Friday, 27 August 2010

Andy Burnham comes to Rugby

I am pleased to say that Andy Burnham came to visit Rugby this evening to open a new Fabian Society for Warwickshire. He came across very well and it was intersting to hear him speak on a range of issues. In fact, he was only supposed to stay until nine but continued to take questions from the floor for an extra half an hour.

Of course in a room full of Labour supporters the man from Aintree was hardly challenged and without wanting to flatter myself too much; I think I posed the biggest threat. Nevertheless Burnham covered a range of topics and whilst his approach to healthcare is sorely misguided (a 10% care levy will not provide peace of mind for those who struggle to pay it), his dedication to the issue is admirable. He will be hoping to make the most of Andrew Lansley's decision to scrap NHS Direct after this evening, already saying the health secretary is "is on a vindictive mission to break up the NHS."

Arguably this makes him something of a one issue candidate and his leaflets were plastered with the phrase 'Defending the NHS' which also appears on the side of the 'Burnham Battle Bus'. This is not to say that the former health secretary is actually a one trick pony and he has some nice ideas on other issues such as housing but he needs to show this if he is to become more than 'the other guy'.

I, for example, was more interested in the Land Valuation Tax (LVT) which he set out in an article in the Guardian the other day. My question was that: "Surely such a tax, particularly if it is too onerous, would discourage people from moving up the property ladder and act as a hindrance to first time buyers?"

Andy pointed out in response that the tax would help first-time buyers who would be beneficiaries of the system by virtue of the fact that it removes stamp duty. He then conceded that the tax would act as a disincentive to move up the property ladder but encourages "efficiency in land use" so that big companies cannot just sit on an important piece of land and not use it for anything (a 'land bank'). I'm not quite convinced and the fact that he admits to this disincentive also means less fluidity in the property market therefore higher prices. Then higher prices means higher LVT and people begin to feel the pinch year after year possibly having to then downsize into a house which is too small. There are also other concerns regarding registered land and how the valuation can be done cost-effectively and fairly but I saved those points.

Burnham will struggle to defend his quite radical policies in the face of opposition and whilst he is a nice guy, I feel that a vote for him would signal a return for the Labour Party to the wilderness of the 1980s. Not that Labour should worry as he is the rank outsider and after the leadership contest will most likely make an ignominious return to the back benches.