The most striking thing about Greg Clark’s speech to Tory conference today was how different his rhetoric was on house building to George Osborne. Osborne likes to talk of confrontation, of standing up to small ‘c’ conservative voters who block development, and of winning a battle with the shires (see today’s Mail front page). But Clark tried to use more conciliatory language, speaking wistfully of the ‘joy’ of his own homes:
‘ Close your eyes and picture all the homes you’ve lived in – then what you see is the story of your life. For me it began with my mum and dad’s bungalow where I grew up. Then the thrill of walking into the first room of my own at university – with the shabby furniture and the musty smell. The fun – and the diplomatic challenges – of a succession of flatshares after university. The flat where Helen and I began our married life and into which I carried my first child hours after she was born and now our home in Kent, where the story begins again for my children. Our homes don’t just shelter us; they shape us. No wonder we long to own them.’
Clark went on to promise that the Tories would ‘eradicate Labour’s housing deficit’ over the next five years:
‘We are building more affordable homes than for 20 years and built more council homes in 5 years than the last Labour government built in 13 years. But we must now go further and build the homes that we need to close the housing deficit that we inherited. I am determined that we will eradicate Labour’s housing deficit just as we are eradicating Labour’s financial deficit. And we must do so in a Conservative way.’
Osborne is just as keen as Clark to build more houses but he does not seem to be as concerned about doing it in ‘a Conservative way’. Clark clearly has more contact with Tory councillors in his role at DCLG, so he may have been appeasing them: at a fringe yesterday he sat alongside the LGA’s Gary Porter, who was insisting that the blockages to building more were finance, not the planning system. Perhaps the two men are playing good cop, bad cop, or perhaps they genuinely have a difference of opinion over how to approach getting more homes built.