Nick Clegg prior to giving a television interview during a visit to Hughes Safety Showers on May 21, 2014 in Stockport. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why are the Lib Dems so quiet about their housebuilding target?

The party's pledge to build 300,000 homes a year is barely known. 

Labour's pledge to build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020 might sound ambitious (given that the current rate of building is just 112,630), but it's still below the level regarded by housing experts as acceptable. A recent Policy Exchange report warned that the UK needs a minimum of 1.5 million new homes from 2015 to 2020 simply to meet need: 300,000 a year. With this in mind, the Lib Dems have formally adopted this target as party policy.

As Vince Cable told ITV News last night: "There is an enormous gap between what's needed, which is probably 300,000 houses a year as my party is advocating, and what we're currently getting, which is 125,000 to 130,000. We are way short on the housing supply which is needed."

But while Ed Miliband rarely misses a chance to mention his housebuilding ambitions, how often have you heard Nick Clegg and other senior Lib Dems cite their party's target? There is a pattern here. As The Staggers' resident Lib Dem Richard Morris recently noted, the party is similarly quiet about its pledge to review tuition fees after the next general election (with a view to eventually abolishing them) and to reform the bedroom tax. 

It might be that the Lib Dems want to focus on their achievements in government (such as the increase in the tax threshold to £10,000, the pupil premium and ermm...) but to motivate activists and attract voters, the party also needs to talk more about what it wants to do after 2015. The Tories have used the European election campaign to highlight their EU referendum pledge and have previously signalled their intention to go further on immigration and welfare. But what would the Lib Dems do with another five years in power? They should tell us. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.