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The summer is over: Corbyn will now reshape British politics


And so ends the most dramatic summer in modern political history. Jeremy Corbyn has gone from being the 200-1 outsider to winning the Labour leadership race. Whatever you think of him, there is no doubt that he has pulled off a sensational victory which will profoundly impact British politics.

It is not just the Labour Party which will feel the repercussions of this result. His radical approach will cause a significant shift in the country’s political discourse, as the Conservatives adjust their policies (and how they articulate them) in response to the stance the new Labour Leader takes in opposition to them.

When Jeremy Corbyn talks of inequality, the Government will set out how they consider they are addressing this issue through the National Living Wage, among other initiatives. And as he sets out his agenda for tackling the country’s housing challenges, the Conservatives will be determined to show their policies are already addressing such issues.

But will this really affect what approach the majority Conservative Government takes over the next five years? It is almost certain that the Tories will have to reposition their agenda to respond to Corbyn’s critique of them, and this may even see them try to outflank the Labour Leader with an interventionist approach on some issues, to a greater extent than Osborne did in the post-election budget.

Of course the Conservatives will wish to retain a clear ideological divide between them and Labour, but they will be confident Corbyn’s election means they can achieve this while controlling ever more decisively the much-vaunted centre ground. The new Labour Leader is so obviously different to them that it clears much of the Labour turf for them, or so they will think. Many commentators consider that Corbyn may surprise his critics by building a broad church, thereby not providing the extent of fertile territory which the Government is expecting to be made available. This remains to be seen.

So what will this mean for housing, planning and local government? In terms of Corbyn’s declared policies, we must firstly acknowledge that he will not be in a position to implement these directly until 2020, so our focus should instead be on how these policies could influence the Government’s agenda in the intervening period. With the Conservatives having only a slim majority, it is not inconceivable that the Labour opposition may get together with the SNP and others to secure some successful amendments, such as to the forthcoming Housing Bill.

Corbyn wants to give local authorities in areas of high housing stress the power to suspend Right to Buy in order to protect depleting social housing assets. He may find some Tory sympathisers supporting this policy. London MPs of all colours have spoken out against what they see as the folly of selling off high value social housing stock.

Turning to the private rented sector, Corbyn has spoken about re-directing some of the £14 billion of tax reliefs received by private landlords to help struggling private tenants; this would of course include building new council homes and helping private tenants overcome the deposit problem. (Such a policy could also lead to rent increases, as landlords compensate for the loss of tax relief.)

Corbyn also wants to investigate whether some of this money could be used to fund a form of right-to-buy shared equity scheme to private tenants in cases where they are renting from large-scale landlords. These policies are likely to be fleshed out in the coming months, and given their likely attractiveness to some voters they do provide the potential for some Conservatives to consider their merits.

It also appears that Corbyn will raise the profile of “landbanking” as an issue, which will also be placed under the spotlight during the forthcoming London Mayoralty election. He has set out a proposal to introduce a Land Value Tax for undeveloped land that has planning permission, and ‘use it or lose it’ measures on other brownfield sites, to act as a disincentive to landbanking and raise public funds for house-building. He has also said that local authorities should be allowed to compulsorily purchase sites at a fair value if their owners are not developing them.

On planning laws and regulations: Corbyn has touched on the issue of green belt use, but has steered clear of offering a view on what approach should be taken, other than referring to the need for careful planning requirements to be put in place before relaxations on green belt designations take place. So there appears to be a presumption in favour of making more green belt land available for housing.

Corbyn has, however, spoken out more decisively on the issue of the Government’s permitted development rights policy, describing it as problematic and must be reversed. Corbyn has said not needing planning permission means there cannot be an assessment and provision for the wider facilities and infrastructure communities need, including the provision of affordable housing. If the Government confirms their intention to extend the timeframe for allowing permitted development rights for office to residential conversions (as Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has recently signalled), we can expect the Labour opposition – backed by Labour councillors – to challenge this through the Commons.

And what about the rest of the UK? Corbyn has spoken about the housing crisis being less acute in many other parts of the country with large numbers of vacant properties or swathes of residential land that has lain undeveloped for many years. He has highlighted what he considers to be the lack of investment outside of London and the South East, although the Government would undoubtedly challenge this by pointing to their current work in relation to the “Northern Powerhouse” and wider devolution.

The new Labour Leader has referred to acute overcrowding in some parts of the country, so we can expect to see him pushing for the provision of additional housing in the north and elsewhere. It will be interesting to see how this would work in practice, particularly as many Labour-led local authorities are likely to be at the forefront of responding to this agenda.

So, based on what he outlined in his hugely successful leadership campaign, we can conclude that Jeremy Corbyn will now be setting the agenda not just of the Labour Party, but also contributing to the wider political discourse on key issues affecting the lives of people living through the UK – even before getting close to No 10.

With a busy few months ahead in Parliament – including the Housing Bill, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill and more planning reforms – the Corbyn honeymoon may well cause the Government to adjust their approach on key issues, even if they will never quite admit it. However, given the unpredictably of local and national politics, all bets must now surely be off on how the coming months will pan out. After all, no-one predicted this result. Nothing is certain any more.

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