David Cameron said "we are all Thatcherites now". Apart from him, it would seem

The PM contradicts himself - is he a Thatcherite or not?

David Cameron has done a big interview with the Sunday Times (£) this weekend, and it's confused me quite a bit.

The morning of Margaret Thatcher's funeral, David Cameron gave an interview to the Today programme, in which he said:

I think in a way we’re all Thatcherites now because – I mean – I think one of the things about her legacy is some of those big arguments that she had had, you know, everyone now accepts. No-one wants to go back to trade unions that are undemocratic or one-sided nuclear disarmament or having great private sector businesses in the public sector.

You can listen to it here, just in case you missed it at the time:


Clear enough, you'd think. He's a Thatcherite, and he thinks the rest of us are too. But talking to Eleanor Mills for the Sunday Times, the Prime Minister changed his tune. She asked him again, and he said:

No... other people might call me that. I think the label’s now… it’s slightly become… labels now don’t quite mean what they did then.

When reminded that others in his party do call themselves Thatcherites, he responded "each to his own".

It turns out, he's moved on. Rather quickly, though, it would seem:

I was a tremendous Thatcher supporter... but there are now other challenges that need to be dealt with. I have problems with some of the Thatcher legacy — I’ve been more socially liberal.

Aside from Cameron's muddle over Thatcher the interview is worth reading in full if you can get your hands on a copy or breach the paywall, not least because it's a rare sit-down with a journalist who isn't in the lobby. In practice, this means that it doesn't contain much of the political doublespeak and Westminster code you so often get in these things. For instance, Mills writes:

I see what they mean about changing gears. I suddenly visualise him as a robot with four modes: 1. TV mode. 2. Public speaking. 3. Chummy to his aides. 4. Dispatch box. Adding to this cyborg persona is his almost artificially smooth, sleek skin — so peachy that he could be wearing foundation, though I don’t think he is. There’s definitely a whiff of the ham actor, or Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken, about him. Cameron is a polished performer, but perhaps we might warm to him more if he made the odd Boris-style howler.


Jo Johnson and David Cameron. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.