HOUSING! On the front page of a national newspaper!! I kid you not people.The Observer yesterday splashed on a story that has been big in the New Journal every week in the last four: the likely consequences of capping housing benefit.
Their headline ‘Council plans for exodus of poor families from London’ and the article that follows underscores what Labour politicians have been warning locally. That term ‘social cleansing’ pops up again, this time from Daggenham MP Jon Cruddas.
Conservatives in Camden say: Don’t blame us, we’ve got Boris Johnson fighting London’s corner over housing benefits and he’s taking the battle straight to the government.
Chinese burns and quotes from Shakespeare all round for his cabinet pals from him, but no sign so far of any shift in tone from Iain Duncan-Smith or anybody else with seat at David Cameron’s table.
The Lib Dems have their own man to turn to on this issue: Simon Hughes, the party’s deputy leader. Hughes gave an assured speech at a meeting at the House of Commons seven days ago, telling campaigners from Defend Council Housing that he would lobby for a host of things they want.
The shopping list included: 1. reforms to the housing benefit proposals, 2. tighter controls on the Right To Buy on council estates 3. more homes 4. new taxes for unused sites and 5. investment in existing council properties.
Eyes lit up. One woman turned away as he spoke but generally this notoriously tough crowd, local authorities have more than once been forced to rip up policy because of campaigns from these guys, could find much fault with what he was saying.
Yet, as he spoke and gave reassurance after reassurance that lobbying was in overdrive to protect housing benefits and council housing as a whole, and how he was at the forefront of it, the ink was being applied at Chequers to the comprehensive spending review. None of the things he had called for had made the final cut for public spending. The texts to Nick Clegg he talked about had been ignored.
Hughes appears again in The Observer again on this issue. Sympathisers will argue he needs to show now how this sounding off can actually influence policy. The housing campaigners he impressed last week will accept nothing less.