Road trip 2013: Cameron slams UKIP while Osborne pushes for northern benefit cuts

Mid-term season is upon us.

David Cameron has been on the warpath today, preparing for his long-awaiting mid-term speech with Nick Clegg tomorrow. The pair will announce the Coalition's mid-term review, show off about their achievements so far, and set out some future policies (likely to be the last ones the coalition campaigns jointly on, as we move ever closer to election season).

First up is his interview with the Sunday Telegraph's Matthew Ancona. The big quote from that is that Cameron seems not to be downgrading his political ambitions in line with his poll ratings, as he tells the paper:

So, to be absolutely clear. When he tells voters at the 2015 election that, if he wins, he wants to serve a full term as prime minister, he will mean it literally (not, as Tony Blair did in 2005, to connote “a couple more years”)? “Yes. Look, I want to fight the next election, win the next election and serve – that is what I want to do. I often say to Conservatives, stop complaining about the things we haven’t done, look at the things we have done and are doing. This is an enormous reform agenda and that’s enough to keep us all busy, so that’s how it stands.”

This is said with resolve. And his aides agree afterwards that the PM’s remarks signal a fresh clarity: a determination not only that his strategy should be successful, but that he is the person to implement it. Remember: thanks to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, this translates into Cameron remaining in No 10 (the electorate permitting) until at least May 2020. That would mean matching Blair’s period in No 10 (10 years), approaching Thatcher’s tenure as PM (11 years) and matching the span of her party leadership (15 years). Cameron’s declaration also sheds sharp new light on the ambitions of those presently touted for the succession: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Philip Hammond, George Osborne, Grant Shapps. Clearly, if the Tories win in 2015, Cameron has no intention whatsoever of waiting a couple of years and then retiring to his Lego and board games.

Cameron also took a Mail-pleasing stance on deportation, arguing with respect to Abu Qatada that:

I’m keen to move to a policy where we deport first, and suspects can appeal later.

Since the reason why Qatada wasn't deported was that British courts thought that there was an unacceptably high risk he would face torture in Jordan, it appears Cameron is basically cool with that. It's also unclear how he plans to overcome the massive hurdle of access of justice that comes from being tortured in an overseas prison while trying to appeal to the British courts. But moving on.

This morning, the PM appeared on the Andrew Marr show, where he annoyed much of the Tory right by doubling down on his assertion that UKIP contains "odd people". In this he is entirely factually accurate, but also sending a pretty strong signal to his own party not to hope for a merger any time soon. UKIP are, in Cameron's eyes, a party firmly on the fringe of UK politics.

Cameron also began firmly laying ground for Britain losing its triple-A credit rating, arguing that the interest rate at which Britain borrows is what we should be looking at instead. That interest rate is higher than fully 10 of the twenty countries whose rates are quoted by the FT, but it remains very low. That's got little to do with Cameron's leadership and everything to do with the reverse sovereign debt crisis the world has experienced for the last few years, so he ought to be safe for some time if that does become the new benchmark for success.

And throughout today, suggestions as to what might be in tomorrows speech have been leaking out. The Sun suggests more roadbuilding, The Sunday Times picks up on the idea of a single-tier pension, and the Telegraph reports that Osborne has requested lowering benefits in the North.

Tomorrow might be an interesting day if that goes ahead.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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.