Is Ed Miliband’s Labour party going to take housing seriously?
It is, of course, some years too early to answer that question definitively. But after 13 years when housing was seen as a trivial matter, there are signs that Miliband’s new generation is taking a different approach.
For a start, the shadow Communities and Local Government team is led by a former housing minister, Caroline Flint. She was hardly in post long enough during the Gordon Brown government to make any significant impression – like so many ministers, she was moved from pillar to post as the dying New Labour tried to refresh itself every few months with a reshuffle.
In addition, she effectively now has two shadow housing ministers working in her team. The first is Alison Seabeck, who carries the formal title Shadow Housing Minister; in the past Seabeck has worked alongside then-Housing Minister Nick Raynsford, and she represents a seat (Plymouth Moor View) with a genuine range of property issues from dreary council estates to affluent pockets of private housing.
The second minister is Jack Dromey (formally called Shadow Minister for Communities and Local Government) whose will also cover housing as part of a broader regeneration brief. Dromey has a gritty constituency, Birmingham Erdington, and is a brand new MP although one with a reputation as a street fighter from his previous decades of trades union and Labour Party activities.
The proof is in the pudding but it is just possible, after effectively dropping housing as an issue of any importance, that the experience of these new personnel means Labour is changing its spots. Housing might be on the agenda again.
If this is the case, it is happening at a critical point.
Not only is the Comprehensive Spending Review and its effects going to influence the housing market for years to come, but the first signs of impatience with the Coalition are appearing from the usually pro-Conservative property industry.
The Home Builders Federation insists it still needs more “clarity” from the government on its planning and local incentives programmes. A prominent London estate agent, Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon (an agency that has donated to the Conservative Party) has tweeted: “Not sure this coalition has any ideas at all to help housing/property”. Meanwhile a columnist in the Daily Mail calls Grant Shapps "this foolish housing minister" and reveals how much the MP has already made for himself from property - an asset which he now says is not an investment.
All this is a mere aperitif before the housing politics which will follow October 20's spending announcements. It’s clearly going to be an interesting few years – and Labour may have woken up just in time to play a part.
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