Libertarian /ˌlɪbəˈtɛːrɪən/: Noun. an advocate or supporter of a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens.


Liz Truss has now been declared Britain’s fourth Prime Minister in six years, and the third to have been chosen exclusively by the Conservative Party’s membership. Truss’ celebrations, however, will not last long beyond her visit to Balmoral where the Queen will invite her to form a new government. Indisputably, her election has come at a time of great difficulty for the UK


The most pressing issues in her in-tray are the flagging economy and spiralling energy costs. With inflation threatening salaries, prompting dozens of strikes in key industries over the summer, a recession quickly taking shape and many households facing the prospect of choice between ‘heating or eating’, there’s a real risk that 2022/23 could be Britain’s next Winter of Discontent.


So where does this leave the issues of regeneration, levelling up and housing?


Although further down the list of immediate priorities they are, nonetheless, important to the Conservatives’ chances of re-election. The leadership election saw little policy detail released but Truss did address these issues, in broad terms, through the prism of her Libertarian instincts.


She has long been seen as a libertarian and proponent of low taxes and a small state. In 2012, she co-wrote Britannia Unchained with a number of fellow-libertarians and current MPs including Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel and Dominic Raab as a proposed panacea for low-productivity Britain. Among other things it described U.K. workers as ”among the worst idlers in the world”. It expresses sympathy for the current generation of young people, which it describes as “often being held [back] by the baby boomer Establishment. …  It is the young that are now paying for the legacy of their parents’ overregulation and overspending. The ladders that allowed their parents to succeed — rigorous education, a liberalised economy, a housing boom — have been pulled away, or moved out of reach.”


So how have Truss’s libertarian instincts been in evidence so far? She has made a number of pledges to reform the housing sector; ostensibly to fix the shortage of housing, homelessness, and the unaffordability of home ownership for many. This has so far included an overhaul of mortgage lending rules, which would require banks to take into account rent payments as proof of affordability, and the omission of “red tape” holding back house building, such as nutrient neutrality rules to protect watercourses from excess pollution.


Most notable, however, is Truss’ plan to ditch housing targets set to individual councils across the country each year. Describing the targets as “Whitehall-inspired” and “Stalinist”, she noted that her plan will make it easier to build more housing on brownfield land and give communities more say on what is built and where it is built. This approach is firmly in line with Truss’ libertarian values, and her ambition to shrink down the size of the state will see less intervention from Westminster and more laissez-faire economic and social policies. Politically, it will also be important for facing down threats to Conservative councillors and MPs from the Liberal Democrats and independents in the Home Counties. Her ubiquitous pledges to cut taxes will instead be the driving factor behind housebuilding (and economic growth more broadly) by incentivising investment.


The problem with scrapping housing targets, property industry leaders have warned, is that in reality it removes the incentive for local authorities to make difficult decisions over house building. Councils with more Green Belt land, for example, will be reluctant to build any housing that is not on brownfield land, while tower blocks could be eschewed in favour of building fewer homes but more family houses. This could, therefore, undermine Truss’ attempts to address housing shortages and the issue of affordability.


House building is also key to the Conservatives’ levelling up agenda, with Truss’ predecessor Johnson setting out the task to halve the number of non-decent rented homes in the North of England by 2030. But her commitment to the Johnson-era policy remains in doubt. She is likely to remain committed to supporting the assorted regeneration funds awarded to councils across the country, such as the Towns Fund, the Levelling Up Fund and the Community Renewal Fund, but tax cuts and small-state ambitions similarly put these investments in the firing line for future cuts. During the leadership campaign, Truss did allude to investment zones, which would involve selecting areas for redevelopment to boost economic growth and would involve slashing planning restrictions and tax burdens to encourage private sector investment. But details on this approach to levelling up remain thin, and it will largely be up to whoever is appointed as Minister for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to flesh out the idea.


Throughout her political career, Truss has developed a knack for changing course on her political and ideological convictions to a more politically advantageous position when required. For instance, she defected from the Liberal Democrats to the Conservatives once her Oxford University days were over, and she switched from backing remain in the run up to the 2016 EU referendum to become an ardent Brexiteer committed to tearing up the Brussels red tape that she argues has been holding the country’s growth back. The leadership election also saw her make a significant volte-face after her proposals for regional public sector pay settlements received strong criticism.


So, as our fourth Prime Minister in 6 years gets her feet under the table and assembles her team, perhaps the key questions are what does a libertarian policy on housing, regeneration and levelling up look like and will the Prime Minister stick to her guns when theory hits reality? We’re about to find out.