The Liberal Democrat surrender

This is the great betrayal. There is no other way to put it.

Did anyone see TweedleCam and TweedleClegg on the doorstep of Downing Street? I'm glad I didn't have breakfast this morning. Otherwise, I think I'd have been sick by now. (By the way, will their private secretaries be able to tell them apart?)

Nick Clegg -- the former aide to the Tory Eurocrat Leon Brittan and a former member of the Cambridge University Conservative Association -- is now the Deputy Prime Minister of the UK. David Laws -- the former investment banker and Orange Book supporter of an insurance-backed health service who was once suspected by Paddy Ashdown of being a Conservative mole and was once invited by George Osborne to join the Tory shadow cabinet -- is Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Osborne's number two. Vince Cable -- another former Orange Booker and one-time supporter of "light-touch regulation" who, as I noted in a critical NS profile of him in September 2009, first touted the possibility of a Tory-Lib Dem alliance back in 2005 -- is the Business Secretary.

It will be interesting to document Cable's verbal and intellectual contortions in the coming days, as he defends the impending Tory "austerity" measures. Like Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, he spent much of the election campaign condemning Cameron and Osborne's economic illiteracy and, in particular, their Hooverite enthusiasm for spending cuts this year (opposed, incidentally, by the International Monetary Fund, the OECD and 67 leading economists in a letter to the Financial Times).

So, here comes the double-dip recession -- courtesy of Cameron and Clegg, Osborne and Cable (oh, and those self-destructive Labour tribalists, on left and right, who preferred luxuriating in opposition to contemplating a power-sharing deal with the Lib Dems).

The truth is that in countless seats seats across the land, thousands of people voted Lib Dem in order to keep Cameron out of Downing Street. They did not want, or expect, the Liberal Democrats to become Tory enablers in a hung parliament. In an interview with me on the eve of the election, the arch-tribalist Ed Balls called on Labour voters to back the Lib Dem candidate (and sitting MP), Norman Lamb, in the Tory-Lib Dem seat of Norfolk North in order to keep the Conservatives out. The result? The third-placed Labour vote fell 3 per cent and Lib Dem Lamb held on to his seat with an increased majority over the second-placed Conservatives. In my view, Lamb now owes those tactical Labour voters in his constituency an apology. So do all those Lib Dem MPs who were elected in three-way marginals.

Clegg has betrayed progressives across the length and breadth of Britain. He had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair the century-old rift on the centre left and forge a radical and progressive alliance in favour of electoral and constitutional reform. I suspect Labour will now sit on its hands in any future referendum and the Lib Dems might be on their own campaiging for a "Yes" vote. Their new partners in government have already stated their plans to oppose any change to our dysfunctional first-past-the-post system.

Clegg has also betrayed the longer-term strategic interests of his party for crude and short-term tactical gains. Thanks to his bravura performance in the first leaders' televised debate, we had seemed to be on the verge of breaking our stale duopoly and bringing genuine three-party politics to the UK for the first time.

But the next general election, whether it is sooner or later (and the bookies have 50-50 odds on another election within the year!), will see the Lib Dems horribly squeezed by the two main parties. It will be a straight Conservative-Labour battle once more. And what, after all, would be the point of voting Lib Dem? In fact, I'm sure the Labour pamphlets have already been printed: "Vote Clegg, Get Cameron". It has a ring to it. It also has the virtue of being true.

Clegg's decision to join hands with Cameron's Conservatives is, in the words of Alastair Campbell on Newsnight yesterday, "a strategic error of gigantic and historic proportions". Reports have already emerged of the Labour Party website crashing under the pressure of new membership applications. One cabinet minister expects hundreds of defections from the Lib Dems to Labour in his own constituency. "I even know the names of one or two Lib Dem councillors thinking of jumping ship. They are distraught," he tells me.

Labour now remains the only truly progressive, centre-left, anti-Conservative, mainstream party in this country. Bring on the next election. The Liberal Democrats will be punished. Clegg and co will regret their foolish betrayal.

UPDATE: Oh, and the biggest policy betrayal by the Lib Dems was Clegg's decision to swap his de facto amnesty for illegal immigrants for (what he once called) the Tories' "arbitary cap" on immigration. How can Lib Dems like Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy vote for such an immoral and unworkable proposal?


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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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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.