Black humour in Scotland Yard?

The gathering of the clans

Glencoe was the sight of the massacre of the MacDonalds - so it was perhaps not the most prudent name for the police operation to manage demonstrations marking the convergence of G20 leaders on London this week. Black humour in Scotland Yard perhaps?

On the eve of the protests, Socialist Unity predicted police brutality. Recalling Gleneagles, John Wright wrote: “It was inevitable that there would be trouble, though it was not started by protesters... [w]hat began as a good humoured protest by a group of protesters, the self styled Clown Army, who many will have seen on demos up and down the country engaging in silly antics, soon gave way to ugly scenes of riot police charging into peaceful protesters lashing out indiscriminately”.

And as President Obama flew in and the crowds descended on the City, Anna Bragga at The Green Room was “shaken and appalled” by the policing, finding herself “condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters”. She concluded by calling on Green Party representatives to hold the Met to account for its poor handling of the day.

Not everyone was protesting against unregulated markets. Conservative Home posted images direct from the small but fiesty “pro-capitalist” counter demo. The banner asking “Who is John Galt?” held aloft by students from York University was thought witty by some, alienating by others. Meanwhile their comrades at Samizdata highlighted a study of free banking in 19th century Scotland, arguing that it illustrates a paradigm of the true laissez faire capitalism from which we have long since strayed.

Reactions to the summit were drawing a wry smile from Hopi Sen, who noted: “British Conservative Eurosceptics finding exciting new ways to contort themselves into admiration for the stance of the EUs most statist and regulatory governments,” while suspecting that their warmth towards the French and Germans would be fleeting. Hopi was among the legions of bloggers not invited to blog live from the G20, leaving a rather forlorn Tom Watson tapping away in the “vast airport hangar style media lounge” with little company...

For more thoughtful takes on the summit, read Obsolete on Brown's last throw of the dice and Andrew Brown on the Pope siding with the protesters.

What have we learned this week?

That Iain Dale is a quite wicked man - teasing his poor readers on April Fool's Day with a post claiming that criticism from bloggers (“whose boots I am not fit to lick”) has driven him to withdraw from the Orwell Prize.

Around the World

The Goy's Guide to Israel watched the inaugural session of the new Israeli government and analysed its players based on their choice of outfits, from Bibi's “disgusting spotted mauve tie” to Marina Solodkin's “delightful shawl”.

Video of the Week

This hand shot footage of clashes between police and protesters in the City reflects quite poorly on both.

Quote of the Week

“Oh, and then they trashed RBS. Nice one, guys! Destroy the institution that's owned by, uh, us. The taxpayer. Well done.”

Sadie Smith is unimpressed.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
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As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.