X Close


by James Sean Dickson
Wednesday, 17
May 2023
Reaction
16:00

Keir Starmer finally punches the Tories where it hurts

Housing is a big weak spot for the Conservatives
by James Sean Dickson
Ready to scrap (Tory housing policy). Credit: Getty

Sir Keir Starmer has shaken off his famed risk-aversion and started punching at the biggest, bluest, rawest Tory bruise of them all. “We want to make sure that many more houses are built and that the price comes down,” he told the Times today. The tectonic plates of housing politics seem to be shifting at a speed not seen since Margaret Thatcher announced her Right To Buy policy, over forty years ago. 

Claiming to be on the side of the “builders, not blockers”, Starmer said that the Tories had killed “the aspiration of homeowning for a whole generation”. He’s not wrong. Thirteen years of broken Conservative promises on building more housing have sent prices and rents to postwar highs, leaving an entire resentful generation of aspirant homeowners hung out to dry. The promise of having something to show for working hard and doing the right things in life has been broken — and the voices of the young have been ignored.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


“Of course we need to build houses,” Janus-faced Tory MPs tell radio presenters, television audiences and young voters, all while doing everything in their substantial power to block housing — to keep their elderly homeowning voters happy. Michael Gove is said to privately understand that this is a trap of existential proportions the Conservative Party has walked straight into — killing off its own future voting base, and the country’s standard of living and tax base too, as growth, productivity and wages stagnate in lockstep.

But that didn’t stop the housing minister responding in the Sun to Starmer’s interview with platitudes devoid of credibility in exactly the pattern described above. “I will never screw you over to appease NIMBY MPs,” Gove said, while in the same interview defending his NIMBY-in-chief colleague Theresa Villiers. This, mere months after he sold out young people by scrapping housing targets — one of the few mechanisms to force housing through our restrictive, vetocratic planning system.

“Sir Keir’s interest in housing is as cosmetic as Holly and Phil’s on-air relationship. [He] doesn’t understand the housing crisis, his experience has been silence, opportunism and superficiality,” he said.

Mr Gove, have you seen your own party’s housing record? Some of us are living it. Each day, the conflict between a dwindling number of young members forced into renting and the remaining gerontocratic base is becoming clearer and clearer.

Many young Conservatives have heard these unfulfilled promises a thousand times. They’re even distrustful of Starmer’s olive branch, not least because it arrived several years into his leadership. We’ve also been down the “smash the NIMBYs” route before, under housing secretary Robert Jenrick — and you can guess how that turned out, as good as his intentions were. Even if Starmer is genuine, will this move work? He at least seems to understand the economic and productivity implications of starving productive areas of Britain of sufficient housing, stating that housebuilding is key to unlocking “the sort of growth we need in this country.” 

Starmer’s biggest risk is that he alienates not the young — who are already largely on his side — but the kind of middle-to-late aged voters that Labour has lost so comprehensively to the Tory Party in recent decades, and who it needs to tempt back in order to win the next election. Particularly as he is choosing to touch the third rail of British politics — proposing building on greenbelt land. 

Policy experts may know that the greenbelt isn’t all green and pleasant land, and includes urban scrubland, old petrol stations and decrepit car wash venues. But will Tory leaflets say that? Let’s hope this boldness actually materialises. If it does, the next election could finally become the debate about housing delivery and living standards that Britain desperately needs.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
10 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
4 months ago

How on earth could all this building be consistent with Keir Starmer’s stated Net Zero ambition?

R Wright
R Wright
4 months ago

Ctrl + F ‘immigration’
Results found: 0

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
4 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

My thoughts exactly – the young left need to wake up and make at least some effort to understand demand and supply.

Last edited 4 months ago by Ian Barton
Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago

The author conveniently forgets that the last major round of UK house price inflation kicked off when Tony Blair and New Labour took over. They did everything they possibly could to keep inflating house prices (including the asinine attempt to abolish boom and bust which just kicked the day of reckoning off another decade or so). Don’t expect salvation from the Blairites (Starmer’s always been one of them) then. They’re fully paid up members of the multiple property owing club – often directly at the taxpayer’s expense as many of us remember.
The Lib Dems are even worse – perhaps the most opposed to any new housing, ever (depending of course who they’re talking to and what day of the week it is).
I have every confidence that Starmer’s motivation here is 90% political. Which is far enough – it’s his job and there’s an open goal here and statistically he’s going to hit the net eventually (though it’s taking a very long time).
But zero confidence that a Starmer government understands anything about enabling growth in the UK. The “sort of growth we need in this country” isn’t the sort of growth the rest of us need. More state directives, restrictions, central planning, government spending, restrictive working practices, organisations run for the benefit of their staff instead of customers … what could possibly go wrong ?
But if it gets the Tories off their lazy backsides and taking some tough decisions, it might be something. Perhaps if they know they’re headed for defeat they can just take some bold decisions for a year.

John Verrill
John Verrill
4 months ago

Round here there are thousands of new homes going up. Jenrick reversed a Lib Dem refusal of permission. Hundreds of acres of farmland are being gobbled up. Sales are slow so the developers are putting in foundations and mothballing further building.
There are no pubs clubs cafes or other entertainment for these built wildernesses so drugs problems are rising as urbanites find rural life a bit dull. As food prices rise a significant volume of other arable land is given over to growing plant material for an unsightly bio digester which has just got permission to install an unsightly solar array to power it’s already self powered compressor units in the name of efficiency. And this in an AONB.
I’m really delighted that Starmer is now no different to Gove in thinking that agriculture is what farmers do until they can sell their land at a tidy profit to built houses.

Peter B
Peter B
4 months ago
Reply to  John Verrill

Or not sell their land and farm the renewables subsidies on solar farms. Either way, the cost falls on the ordinary citizen in the end.

Matt M
Matt M
4 months ago

Rishi Sunak must be thanking his lucky stars!

Robbie K
Robbie K
4 months ago

Author has this so wrong it’s quite shocking, Starmer has scored a massive own goal by advocating building on greenbelt land. Go to any town and you will find dozens of brownfield sites that could be developed, but builders obviously prefer nice big green fields which are easier and more profitable. With the move to homeworking there will also be plenty of central buildings that can be converted.

Paul T
Paul T
4 months ago

You should have just written; “SIGN MY LAMINATED KEIR PHOTO KEIR” with a photo of you making heart hands (puke).

j watson
j watson
4 months ago

Showing he means business and less afraid to draw a clear dividing line. Many been waiting for that. He was pretty impressive on yesterdays Today prog extended interview ranging over a broad set of policies with good grip and insight. First time I’d actually thought he’s ‘getting it’ and suspect quite alot of his supporters will have to.
Now of course there is considerable jeopardy. Allows a clearer attack line from the Right, even if the Right has made a total mess of things and has no plan. Negative politics still works.
Not entirely sold on Keir, but clearly alot of detailed policy consideration been going on. We’ll see what else emerges.
And besides it will give some of the UnHerd commentariat a respite from trying to defend the current total shambles. Been a desperate week for them as one Right wing edifice after another has grumbled so a chance to attack Starmer an important psychological break.