This is a moment Ed needs to grasp. Cameron’s ratings are slipping and Labour’s lead in the polls is stabilising, but we need something big to really start to build positive Labour support.
Ed has so far been clear that he doesn’t want to over-promise and under-deliver, and I agree that Labour cannot and should not promise the earth. But we do need one issue with which we can demonstrate the scope of our ambitions for a future Labour government and a Labour Britain. One in which we can demonstrate how a promise made by the UK government can be delivered by devolved governments in Wales and Scotland, and by local authorities. One which can and will provide a rallying cry for Labour activists.
We need a clean break with the biggest mistakes that Labour made and an offer that clearly defines us against the small and mean-minded instincts of the coalition.
We need an issue that speaks to the squeezed middle and the battered base. That speaks to the aspirations that people have for themselves and for their families while also speaking to Labour’s intrinsic values and theme of fairness.
We need something that helps us fight the Tories, but one that also shows those who are disillusioned with Labour in urban communities – where we may face a threat from local insurgencies – that we are listening to their biggest concerns. An issue which clearly demonstrates how a national Labour government will support local Labour and community ambitions.
Ed Miliband needs a bold, clause IV moment, but one that talks not of the Labour party but of the aspirations of a future Labour country.
Labour have an ambition to fulfil the British promise – that each generation is more successful than the last. To achieve this, Ed Miliband should promise that a Labour government will solve the housing crisis within a decade.
When Labour made its historic pledge to end child poverty, it was a remit that worked across every department and reached into every aspect of proactive government. Labour made huge strides towards achieving this target. But as I am sure we were warned at the time, this simply wouldn’t be achievable without tackling housing.
We live in the seventh richest nation in the world, yet some people live on the streets. We talk endlessly of property prices, yet so rarely of the cost of poor housing.
Good housing affects every other area of our lives. Evidence suggests that poor housing is detrimental to our physical and mental health and to our educational attainment. Housing needs to be rethought, redeveloped and redesigned. It must help us grow properly as children and to live into our later years with dignity and independence.
Housing contributes to a quarter of our carbon emissions, but solutions to this problem have themselves the ability to contribute to a new wave of development in manufacturing and technological development. New housing development will need to be planned to ensure not just good quality houses, but bonded, well-functioning communities developed around successful jobs and transport hubs and links.
Sadly instead it took Labour far too long to wake up to what was urgently required on housing. We had so many ministers responsible for housing, few lasting longer than a year, that it was never championed or properly understood in government. It was only at the end, when Labour realised the desperate need for the kind of economic stimulus that a building boom can provide, that we started to get our policy right.
Housing policy under the coalition has been dominated by the most ideological housing minister the country has seen since the 1940s. But Grant Shapps’s vision is not for a housing policy where all live in and are proudly stable in the kind of tenure that suits them well. His vision is of the cleansing of the inner cities of those with the cheek to be poor enough to live in social housing. His vision is of the diminishing of the stock available at a social rent until it become truly housing of last resort, and the ghettoisation of those who live in a socially rented property.
Shapps cut the affordable housing grant by 63% then devolved the blame for the Orwellian-named ‘affordable’ rent to councils and housing associations who have to balance the desperate need for new homes with their inability to build at anything lower than 80% of market rents.
It was Labour’s lack of any narrative about housing that has allowed this to happen. Too dependent on the feel good factor of the housing bubble and too scarred by our failure to understand the political success of Thatcher’s original ‘right to buy’ policy until it was too late, housing was an area we left deliberately ideologically free. We thought we were being clever, but instead we were creating a vacuum ready for Shapps to walk right into and drag the whole housing debate miles to the right, with no established counter-balanced argument from the centre-left.
And what of those people who benefitted from the housing boom. Those who we worried would see us as too old Labour if we intervened in the market? Well, when the market crashed, many had their own homes saved by just such a market intervention. Now they watch their own children completely unable to do what they took for granted and get a foot on the housing ladder. The narrative of the housing crisis is just as much about their children’s futures as much as it is about those in chronic need. Housing for all is a slogan that many will respond to just as well in the affluent south as in the Labour heartlands.
Ed doesn’t need to make lots of unachievable promises. He needs to make this one big promise an achievable focused and vital goal central to the Labour offer. That makes the promise of a Labour future something we can all fight for.
This post originally appeared on Shifting Ground.