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23 November 2022

By backing down on planning reforms, Rishi Sunak has neglected a key group of voters: the young

The prospect of being seen as so weak as to rely on Labour support to carry legislation was clearly too much to bear.

By Rachel Wearmouth

One of the first bursts of friendly fire Rishi Sunak had to contend with in the Commons came from Wendy Morton, the former chief whip who claimed she had been bullied by Gavin Williamson.

“In Aldridge-Brownhills, we are at risk of 8,000 new homes being dumped in the constituency,” the Tory MP complained during Sunak’s first PMQs.

Housing crisis? What housing crisis? Britain is in dire need of the new homes so repulsive to Morton.

The 2019 Tory manifesto promised to build 300,000 new homes a year. According to the House of Commons Library, 216,490 were built in the year to March 2021, the lowest number for five years.

Such statistics do not shame back-bench Tory nimbys, however. On 22 November Sunak was forced to pull a vote on planning reforms, due to take place on Monday, after rebels backed an amendment to scrap the target in the latest obnoxious refusal to solve the housing crisis.

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Lead rebel Theresa Villiers told the Telegraph, it was a “significant victory” for backbenchers against “top-down, excessive targets”. Excessive for who? The answer is usually older homeowners worried about house prices – and change.

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Younger people have been hit hardest by the housing crisis. Landlords are hiking rents amid the cost-of-living crisis and interest rates have soared since the mini-Budget, making buying a first home even more unaffordable. Poor conditions and unaffordable housing have been consistently linked with poor mental health.

Younger generations also dutifully stayed at home during the Covid pandemic to protect their elders. Their prospects have been damaged by Brexit, which was voted for disproportionately by older people, and now a decade of living standards growth has been swallowed up by economic gloom. 

Sunak could have chosen to face down the rebels. He had enough votes to win the day because Labour was not prepared to back the amendment. But the prospect of being seen as so weak as to rely on opposition support to carry legislation was clearly too much to bear.

The Prime Minister needs to decide what legacy he wants to leave. The polls strongly suggest the Conservatives are on course for defeat at the next election. Two of his MPs, William Wragg and Chloe Smith – age 34 and 40 respectively, with their career ahead of them – announced on 22 November they will not run again. If the Tories lose the next election, what of the future?

One way or another, there will one day be new homes to speak of. Those who have enjoyed the privilege of governing for the past 12 years should ask themselves serious questions about which causes they champion – questions like: who might the residents of those homes be voting for in ten years’ time?

[See also: Labour disowns “patronising and paternalistic” foreign aid]

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