The Tyke Mafia?

A large number of Ed Miliband's inner core in the Shadow Cabinet represent Yorkshire constituencies.

Reading the list of roles of the Shadow Cabinet, what is very interesting (apart from Alan Johnson's appointment) is the number of those either from, or representing, Yorkshire constituencies.

The list is as follows:

  • Leader of the Opposition - Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband MP (Doncaster North)
  • Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer - Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP (Hull West and Hessle)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Minister for Women and Equalities - Rt Hon Yvette Cooper MP (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for the Home Department - Rt Hon Ed Balls MP (Morley and Outwood)
  • Chief Whip - Rt Hon Rosie Winterton MP (Doncaster Central)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Health - Rt Hon John Healey MP (Wentworth and Dearne)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government - Rt Hon Caroline Flint MP (Don Valley)
  • Shadow Leader of the House of Commons - Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP (Leeds Central)
  • Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Mary Creagh MP (Wakefield)

Also attending Shadow Cabinet meetings will be the Shadow Minister of State - Cabinet Office - Jon Trickett MP (Hemsworth).

Many of these, of course, are not actually from Yorkshire - only Jon Trickett and John Healey I believe were born in Yorkshire, whilst Rosie Winterton studied at Hull University and Harriet Harman at York - but the list is surprising.

Whether this is intentional or simply reflects that many safe Labour seats are in Yorkshire, who knows. With more discretionary appointments to come there may be even more.

Mehdi Hasan recently reported that key members of Ed Miliband's campaign team were aiming to "build a ring of steel" around him. It seems that this was Yorkshire steel, perhaps.

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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.