Elizabeth Warren takes credit for Occupy Wall Street's ideology

Democratic Senate hopeful criticised by the right after saying she created "intellectual foundation"

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor running for the Senate in Massachusetts, has raised eyebrows by aligning herself with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Asked her opinion of the protests in an interview with the Daily Beast, she said:

I created much of the intellectual foundation for what they do. I support what they do.

This is a fair claim. As an academic, Warren has for several years been one of the most articulate voices challenging the excesses of Wall Street. Since entering the race for the Senate -- seeking to take Ted Kennedy's old seat back from the Republicans -- she has become the hero of the left and been demonised by the right.

Despite attempts by the right to paint her as a lunatic leftie, she is by no means a simple ideologue, and was a registered Republican until she was in her 40s (she is now 62). Elsewhere in the interview, she says:

I was a Republican because I thought that those were the people who best supported markets. I think that is not true anymore. I was a Republican at a time when I felt like there was a problem that the markets were under a lot more strain. It worried me whether or not the government played too activist a role.

Predictably, Republicans are up in arms about Warren's comments on Occupy Wall Street, and are keen to use it to discredit her. The National Republican Senatorial Committee criticised "Warren's decision to not only embrace, but take credit for this movement" in light of arrests if protesters in Boston.

Over at the Washington Post, Greg Sargent analyses the battle lines being drawn:

[Republicans] are wagering that the cultural instincts of the working class whites and independents who will decide this race ensure that the excesses of the protesters will make them less inclined to listen to her populist economic message, which is also directed at those voters.

...

Warren, by contrast, is making the opposite bet. By unabashedly embracing the protests, she is placing a wager on the true mood of the country right now. She's gambling that these voters will look past the theatrics of these protests; that they will see that she and the protesters are the ones who actually have their economic interests at heart; and that they will ultimately side with Warren's and Occupy Wall Street's general critique of the current system and explanation for what's gone wrong in this country.

It remains to be seen which side will be triumphant, although recent polling suggests that voters have not been alienated by the protests. Either way, Warren's presence will ensure that Massachusetts remains the most polarising Senate race in 2012.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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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.