Angela Rayner’s ‘good news’ on housing should frighten the Tories

Last week, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting took to these pages, pledging to embrace the private and independent sectors as part of his NHS overhaul.

This week it was Deputy Labor Leader Angela Rayner’s turn, promising to revolutionize the housing market.

Healthcare and housing are by far the two areas where Labor appears to be most serious about reform. They have been well selected because these are precisely the areas where reforms are most needed.

But the electoral proposals are different. The Tories should be worried if Streeting succeeds. They should be absolutely terrified if Labor delivers on its promise to build more houses.

Addressing the NHS’s woeful shortcomings would bode well for the millions of patients treated by the system – and for the 1.5 million people who work there, who are let down by understaffing, terrible hours and poor compensation .

But this will be a painful process. Expect more strikes, more resistance and major conflict as Streeting truly overhauls Britain’s largest institution, which has long failed to deliver meaningful efficiency gains.

Labor would ultimately get credit for reforming the NHS – if they are willing to do what needs to be done – but they could face poll swings and electoral challenges long before that day arrives.

Housing is different: it is the “good news” story that has been waiting for decades to come to fruition.

Yes, there will be many examples of local resistance, but the benefits of large-scale construction would be felt quickly. If done correctly, that could be enough to transform younger voters into lifelong Labor supporters.

If you didn’t read Rayner’s piece in this newspaper yesterday, you should go back and take a look. It’s not just the promises the Vice President makes; her promises come from an analysis of the housing crisis that is, quite frankly, correct.

It’s the kind of piece you’d usually read from a policy analyst who has been monitoring the consequences of Britain’s suffocating housing market for years – or, occasionally, from an MP who sticks his head above the ground to point it out that there are people in their forties who still don’t know when their savings will be big enough to afford a small apartment.

No, Rayner is not the first MP in her party to make such a compelling argument. In the Theresa May years, Labor MP Siobhain McDonagh made a point of coming to the Conservative Party Conference to talk to the party’s grassroots about the housing crisis.

Tory MPs weren’t taking this issue seriously, she thought, so why not let a Labor MP hear the case for more housing?

In the meantime, Keir Starmer has taken over the Yimby (Yes In My Back Yard) label for months.

It’s a direct confrontation – and a warning shot – for the anti-construction coalition, which has enjoyed enormous success while the Tories were in power, ripping up building permits and halting new construction projects before they could even get off the ground.

Starmer has adopted the Yimby label for months in direct confrontation with the anti-construction coalition

Starmer has adopted the Yimby label for months in direct confrontation with the anti-construction coalition – Labor Party

But a real recognition of the extent to which the housing crisis is pushing back young people, and how reform of the planning system is needed: that’s not something we’ve heard from such a senior politician for a very long time.

Before I get carried away, there are plenty of holes in Labour’s plans – and indeed yellow flags indicating they are not fully prepared to do what is needed to deliver 1.5 million new homes.

This week’s emphasis on a ‘freedom to buy’ scheme is a worrying sign that Labor could fall into the same trap as the Tories of worsening the housing crisis.

The plan – which extends the Conservatives’ “mortgage guarantee” by making it easier to get a mortgage with a 5% deposit – is likely to have the side effect of creating more demand in the market, while doing nothing to offer is made.

In this scenario, some lucky first-time buyers will manage to get onto the property ladder, but many more could be priced out further as prices only continue to rise.

Meanwhile, the party’s intention to build many of these homes in “new towns” suggests a move toward state planning that fails to take into account where people actually want to live.

While the ambition to uplift areas outside the South East has many benefits, there is a danger that housing development becomes part of this strategy, and that homes end up being built in areas where there is much less demand.

New homes must follow the market: that simply won’t happen the other way around.

But despite putting forward some plans that are unlikely to bring change, it is significant that Rayner also mentions building on “grey belt land” – parts of the green belt that are anything but green.

It’s something Labor has talked about before: a willingness to cast aside housing and planning rules to build homes on intensively built farmland or on abandoned car parks that are somehow classified as ‘green belt’.

But they didn’t have to deliberately refresh their memories of the idea during an election – not least because it is one of the most controversial aspects of planning reform.

The decision to do so signals a further seriousness on Labor’s part in recognizing how important it is to expand Britain’s housing stock – and shows a willingness to fight on behalf of younger generations to do what needed to get houses built.

And perhaps only Labor can fight this battle. The party’s electoral base is not dominated by those who, above all else, would prioritize seeing the value of their own home.

If the polls are anything like right, Labor MPs could soon be representing some Nimby areas once considered comfortable Tory seats. When that day comes, it will be a real test for the party’s leadership to keep the promises they made to reach such a position.

If they are smart, they won’t think about the frustration with the status quo that got them to number 10; they will think about what kind of legacy could keep them there.

The most powerful by far would be to become the new party of homeownership.

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