Have Ahmadinejad and Khamenei fallen out?

Rifts emerge at the top of the Iranian regime

Who says Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, are best buddies? They seem to have fallen out (via antiwar.com):

Iranian Vice President in charge of tourism Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei may have ruled himself out for the position of First Vice President earlier this week, but the controversy surrounding President Ahmadinejad's selection of him for the spot endures, and has now sparked a clash with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Esfandiar Rahim MashaeiKhamenei has ordered Ahmadinejad to remove Mashaei but the president has refused, saying today that he needs more time to defend his long-time ally from the growing furore against his candidacy. The dispute is setting up another point of contention in the increasingly fractured political environment of Iran.

At issue are comments Mashaei made last year, declaring "no nation in the world is our enemy, Iran is a friend of the nation in the United States and in Israel, and this is an honor." Mashaei today insisted he meant Iran was a friend to the people of those nations, and not their governments. Israel in particular was a sore spot, as the Israeli government has repeatedly threatened to attack Iran.

Mashaei's comments have been condemned by hardliners, particularly some right-wing clerics. Those clerics perhaps more than any other time in Iran's recent history are important to the Supreme Leader's position, following the disputed election last month which has alienated more liberal clergy. Khamenei likely needs to placate the hardliners by attacking Mashaei publicly, but Ahmadinejad seems willing to go to bat for his long-time ally, at least to a point.

Whether Ahmadinejad can stick to his guns is another matter - if Ayatollah Khamenei comes out in Friday prayers tomorrow calling for Mashaie's removal, then it would be difficult to imagine the president refusing that. Does Ahmadinejad really want to start his second term picking a fight with the man who ensured he got a second term in the first place? I doubt it.








Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.