Hurricanes, like marriages, start with all that sucking and blowing and end with you losing your house

A financial journalist who attacked the Today programme as being aimed at "liberals" has immediately been hired by the BBC to "liven up" the business news and, presumably, to extend it. So, out goes discussing politics, the arts, life, love and the pursuit of happiness, and in comes all the excitement of closely examining the Footsie and the Dow Jones.

An exaggerated respect for the activities of businessmen and women dates from the Thatcher revolution, and has been enthusiastically pursued by new Labour. Lawyers are now all thought of as self-interested fat cats, doctors are blundering amateurs who need close control by civil servants, and schoolteachers are depicted as semi-literate folk singers, stuck in the Sixties. But business tycoons form a heroic, almost priestly, class who inhabit that holy ground - now treated with greater reverence than cathedrals, theatres or galleries - the Market Place.

Market places were generally known as shady squares where you got your pocket picked and sold shares in non-existent South American silver-mines, or patent medicines by smooth-talking quacks. This comically devious institution is now thought to provide the tests that rule our lives. The juries are out, but the market-place, it seems, can be relied on to produce just and correct verdicts.

The other news from the BBC is equally depressing. There is, in fact, to be much less news. Budgets for news programmes are to be cut by £15m, teams of journalists are to be merged, and there is even muttering about replacing Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight. Paxman and John Humphrys provide the remaining voice of sanity in the increasingly dotty world of politics. They shine like good deeds in a naughty world, and I can think of no reason for replacing them, unless, of course, they are suspected of dangerously hidden "liberal" thoughts.

Cuts in BBC budgets are part of the sacrifice of the organisation on the mystic altar of digital television. I don't know anyone who possesses such machines or has much interest in buying one: but "digitopia", as John Birt called it, appears to be the promised land for which present cuts must be made. We must, says Greg Dyke, "have less ambitious remit". It is remarkable that acceptance of the post of director general seems to entail abandoning any close contact with the English language.

I finally made it to Start the Week for the Monday morning discussion at the BBC. Two weeks ago, it was the morning after the hurricane. The avenue outside my house was blocked at each end by fallen lime trees. We managed to drive round through brambles and bushes and escape. Then I was trapped in a three-hour traffic jam near Northolt. No one told us that the underpass at Perivale was flooded, so we sat on patiently while Jeremy Paxman discussed shopping and philosophy for three-quarters of an hour.

In desperation, I rolled down the window and knocked politely on the window of a trapped Toyota. "Please lend me your mobile," I begged the driver. "Mine doesn't work and I ought to be on Start the Week." Never underestimate the kindness of strangers. He handed it over without a word. The week before that, I had been staying in Spain with the Heavenly Twins, Vicky Lord and Jackie Paice, both wives of members of the band Deep Purple. I had left Vicky Lord's mobile number at home. This led the BBC producers to ring Vicky that disastrous morning and ask her where I'd got to. "I really have no idea," she told them. "At this moment, I'm halfway up a mountain near Zermatt."

An American friend told me that hurricanes are very like marriage. "They start with all that sucking and blowing," he said, "and in the end you lose your house."

The Lords clearly had three hours of breathless excitement discussing anal intercourse for the under-21s. Buggery is a subject of almost mystical significance for English lawyers; within my legal lifetime, a man could be sent to prison for having anal intercourse with his consenting wife, and a number of husbands were convicted of this offence.

A doctor peer said that having anal sex shortens your life by 20 years. How does he know? I never thought death certificates gave as the fatal cause "buggered when 19". Lord Selsdon (Conservative) contributed magnificently to a lively debate by saying he had done many fast things in his time. "I've even eaten the private parts of a green monkey - but none of them matched gay sex for danger."

One elderly peeress, I'm told, unsure of what a "bugger" was, sent to the library for a definition and received the answer: "one who plants a listening device".

I remember a case of rape and buggery coming on before the severe Mr Justice X. On circuit, he had his wife, Lady X, wearing a hat with a feather in it, sitting on the bench by his side. The defence was that the buggery was a simple mishit, when the accused had aimed elsewhere. "That's the most ridiculous defence I ever heard," said the judge. "You can't mistake one type of sex for the other. The two sensations are entirely different!" Everyone in court looked at the grey-haired Lady X with wild surmise. In her feathered hat, she nodded her entire approval.

I don't know if the Earl of Onslow, the jewel among hereditary peers, took part in the debate. It was he who once said: "At the turn of the century, the Church of England were pro-fox-hunting and anti-buggery. Now they're pro-buggery and anti-fox-hunting."

In those two sentences is contained the history of our times.

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Interview - Lord Falconer

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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.