What next for Libya?

Despite the scenes of jubilation in Tripoli, there are more questions than answers about the next er

If reports are to be believed, the end of Muammar Gaddafi's 41 year rule of Libya is nigh, as rebels storm the heart of Tripoli. Such is the pace of events that it is impossible to know whether the regime will fall quickly, or whether the battle for Tripoli will be on-going for several days. Either way, it is difficult to see how even Gaddafi will retain his grasp on power for much longer.

Attention is now turning to what the next era will bring, and there are far more questions than answers. As we have seen in Afghanistan and Iraq, regime change is not an end in itself, and can lead either to deadlock, or to more extreme forces seizing the moment. While both Saddam Hussein and the Taliban were unpopular regimes, this did not mean that there was an opposition with the widespread support to replace them. In Iraq, the widescale purging of anyone liked to Saddam's Ba'ath party created a power vaccuum. The existing tension within the Libyan rebel ranks, between life-long opponents of Gaddafi and those who have recently defected, could foreshadow a similar disaster.

Currently, the Benghazi-based National Transitional Council (NTC) is recognised by 32 countries, including Britain, as the official government of Libya. This body will be tasked with bringing order to the post-war chaos. However, it is deeply divided, and remains without a cabinet. The last one was sacked by chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil on 8 August, accusing it of failing to investigate the July murder of rebel military commander Abdul Fatah Younis. Questions remain over the role of Jalil's government in the murder, although Islamist forces have also come under suspicion.

According to reports, the NTC is too faction-riven to agree on who should form a new executive, which does not bode well before it has even taken power.

In today's Independent, Patrick Cockburn reports on the divisions amongst the rebel forces:

It is an extraordinary situation. The Transitional National Council (TNC) in Benghazi is now recognised by more than 30 foreign governments, including the US and Britain, as the government of Libya. But it is by no means clear that it is recognised as such by the rebel militiamen who are in the process of seizing the capital. The rebel fighters in Misrata, who fought so long to defend their city, say privately that they have no intention of obeying orders from the TNC. Their intransigence may not last but it is one sign that the insurgents are deeply divided.

A crucial difference to Iraq is that there are no US or Nato forces on the ground. It remains to be seen what role the west will play in the formation of a new government, but given the disastrous legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan, the indications are that Nato countries will encourage the Arab League and the African Union to take the lead. The neighbouring states have a clear interest in the country's stability.

Jalil, a former minister who resigned when violence was used against protesters in February, is still viewed with suspicion by many who do not want to retain any ties at all to the Gaddafi regime. At this stage, it is difficult to see how Jalil will manage to persuade different rebel factions to co-operate, incorporate existing state structures, and control the Islamist element, given that he has so far been unable to unite his own council.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for 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.