Lord Prezza and me against the Blairite tsars

There is clearly little personal love lost between the London mayoral rivals Oona King and Ken Livingstone, who came into the LBC studios recently. Barely had they sat down at opposite mikes than they were jabbing fingers at each other. Neither seemed to understand that it's not policy that will beat the incumbent - it's coming up with strategy to neutralise the phenomenon that is Boris. Tellingly, perhaps, Oona arrived with an entourage of five hangers-on, while Ken loped in on his own. Oona had a sheaf of notes in front of her, while Ken had a coffee. Interpret that to suit your bias.

The rumour is that, whichever Milibrother wins the Labour leadership, Ed Balls will be offered the position of shadow home secretary. The post needs an attack dog, and whatever else you can say about Mini-Brown's leadership campaign, Balls has certainly been the only contender to sink his teeth into the Tories and to inflict any pain whatsoever. But I hear whispers that he may have plans to take some time away from the front line to think and write. Well, he always did take his lead from Gordon.

It's very rare that I find common cause with Lord Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull, but the appointment of Alan Milburn as a Tory social mobility tsar got us both spluttering. Following John Hutton, Will Hutton and Frank Field, it makes you wonder whether the Tories are so devoid of talent that they have to rely on former Blairites and has-been Blairite ministers. Or is the Cameron inner circle still, even now, bedazzled by anyone who continues to worship at the Blair temple?

Speaking of Blair, even the most flint-hearted lefty would have to acknowledge that his decision to donate the "profits" from his book to the Royal British Legion is a grand gesture. But what does the word "profits" mean? In the publishing world, it could be many different things. Wouldn't it have been simpler to make clear that all proceeds from the book - including royalties, rights sales and serial deals - are included? Otherwise, suspicious bloggers like me will continue to wonder if this really is a "Ronseal" deal. Does it do what it says in the press release? Besides, if the proceeds are going to charity, why not reverse the decision not to have a newspaper serialisation? If Mandy trousered £400K from the Times, surely Blair's book is worth at least double. But spare us another spooky video . . .

The left-wing blogosphere has struggled in its search for a left-of-centre equivalent to Guido Fawkes. (Remember Derek Draper's crash-and-burn efforts?) Perhaps the search can now come to an end. The Political Scrapbook blog is fast becoming a must-read site for left and right alike. It's pithy, rakes some muck, needles and irritates. The authors even seem to have a sense of humour - something not that prevalent among left-wing bloggers, it has to be said. But the left-wing world online is in very rude health, as will soon become clear when the Total Politics blog poll results are released.

Iain Dale is a political blogger

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan

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The Conservatives have failed on home ownership. Here's how Labour can do better

Far from helping first-time buyers, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Making it easier for people to own their own first home is something to be celebrated. Most families would love to have the financial stability and permanency of home ownership. But the plans announced today to build 200,000 ‘starter homes’ are too little, too late.

The dire housing situation of our Greater London constituency of Mitcham & Morden is an indicator of the crisis across the country. In our area, house prices have increased by a staggering 42 per cent over the last three years alone, while the cost of private rent has increased by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, over 8200 residents are on the housing register, families on low incomes bidding for the small number of affordable housing in the area. In sum, these issues are making our area increasingly unaffordable for buyers, private renters and those in need of social and council housing.

But under these new plans, which sweep away planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent in order to increase the building homes for first-time buyers, a game of political smoke and mirrors is being conducted. Both renters and first-time buyers are desperately in need of government help, and a policy that pits the two against one another is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need homes both to rent and to buy.

The fact is, removing the compulsion to provide properties for affordable rent will be disastrous for the many who cannot afford to buy. Presently, over half of the UK’s affordable homes are now built as part of private sector housing developments. Now this is going to be rolled back, and local government funds are increasingly being cut while housing associations are losing incentives to build, we have to ask ourselves, who will build the affordable properties we need to rent?

On top of this, these new houses are anything but ‘affordable’. The starter homes would be sold at a discount of 20 per cent, which is not insignificant. However, the policy is a non-starter for families on typical wages across most of the country, not just in London where the situation is even worse. Analysis by Shelter has demonstrated that families working for average local earnings will be priced out of these ‘affordable’ properties in 58 per cent of local authorities by 2020. On top of this, families earning George Osborne’s new ‘National Living Wage’ will still be priced out of 98 per cent of the country.

So who is this scheme for? Clearly not typical earners. A couple in London will need to earn £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the country to benefit from this new policy, indicating that ‘starter homes’ are for the benefit of wealthy, young professionals only.

Meanwhile, the home-owning prospects of working families on middle and low incomes will be squeezed further as the ‘Starter Homes’ discounts are funded by eliminating the affordable housing obligations of private property developers, who are presently generating homes for social housing tenants and shared ownership. These more affordable rental properties will now be replaced in essence with properties that most people will never be able to afford. It is great to help high earners own their own first homes, but it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the prospects of middle and low earners.

We desperately want to see more first-time home owners, so that working people can work towards something solid and as financially stable as possible, rather than being at the mercy of private landlords.

But this policy should be a welcome addition to the existing range of affordable housing, rather than seeking to replace them.

As the New Statesman has already noted, the announcement is bad policy, but great politics for the Conservatives. Cameron sounds as if he is radically redressing housing crisis, while actually only really making the crisis better for high earners and large property developers who will ultimately be making a larger profit.

The Conservatives are also redefining what the priorities of “affordable housing” are, for obviously political reasons, as they are convinced that homeowners are more likely to vote for them - and that renters are not. In total, we believe this is indicative of crude political manoeuvring, meaning ordinary, working people lose out, again and again.

Labour needs to be careful in its criticism of the plans. We must absolutely fight the flawed logic of a policy that strengthens the situation of those lucky enough to already have the upper hand, at the literal expense of everyone else. But we need to do so while demonstrating that we understand and intrinsically share the universal aspiration of home security and permanency.

We need to fight for our own alternative that will broaden housing aspirations, rather than limit them, and demonstrate in Labour councils nationwide how we will fight for them. We can do this by fighting for shared ownership, ‘flexi-rent’ products, and rent-to-buy models that will make home ownership a reality for people on average incomes, alongside those earning most.

For instance, Merton council have worked in partnership with the Y:Cube development, which has just completed thirty-six factory-built, pre-fabricated, affordable apartments. The development was relatively low cost, constructed off-site, and the apartments are rented out at 65 per cent of the area’s market rent, while also being compact and energy efficient, with low maintenance costs for the tenant. Excellent developments like this also offer a real social investment for investors, while providing a solid return too: in short, profitability with a strong social conscience, fulfilling the housing needs of young renters.

First-time ownership is rapidly becoming a luxury that fewer and fewer of us will ever afford. But all hard-working people deserve a shot at it, something that the new Conservative government struggle to understand.