Competition - Win a bottle of champagne

No 3559 Set by George Cowley

"If there is one thing worse than a fuzzy intellectual, it is a focused one," said John Lloyd in the NS. We asked for a chat between Focused and Fuzzy.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Yes, Will Bellenger is a runaway winner again. But this may be because Anne Du Croz started late. So, it's up to you, Du Croz. In addition, Nick MacKinnon was doing very well at the start, but faded. This is the biggest shake-up in the Top 20 for years, with Du Croz the best new entrant since Noel Petty in 1984. This week, the winners get £15; the bottle goes to the afore-mentioned Bellenger.

Focused An intellectual views the world dispassionately, through a judas window of absolute logic, and his or her observations therefore require neither apologies nor apologists.

Fuzzy So, being an intellectual means never having to say you're sorry.

Focused A little contrition is never in order.

Fuzzy Oh. Sorry.

Focused So an intellectual - nota bene - is as sane in the course of his employment as it is consistent with rational argument to be.

Fuzzy You don't have to be mad to work here but it helps. Sorry.

Focused An intellectual never asks for his or her argument to be acceptable; it is quite natural for any argument to invite the contrapuntal dignity of an opposite and inimical argument.

Fuzzy So, do not ask for credit because a refusal often offends. I see.

Focused And there is no necessity to feel guilt; indeed, it is best to dispel any such emotion.

Fuzzy Yes! Yes! Now wash your hands, please!

Focused And pace your interruptions, the understanding of an intellectual argument requires a general view, rather than a specific investigation and/or rebuttal.

Fuzzy If you can read this, you're driving too close.

Focused Shut up.

Fuzzy Sorry.

Will Bellenger

Focused It's easy to mock the Third Way, but it's our only chance of having what Jospin calls "a market economy without a market society". Given a changed world context we could talk about socialist measures. As things stand, we can't. So between the anarchy of class war and the horrors of an all-powerful, unrestrained capitalism, a creative interplay of public and private investment is a progressive option. Give credit to Blair for that.

Fuzzy How can you give credit to a man who can't form a satisfactory relationship with his own hair? And have you noticed how he sweats? There's a Nixon inside him who's eternally trying to get out. He wants to be Caesar, but as Barthes noted, Caesar doesn't sweat. A pure schizoid.

Focused: Personalising it that way misses the point. It's ideas that count. Blair is a third way man in another sense, you see: he's united two great 20th-century traditions - market capitalism and the Leninist party structure. A winning combination.

Fuzzy Well, what goes around, comes around - first as tragedy, then as farce, finally as a postmodern feedback loop. Didn't Mosley talk about a third way?

G M Davies

No 3562 Set by Leonora Casement

The Guardian recently noted a pamphlet for US parents (by a Utah criminology professor) that identified as a sign of dope use in kids "excessive preoccupation with social issues, race relations, environmental issues, etc". We want letters by 21 January from parents detailing the symptoms and asking for advice. Max 200 words.

This article first appeared in the 08 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Stuff the millennium

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.