Opinionomics | 9 May 2012

Must-read comment and analysis. Featuring exhortations to buy a house but not to buy a Death Star.

1. How the Chancellor made the right decision about the timing of austerity (Not the Treasury View)

Jonathan Portes looks back in time to understand the relationship between austerity and growth.

2. Greece, France and the future of the euro (BBC News)

The more that investors and policymakers think about the results in Greece and France, the more worried they are - for good reason, writes Stephanie Flanders.

3. Chart of the day: Let’s go buy a house! (Reuters)

Felix Salmon shows how Americans can now take advantage of long-term fixed financing to own a home for a monthly payment less than the cost of renting.

4. ‘Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it.’ (Washington Post | Wonkblog)

Gregory Koger addresses the most important policy question of the millennium: Should we build a Death Star?

5. Germany’s reaction to the newly elected French President (Bruegel)

Philine Schuseil rounds up the German reaction to the election of Hollande.

The Death Star. We shouldn't build one, apparently.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

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