Paul Routledge

Elation joined ecstasy on new Labour's banned list on election night. Staff at Millbank were so petrified of anyone outside seeing any signs of joy at the outcome, they put films of silver paper over the windows. And it was grim faces all round for staff on check-in duty for the press pen. One could have been excused for thinking they had lost.

In the interests of objectivity, your columnist repaired to the ITN party at the Atrium, just down the road in Millbank. This watering-hole for lobbyists, political correspondents and occasional politicians was bursting at the seams. Cries of "one more heave", accompanied by fingers down throats, greeted the victory of Peter Mandelson. I can reveal that the winner of the Annie's Bar sweepstake for the number of votes cast for Arthur Scargill in Hartlepool is Jamie Cann, Labour MP for lpswich, who guessed to within 12 votes of his 912 tally.

The general view among revellers was that the BBC had the best coverage, but ITN threw the best party. Champers at 10pm and hot bacon sarnies from three in the morning. One can put up with quite a lot of Jonathan Dimbleby for that.

For the Tories, it was a glum show. Peter Oborne of Another Magazine muttered darkly: "He has to go! He has to go tomorrow!" I think he meant William Hague rather than the tedious chap standing next to him, who was ranting on about Blair's new radicalism.

Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU, watched the results with a certain grim satisfaction. "We haven't connected with young people, or with our heartlands either," he told the NS. "We've held our position, on a very low turnout." Rather like a union election, in fact.

Round at the Tories HQ in Smith Square, a few camera crews waited in the chill night air for Hague to concede. Ladbrokes gave the latest odds on Hague's successor. Portillo was still favourite at 4-5, with lain Duncan Smith at 4-1, Ken Clarke at 5-I and David Davis at 6-1. Boris Johnson, editor of Another Magazine and newly elected Tory MP for Henley, has finally entered the lists, "and somebody's put money on him," I was told. Come on Bozza, own up. It was you.

Maybe the wobbly Tory leader will finally take Sir Peter Tapsell's advice. When William Hague was elected, ramrod straight Tapsell (Royal Sussex Regiment) went to his office and advised: "You're actually quite tall. But on television you look a shorty. If I were you, I'd surround yourself with dwarves."

Outside Lib Dem headquarters round the corner in Cowley Street, a trio of policemen kept each other company. "We hear there's a camera crew coming at four o'clock," one offered disconsolately.

So now we wait for the little dears to return to Westminster. A special lobby has been set aside as a new members reception area to tell second-generation Blair Babes where they can get a subsidised meal or drink and similar information vital to ripping off the taxpayer. The information is sealed down with brown paper, but the serious tip - who not to be seen drinking with in Annie's - will be passed on by the Whips' Office.

The Commons weekly bulletin insists that the Speaker will be chosen on 11 June, the first day back. This cannot be correct, because no business can be conducted until all members have sworn the loyal oath. Presumably, that means Michael J Martin will be re-elected nem con. The Tories are in such disarray that they haven't a candidate anyway.

The future of Martin Bell is exciting discussion after his excursion into Eric Pickles territory in Essex. Why turn his guns on the Bunter of the Tory benches when he could have had Mandelson or Keith Vaz in his sights? The suspicion at Westminster is that a tacit understanding may have been reached between Bell and new Labour, on the lines of "We got you in last time, don't forget. Don't oppose one of ours, and you'll get something after the election." A peerage, perhaps, or a quango.

Paul Routledge is chief political commentator for the Mirror

This article first appeared in the 11 June 2001 issue of the New Statesman, There are years of fun to come

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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.