CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Like Canute, we can't turn back the WikiTide (Times) (£)

The history of the human race shows that information will always spread as power shifts from group to group, says Daniel Finkelstein.

2. WikiLeaks – Mervyn King is consistently wrong: now his hawkish dogma has been exposed (Guardian)

Polly Toynbee writes about how WikiLeaks has exposed the Bank of England governor's central role in pushing an agenda of harsh cuts on successive governments.

3. Secrecy makes the world go round (Financial TImes)

WikiLeaks risks forgetting the value of diplomatic "back channels", warns Robert Baer. Secrecy has its drawbacks, but sometimes there is no choice.

4. WikiLeaks: Do they have a right to privacy? (Daily Telegraph)

The candid diplomatic information revealed by WikiLeaks is embarrassing, but it could also cause real harm, says Malcolm Rifkind.

5. We need to save more lives – with less (Independent)

Bill Clinton warns that momentum in the fight against Aids will be lost unless new ways are found to fill gaps left by funding cuts.

6. Liberal Democrats: the student debt trap (Guardian)

This leading article says that graduates are less vulnerable than the frail and impoverished, but the indignation of students who took to the streets was justified.

7. A fairer pay gap between top and bottom (Financial Times)

Capitalism at its best is the most reliable generator of wealth we know, writes Will Hutton, as his interim report on fairness in public-sector pay is published.

8. This self-serving coalition is ripping up our constitution (Daily Telegraph)

The Lib Dems' determination to end collective responsibility in the cabinet will end in chaos, argues Simon Heffer.

9. Iran's isolation (Times) (£)

The most important WikiLeaks disclosure is of the consensus that opposes Tehran's nuclear adventurism, says this leading article.

10. Tehran's hubris may now know no bounds (Financial Times)

Iranian leaders have been given a copy of their opponents' playbook, writes Suzanne Maloney.

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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.