Confusion remains as Nato takes charge in Libya

Nato takes command of the no-fly zone but the US will remain in charge of air strikes.

Confusion and uncertainty continue to plague the mission in Libya. Nato has agreed to take command of the no-fly zone, but in order to placate Turkey, the US will remain in charge of air stikes on Colonel Gaddafi's ground forces. Ankara is understandably reluctant to play any part in a bombing campaign that could lead to heavy civilian casualties in a Muslim-majority country.

For now, the allies are urging greater patience. They argue, reasonably enough, that the mission has already succeeded on its own terms by preventing a slaughter of civilians in Benghazi. But it remains entirely unclear what will happen if the operation results not, as hoped, in the fall of Gaddafi, but in a military stalemate.

As Max Hastings writes in today's Financial Times, the armed forces fear that the coalition has failed to meet the key test before launching any intervention: "defining clear and attainable objectives". There is no appetite to deploy ground troops or to police an indefinite no-fly zone, akin to the one that held in Iraq for 12 years. With this in mind, American officials are still reportedly exploring the possibility of a negotiated settlement between Gaddafi and the rebels.

Elsewhere, in today's Daily Telegraph, Malcolm Rifkind, who remains one of the most influential voices on foreign affairs in the Commons, argues that the coalition must arm the rebels. He writes:

[T]here is a third arm of the strategy, without which the others will have only modest impact: the overt or covert supply of military equipment to the insurgents. Even without aircraft, Gaddafi has a massive advantage over the opposition with his tanks and heavy artillery. It is difficult to see how he can be overthrown in the short to medium term unless there is a massive popular rising in Tripoli or a mass defection of his army to the insurgents. Neither is impossible, but nor can either be assumed given the fear that Gaddafi still inspires.

But many fear this could trigger a protracted civil war. What we can say with certainty is that few believe the coalition's ad-hoc approach is sustainable.

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.