Honduras elects new president

Porfirio Lobo declared winner of Honduras election, whilst defiant Zelaya denounces result

Porfirio Lobo of the right of centre National party has been elected as president of Honduras, in elections marred by political turmoil, and of questionable legitimacy. Lobo defeated his nearest rival, Elvin Santos of the ruling Liberal party, winning 56 per cent of the vote.

The election campaigns were conducted amid curtailed civil liberties and restrictions on free press, as the de facto government clamped down on anti-coup protests.

The ousted president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, had called for a boycott of the elections, and denounced the results of the election as illegal.

Voter turnout was around 60 per cent, but ranged from 70 per cent in wealthy areas to as low as 30 per cent in poorer areas. This reflects the deeply divided mood of the people in Honduras, with the wealthy standing to gain more from the legitimisation of the coup regime, which recognition of this election will bring.

Some in poorer areas expressed dismay at the electoral process, venting frustration that voting would change nothing, whilst others, fed up with months of sanctions, economic decline and political uncertainty, have voted in the hope that the election will restore stability in the country.

The concern is, however, that international recognition of the results of yesterday's election will send a signal across the region that once again, military-backed coups by right-wing forces could be tolerated, or even supported, by the United States and others. The US has changed its position and is now set to acknowledge the results, and others, including the European Union, are expected to follow suit.

Lobo has suggested that he will drop criminal charges against Zelaya once he is sworn in on 27 January. Zelaya, meanwhile, remains in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has taken refuge since returning to the country on 21 September.


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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.