Harry Stannard reports on a debate on RTB in a Leicester Labour Party

At its February meeting the Westcotes Branch  of Leicester West Constituency Labour Party (CLP) passed a resolution calling on the National Executive Committee (NEC) / National Policy Forum to include the following statement in the next manifesto: “The right to buy Council Houses as currently practised will be removed”.

The discussion was lengthy and animated, as you would expect about a move that would ask the Labour Party to abandon a policy that led to the sale of almost half a million council homes during the Blair/Brown years alone. If adopted by the NPF this would overturn the current Labour shadow cabinet’s policy, which is to ‘suspend’ RTB for an unstated period. Perhaps this is why an amendment at the Westcotes meeting to add the word ‘temporarily’ attracted little support. In practice, that is what the shadow cabinet’s stance amounts to. It is clear, however, that a suspension of sales, temporary or otherwise, serves merely to put off creating a clear policy stance designed to meet the growing unmet need for housing in the UK. Members of our branch felt that the offer in our 2017 general election Manifesto – to build more houses ‘for sale or rent’ – is far from sufficient.

The number of council homes in the city of Leicester has more than halved, from a peak of 43,000 to barely 21,000 today. The point was made at the meeting that rental income is being sucked out of the local population by the proliferation of private landlords that have mushroomed to replace those council homes. Money that previously would have gone into the council’s housing revenue account. Another member spoke of the stigmatisation and ghettoisation haunting council estates, reduced to often housing the neediest and poorest. Both these points underline why a Labour government should commit itself to a mass programme of council house building – and clinging to RTB cuts across that very aim.

The mover of the motion, who acted as Liz Kendall’s agent in last year’s election, has made the point that she has always avoided speaking against the RTB, because of the many Labour voters who are council tenants. The reality, however, is that many of the latter have no way of being able to afford to buy their property, and the only way to provide homes for their sons and daughters in the future is to offer them council homes.

The resolution will go to the next meeting of Leicester West’s central management committee.