The price is right

Spend more on your festive wine and stir memories of love

It is permitted to spend a little more on wine than you would normally allow yourself, when the Christmas spirit appears.

The moronic spectacle can be tolerated only in a state of benign drunkenness, and drunkenness can be benign only if engendered by good wine.

So take these offers from Corney & Barrow as seriously as they deserve. They are great wines, and no more expensive than they deserve to be.

Both the Montagny and the Château Lamarque would be described, by the mass murderers of English prose, as "classic". I will give you another and better adjective: romantic. The green glitter of the Montagny and the garnet allure of the claret are sufficient in themselves either to induce love in the one to whom they are served or to stir the memory of love in the one who is drinking alone. Hug these bottles to you, anyway, unless there is someone truly dear to you in the neighbourhood.

The New Zealand Chardonnay and the Châteauneuf are remarkable wines. Both have come out at 14.5 per cent, yet neither flexes its muscles. The Muddy Water is a deep, mature and softly spoken giant, in all three respects to be distinguished from its namesake, who was the true founder of rhythm and blues, and whom I once saw spitting with disappointment at a bewildered audience in High Wycombe Town Hall - but I digress.

Full malolactic fermentation has produced a core of zesty apple flavour under a creamy veil of butter, like the baked apples that our mum used to do. And some flinty minerals have made their way into the fruit, so that the apple comes on a pewter plate.

As for the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, words fail - though I have somehow got to find another 200 of them. The label tells us that this is made from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre, many of the vines being 90 years old. The "culture" is described as "traditional with ploughing", which just about describes my general approach to life.

In all other respects, too, this wine agreed with me - rich, generous, and with a smooth chocolate finish, it raised a dish of cauliflower cheese to Lucullan heights and spread a warm glow of approval all around it.

After a couple of glasses I found myself approving even of Alistair Darling - in whom there is little to be discovered of tradition or ploughing, but to whom I raised my glass nevertheless, in the temporary and benign belief that he is a decent bloke.

I should say that I am sceptical of Châteauneufs, which are allowed so much latitude by the laws that govern appellation as to have only the label in common.

But this wine is as great as they come, and a fitting tribute to the Bernard family, which has been making wine since 1794 and which has spared us and the planet so many futile journeys to Provence.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2008 issue of the New Statesman, After the Terror

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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.