Back in 2010, the Tories made a big play of how they would transform the country through localism and the Big Society. Localism would free communities from the dead hand of Whitehall controlling everything, while the Big Society would encourage a new era of civic involvement, getting people involved in community organisations, allowing them to really make a difference.
If the first leaks from their 2015 manifesto are anything to go by, both those ideas have been thrown into the bin, which has then been set on fire and the ashes scattered to the four winds to prevent any prospect of them ever coming back together again. Community-based organisations are to be ripped apart by Government policy, while councils will have to follow diktats from the centre in order to raise the money to fund this dismemberment.
Housing associations are private non-profit organisations, generally run by members of the community they’re based in and providing a valuable service in providing social housing. The proposed Tory policy will declare them to be nothing more than another arm of the state, in order to compel them to sell off their housing at below the market rate. Yes, because we’re not suffering enough problems in the housing market thanks to forcing councils to sell their stock off cheaply, they’ll go on to compound the error by doing the same to housing associations. Remember, these aren’t government-owned organisations, and yet the Tories – the usual champions of property rights – seem to see no problem in riding roughshod over someone else’s in pursuit of their policy.
(Of course, this policy won’t apply to other private landlords, and tenants in the private rented sector won’t get any right to buy their homes no matter how long they’ve lived there. Perhaps if Housing Associations were allowed to donate to the Tories, they’d have been exempted from this policy too?)
Even the most barking policy to sell assets off at below market price has a cost, and in order to fund this, they’ve decided to show how much they’ve decided localism was a bad idea by committing to a true policy of anti-localism. Councils are part of the government of the country, but in this era of devolution and localism, one would have thought they would be left alone to run their own affairs. Unfortunately, bad policy trumps principle and so to find the money to pay for housing associations, councils will be told to sell off their most expensive houses. They’ll be able to keep some of the proceeds to build new houses, but only one for each house that has been sold off. The remainder of the money raised by these sales – of assets that were built by local councils for their residents, remember – will be handed over to central government to pay for the costs of housing associations being told to sell their properties off cheaply. Yes, it’s a perfect circle of robbing Peter to pay for the tools that are needed to rob Paul. They’re selling off everything that’s not nailed down in order to pay for the removal of the nails to let them sell what’s left.
As Tom King states, it’s the worst policy of the General Election yet, but we’ve still got the rest of the Tory manifesto to see, and let’s not underestimate how bad the rest of it might be.