Labour and Housing - It's Balls

Ed Balls deserves praise – and condemnation.

The praise is deserved because, unlike any of the four other Labour leadership candidates, he is making housing a central plank in his election campaign.

Balls wants an apparent £6bn windfall for the government coffers to be diverted to affordable housing. He does not make clear whether this should be administered by established bodies – say, the Homes and Communities Agency – or go direct to local authorities who would then be able to embark on a genuine public housing building policy. But at least he has said something on the subject.

The other four have been conspicuous by the absence of any significant contribution on housing. This is despite the unexpected promotion of housing and related issues to the centre of British politics in the first months of the coalition government.

Scour David Miliband’s campaign website or read his speeches and you will see he makes very occasional passing references to “Britain’s housing crisis”. His website has space for a three-point plan to save Britain’s pubs but he has not had time to forge a similarly thorough proposal to house the country’s young or under-privileged.

Ed Miliband speaks of the failures of the administration of which he was a part until May, and admits the housing record of the last government could have been better. But while his website demands a new approach, few details are given – he gives a lot of space to wanting to reform internships, but there is no major housing policy.

Internships are important to Andy Burnham, too – more so than housing, by the content of his campaign website and speeches. His manifesto talks, without detail, of allowing councils to buy ‘problem properties’. He also wants more public confidence in existing housing allocation policies. But what about housing supply? Who knows.

Diane Abbott’s campaign is by far the most specific and wide-ranging of the candidates and her website lists over 40 major policy issues. These include giving local authorities more funding and criticising the coalition planning proposals – but when it comes to specific initiatives about house building, there is nothing.

So unlikely as it may seem, Ed Balls comes out as the most pro-housing of the five candidates; whatever your views about his views, he at least has given thought and time to the subject. Remarkably the other four have not done the same.

Oh – and why does Balls deserve some condemnation, too? Well his proposal now is to get another 100,000 affordable homes built from a £6bn windfall despite, as he puts it, the current financial crisis facing the government.

What a pity, then, that he didn’t make more effort to build those homes when he was part of the last government and in a time of apparent financial wellbeing…

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