How Umunna and Reeves are leading the charge of the 2010 intake

An interesting dynamic to watch is how these two ambitious newbies get on with Ed Balls.

Ed Miliband has put his shadow cabinet house in order. It isn't a full Grand Designs-style rebuild, more a fresh lick of paint and some urgent structural repairs. (For a start he had two big holes to fill after John Denham and John Healey resigned last night.)

As generally predicted, members of the 2010 intake have been aggressively promoted -- Rachel Reeves, who covered pensions before, has shown herself capable of being an effective, attacking opposition player even with a highly technical brief and has been rewarded with the job of Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

Chuka Umunna was tipped for big things even before he was officially selected as an election candidate in Streatham last year. Now he gets a chance at the top table as shadow business secretary. He's a good media performer and will give the portfolio a higher profile.

Expect more from Labour on small businesses, the junior business brief Umunna had until today. Part of the strategy (although you'd never have guessed it) is to woo smaller enterprises, the self-employed etc over as part of Miliband's assault on "vested interests". The Labour leader wants to be on the side of "the little guy" against giant corporate monopolies and bankers. If he pulls it off it would be an audacious political land grab -- small business is traditional Tory terrain.

An interesting dynamic to watch will be how Reeves and Umunna, two ambitious newbies with things to say about the economy, get along with Ed Balls. He is Reeves's boss on the Treasury team now, of course. But not Chuka's...

The big surprise is Stephen Twigg's move to Education. He is part of the 2010 intake, although he was first elected to parliament in 1997, defeating a famously stunned Michael Portillo in Enfield and Southgate. It was a dramatic moment that for many symbolised the scale of the Tory rout. Twigg is a Blairite by reputation and the move probably reflects Labour's recognition of the need for a more sophisticated critique of Michael Gove's school reforms -- themselves conceived as an extension of Blair's education agenda -- than Andy Burnham had managed.

Burnham moves to health. Last night I wrote on the blog that this was rumoured, but I questioned whether he would be any more effective against Lansley than he was against Gove. I still have my doubts.

Labour has a bigger problem when it comes to the health and education briefs, which is that the party's ideological position on the use of markets, private sector providers and consumer choice in the public sector is unclear. If Burnham couldn't express a view on that question with regard to schools, what makes anyone think he'll express one clearly over hospitals?

And without giving the impresion that he's denouncing government policy without any prospect of an alternative reform agenda. But then, I suppose, just attacking government policy on the NHS is an easier hit -- voters are primed to fear the effects of Tory policy on hospitals, less so with schools.

Liz Kendall, who I mentioned as a rising star with a command of the health portfolio, will be attending shadow cabinet as minister for care and older people. All in all, it looks like a sensible re-jig, not too cautious but not a drastic long-knife frenzy either.

One appointment, sure to attract much notice, is the appointment of Tom Watson, scourge of Murdoch, to the role of deputy party chair and campaign coordinator. He has always been a formidable political attack dog and Miliband is clearly hoping he will get his teeth into more than just News International. But before he was hailed as a hero for his role in hackgate, Watson had a reputation as a ruthless internal party schemer. There will be plenty of people warning Ed to keep him on a tight leash.

The full list of new shadow cabinet appointments is here.

 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former 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.