Feature by Gemma Hunt
When there is a particular issue that you really care about, you want to know where the different parties stand before you decide who you should give your vote to, but every party and every candidate wants to convince you that they are your only hope. One of the key issues in the upcoming election is housing. How would you find out more about where the parties stand on this or any other issue?
The media can be a good source of information and analysis, and national, regional and local sources provide even more coverage of political news in the run up to a general election. You should be able to find overviews of all the issues as well as in-depth analysis of specific areas like housing, through national sources such as the BBC and the Guardian. Regional and local papers will often focus on more specific issues in your area, such as the need for new homes in Wales, or the growth of private rentals in Scotland. The media can provide very convenient summaries and can keep you up to date with what politicians are saying and doing. However, while many of us have our own favourite newspaper, website, or channel, it can help to look at what other sources are saying in order to get a more balanced view.
Party Political Material and Manifestos
The parties themselves are very keen to tell us why they are the right people to tackle an issue like housing, although they are very biased sources. We can take a look at their official websites and manifestos, which will be published in April, to find out where they stand and what they plan to do if they are elected.
On housing, the Conservatives tell us they would like to keep providing Equity loans through the Help to Buy scheme until 2020, to provide 10,000 homes at below market rent, and to build 100,000 new homes for first-time buyers. Labour wants to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, to ensure that tenants are treated more fairly, and to prevent empty homes and undeveloped plots from staying unused. The Liberal Democrats also want to build more homes, with a goal of 300,000 a year, and to encourage landlords to ensure that their properties aren’t standing empty. Meanwhile, the SNP and Plaid Cymru are both emphasising their opposition to the “bedroom tax,” UKIP wants more building on brownfield sites, and the Greens want to protect tenants and preserve council housing.
However, past experience shows us that what a party promises in its manifesto isn’t necessarily going to come true once the election is over. The victorious party will still have to work against its opposition in order to push its policies through, and there are all kinds of other barriers and changes in circumstances that can make parties act differently once they are elected. Manifestos can be a good guide to where parties stand on the main election issues, but you shouldn’t expect them to provide accurate forecasts.
Looking back at what a party has done, while in power and out of it, can be just as useful as looking forward at what that party promises to do. The Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government has helped more than 70,000 people through the Help to Buy scheme, but there is still a serious lack of housing in the UK, and some people have doubts about Help to Buy. House prices have risen since the scheme began, the number of sales has stalled, and the construction of new homes has not been as rapid as hoped. When Labour was last in power, mortgage lending practices were allowed that contributed to the continuing economic crisis. However, this was a global problem, so it wasn’t down to the UK government alone, and Labour has a history of supporting affordable housing, including council houses.
Televised debates are a very new aspect of politics in the UK, but they can be a good way to assess how well the party leaders can speak in public, handle criticism, and generally appear Prime Ministerial. If you are interested in a particular issue, such as housing, you won’t know how much it will be discussed until the debates happen, but you can be sure that the party leaders will be prepared to talk on all of the most important issues, and there is a good chance that they will be raised at some point. We might get a few surprises once the debates begin, but a lot of what is said will have been carefully written and rehearsed beforehand, so don’t expect many revelations on housing, and remember that what is said can be more important than the eloquence with which a politician says it.
In addition to watching the election debates, you can learn a lot by watching or reading about the debates that are going on in parliament. You can find out what is being debated, watch what is going on, or read the latest reports and updates on housing and other issues on the official parliament website. You might also be able to find a live debate on housing being held between local candidates in your area, like the Plymouth Housing Summit. Keep an eye out for announcements on noticeboards or in your local papers.
Asking Your Candidates
Talking to your candidates directly can be a particularly good way to find out where they stand on local issues, but you can also discuss the bigger issues that affect the whole country. You should be able to find out who your prospective parliamentary candidates are, and how to contact them, through the party websites, posters on local council notice boards, or the leaflets that will appear as the election grows nearer. You could also attend a meeting to hear the candidates speak, and you might see them or other party members on your doorstep once they begin canvassing for votes.
It can also help to find out more about the politicians each party has put in charge of the issue you are investigating, or to get in touch with them to make sure your voice is being heard. The Housing Minister in the current government is Brandon Lewis, while Labour’s shadow minister for housing is Emma Reynolds.
- BBC: Manifesto Watch: Where Parties Stand on Key Issues, 5 February 2015
- The Guardian: Rent Caps and Protests, The Housing Issues to Watch Out for in 2015, Hannah Fearn, 9 January 2015
- Wales Online: Wales Needs 14,000 Homes A Year by 2020 to Tackle the Housing Crisis, Says Federation of Master Builders, 29 January 2015
- The Herald, Scotland: Scotland’s Booming Private Rented Housing Sector: Is It Fit for Purpose? 25 January 2015
- Democracy Matters: How to Have a Say in the 2015 Manifestos
- Portland Communications: Road to the Manifestos, Final Mile, Red Lines and Promises
- Conservatives: Securing a Better Future
- Labour: Issues
- Liberal Democrats: Issues
- Right Move: Get Moving with Help to Buy
- The Independent: Help to Buy, Who Has It Really Helped? Ben Chu, 6 February 2015
- Mortgage Calculator: Mortgage Payment Calculator with Amortization
- Parliament: What’s On
- Parliament: Housing
- Plymouth Herald: Election Candidates Gather to Debate Plymouth’s Housing Crisis, 20 February 2015
- National Housing Federation: Top Tips for Engaging and Influencing Mps and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates
- Gov.uk: Brandon Lewis MP
- Parliament: Emma Reynolds MP