Tag Archives: land

Why Islington Labour are the most appalling hypocrites

There’s been some hoohaa recently about Emily Thornberry MP buying up former housing association property at auction. Interestingly, she denies it is an investment, claiming the property will be used to, as Ms Thornberry puts it, “provide cheap and cheerful accommodation for some young people,” while the Islington Tribune article that appears in suggests it will be used for renting out to her “Parliamentary aides”. Does this mean she will be subsidising staff income by providing subsidised property? If so, my reading of the PPERA 2000 is that she will need to declare it as a donation in kind, either to Islington Labour or her Parliamentary Office.

All rather cheeky for someone who has adopted such a high moral tone about Islington’s housing crisis. But the fact is, Labour’s muddle over social housing in Islington doesn’t end there.

The latest episode in the council’s decision to sell off its commercial property portfolio is that apparently 50% of existing residents have either declined to buy their property, or failed to stump up the cash in time. I can see why these shop owners are nervous; Structadene’s bid does indeed appear to have been over the odds and they can expect to see major rent increases. I could bore you for hours about how the existing system gives rich landholders enormous benefits by enabling them to speculatively drive up the price of property and effectively squeeze the little guy out and increasing their property portfolio still further (in fact, if you are a long-term reader, I probably have). Perhaps Structadene will be model landlords and that the shop keepers who missed out were simply badly advised. Either way, the council has a legal obligation to sell to the highest bidder (courtesy: HM Labour Government), and will be using a substantial proportion of the money raised from this sale to invest in social housing.

Given that Structadene’s bid was so high, you would have thought Labour would be delighted. After all, back in April they were demanding that the District Auditor should investigate claims that the council was flogging these properties “on the cheap“. In the event, the money raised from this sale is £69m – £9m more than the optimistic forecasts. Now they’ve done a huge, vaulting, 180-degree U-turn and are claiming to be the resident’s new best friends. It really does beggar belief.

How not to launch a policy

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I have a particular interest in land value taxation, and housing and land reform more generally. I’m little more than an enthusiastic amateur however at the end of the day, and will happily admit to gaps in my knowledge. I have to admit for example that I didn’t know that the party had policy on Community Land Auctions for instance, least of all how they work.

Now I’ve had them explained to me, privately, via Jock Coats and via Tim Leunig’s CentreForum pamphlet on the subject, I think the idea sounds very interesting. It’s a way of attempting to square the circle whereby local authorities are wary of allowing urban sprawl and landowners are wary of selling their land cheap. The ideal solution gives them both an interest, and Community Land Auctions do appear to do this. The fact that vested interests such as the Country Land and Business Association don’t like it should surprise no-one. The fact that Tories rush to the defence of landowners should surprise people with any historical knowledge even less.

So far, so good. The problem is, the party’s press launch today of the policy left anyone attempting to defend the policy completely naked. Aside from poorly (wrongly even) explaining the actual policy, the press release that went out does nothing to inform the reader that it is existing policy or point to where it is explained in more detail. Even now the full speech still hasn’t been published anywhere online. Someone like me should have spent a part of Thursday defending the policy against all-comers. Instead, I was left straggling. At least I didn’t leap to the wrong conclusion and start slagging it off, but still.

In a nutshell, if the party’s press team isn’t prepared to do the spadework in preparation for a policy launch, it shouldn’t bother. We can’t complain about the quality of our press coverage, and then leave the party leader stranded out there in the way that he was. If you look at the CentreForum link above, you will find favourable quotes from Kate Barker, an Oxford economics professor, a Conservative Peer (for fuck’s sake) and the Town and Country Planning Association. Not one of these was mentioned in the press release. If the press monkeys can’t even be bothered to do that level of research, we might as well all give up and go home now.