Alex Crowley OBE is a former Political Director to Boris Johnson and a founding partner of Shared Voice – a communications firm that connects supporters of housebuilding with the planning process.
“They have two jobs, sometimes three, not to save up for a home – they’ve long ago given up on that goal – but just to avoid getting evicted…… Our youth are not angry. They’re too exhausted to be angry.”
The words of a firebrand Corbynista preacher?
No, these are the words of a Conservative leader. In 2023.
Housing is the centrepiece of Pierre Poilievre and the Canadian Conservatives’ campaign to oust Justin Trudeau.
And before you conclude they’ve gone all woolly and elitist, consider this: when he’s not campaigning on housing, Poilievre is defending the God-given right to shoot moose.
He has discovered what our politicians will soon to realise – being pro-house building is popular. Particularly among the largest and most politically lucrative voter group: 30 –44-year-olds.
Remember those? I think we used to call them the ‘strivers’. Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair certainly knew them.
Poilievre enjoys that rare thing for Conservative leaders – a healthy poll lead. He’s done it by building a totally new voter coalition; more popular with younger voters than older.
Just reflect on that. The liberal darling Justin Trudeau is less popular with younger voters than his Conservative opponent.
The intense focus on the most pressing issue for younger people is part of the reason.
It appears he understands – as all truly effective political leaders have done before him – that the route to a nation’s soul is through the timeless idea of home.
Home is not transactional, it’s emotional. It’s the fundamental feeling of knowing you have a solid foot on the ladder of life. The absence of certainty around it is crushing.
When the younger generation feel homeless – literally or figuratively because of uncertainty in the rental market – an incumbent government has a big problem.
This is the political opportunity the Canadian Conservatives are exploiting.
Their argument is simple and effective: NIMBY-ism has made homes more expensive than they need to be. Build more, build them quicker and this will be reflected in the price.
Poilievre’s not even talking in traditional conservative terms about home ownership. As he said in the speech above – most young people would settle for not being evicted.
It’s a very simple political calculation – historic undersupply and rising interest rates mean the number of people who stand to gain from building new housing will outstrip the number of people who stand to lose.
It is a calculation that the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain have yet to make.
The reluctance to fully embrace YIMBY-ism is perfectly understandable. Our planning system is optimised for objectors – you see this in everything from wind farms, to railways and housing.
MPs and councillors only ever hear from the vocal minority who oppose, so they’re acting rationally when they campaign against development. Obviously, to them, it appears as if new housing is unpopular.
But it isn’t.
Through my work with Just Build Homes I see this first hand. On every application for new homes, we find at least 50 supporters – sometimes into the hundreds, often outnumbering the objectors.
The silent majority are no longer willing to be silent, putting their names down in support of apparently ‘unpopular’ housing schemes.
They support tall buildings, building on disused ‘green’ belt (much of which is not really green at all) and everything in between. Why? Because they can see the obvious – building more increases their chances of finding a decent place to call home.
They have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
This group of voters is up for grabs, particularly since government policy and tone has shifted decisively toward NIMBY-ism.
Sir Keir Starmer has seen this gap in the market and he’s going after them.
Many Tory activists (and some younger MPs) see it too. Talk to those under 45 and they are likely to be far more pro-housing than most of the Cabinet. Not only that – they are far more anti NIMBY.
As they and their friends struggle to afford the latest rent increases, they have little time for the worn-out trope; ‘yes, we must build more – but in the right places/more beautifully/sensitively etc’ (i.e. nowhere near me, thank you very much).
The biggest shift, though, is in the media. Younger journalists are now personally affected and far more pro-housing as a result. TV producers who decide the broadcast stories of the day are pushing this up the agenda, mainly because they have a 2-hour commute to a place they can barely afford.
There is a growing realisation that, perhaps, in clinging to NIMBY-ism the party has made a big strategic error. Not just in electoral terms, but practical – the Treasury desire to continually increase legal migration means that even the most ambitious housing targets cannot hope to keep up with demand.
But there is time to change. Building new homes used to be main tune played by countless Conservative campaigns through the years. It can be again.
Just look at our sister party in Canada, whose election slogan is ‘bring it home’.