A very bad night for the Lib Dems in Scotland

The Lib Dems lose their deposit after winning just 2.2 per cent of the vote in the Inverclyde by-ele

Despite talk of the SNP pulling off a shock defeat, Labour was always likely to win last night's Inverclyde by-election. In the end, the party's margin of victory - 5,838 votes - was greater than many activists expected, and Ed Miliband can celebrate his fourth consecutive by-election win this morning.

The SNP, who came within 511 votes of capturing the sister seat in last month's Scottish Parliament elections, were hopeful of victory but Labour's majority of 14,416 proved too great to overturn. It's further evidence that while Alex Salmond has established the SNP as the natural party of devolved government, Labour is still the party of choice in Westminster elections.

The other noteworthy thing about last night was the disastrous performance of the Lib Dems. Their share of the vote plummeted from 13.3 per cent to 2.2 per cent, losing the party its deposit, and they were pushed into fourth place by the Tories. Sophie Bridger, the Lib Dem candidate, won just 627 votes on a respectable turnout of 45.4 per cent, only 339 more than the Ukip candidate, Mitch Sorbie.

The recriminations have already begun, with the Scottish party attributing its defeat to Nick Clegg's toxic reputation. As the former MSP Ross Finney commented: "There were clear issues of trust in the leadership". Expect to see the Scottish Lib Dems do even more to differentiate themselves from the national leadership over the coming months.

The result in full

Iain McKenzie (Lab) 15,118 (53.8%, -2.2%)

Anne McLaughlin (SNP) 9.280 (33%, +15.5%)

David Wilson (Con) 2,784 (9.9%, -2.1%)

Sophie Bridger (LD) 627 (2.2%, -11.1%)

Mitch Sorbie (UKIP) 288 (1%, -0.2%)

Labour majority: 5,838 (20.8%, -17.6%)

Turnout: 28,097 (45.4%, -18%)

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.