The Lefties it's OK to love

In this week's NS, the left told us which Tories they love. But is that love reciprocated?

The NS has a cover story: Which Tories is it OK to love? I love my other half, and he's a Tory, but I don't think that's the point of the article. And despite all those pop songs that urge "you gotta love you-self, bay-bee", I don't count either. I shall read the views of the Left-of-centre Great And Good with interest.

Anyway as an act of symmetry, because I love symmetry, I thought I'd return the favour. Which people of the Left do Tories love?

I lack the magazine's institutional reach, so my own "research" didn't involve ringing round the Establishment. Thank God for Twitter, eh! Below are the responses from random twittering Tories, along with my own choices, which are the top three.

George Orwell. Obvious really, but it's not only his prescient warning about totalitarianism that make me a fan. I go back to his essay on politics and the English language -once a month at least, and shudder anew each time I read his instructions about clarity, because despite my best efforts I continue to break them. An essential read for anyone who wants to communicate well, or to deconstruct the communications of those who prefer obfuscation (I've just broken one of his rules). Besides, which Tory doesn't vibrate with recognition at this:

Our civilization is decadent and our language -- so the argument runs -- must inevitably share in the general collapse.

When I read that, I'm like that scene in When Harry Met Sally. Yes that one. Yes that's a metaphor. Almost.

Frank Field. Also obvious, I know, but equally deserved. From his fight against Militant in the 80s (in a profile of him in the Independent in 1993, he said his nightmare is "sitting in a smoke-filled room confronted by rows of staring eyes and faces contorted by hatred") to his common-sense advocacy of welfare reform, Field is one of those politicians whose reach extends beyond his actual words: he gives permission for debates to occur, which the elite would often prefer to leave undiscussed. In this sense, he's a gatekeeper: if Frank Field thinks it's acceptable to discuss the human implications of social security policy, then it's OK for the rest of us to air our views too.

Tom Harris. Like Field, Harris refuses to parrot the banalities of the age, which are nearly all to do with a horror of expressing judgement about lifestyles. For this sin, his party has previously overlooked one of its most skilled communicators: if there were any sense in the political ordering, Harris would already be leader of the Scottish Labour party, and not only a candidate for that position. (I only hope that having a Tory declare his political love doesn't do him any harm.) Sometimes it's useful to ask yourself a question: which political opponent would I least like to stand against in an election? Harris is at the top of my list, because he's honest, good-humoured, and kind. One of the good guys.

Here are some responses from Tory Twitterers, one or two of which might surprise you (they did me):

@torypride nominated John Cryer and Gisela Stuart, for their work on the European Referendum Campaign. @botzarelli suggested Dennis Skinner: "disagree with almost everything but he's uncompromising and takes role of MP seriously". I agree. Skinner deserves recognition for his unwavering commitment to the centrality of class as a predictor of outcome, a legitimate hypothesis to which we Conservatives have never quite been able to provide a proper response (there is occasionally a downside to resisting ideology). This thought reminds me of the admiration I have for Nick Cohen, who writes often about class, the forgotten discriminant, as well as tackling head-on both the horrors of clerical fascism and the hypocrisy of those who defend it.

@blondpidge suggested Tony Benn, "because he's a man of great principle". I'm aware of this widespread feeling about Mr Benn. Since we're writing about love, I'll admit only that I share neither the fascination nor the adulation. I prefer him to Caroline Lucas, is about as strong as I'd put it.

Since it's good to learn something new every day, I was pleased to read about Sir Roger Douglas, nominated by @Stuart_Barrow, who also reminded me of how much we owe Chris Smith. As Stuart puts it, we owe Lord Smith a lot for taking a stand and coming out "decades before some on our side grew a spine".

Finally, and I wonder if this will please him, big Twitter Tory-love goes out to John Prescott, from @jwgsharp, who writes that despite disagreeing with the politics, Prescott's "background, strong beliefs", and the fact that he "sent his kids to the school allocated to them. No banging on about Comps and sending to selective or private school", all impress him.

Reading the list again, there's something obvious to see, I think. Regardless of our affiliation, we have attraction to people who articulate the truth as they see it, as clearly as they can, and who hold fast to their principles regardless of the vagaries of political fashion, or how unpopular this leaves them in the meantime.

They are also largely politicians who don't learn how to speak in an inhuman manner, because they're so sure of their principles that they're immune to the fear of "gaffes" (stupid, stupid word) that afflict the less-certain or more career-minded.

Tony Blair, by the way, wasn't suggested by anyone.

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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.