Pictured in an olive, recently waxed Barbour jacket in front of rolling green hills, Rishi Sunak looked every bit the country gentleman in pictures posted to his social media accounts yesterday. The reason? A commitment to protect the green belt.
“We’ve seen too many examples of local councils circumventing the views of residents by taking land out of the green belt for development,” he told Tory members, as the government continues to target the building of 300,000 homes a year as long as they’re in places that nobody wants to live and where they don’t interfere with the views of anybody who might conceivably vote Conservative.
Let’s be clear: the UK economy is being strangled by our housing crisis. It is leaving a generation of Brits, particularly in cities, effectively nihilistic about their prospects. It is throttling discretionary spending by ensuring that those who wish to buy are forced to save an absurdly high percentage of their income. And it is going, eventually, to make London unlivable for youngsters.
Robert Colvile, the respected think-tank chief, Tory manifesto writer and once-upon-a-time City A.M. columnist, tore Sunak’s proposals apart. The green belt has, in fact, doubled in size since 1979. The rate of shrinkage, though regrettable, gives us a good millennium-sized window before the green belt disappears in full.
Sunak is unlikely to be outbid by Liz Truss, who no doubt in the next few days will pledge to create even more green belt land, as this contest becomes an ever more ludicrous pitch to an ever-smaller electorate.
Housing is a difficult policy area, because it annoys people. But that’s why we elect people. This pandering to a damaging status quo, one that benefits those who have made it over those making it, does Sunak’s bid for power no credit.