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.