The estate agents

The estate agent is apparently honest, very polite and utterly upbeat. "Oh," he says, surveying the dilapidated property we stand in. "This is
all fine, sir. Don't need to do anything really. You could leave it as it is and still get [he names a figure amounting to several thousand pounds less than I need] either way."

He moves on through the house. I notice he is still wearing his shoes - unfeasibly long and pointy, in a style that suggests the influence of the high Middle Ages - and is now standing on the rug where the baby often attempts to crawl.

I suppress my rage.

“Ha," he says, and points out of the back window. "Garden!"

I follow his gaze, and confirm his observation. "'Yes, garden. Not much, though."

“No, no - that's plenty really. Just the right amount." He continues on through the house. As he does so, he acknowledges more doors and windows with fresh surprise.

Everything, it seems, is absolutely fine. Even the bathroom, with the mouldy tiles and a small mound of plaster dust below the loose toilet roll holder I angrily drilled into the wall after an afternoon drinking out-of-date organic cider. "I was going to tidy it up," I offer. "Some filler." "Oh," he chirrups. "No need for that."

So everything is good news? Not quite. "I'll be honest," he says. "Prices are going to tank next year. You're probably wise to be looking to sell before Christmas. Not now, of course. Everyone's on holiday." Even this observation appears to delight him, and he chortles merrily. There are 48,000 people working for estate agents in the UK; can they all be this happy?

Apparently, yes. The second estate agent arrives the next day. He is ecstatic and has a remarkable haircut - a Huron tuft surrounded by lesser peaks worked up with axle grease. He smiles so expansively, his mouth threatens to fall off his face. He is very, very pleased to meet me.
“Michael? It's great to meet you. Just great."

“Could you take your shoes off?"

“Of course. That's great. Just great." He comes in. "Great," he says, as he looks at the peeling walls and the shabby floorboards, "really great."

He says this to every wall and floorboard in the house before quoting a figure not unrelated to the one I heard the previous day and then leaves.
Watching him virtually skip as he walks away, I finally realise why he and the other estate agent are so happy. Not long ago estate agents were spurned and reviled, society's outcasts, on a par with bankers. But, following the election, that has changed. The worst sort of violent offenders aside - and not even all of them - the social esteem of almost every Briton has moved up a notch since May. Yes, these men are still estate agents, but they are not Liberal Democrats.

Michael Hodges writes the Class Monitor column for the New Statesman. He was named columnist of the year at the 2008 Magazine Design and Journalism Awards for his contributions to Time Out.

This article first appeared in the 23 August 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan

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David Cameron’s speech: a hymn to liberalism from a liberated PM

The Prime Minister spoke with the confidence of a man who finally has a full mandate for his approach. 

At every one of his previous nine Conservative conference speeches, David Cameron has had to confront the doubters. Those Tories who rejected his modernisation of the party from the start. Those who judged it to have failed when he fell short of a majority in 2010. Those, including many in his own party, who doubted that he could improve on this performance in 2015. Today, rather than confronting the doubters, he was able to greet the grateful. As the first majority Conservative prime minister for 18 years, he rightly savoured his moment. "Why did all the pollsters and pundits get it so wrong?" he asked. "Because, fundamentally, they didn't understand the people who make up our country. The vast majority of people aren't obsessives, arguing at the extremes of the debate. Let me put it as simply as I can: Britain and Twitter are not the same thing." Labour should pin that line to its profile. 

With a full mandate for his approach, Cameron went on to deliver his most unashamedly liberal speech to date. Early on in his address, he spoke with pride of how "social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change, and helping the world's poorest" were now "at the centre of the Conservative Party's mission". A lengthy section on diversity, lamenting how "people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names", was greeted with a standing ovation. Proof, if needed, of how Cameron has changed his party beyond recognition. The former special adviser to Michael Howard, who avowed that "prison works", told his audience that prison too often did not. "The system is still not working ... We have got to get away from the sterile lock-em-up or let-em-out debate, and get smart about this." From now on, he declared, the system, would "treat their [prisoners'] problems, educate them, put them to work." 

There were, of course, oversights and lacuna. Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to a budget surplus but glossed over the unprecedented, and many believe undeliverable, that will be required to achieve it (and which may fail to do so). He hailed the new "national living wage" with no mention of the tax credit cuts that will leave the same "strivers" worse off. His "affordable" starter homes will be unaffordable for average-earning families in 58 per cent of local areas. But it is a mark of Cameron's political abilities that it was easy to forget much of this as he spoke. Like George Osborne, he deftly appropriated the language of the left ("social justice", "opportunity", "diversity", "equality") to describe the policies of the right. Cameron is on a mission to claim ownership of almost every concept associated with Labour. The opposition should not sleep easily as he does so. 

There was little mention of Labour in the speech, and no mention of Jeremy Corbyn by name. But when the attack came, it was ruthlessly delivered. "Thousands of words have been delivered about the new Labour leader. But you only really need to know one thing: he thinks the death of Osama bin Laden was a 'tragedy'". The description of Corbyn as the "new Labour leader" shows the Tories' ambition to permanently contaminate the party, rather than merely the man.

There are plenty of potential landmines ahead for Cameron. The comically lukewarm applause for his defence of EU membership was a reminder of how divided his party is on this issue. But today, he spoke as a man liberated. Liberated by winning a majority. Liberated by not having to fight an election again. Like a second-term US president, he was able to speak of how he was entering "the second half of my time in this job". Tributes to Osborne (the "Iron Chancellor) and Boris Johnson (greeted with a remarkable standing ovation) alluded to the contest to come. But whoever succeeds him can be confident of assuming a party in good health - and more at ease with the modern world than many ever thought possible. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.