Housing Policy: A Radical Departure From the Status Quo

UK Policy Community

Housing Policy: A Radical Departure From the Status Quo

Posted on: 3rd December 2017
Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

The paper my Institute publishes today on housing fits exactly the template of its policy-making. It is radical but practical; progressive but in a way which aligns with the modern world and is not in defiance of it.

It proposes 5 new policy ideas, which together would mean a bold and ambitious agenda to solve our housing crisis; and in doing so, resolve part of the underlying causes of political alienation and dissatisfaction with democracy.

It abandons the timidity of Conservative policy; and avoids the present regression of Labour policy.

To summarise the policy proposals:

  • To replace the outdated and discredited Council Tax with a Land Value Tax, building on the best practice from abroad and establishing a fairer and more rational system of property taxation.
  • Re-zoning upwards, outwards and inwards to expand the possibilities of more housing construction.
  • A new Sovereign Property Fund to support property acquisition by local councils for the express purpose of housing construction and rehabilitation.
  • A Rapid Transit Network to accompany the housing regeneration, which through rail, bus and cycle links joins central urban districts to peripheral zones and not only in London but across Britain.
  • A new Social Contract with rental sector tenants which extends the standard minimum tenancy to 3 years, limits rental inflation to the consumer price index over that time and provides stronger protections from eviction.

The Paper marks a departure in housing philosophy. Whilst we celebrate the virtues of home ownership, it is time to acknowledge that for many a flourishing rental sector is essential and housing needs are not always served by the focus on ownership to the exclusion of other forms of tenure.

It is, however, impossible to have this policy discussion, so vital to a fairer future, without contemplating yet again the extraordinary and damaging distractive effect of Brexit.

The truth is that exploring and if possible implementing this type of policy is where the energies of Government should be directed. The recent Budget changes were welcome in so far as they go, but they do not go far.

When we think of the legions of civil servants at vast expense in addition to the huge Brexit bill, who will be employed on new border checks and untangling and then trying to re-establish existing trade links, how much more productive would it be if those people were employed on putting in place the necessary machinery for changing property taxation and helping housing development.

I marvel at the audacity of those Brexiteers who continue to proclaim the abundant benefits of our ‘liberation’ from Europe. Tell me where in the Government’s new Industrial Strategy or the Budget or the Queens Speech – these defining statements of Government policy – they say and here is our great vision for the future but unfortunately Europe stops us fulfilling it. Where do they say this is what, liberated, we could achieve? Where is the identification of the obstacles these purblind Europeans put in our way?

You will search for them in vain. The truth is there is nothing they want to do that Europe prevents them from doing; and nothing that we are doing which would not be done better without the stultifying distraction of the mono-focus on Brexit. 

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It is, however, impossible to have this policy discussion, so vital to a fairer future, without contemplating yet again the extraordinary and damaging distractive effect of Brexit.

This is the tragedy of Brexit’s opportunity cost. And all this as the world revolutionises around us.

The purpose of the policies the Institute is developing – and we have now published papers on immigration from Europe, technology and housing and these will be followed by others on broader immigration, infrastructure development, public services, security and other areas – is twofold. Obviously we seek to develop policy which is valid in its own terms. But secondly, to show to those who voted for Brexit there is a different and better way of meeting their genuine concerns.

In my view, this is the only way Brexit can be over-turned. The strategy has to be dual: to point out the complexity and cost, which is emerging as new facts come to light; and also to demonstrate sensitivity and a willingness to act upon the legitimate fears which gave rise to Brexit.

Of course nothing will ever convince the Euro-Obsessives.

But the coalition which brought us this decision was made up of different factions of support. Some are passionate believers that the EU is incompatible with patriotic commitment to the nation state. 

Some believe Britain should leave and become ‘Not Europe’, i.e. market ourselves as a free-wheeling light regulation and low tax offshore hub.

Others and I suspect this includes the many Labour voters who voted for Brexit were voting because of deep anger and grievance at the state of their lives. It was a political wake-up call. They saw the NHS crumbling; the housing crisis; communities left behind, opportunity unequal and they protested.

These are the persuadable.

To succeed, we have to break up the Brexit coalition, expose its contradictions and refashion a new coalition.

But this can only happen if the political leadership listens and acts. Hence the policy agenda we are developing. 

The new coalition is made up of people who share a basically open-minded approach to the world, who eschew nativism, protectionism and isolationism but who are alive to the strains of globalisation both economic and cultural; who are socially liberal, in favour of a vibrant, innovative and enterprising private sector and have a strong commitment to social justice delivered in new ways for a new world.

This is the coalition which can re-unite traditional Labour supporters with modern progressives. It can reach into Conservative support on a basis broader than simple anti-Brexit sentiment. 

It is not yet being built within the existing structure of our politics. But it is there for the building. And, if the Labour Party could only see it, it is the only way of stopping the corrosive distraction of Brexit and allowing us to deliver a radical programme which would actually work and change lives for the better.

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