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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear