The future's bright

Colourful accessories will lighten your look - and your mood but very very careful about yellow, war

One of the trends for this coming summer is brights: big pinks, oranges, yellows, reds. I never believe in trend predictions until they actually descend upon me, like snowflakes. Nevertheless, I hope this one is accurate.

The most likely way that most of us will hold hands with this trend is through that most famous of fashion words: accessories. Men, of course, will have none of this bother. They can wear a bright tie or T-shirt, but otherwise they can go on, merry in their murky-coloured way (I say this without a hint of bitterness, just simple apple-green envy). For women, I can see bright patent pumps and bags being worn aplenty.

There is something rather joyous about wearing colour. Scientists pooh-pooh the colour psychologists, but as I'm not hindered by such qualifications, I can throw myself fully into believing all that stuff about colours being on different wavelengths and making us feel different things. There is something frivolous about wearing brights. For one, it rather goes against our puritan belief (which we hold strongly with regard to fashion, in this country) that everything should go with everything else. Well, clearly, if you buy a pair of orange wedges, they might not be friends with everything else in your wardrobe.

Equally, I feel I should warn people about yellow, which suits very few of us. But I've just spent most of the day in the garden, looking at signs of spring and tiny, pretty flowers peeking through the eight inches of leaves I didn't sweep up last autumn, and I feel hopeful. If you want to wear yellow, go right ahead.

I think a pair of red shoes would cheer up most people. When I was three (did you think you'd be free of my childhood reminiscences this week? You were wrong), I fell in love with a pair of red T-bar shoes in Whiteley's, the department store that was on our doorstep (it's now a shopping mall). Every day, on the way to the park, my mother and aunt and I would walk through Whiteley's and I would ask to go upstairs and look at these shoes. I remember very acutely how important they were to me, their colour like a flashbulb that lit up everything around them.

One day - a glorious day - my mother bought them for me. I thought I'd die of happiness. I brought them home and put them carefully on the floor and did nothing but stare at them and think of the times me and my little shoes would have together. They were optimistic shoes and seemingly built for fun, simply by virtue of their poppy colour. I can't remember much of our adventures together. They make an appearance, I think - difficult to tell with black-and-white photographs - in a birthday photo, but it's very likely the sheer amount of endorphins released at the moment of purchase rendered me amnesiac for some time after.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 25 February 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan reborn

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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.