Which way will Hughes turn on the EMA?

Labour is attempting to persuade the Lib Dem deputy leader to vote against the abolition of the EMA.

The Labour Party will attempt to reverse the Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes into a political corner this afternoon when members of parliament vote on whether the government needs "rethink its decision" to scrap Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA).

Shadow eduction minister Andy Burnham, who will lead the debate alongside Labour Leader Ed Miliband said, "The language used in the motion has been very carefully worded."

To quote the motion, Labour are, "...calling on the government to rethink its decision on EMA, retaining practical support to improve access to, interest in and participation in further and higher education."

Mr Hughes was quoted in the Times Educational Supplement last weekend as saying, "I've never abstained in my life before the tuition fees debate. If what Labour is saying is a call for the Government to rethink its plans, I will support that."

In contrast to promises made by both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats before the election, EMA, the grant that gives 48% of all 16- to 18-year-olds for staying on at school or college, is due to be scrapped at the end of this academic year.

However, as student protests against the government's action on education continue across London today, all eyes in Westminster will be on Mr Hughes to see whether he will stick to his words.

The Lib Dem Deputy spent the week in his capacity as the government's advocate for further and higher education consulting Burnham who has drafted today's motion.

Labour will be urging as many Liberal Democrats as possible to vote against the government today, however, if such a senior member of the coalition as Mr Hughes joins the opposition in the vote fresh strains will be imposed on the coalition.

Mr Burnham said, "Both Michael Gove and David Cameron specifically promised to keep EMA before the election therefore their plans are a total renege on their commitments.

"The debate today will ask ministers how long do they really want to carry on being lied to?"

Mr Burnham said, "My conversations with Hughes this week have been very constructive and I really believe that he understands the importance of EMA."

When asked whether he think Hughes will vote in favour of Labour's motion Burnham said he couldn't be sure.

Hughes' office told this journalist last night that Labour's careful wording would not succeed in luring the veteran Lib Dem MP into their media trap and that the government will independently reassess their decision to abolish EMA and look for realistic alternatives.

Whether as a face-saving measure or not it seems the coalition have not pulled the plug from EMA - or at least some kind of financial incentivisation for young people to remain in education until the age of 18 - quite yet.

But will anything less than EMA do for Labour or are they just championing this cause celebre to make a media mark?

"This is not about playing party political games," Burnham assures me. "This is about having something of value for young people in Britain. We're open to a healthy debate and understand the coalition are considering alternatives such as free travel."

But he warned, "Since 3400 young people are in receipt of EMA in Mr Hughes' constituency of Bermondsey, he's definitely got cause for concern. About 70% of students at Southwark College get EMA and he'll soon feel the political effects if he goes back on his words."

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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.