Ed Davey: this is a pro-European coalition

Lib Dem Energy Secretary claims the government is more pro-European than Labour was.

For those Tories convinced that David Cameron has sold out to the europhile Lib Dems, Ed Davey's interview with Rafael Behr [which appears in this week's New Statesman] is powerful evidence. The Energy Secretary declares that the coalition may come to be seen as "more constructive, more engaged and indeed more pro-European than its Labour predecessor".

He mischievously adds:

It's not just Liberal Democrat ministers but Conservative ministers who are really engaged with their European counterparts.

Some of the relationships that he [Cameron] is building are very important. What the coalition government is showing time and again is that by engaging with Europe you actually look after Britain’s national interest more effectively.

His comments are tailor-made to provoke a eurosceptic backlash against Cameron - many Tory MPs are still furious that the Prime Minister hasn't delivered on his promise to "repatriate powers" from Brussels.

Elsewhere, Davey insists that Britain could still join the euro in the future [if not before 2020]:

You’d be an unwise person to ever rule something out totally.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen and given the uncertainties in our economy, I think it would be reckless to rule any of your options out.

It's notable that the Lib Dems are now the only one of the three main parties not to rule out euro membership. For Labour, Ed Balls has declared that "there's no possibility anytime in my lifetime of a British government joining the euro", while the Tories have long ruled out membership of the single currency. 

But Davey is far from the only political figure to suggest we could still give up the pound. Here's a list of some of the most notable.

Tony Blair, 13 November 2011

"I think we will join the euro. I think the chances are the euro will survive because the determination, particularly of the French and the Germans, is to maintain the coherence that they've created in Europe."

Michael Heseltine, 20 November 2011

"So should Britain join the euro now? Of course not. But we should not exclude the possibility. This is what separates us from the eurosceptics. We still say that if it becomes in Britain's interest to join we should. They say that even if it were in Britain's interest to join we shouldn't.This could -- sooner than we think -- become much more than just an academic question."

Paddy Ashdown, 21 November 2011 (£)

"If and when the economic circumstances were right and to Britain's advantage, we should certainly consider doing so [joining the euro]."

Peter Mandelson, 14 November 2011

"He [David Cameron] should say that while it was right for Britain not to join the single currency as it was previously constructed, if Germany were to act responsibly, Britain would peg sterling to a reformed euro and in the long run even consider joining the regime."

Ken Clarke, 25 July 2011

"Certainly nothing is going to happen in the next decade but I find never say never in politics is a very good rule".

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said it would be "reckless" to rule out euro membership.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.