Cain and able?

As the GOP presidential candidates meet for their 10th debate, Herman Cain must prove he's more than

Either he's the Great Survivor, or this could be the beginning of the end of Herman Cain's unlikely campaign for the Presidency of the United States.

Thus far, the former pizza mogul has managed to coast a series of gaffes and scandals that would have felled most candidates. Now, there's a debate over whether these latest allegations of sexual harassment could prove a tipping point for the campaign that's surprised everyone who thought they could predict how the Republican race would turn out.

Look at the numbers, and Cain appears to be in a pretty comfortable position. The latest poll of polls from Real Clear Politics puts him at 25 per cent; ahead of Mitt Romney on 23. And that's after what must have been the worst week of his political life.

The reason is partly Cain's unashamed populism, coupled with his traditional conservative values that appeal so much to the Tea Party-kind of politics that has become mainstream Republicanism across much of the country.

As John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Cain -- more than anyone else in the GOP field -- has discovered a way of connecting with all those disillusioned Americans, fearful about the future and longing not for doom-mongering, but optimism. The businessman who proclaims himself a "problem solver, not a politician" sounds a surer bet than someone mired in the old-style partisan bickering which has given Washington such a bad name.

TA Frank, who profiles Cain for the upcoming edition of the New York Times Magazine, depicts a candidate who just seems to plough on regardless. Former staff members, he writes, describe him as a man with

zero interest in policy. They speak of events canceled at the last minute to accommodate any available television interview. They speak of unrelenting self-absorption, even by the standards of a politician. But they don't speak of someone who can't win.

So far, at least, this winning streak has kept Cain's supporters on his side -- prepared to carry on giving him the benefit of the doubt. But how long can that go on, as more women come forward, prepared to go on the record with their claims of sexual harassment? Surely daily press conferences denying scandals do not a Presidential candidate make?

Last night Cain gave his first real press conference on the subject, allowing reporters to ask questions -- then appearing on ABC, to reject the latest allegations from two women, Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaar, and insist that it wouldn't derail his campaign.

He brought along his very own celebrity attorney, claimed he was doing it all "for the children" and denied everything, point blank. "I can categorically say I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period." he said. Once again, he blamed the media and something he called the "Democratic Machine" for drumming it all up in the first place.

But tonight, as the GOP candidates meet for their 10th debate in Michigan, it's a crucial moment for Cain. His performance tonight could determine whether he can draw a line under the sexual harassment allegations and start talking about something else. It's a moment for his supporters to decide if they're justified in staying loyal. Or, Herman Cain could turn out to be just another maverick candidate whose novelty and hubris proves unable to stay the course.

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News.

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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.