A speech marred by ill health, rogue comedians and stage errors – this will be the conference speech that Prime Minister Theresa May will want to forget.
Frustratingly for the party, this should have been a good speech – promises to invest in mental health, big announcements on council house building, and energy price caps all should have propelled May into safer quarters.
But already four points behind Labour in the polls, this poor performance when it really mattered, will do little to lift Conservative spirits.
However, blunders aside, there were some bold announcements at conference for housing. Notably:
- A £2bn investment boost for building 25,000 affordable homes over five years – some social rented – in “areas with greatest housing need”. In total, the government has now committed £9.1bn on building new homes before 2021. May will hope that this will reboot the Conservatives as the government of house building.
- She made clear that her vision is for councils and housing associations to deliver these new homes, and promised certainty to the sector over future rent levels.
- Looking away from the big numbers, we see a shift in rhetoric back towards home-ownership. Despite seemingly turning her back on some flagship Cameron / Osborne homeownership policies, May has now made it a key priority for her administration too. She highlighted the decline in homeownership (38% of 25-34 year olds compared to 59% a decade ago) and vowed to reignite the “British dream” by making homeownership a reality. Expect more demand-side measure to follow, as it remains the easiest and quickest way for Government to get young people onto the housing ladder.
Away from the housing crisis, focus at conference has also been on Grenfell Tower – though it received less attention than in Brighton at the Labour Party conference. May reiterate the support her government is giving the survivors, and spoke again of the “comprehensive” social housing review that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid is overseeing following the summer’s tragedy.
Overall, a good conference for housing, a relatively conference for social investment, but a bad conference for the Prime Minister. Attention now will be on whether May has time to implement her vision for housing, or if Conservative challengers for leadership (cue Boris) will move in on her leadership territory before she has the chance to implement the new found housing dream. As with all things in politics – only time will tell.