Leicester’s Housing Conference

Leicester, like the rest of the country, has a massive shortage of council homes.

As we know already, the need for quality council homes in Leicester has never been higher, and while 36% of people lived in council-owned properties in 1981, this figure (as of 2017) has dropped to just 15.5%, with thousands of families having been “thrown into the hands of crooks” in the private sector. These were the words of Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby speaking at the recent (March 24) “Leicester Labour Housing & Homelessness Conference.”

Council housing – that is housing that people can afford to live in – has been relentlessly demonized and undermined by the Tories; a disgusting form of class prejudice that was then perpetuated under Tony Blair “New Labour” regime. But now at least we can be thankful that such government plots against the working-class might be reversed under the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking to Leicester’s well-attended Housing Conference, Labour data-cruncher Bob Line, made it abundantly clear that house prices in the private sector were way beyond the budgets of the majority of Leicester’s residents. He sadly noted how over the past twenty years average private sector housing prices in Leicester had increased by over 300% (from £46,000 to £146,000), while average wages for Leicester’s residents had only increased by 80%.

Open to members and supporters of the Labour Party

Martin Wicks, talking on behalf of the Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, made the urgent case for why the Labour Party, once in government, must immediately move to cancel so-called council housing debt. (For more on this important point, read his article posted on this Labour Representation Committee web site titled “Councils Need Grants to Fund Council House Building,” January 23, 2018.)

Municipal Dreams blogger, John Boughton, then highlighted the many gains vis-à-vis quality housing that were made by Labour government’s in the wake of World War Two. Even amidst the dire financial crisis facing the British economy, Boughton pointed out that between 1945 and 1952 Labour had been able to construct 804,921 council homes! It is for such reasons that the Labour Party (at all levels) must be bold in outlining their commitment to launching a similar mass council house building program.

Speaking of Labour’s national policies, earlier this year, the Unite housing workers branch – which is the largest Unite union branch organising workers in social housing — responded to the national Labour Party’s recent consultation on social housing policy with a nine-page submission which observed:

“Jeremy Corbyn has been right to argue that there is no solution to the housing crisis that does not start with a mass programme of council housing. The terms ‘affordable’ and ‘social’ housing have become debased as developments, clearly unaffordable to many, get classified as affordable and social housing providers become indistinguishable from large corporate private landlords and developers. Labour should start by explaining the role that financialisation and commercialisation have played in increasing housing inequality while proving extremely expensive.”

The submission supported the sensible demand that “Councils should be freed from unjustified historic debt” and added that “all receipts from Right to Buy should be ring fenced for reinvestment in council housing.” Unite explained:

“The Department of Housing and Communities has identified a need for 300,000 new homes per year, to meet growing overall housing demand and eliminate the accumulated shortfall. This is roughly in line with other estimates. At least two thirds need to be built for genuinely affordable rents. Of these, at least 150,000 per year should be council homes. Others could be cooperatives, co-housing, community land trusts etc, as well as those housing associations which can demonstrate a high standard of accountability and service.”

Therefore, in returning to Leicester’s recent Housing Conference, one outcome of the day was that Sir Peter Soulsby made a pledge that

“…call[ed] on landlords in all sectors (Private, Housing Association and Council) not to seek to evict any tenants for rent arrears that arise because of the transition period onto Universal Credit. We invite all landlords to make this a pledge to their tenants by signing their names alongside ours.”

But let’s not forget that this pledge is coming from the leader of the same Labour Council who admitted in their latest “Homelessness Review” that in 2016/17 they had served six eviction orders on their tenants because of the hated bedroom tax.

Let’s hope that Leicester’s many right-wing Labour councillors, including the two who I happened to sit next to the conference — Cllr Paul Westley the Labour Chief Whip who refers to Momentum as Corbyn’s “militants,” and Assistant Deputy Mayor for Housing Andy Connelly — have finally decided to support Corbyn’s socialist politics.

More likely, however, it seems that most of Leicester’s Labour councillors (including Westley and Connelly) are still thoroughly opposed to Corbyn and the majority of their memberships socialist vision for the future.

Hence it would seem to make sense that if ordinary Labour members wish to avoid the “Dirty tricks, sabotage and witch-hunts” that are the “stock in trade” of Labour’s right-wing, then they might press for Corbyn to support democratic reforms, like the introduction of mandatory reselection of all local councillors and MPs.

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