Commons Confidential: Dave’s sausage offensive

Kevin Maguire's weekly column.

Our posh-boy premier let slip that he counts the number of Old Etonians in the Commons Press Gallery. The quota is down one since the Times’s political editor Roland Watson, a contemporary of Dave’s, shuffled off to become foreign editor. Call Me Dave greeted Watson’s successor, Francis Elliott – who co-wrote a very readable biography of the Tory toff – with a telling: “Ah, that’s one less Etonian in Westminster.” The PM must hope the public doesn’t vote for one fewer in No 10.

The latest edition of Kingston and Surbiton Voice, the Lib Dem constituency rag of the Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, includes three photographs of a man called Derek Osbourne. Two are next to Davey’s Westminster View column; the third, taken outside a school, is below a snap of Davey with Nick Clegg. Osbourne resigned in mid-June as Lib Dem leader of Kingston Council after his arrest on suspicion of possessing indecent images of children. Deadlines are a nightmare, as this journalist knows, but the Kingston Lib Dumbs miscalculated by gambling nobody would notice rather than pulping the paper.

Ed Miliband’s zillionaire supporter Andrew Rosenfeld, a property tycoon worth an estimated £100m, is a sponsor with his union friends of the “People Unite” anti-austerity bus tours. Rosenfeld –who, since he abandoned the Tory cause, gets under Cameron’s skin – intended to travel on one of the buses. I trust Rosenfeld instructed his chauffeur to drop him off around the corner so he could walk to the start.

 A Tory snout  whispers that Con MPs are thin on the ground at Cameron’s backbencher barbecues. Downing Street invitations aren’t the draw they once were as Dave works his way down the rota. “Cameron’s outreach programme will fail,” giggled the congenital rebel, “if he can’t serve us a grilled sausage.”

Lord Mandy adding his tuppenceworth to Labour’s Falkirk selection shenanigans was further evidence the ignoble lord never forgives those who do him a favour, particularly the trade unions that fixed Hartlepool for a then Peter Mandelson.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Editor's note: This article was amended at 17:00 on 9 July, 2013. 

Apparently Conservative MPs are thin on the ground at Dave's backbencher barbecues. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 08 July 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The world takes sides

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.