Voting with their feet
Oliver Miles gauges the impact housing polices have had on public opinion in the lead up to the general election.
Four weeks before the 2015 general election the voters had already made their thoughts known. Or at least those who had anything to do with buying property had. The political parties had been trying hard to woo the electorate with a plethora of housing-related inducements. But did they really mean anything to anyone?
The Conservatives promised huge numbers of new homes would be built and also dangled a right-to-buy opportunity for those with shared ownership arrangements through housing associations. Labour had been pinning their hopes on the popularity - with those who would never have to pay it - of a mansion tax. Also of rent control.
Had either party the right answer to excite the electorate? It seems not. In the heat of electioneering it appeared that the only thing which significantly made buyers more active during the campaign was sunshine. The minute the spring sun came out so did buyers. Almost immediately viewings were up, offers were up and sales were up. What did this mean? It seems that the weather was more influential on buyers than the political climate.
Successive governments haven’t exactly won people’s respect on housing. The coalition has had four housing ministers during its recent tenure, and, between 1997 and 2008 the previous Labour government elevated eight different ministers to the post. This is hardly good for long-term stability in the sector. So we have all come to learn that if we want something done about roofs over our heads we must do it for ourselves.
Simply put, the economy in general seems more immediately important to voters than housing in isolation – and with good reason. When the economy is up people feel better and can afford more things – like properties. If it’s down everyone hunkers down and goes nowhere: demand drops, values drop and new home building decreases which leads to a drop in land values – no matter what the housing policy at the time. Housing depends on the economy. The electorate understands that. It is people who create demand once the means to buy is in their favour and no right-to-buy or mansion tax policies will change that.
The past fifty years have not led us to believe that the next five will be any better for government housing policies – especially if the ministerial door remains revolving. So we are on our own. Perhaps the next government should just neatly put all these polices under another title - devolution.