Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. If the Tories have a secret plan for power, they're keeping it quiet (Daily Telegraph)

Despite their boasts about being prepared for government, says Benedict Brogan, there are some anxious faces in the party's high command.

2. The fault line in Haiti runs straight to France (Times)

Ben Macintyre says that the destruction by the earthquake has been aggravated, not by a pact with the devil, but by the crippling legacy of imperialism. He looks back at Haiti's colonised history.

3. If Britain wants change that counts, there's an election it can vote in today (Guardian)

Timothy Garton Ash says that ideological differences between the parties are hugely exaggerated. What matters most is to transform the system. He writes about political reform and the Power 2010 campaign.

4. We have learnt the wrong lessons from Iraq (Financial Times)

Fresh from his appearance at the Chilcot inquiry, Alastair Campbell says that the government must improve strategic communication, as winning the war in Afghanistan requires maintaining public support.

5. This is a terrible reverse, but don't write off Obama (Independent)

There is discontent about the US economy, says Matthew Norman, but it is expected to improve dramatically by 2012, and Barack Obama foresaw this backlash before his election.

6. Lessons of a Mass revolt (Guardian)

Harold Evans agrees that although many voters oppose health reform, Obama's rejection in Massachusetts is mainly because millions are still out of work.

7. Bank of England independence is a cause of immense frustration for Gordon Brown (Daily Telegraph)

Mervyn King's latest criticism of the handling of the recession was a body blow to the PM, says Edmund Conway.

8. Family values have the Tories in a twist (Independent)

A mighty roar calls for our governments to praise the family. Steve Richards doesn't see how or why they should -- it is time for a debate about the limits and scope of government.

9. Review the sell-off of great British companies (Financial Times)

Will Hutton and Phillip Blond question the dominant logic of the past 30 years that mergers are good for the companies involved, for the economy and for consumers, and they call for British assets to be protected.

10. Memo to medics: it's about emotions as well as tumours (Guardian)

Zoe Williams looks at the latest disagreement among breast cancer experts, which shines a light into the grey areas of the NHS's screening programme.

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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.