As happens at every general election, the Conservatives try to go back to the Good Old Days of Maggie Thatcher and her silver bullet idea to allow council tenants who had paid rent to municipal landlords for decades to buy their own homes at a discount reflecting the number of years they had been paying rent. Tragically, monetary dogma destroyed what was basically a good idea: the Iron Lady banned councils from using the money from those hundreds of thousands of sales to build new social homes – and today’s crisis was born.
Over the following decades both Thatcher and Blair presided over massive shortfalls in housebuilding. As the public sector was emasculated, but for the flimsy fig leaf of housing associations, the private sector grew fat and complacent. Able to sell whatever they felt like building, they thrived on the chronic shortages and continue to do so. But they protect themselves with big donations to political parties to avoid the finger being pointed at them.
At this year’s MIPIM. the property shindig held annually in Cannes, the fattest of fat cats were dishing out their wisdom. Tony Pidgely, the legendary boss of Berkeley Homes, warned that the lack of affordable housing in London was damaging its commerce. This, dear readers, is the same Berkeley Homes which revels in profit margins of over 20 per cent (!) by charging mega prices for, er, not very affordable London homes many of which are sold to non-residents.
Standing before an empty cupboard, no party has much to offer. The Tories, desperate to resurrect Right to Buy, are proposing to extend it to housing asssociations, two out of three of whose tenants are on benefits. Apart from being illegal, this idea reminds me of the brilliant American invention, “sub-prime”, which was selling dodgy properties to people clearly unable to afford to buy them, then packaging the worthless mortgages and flogging them to careless hedge funds.
This massive snake oil disaster – for which, to my knowledge, no one has ever been charged or tried – started the snowball which was to become the banking crisis of 2008, nearly taking the global economy down with it. It is an idea worthy of the dodgy former Housing Minister Grant Shapps, already condemned by one of his successors, Kris Hopkins, who didn’t last long on the government benches..
Give it up, Dave. It makes you look silly.