Posted by: Jules Birch10/03/2009
The biggest tribute that I can think of to Alan Walter is that the campaign that he chaired and worked for so tirelessly may need a new name.
In the days when most of the housing and political establishment seemed united in the belief that council housing was a thing of the past and that the future lay with stock transfer and housing associations, the name Defend Council Housing (DCH) summed up the message precisely.
Walter, who has died at the age of just 51, was determined to work against that consensus. The odds must have seemed overwhelming at the beginning. Once the Labour government had abandoned its early rhetoric about reviving council housing and come out against any change in the public borrowing rules, the stage seemed set for council after council to transfer their stock. Even where local politicians and tenants were instinctively against the idea the pragmatic choice appeared to be to vote in favour of extra resources to do up their homes.
DCH convinced the unions and increasing numbers of backbench Labour MPs with its arguments for a fourth option for council housing. Three years running the Labour conference voted for it too, only to be ignored by ministers. But DCH kept up the pressure and arcane aspects of local authority finance were turned into popular campaigning issues.
The tide turned in council housing’s favour tentatively after Tony Blair gave way to Gordon Brown and then decisively after the credit crunch turned the housing market boom to bust and revealed how reliant housing associations were on property sales. Suddenly local authorities were cast as the saviours of affordable housing rather than as relics of the municipalist past.
Back in the early noughties, when many pundits were predicting the death of council housing, you’d have got pretty long odds on the prime minister making a speech pledging to remove all barriers to local authorities building homes once again or the head of its main housing agency telling councils to prepare for the public borrowing rules to be changed. Yet both happened only a few weeks ago.
As DCH said yesterday: ‘It has been a collective effort of many, and Alan played down his individual selfless efforts, but he inspired and led in a way that contributed the binding glue of this collective.’
The debate is no longer just about defending council housing but creating it too. Alan Walter deserves much of the credit for that - even though I think he would be the first to say that the campaign has not won yet.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context