PMQs Sketch: May, they're behind you!

It's not Labour who are furious at May, it's those in her own party.

There is nothing like a good execution to get them going in the House of Commons but today, sadly, there was indeed nothing like it.

On the surface the plan was simply to further the destabilisation of the Government with fresh attacks on Home Secretary Theresa May over her summer-time immigration policy, which critics say involved stamping the word "enter" on the forehead of anyone who turned up.

Indeed following accusations that she had been economical with the truth at an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, the tumbril, so recently used to cart off Liam Fox, had been oiled and greased for another outing. Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz had slipped easily into undertaker tones as he toured the studios looking for victims and issuing the tricoteuse with new needles.

So it should have been with some trepidation that Theresa May entered the Commons chamber for Prime Ministers Questions. But 18 months in a post which has spelled the end of many a political career must have toughened her up for she entered under full sail, white top crackling, to face her accusers. But just in case she wavered Dave had sandwiched her between William Hague and George Osborne to stop any attempt to make a run for it.

Outside in the real world Ladbrokes had cut her price on being the next to exit the cabinet from 16/1 to 7/1 and she must have known half her colleagues, furious at anybody with a foreign accent being allowed into Britain, would have already been down the bookies. With lunch beckoning there was a fair amount of drooling going on at the thought of a slice of well-cooked Home Secretary as a starter.

Dave had let it be known that he had "full confidence" in Theresa May thereby leaving her open to instant dismissal if necessary, although the departure of two cabinet ministers within a month might be judged somewhat careless on his side. He also has this problem with women voters who seem to see more of the smarm than he would like, so losing Theresa would not be advantageous here either. Final confirmation, if it were needed, that the Government was once again up to its eyeballs in it came from the loud hoots of support from those behind her, happy at the thought there may soon be a vacancy.

Then up stood Ed Miliband and it all went a bit pear shaped. Immigration has always been dodgy ground to say the least for the Labour Party and it was clear from the outset that Dave was going to remind him of this. Ed had clearly spent hours with his advisors working out what to say and how to say it but whoever plays the Dave part needs replacing.

He had obviously decided to avoid concentrating on the claims by Borders Boss Brodie Clark that Theresa May might be telling porkies about whathad gone on although this was the only game in town. Instead he tried to skewer him on numbers getting in rather than the complaints from staff that cuts meant they could not do the job. As Ed accused Dave of dodging responsibility, being shambolic and out of touch, Tory cheers grew as they realised their man was getting away with it again and lunch was only minutes away.

Labour raised their volume in defence leaving Speaker Bercow to charge both sides with "shouting their heads off ". And that is what Ed seemed to be doing as his session with the PM drew to a close. Dave is an easy target at the weekly confrontation as all Labour has to do is wind him up and let him go. But Ed gives the impression of someone who learns his lines and is not too good on going with the flow. Labour may be 5% ahead of the Tories in the polls but bearing mind the state of the economy should be expecting more. Ed's own popularity out in the country, not to mention among his own MPs, could do with a lot of improvement.

It was left to Dave to round off his session with a reminder that Labour guru and Miliband backer Lord Glasman had said Labour had "lied" about immigration. Theresa May relaxed. Outside students protested and the eurozone continued to collapse. Next week MPs are on holiday.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

Photo: Getty Images
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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.