Taken from the February issue of Housebuilder Magazine.
Even the most jaded students of British politics must be looking forward to the general election. The uncertainty of the outcome and the sheer breadth of possible coalition make-ups is the most fun political types have had since the 1930s. What odds on a Labour/Lib Dem/Green coalition? Well, you can actually get odds and, since you ask, it’s 20 to 1 at Paddy Power.
Quite what the impact on house builders would be from the various coalition scenarios is impossible to say. Each of the main political parties is offering remedies to help the country hit housing targets which are either prescriptive – Labour and the Liberal Democrats will enforce new and existing rules to make sure we all build more - or encouraging – the Conservatives will stimulate the market. The political parties that may join them in government tend to be more extreme. The UKIP planning spokesman says they would “never concede an inch of the British countryside to residential development” and the Greens will back local communities that want to see off controversial developments.
These approaches will emerge in manifestos to be published after the budget. This time, though, it may be wise to take some pledges with a pinch of salt. In the good old days, manifestos were a useful guide to what a party might do if you voted for it. Of course, policies were occasionally watered down or ignored, but now political parties are writing their manifestos with one eye firmly on future coalition negotiations. Some policies that might not ordinarily have made the cut are being left in the manifestos so that they can be bargained away during post-election discussions with other parties.
Those of us interested in what a future Government will do would be well advised to talk to politicians not about what is in the manifesto but about what is in their party’s Programme for Government. It may seem to you that the winning Prime Minister brushes himself down after polling day and asks “Right, what shall we do now?” But no, they actually plan this stuff and each of the major parties has a Programme for Government mapping out the next few years and crucially the first year. Finding out what is in each one of these as it affects housing policy is going to be far more useful than reading the manifesto.