Mario Cuomo, the former Governor of New York State who died earlier this year was fond of saying that “You campaign in poetry but you govern in prose”. I’ve always understood that he meant it is much easier to describe in glowing terms what you intend to do during the heat of an election campaign than it is to turn that policy into actions which really do make a difference to the community you serve in the way that you promised.
Once an election is over the hard work begins and so it is for the government that was elected a few weeks ago. The Conservative Manifesto said that at its heart was “a clear objective to build affordable homes”. Another policy was announced during the campaign which claimed to increase the fairness of housing policy by extending the “Right to Buy” currently enjoyed by council tenants to Housing Association tenants.
But it is now clear that turning that bit of poetry into prose that will do what was promised is going to be extraordinarily difficult. It is proposed to fund the sale of Housing Association properties by making Councils sell their most valuable properties on the open market. In London where even the most modest homes sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds this may lead to every council property in some parts of the city being sold eventually. In the short term it will mean there are fewer not more affordable properties available to let to families on council waiting lists and in temporary accommodation across London.
It could make it harder for Housing Association to build extra properties and even Councils that have developed ambitious building programmes like Lewisham may find that it becomes uneconomic to do so if the new homes have to be sold before anyone on the waiting list has a chance to live in them. That bit of election poetry threatens to undermine the very fairness it was claimed it would promote.
Since our own election a year ago we have also been trying to turn our poetry into prose and the outcome of the election will make that much harder. Across much of the city the approach taken by the outgoing government was comprehensively rejected but across the country we saw an outcome that means not just a continuation but an intensification of those policies. Over the coming years I will work with our local members of parliament and colleagues in local government to expose those policies which are going to harm our residents and communities and to limit the damage that is done starting with the consequences of that poetry about home ownership which risks doing the opposite of what it promised.