Bullying blogs and flying Blair

How blogs can be used by bullies, online political campaigning and a rational Stephen Pollard...

Iain Dale kicked off the week by hosting the first ever episode of the internet TV programme ‘Blogger TV’ through 18DoughtyStreet.com. Guests included the blogger of Recess Monkey and Labour Home, Alex Hilton, who featured in Monday morning’s MediaGuardian. The programme is well worth a watch as it discusses “bullying” on blogs and explores the suggestion that people are more likely to be insulting to other users online but would never dream of doing this face-to-face.

Described as a “grassroots political guru”, Alex Hilton has recently been hired by Hilary Benn, in the run-up to the election for the deputy leadership of the Labour party. John Kerry gained support in the 2004 US presidential election through MoveOn.org which has lent some ideas to Benn’s new web strategy. Interactivity will be the primary focus on his new site – a more conversational approach to politics. His site will be launched closer to the election.

Dizzy did a little digging after a cabinet office report was released which suggests the Government is spending over £200 per person on IT. This figure would be far higher if you removed children, the elderly and the unemployed from the calculation.

An off-the-cuff remark from Liam Fox was picked up by Guido Fawkes after a press briefing this week. It is alleged Fox made a suggestion that Poland and Hungary should have their NATO memberships suspended because their defence budgets are too small.

At Incoherent Thoughts there is a poignant reminder of the effect of the latest US attacks in Somalia.

It remains unclear whether or not any of the US’s intended targets have been killed in a series of bombings in the troubled African state.

The global politics blog Whirled View has an interesting story on the outsourcing of US foreign policy in relation to this week’s announcement of the new Iraqi petroleum law.

In a fine example of what blogs do best, Stephen Pollard, who has managed to get his hands on an email written by the BBC’s Middle East correspondent, picks at Jeremy Bowen’s analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He says: “If this is what passes for high-level analysis at the BBC, is it any wonder its reporting is so poisonous?” But its reporting isn’t poisonous Stephen and many in the blogosphere will no doubt attack your rationale if that's the right word.

In a year when the growth of blogging can only spiral Ellee Seymour looks at how bloggers are using advertising to make a quick buck from their online musings. This will increasingly become the case if British politicians follow the trend of their American colleagues.

And for anyone wanting to know just how much they will contribute to the global carbon footprint in 2007, Mark Lynas tells of a new book which gives you all the tools you need to calculate this. Having said this, cynics may point out that Tony Blair did make it clear this week that he wouldn’t be flying any less this year. Will you?

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.