Parties need a strategic housing policy that accounts for renters. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

As more people rent, politicians can't rely on the same old home-owning swing voters

Parties will have to shift focus as, by the next census in 2021, roughly 104 parliamentary seats will have a majority of households that are renting.

The First Past The Post electoral system leads to some pretty stagnant thinking when it comes to the main political parties. They’re basically all chasing the votes of the same home-owning swing voters in the provinces with a garnish of xenophobia on the side to win back the Ukip waverers. But the electoral calculus is changing and we’re starting to see politicians respond to this.

Recently we crunched the numbers from the past two census returns, remapping the data against the current parliamentary boundaries. And we found that by the next census in 2021, roughly 104 parliamentary seats will have a majority of households that are renting. Unsurprisingly, 49 seats, almost half the total, were in London, with most of the rest in other urban areas.

This leaves the parties with a conundrum; can you be a party that is for provincial baby boomers and the urban young at the same time? And with the London election only one year after the general election, this isn't an abstract question.

The mayoralty can only be won by Labour, the Conservatives or an insurgent independent candidate - maybe a Green. The Conservatives are facing a problem in the form of a rapid decrease in the number of homeowners compared to renters, however, with a colourful candidate and a low Labour turnout, they can still win.

Labour on the other hand has a bigger problem. Its lack of a coherent housing policy lets down the 35% of Londoners who, according to Ipsos Mori, say that housing is their number one issue of concern. A failure to address this is precisely what will give the Conservatives the low Labour turnout that they need.


Most of Labour's putative mayoral candidates have clearly recognised that they have no chance of winning if they toe the party line and Hackney MP Diane Abbott has gone further than the rest with her publication this week (with us) of her proposal for a modern take on rent controls.

This plan sets a low cap, related to council tax bands, but allows landlords to breach that cap on the condition that they pay 50% of the excess into a social housebuilding investment fund controlled by the Mayor.

The graceful effect of this is that landlords either charge low rents, or they fund housing supply, which will bring rents down, creating a long term market convergence towards the capped price. The more they charge, the more they fund truly affordable housing.

We're happy to work with any mayoral hopeful (OK, not the BNP) to come up with great housing policies. But Labour will scupper the chances of its own candidate if they fail - potentially in government - to win credibility with London's renters.

Failing to address the London housing crisis or to empower a candidate to do so will leave Londoners hungry for a better option. This is just the sort of fertile ground in which someone like Russell Brand, or the Green Party could seed a strong mayoral candidacy.

Electoral failure for Labour doesn't depend on an insurgent candidate winning. Labour will know it has lost its London heartlands if it comes third, even if that insurgent candidate only comes second. This would highlight, ward by ward in fact, those areas of London that are willing to vote for what they really want rather than just voting Labour to keep out the Conservatives.

In a fragmenting political landscape Labour still clings desperately to its "least bad potential government" electoral strategy, which has already allowed the SNP, Ukip and the Greens to eat away at their support. With a strategic housing policy that actually addresses the crisis people face, Labour could start to win back enthusiastic supporters. And if they (or the other parties) would like such a policy platform, we're happy to help them develop it.

Alex Hilton is director of Generation Rent. See its rent control campaign here and read its publication on rent control here.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

0800 7318496