RADICAL social housing reforms including tough rent controls would be brought in under a Labour government in response to the Grenfell Tower disaster and creeping gentrification across Britain, Jeremy Corbyn told party conference delegates yesterday.
The “chilling wreckage” of the burnt-out west London tower block in one of Britain’s richest boroughs stands as a monument to the “brutal” Tory economic approach, he said while promising sweeping changes to end the scandal of social cleansing.
He said the Grenfell tragedy was “entirely avoidable” and an indictment of stark inequality in British society.
Referring to Kensington and Chelsea council’s shocking practise of handing out council tax refunds to wealthy residents, the leader said: “[Grenfell] is also a damning indictment of a whole outlook which values council tax refunds for the wealthy above decent provision for all — and which has contempt for working-class communities.”
A review of social housing would examine building, planning, regulation and management and result in a “radical programme of action,” the Labour leader vowed in his conference-closing speech in Brighton.
In a blow to property developers, Mr Corbyn said that Labour would tax undeveloped land “banked” by speculating firms that never build on it, adding that compulsory purchase orders would also be used.
“As Ed Miliband said: ‘use it or lose it’,” Mr Corbyn declared. “Families need homes.”
He also reaffirmed Labour’s manifesto promise to put in place rent controls and ensure that every home is fit for human habitation — a motion voted down by landlord Tory MPs in 2015.
To tackle the national scandal of social cleansing, Labour would ensure that if an estate is regenerated, tenants would be given a home on the same site.
Mr Corbyn acknowledged that development is often used as a cover for social cleansing “as private developers move in and tenants and leaseholders are moved out.”
But under Labour, he promised that “regeneration will be for the benefit of the local people, not private developers, not property speculators.”
Councils would also have to win a ballot of tenants and leaseholders before any redevelopment can take place.
Aside from housing, the Labour leader also used his 75-minute speech to expose the weakness of the Tories, who have been “tearing themselves apart” after the general election.
He claimed PM Theresa May and her ministers were “hanging on by their fingertips” after they were forced to scrap a number of deeply unpopular manifesto pledges.
“It is now Labour setting the agenda,” he added. “This coalition of Conservative chaos is tearing up its manifesto and tearing itself apart.
“They’re bereft of ideas, and they’re bereft of energy. We’ve got plenty of energy, I can assure you of that.”
Mr Corbyn also poked fun at the right-wing press attempting to “trash Labour at every turn” in the run up to the election.
He said: “The day before the election, one paper devoted 14 pages to attacking the Labour Party. And our vote went up nearly 10 per cent.
“Never have so many trees died in vain. The British people saw right through it. So this is a message to the Daily Mail’s editor — next time, please could you make it 28 pages?”
On a more serious note, Mr Corbyn condemned the Tories and the media for encouraging abuse against shadow home secretary Diane Abbott — the first black woman MP.
“There can never, ever be any excuse for any abuse of anybody by anybody.”
He joined in with delegates in a rendition of happy birthday followed by a standing ovation for Ms Abbott, his long-time colleague and friend, who turned 64 yesterday.