It is an idea that goes against virtually everything that I thought the Conservative party stood for. Private property? Not if the state decides to take it off you. Big society? Never mind all that stuff about the voluntary sector - if it happens to own something valuable then the Conservatives are prepared to take it away in order to buy a few votes. Enterprise and initiative? Not if it is done by a co-operative.
I had also foolishly thought that the Conservatives liked to be practical people. So I thought that they might quietly drop such a damaging idea once the election was won. Instead it features prominently in the Queen's speech. I had forgotten that large numbers of Conservatives have ceased to believe in conserving things and instead prefer dogmatic ideology to sensible solutions to problems.
Anyone setting out to solve a significant housing problem would want to strengthen the housing associations and to take measures to make it easier for them to build new houses and help more tenants. If their tenants can buy their assets anytime they choose then what bank in their right mind would lend money to a housing association to build a new home? Instead of a rock solid business model which sees a nice secure asset being gradually paid off by a steady stream of rent all that the housing associations can now offer is a high risk proposition. "Lend us money and we might have an asset. If the asset looks like it is nicely going up in price then the tenant can buy it at a discount. If it looks like it is going down in price then it sits on our books." I don't know about you but that sounds to me like a one way bet that is very unattractive. I wouldn't lend money to anyone on that basis and I very much doubt that the banking sector is going to take a charitable view of the prospect. So the supply of houses from housing associations will begin to dry up.
If you really want to take a practical approach to solving the housing problem then what you would do would be to help housing associations to build more homes and add strong local authority action to the mix. At current rates of interest it would be very easy for most local authorities to borrow money in order to build new housing and then to rent it out to their local citizens who needed housing thus covering the cost of the loan. But they cannot do that easily because of the right to buy. Now the housing associations can't do it easily either.
So those who wish to rent will increasingly find that there is only one option left to them. They will need to rent from a private landlord. On insecure six month tenancies. Often via agents that deliberately move them on at the end of that six months so that they can secure a fresh signing on fee. In a highly competitive market with a shortage of supply that drives rents up to frighteningly high levels.
That isn't providing a secure home. That isn't extending a home owning democracy. It is enforcing desperate insecurity for the many in order to buy a few votes from the few.
Mind you, there could be an interesting solution to this lack of security for tenants of private landlords. Perhaps we could extend the right to buy scheme to them? That would strengthen home owning democracy nicely.
There is just one problem with that solution. If it was put forward by any major political party there would be a storm of protest from the establishment about communists seizing the assets of those who had worked hard to acquire property. So my central question to any Conservative is this. If it is wrong for the state to seize the private property of an ordinary citizen how come it is right to take away the property of a housing association? The government doesn't own this asset. The voluntary sector does. Or don't you like private enterprise when it comes from the voluntary sector and is designed to help those less well off than yourself?