Let's Build The Houses-Quick!

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(368)

Cathy Davis and Alan Wigfield

This pamphlet is timely. In the face of a mounting housing crisis, it takes a sharp look at Labour's 1997-2010 housing record, at current government policies and their consequences, and at alternative approaches.

Looking at the motive behind the coalition government's policies, it links the attacks we are now facing on rents, tenancies and benefits directly to pre-election plotting by leading Tories, think-tanks and housing association chief executives, who worked out plans for housing deregulation, partly aimed at getting hold of the valuable land council estates occupy.

It shows how Labour under Blair paved the way for current government attacks on housing rights as on health and other public services. The authors see the last Labour government as a squandered opportunity for a "left turn". Instead Blair continued with Thatcherite privatisation and the drive to home ownership, and failed to build much-needed council housing.

The pamphlet concludes with a call to end the grip of private finance over housing and society. For inspiration it looks to the 1945 Attlee government, which built 500,000 good quality council homes in three years.

It sees the struggle over housing as part of a wider political fight. The authors are clear that change will entail "active involvement in creating alternative values", revaluing public services and a different view of "citizenship" that emphasises mutual support and fairer communities.

Then we get to my first disagreement. Since 1945 most government policies have been dictated by increasingly powerful business and financial interests.

The post-war transformation was driven by the threat of a revolutionary anger sweeping Europe. The mass squatting, militant trade unionism and growth of the Communist and other left of Labour parties were a key factor creating the conditions that forced government action.

If you see change as primarily determined by elections, you fall into a trap of passivity which strengthens the hand of business, to attack our rights and the gains we have won, and to strengthen the ideology of "scroungers" versus "hard-working home owners".

The alternative to Cameron and Clegg's nightmare for tenants is put in terms of policies for a new government after 2015.

The authors respect real struggle and show political commitment. Alan Wigfield teaches Workers Education Association courses and was chair of Sheffield City Council Housing Committee from 1986 to 1992. Cathy Davis worked for housing associations for many years .

I agree with their call for a massive council house building programme, with zero carbon homes, extended security and rent controls for private tenants. And I, like millions of others, would welcome politicians with the commitment and guts to fight for those ideas. But this kind of change does not start in parliament. And I am not waiting for the next election to defy this government's housing policies.

Eileen Short

Let's Build the Houses-Quick! is published by Spokesman Books, £6