On 23 January 2019 in the Houses of Parliament, Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) and the Benedict XVI Centre of St Mary’s University, Twickenham, launched a new booklet, ‘Perspectives on political, social and human aspects of the housing crisis’. The main essay, contributed by Professor Philip Booth of St Mary’s University, calls on the Government to make it easier to build houses, including on the Green Belt.
Panellists at the well-attended launch event included Parliamentarians Siobhain McDonagh (Labour), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative) and Lord Shipley (Liberal Democrat), all of whom also provided forewords for the booklet. Other speakers included the eminent philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, Edward Davies from the Centre for Social Justice, and Gareth Wallace from the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
Highlights from Gareth’s speech are reproduced below:
Prior to working as a political gamekeeper I was a policy poacher lobbying Government on precisely the kind of issues we are looking at tonight.
I led Westminster lobbying for The Salvation Army for over six years and took over 80 MPs on visits to Salvation Army Homeless Hostels.
As a Christian and as a Conservative I often get asked if these two legs to the stool of my life are compatible? Is Christianity compassionate about homelessness and personal need?
My short answer is that true Conservatism is about a profound respect for the individual for their personal value and for them to succeed in every area of life.
Therefore those whom I have met who are homeless are to be respected, encouraged and supported to achieve their full potential.
I am keenly aware that Government has not always been the best example of delivery for the Homeless.
However I am heartened by the proactive work that my friend James Brokenshire is undertaking to tackle the rise in rough sleeping.
Delivering for these most vulnerable of people is central to delivering social justice for the homeless.
Secondly building a home. I was always inspired by the writings of Lord Sachs our former Chief Rabbi. One of his most profound contributions was the book “The Home we build together’.
The concept of Home is deeply connected to family, to belonging, to our ideas of society and Nation.
The very title of Canon Andrew Ritchie’s report: A Home for every Heart. A Catholic vision of Housing demonstrates that there is a deeply held human need for home and community.
I would argue it is a principle that all true Conservatives hold tight to and unite around.
Yet if home doesn’t include bricks and mortar it’s not an easy concept to grasp.
One of my favourite publications is the Spectator, and I find its combination of Centre right journalism often with a healthy Christian influence one of the most wholesome sources of News and comment. One recent article challenged me profoundly.
In seeking to understand the appeal particularly to younger voters of the New Left a commentator exclaimed ‘why should we expect millennials to become Capitalists if they cannot acquire capital?
The article went on to outline how the housing crisis and its connected crisis in home ownership is something that should profoundly concern Conservatives.
In my political life outside of the rarefied world of the Parliamentary bubble I have stood as a Conservative local Council candidate three times in the Labour stronghold of Lambeth.
In fact if you look carefully out of this riverside committee room window you might be able to see my own Council Tower Block rising up in Stockwell.
It will soon be blocked from view behind more than 11 high rise developments around Vauxhall, themselves a testament to the dilemma of developments that appear to be out of reach for many, yet the alternative for Vauxhall for many years, was derelict brownfield land.
My own political journey began when after a Faith reception in Downing Street with Gordon Brown I returned to the epiphany than no amount of No 10 canapes can make a London Council fix the leaking pipes in their high rise blocks!
I entered the labyrinthine world of Tenants and Residents associations, right to buy, major works, and campaigned against the knocking down of Leaseholders and tenants homes under regeneration plans.
It is an honour to share a panel with one of my philosophical and political Hero’s Sir Roger Scruton. He said: ‘Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it.”
There is too easily a utopianism around housing policy, including planning, building and social housing, that while alluring and well meaning, doesn’t seem to stand the test of time or of human nature.
One of the reasons perhaps for this lack of progress in local housing policy might be the dilemma of democracy in these cases.
It seems that for many despite housing being the most important issue for them, they don’t connect that to local politics.
While we might decry local residents and Cllrs for refusing planning permission we must also have sympathy for those local citizens who do vote and do seek to make Home and community.
Why shouldn’t local communities have their say?
Many of us have understandable fear that while we know we need new railways, airports, road improvements or housing, we don’t want them too near to us!
For many local politics is characterized by what has been termed Nimbyism, or worse Banana-ism.
"Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything."
Some years ago in more innocent political times one of the CCF’s founders and splendid Conservative thinker Tim Montgomerie was debating at a Theos event with one of my Favourite thinkers on the left, Lord Glasman.
As Red Tory and Blue Labour thinking was expounded on the stage they both coalesced around one issue of shared concern. Housing.
It was apparent that particularly for voters in the South of England the party that manages to unlock the issue of housing would earn their vote.
Certainly as Conservatives have found, particularly in London, voters will listen more carefully to candidate’s arguments if they have answers to the housing crisis.
I look forward to taking my friend Shaun Bailey, the London Mayoral Candidate to visit London Churches and community projects to learn more of what makes the Church tick.
I have no doubt that solutions to Housing and Homelessness will rank highly in his priorities for London.
Speaking at someone with a still vaguely discernible Northern Ireland twang, as a form of Northerner, despite being an adopted Londoner, I also want to put on record the importance of region and place in the housing debate.
Both transport and employment policy can have a huge bearing on housing.
It is an oft mooted prophesy that never seems to come true, but the internet and home working, alongside reduced commuting times with higher speed rail, ought to allow those regions away from the SE of England a chance to compete for an ever greater share of our economy and of our homes.
Our dynamic Mayor for the West Midlands Andy Street is passionate about developing the economy of the region at the heart of our Nation.
It is perhaps no accident that homelessness is also one of his top priorities. It was an honour to launch his Faith and Homelessness action booklet at last year’s Party Conference.
For me Conservatism ought to go hand in hand with flourishing communities, with a relentless focus on helping everyone reach their potential.
I am delighted and daunted to be sharing the stage with such an esteemed panel, and to be hosted under the banner of Caritas.
My heritage is Irish Methodism and my current Parish is Evangelical Anglicanism. In my ecumenical journey representing Churches in Parliament and now speaking to the Church on behalf of the Conservative Party I have been profoundly influenced by Catholic Social Teaching and the concept of Praxis at the heart of all that the Caritas family of charities is engaged with.
My own Christian faith has been immeasurably strengthened in finding not a mush of ecumenical blandness but in the richness and passion of shared goals and combined Endeavour.
It was an honour to host Caritas at one of our CCF monthly prayer and policy events in Westminster.
We were inspired by Philip McCarthy Caritas CEO and I am delighted to be sharing at this launch event for this report:
Perspectives on political, social and human aspects of the housing crisis.
In these often fraught political times, it is wise to listen carefully to each other across the political spectrum, as well to listen carefully to what the Church is saying on matters of social policy and Justice.
Some of my most rewarding times at the CCF have been when I have been able to host Christian MPs at Party Conference in dialogue with Churches and Charities.
These fringe events often look similar to our discussion this evening and are designed to challenge and inspire.
In September of this year we will be returning to Manchester for Party Conference. A City with a profound sense of community and place.
My old employer The Salvation Army partnered with us on Tuesday 3rd October 2017 the last time The Conservative Party Conference was in Manchester.
I vividly remember my former colleagues inspiring us with stories of their work with the homeless, of the complex needs that lead people unto the street, that often a roof overhead is only one small part of a difficult story, of the challenges faced by both local and central government and of the need for more and better move on accommodation and more housing stock.
However what sticks in my mind as if it were yesterday was the young trainee Salvation Army Officer who spoke with particular passion about his work with the Homeless.
Cadet Paul Devine spoke eloquently of his work helping those on the streets to overcome their difficulties and move into secure accommodation and work.
He then revealed that the reason why he had been inspired to become an ordained Salvation Army Church leader was that he himself had been homeless.
You could have heard a pin drop in that conference fringe event. Any one of us could have a life crisis and end up on the streets.
As Christians from whatever Party or Denomination we can all agree on this.
We might differ on the method or the policy but we all feel called into political or parish life to do two things:
To see each other as Children of God.
To seek human flourishing in policy and in practice.