Commons Confidential

Hoon's unexploding underpants

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Pauline Neville-Jones, a figure straight out of a Bond movie -- although think Judi Dench rather than Eva Green -- has spooked the Tory hardmen Chris Grayling and Liam Fox. The shadow home and defence spokesmen forced David Cameron to deny his national security adviser her promised cabinet-level post. The baroness, once chair of Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee, will be tucked away in the Home Office if the Cons win in May. Fighting terrorism seems to have taken a back seat to Tory infighting.

The Labour plotter Geoff "Buff" Hoon is still suffering Talibrown recriminations. One party loyalist spat that the Very Rubbish Coup fell flat when Hoon's underpants failed to explode. Another argued that they detonated but, like the Christmas Day bomber, Hoon only scorched his own privates. More sinisterly, a minister recalled Hoon moaning of mistreatment by Tony Blair, exclaiming: "After all the lies I've told for him!" What could Hoon have meant?

Andrew Mitchell is following in the tyre tracks of the Tory Lycra louts David Cameron and Boris Johnson. The banker-cum-overseas aid spokesman narrowly missed the heavily pregnant ITV hackette Alex Forrest on a Westminster pedestrian crossing. She protested loudly as Mitchell sped off into the dark without stopping. The frontbencher later rang to congratulate feisty Forrest on her impending motherhood -- but curiously offered no apology.

The Bible-quoting blogger Alastair "Now We Do God" Campbell fancies himself as a new Piers Morgan but TV isn't so keen, a producer whispered. Nor is Comical Ali's pride in the Iraq war likely to land him the newspaper column he covets. Meanwhile the onetime spinner's nemesis, Andrew Gilligan, has been busy. A snout muttered that round at Boris Johnson's London pad, Gilligan had been enlisted to help pull down a summer house in the garden.

The US shock jock Michael Savage, banned from Britain, wants the ban lifted so he can visit plants donated to Kew Gardens 40 years ago in his given name, Weiner. Kew has no record of them, and is in no hurry, I hear, to get to the root of the problem.

Tessa Jowell is recuperating after a knee op. A colleague wondered if she had worn out the joint with all those years of bending it to Blair.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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.