Monday, June 02, 2008

Social justice vs the Henley Liberal Democrats

John Harris wrote a good article about Labour's recent success in Oxford, which has drawn forth a response from Oxford Lib Dem leader David Rundle.

David calls for the next election to be fought on the issue of social justice, and which party locally is best placed to deliver it. He cites in favour of the Oxford Lib Dem approach to social justice their decision to close play areas across the city in order to raise council tax by £2 per year less than Labour and the Greens would, Labour's criticism of one of his colleagues who supports legalising heroin and cocaine, and taking environmental concerns into consideration (that bit is pretty convoluted and it's not quite clear what he's referring to, though see below).

Happily, there is an easy way for him and his colleagues to show their commitment to social justice. Under his predecessor as leader, the local Liberal Democrats backed Labour's plans to build a housing extension to Oxford, to help thousands of people who are trapped on housing waiting lists to have a decent home to live in. This extension is on the edge of the city, and is currently in South Oxfordshire district council.

But now there is a by-election in Henley constituency, and there's votes to be had in pandering to local nimbies. So the Liberal Democrats and their newly arrived candidate are attacking Labour and the Tories for 'threatening the Oxford Green Belt' with 'major new developments'.

It's not a difficult issue this - on one side are people living in desperately overcrowded housing or who have nowhere to live, and on the other are some of the wealthiest people in the country who don't want social housing anywhere near them. No doubt David Rundle and his colleagues will come under pressure to fall in line and put the interests of their national party ahead of people in Oxford. Will they instead be true to their new found commitment to social justice and tell Stephen Kearney that he's wrong?


At 1:03 am , Blogger Jock Coats said...

I'm afraid I for one have already offered to provide Mr Kearney with the ammunition he might need to fight these proposals, whether or not endorsed by Oxford City Liberal Democrats. It was one of the policies I said I disagreed with in my candidate vetting.

Blackbird Leys began life fifty years ago now as a "new community" on the edge of the city and, whilst it has taken a long time for that community to "gel" as a community it, and its later extensions (which should provide even more cause for concern as to what might happen by adding more), are still the most deprived wards in Oxford and in the bottom 10% in the south of England. Adding another estate of a similar size onto the edge of that risks that fragile balance.

Still, you already know my position on that. Subsidising wealthy landowners is not the way to produce sustainably affordable housing.

I couldn't give two hoots about the green belt in principle when the "alternative" is, as you say, many people, including myself, who cannot access suitable market housing, but we are a pretty low density city at the moment, with five times as much underoccupancy as overcrowding and an ageing housing stock that will soon, if much of it is not already, be so energy inefficient that they too will be unaffordable, to run if not to buy. There is plenty of scope there for a more sustainable solution.


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