Will it be Mili-D? Or will it be Ed B?

Labour’s future revolves around a soap opera involving two political families.

I've been here at the Labour party conference in Manchester for less than 24 hours and yet I have to agree with the Guardian's Andrew Sparrow when he says that only two questions dominate the conversation right now:

  1. Will David Miliband stay in the shadow cabinet?
  2. Who will be the next shadow chancellor?

In previous columns and blogposts, I've speculated about David M's future, too. I suspect he is waiting till 5pm on Wednesday (the deadline for shadow cabinet nominations) because he wants to see if the party will beg him to stay on and serve on the front bench.

But can someone as confident (arrogant?) as the elder Miliband serve under his kid brother? "I really wonder if he'll be able to do it and whether he'll actually stick around," a close friend and supporter of his in the Parliamentary Labour Party told me last week. There was a pained look on the MP's face.

If he does "stick around", what does he do? Is there any other job for him, shadow chancellor aside? Will he want to stay on as shadow foreign secretary, having already done the foreign sec job in government for the past three years? Won't it be odd to have two brothers in the top two jobs in the shadow cabinet?

And is there, as the FT asks on its front page, a split between the brothers on the deficit, with DM backing Alistair Darling's halve-the-deficit-in-four-years plan while EM sees it only as a "starting point"? Or will Ed M go with Ed B, despite the silly claims from commentators that the latter "won't give Labour economic credibility". Really? Even though his position on deficit reduction is backed by Nobel-Prize-winning economists such as Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz, the FT's Martin Wolf and Samuel Brittan, and even the IMF?

I discuss the shadow cabinet elections in my column in the magazine this week, and I also make the case for Ed Balls to be the next shadow chancellor. I suspect David Miliband will wait a few months (a year?) before quitting front-line politics and going off to take a high-profile, high-paid job on the international circuit (EU, IMF, World Bank, UN, etc) because, in the words of a shadow cabinet colleague of his, "If he quits now, it'll look like he's throwing his toys out of the pram."

But if he does ask for, and get, the shadow chancellor's job from his brother, then that means David Miliband is in for the long haul, because Labour cannot afford to switch shadow chancellors in the middle of this cuts-ridden, economy-focused parliament. If he's not signed up for a full term, then I'd suggest Ed Mili create a new and nebulous position for him in the short-to-medium term -- perhaps "shadow deputy prime minister", facing off against Nick Clegg each week in the Commons, taking on the constitutional reform brief and helping formulate Labour's position on the Alternative Vote and the May 2011 referendum campaign. As I've said, I'd prefer that the shadow chancellor job go to the bullish Balls.

Now, others in the left/Labour blogosphere -- Will Straw, Sunder Katwala, et cetera -- suspect Yvette Cooper may be the best alternative to both Balls and the elder Miliband as shadow chancellor. She is a trained economist like her husband, but has fewer enemies than he does. (Plus, she is a woman and feisty, too . . .)

With Ed Miliband as leader, and the shadow chancellor's post expected to go to David Miliband, or Ed Balls, or Yvette Cooper, the future of the two biggest jobs in the Labour Party has become part of a "soap opera" (to borrow a phrase from Mili-D) revolving around two families: the Miliband brothers and the Balls-Cooper husband-and-wife.

Weird, eh?

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.