An Englishman’s Home is… beyond his wildest dreams

For some reason, going back into the mists of time, the British people have an obsession with private home ownership, even though most of us should technically never be able to afford one without borrowing. In Continental Europe, people are far more satisfied to rent, either from private landlords or more ‘trustworthy’ institutions – maybe there is some correlation between these statistics and the lower levels of stress and dissatisfaction there compared to the UK.

Nevertheless, we are where we are, and there is no going back on the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme introduced by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 however much we might want to reverse it (indeed, many of us may actually agree with it, being as it was extremely popular with the low paid, who for the first time had a stake in their council homes and some sense of freedom, however delusional). What we have now is a housing crisis coming at the worst possible time, during a dire economic climate caused by sub-prime mortgages themselves.

Tensions over housing and its’ availability have an effect on many areas of life, including levels of antagonism towards immigrants, the environment, growth, inequality in our cities, personal debt, and of course the Daily Mail and Daily Express front pages. We need to deal with this timebomb if we are to stem a rise in far-right politics and avoid a lost generation of young people. However, worryingly this government is going about it completely the wrong way.

Not only has it made squatting illegal when there are more empty properties than there are homeless people in this country, but it has appallingly placed a cap on housing benefit, effectively pricing the poor out of our capital city and entire swathes of the country – those parts of the country which have job vacancies. The government is slashing the public sector and saddling young people who go to university with ever higher debt, meaning their chances of even being able to look forward to putting down a deposit are negligible.

What our housing market needs is a Keynesian-style investment in house building and construction; not only would this lower house prices for first-time buyers, but it would also ease tensions in the community and increase demand in the economy generally, leading to growth and the beginning of the end of the deficit that the ConDems love to remind us about so much. As a bonus, it would even lead to a return of Location Location Location to our TV screens. Gordon Brown’s plan before the proverbial shit hit the fan in 2007 was to build 3 million new homes – we need this sort of commitment now, coupled with a healthy proliferation of 1940s-inspired New Towns (hopefully better designed than the likes of Milton Keynes) and more social housing. Today’s announcement from Cameron and Clegg about guaranteeing 95% mortgages may look like a repetition of exactly what went wrong in the first place, but should not be dismissed entirely, as it is the taxpayer, not the banks, helping first-time buyers, and there is real potential for an increase in demand as a result.

However it goes nowhere near far enough. If we can’t get people to fall out of love with the owner-occupier dream, then we need to build, build, build, spending more money in the short term to get us out of the mess in the long term.

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Why Turn Blue When Just ‘Labour’ Will Do?

As Ed Miliband gathers opinions and considers the future policy direction of the Labour party as part of the Policy Review, there has been much debate recently about whether or not to pursue ‘Blue Labour’, as proposed by the academic and Labour peer Maurice Glasman. Blue Labour, a response to ‘Red Toryism’, aims to put co-operatives and the community at the heart of the lives of ordinary British people, and is a rebuttal of New Labour’s strangling embrace of neo-liberalism, which left swathes of grassroots Labour supporters feeling alienated and ignored by the party leadership.

Glasman has a point, for throughout the history of the ‘people’s party’ there has been a split between liberals, state socialists and those who favour co-operatives and more local organisation – many Labour MPs today are also members of the Co-operative Party, and since its inception at the turn of the twentieth century the Labour movement has been associated with local organisation and mobilisation.

Martin Pugh in his 2009 book “Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party” argues persuasively that the real dilemma for Labour through its history has not been attracting liberal support, but attracting hard-working but low-paid voters from the temptations of the Conservatives: many ordinary working class communities share the Tories’ patriotism; love of the armed forces (many of them have close relatives or friends serving in Afghanistan); desire for home ownership and a tough stance on law and order – why did so many vote for Margaret Thatcher in 1979, read the Daily Mail, and in a few cases drift to more extreme parties through fear of their jobs because of immigration and globalisation? Pugh stresses that when Labour came into being many voters were torn between it and the Tories because of these economic concerns, plus social beliefs like temperance or the role of the Church in schools.

Where Glasman takes the wrong path, in my view, is in his attempt to respond to Cameron’s Big Society by mimicking it and advocating a further retrenchment of the state, along with a return to a 1950s-style focus on the family, the flag, and feminism being almost unheard-of. That’s not ‘Blue Labour’, that’s just conservatism. If we as social democrats want to see equality of provision across the board, we need to expose the Big Society for what it is: a cover for cuts dreamt up by Steve Hilton when the Tories needed to be seen to be shedding the aura of Thatcherism.

If Labour is to win elections again without ditching our principles – to do so would be an insult to people like the families of those killed in Norway – we need to ‘re-connect with the grassroots,’ to use the spin-doctors jargon, by addressing, or at the very least appreciating, the legitimate concerns of the hard-working folk who keep the economy growing and keep money coming into the Exchequer. Instead of Big Society initiatives, we need to take the lead on key issues like housing, providing ample employment for deprived communities and young people generally, and not simply dismissing people’s concerns about migration and welfare dependency. That does not mean leaving the EU, saying we should only have British jobs for British workers, or undertaking humiliating fit-for-work tests like those currently going on under Iain Duncan Smith. It just means listening to those too well-off to be on benefits but on low wages, as well as staying true to  proud values like tolerance. If we go some way to pointing out these worries in opposition, whilst criticising the Con-Dems’ unfair cuts, the sought-after swing voters will follow, and we may just wake up to find ourselves in government again.

A big bumbling Tory, yes, completely lacking a heart, no

I’m sure you are all aware of the proposed housing benefit cap proposed under the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Labour officials were quick to criticise the policy as a ‘cleansing’ of the poor from the cities, much to the outrage of the Coalition. But, it seems we are not the only ones saying these borderline truths, London’s Mayor, Conservative Boris Johnson, today said he will not accept “Kosovo-style social cleansing” of the capital due to the cap in housing benefits.

Firstly, this is taking a step further than Labour did in its description, but it shows that those in charge of the actual cities will see the true mantra and devastation this will cause. London Councils estimates 82,000 families could be made homeless. 82,000 families(!), not people, families. And that’s not including, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds and many more cities. Now credit where credit is due, (even though I do want Ken back as Mayor) I totally agree with Johnson on this issue. You know when these plans are heartless and a part of a ‘cleansing’ programme when even the the Tory’s own London Mayor opposes them.

At what price a house?

The following is from Pippa Calver, Guild Ethical and Environmental Officer and BULS Vice-Chair Elect

Speaking recently to my grandparents and being told I should start to put some money aside for a deposit on a house fund I realised how differently the generations see property. I replied by saying that I’m not sure where I’ll be getting a job and don’t plan to buy a house until I am in a career enjoy and perhaps have views to start a family. I was met with shock. At the moment I see a house and mortgage as a big swinging ball and chain holding me down in one place, hindering my job possibilities because I don’t have freedom of movement, applying financial pressures and stopping me having a career break and travelling. this leads me to two questions………

1) Am I alone in my opinions?

2) Is it possible to do well in life without ever purchasing a house?

Labour MP joins call for cheaper halls fees!

BULS Guild correspondent Hollie Jones has provided us with the inside scoop that our good friend Steve McCabe MP has joined us students in our quest for affordable halls accommodation. In a letter to our very own Vice Chancellor Prof. Michael Sterling, he says

“Providing high quality accommodation in Halls of Residence is commendable but it is important that this accommodation is affordable for the whole student population and that there is maximum consultation with the students to ensure that what’s on offer is meeting their needs.”

BULS salutes Steve for showing solidarity in the good fight!