Labour wins Oldham by-election with increased majority

Blow for Liberal Democrats as Labour holds seat with a majority of 3,558.

1.52am Update: The returning officer has just announced the result. The Labour majority was 3,558, up from just 103 at the general election, a result that Ed Miliband can cite as evidence that the party is making progress under his leadership.

Elsewhere, as expected, the Conservative vote was badly squeezed – the party's share of the vote fell from 26.4 per cent to just 12.8 per cent. By contrast, the Lib Dem vote actually increased by 0.3 per cent. That will be of some comfort to a party that has recently been as low as 7 per cent in the national opinion polls. The Tories will have more trouble putting a positive gloss on their result. The insistence that the party ran a strong campaign only makes their poor performance appear even worse.

Labour 14,718 – 42.1 per cent (+10.2 per cent)

Liberal Democrats 11,160 – 31.9 per cent (+0.3 per cent)

Conservatives 4,481 – 12.8 per cent (-13.6 per cent)

Ukip 2,029 – 5.8 per cent (+1.9 per cent)

12.25pm We're not expecting an official result from Oldham East for at least another hour but the Lib Dems, most notably the party president, Tim Farron, have already conceded defeat.

Labour is thought to have won with a significantly increased majority, with party officials predicting a majority of between 2,000 and 3,000.

The Lib Dem vote is said to have held up at around 32 per cent, meaning the party has avoided the disastrous possibility of a third-place finish. By contrast, the Tory vote is thought to have fallen sharply and we can expect much criticism of the party's half-hearted campaign to follow. One key issue will be how many Conservative voters have defected to Ukip.

Turnout was 48.06 per cent, down from 61.2 per cent at the general election but still reasonably high for a by-election.

I'll be back when the official result is announced at around 1.30am. For reference purposes, here's how the parties performed at the general election.

Labour 14,186 – 31.9 per cent
Lib Dems 14,083 – 31.6 per cent
Conservatives 11,773 – 26.4 per cent

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.