Dispatches from the (party political) fringe

Jessica Levy, 04 June 2019

Dispatches from the (party political) fringe

At the end of the political conference season, Jessica Levy reflects on what this means for the housing sector.

Jessica Levy, Public Affairs Manager, National Housing Federation

12 October 2018

If only it could always be party conference season. Not the wish of political hacks and lobbyists, perhaps – although who doesn’t love beige food and 15 hour days. But I would be surprised if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition didn’t leap at the chance to repeat this year’s respective annual party get-togethers. 

For both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, this was their best conference season yet as party leaders. Against expectations, the Prime Minister buried the demons of last year’s fateful speech, and, for a short while, put paid to rivals jostling for position and divisions over Brexit. 

She claimed an end to austerity, and reaffirmed housing as the number one domestic priority, an echo of the commitments the sector heard her make at our Housing Summit two weeks’ earlier. In scrapping the HRA borrowing cap, the Prime Minister also delivered a long called for prize to local government, and opportunities for our members working in partnership with local authorities to build the homes we need.

Jeremy Corbyn displayed a quiet confidence at the Labour Party conference, which has made business, media, the third sector, and the Conservative Party step up and listen. Under the certain influence of Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, the Party has built on its 2017 manifesto offering, with a serious agenda based on an alternative, collective model of economic ownership, peppered with eye catching retail offers. There will be a green jobs revolution, and a renters’ union. While not quite the rally of recent years – though his loyal membership still loved it – it was all the more powerful for its professionalism.

The verdict from party conferences for the housing sector is also pretty positive. You couldn’t move for housing fringe meetings this year in Liverpool and Birmingham. Politicians of all colours are talking about housing again. They are talking about housing associations, and about social housing.

The National Housing Federation’s programme of fringe events and meetings provided access to influential politicians and political advisers. Our party conference presence is a key opportunity for the sector to tell our story to those who will affect our operating environment, whatever future the uncertainty of British politics brings.

We were pleased to partner with organisations such as CPRE and the Smith Institute, and host Mayors Andy Burnham and Tim Bowles, MPs Neil O’Brien and Lisa Nandy, and front benchers Sarah Jones and Kit Malthouse, to discuss rural housing, the sector’s role in place shaping, barriers to supply, and the impact of welfare policy on our tenants. We brought the housing association sector voice to meetings with local government leaders on rough sleeping, and the Secretary of State on the private rented sector. We were glad to support the important debates our members were sparking through their own fringes.

Recent weeks build on a positive year for the sector, and provide reasons for optimism. But we must caution against complacency. With attention, comes expectations to deliver. Expectations around supply, the sector’s relationship with our tenants, and our role in supporting the most vulnerable in society.

The party leaders may wish to re-live conferences’ relative unity, away from a summer of infighting, and troubles to come. Because they know those troubles will come. The greatest challenge ahead is political uncertainty. The best way the sector can prepare is through relationship building. Together, our goal must be to strengthen the sector, and secure ourselves as enduring strategic partners, no matter what the landscape may look like when the beige food is rolled out again this time next year.