Interesting isn’t it that the Conservative election tactic now seems to to be to campaign against greenfield locally – a lot of mps of anti regulatory bent manage to get away with campaigning against any loss of greenfield locally whilst endorsing it nationally – im sure central office has noticed how well this has worked and how few people notice. Interesting to that this could only have come through Micheal Green – Sorry Grant Shapps (now the Minister for Stopping Housing). We will see if Lyndon Crosby finds an immigration angle to this nearer a general election. Will Nick Boles comment on this new approach?
Ive been too busy to post on here for a while but the combination of a Grant Shapps Twitter stunt gone wrong and him covertly campaigning against housing was too good a combination to let pass.
A spate of statements from party activists and MPs, including Robert Halfon and Nadhim Zahawi, appeared on Twitter just before 2pm attacking the Liberal Democrats over housing policy.
Each tweet was identical – “The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign in turmoil as Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces” – and the social networking site was soon abuzz with users claiming the episode was orchestrated from Tory central command and proof that some in the party were still struggling with the subtleties of campaigning in the digital age.
Jim Waterson, a reporter with City AM tweeted: “Tory party press operation: it doesn’t work if you get all your MPs to mysteriously tweet the same phrase.”
The Liberal Democrats said the incident revealed how out of touch the Conservatives’ campaign had become.
“The Tory Twitter lemmings are just showing how little the CCHQ spin machine actually knows about Eastleigh,” said a spokesman. “By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk.”
This is from the 13th Feb Speccie blog by Isabel Hardman
Alarming news reaches this blog from the Eastleigh by-election, where the battle has descended into a catfight about a policy the two main parties support at national level. How unusual for parties to detach themselves from their own policies when a prize seat is in sight: this time round it’s the Lib Dems and Tories fighting over a development of new homes in the area on greenfield land.
The Lib Dem leaflets promoting Mike Thornton say ‘residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders’. The Tories backing Maria Hutchings point out that Thornton and his Lib Dem colleagues on the council voted in favour of the local plan for Eastleigh, which includes provisions for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land. Oddly enough, both parties at a national level backed the government’s Localism Bill and coalition ministers in the Communities and Local Government department worked together to develop the National Planning Policy Framework.
Fighting a by-election on protecting green spaces is hardly a new tactic. But it’s still disappointing as at a national level both parties have been outspoken on the need for more homes to solve this country’s housing crisis. Pollsters will point out that it’s also all about the framing of the arguments. Turn up on the doorstep and tell someone their area is about to get a new development of homes and they’re unlikely to react well. Tell them that new homes are being built in their area so that their children can afford to stay there and they’ll be much more positive.
In Eastleigh, research by housing charity Shelter found rents rose by £289 between October 2011 and September 2012: a rent inflation of 3.2 per cent while wages rose by just 1.5 per cent, and house prices in the constituency are 7.76 times the average wage, as opposed to 6.65 nationally. Yet just 220 new homes were started in Eastleigh in 2011/12, down from 310 the previous year.
I had a conversation with a Tory MP recently which underlined this. We’d been discussing some of the problems with the ‘bedroom tax’, and the concerns that this MP had about cutting housing benefit for the under-25s. But a little later, we started talking about development. The MP said they would vote against any plans to water down protections for greenfield sites because they ‘believed in the green belt’. They didn’t see the connection between the two: if you keep taking away with one hand so that house prices and rents rise as a result of the housing shortage, there comes a point where the state cannot afford to keep giving with the other hand in the form of housing benefit to cover those soaring rents. I also always wonder when someone says they ‘believe in greenfield’ whether they realise how arbitrary the designation for greenfield actually is: the quality of the landscape is not relevant to whether land is included within a green belt (you can read the criteria here), and researchsuggests 60 per cent of the green belt is actually devoted to intensive farming.
Of course, it’s naive to expect candidates to start knocking on the doors of Eastleigh constituents and engage them in an argument about housing demand, just as it would be foolish (but perhaps not impossible) for Ed Miliband to pitch up at a local market stall and tell shoppers ‘I want to talk to you today about pre-distribution’. The other big fight in this very local by-election is, after all, about a gravel pit. But this scrap is a useful foretaste of the sort of campaigns other Tories and Lib Dems will run in 2015. Though it is laudable for a minister to speak from an ivory tower about the housing shortage being the greatest threat to social justice, it is far more tempting at constituency level to talk about ‘protecting green spaces’.
Planning has now become the central issue of the close-fought Eastleigh by-election, with both Tories and Liberal Democrats claiming the other wants to pave over the countryside.
The Liberal Democrats have been accused of particular hypocrisy by their Tory rivals, who say their local councillors are backing plans for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land in the local area.
Leaflets distributed by Mike Thornton, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Eastleigh, say he is “working to protect the land between our villages from development”.
“In our area, residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders,” his campaign material says.
During a visit on Monday, Mr Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, also said the Liberal Democrats are the party to fight for “green spaces” against the Conservative Hampshire County Council’s proposals for a gravel pit in the constituency.
However, Tory sources point out that Mr Thornton is one of the 37 Liberal Democrat councillors who voted in favour of Eastleigh’s draft local plan, which approves thousands of new homes on greenfield land.
Last night, Mr Thornton said the local council’s plans for more housing are necessary.
“By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk. Eastleigh needs new homes and that is why the Liberal Democrats designed a sustainable plan,” he said.
“The Conservative refusal to support our plans has meant that bulldozers will be forced into the important countryside and green space in between our villages.
“Our plans were even supported by the Conservative County Council, until the Council Leader was undermined by his own by-election candidate, who said she was against them.
“The Tories are now desperately trying to cover the mistake their candidate made. Hampshire Tories have put our countryside at risk, and put job creation in jeopardy.”
Leaflets for Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate for Eastleigh, claim she “spoke out against Lib Dem plans to concrete over the countryside by building almost 5,000 houses on greenﬁeld sites in Eastleigh.”
The campaign literature, bearing pictures of Mrs Hutchings with a Save our Countryside banner, point out that she also “campaigned against the County Council’s plans for gravel extraction in Hamble”.
The row illustrates how the issue of planning has caused acrimony in a local community, pitting local politicians against national ones.
A Conservative source said: “Candidates and MPs are, of course, free to campaign against bad development in their area and there is no inconsistency with Government policy.”