Party conference season is over and many announcements made by politicians ought to be debated and many different topics should be pondered and analysed. Brexit and housing are two very key areas to look at. Here, we have plunged ourselves into the sometimes interesting, but more-often-than-not vague, nature of what was said at the major parties conferences on these issues.
Although nothing was clarified about ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, it was revealed that ending free movement of people to the UK is a priority. Home Secretary Amber Rudd also controversially outlined new laws to force companies to reveal the proportion of foreign staff they were employing and to make it harder for companies to justify employing foreign workers. Although this veers towards ‘hard’ Brexit, May also said that the UK should have “maximum freedom to trade with EU member states”. But what exactly does this mean? Will we attempt to retain full access to the single market? Or, will we be trying for a new type of trade deal in goods and services? What system will we use to control immigration if a points-based-one has been ruled out? For now, these questions remain unanswered. Labour on the other hand has been forced to take a backseat on this one and wait until article 50 is triggered, which will absolutely, unequivocally be done by the end of March 2017!
In terms of future plans for housing, stark differences were revealed at each conference. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to build 500,000 ‘council’ homes a year if put in power, Teresa Pearce, Labour’s Shadow Housing and Planning Minister, vowed to change the narrative on social housing. She argued strongly that taxes are currently being used to pay housing benefit to private landlords and bolstering social housing would get around this problem whilst providing much-needed homes for those most in need of them. Interestingly, a large part of Labour’s social housing plans are to suspend the controversial Right to Buy policy on the grounds that it does not work at times when housing-stock is low. A strong stance it may be, but what would all this mean for Housing Associations under a Labour government? It has been said that an ally of Corbyn’s has revealed that he finds housing associations undemocratic and unaccountable. Will anything come of this, who knows?
Gavin Barwell, Conservative Minister for Housing, on the other hand, replied by saying that a ‘mass-council house building project’ would in fact increase inequality. Barwell claimed that “If half the people are going to go in council homes and half of them are going to own, the divide in society is only going to get wider and wider”. A slightly ‘odd’ definition of inequality, shall we say. Instead, Barwell has vowed to simply build more homes of every kind. Although this is to include social housing in some fashion, the plans are incredibly vague. All we know is that Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has scrapped one of the Help to Buy scheme’s and vows to borrow to invest.
Aside from Brexit and housing, there is much to mull over. In what can perhaps be seen as an attempt to cast her electoral net as wide as possible, and anchor the party in the centre-ground, May has vowed to crack down on ‘tax dodgers’. She has also said the state will intervene in the economy in order for it to work best (perhaps her most un-Conservative announcement) and new grammar schools will be allowed to open as part of a wider reform package for education. This, as you would expect, was heavily criticized by Corbyn. From Labour, a £160 million scheme has been presented to allow every primary school child to be able to take part in extra-curricular activities. Labour has also proposed a 1.5% hike in corporation tax to properly fund Education Maintenance Allowance for kids.
All in all, two interesting conferences, two determined leaders, and one very uncertain future.