I’m delighted to see that over 70% of respondents to a recent Herald poll, published today, think Labour’s 100,000 houses plan is “a winner for Labour”. The plan was announced by David Shearer at Labour’s November conference.
I’d also like to thank Olwyn for asking some questions about Labour’s policy on housing in response to Zetetic’s post – they deserve an answer.
Olwyn asks: “Does Labour share Zetetic’s concerns about the state house sell-off?” These concerns were also expressed in the Herald by Metiria Turei.
Of course we share the concerns; here’s what Labour’s 2011 housing policy said:
Labour is committed to increasing and upgrading Housing New Zealand’s state housing stock. Labour also remains committed to the policy of income related rents for state house tenants.
We need to invest in housing. The last Labour Government spent nine years repairing the damage caused by a National Government that oversaw a fire-sale of nearly 13,000 state houses, carried out no modernisation whatsoever, and introduced market rents plunging tens of thousands of families into poverty overnight.
I think that’s pretty clear.
Olwyn asks again : “Will it(Labour) do things differently? Build more state houses for example?” Labour’s policy again:
Labour will focus on new builds for any state house acquisitions, rather than purchasing existing properties, to increase the overall housing stock. Where possible new state houses will be built in accordance with the disability sector approved Lifemark standard for accessible, adaptable lifetime design.
Once again from Olwyn: “Is the same caucus able answer the question about affordable housing?
The current policy on housing affordability, approved by the Caucus and Party Council, runs to seven pages in the 2011 election manifesto, and starts thus:
The road back to housing affordability
Getting the New Zealand housing market back on the path to affordability will take time and structural change in our economy. Only a Labour government has the plan to do this.
You can read the full policy here; it runs for 12 pages, 287-299.
Olwyn goes on to say: “If Labour will not answer such questions, then surely this gives you a clue as to why these days Labour is being criticised by the left almost as much as National is.”
As I hope I have indicated above, I don’t think Labour has a particular problem answering the questions. I do accept that there are problems with Labour’s communications, as well as in left perceptions of Labour. So those of us who do support Labour have a responsibility to explain the policies as well as engage in the policy debates.
However I do also think that some on the left sometimes do not give Labour credit where credit is due. Housing policy is a good example, as it is one of the litmus policies where the distinction between Labour and National is most clear.
The best example of that distinction is also mentioned in the policy above. In 1999, Labour campaigned on a promise to change state house rentals from so-called market rents to income-related rents. Labour did this in government, and it made a huge difference to state home renters.
Labour promised to pay for this policy by increasing the top rate of income tax from 36% to 39%. They did this too. As far as I am aware this is one of the few times any social democratic government has campaigned and won an election on a promise to increase income tax. There’s nothing right-wing about any of that.
And I think the fact that Labour’s 100,000 houses policy is so popular gives the best answer to David Shearer’s more virulent critics. The poll was taken at the beginning of December, so the policy will have been widely discussed over the holidays.It is a big idea, it is very Labour, it is very different from National, it goes alongside Labour’s commitment to state housing.
It should get the new year off to a good start. I’m optimistic.