With the Conservatives commanding a huge lead in the polls and Coronavirus having shut down most of the world economy, you could be easily forgiven for forgetting Britain’s main opposition party elected a new leader last Saturday.
Labour members swapped one London MP for another, picking the member for Holborn and St Pancras to replace the Right Honourable gentleman for Islington North as party chief.
While Keir Starmer consciously did not position himself as the Jeremy Corbyn continuity candidate, the party as a whole has undoubtedly shifted significantly to the left; and there seems little chance of Starmer tacking massively to the centre, as evident in what little policy positions the former director of public prosecutions did set out.
While Starmer’s campaign paid little attention to housing, with the issue not even making his highly publicised list of ten pledges, he was the only leadership candidate to answer a series of questions from the Labour Housing Group, which also endorsed him.
These answers give us our clearest window into the new Labour leader’s thinking on housing and the approach we can expect Starmer to take if elected Prime Minister, which given how unpredictable the past few years have been, could be a lot sooner than we think.
On housebuilding, Starmer has committed to the same target of 100,000 new social rent homes a year that the 2019 Labour manifesto did. The new leader told the Labour Housing Group “the single most important thing the next Labour Government can do is get councils building at scale again”, a stance that few in the property industry are likely to disagree with.
Starmer may also find industry support in his backing for estate regeneration ballots, an end to Right to Buy for council tenants, and also to permitted development rights, which have seen some developers exploit the system to create low-quality housing.
However, his support for rent controls will put him at odds with not only most of the industry but also the majority of economists. One person he can count on to back him is London mayor Sadiq Khan, who has put rent regulation at the heart of his own re-election campaign.
We can also get a sense of Starmer’s priorities from his shadow cabinet appointments.
The new Shadow Housing Secretary is Thangam Debbonaire, MP for Bristol West, a high profile domestic abuse campaigner who is thought to have a close relationship with Starmer.
Debbonaire’s previous connection with housing has been largely focused on campaigning against homelessness in Bristol and she will likely use her newfound platform to bring attention to this issue nationally.
Meanwhile, Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, has been appointed as Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. Reed has been a prominent critic of the government’s approach to fire safety in the wake of Grenfell, so we can expect continued scrutiny of new building regulations, even though the government continues to beef them up.
So what does Keir mean for Kier? In short, much the same as Corbyn, even if his tone and style is less combative. And while the next general election is not due for another five years, in today’s topsy-turvy world, it could be a lot sooner and the industry would do well to engage with the new Labour frontbench team.