If you had stopped in at party conferences in Brighton and Manchester over the last fortnight, you’d never suspect that a jubilant, rejuvenated Labour Party had lost its third successive general election; nor that the Conservatives are into their eighth consecutive year in government.
That’s the expectations game. Labour’s high command, besieged this time last year, overcame poor local elections to increase their share of votes and seats in June. Theresa May arrived in Manchester haunted by the ghosts of the 33 Conservative MPs cast out by the electorate, whispering in her ear about the folly of throwing away a majority. And that was before her speech…
When things aren’t going your way
A comedy writer would have rejected the metaphor of the staging behind the Prime Minister falling apart: too obvious, surely. A disintegrating slogan (if only the adhesive was stronger or more stable!) wasn’t all she had to contend with, between a prankster’s stunt and vocal power ebbing as swiftly as her political authority.
There were also substantial policy announcements that will affect the property sector. The Conservatives began the week by announcing a further £10bn extension of Help to Buy, something which makes an instructive comparison with the £2bn pledged in the headline-grabbing commitment to “a new generation of council houses.”
A duty to build
There was also a call from the Prime Minister for developers to recognise their “duty to build”, echoing the language of the housing White Paper – and underlining that this is a government that does not fear losing votes from the property sector to Labour.
That may be because Labour says it will tax undeveloped land held by developers and enforce compulsory purchase to reclaim it. Regeneration, said Jeremy Corbyn, must be “for the benefit of the local people, not private developers,” setting up what many would argue is a false dichotomy. The party is also committed to rent controls, which the Housing Minister has called “the agenda of the Marxists.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of conference season, and the parade of spokespeople, leaders, and wannabe leaders.
Did this year’s actually teach us anything? We think so:
- When Tom Watson (his deputy leader, who only last year insisted Corbyn should resign) leads a chant of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,” from the stage, you know the leader is immune to challenge
- Theresa May won praise for persevering, and responding to interruptions with wit and a deft touch, but missed an opportunity to give her premiership an effective reboot…
- …so much so that it seems to have emboldened those who are still keen to try to force her out
- £2bn towards new council housing won’t go far, but if it marks a longer-lasting change in the attitude of British governments, it could nevertheless be a significant moment
Whatever happens next, we’ll keep you updated as we continue through politically choppy waters.