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The public won't buy Right to Buy

David Cameron's Right to Buy policy scored good headlines but the public won't buy it.

Earlier this week, David Cameron announced the Conservative Party’s flagship election policy: to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. The discounts, it was explained, would be funded by selling off high-value council houses. Scoring every national paper’s front page (bar The Mirror) was certainly the PR coup that that Conservative Party was looking for, but more in-depth analysis has been mixed. Will this policy stand the, albeit short, test of time between now and polling day?

I hope not. I don’t think that voters will buy it for three reasons: unlike politicians the general public understand that this nation’s housing crisis’ roots lie in the shortage of homes, particularly affordable homes; the public have also been told time and time again to keep the faith that we’re midway through a programme of austerity; and, the public will recognise that it is wholly unfair.

Our polling shows that 8 in 10 members of the public believe that there is a housing crisis in this country. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they don’t think that an extension of the Right to Buy policy is the answer. Just 16% think extending Right to Buy to housing associations is good way to tackle the affordability crisis, in comparison to 46% who want the Government to give more public money to housing associations and councils to build more affordable homes that will benefit more people. 

Swathes of the public will almost certainly not ‘buy’ this policy, especially those millions of people in private rented homes who are desperate to buy but have no hope of doing so, nor the three million adult children living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy. Little wonder then that 60% of the public believe that it would be unfair for social housing tenants to get a discount to buy their home while private renters do not.

The £17.5bn the Conservatives are planning to raise to fund the discount is enough for housing associations to build nearly one million shared ownership homes open to everyone, not just the lucky few already well housed in secure social homes. That would be a far better way of meeting the nation’s housing aspirations and ambitions than this policy.

 

David Orr is Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation.

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The public like radical policies, but they aren't so keen on radical politicians

Around the world, support for genuinely revolutionary ideas is strong, but in the UK at least, there's less enthusiasm for the people promising them.

You’re probably a getting a little bored of the litany of talking head statistics: trust in elected officials, parliament, the justice system and even democracy itself has been falling steadily for years and is at record lows. Maybe you’ve seen that graph that shows how people born after 1980 are significantly less likely than those born in 1960 to think that living in a democracy is ‘essential’. You’ve possibly heard of the ‘Pasokification’ of the centre-left, so-named the collapse of the once dominant Greek social democratic party Pasok, a technique being aggressively pursued by other centre-left parties in Europe to great effect.    

And so, goes the logic, there is a great appetite for something different, something new. It’s true! The space into which Trump et al barged leaves plenty of room for others: Beppe Grillo in Italy, Spanish Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jean Luc Melanchon, and many more to come.

In my new book Radicals I followed movements and ideas that in many cases make someone like Jeremy Corbyn seem positively pedestrian: people who want to dismantle the nation state entirely, use technology to live forever, go off grid. All these ideas are finding fertile ground with the frustrated, disillusioned, and idealistic. The challenges of coming down the line – forces of climate change, technological change, fiscal crunch, mass movements of people – will demand new types of political ideas. Radical, outsider thinking is back, and this does, in theory at least, offer a chink of light for Corbyn’s Labour.

Polling last week found pretty surprising levels of support for many of his ideas. A big tax on high earners, nationalising the railways, banning zero hours contracts and upping the minimum wage are all popular. Support for renewable energy is at an all-time high. According to a recent YouGov poll, Brits actually prefer socialism to capitalism, a sentiment most strongly held among younger people.

There are others ideas too, which Corbyn is probably less likely to go for. Stopping benefits entirely for people who refuse to accept an offer of employment is hugely popular, and in one recent poll over half of respondents would be happy with a total ban on all immigration for the next two years. Around half the public now consistently want marijuana legalised, a number that will surely swell as US states with licenced pot vendors start showing off their dazzling tax returns.

The BNP effect used to refer to the problem the far-right had with selling their ideas. Some of their policies were extremely popular with the public, until associated with the BNP. It seems as though the same problem is now afflicting the Labour brand. It’s not the radical ideas – there is now a genuine appetite for those who think differently – that’s the problem, it’s the person who’s tasked with delivering them, and not enough people think Corbyn can or should. The ideal politician for the UK today is quite possibly someone who is bold enough to have genuinely radical proposals and ideas, and yet appears extremely moderate, sensible and centrist in character and temperament. Perhaps some blend of Blair and Corbyn. Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But this is politics, 2017. Anything is possible.

Jamie Bartlett is the head of the Violence and Extremism Programme and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos.

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