Iain Duncan Smith has come up with a bold idea that might just enable the Tories to break out of the inch by inch, trench warfare of current British politics. The Work and Pensions Secretary wants to see the right to buy extended to those living in Housing Association properties. At present, housing association tenants are offered very limited discounts and can only buy properties that their association has acquired since 1997. An even more radical version of this scheme would see all housing association tenants who have been in work for a year given their homes. When these properties were sold, the state would take a significant chunk in tax which would then be invested in building more social housing.
If the Tories put this policy in their manifesto, it would electrify this election campaign. It would show that the Tories remain the party of aspiration and committed—in the best traditions of Macmillan and Thatcher—to expanding home ownership and the property owning democracy. But there is concern about the policy at the top of the party. There is a worry that it could irritate those who live in the private rented sector who would wonder where their reward is for having worked hard and paid the rent all these years.
This objection echoes that made to the original right to buy scheme. As Charles Moore records in his biography of Margaret Thatcher, she was worried that if the discount offered to council house tenants was too great it would annoy what she called ‘our people’, who were buying their homes on the open market and at full price. But, as Thatcher came to realise, these objections were ‘narrow and unimaginative’.