House Flipping: Labour’s Controversial Endorsement of Right to Buy Scheme

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Starmer and sunak
"If both front benches are agreed, it's probably bad news for the workers. And if a minister ever gets up and says 'we're going to have to take some tough choices and some tough decisions,' it's a disaster for the working class."-Joan Maynard

Labour’s Flipping Houses With Yet Another Poor Excuse For a U-turn

Joan Maynard traditional Labour MP and trade unionist, was reputed to have said: “If both front benches are agreed, it’s probably bad news for the workers. And if a minister ever gets up and says ‘We’re going to have to take some tough choices and some tough decisions,’ it’s a disaster for the working class.”

Well, folks it not only looks like both the Tories and Labour agree, yet again, but this time we are in for a disaster. Labour’s Lisa Nandy, Shadow Secretary of State for Levelling Up, and Housing, gave us another one of Labour’s flips and unsurprisingly endorsed the controversial ‘Right to Buy’ scheme.

This scheme, originally championed by Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has left many puzzled, considering the current housing shortage gripping the nation. Nandy even went as far as claiming that the policy was initially embraced by the Labour Party, raising eyebrows and inviting just a little scepticism.

When confronted about the party’s previous commitment to suspend the Right to Buy scheme due to the dwindling availability of social housing, Nandy offered a seemingly reassuring response, suggesting: “We support the Right to Buy, but what we don’t support is the loss of much-needed council housing and social housing from this country.”

However, given the history of Labour’s empty promises, it’s no wonder that doubts quickly surfaced.

The irony of Nandy endorsing a policy championed by a Conservative leader ‘MARGRET THATCHER’ known for her divisive economic ideology did not escape notice.

Tony Benn once keenly observed that very scheme brought people back into debt slavery, he stated how the right-to-buy scheme shackled the working class when he stated:

“Thatcher was a much cleverer woman than we give her credit for. What she said was: ‘You can buy your council house, so you’ll be a property owner, you may not be able to get a wage increase, but you can borrow.’ And the borrowing was deliberately encouraged because people in debt are slaves to their employers.”

Right to Buy Betrayal: Labour’s Endorsement Contradicts Party Resolutions

Ironically, the Labour Party’s support for Right to Buy seems to disregard the overwhelming sentiments of its own members.

Resolutions passed at both the 2019 and 2021 conferences clearly called for an ‘End to the Right to Buy’, reflecting the prevailing view within the party. Furthermore, the party’s 2019 election manifesto included a commitment to terminate the scheme. But of course, Starmer chucked out the entire manifesto, even though it was that manifesto he was voted into parliament on.

The Tories true to their form back the right-to-buy scheme. They view housing solely through the lens of commerce and capital. It is nothing more than a tradable commodity, a source of profit, a checkbox on an investment portfolio, or even a convenient pension pot. They have completely divorced themselves from recognising its intrinsic value as the solid foundation for stable lives and opportunities.

We live in communities but far too often are pushed out, away from friends and family, because we simply can’t afford to stay in the areas we grow up in and the council have failed in their duty to provide social housing.

Instead, people have been shoved further and further away a staggering increase in the number of individuals condemned to dwell in precarious, insecure private rentals, coupled with an alarming depletion of social housing stock.

This is the failure of successive governments and a direct result of the Right to Buy scheme. As if governments’ failures weren’t glaring enough, they now find themselves unable to even lay claim to their erstwhile championing of homeownership, with inflated prices and dwindling homeowner figures.

One of the most insidious lies peddled by the nanny state is that of homeownership as a mark of success and independence. This is nothing but a cheap imitation of the Tory propaganda or, more precisely, the American fantasy.

The Right to Buy scheme exposes this fraud by turning public housing into private property, with a shocking 40% of them landing in the hands of greedy landlords who charge exorbitant rents.

This not only deprives the poor and the vulnerable of affordable housing, but also enriches the wealthy and the powerful at their expense. It is a blatant transfer of wealth from the public to the private sector, disguised as a benevolent policy.

Since the policy was launched in 1980, about two million council homes have been sold. An estimated 40% of them are now owned by private landlords who rent them out at much higher rates.

Right to buy
The King family of Milton Keynes receive the deeds to their council house from Margaret Thatcher in 1979. Photograph: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This stark disparity raises serious concerns about the accessibility and affordability of housing for those in need, adding another layer of irony to the situation. This is a betrayal of the very idea of public housing and social justice.

The government recently changed the rules to allow councils to keep 100% of receipts from the sale of homes for two years.

Nandy said today that Labour “agrees with the government” on this move. However, local authority figures contacted by Inside Housing said it was “too little, too late” and “is not going to solve the problem, compounded by decades of replacing housing stock lost through Right to Buy”.

Both Scotland and Wales have successfully halted the loss of housing stock by terminating the scheme, while England continues to witness a decline in stock numbers each year. Since 2012/13, an astonishing 107,472 homes have been sold through Right to Buy, resulting in a significant reduction of council housing stock by 104,693 units when accounting for demolitions, new builds, and council acquisitions.

With fewer than 1.6 million council homes remaining in England, the scarcity of available housing, coupled with skyrocketing house prices, forces individuals into the expensive and often subpar private rental sector. Despite some councils manipulating housing waiting lists to tweak the figures, over 1.1 million households still await suitable housing.

Shockingly, last year, councils issued fewer than 80,000 new tenancies, leaving a vast gap between supply and demand. To replenish the lost stock through demolitions and Right to Buy sales, councils would need to construct approximately 12,000 homes annually, a target that hasn’t been met since 1990.

Ending Right to Buy comes at no cost and would prevent further loss of homes. Moreover, it would enable new council building projects to increase housing stock, eventually reducing the number of households on housing waiting lists.

The irony lies in the party’s hesitancy to take this necessary step, perhaps fearing accusations of being against aspiration, despite the debunkable nature of such arguments.

Before the introduction of Right to Buy, council housing facilitated home ownership by offering reasonable rents that allowed tenants to save for a deposit, purchase a home on the open market, and subsequently vacate their council property for someone else on the waiting list.

The potential votes gained from maintaining the scheme are minimal, making the party’s stance all the more perplexing.

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

Joan Maynard Trade unionst

The stigma associated with council housing and its tenants arose from the promotion of home ownership as a superior tenure to renting. However, lacking the means or desire to acquire a mortgage does not equate to a lack of aspiration. The pandemic has taught countless individuals that material possessions do not guarantee contentment, and mortgages often bring about insecurity and stress, particularly as interest rates rise above 6%.

Council housing, with its secure tenancies, can rescue a new generation from the perils of the private rented sector. By ending Right to Buy and implementing a large-scale council house building program, as advocated by the Labour conferences in 2019 and 2021, hundreds of thousands of people could be granted new tenancies, liberating them from the shackles of the private rental market.

Such measures would help rebalance the housing market, potentially reducing prices in the private rented sector and the broader housing market.

Ultimately, ending Right to Buy is an imperative step toward increasing the council housing stock and effectively resolving the ongoing housing crisis. Unfortunately, the Labour Party’s current stance reveals that it no longer presents a true alternative to the Tory Party but rather a different iteration of the same ideology.

This approach does nothing to address the housing crisis; instead, it perpetuates a system that benefits banks and financial institutions at the expense of ordinary citizens, adding yet another layer of irony to the situation.

The alternative is to build back better.

attlee
Clement Attlee’s post-war Labour government oversaw a housing boom. Photograph: Popperfoto/Getty

The dismal state of Britain’s housing is a national disgrace that cries out for a radical solution. Only a massive public investment in building new homes, comparable to the visionary project of Attlee’s post-war government, can address the chronic shortage, the soaring prices and the social decay that plague this country.

One of the many reasons to admire the Attlee government of 1945-1951 is its remarkable record of building one million new homes in a time of acute scarcity and hardship. This was not a mere bureaucratic exercise, but a moral crusade to provide decent and affordable housing for the masses, who had suffered the horrors of war and the indignities of slums.

The government did not let the slow progress in the first two years deter it from its goal. It ramped up the construction to 200,000 homes per year from 1948 to 1951, most of them council houses that gave dignity and security to working-class families. These houses were spacious, well-designed and equipped with modern amenities such as indoor plumbing, electricity and gas.

They were also built in new towns and suburbs that offered green spaces, schools and community centres. The government also made use of prefabricated homes, which were modest in appearance but comfortable and convenient in practice. These homes were quickly assembled from factory-made parts and could be easily transported and erected.

They were intended as temporary solutions, but many of them lasted for decades and became cherished by their occupants. And the government did not neglect the existing housing stock, which it repaired and converted in large numbers after the war. It also introduced rent controls and subsidies to protect tenants from exploitation and eviction.

As Michael Foot rightly observes, “This achievement was no small one in the first years after the war when the country was also engaged in a big factory-building programme. It far surpassed anything achieved in Britain after 1918 or in most countries after 1945”. This was the essence, the substance, the glory of the Attlee government: to create communities, jobs and prosperity out of rubble and ruin. It was a testament to its vision, its courage and its compassion.

My proposal is simple: build, build, and build social houses for rent, not mortgages for the banks. This is not only a plan for creating jobs and distributing wealth, but also a way of restoring the bonds of community and solidarity that have been severed by the greedy oligarchy and their dystopian order.

Such a project would not only offer dignified housing for millions of people, but also boost the economy, generate employment and renew the sense of civic virtue. Is this not a worthy goal? Is this not a noble vision? Is this not a practical solution?

political lobbying
Politicians Should Represent Us Not the Highest Bidder

The rapacious financiers and their craven lackeys in government cannot abide the prospect of a contented and secure citizenry. They require constant turmoil and distress to extract their ill-gotten gains from mortgages, interest rates and their made-up derivatives. They are the parasites of disaster capitalism, who can only feast on the blood of a wounded society.

They have seized the instruments of power and influence, moving effortlessly from parliament to boardrooms to banks and back, treating people as commodities to be manipulated, not citizens to be respected.

They have tainted the democratic process with their money and pressure, they have thwarted any efforts to create more accessible and ecological housing options. These are not coincidental flaws or defects, but the rational results of a system that prioritizes private profit over public welfare. These are not random errors or deviations, but the unavoidable outcomes of a system that favours private avarice over public good.

It pains me every day but by now it’s clear for all to see the Labour Party has shamelessly abandoned its own principles and become a pitiful replica of the Tories.

It is utterly delusional to hope for any meaningful change from this cowardly and corrupt bunch of careerists, who have sold out their constituents and their conscience for a seat at the table. We need a bold and uncompromising opposition to the Tory agenda, not a weak and obedient copy that echoes their lies and policies. We need a voice that challenges the status quo, not one that reinforces it.

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