Breaking with tradition?


(No) Changes
Breaking with tradition, Brown announced his government’s programme of legislation in advance of the Queen’s speech to Parliament in November.

Despite his claims on entering Number Ten that there would be change – he mentioned the word repeatedly – the laws announced revisit old New Labour territory: an expansion of City Academies (a sneaky way of privatising education) and more anti-terror legislation (an attempt to extend the 28 day detention period, introducing internment by stealth).

The headline grabbing stuff was on housing, of course – Brown trying to show he has a handle on the crisis facing millions – but there was one significant item of news that no-one had expected.

The “super-casino” programme is to be quietly dropped via a review on its suitability to regenerate de-industrialised parts of the country. The only planned super-casino that had been given the go-ahead was in Manchester – but it looks like Brown has scuppered the deal and that super-casinos are “dead in the water”:

“In September we will have a report that will look at gambling in our country – the incidence and prevalence of it and the social effects of it,” Mr Brown said.

“I hope that during these summer months we can look at whether regeneration in the areas for the super-casinos maybe a better way of meeting their economic and social needs than the creation of super-casinos.”

On housing, David Osler points out in his post “Gordon Brown and housing”:

The number of housing starts in Britain last year hit the lowest since 1924. The currently total only half the figure for France, a country with a similar population.

Yet the UK’s housing stock is the oldest in Europe, with a quarter of dwellings built before world war one. At the current rate of replacement, it will need to last 5,600 years – longer than the pyramids, in fact.

The measures announced today by Gordon Brown – which will raise the annual target for new homes from 200,000 to 240,000 – are not nearly enough to tackle a situation that surely does merit the over-used tag of ‘crisis’.

Let’s not think of the housing issue in terms of dinner party talk of house prices. What we are seeing is a clear-cut case of market failure. The free market visibly does not provide a roof over the heads of all that need it. How could it?

The big building firms repeatedly blame planning restrictions for any shortage of new homes. But many planning professionals point out that the top ten players in the sector are sitting on 14,000 acres of land with planning permission.

Last month, the Office of Fair Trading launched an inquiry into the suggestion that they are simply sitting on their landbank, in the expectation that housing prices will continue to rise.

Meanwhile, there are now over 94,000 households in temporary accommodation, and 1.6m people on council housing waiting lists. But the shortage of social housing will condemn many of them to wait years for accommodation, if they ever reach the top of the queue at all.

This situation is unsurprising, given that for decades now, both Conservative and Labour governments have systematically pursued policies expressly designed to do away with council housing.

In 1981, local authorities in England and Wales owned nearly 4.8m homes. By 2005, that had shrunk to 2.8m, with some councils having sold their entire housing stock.

There are sound economic arguments for a serious programme of social housing construction. In the long run, it is cheaper to build good new homes than to keep families in often squalid bed & breakfast hotels.

But councils now have no incentive to build public housing, as they don’t get the long-term revenue stream and are forced to sell stock at a discounted rate.

Building a house creates two jobs in building, one job in manufacturing and one job in furnishing. Construction could be central to a progressive government’s job creation strategy.

Brown is absolutely right to make housing a top priority for his government. But New Labour is to achieve anything, it is going to have to get over its existing hang-up against public sector provision.

And there’s no chance of that… not without a fight from below. (Of which, more on that tomorrow with the second national walkout of postal workers.)

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I first heard this story:

Gordon Brown and the Union Rag
We know that Gordon Brown has a thing about the Union Jack from a speech he made earlier this year saying that we should all hang it from our window or fly it from a pole in our garden. So it was no surprise to see that his response to the recent Islamist bomb attempts should be — fly the Union Jack, a campaign that the Scum newspaper has enthusiastically taken up. Here’s their front page on Wednesday 4 July
The text reads:

“GORD: ALL HOIST FLAG.Premier Gordon Brown said the Union Flag should be flown proudly from every public building in Britain. The move would be a signal of defiance to terrorists like those that attacked Glasgow airport last Saturday”.

Then in an interview on ITN on Thursday he revealed that he had given orders that the Union Rag should fly permanently over his new residence at Nº 10 Downing Street.

So, not content with trying to outflank the Tories by presenting Labour as the natural “party of business” he now wants to outflank them by showing that Labour is more jingoistic than them.

The sad fact is that there was no restriction on flying the union flag, and his attempt to look like a strong British nationalist backfired. Again. Ah, the perils of political cross-dressing


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