We need a campaign to build homes across the Home Counties

The solution to London's housing crisis lies in building on the Home Counties, and we need a pressure group to make that happen. Anyone want to chuck the Campaign for the Promotion of Residential England a few quid?

The murky world of think tanks, lobbying shops and pressure groups is a crowded one - but I think I've identified a gap in the market. The Campaign for the Promotion of Residential England would fight bravely, relentlessly, and with a single noble purpose: to cover the fields of the Home Counties with bricks and mortar.

The other CPRE, as it would be known, would campaign tirelessly against the green and pleasant noose choking off London's growth, and demand the destruction of the greenbelt. It would talk endlessly about tower blocks (we’d be pro) and farmland (we’d be anti). "Nice national park you've got there," it would say. "Look lovely with a few thousand semis on it."

I don't actually believe all of this, you understand: housing costs are clearly too high, but trees are nice while American-style ribbon development isn't. Nonetheless, we need to increase the pressure on the powers-that-be to stop pissing about and build more housing, and if calling for the tarmacing of the North Downs is the only way to do it, then so be it.

There are all sorts of reasons we don’t build enough houses, but one of the biggest is surely the difference in political muscle between those who’d benefit and those who wouldn’t. The former group are legion – but they’re young, so less likely to vote, and are anyway spread too thinly to make their presence felt. They’re also – one suspects this is important – poor. By contrast, those most inclined to block major new housing developments will be those who already own homes in an area. These are visible, rooted, and, relatively speaking, rich. Which of these two constituencies do you think politicians are most likely to listen to?

What we need to do, then, is to rebalance the incentives, to make the voice of the have-nots that little bit louder. That is where my new pressure group comes in.

There already are organisations that campaign for an end to the housing crisis, of course – but these are mostly charities, and thus limited by both regulation and ethics. The other CPRE would suffer no such constraints. It would cheerfully offer statements to the media in favour of any building scheme, no matter how ill-conceived. It'd release dodgy research proving that the greenbelt did, in fact, cause cancer. And it would learn the lessons taught by a dozen ideologically-driven "think tanks" before it: that if you want to move the debate, then credibility matters a whole lot less than shouting very loudly and getting your name in the papers a lot.

In unrelated news, the Taxpayer’s Alliance just released a report calling on cash-strapped councils to replace lawnmowers with cows.

Getting homes built in any serious number is going to be hard. It’ll require a lot of reform, against a lot of opposition, and will need a concerted effort by a political class which, for the most part, has a vested interest in things staying how they are.

But the easiest way to create the political space to construct a million new homes will be to start campaigning for three million of them. That way, when prices level out instead of collapsing; when inner London gets intensified, but Tunbridge Wells survives unscathed; when the North Downs are left intact, and the only greenbelt land sacrificed is a few Essex farms clinging to the inside edge of the M25. Then most of those nimbies will count themselves lucky, and breathe a long sigh of relief that they got off so lightly.

Now, the other CPRE just needs someone to fund it.

Oh, bugger.

Construction workers work in front of already completed homes on a residential housing estate on the edge of Glastonbury (Photo: Getty Images)

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Lord Sainsbury pulls funding from Progress and other political causes

The longstanding Labour donor will no longer fund party political causes. 

Centrist Labour MPs face a funding gap for their ideas after the longstanding Labour donor Lord Sainsbury announced he will stop financing party political causes.

Sainsbury, who served as a New Labour minister and also donated to the Liberal Democrats, is instead concentrating on charitable causes. 

Lord Sainsbury funded the centrist organisation Progress, dubbed the “original Blairite pressure group”, which was founded in mid Nineties and provided the intellectual underpinnings of New Labour.

The former supermarket boss is understood to still fund Policy Network, an international thinktank headed by New Labour veteran Peter Mandelson.

He has also funded the Remain campaign group Britain Stronger in Europe. The latter reinvented itself as Open Britain after the Leave vote, and has campaigned for a softer Brexit. Its supporters include former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Chuka Umunna, and it now relies on grassroots funding.

Sainsbury said he wished to “hand the baton on to a new generation of donors” who supported progressive politics. 

Progress director Richard Angell said: “Progress is extremely grateful to Lord Sainsbury for the funding he has provided for over two decades. We always knew it would not last forever.”

The organisation has raised a third of its funding target from other donors, but is now appealing for financial support from Labour supporters. Its aims include “stopping a hard-left take over” of the Labour party and “renewing the ideas of the centre-left”. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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