Show Hide image

Do party organisers believe Blair is back in command?

Kevin Maguire on party galas, tattoos and bank accounts.

Wor Eddie had a reet aad canny good time at the Durham Miners’ Gala. Miliband, son of a Marxist historian, knew it’s pronounced “gayla” in Labour’s north-east England heartland. One of my parliamentary snouts was at the dinner on the eve of the bands, banners and speeches of the big meeting. Miliband, who has a timekeeping issue, arrived 30 minutes after the appointed hour. “Ahm sorry we’re layt starting,” Davey Hopper, the local NUM official, announced to the throng, all avuncular perspicacity, adding, “But ah divvent want te blame anybody,” as he glanced at Wor Eddie. Thankfully, Mili was mistakenly called Wor David just the once. The highlight for my left-winger was Wor Eddie sharing a joke with the uncivil servant Mark Serwotka before putting his arm on the shoulder of the train-stopper Bob Crowbar. The MP mutters that he was unsure whether Mili knew who the union duo were. Or whether the militant trade unionists recognised the leader of the Labour Party.

To Labour’s £500-a-plate gala (this one definitely not a “gayla”) dinner at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Manchester United’s red, the Labour-supporting Alex Ferguson, was billed as the star turn but didn’t show. The evening had an expensively retro 1996 feel. Blairites were out in force, a Progress tendency meeting with waiters. Tony Blair received a standing ovation before he spoke – unlike Ed Miliband, who didn’t even get a stander after he’d spoken.

I recall Blair describing Cherie as a “very scary woman”. I disagree. Mrs B was extremely chatty when party staff took her on a tour of the tables. Yep, it felt as if organisers believed Blair was back in charge. Perhaps he is.

Another snout blushed as Judy Steel, wife of the one-time Lib Dem leader Lord (David) Steel of Cowley Street, pulled down her top to reveal a three-inch tattoo of a leopard on her left shoulder. The unabashed lady explained that it was a 70th-birthday gift to herself, copied from her hubby’s coat of arms. The big question in Westminster is: does he have a matching tattoo? And where?

At that Labour gala dinner, Mary Creagh, the party’s agriculture spokeswoman, cycled to the soirée before changing into a blue dress. The score or so of Stop the War protesters shouting outside, spotting a woman in a fluorescent jacket, mistook the shadow frontbencher for one of them. So she enjoyed both cheers and jeers.

In his white linen summer suit, the hefty Tory tyke Alec Shelbrooke, a trencherman who’d lose a Slimmer of the Year contest with Nicholas “Fatty” Soames, resembled a marquee searching for a fete. Big Alec was walking a small dog on a lead in the Westminster precincts. Behind the Elmet eater, observed my informant, a female companion was dragging an enormous suitcase. I wonder if the Conservatives went into politics to avoid heavy lifting.

A snout picked up a receipt left on a cash machine of the scandal-hit Barclays in the Commons. The last digit of the current account was 8. And the holder’s balance was £21,525.41. These days, that could be an MP or peer, Labour or Tory.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 23 July 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Israel: the future

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

The Conservatives have failed on home ownership. Here's how Labour can do better

Far from helping first-time buyers, the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul

Making it easier for people to own their own first home is something to be celebrated. Most families would love to have the financial stability and permanency of home ownership. But the plans announced today to build 200,000 ‘starter homes’ are too little, too late.

The dire housing situation of our Greater London constituency of Mitcham & Morden is an indicator of the crisis across the country. In our area, house prices have increased by a staggering 42 per cent over the last three years alone, while the cost of private rent has increased by 22 per cent. Meanwhile, over 8200 residents are on the housing register, families on low incomes bidding for the small number of affordable housing in the area. In sum, these issues are making our area increasingly unaffordable for buyers, private renters and those in need of social and council housing.

But under these new plans, which sweep away planning rules that require property developers to build affordable homes for rent in order to increase the building homes for first-time buyers, a game of political smoke and mirrors is being conducted. Both renters and first-time buyers are desperately in need of government help, and a policy that pits the two against one another is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We need homes both to rent and to buy.

The fact is, removing the compulsion to provide properties for affordable rent will be disastrous for the many who cannot afford to buy. Presently, over half of the UK’s affordable homes are now built as part of private sector housing developments. Now this is going to be rolled back, and local government funds are increasingly being cut while housing associations are losing incentives to build, we have to ask ourselves, who will build the affordable properties we need to rent?

On top of this, these new houses are anything but ‘affordable’. The starter homes would be sold at a discount of 20 per cent, which is not insignificant. However, the policy is a non-starter for families on typical wages across most of the country, not just in London where the situation is even worse. Analysis by Shelter has demonstrated that families working for average local earnings will be priced out of these ‘affordable’ properties in 58 per cent of local authorities by 2020. On top of this, families earning George Osborne’s new ‘National Living Wage’ will still be priced out of 98 per cent of the country.

So who is this scheme for? Clearly not typical earners. A couple in London will need to earn £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the country to benefit from this new policy, indicating that ‘starter homes’ are for the benefit of wealthy, young professionals only.

Meanwhile, the home-owning prospects of working families on middle and low incomes will be squeezed further as the ‘Starter Homes’ discounts are funded by eliminating the affordable housing obligations of private property developers, who are presently generating homes for social housing tenants and shared ownership. These more affordable rental properties will now be replaced in essence with properties that most people will never be able to afford. It is great to help high earners own their own first homes, but it is not acceptable to do so at the expense of the prospects of middle and low earners.

We desperately want to see more first-time home owners, so that working people can work towards something solid and as financially stable as possible, rather than being at the mercy of private landlords.

But this policy should be a welcome addition to the existing range of affordable housing, rather than seeking to replace them.

As the New Statesman has already noted, the announcement is bad policy, but great politics for the Conservatives. Cameron sounds as if he is radically redressing housing crisis, while actually only really making the crisis better for high earners and large property developers who will ultimately be making a larger profit.

The Conservatives are also redefining what the priorities of “affordable housing” are, for obviously political reasons, as they are convinced that homeowners are more likely to vote for them - and that renters are not. In total, we believe this is indicative of crude political manoeuvring, meaning ordinary, working people lose out, again and again.

Labour needs to be careful in its criticism of the plans. We must absolutely fight the flawed logic of a policy that strengthens the situation of those lucky enough to already have the upper hand, at the literal expense of everyone else. But we need to do so while demonstrating that we understand and intrinsically share the universal aspiration of home security and permanency.

We need to fight for our own alternative that will broaden housing aspirations, rather than limit them, and demonstrate in Labour councils nationwide how we will fight for them. We can do this by fighting for shared ownership, ‘flexi-rent’ products, and rent-to-buy models that will make home ownership a reality for people on average incomes, alongside those earning most.

For instance, Merton council have worked in partnership with the Y:Cube development, which has just completed thirty-six factory-built, pre-fabricated, affordable apartments. The development was relatively low cost, constructed off-site, and the apartments are rented out at 65 per cent of the area’s market rent, while also being compact and energy efficient, with low maintenance costs for the tenant. Excellent developments like this also offer a real social investment for investors, while providing a solid return too: in short, profitability with a strong social conscience, fulfilling the housing needs of young renters.

First-time ownership is rapidly becoming a luxury that fewer and fewer of us will ever afford. But all hard-working people deserve a shot at it, something that the new Conservative government struggle to understand.