If some Conservative voters are reluctant to support the expansion of towns and villages, Liz Truss has a warning for them. “It’s a lot less uncomfortable having the field next to your house built on, than it is having your property appropriated by a bunch of Socialist-Marxists,’ said the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. She was giving the keynote speech at the Spectator Housing conference, sponsored by Lloyds, in London’s Southbank Centre yesterday and said in public what a lot of Tories have said in private: that the choice is between more housing, or a Corbyn government.
A choice, she said, that she’s taking at home as well as in Westminster. She said that there are “plans to build behind my house in Norfolk, which some people locally are opposing. And I refuse to do that, because you put your money where your mouth is. We have to support new development. Even if it is on the field that our house personally overlooks.”
She also made the argument for deregulation, so that cities can grow to face up against ‘the likes of Sao Paulo or Shanghai’ through building up and spreading out; for more cooperation with private firms to secure funding through partnerships; and for the bolder regeneration of existing infrastructure – ‘we’ve got Canary Wharf, now let’s have Canary North.’ There was plenty she didn’t like too – she named and shamed the recently-floated idea of the Citizen’s Inheritance – a proposal that citizens should be given a ‘gift’ of £10,000 at the age of 25. ‘As we say in the Treasury, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Those young people would end up paying for that money through their taxes in future years.’
She said she believed in the free movement of people – but within Britain. Not for her the talk about regional development: she said she is a great supporter of people being able to move from the regions to London (or other cities) in pursuit of a better-paid job.
This is about personal opportunities and it’s about social mobility. It’s about being able to fulfil the potential we have. The Resolution Foundation suggested that by moving, people could gain as much as £2000 in their salaries, as well as better prospects for future earnings.”
Her speech was an appeal to those Conservatives who occupy a step on the property ladder or a seat at the table, to think of the greater good – because if they don’t the stakes are high. ‘We need to challenge that mentality of the comfortable, and say: life will get much more uncomfortable for people with property under a Labour government, who fundamentally don’t believe in property and want everyone to live in a commune.’
There is a heated debate in the Tory party at present about how just bold Theresa May ought to be on housing – and whether the party can win again if it doesn’t do something radical. After last year’s election, the Telegraph’s Allister Heath concluded that “the property have-nots have sent the property-haves a final warning: help us to join your ranks, or you will regret it”. James Forsyth made a similar point before the election. The Prime Minister is reputed to be one of the biggest Nimbys in government. Liz Truss’s speech is a reminder that the Tory party is moving very much in the other direction.