In a surprise move, Jeremy Corbyn came to Theresa May’s second Prime Ministers Questions duel ready to tackle the housing crisis in the UK. May, however, seemed set on continuing the legacy of her predecessor and fired back cheap shots rather than answers.
Corbyn, perhaps taking a cue from rival Owen Smith, aimed his first blow at the average house price in Britain, which is now £215,000—over eight times the average wage. “The average price of a first-time buyer’s home has risen by 12% in the past year,” he said. “Is not the dream of home ownership for many people just that—a dream?”
May retaliated by claiming that more houses have been built under a Conservative government than were under a Labour government. “We are not complacent, however, which is why we will do more to see more houses built under this Conservative government,” she said, without giving details.
The two descended into playground antics, arguing over which government had built more homes in the past, without advertising how their respective governments might build the homes that are needed now.
“Actually, housebuilding under this government is 45,000 fewer a year than it was under the last Labour government, and many people are desperate to get their own place,” said Corbyn.
He reminded May that David Cameron had promised a one-for-one replacement for every council house sold under right to buy. “Sadly, the reality is that there is only one for every five that are sold,” he said. “Will the Prime Minister give a commitment and tell us when the one-for-one replacement will be a reality?”
In spite of figures from the local government authority which say otherwise, May claimed that Corbyn was wrong about the figures on council houses. “We have delivered on the one-for-one replacement under right to buy,” she said.
While May amused herself with some puerile remarks about Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter followers, Corbyn attempted to steer the debate back to the issue of the housing crisis.
“Devastating figures released over the summer show that £9.3 billion of public money is paid through housing benefit directly into the pockets of private landlords,” he said. “Does the Prime Minister think that that £9.3 billion going into the private rental market is really money well spent?”
“It may be that he just has an ideological objection to the private rented sector, but I say to him that this Government are looking across the board to ensure that more houses are being built,” said May. “We are seeking to ensure that there is a diversity of opportunity for people who want to be in their own homes,” she added, before resorting to infantile comments on Corbyn’s recent misadventure on Virgin Trains rather than offering any insight.
Corbyn reminded May of some words from her predecessor, saying, “The simple point is this…every penny you spend on housing subsidy is money you cannot spend on building houses.”
This precious nugget from David Cameron was then lost in the sort of childish arguments that he used to so enjoy during his own PMQs. It’s just a shame May seems to be picking up this tradition, rather than acting on the few words of sense that he offered.