Rather than do any of the things which might actually ease the housing crisis, David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government wants the state to enter the housebuilding business
When faced with the inescapable truth of the housing crisis – the fact that demand for housing is increasing faster than supply – David Cameron’s Conservative government has typically preferred to faff around with headline-chasing proposals to boost demand for the same inadequate housing stock rather than upset any of their vested interests by unleashing a real, consumer-focused supply side revolution.
But doing nothing at all in the face of a pressing national problem doesn’t look very good, and so the government has simultaneously been grasping around for eye-catching policies which give the illusion of taking serious action, while doing almost nothing to tackle the root causes.
And since this government is clearly content to pick freely from any policies ranging anywhere from the authoritarian left to the bland centre, they have come up with a doozy of a socialist idea: being unwilling to deregulate the market or meaningfully ease burdensome planning restrictions, the state will simply start commissioning new housing itself. What could possibly go wrong?
The breathless government press release informs us:
The Prime Minister will today announce that the government is to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes.
In a radical new policy shift, not used on this scale since Thatcher and Heseltine started the Docklands, the government will directly commission the building of homes on publicly owned land. This will lead to quality homes built at a faster rate with smaller building firms – currently unable to take on big projects – able to get building on government sites where planning permission is already in place. The first wave of up to 13,000 will start on 4 sites outside of London in 2016 – up to 40% of which will be affordable ‘starter’ homes. This approach will also be used in at the Old Oak Common site in north west London.
A plan for every stage of your life, indeed.
This amounts to nothing so much as a nationalised British Housing corporation – on a small scale for now, but who knows where or how far this statist adventure could lead us? Where once we had British Coal, British Steel, British Rail and even British Restaurants, now we are about to have British Housing foisted upon us – and by a supposedly conservative government, no less.
But just as nationalised, centrally planned companies like British Leyland churned out low quality, uncompetitive products that nobody wanted back in the last century, so British Housing will inevitably see the construction of more cookie-cutter, non-high-rise, low density “developments” that barely keep pace with rising demand and do nothing to tackle house prices or put the dream of home ownership within reach of more people.
But who cares? George Osborne will have another excuse to don his high-vis jacket, strap on his hard hat, and prance around a building site with his sleeves rolled up like a man of action and plausible Future Prime Minister. And that’s all that matters. Not solving real problems. Not applying the best of contemporary conservative thinking to transform Britain for the better. Just another good photo opportunity and more of the same endless, vacuous triangulation and electioneering.
Rigorous conservative thought and policymaking is capable of producing compelling answers to nearly all of the problems facing modern Britain – unemployment, housing, welfare, competitiveness and the democratic deficit. But we do not have a prime minister or a government who have any respect for conservative thought, or the principles of small government, free individuals and the free market as a force for good.
We have David Cameron, George Osborne and the bricks-and-mortar equivalent of British Rail sandwiches.
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