Analysis by Rob Smith, Conservative activist in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames
On Monday night the Prime Minister and his recently reappointed Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, were forced to back down on compulsory house-building targets after mounting backbench pressure. The retreat followed a significant number of Conservative MPs threatening to vote against the flagship Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill with Gove agreeing to change his Bill to make it clear government targets are merely “advisory.”
A further climbdown has since been announced over the ban on onshore windfarms after 34 MPs, including former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, demanded it be lifted. In a letter to MPs, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said the government “recognises the range of views” in the party, but added: “We believe that decisions on onshore wind are best made by local representatives who know their areas best and underpinned by democratic accountability.”
This decision may feel like a political win for some nervous Tory backbenchers in the short term as it may be popular amongst older homeowners in the home counties. However, it is unlikely to win any favours with younger voters, many of whom are more likely to be renting while struggling to get on the housing ladder.
As the average age of homeownership rises, so does the average age of a Conservative voter. The Tories once boasted of their housebuilding record and their desire for a property-owning democracy, but it is difficult to see how the party can inspire the next generation of capitalists when for many, owning any capital becomes a distant dream.
Mr Gove has suggested the government remains committed to its manifesto commitment of building 300,000 new homes by the mid- 2020s. However, on the face of it, it is difficult to see how this move will do anything to incentivise housebuilding. Fundamentally, young people will be asking themselves why they should vote Conservative if the party shuts them out from home ownership. It may be true that younger voters tend to switch allegiance as they grow older, but you cannot win elections by just relying on the retirement vote.
So where do we go from here? It is clear the housing crisis is not going away. The government must get to grip with supply and demand. I’m afraid to say this move will likely have the reverse effect, leading to more opposition to new development, fewer homes being built whilst rent and house prices continue to rise. Simply sweeping the issue under the carpet is no longer an option, at what point will Conservative MPs wake up and smell the coffee?