In the fallout from the local elections, there has been a clear shift within the Conservative Party on the issue of housing with a number of senior Conservatives making a range of interventions. Whilst the party is nowhere near as divided as it has historically been over issues such as Europe, two camps appear to be emerging.
The first is those resistant to new development in their area such as Theresa Villiers MP and Bob Seely MP, who led the charge late last year for scrapping mandatory housing targets. However, a second camp is steadily growing. They are passionately making the case for housebuilding, including Simon Clarke MP, Brandon Lewis MP, Charles Walker MP, Lord Frost and Samuel Kasumu (Prospective London Mayor candidate).
As I have been saying for some time, the party is at risk of losing its property-owning democracy credentials. Whilst it is unwise to dwell on the past, as it stands the party appears to be alienating swathes of young professionals desperate to have the same opportunity as their parents to own their own home.
Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer appears to be going bolder than any of his immediate predecessors vowing to make Labour ‘the party of homeownership’ – something which was once natural territory for the Conservatives. Labour has announced that if elected, they would commit to overhauling the planning system and have gone as far to say they would ‘make it easier to allow councils to build on the green belt’.
As a young conservative activist myself hoping to one day own my own home, on the face of it, some of what Labour is proposing seems eminently sensible and I know many of my fellow young Conservatives feel the same way.
According to research carried out by Savanta almost 1 in 3 voters said housing was an important issue to them, coming second only to the economy. There is only so long voters will tolerate the tit-for-tat. After 13 years in power, surely many young professionals will be asking themselves ‘Will I be able to own my own home under a Labour government?’
However, the big challenge Labour faces is that a large chunk of the electorate naturally presumes the ‘green belt’ to be beautiful countryside land, when in reality, much has become dilapidated and no longer makes a positive contribution to the natural environment. If politicians from all parties were more honest with their constituents, it would no doubt change the dynamic of the debate for the better.
The Conservatives may be justified to remind voters when they were looking to reform the planning system just two years ago, Labour went in hard against this dubbing it a ‘developers charter’. However, it is clear, whether the Tories like it or not, housing is firmly on the political agenda.