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Emily Thornberry vows to seize empty homes in bid to tackle housing crisis

The shadow foreign secretary is the only one of the four remaining candidates in the Labour leadership race yet to make it on to the ballot paper.

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Emily Thornberry (Danny Lawson/PA)

Emily Thornberry (Danny Lawson/PA)

Emily Thornberry (Danny Lawson/PA)

Emily Thornberry has vowed to seize empty homes in a bid to tackle the housing crisis if she becomes Labour leader.

The shadow foreign secretary said people who do not use flats would lose them if they cannot justify leaving the property vacant.

Speaking on BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire, she said: “If you leave a flat empty and you’re not using it then you will lose it…

“They would need to justify why it’s been empty for the amount of time that it has.

“But if you’re leaving a flat empty for years – which if you go down the Thames, there are all of these developments, all of these big blocks of flats and you go down there at night – none of them have got the lights on. They are all empty.”

Asked if she would take private properties off people, Ms Thornberry replied: “Yes. Because they are not being used and because we have a housing crisis.

“We’ve got people sleeping on the streets, we’ve got homeless families in bed and breakfasts – it’s not right.”

The shadow cabinet minister said she owns three houses – including one she bought for her mother, and another that her brother lives in, as well as her own home.

If you leave a flat empty and you’re not using it then you will lose itEmily Thornberry

Labour’s election manifesto included a pledge to give councils new powers to “bring empty homes back into use by raising council tax on properties that have been empty for more than a year”.

Ms Thornberry also denied being a “snob” when she was asked about her controversial 2014 tweet showing a terraced house with England flags and a white van parked outside during the interview.

“Of course I’m not a snob… I think that the thing that really upset me about it more than anything else was that I was asked to resign, so I did, and I was asked not to say anything, and so I didn’t.

“And so everybody put their own interpretations on what it was. It’s so far away from who I am; it really upsets me, the idea that I was kind of sneering.

“Because my sister is a bus driver, my brother worked as a builder. I come from a council estate – of course I’m not a snob.”

Ms Thornberry said that Labour could not come across as “cuddly, hopeless lefties” and needed to be “ruthless” about winning elections.

In a webchat on the Mumsnet site, she said: “I think we need to make the Labour HQ and regions much more professional, we cannot be cuddly hopeless lefties.

“We can be cuddly and lefty but not hopeless. We are not a protest movement.

“We were created by working people to be a party of power to make the lives of working people better.

To mix my metaphors, then you go from sitting on the fence to standing in the middle of a car-crusher, being squeezed by both sidesEmily Thornberry on Labour's Brexit policy

“We cannot do that without being in power. We must be focused, single-minded and ruthless about ensuring that we win elections.

“And quite frankly, many decisions that were made in the general election were not based on sufficient evidence and not done in a sufficiently professional way.”

Ms Thornberry said Labour had been put in a car-crusher because it did not take a clear stand on Brexit at the December election.

“You can’t allow a single-issue election, then refuse to take a clear position on that issue.

“To mix my metaphors, then you go from sitting on the fence to standing in the middle of a car-crusher, being squeezed by both sides.

“It was a terrible mistake, not one I supported, and not one I would have made.”

The frontbencher is the only one of the four candidates yet to make it on to the ballot paper in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader.

Her rivals – Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy – have all received the required support to make it through to the final stage of the contest.

PA