Israel must "flatten Gaza" like the US flattened Japan, says Sharon's son

A chilling article by Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli prime minister, in the Jerusalem Post.

If you want some indication of how extreme parts of Israeli political opinion have become, then read the chilling piece by Gilad Sharon, the son of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, in today's Jerusalem Post.

After writing that the civilians of Gaza "are not innocent" since they elected Hamas, Sharon declares:

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop with Hiroshima – the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

While Sharon's invocation of Hiroshima is shocking, he isn't the first prominent figure to make the comparison between Gaza and Japan. Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign minister and the leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (which recently merged with Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud) said in January 2009, during the last major Israeli assault on Gaza, that Israel

must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary.

His remarks were widely interpreted as a reference to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Would Israel ever consider such a solution? It sounds unthinkable, but Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed in October 2009 that Lieberman "had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Gaza" (see the final line of this Guardian report).

Further evidence of the mindset of those currently leading Israel was supplied by Eli Yishai, the country's deputy prime minister, who declared at the weekend: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years."

Palestinians search the debris of a destroyed home following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.