On Saturday I attended the always excellent Fabian New Year Conference. This was a particularly interesting year, being Labour’s first in opposition for some time. There I had the opportunity to pitch an idea to the “democracy Den”. Based on Dragon’s Den, with Dragons Mehdi Hasan - political editor, New Statesman, Deborah Mattinson - author of Talking to a Brick Wall, Mary Riddell Telegraph Columnist and chaired by Sadiq Khan MP . The idea was to present one radical idea that would also win the votes of the progressive majority.
I was up against Claire French who proposed a register of media interests, Simon Norton who proposed that we ask Nick Clegg to name his price to break the coalition (this was the idea rejected by the Dragons as being undemocratic and unworkable), Maurice Glasman who proposed a democratisation of the corporation of London and Sunder Katwala who proposed a 20% tax on Public School fees.
We each had a minute and a half to pitch our ideas and were then grilled by the audience and each dragon in turn. I was delighted to not only get unanimous approval from the dragons, but also to win the vote in the hall.
reproduced below is my initial pitch (this first appeared on Next Left)
In 1997 Labour imposed a windfall tax on energy companies which raised £5bn. I propose that in 2015 we propose a windfall tax on the banks designed to raise £7bn.
This money should be ring fenced, and used to build 100,000 social homes, bringing further investment from social housing providers and kick starting a moribund construction industry which is likely to suffer from the Tory cuts disproportionately as infrastructure investment is slashed.
This could be the start of a re-balancing of the economy from an over reliance on a London based financial services industry to a broad based construction industry bringing much needed jobs and investment as well as desperately needed homes.
This should come on top of increasing a commitment to building more social homes every year, reversing the disgraceful 63% cut to the Governments housing budget brought in by the Tory led coalition.
There are currently 4.5 million people in housing need and we are building fewer homes than at any time since the Second World War.
Housing was barely mentioned during the election campaign, but we know that it is a massive issue for voters. This policy would give us a positive way to counter anti immigration sentiment, which has at least in part been cause by a lack of affordable, decent housing.
This is not just the right thing to do; it will also be electorally popular in areas Labour need to win back. Seats like Harlow, for example, where there were 6,165 people on the housing list in 2009, and the average house costs 9.7 times the average local salary.
It will also be populist, with banks seen as not giving back to the people whose taxes bailed them out. This would be a quick, simple measure to ensure that the banks are putting something back into society and helping those in need.
So popular, affordable and the right thing to do – how can you refuse?