The government should begin an immediate programme of mass housing construction designed by architects – and built by anyone except housebuilders, writes Paul Finch
A loose translation of a remark by Confucius, ‘When words lose their meaning, watch out’, has particular relevance during the party conference season.
The hedging and fudging of party leaders, as they try to duck specific commitment or even comment on one subject or another, has to be set against the brutal truths uttered by delegates, especially in fringe meetings. That is where you will really hear what Momentum thinks about Jewish MPs and Labour Party members, and what grass roots Tories really think about a prime minister who led them to a disastrous election result.
Among the more surreal moments were the rousing reception given to a Labour head-banger demanding a general strike – just what we need as we enter the final phases of negotiations for our withdrawal from the EU.
On which subject, I couldn’t help thinking about the late Chas Hodges of Chas and Dave fame, and a couplet from their hit song Ain’t No Pleasing You:
‘And if you think I don’t mean what I say – and I’m only bluffing
You’ve got another think coming, I’m tellin’ you that for nothing’
It’s a good mantra for any negotiator, especially if they go about their business in a quiet, efficient way, rather than conducting discussions in public, especially on Radio 4’s ‘Psychic News’ Today programme, whose interviewers seem to be under the impression that they are elected tribunes representing the Remainer tendency, endlessly agonising over the precise meaning of ‘Brexit is Brexit’, or ‘No deal is better than a bad deal’.
The worst deal is one negotiated over the airwaves with people who claim to be able to see into the future.
Meanwhile, we have had to put up with plenty of nonsense from the political parties about how they are going to ‘solve’ the housing ‘crisis’. For a start, at what point does a shortage become a crisis, and how long can a crisis last? If it is continuous for 20 years, does it merely become a condition?
We have had to put up with plenty of nonsense from the political parties about how they are going to ‘solve’ the housing ‘crisis’
The abuse of language is nowhere better represented in the use of the word ‘affordable’ to describe the price of homes which cannot be met by couples with average salaries seeking mortgages; ‘affordable rents’ are percentages of ‘market’ rental levels, which have themselves shot into the stratosphere as a result of low building rates and increased demand.
The more the politicians tell you that renting is the answer, the more you know they themselves do not rent, they own. Moreover, many of them have invested in ‘buy to let’ properties, no doubt convincing themselves as they do so that they are engaged in some form of public service, instead of greedily further restricting availability to young people. Pass the sick bag, as they say.
All this is underwritten by a profound belief (and that is all it is) that the future of the housing market can and should be dependent on the behaviour of private housebuilders, who can be relied on to build out a social housing programme as part of their everyday activities, and that, by some miraculous coincidence, required numbers will be met by increased activity on their part.
The moronic Cameron/Osborne policy of filling the pockets of Persimmon directors with public money to get infinitesimal increases in numbers on the company’s part, and none at at all across the sector as whole, shows little sign of changing in respect of the underlying belief in the market answering all needs.
But why does anyone believe this? In London it has been a failed policy under all three elected mayors. It would be more honest to admit that and start again. My favourite percentage of affordable homes that should be demanded of housebuilders is zero.
Let them do what they do for a living and start an immediate programme of mass housing construction commissioned by the government and local authorities, designed by real architects, and built by anyone except housebuilders, who should be going about their normal business.