As Nat Wei argued on this site yesterday, the Conservative Party often does best when it does right by the underdog, in the face of vested interests. He pointed to Peel taking on the agri-barons, and Thatcher taking on the union barons, and drew a line to the current battle against the EU’s bureaucratic barons.
But he might equally have pointed to the imbalances of power, privilege and opportunity visible in the housing market. As Liz Truss argues to the Financial Times, there are effectively two choices, and they are not ‘build or don’t build’. They are, as she puts it:
“…building on more greenfield sites and making sure there are enough homes or losing the election and ending up with Jeremy Corbyn, whose policy appears to be appropriating property.”
A number of different arguments must be deployed to overcome the tricky fact that those who have, in terms of housing, in many cases oppose new opportunities for the have-nots. One is that their own children and communities need and deserve the chance to have a home of their own. Another is that proper provision of housing aids continued economic growth and the development of a more stable society.
At the same time, more must be done to ensure the planning system delivers construction that people like, by valuing once more concepts like beauty, which mistaken officialdom wrongly deemed to be outdated.
Such an approach will certainly help. But, ultimately, it might not be sufficient to persuade home-owners to accept the prospect of the visual or financial disruption of new housing. The ever-present modern political conundrum is how to offer the more affordable housing demanded by one half of the population while not outraging the other half by lowering their house prices.
Cue Truss, cutting the Gordian Knot by pointing out that this is a false choice. Try to cling to every privilege and penny of house price you have, and you will end up with none of it, because you will usher in Corbynism, with all the attendant harm to economic and personal freedom that entails. Alternatively, surrender some vested interest in exchange for a more free society, and you may lose a little in the short-term to the benefit of your fellow citizens but get to keep the rest of what you have, and continue to enjoy the fruits of a free, growing society. That is the true choice on offer.
When Peel challenged the haves of his day to aid the have nots, he was willing to do so because he believed himself to be saving even those who opposed him from the danger of revolution – he did not care if they hated or thanked him for it, because it was the right course of action.