Unfortunately ideology all too often gets in the way of making judgements about which mix of private and public to use and how to do so effectively. There are still quite a number of old Labour people who want Corbyn to nationalise as much as possible as quickly as possible. I am hoping that when he talks about 21st century socialism he is showing an understanding that we can't go back to the days of heavy industry and large scale state run factories working to a five year plan. Information technology and the growth of the service industry have taken us well beyond that era. If Corbyn can demonstrate a grasp of how to apply socialist principles to the job of creating a sustainable post oil economy then he will indeed prove to be a visionary worthy of all the enthusiasm that has been invested in him.
Meanwhile we have in power a government that is really struggling to cope with the need to change their ideology in order to adapt to a new era in a different way. For decades the Conservative Party has operated on the basis of one simple principle. Privatise it and get rid of the state. Finally, 8 years after the near total collapse of the extreme free markets they so admire, some of them are getting round to the realising that a bit of sensible government action can sometimes be quite helpful. There are, of course, plenty of Tea Party style thinkers who don't understand that we entered a new era in 2008 and think they the answer to the failure of uncontrolled markets is to remove even more controls over markets and get rid of the last remnants of the welfare state. Some of those people are in government and frighteningly these are exactly the people who will lead the UK's negotiations on the EU. More hopefully some in the government are showing signs of voicing policies that show some signs of rather more pragmatic thinking.
So at last, late in the day, reluctantly and through gritted teeth May's government has begun to accept a number of rather important things:
1). The UK as a whole will be stronger and more prosperous if government acts to deliberately rebalance the economy in favour of the regions.
2). It isn't an original sin if the Bank of England prints money and tries to inject it into the economy at a time of near zero inflation.
3). It is helpful if the government incentivises investment in developing new technology and its implementation in practice.
And 4). We won't get the type of homes built that are actually needed if you leave building developers to decide what needs to be constructed without any serious state guidance.
What is fascinating is watching how much difficulty this government is having in making the intellectual transition. They can just about accept the Bank of England saving the economy from post Brexit panic. But they can't deal with the idea that we might channel that money directly into making the investments we need. Instead they plan for the government to borrow more money and prolong a genuinely worrying government spending deficit at the same time as allowing the bank of England to pump free quantitative easing money into a stock market and housing bubble via insecure and unreliable banks.
Similarly they are getting it wrong on housing because they are struggling to leave behind their intellectual inheritance. May's government has finally grasped that left to their own devices builders are never going to construct small cheap homes on brownfield sites because these are expensive to build. Finally she has decided to pump £5 billion of government money into building the right things in more difficult locations.
Imagine what a well run local council could do by using a share of this funding as deposit money to borrow to build local homes on reclaimed land? Imagine how many more people a housing association could help if they were similarly empowered and funded? You are going to have to imagine it because that is not the scheme. Instead the scheme is to give taxpayers money to wealthy building developers to encourage them to build in more difficult places at the same time as the government strips out even more of the environmental protections that exist under the weakest planning laws this country has had for close on 100 years.
Don't get me wrong. House building may be one of the sectors where allowing well run private companies to compete with the public sector to be better at meeting a defined need is genuinely helpful. But that isn't the only way of getting things built and it isn't very sensible to insist on gambling everything on only one card when the stakes are so high.
The Royal College of Surveyors said this week that we urgently need another 2 million rented homes for families. They also said that there will be another 1.8 million people renting by 2025 because house prices make purchase impractical for unaided families. At the same time 86% of landlords have no plans to expand.
So we need every supplier of the right kind of homes that we can get. But May's Conservatives are trapped in their thinking by the past of their party. Mrs Thatcher's sale of council homes was one of the popular policies that inspired many of them to join the party of the home owning democracy. It is desperately difficult for them to grasp that letting long term occupants buy their own home may well have been a reasonable policy a long time ago but selling them off those houses dirt cheap and squandering the proceeds instead of building replacement stock to help the next generation wasn't so very clever.
The main reason that we have a housing crisis now is that Margaret Thatcher sold off council houses without replacing them and now we haven't got enough left. Just as the main reason we had an economic crash in 2008 is that she went far too far in removing regulations from the banking sector and this empowered them to bet three times the value of the entire world economy on obscure financial derivatives making nice bonuses for themselves before bringing the entire banking system to its knees so badly that the government had to bail them out and chose to impose austerity on the rest of us.
Behind everything this government does there are two big intellectual battles going on. One is between practical people want to think seriously about how to deal with the messy difficult realities of Brexit and a bunch of fantasists who believe what they choose to be true without bothering over much about any actual evidence. The other is the battle to free themselves of an ideology that has run its course and had its day. The Conservatives now remind me of much of the left in 1974. Economic realities had changed and many of us struggled to see that and to understand how to deal with it.
The new economic reality is that extreme unregulated free markets have failed and we have a world economy that badly needs a bit of proper management. It is possible that some Conservative pragmatists in government will recognise that in time. Starting out by refusing to accept that local government and the voluntary sector are well placed to play a useful role in supplying affordable housing doesn't inspire confidence that enough of them are going to get there any time soon.