PMQs: Vince tackles Harriet on housing

It was all-change at Prime Minister’s Questions this week, as Gordon Brown was detained at the G8 summit – which meant a turn in the spotlight for the party leaders’ deputies, Harriet Harman, William Hague and Vince Cable.

Vince led on the crisis in the housing industry, demanding to know of Ms Harman if Labour will “build up their sensible but pathetically small programme for acquiring property and give genuine freedom to councils and housing associations to acquire property in order to let it out to the 1.7 million people in housing need on waiting lists?” As is traditional, his question went unanswered.

Particularly delicious was Vince’s suggestion that Mr Brown stop “lecturing us on what we should eat for dinner, and competing with the leader of the Conservative party to be the country’s weight watcher-in-chief”.

With mounting speculation that Ms Harman might just be prepared to step into the breach should Mr Brown be evicted from No. 10 by the comrades in grey suits, it was a big day for her: she will not be best pleased by the reviews. When last Ms Harman stood in for the PM, she attracted glowing praise for besting Mr Hague at the despatch box. But she didn’t hit her stride this time, with her attempts at jokes appearing overly pre-rehearsed.

Whether this would matter a jot in the event of a vacancy is moot – after all, according to PoliticsHome.com’s PH5,000 tracker of popular opinion, two-thirds of the public rarely if ever catch PMQs, even as a snippet on TV or radio news bulletins. However, as Ming Campbell discovered to his eventual cost, it’s certainly noticed by political commentators, and even one poor showing can prove detrimental to how a politician is depicted in the media.

Anyway you can judge for yourselves below, via YouTube and Hansard:

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): Does the Minister acknowledge the severity of the crisis in the housing industry, where leading private house builders are going bust, sacking 40 per cent. of their workers and dragging down the banks because they have an excess of unsold private houses? Will the Government therefore build up their sensible but pathetically small programme for acquiring property and give genuine freedom to councils and housing associations to acquire property in order to let it out to the 1.7 million people in housing need on waiting lists?

Ms Harman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman: the situation in the housing market is a grave cause for concern. That is why the Government have taken action and will take more. That is why we have ensured that the Bank of England has £50 billion to help with the liquidity situation; why we are building more social homes; why we are giving £200 million to the Housing Corporation so that it can buy houses that have been built but have not been able to be sold; and why we are helping first-time buyers by reducing stamp duty. I think that he would agree that the most important thing for housing for the future is to ensure that people can stay in their jobs, that employment remains high, and that inflation and interest rates remain low, and that is what we will attempt to do.

Dr. Cable: I acknowledge that the Housing Corporation proposal is a good one, but it is a drop in the ocean. Can the Government not get their priorities right? Instead of the Prime Minister lecturing us on what we should eat for dinner, and competing with the leader of the Conservative party to be the country’s weight watcher-in-chief, should he not acknowledge that we have a deep crisis in the British housing market—probably the worst in our lifetime—which is leading into a serious recession? It is time that the Government accepted responsibility for dealing with it.

Ms Harman: I agree that the situation is serious, but I do not agree that it is like it was in the 1990s. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that it is important that we keep employment rates high and that we keep interest rates low. Those who are working hard in the construction industry, and in small and big businesses across the country, do not want the official Opposition, or any Opposition Members, to be talking the economy down at this point. Confidence is important.

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5 Comments

  • You are all aware that I am economically liberal, but I have long been concerned over housing, & think there should be much more social housing than there is now.

    Whether it be council or housing association (& I’m liking especially thde idea of mixing housing association properties in amongst new developments, thus hopefully abolishing ghettoisation) we need it.

    I support the idea & the practice of the Right To Buy as it encourages aspiration, breaks dependency, & has broken up some of the worst one-class estates. But to have a rump left, whilst others of the poor move into privately rented terraces, leaving some areas ghettoised, is not the way forward.

    Young professionals, not just key workers but others, should want to move into pleasant housing association properties, where people of various occupations & incomes can live cheek by jowl, & hence a child from a poor family will feel part of a community, not some excluded tribe on the outskirts of the city.

    Regrettably, & I speak as someone who is all for property ownership (& on a related note for as much self-employment as possible, & the decline of the large corporation) some people cannot buy, & it is irresponsible to make them promises which cannot be kept.

    The LD leadership has chosen an issue which is extremely important, & is right to hammer the government’s woeful record, which as usual they haven’t had the courage to act upon, shameless cowards that they are.

    My admiration for Vince Cable is complete, as he has consistently identified the failings in policy, & is a member of an extremely strong team overall.

  • To my shame I am not fully aware of this policy, though I shall be informing myself about it: my humble thanks for bringing it to my notice 🙂

    It has long been my instinct that there is something deeply iniquitous in someone on a low income having to pay a large amount in rent to another individual, who thereby gets an unearned income. It is even worse for Housing Benefit recipients, in private accomodation, whose landlords recieve a (very large) salary from the state.

    The idea of cooperatives is also one that has appeal, & which is one of the reasons why the original Labour Party, which was not particularly statist, enjoyed close links to the Liberal Party, as I recall from back in my day 🙂

    As I recall LVT and Citizens Basic Income are ideas that are going down well… as much as we may doubt that they will ever be enacted, as governments prefer a system that is as unwieldy & gives them as much power as they can possibly “achieve”.

    This is one of the reasons why Camoron showed his true colours, by opposing inheritance tax, which is one of the fairest taxes there is if we’ve got to have a tax system at all. Certainly better than taxing people who go out to work, or who buy goods. But we are aware that his policies, which he shamefacedly calls economically liberal, are in fact geared to entrenching the already wealthy.

    I will batter these ideas into some form of shape, & hope to gain thereby 🙂

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