27 September 2023

How young Lib Dems got a ‘Nimby’ party to back housing

By Callum Robertson

The Liberal Democrats have often been called a Nimby party – not least on the pages of CapX – yet they have just backed the most ambitious housing target in history, thanks to my friends in the youth wing and the pro-coalition Liberal Reform.

The original plan was to move to a more localised model of housing and away from our ambitious national target of 380,000 homes. Fortunately the amendment passed and we remained committed to a housing target that matched the scale of our ambition for our party.

So how did we do it?

The secret to our victory was positivity and an unwavering, bordering on evangelical, belief in our cause. We realised that we could not in all good conscience, let the our party be defined by its unwillingness to tackle Conservative failure on the housing crisis.

We know because we speak to young voters every day, that housing is a very real issue facing millions of young people across our country.

This was brought to fore by Janey Little, the bombastic Chair of the Young Liberals, who spoke brilliantly about the housing shortage is affecting young people and highlighted the fact that we cannot be seriously ambitious about housing whilst dropping a target.

Many people, including myself, had no desire to go up against the leadership in the run up to a general election, but we did because it matters.

Sometimes you need to be willing to take a political hit to do the right thing by the young people. Renters who constituency MPs don’t feel the need to appeal to because they might be gone by the election.

Unless one political party stands up for enough housing then millions of young people will be denied the opportunities that older generations, including our political leaders, have taken for granted.

Our party members, parliamentary candidates and others came together to back an ambitious housing target overwhelmingly, with reports of the vote being 60-40 in favour of a national housing target.

This showed the power of being willing to do the right thing by the British people. Speaker after speaker lined up not to attack the party, but to speak up for the hopes and dreams of young people across our nation.

This all being said, the Liberal Democrat platform for housing was good, ten new towns is good, 150,000 new social homes is excellent and empowering local government to deliver these is outstanding in a democracy.

However, we wanted to take a good plan and make it exceptional. The scale of our new plan matches that ambition, and our young people across our country will be the long-term winners out of it.

The Political Reality

We stood up and were counted, but why were people willing to put their confidence into housing targets?

The speech that won the day was that of Stephen Robinson who has just managed to increase the Liberal Democrat majority on Chelmsford City Council. This is because he pointed to the facts, and to the Lib Dems real record on housing. 

The fact is that he was able to increase that majority whilst still plugging for large scale housing projects and that speaks to the fallacy that exists about housing costing votes. The same story exists in Eastleigh and in South Cambridgeshire.

It has become increasingly clear from local government evidence that reflexive anti-housing can be beaten by rational explanation and ambition for local communities. For every late middle aged homeowner, there are as many if not more, adult aged young people who are struggling to get onto the housing ladder.

Whilst, it must be said, that it was a good night for young people, the next battle is to sell this plan to our country. Taking a look at some of the people such as Rob Blackie who were willing to stand tall in favour of ambition for housing, it should fill members with optimism.

We have an exceptionally articulate crop of future candidates who are ambitious for everyone in society, not just those whose votes other politicians think they can buy.

Housing inertia may have been the past, but ambition for our young people and our country, is the future.

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Callum Robertson is the Policy Officer for the Liberal Democrat Education Association and campaigns on education and young peoples' rights.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.