Increasingly out of reach for ordinary people. Photo: Getty Images
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Queen's Speech 2015: A bad policy that will make the housing crisis worse

Far from helping with the housing crisis, the government's plans to sell off housing association stock will make matters worse.

The Queen has just delivered her government's speech, setting out their programme for this year. Just across the river, council homes on the Vauxhall Gardens Estate are in danger of being forcibly sold as a result.

As rents and house prices continue to rise and the supply of housing fails to come anywhere near demand, Londoners worry about how they can continue to live and work in the city they love. They recognise that we are facing a serious homes crisis. And they understand that it's a crisis we must tackle urgently if we are going to save everything that makes London great.

That is what makes the government's right-to-buy extension, announced in today's Queen's Speech, so upsetting. It is a policy which is blind to what is happening in London. Indeed, it is a policy which appears almost designed to make London's homes crisis even worse.

The government’s plan is to force housing associations to sell off homes at a massive discount, and to pay for it by making councils sell all their most valuable property. That would be a disaster for London. It would drain our city of affordable housing and make it even harder than it already is for Londoners to find somewhere to live. It would tear our city apart.

It’s a plan that will largely be paid for by London’s councils, but mostly benefit those outside the city. According to the National Housing Federation, just 15 per cent of London’s housing association tenants would be able to afford to buy their own homes under the proposals, compared with 35 per cent outside London. Yet the majority of the money raised from selling off council homes will be here in London with councils such as Camden, Westminster and Islington facing the prospect of selling a substantial proportion of their homes.

As Mayor of London I want to oversee a big increase in the supply of social and affordable homes in London. But the government’s plans would require us to redouble our efforts just to stay in the same place. There are currently 255,000 households on waiting lists for social housing in London, a list that continues to grow as supply is unable to keep up with demand. But since discounted right to buy was brought back to London, for every 23 homes sold just one has been replaced. Under the new plans, instead of getting to grips with council waiting lists we would have to expend almost all of our energy, resources and land just to replace the homes that are being sold off.

I want to bring the city together as One London. But this policy would further divide London, rather than unite it. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, selling off councils’ most valuable property would create “clearer divisions between areas where richer and poorer households are located”. In London this is a particular problem, with zones 1 and 2 threatening to become a millionaires’ playground – a no-go zone for the nurses, teachers and council workers on which our city relies.

There are big questions about the feasibility of the policy. The figures don't appear to add up.  The funding from council home sales is unlikely to be enough to compensate housing associations, certainly in the early years of the policy. And the government will probably have to raid the national housing budget in order to make up the difference. So there will be a double whammy: fewer social homes as councils are obliged to sell their stock, and less funding for new social housing too. 

The last thing Londoners need right now is this government's ill-designed plan to sell off our housing. It will lead to fewer homes for social rent and higher prices in the private rented sector. It will help empty inner London of everyone but the very richest. And it will put vast numbers of currently affordable homes into the hands of private landlords. In other words, it will make our homes crisis much, much worse.

Building a strong and successful London – One London – means Londoners having a home, at a price they can afford, where they feel safe and where they can put down roots. I've announced plans for a new Homes for Londoners authority to get London building the homes we need, for the first time since the 1980s. But this housing giveaway threatens to make that task much harder. That's why I am determined to fight this proposal every step of the way.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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