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Look what Labour’s Owen Smith has done to me

Older readers may recall a terrific movie called Network where a character, disillusioned by life, shouts from a window: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take any more of this.” 

I’m at that stage now – and it’s all down to Owen Smith. 

That’s a tough one to explain given that Owen Smith, a Labour leadership hopeful, hasn’t yet even become a household name (possibly not even in his own household). 

But one of his ’20 Policy Proposals’ released this week got me as mad as hell.

It was number 19 (so, obviously, an incredibly high priority) and it reads: “A pledge to build 300,000 homes in every year of the next parliament – 1.5 million homes over five years.”

In his speech announcing the list he was equally clear but equally lacking in substance. He said: “My New Deal will pave the way for 300,000 new homes to be built every year. One and a half million over the next parliament.”

That was it. No details of what, where or how. Nor even who was going to build them. No workings out. 

No nothing – not even a sentence to address the fact that, a few days before Smith made his pledge, it was revealed many house builders had actually cut back on land acquisition for new homes, let alone buying the plots needed to host the surge he promises.

In fairness to Smith – a perfectly decent man, I am sure, although one given to the odd tawdry remark like his desire to ‘smash’ a rival female politician – he is not alone in this fact-free attitude towards answering our shortage of housing. 

On June 11 Theresa May, who two days later would become Prime Minister, told an audience at a campaign rally of her hitherto little-publicised views on housing

She said: “Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising. Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home. The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth.”

Within a week she was being quietly chided by housing commentators on social media for naming her housing minister as what looked like an afterthought compared to other posts, and for her selection of an MP who had no track record or visible expertise on the subject – apart from having recently opposed the building of new homes in his constituency.

The same problem existed at the 2015 election. 

The Conservatives glibly promised “200,000 new starter homes” and Labour pledged to “build at least 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 with first priority for local first time buyers" - both set out with scarcely any explanation of how they were to be achieved.

The Liberal Democrats – never ones for bogging down aspiration with detail – went further and promised 300,000 new homes a year and a total of 10 new garden cities (that would have been more than one city for each Lib Dem MP elected, as it turned out).

Joking aside, you can see the point I’m making. 

I want to have faith in our policy makers and I want to believe that politicians are in it to make a difference – but why do they never seem to treat the need for homes over the heads of the population with any respect?

Where are the workings behind these figures? 

Where are the promises the politicians must have secured from private builders that they will build these 200,000 or 250,000 or 300,000 homes a year?

Or if the politicians didn’t get those promises, where are the financial commitments from the Treasury to fund housing associations or councils to build those homes?

And could the politicians also kindly spell out how planning reforms that have not helped high levels of house building in the past will now do a 180-degree turn?

It’s up to industry journalists and everyone else in this industry – really, everyone – to ask and re-ask politicians for details of how they reach their promised building totals.

If we don’t do that, we’re just complicit in their game. You know, the game in which they know they have to talk about housing, but don’t care about it enough to talk sensibly. 

So don’t let Owen Smith, Gavin Barwell or the rest get away with it any longer.

You see, I really am as mad as hell about this subject. Now – where’s that window?

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

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