Miliband to pledge to build a million new homes in his speech

A mass housebuilding programme designed to stimulate growth and employment, and limit price rises, could be the game-changer Labour so badly needs.

As I revealed earlier this week, it is housebuilding that will the central theme of Ed Miliband's speech tomorrow. The Labour leader will pledge to build one million new homes over the course of the next parliament in the biggest building programme for a generation.

All three of the main parties have identified housing as one of the defining political issues of the moment but while the coalition's Help To Buy scheme is inflating demand, it does little to address what Miliband rightly calls the "fundamental problem" of supply. He will announce that Sir Michael Lyons, the former council chief executive and former BBC Trust chairman, will chair a Rebuilding Britain Commission to locate sites for new towns and garden cities akin to Milton Keynes and Welwyn Garden City. The commission will also introduce a new "right to grow" status which will force town halls to draw up housebuilding plans with neighbouring councils. In addition, Miliband will pledge to tackle the problem of land-banking by giving councils the power to charge developers for sitting on land with planning permission, or to issue compulsory purchase orders.

As a policy, a mass housebuilding programme ticks all the boxes: it is easy to explain and offers a powerful dividing line with the Tories. It would stimulate growth and employment, help to bring down long-term borrowing (for every £100 that is invested in housebuilding £350 is generated in return) and reduce welfare spending. It would be a literal fulfilment of Labour's pledge to "rebuild Britain" after austerity, just as the 1945 government did after the war. Jack Dromey, the shadow housing minister, said: "The next Labour government will tackle Britain’s housing crisis by building homes on a scale no government has done for a generation and in doing so creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and apprenticeships." After months in which many of Miliband's supporters have lamented the absence of a signature policy, this could well be the political game-changer he so badly needs.

In an attempt to position Labour as the party of small business, Miliband will also announce a £790m cut in tax rates for smaller firms, funded by reversing the planned cut in corporation tax from 21% to 20% in 2015. The cut in business rates would apply to 1.5 million businesses with an annual rental value of £50,000 or less, saving firms an average of £450 a year and as much as £2,000. Upon entering office in 2015, Labour would return rates to their 2014 level and then freeze them in 2016. It would also reconsider the coalition's decision to postpone the business rate revaluation until 2017, which will benefit prosperous parts of the country at the expense of poorer ones.

Ed Miliband applauds Ed Balls after his speech to the Labour conference in Brighton. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here