Sunday, March 02, 2008

An Englishman's (second) home is his castle.

One of the basic aspects of English society over the last millennia or so has been the right to the ownership of property. Simply that which I own is mine to use and dispose of as I see fit.

I can I can buy, inherit, be gifted something. Once it is in my possession I can keep, alter, sell, give and lend according to my desires.

That this has been a fundamental aspect of English life and society as far back as records began is amply illustrated by Alan MacFarlane's ground breaking “Origins of English Individualism (reviewed here) One of the sole legitimate purposes of government is to protect those property rights. Whilst it may be the case that in the last 150 years the growth of central government has mitigated these rights with the imposition of taxes, leasehold reform export bans and so forth the tenet still has great value.

One only has to look at the latest version of the Index of Freedom to see quite how closely related defensible property rights are to both political freedom and to general prosperity.

So it is with a heavy heart I turn to the front page of today's Sunday Times and read that an unholy coalition of Gordon Brown and Matthew Taylor the Lib/Dem MP for Truro and St. Austell and their proposal to “Curb second home ownership”.

As somebody who has ambitions of representing a rural Dorset constituency, and having grown up there myself I am well aware of the difficulties facing the rural working class – brilliantly delineated by Show of Hands in their song 'Country Life'. But the suggestions here are simply awful.

The thought that local authorities should,

“have the power to prevent outsiders buying property they do not intend to make their main residence”,
Can only be made by somebody who has no experience of local authorities as they currently exist. It is often the case that the only realisable capital somebody may have is in their property, and this could restrict the freedom of somebody to improve their lot in life.

They would have to win planning permission to change the house from fully occupied to a second home and could be refused by the council. The inquiry is also considering banning outsiders from buying newly built homes in such areas.

Apart from anything else this would provide another excuse to employ another range of taxpayer funded snoopers poking there way through peoples properties and lives to define how many days a house is in occupancy. I suppose they could set up 'property watch' cameras pointed at people's front doors and fine them if they are not used sufficiently often. (Whilst ignoring of course the burglars jumping through the back windows).

According to Taylor,

The shortage of affordable housing in most rural areas was mainly due to an influx of former city-dwellers moving to the countryside permanently.
The problem is though this may have been true, the recent influx of hundreds of thousands of eastern European into the countryside has been the biggest recent driver of the problem as they mop up all available cheap housing (and of course the jobs that go with it).

Then consider the situation of someone elderly and sick forced to sell their property to pay for health care in their dotage. By interfering in the market the Government will be pushing down house prices, therefore making their ability to pay for care to be much reduced.

Nobody is pretending that the current situation is good, but to solve it using technocratic bureaucratic methods has got to be the worst solution I have heard yet.

Oh, this is so wrong on moral, philosophical and practical grounds.

I guess it will happen then.

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