If we are going to solve Britain’s nation housing crisis the first thing we need to do is accept that there is no national housing crisis.
I know that Zen koans seldom form part of the Housing debate but the reality is as long as housing policy remains sweeping, nationwide and monolithic it is doomed to failure.
There is no one British housing market. There are many. Some large, some small. Sometimes parallel, sometimes overlapping. Some growing and vibrant, some shrinking and strangled. And all have their own challenges and demand their own solutions.
What we are burdened with at present is a cumbersome, knee jerk and short term Tory Housing Policy aimed solely at meeting the needs of the South East middle classes and which fails to consider the housing needs of the rest of the country.
It is a Tory housing policy that will empty London of anyone earning less than £100,000 a year. It is a Tory housing policy which will fail to increase building rates anywhere outside of the South East. It is a Tory housing policy that will decimate social housing and hammer the final nails in the coffin of Council housing.
It is an attack on the Planning system which future generations will come to regret when saddled with the burden of poor quality and inappropriate development. It is an attempt to build homes for the aspirant upon the backs of the poor and downtrodden. It will make developers and investors richer whilst pushing thousands and thousands of families closer to the hell of homelessness.
I could talk, at some length and for several hours, about just how wrong and flawed this Government’s approach to Housing is. But I won’t because its easy to moan, its easy to point the finger and complain. Its easy to stand on the side lines and simply be a party of protest.
If we are serious about winning the Housing debate in the next five years then yes we do need to hold the Tory’s to account but we also need to present a credible alternative to their failed Housing policy.
I know that John and his colleagues will be a strong voice for us in Westminster. I know, for instance, that throughout the reading of the Housing and Planning Bill our MPs have laid down challenge after challenge which the Tories have simply been unable to answer.
However without power in Central Government, it is to local government that we as a party must turn to demonstrate that Labour can deliver on housing.
Like many of you, I am wary of the Tory devolution agenda but, in my view, this provides a genuine opportunity for Labour in local government to demonstrate that we have the answers to the very local and very localised housing challenges that our citizens lie awake at night worrying about.
We need to prove that local Labour councillors can be trusted to drive Housing change.
In my City, Liverpool, we believe that our approach to housing is a real success story. House building rates are up, investment is flowing, we have introduced City wide landlord licensing, have any number of new and innovative housing programmes and even won the Turner prize for one of our housing schemes.
Whilst I am proud of our achievements in Liverpool, I don’t for one moment believe that our solutions are necessarily your solutions. What works in Liverpool may be the absolutely wrong approach in Hull or Harrogate, Lambeth or Lancaster.
And it is upon that understanding that we need to build future Labour housing policy.
Future Labour Housing policy should be regional and even sub regional in its approach. Labour Housing policy should devolve money and power and influence. It should seek to enable local politicians to find local solutions to local problems. It cannot be one size fits all and must avoid broad brush national solutions.
Future Labour housing policy cannot offer solutions to a mythical national housing crisis but rather should enable regional and sub -regional politicians to solve the very real housing crises faced by their citizens.