So, I guess the timing of the Coronation will help the Government to move the story on from a bad set of local election results: Voters from Generation X could indulge memories from the 90s as Gary, Howard and Mark led the nation in singing ‘Never Forget’, an older generation could feel the same as Lionel Richie and Steve Winwood demonstrated that having a 7 in front of your age needn’t prevent you from partying “all night long” and a new generation were introduced to Kermit the frog – last seen showing Prince Edward his dance moves.
After the pomp, circumstance, poetry and glamour of the Coronation it feels rather prosaic to move one’s attention back to the local elections – nonetheless, they represent a snapshot of people’s feelings about national and local issues and it is doubtful whether the Government will be able to move on that easily from the drubbing they have received.
Much has been made of what the results tell us about the next General Election. It seems positive for Labour, though the keys to No. 10 are by no means in the bag for Keir Starmer.
Of particular interest to the development industry must be the different ways in which the parties used the issue of housing and development in their campaigning. The Liberal Democrats have faced criticism for facing both ways on the issue and, indeed, the party’s leader was challenged on this recently by Laura Kuenssburg. Having done so well on the issue in recent by-elections, such as Chesham & Amersham in 2021, there is a great temptation for the party to play to it in its local electoral pitch. It has served them well – enabling them to pick up Councils like Windsor & Maidenhead and Guildford.
The Tories have found themselves in an impossible position over the issue. Losing seats at a local level to independent and residents association candidates (an interesting phenomenon, which we will address in a separate blog) as well as the Liberal Democrats they have grown alarmed at the risk to Conservative MPs in the Home Counties. The result has been a set of proposed changes to the NPPF, which are likely to depress housebuilding and make the housing crisis more acute – a political short-term ‘fix’ that will cost the country dear.
But one party appears to have emerged as the pro-housing party – Labour. Keir Starmer has made detailed policy commitments that set out a clear, distinct position against his opponents. In an interview with the Economist, he said “I want Labour to be the party of home ownership … That will require us to be bold when it comes to things like planning.” Significantly, the party will pledge to restore housebuilding targets and is proposing to get home ownership up to 70% and build thousands more council homes. Starmer is using this new policy as a strong attack line on the Conservatives.
I often advise clients that no one knows an area quite like a councillor does. No one systematically knocks on doors in the way that councillors do in order to find out people’s opinions on their local area. Labour, therefore, ‘knows its market’ and knows the issues that are coming up with the people who vote for them and the people they would like to vote for them. Housebuilding clearly goes down well in the areas they want to win – areas like Medway, which they took from the Conservatives at these recent local elections.
Starmer is often accused of lacking substance. We will learn more detail about the party’s policy priorities as we near the next General Election (likely to be next year) – but on this issue, a clear dividing line has been opened up.