Grant Shapps is Minister of State for Housing and Local Government. Follow Grant on Twitter.
One of the most iconic Conservative policies of the 1980s was the introduction of the Right to Buy for council tenants. This key pledge in Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 election manifesto was then actively implemented by Michael Heseltine as Secretary of State for the Environment, reflecting its wide support across the Party.
Following the Housing Act 1980, nearly 2 million social homes have been bought by their tenants under Right to Buy, increasing home ownership, improving social mobility and building mixed communities. It allowed decent, hard-working people on lower incomes a helping hand into owner-occupation, enabling households to own their home who would never otherwise have been able to do so.
The Right to Buy gave something back to families who worked, paid their rent and played by the rules. It allowed them to do up their home, change their front door, improve their garden – without getting permission from clipboard-wielding bureaucrats down the town hall.
Any party activist who delivers leaflets and knocks on doors can literally see its beneficial effect. Those new front doors signalled new life and diversity in housing estates, giving people a sense of pride and ownership not just in their home, but in their whole street and neighbourhood. Once monolithic and mono-tenure estates benefited from that increased sense of shared ownership and social responsibility.
Labour’s ‘suicide note’ manifesto in 1983 pledged to scrap Right to Buy discounts. Yet such was the policy’s success that, by 1987, Labour had dropped their outright opposition to the Right to Buy. However, the election of a Labour Government in 1997 brought with it a determination to undermine the Right to Buy by stealth, led by John Prescott heading up the sprawling Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions. Over following years, he made a succession of cuts to tenants’ rights.
Labour’s stealth cuts included slashing the discount through imposing new regional caps, failing to increase the cash levels of the new caps in line with house prices, further cutting the discounts caps and increasing the length of residency to qualify. The Labour Government’s own research warned Ministers that these cuts would curtail the Right to Buy. After a decade of Labour strangling the Right to Buy, the average discount had fallen from 50 per cent of the market value of the property to just a quarter; in London, the discount was worth just 10 per cent. Unsurprisingly, by 2010, Right to Buy sales had dwindled to just over 3,000 a year.
This was Labour’s class war in action – stripping people of their opportunity to move up and creating roadblocks to aspiration. Prescott raged against the Right to Buy at the 2004 Labour Party Conference, declaring “those homes are not for sale”. Labour Ministers were playing politics with people’s lives, hindering social mobility to shore up their increasingly weak core vote.
Times have changed, and in 2010, Labour was unceremoniously booted out of office. Conservatives didn’t win the election, but in conjunction with our Coalition partners, we are working to change our country for the better. And we are at our best, when we are Conservative – and the Prime Minister’s championing of the Right to Buy is a case in point.
Thirty years on, the Department for Communities and Local Government (Labour loved changing departmental name plates) is now increasing the maximum Right to Buy discount to £75,000 across the country – quadrupling the potential discount in London and trebling it elsewhere. And we are undertaking a major campaign to help advance the cause of home ownership amongst council tenants, alongside sensible advice on the financial responsibilities of having a mortgage.
Additional homes sold under Right to Buy will be replaced by a new home for affordable rent, with receipts from sales recycled towards the cost of replacement. This in turn will provide a boost to the economy from increased housebuilding and alongside our other housing reforms, will help tackle the massive housing waiting lists that almost doubled under Labour.
As we knock on (all sorts of) doors in the month ahead, this is a great opportunity to advance the Conservative message. You too can help out.
‘Like’ the new Facebook page – www.facebook.com/righttobuy to show your support.
If you are a councillor or council candidate in a local area with council housing – ask what your council will be doing to promote the reinvigorated Right to Buy to tenants.
There will also be campaign materials available from CCHQ on the Right to Buy for local use. Remind voters that Labour politicians want fewer rights and less choice for tenants. Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Minister, Caroline Flint, has branded home ownership as ‘the English disease’ – which illustrates exactly where Ed Miliband’s Labour Party now stand.
Campaigning on the Right to Buy is a great opportunity to show how Conservatives are once again the party of aspiration, rewarding those who work hard and want to get on in life. But more importantly, it’s a real chance to advance social opportunity, transfejr power from the state to communities and make lives better: the very reasons we can proudly say why we are Conservatives.