Undercover: behind the scenes of our Tory Special Issue

The evolution of the New Statesman's Blackadder cover.

Roll up, roll up, for the third enthralling instalment of Undercover, behind the scenes of the NS party conference covers. (Read about Martin Rowson and Ben Jennings's covers by clicking their names.)

I've thought for a while that George Osborne has the "English rose" complexion of a rouged Regency fop. Behold:

So when we came to deciding our third illustrated cover for party conference season, I wondered whether David Young could do something based around an image from that time. David has been a freelance illustrator for 18 years, and is a great photo-realist painter. I met him at the Mail, where we needed to illustrate a series of pieces about Downton Abbey in a creative and not-copyright-infringing way. 

For the New Statesman, David has done two great covers already. For last Easter, he did a pastiche of Manet's Le dejeuner Sur L'Herbe.









This is known in the office as the "green" cover, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, The Economist liked the idea so much they did it themselves a few months later, with Sarkozy and Hollande:

This Easter, David Young did a version of Cameron on horseback, mirroring Van Dyck's famous portrait of Charles I. 

We mucked around with this a fair bit, lightening the background, adding in Rebekah Brooks and so on. For a while I thought that David had drawn the horse's head too small, then I checked back with the original. Were horses' heads smaller in the 1600s? Or was Van Dyck just bad at painting them?

Anyway, I digress. This time, we knew that we wanted to have a pastiche of David Cameron and Boris Johnson in there too (as they were the subject of the cover story) and we found this picture online:

Here's David explaining what he did next:

"My brief here was to base the cover on a photo from Blackadder the Third, but replace the faces of the Blackadder cast with those of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Boris Johnson. As I paint directly from photographic reference I first needed to find the right images to use. This is probably the most critical part of the whole process as I needed to find photos of the politicians that not only were at the same angle as the Blackadder image but also with similar expressions. 

David adds:

"Although my paintings are traditional I embrace modern technology so I used Photoshop to blend the new faces onto the reference photo, and then used this as a visual to make sure everyone at the New Statesman was happy with it. I then produced a painted version of this using acrylic paints on board. On this occasion I painted it in a fairly photographic style, where as previous New Statesman covers I've done have been a pastiche on known paintings where I emulated their painting style."

The finished painting is, I hope you'll agree, a work of art. The general consensus on Twitter was that George Osborne might quite like it (cue many jokes about him having "a cunning Plan B". 

My only regret is that there wasn't room for Danny Alexander as MacAdder:

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.