A busy week focused on key constituency matters this week: housing, inequality, and remembering the holocaust. Plus, a word on the leadership election.
Tackling the housing crisis
It was another packed meeting at the British Library for our second seminar to discuss the housing situation in Camden.
Councillor Pat Callaghan – Camden Council’s housing lead – and Tom Copley, our representative on the London Assembly, were there.
I outlined what we had learned during the last seminar, including the need for transparency in property, land and planning; the question of a land value tax to prevent hoarding and the re-establishment of a 50% target for truly affordable housing.
Since we met last September the situation has improved immeasurably in one regard: we now have Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London. He has made increased housing – social, affordable and intermediate – a key priority.
This has strengthened the hand of everyone who is concerned to maintain Camden as a viable, diverse community.
Pat Callaghan pointed out that Camden stands to lose between £100 million and £150 million a year from the Housing and Planning Act – cuts which come on top of previous government reductions on expenditure. The government’s aim is to force Camden to sell off its best properties as they become vacant, leaving us with even less to offer people in greatest need.
The ‘Pay to Stay’ provisions will also be very detrimental. It will hit any couple living in social housing, who together earn £40,000. Little of this is yet understood by the general public and Pat asked that all those attending the seminar explain it to their communities.
Tom Copley attacked the Government’s ‘starter home’ programme as unaffordable and a hand-out to the better off.
Homes bought under the scheme could be sold on after just 5 years at a huge profit. Tom said the new Mayor is now considering calling in the schemes proposed by developers, just as Boris Johnson did. But this time he will be doing so to try to ensure that they do not provide too little in the way of social housing.
The debate that followed was lively and well-informed. There were suggestions of tax-breaks for private landlords who were prepared to offer rents at below market value; calls for smaller-developments to be offered by councils, which could be community built and new powers to deal with the scandal of homes being left empty to act as ‘banks in the sky’ for foreign owners.
Inequality – a critical issue
I spoke at ResPublica – an independent think-tank – this week, on economic inequality, at the launch of their Defeating Inequality Commission.
The question is at the centre of the current political debate, with Theresa May making it her main theme of her speech on arriving at Downing Street. We shall have to judge her by the delivery of these aspirations.
Torsten Bell, economist and director of the Resolution Foundation, gave an outstanding presentation, explaining why inequality is such a powerful issue today.
He argues that the recession following the 2008 global economic crisis, together with changes in the British economy, has hit the majority of people hard. Incomes have stagnated or fallen in the past decade. Most are still worse off than they were in 2008.
I argued that the impact of this growing economic inequality leads to wide-ranging social issues including an increase in mental ill-health, a higher rate of imprisonment, and worrying impacts on child wellbeing and education attainment.
While Brexit has the potential to be catastrophic to the UK economy, it is also an opportunity, while we re-negotiate our place in the world, to think about what kind of country we want to be. I believe we need an economy which focuses on long term growth, including addressing the widespread skills gap. I also suggested the possibility of economic equality impact assessments for all government policies, so that all decisions are made with the impact on inequality as a key consideration.
On Wednesday I met Professor Stuart Foster and Nicola Wetherall of the Centre for Holocaust Education.
They do an immensely important job in assisting teachers to come to grips with this difficult, but vital role of explaining the Holocaust in schools.
I have been before, and this was a chance to review in greater detail how they work and discuss the longer term funding of their operation. It would be excellent if some of Camden’s schools could become part of their Beacon School programme.
Leadership of the Labour Party
First, let me remind you of my position. Back in September, Jeremy Corbyn asked me to serve as a shadow home office minister. I agreed and started an intense period of work dealing with immigration, refugees and security. During this time, I worked with Jeremy seeking to deliver results for him and for the Labour Party. At no time did I criticise him.
The vote to leave the EU is, in my view, little short of a catastrophe. The possibility that the UK will cut itself off from the EU in trade, business, employment rights, human rights, solidarity and co-operation, is daunting and will reverberate for generations. We also face the prospect of a breakup of the UK, with possible Scottish Independence. Establishing the UK’s place in the world and negotiating for the very best set of agreements with the EU is crucial. For that to happen, Labour needs a leader who is fully and absolutely committed to working for two years plus on ‘project Europe’; rebuilding trust with our EU partners, and working full-heartedly and enthusiastically on the international stage. I have with regret concluded that he is not.
As for the future, the first priority is to unify the Labour Party and to put us in a position to win the next general election. Owen Smith is standing as the ‘unity’ candidate. I believe he can bring all parts of the party together and provide the focus, vision and leadership to take us forward. If you want to know more, please visit http://www.owen2016.com
I understand and respect the views of those who are supporting Jeremy Corbyn. The issues need to be debated vigorously but courteously. I know in our CLP that will be the case.
And finally, after a long hard year, I am going with my wife Vic and children to Portugal for 10 days to rest with friends. See you when I return.