Keir Starmer proclaimed that Labour was the party of home ownership at an awkward, tetchy Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday.
Three hours earlier, in Manchester, the shadow housing and levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy delivered a speech setting out the broad principles that underpin the party’s housing policy. Nandy doesn’t believe there’s a single solution to the housing crisis and identifies different interventions for different sectors of the market, whether renting, development or council housing. But the overarching idea, I’m told, is to tilt the balance of power from land speculators to councils and developers. How will the Labour party do that? One policy is to scrap the requirement for councils to pay a premium on land to account for the value added from potential development. A Labour source pointed to similar policies in France, Germany and the Netherlands. Another is to force developers to identify land to build on rather than waiting for them to volunteer.
Elsewhere in the speech there were familiar attempts to signal that Labour is no longer scary and radical, such as ruling out rent controls. But Nandy did make the case for a activist state. Here’s an example: “A broken market and an absent state is the worst of all worlds – a state of affairs as fundamentally anathema to the Conservative tradition as it is socialism.
“We will tilt the balance of power back to first-time buyers and use the power of the state to help them make the leap into home ownership.”
Statements such as these give Starmer the opportunity to claim Labour is the party of home ownership at PMQs, particularly when Rishi Sunak is so silent on the issue.
But will Nandy still be in-post to deliver the policy in government? The Times is reporting Angela Rayner could replace Nandy in the levelling-up brief. Before we consider the implications, remember that a lot of media gossip about reshuffles is self-interested narrative management by the Labour leadership, designed to motivate shadow ministers to perform and keep them in line. “We’re all pretty immune to speculation now,” one weary Labour source told me. But if the move did materialise, the big question would be where Starmer would move Nandy, one of his most effective communicators. Another question is whether Starmer even retains the “levelling up” position – a concept Labour rarely talks about these days.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.