Hung parliament: the evidence builds

New ComRes poll puts the Tories on 37 per cent

To believe, as I have, for several months now, that the next general election could result in a hung parliament is a "partisan belief", according to the Tory blogger Iain Dale.

Really? Tell that to the pollsters at ComRes, who have a new survey in today's Independent putting the Tories on 37 per cent (down 3 points on last month), Labour on 27 per cent (no change), the Liberal Democrats on 20 per cent (up 2 points) and other parties on 16 per cent (up 1 point).

And, as the Independent's Andy Grice observes:

Because of the way the first-past-the-post voting system works, the figures would leave the Tories six seats away from an overall majority if repeated at the election. They would have 320 seats, Labour 240, the Liberal Democrats 58 and other parties 14. These figures exclude those up for grabs in Northern Ireland. It is the second poll taken in the past two weeks to point to a hung parliament. An Ipsos MORI survey for the Observer, published nine days ago, put the Tories on 37 per cent, Labour on 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent.

I do, however, acknowledge that Lord Ashcroft's "marginal strategy" could help the Tories overcome the bias of the electoral system and the enormous swing needed at a national level to unseat Labour. The YouGov survey of 32 northern marginal seats, published in the Telegraph at the weekend, seemed to suggest that the Ashcroft strategy (and money!) is working, and gave the Tories a strong lead over Labour.

From the Telegraph:

The swing of 8 points in the marginal seats is better than the party is recording nationwide and the Tories need much smaller swings to pick up dozens more Labour seats further south. Beating the national average in the key swing seats is central to the Tory strategy for the next election, and the poll will be seen as vindication of the work of Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative vice-chairman who oversees campaigning in these constituencies.

Nonetheless, as the psephologist John Curtice concludes in the Independent, in a piece on the ComRes survey:

Even so, evidently the outcome next May is far from being a foregone conclusion.

To believe that Cameron has -- to use the popular cliché -- "sealed the deal" with the electorate is thus premature and, perhaps, to borrow a phrase, "partisan".

 

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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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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.