With the general election less than two years away, it is increasingly important for the Lib Dems to pursue ‘differentiation’ from our coalition partners. This includes advancing clear and specific Lib Dem proposals that we will seek to deliver this side of the election. But we should also start highlighting priorities which will form the basis of our pitch to the electorate in 2015.

The emerging agenda includes support for wealth taxes, defence of EU membership and the protection of civil liberties. These issues are as important as ever, but at this stage our platform seems light on ‘social liberalism’ and specifics to deliver on our stated vision of a ‘fairer society’. This gap needs to be rectified with some urgency. We should start with a strong commitment to social housing, including a large scale programme for building new council and housing association homes.

There are 1.8 million people on waiting lists for social housing. The supply shortage should be viewed as one of the most pressing issues facing the country today. Yet somewhat depressingly it has been a pressing issue for as many years as I can remember. And successive Governments have failed to get a grip and build new homes.

Regrettably, the Chancellor appears more interested in further inflating house prices through his risky ‘Help to Buy’ initiative. The scheme has few friends, with some pretty heavyweight commentators such as the IMF and Sir Mervyn King highlighting the risks of taxpayer exposure to private mortgage debt and an asset price bubble. There is a much stronger economic rationale for building new homes – boosting the construction sector in the process.

The quality and supply of social housing interplays with other major policy issues including public health, tackling climate change and welfare reform. And rightly or wrongly, polls show the competition for council homes is also fuelling public concern about the scale of immigration and is one of the drivers of support for UKIP. So there are many reasons for prioritising this as an area for public investment.

Of course, a liberal agenda for housing shouldn’t just be about building new council housing. We need to stimulate private house-building in brownfield areas and enhance the rights of private tenants. I am also an instinctive supporter of the ‘right-to-buy’. But the continuing failure to build new replacement homes raises difficult questions about the fairness of the reintroduction of big discounts. Similarly, it is hard to justify the ‘under-occupancy penalty’ given there simply aren’t enough smaller council houses for people to downsize to. In this context, large-scale building of social housing shouldn’t be dismissed as left wing or old-fashioned. It’s about redressing an imbalance built up over three decades, to provide an appropriate mix of public and private sector provision.

Occasionally, the Lib Dems have talked about housing – Ming Campbell showed genuine passion for improving council estates during his short tenure as leader. But it hasn’t featured prominently in recent manifestos. Showing leadership on housing would bolster our stronger economy, fairer society narrative that is so vital to our prospects in 2015.

* James King has been a Lib Dem activist for over 20 years, and is based in Hampstead & Kilburn constituency.