US 2012 presidential race: Sarah Palin is back

The race for the Republican candidate for Election 2012 is finally getting exciting, and not before

The Republican race for 2012 just got way more interesting. Yes, Sarah Palin is back – launching her "One Nation" bus tour this weekend, with a series of high-profile events across the country. She's already bought a house in Arizona and made some significant new appointments to her staff. Now her specially decorated red-white-and-blue bus will be touring the north-east, trying to recapture some of the political momentum that she has allowed to drift away.

"As we look to the future," proclaims her website, "we are propelled by America's past." Well, that certainly obeys the laws of mechanics. And if you click on her page, you get an automatic message asking for donations – to help "promote the Fundamental Restoration of America".

Since Donald Trump formally bowed out, it's been Newt Gingrich who's provided some of the lighter moments, what with his comments about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan being "radical" and "right-wing social engineering". Then there was his $500,000 bill from Tiffany's: a rather unfortunate start for a candidate promoting the merits of fiscal conservatism.

Now, though – as Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann prepare to make their formal announcements next week – we might have a race that's worth watching.

Polar star

But is Palin really a serious candidate, or just a sideshow? Fairly serious, according to the polls, though polls don't reveal much at this stage, given that many of the potential 2012 field are hardly household names. However, the latest survey, by Gallup, shows that the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney shares top billing with Palin among Republican voters, with other candidates left trailing in their wake.

The polls also show that she is one of the GOP's most polarising figures: overwhelming numbers of independent voters say they'd never vote for her, while more than a third of Republican supporters think likewise. Most people still think she's nowhere near qualified enough to be president – and attitudes like that are hard to break, when your character and track record are as public as Palin's.

But where her talents definitely lie is in self-publicity: the woman positively radiates self-confidence, and her rivals must be worried that she'll suck up all the oxygen of this campaign. None more so than Michelle Bachmann, the other right-wing Republican woman with her eyes on the White House, courting a conservative, Tea Party activist base.

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The Minnesota congresswoman is gearing up to announce her candidacy in Iowa next week – in the appropriately named town of Waterloo. She's just been holding an intensive fundraising drive, collecting an impressive $250,000 in a single day. But guess who's hogging the headlines? Palin.

According to the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad: "We've never really had two dynamic women running for president in the Republican caucuses. I think it would be really interesting." Was that a euphemism for something? Is there even room for both?

Unlike Bachmann, Palin has yet to indicate anything definite about a possible run. She's still employed by Fox News, which has swiftly terminated the contracts of other presidential hopefuls – prompting Mike Huckabee, for one, to choose well-paid punditry over a far more nebulous political ambition.

And even though Romney's poll numbers show that he's steadily building quite a commanding lead among potential voters (not to mention a vast war chest of million-buck donations), many Republican luminaries are still searching for that magic someone who can capture the public imagination and heal the fractious divisions between the party establishment and its unruly Tea Party wing.

And if that's not Mr Romney, it sure isn't the Marmite of political candidates, Sarah Palin. Cue the flurry of speculation around the likes of Chris Christie, Rick Perry – even Jeb Bush.

At least the race is finally getting exciting, and not before time.

Felicity Spector is a deputy programme editor for Channel 4 News.

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As long as the Tories fail to solve the housing crisis, they will struggle to win

The fall in the number of homeowners leaves the Conservatives unable to sell capitalism to those with no capital. 

For the Conservatives, rising home ownership was once a reliable route to government. Former Labour voters still speak of their gratitude to Margaret Thatcher for the Right to Buy scheme. But as home ownership has plummeted, the Tories have struggled to sell capitalism to a generation without capital. 

In Britain, ownership has fallen to 63.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1987 and the fourth-worst in the EU. The number of private renters now exceeds 11 million (a larger number than in the social sector). The same policies that initially promoted ownership acted to reverse it. A third of Right to Buy properties fell into the hands of private landlords. High rents left tenants unable to save for a deposit.

Rather than expanding supply, the Tories have focused on subsidising demand (since 2010, housebuilding has fallen to its lowest level since 1923). At a cabinet meeting in 2013, shortly after the launch of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, George Osborne declared: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. The then-chancellor’s remark epitomised his focus on homeowners. Conservative policy was consciously designed to enrich the propertied.

A new report from the Resolution Foundation, Home Affront: housing across the generations, shows the consequences of such short-termism. Based on recent trends, less than half of millennials will buy a home before the age of 45 compared to over 70 per cent of baby boomers. Four out of every ten 30-year-olds now live in private rented accommodation (often of substandard quality) in contrast to one in ten 50 years ago. And while the average family spent just 6 per cent of their income on housing costs in the early 1960s, this has trebled to 18 per cent. 

When Theresa May launched her Conservative leadership campaign, she vowed to break with David Cameron’s approach. "Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising," she warned. "The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth."

The government has since banned letting agent fees and announced an additional £1.4bn for affordable housing – a sector entirely neglected by Cameron and Osborne (see graph below). Social housing, they believed, merely created more Labour voters. "They genuinely saw housing as a petri dish for voters," Nick Clegg later recalled. "It was unbelievable." 

But though housebuilding has risen to its highest levels since 2008, with 164,960 new homes started in the year to June 2017 and 153,000 completed, this remains far short of the 250,000 required merely to meet existing demand (let alone make up the deficit). In 2016/17, the government funded just 944 homes for social rent (down from 36,000 in 2010). 

In a little-noticed speech yesterday, Sajid Javid promised a "top-to-bottom" review of social housing following the Grenfell fire. But unless this includes a substantial increase in public funding, the housing crisis will endure. 

For the Conservatives, this would pose a great enough challenge in normal times. But the political energy absorbed by Brexit, and the £15bn a year it is forecast to cost the UK, makes it still greater.

At the 2017 general election, homeowners voted for the Tories over Labour by 55 per cent to 30 per cent (mortgage holders by 43-40). By contrast, private renters backed Labour by 54 per cent to 31 per cent. As long as the latter multiply in number, while the former fall, the Tories will struggle to build a majority-winning coalition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.