Cameron is in danger of being like Mugabe on property
Housing is Londoners’ top priority according to the polls. Not surprising – with problems ranging from the cost, to shortage and too often to the quality too.
Yet the Conservatives’ lead housing policy – to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants – will solve none of these London housing problems: we should make attacking it a Lib Dem campaign priority for next year’s GLA elections.
It’s not that right to buy is inherently wrong: the original policy back in the 1970s and 1980s helped some council tenants escape some shockingly bad local authority landlords. Yet over time, the right to buy developed serious weaknesses – as receipts were never invested into new social housing, as discounts increased and as widespread fraud set in.
And as a solicitor who’s worked in social housing for 20 years, I’ve been amazed how Government and councils alike have failed to recognise the unfairness, the high costs and the waste for taxpayers now prevalent in right to buy.
Yet this new Tory right to buy extension has all the faults of that old system – and more besides.
First, the homes owned by housing associations are not the Government’s: it should offend not just Liberal values but Conservative ones too, for Tories to propose to legislate to force independent non-state bodies to have to give up their properties.
While some of these homes were built with some taxpayer subsidy, vast numbers received no public support at all, especially those not part of a stock transfer. Such a policy of quasi-expropriation means Cameron is in danger of being more like Mugabe on property – than the One Nation Tory Macmillan, who actually built huge numbers of social homes.
Second, this new right to buy is a colossal waste of money – which will not only fail to see many new homes built but will undermine the ability of housing associations to proceed with future investment programmes. Housing associations get most of their investment resource from private borrowing. Their lenders will be alarmed to see Tories selling off assets they lent money on, at a discount! Lenders’ concerns will lead to higher interest rates for funding future housing association development – and that will mean fewer new social homes.
Taxpayers too should be alarmed as Tories hand out subsidies of over £100,000 at random!
I hope the Liberal Democrats can be clear and unequivocal on this: whether you’re on the right or left of the party, this new Tory right to buy is unethical, unaffordable and daft.
This article was first publsihed on Liberal Democrat Voice.