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By Graham Norwood

Editor, LAT & LLT

Graham Awards


Rishi-Tweedle-Dum and Liz-Tweedle-DumDum

When it comes to housing policy, the Conservative MPs have given their party a choice between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle DumDum.

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss may appear to be on opposite ends of the Conservative philosophical spectrum but they appear to be at one in having given little time, and it appears little interest, to the policy area of house-building and ownership and renting, which surely affect more voters than almost any other.

Mind you, it’s undeniable that Rishi Sunak knows a thing or two about housing in a more personal sense.

He has four homes, after all, living most of his time in London where he has a five-bedroom townhouse. On weekends, he heads to a manor house in North Yorkshire while for holidays there’s a property in Santa Monica, California.

Oh yes, there’s also a flat in central London - let out for at least £10,000 a year in rent according to the former Chancellor’s entry in the MPs’ register of interests. 

Liz Truss knows a little about housing too, although on a modest scale. She has a three-bedroom detached house in Thetford, Norfolk, snapped up for a rather underwhelming £180,000 12 years ago, and a small terraced home in London.

Don’t feel too sorry for her though - under a deal forged by Boris Johnson, to whom Truss owes her job as Foreign Secretary, she has access to Chevening House in rural Kent, a property with 115 rooms and 3,000 acres.

OK - I apologise. Those were the obvious cheap throwaway remarks of the kind inevitably made about senior politicians.

But the problem is, if I were to base this article on what Sunak and Truss actually said about housing during the leadership campaign so far - or even during their parliamentary careers to date - we’d have little to talk about at all.

In a 10-day campaign for party leader dominated by tax and the legacy of Boris Johnson, all of the candidates made only passing references to housing.

Sajid Javid spoke of the need for longer-term rental tenancies and (wait for it) an expansion of the garden new towns programme; Kemi Badenoch briefly told an online debate of her concern at the impact of holiday lets and second homes on affordability; and Penny Mordaunt said there should be more emphasis (perhaps that’s EVEN more emphasis) on house building targets.

Liz Truss - in that same online debate hosted by a Conservative website, and in a separate Daily Telegraph piece - spoke of needing to reform planning but only in a way that would win the agreement of the entire Conservative party (and of course this leadership election is being held only amongst Conservatives).

On top of that, and at a time when it was important for her to be seen as different to Penny Mordaunt, Truss branded the concept of house building targets as Stalinist and something that she would abandon should she reach Number 10.

Rishi Sunak, meanwhile, has flitted through his desire to see more home ownership including praise for past Tory housing ministers who have talked the talk of shifting policy emphasis and funding from social housing to individual ownership.

And that’s it. Really. That’s all.

To the best of my knowledge (and, dear reader, I have been keeping abreast of the Tory campaign in detail so you have not had to) this is the sum total of what candidates said about housing, on the record, in the past days of campaigning.

But perhaps this is to look at the two rivals’ view of housing policy in the wrong way.

Maybe we should abandon detail (as it seems they have) and instead look at the different philosophies of Sunak and Truss.

Sunak is famously old-school One Nation Conservative and interventionist - for example, at the height of the pandemic he temporarily increased Universal Credit to help Local Housing Allowance cover the cheapest third of rents, and he spoke enthusiastically about eviction bans for private and social housing tenants.

If he follows through on that philosophy he may well be Johnson-lite, and he may well continue with, for example, the Renters Reform Bill in something like its current form, which is widely seen as being pro-tenant, anti-landlord.

He is also likely to be firm on Net Zero obligations on landlords and owner occupiers in the years to come.

Truss, by contrast, has talked throughout her campaign of a return to what she calls a more traditional form of Conservatism but which to many seems much more like 1980s Thatcherism. Rapid tax cuts, more championing of the individual and - perhaps - looking down on those not seen as having achieved.

If that is the case, she may well take a knife to some aspects of the Renters Reform Bill, preferring a more laissez faire way of regulating aspects of the housing market - and if that comes to pass, don’t expect too much emphasis on regulating property agents, either, if the industry does too good a job at self-regulation.

One of her leading supporters, ex-party leader Iain Duncan-Smith, said after Truss reached the final two candidates that she would be likely to abandon green taxes early in her possible premiership. That may mean a softening on green housing measures, too, at least until the 2024 General Election is over.

All this is mere speculation, of course.

But without that we have nothing to fill the vacuum the candidates themselves have left, having given us so little clue as to their housing policies.

More will emerge between now and September of course, starting with a TV debate on Monday and then the possibility of each candidate publishing something akin to a personal manifesto.

Will housing become a talking point in the coming weeks? You have to hope so - but I’m not putting money on it.

*Editor of Letting Agent Today and Landlord Today, Graham can be found tweeting about all things property at @PropertyJourn

  • Algarve  Investor

    Spot on analysis.

  • John Durrant

    Flat in central London for £834 a month? Crumbs - bet that didn't take long to let.

  • Michael Day

    Policy will all focus on whatever garners the most votes at a General Election in two years time.

    Even with a “normal” five year election cycle - housing policy is difficult as it generally requires longer term solutions.

    Short term “vote winners” might include SDLT reform or right to buy. In lettings there are more tenants than landlords so that perhaps would indicate a favoured direction.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see ROPA wither on the vine. I have always been sceptical and, whilst improving standards and enforcement would be a good thing. Adding red tape will not figure on either candidates agenda and is largely irrelevant in terms of generating votes.


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