Event: Land for the Many

By Ben Clay (@ben_clay)


We can create a future where everyone lives in a decent home they can afford, the rich and big companies pay their fair share of tax, and communities can take back control of decisions about their future, prioritising social and environmental concerns, over profiteering development and rent seeking. Land for the Many, the new report written by George Monbiot and others, maps out some vital policy suggestions enabling the next Labour government to achieve its stated aim; to achieve a fundamental shift of economic and political power in our society, and stand up for the interests of the many, not the few.


Greater Manchester tried to take control of some of these issues using the devolution agenda, with Andy Burnham responding to public concerns in the second draft of the GM Spatial Framework, now known as the Plan for Homes, Jobs, and the Environment, along with the new GM Housing Strategy, which Salford Mayor Paul Dennett and the GMCA co-produced, with input from councils, housing associations, architects, builders, developers, and housing activists groups, including Tenants Union UK and GMHA. The next stage of the GM Housing Strategy is developing the Implementation Plan, which will set out the route to achieving the vital goals of building 201,000 homes by 2037, including at least 50,000 affordable homes, with at least 30,000 for social rent.


We are also about to consult on updating the Manchester City Council Local Plan, which will enable Mancunians to have their say on changing our main piece of planning policy. This needs to reflect a growing unease about developer lead regeneration, lack of social and genuinely affordable housing, and the expansion of the city centre and high rise buildings. There is a danger the financialisation of the apartment city market is encouraging the building of assets, not homes, locking out ordinary Mancunians, fuelling further growth of local inequalities, increasing social exclusion and creating ghettos of the rich and poor, in different parts of the city. If we are to meet our commitment to carbon neutrality by 2038, and minimise damaging global warming and climate change, we need to ensure our policies drive the behaviour change required, and enable retro fitting and renewable energy use and production.


Despite our ambition in GM, we are held back by historic and entrenched regional inequality. The Kerslake report set out how the north is fifty years behind in investment. As the MEN recently revealed, the north-south divide is so bad it’s like ‘Germany at the end of the Cold War.’ Paralysis in Westminster and Britain’s centralised system mean there are limits to what we can do as a local authority, or a GM region to change policy. The National Planning Policy Framework, the scope of devolved powers, and the funding for social housing, retro fitting, and green energy investment are all controlled from Whitehall, so to achieve real change; we need the election of a radical Labour government. Land for the Many could be the blueprint for vital reforms we need enacted by the next Labour government to achieve many of its key goals on housing, taxation, and inequality. Along with Jon Trickett MP, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, and one of the authors, Robin Grey, we will explore this exciting set of proposals with Manchester Socialist Club at Methodist Central Hall on Oldham Street, Manchester, on Friday the 5th of May at 7:30pm.


Land for the Many has boldly explored some of the thorniest issues we face as a society: ensuring genuinely affordable, good quality homes are available for everyone to rent or buy; rebalancing the taxation system, so off shore holdings of UK land and buildings are taxed, cutting down on tax avoidance, and replacing council tax with a more progressive property tax; helping a shift of the burden of tax from earned income, to wealth, and removing incentives for developer land banking, and use of land for tax avoidance and as a tax exempt investment, which causes spiralling land and house prices. The authors also seek to enable the building of social housing and other community lead housing types, close the loopholes and incentives for speculative buy to let private landlordism, and outline proposals to change and democratise the planning process, giving communities more control over their future, and restricting the current dominance of developers and commercial concerns in planning policy.


These goals would also help to tackle the growing inequality in wealth in the UK, which is bad for almost everyone, according to Annie Quick of the New Economics Foundation: “Societies which are more unequal have poorer health, higher rates of teenage pregnancy, obesity and homicide. Inequality was a major cause of the financial crash and has fuelled our housing crisis.” The alternative to radical reform is a continuing rise in inequality, and the preferment of the interests of the richest and most powerful in society. Precisely the policies being set out by the two Tory hopefuls to become our unelected new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt; two very privileged and entitled upper middle class, white men, with typical establishment backgrounds,. They are competing to unfairly advantage the wealthiest in the UK at the expense of the rest.


Of course, policies which threaten the wealth and power of the elite, and try to address inequality are routinely castigated by the Tories, and their many wealthy friends in the establishment media, and so it has been with Land for the Many. Britains right wing press, largely owned and editorially controlled by five billionaire tax exiles, have cynically and dishonestly savaged the report as “Corbyn’s war on homeowners” and said if implemented, the proposals would mean “we will soon be joining the likes of China, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam in becoming one of the world’s few Marxist-Leninist states” as George Monbiot explains. This level of hysteria and distortion was perhaps inevitable for a set of proposals with the ambition and far sighted goals of Land for the Many, but with proposals based upon evidence and cutting edge research, anyone wanting to change our broken system with careful and achievable reforms which can enable progressive structural changes in our society should look beyond the hype and explore the issues further, as one of the authors, Laurie Macfarlane did recently, with Novara Media.


Any attempt to redistribute power and wealth in society, and address entrenched structural inequalities will meet scepticism from cautious civil servants, criticism from self-interested land owners and developers, and hostility from those who are able to enrich themselves with unearned economic rent under the current system. It was Adam Smith, seen as the father of capitalist economics who wrote: “Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.” In reality, it is the left who are the pragmatists now. Only under the socialist leadership of Jeremy Corbyn has the Labour party managed to recover the level of self-confidence and ambition for radical social change, last seen in the 1945 post war Labour government, which created the NHS and Welfare State.


We are accused by our opponents of wanting to go back to the 1970’s, and proposing yesterdays failed solutions, but Labour is the only party with the vision to take on rich and powerful land interests for the greater good, and the only party offering any solutions to the housing crisis, inequality, and environmental catastrophe. These proposals would have a widespread economic benefit for almost all people, and enable a more equal, efficient and prosperous society as a whole. Structural reforms are needed to the housing market, tax system, and the use and ownership of land. Defending the status quo will only further alienate the generations born in the neoliberal era from the present system, which leaves them locked out of the housing market, unable to access genuinely affordable, good quality rented housing, living with squeezed wages, insecure and precarious employment, and with reduced pension provision and burgeoning social care costs to look forward to. And all these problems will pale into insignificance if we cannot successfully manage a ‘Just Transition’ to a low carbon economy, as climate change will be economically, politically and socially ruinous to Britain and the world.


The authors of Land for the Many have drawn on a variety of issues and influences, to try to answer some of the most difficult questions facing our society. This document, and the policies it suggests, are worthy of the tasks faced by a radical, transformative, socialist Labour government: “By recognising the underlying causes of inequality, exclusion and environmental destruction, and answering them with the positive measures we have proposed, we can attend to some of Britain’s perennial dysfunctions. Land is the platform on which all prosperity and wellbeing is built. It should be used for the many, not just the few.”


Jon Trickett MP, the Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Robin Grey, co-author of Land for the Many and Ben Clay will explore this exciting set of proposals with Manchester Socialist Club at Methodist Central Hall on Oldham Street, Manchester, on Friday the 5th of May at 7:30pm.


Ben Clay is a Labour Councillor for Burnage, and a co-founder and board member of Tenants Union UK


4 July 2019