Will Ed Miliband Make Housing A Labour Issue Again?

The months and years ahead will show whether Ed Miliband has any real interest in housing. Like all politicians he can speak about it as an issue, but there is little evidence that it is a passion of his.

Perhaps the best insight into what he thinks is in Labour’s (losing) manifesto from the May election – Ed M wrote most of it, although of course its final form did not necessarily reflect personal views. There were two major elements - here and here - and in summary those elements say:

• Labour wants everyone to have “a decent home at a price they can afford”;
• Exempt homes below £250,000 from stamp duty, until at least 2012;
• Continue with Social HomeBuy for “working families” and “working people”;
• Spending £7.5 billion by late 2011 to build new 110,000 houses;
• Allow councils to build up to 10,000 homes a year;
• All new homes to be zero-carbon by 2016;
• Ending rough sleeping by the end of 2012;
• Regenerating “previously neglected communities”.

So far, so uncontroversial. With the possible exception of the council house building programme, those promises might as easily come from Conservatives or LibDems; and, of course, those policies are in any case set in a context of low house building volumes and a deteriorating housing market happening on Labour’s watch, anyway.

But that was then. Now with Ed Miliband as leader, will Labour change its approach to housing or even just show more interest in it as a subject?

If the answer is yes, he will have to get his party’s conference to discuss it first. The omens are poor. There is no formal debate on housing this week in Manchester, although some fringe meetings are about ‘localism’ and ‘housing poverty’.

This is odd given that housing has become a litmus test issue for the Coalition.

It has made everything from self-build to rough-sleeping a high profile issue; even policy fudges, like not revaluing residential property for council tax, has been turned into a positive with the “we want to help the poorer homeowner” mantra. Like them or loathe them, those Coalition politicians cannot be said to ignore homes, housing and property.

With most industry experts predicting housebuilding levels to tumble further as a result of NIMBY protests at local level, and quite a few expecting house prices and transactions to drop when spending cuts and tax rises kick in, property is set to be a major policy issue for the next few years.

Surely Labour cannot allow itself to continue to be outside such a debate. Over to you, Ed Miliband.

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