and that struggle gradually and slowly achieve concrete goals, and actually succeeds at reducing the concrete suffering of concrete families, and at the same time these people speaks in a language not excesively technical or ideological, but in an acceptable, understandable and attractive way for the social majority of the country, it would take a misalignment of the planets or the fury of the Gods not to have a big part of the British, probably most of them, supporting this movement and whoever triggers it, helps it and supports it – in this case the Labour Party, I hope. This is not easy and in no way it’s fast, actually it would take huge efforts and long time to fruit, but it’s the way for creating community, loyalties, solidarity and affection for a progressive political project within the working population. In fact, it shouldn’t be necessary to come here a newcomer to England Spanish student to explain you that kind of things for you to acknowledge them – as it is exactly what Labour Party did for decades, ressulting in what this party came to be in the UK during good part of the 20th century. So, what should be the role played by the Labour in this process? For the militants, standing with the communities they belong to and hand-to-hand with them building the social movement for guaranteing housing for all at a grass-root level. And for the leaders, use all of the opportunities they have in every debate, every newspaper, every appearance in TV, every Twitter account, to explain this movement, strongly defending it and showing pride for belonging to a nation able to mobilize itself that way for achieving its rights. And it is specially important that the discourse used by these Labour public referents avoids both showing themselves like millionaire, moderate, soft, “reasonable” member of the political establishment (the “Hillary Clinton”, “Tony Blair”, “Gordon Brown”, “François Hollande” style) as much as like old-fashioned, mind-closed, stangnat-in-the-70s orthodox traditional leftists (probably a sin attributable to the current leadership). This great, wonderful society deserves much more from the Labor Party than it has been giving it in the last decades. It’s up to you fixing that or not. We can be sure it will be hard, it will take a very long time and it will demand the best of our effort, our intelligence, our creativity and our strength, but it will be worth taking this country back for its people. To be honest I don’t see that happening right now, but I hope the Labour Party proves me wrong.
  • Hi there, I really wish I could think of something to say that would help you guys, every time I think of the party at the moment, my eyes just fill with tears. Reading what you’ve written above, you seem to partly be asking how to get the electorate to care about the dire shortage of housing, even if it’s not something that affects them personally, or someone they know. I fear that the answer isn’t very palatable. Recently, I went to view a collection of old photographs of my local area in the village hall, and noticed, while there, that they were trying to collect signatures on a petition to stop a new housing development from springing up nearby. Needless to say, I didn’t sign it. In retrospect I should have written a comment on it, to say that a home for people who don’t have one is more important than pretty views for people who do. Anyway, it made me feel that the unpalatable answer to your question is that people who aren’t personally affected by the lack of housing , would literally need to see desperate, homeless people, living in tents in their area, before they would view it as an issue to vote on, that they felt impinged on their own lives. Sorry. Lots of people DO care, of course, but I’m guessing that they already vote Labour xx. Alternatively, maybe you could make some kind of a public information film that brings the problem more into the public consciousness? Like a modern version of ‘Cathy Come Home’ I suppose. I sometimes feel it’s a shame you don’t have your own TV channel for information films, or at least a regular spot on the Parliament channel, which all the other parties would have to have too, of course. Maybe you ought to make a documentary programme that follows an MP in their constituency, showing how you help to solve your constituents problems, if you could find some constituents who’d be willing to take part in that.

    Sometimes it feels like part of the problem is that people can misunderstand policies. You need to explain things really clearly you know. During the referendum campaign for instance, I came across a conversation some people had been having on Facebook, it ended a while before I found it, but I was alarmed to discover that the participants had completely misunderstood the ‘migrant impact fund’, they were saying things like “Can you believe that Labour just wants to throw even more money at these migrants?!” From what was said, it was plain to me that they thought the migrant impact fund was extra money to help migrants rather than to help the whole area cope better when there are more migrants living there. I guess I should have tried to write them an explanation really, but I just despaired, filled my eyes with tears and closed the lap top.

    It seems to me that your main problem really, is the issue of taxation and people’s feelings and beliefs about it. You probably wont like what I’m about to say regarding this matter, your mind will resist and try to push it away and reject it as silly, and I’m not a very clever person the way I think all of you are, so maybe I’m just being naive, not sure, you decide. I used to be a wages clerk many years ago, in the office of the Butcher’s chain, J H Dewhurst Ltd, before I had my family after which I became disabled with severe arthritis. It was a long time ago, but I clearly recall doing by hand, the wage slips for the staff working in the shops. I enjoyed that part of the job, it was so much nicer than working out how much each shop had (usually) lost each week, except for Xmas when they made a lot… Anyway I was pondering my time doing wage slips recently, when in a moment of clarity, it struck me that the TRUTH is that taxation in the PAYE system is just an OPTICAL ILLUSION, which is ok if you accept the necessity of it I suppose, but the TRUTH IS that it is AN OPTICAL ILLUSION THAT IS COSTING YOU VOTES, so I’ve concluded that I don’t like it, and I just wish you could rearrange it some way that would be less of a hindrance to Labour being elected… I know you’ll want to reject what I’m saying as you want to believe that people earn their gross pay and have their tax taken off it, but honestly, it really seems to me like an optical illusion that costs you votes and causes people to feel resentful and annoyed at you. I used to sit at my desk, and I’d write the gross wages figure in a box, then I’d tap the calculator and work out the tax, or maybe I looked at a chart, not sure now, was a long time ago, but then I’d deduct the tax from the gross figure, and the National Insurance of course, to produce the net figure that was going to be paid from the shop till. The tax will have been paid to HMRC by the COMPANY, the employees never had so much as a sniff of it, it never passed through their hands or their bank accounts, therefore it was all an illusion, a trick of the mind… I know it’s meant to make folks feel like responsible citizens who chip into the system, but the only effect I can perceive of late, is that it causes people to become irritated, bitter, resentful, annoyed, and sadly, frankly, less likely to vote Labour…

    You’re probably wondering what I think you could possibly do about it all, it is a problem to be sure, and I’m not really all that clever. I guess you’d have to preserve the optical illusion to a certain extent, but maybe it could be a friendlier optical illusion for the purposes of The Labour Party.

    If you took a survey of a group of people, and asked them which thing they feel happier about paying, tax or national insurance, you’d probably find that they prefer paying N.I. to tax. I think people have maybe an inaccurate belief that N.I. is some kind of saving scheme for their own pension or for ill health in the future, to provide any benefit they need, I know relatives who think like that. So, maybe you could say that in future, people will make National Insurance contributions, which will be used solely for ALL THE THINGS THAT THEY APPROVE OF PAYING FOR, like all the pensions that are paid out every week, all the national health service money, and maybe schools, I don’t know, whatever you think they’d approve of contributing towards, from that specific pot of money. Then crucially, the rest of the money you need to pay out would come from companies instead, (where it comes from anyway) and just admit that it is company profits (from people who purchase stuff or services from them, don’t forget) that covers the rest, so it’s the companies paying out tax that will cover things the electorate resent paying for, such as out of work and sickness benefits and tax credits. Couldn’t that be made to work? The Tories would just hate it, as they wouldn’t be able to turn people against you so easily. Maybe it could be arranged in such a way that people would come out of the new deal with a bit more take home pay, which is only what you’d like to happen in any case, it’s take home pay that’s important, all the other figures are airy fairy optical illusion, tricks of the mind in my opinion. Just take a bit more from the companies to make up for the bit that was left with the employees and Bob’s your uncle, as they say. I don’t know what you’d do about self employed people really but you’re all brilliant, so you’d be able to work it out. I believe in you all. You’re the best people in all the world. I just want everyone to vote for you all. Karen xx
  • Councils across the country have been selling off potential housebuilding land to replenish their coffers due to stringent reductions in their money from central government. A rebalance needs to be legislated for so there is land left for social housing to accommodate the full range of those in need. Maybe instead of occupiers being able to buy these social housing properties a scheme is needed to support those who could do so to enable them to buy into the private market. But there is a need for connecting all housing into local transport links. The best provision is usually that of council estates which makes them a practical place to live.
  • Passionate about social housing to be honest and the lack of it in this country. Why does the LP not stop the right to buy. It as decimated social housing in there country and while it is still there social housing will continue to be sold off.
  • Council housing must also be available to the homeless people. Whether or not that they have children. We must not class them as ‘different’ and therefore put them at the back of the queue.