The Labour leadership: who the newspapers are supporting

The Staggers takes a look at which candidates the national newspapers and their columnists have back

 

On Wednesday 1 September the ballot to choose the next leader of the Labour Party opened and the Labour leadership battle moved into its final stages.

Despite the distraction of Blair's memoirs, some newspapers and commentors have still found the time to declare their support for a preferred candidate, starting with our endorsement of Ed Miliband and our coverage of Jon Cruddas's endorsement of David Miliband.

Here is a round-up of the newspaper editorials:

The Observer chose this Sunday to declare in favour of David, claiming that:

. . . there is a breadth and subtlety to David Miliband's campaign that elevates him above his rivals. He is unquestionably loyal to the Labour tradition, but loyal also to the politics of winning general elections.

The Guardian meanwhile has chosen to sit firmly on the fence, stating that:

The truth is that both reaching out and moving on are essential, which is why neither is yet the obvious winner. In the three weeks of voting, it is to be hoped that one brother or the other will prove they can manage both at once.

The Independent has plumped for David, stating:

David Miliband has stressed repeatedly that Labour must appeal beyond the core vote if it has any chance of being a credible challenger at the election. In making this point he has not stayed in what his brother describes as a New Labour "comfort zone". If he had done so, he would deserve to lose.

The Times (£) editorial was short and pithy, but still came out strongly for David in the end, noting:

Mr Miliband understands that Labour needs a credible line on the deficit; he has tried more than any other candidate to appeal to the electorate as a whole. He is the only candidate who commands the personal authority to be a credible prime minister and Labour can be a serious opposition only if it is seen as an alternative government. There is only one candidate who comes close to answering that description: David Miliband.

The Financial Times, despite coming out for David, has been disappointed by the leadership contest:

The quality of the leadership debate has been dispiriting. It has been too inward-looking and deferential to the core vote. The candidates have largely failed to articulate a clear vision of Britain's future that could serve as a road map back to power.

The columnists and bloggers have shown a little more variety:

Jackie Ashley (the Guardian) strong supports Ed, but is afraid that he is too dependent on the unions:

He could become the "public-sector leader" or the "northern leader" rather than, as he wants, the leader of the "squeezed middle".

Johann Hari declares his support for Ed as well, but adds this warning:

It's not enough to say the debate should be solely "future oriented". The next Labour leader will face similar decisions. What he did in the past will shape what he does in the future.

Matthew Norman (of the Independent) is strongly convinced that Ed is the man for the job and argues:

It isn't that he speaks something far closer to English than the strangulated, triangulated patois of sonorously meaningless cliché that is his brother's lingua franca, although that certainly helps as well.

It's not even that he conveniently splits the difference between David's Blair Gold tribute act and Balls's core vote-protecting, comfort blanket statism, though that helps even more. It is simply that he had the cobblers to stand for the leadership at all, knowing that this must threaten one of the central relationships of his life.

Finally, Jonathan Freedland does as good a job as ever at sitting on the fence:

In an ideal world, there would be a combined Miliband name on the ballot, blending the strengths of both. As it is, there are two imperfect, all too human individuals. Since only one can triumph, it is incumbent on the eventual winner to take on the arguments and qualities embodied by his defeated brother. The party has been offered an either/or choice. But the truth is, it needs both.

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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.