Labour shows how it plans to win the ground war

The party reveals that it has recruited over 100 full-time organisers in key target seats, more than at any time in the 1997 election campaign.

One of the criticisms made of Labour over the summer was that the party was not battle-ready. While the Tories poached Barack Obama's former campaign manager Jim Messina to work alongside Lynton Crosby on election strategy, Miliband's MPs fretted as the party delayed naming a successor to Tom Watson as campaign co-ordinator.

Now, having appointed Douglas Alexander as chair of general election strategy, and Spencer Livermore, Gordon Brown's former director of strategy, as general election campaign director in the recent reshuffle, Labour is seeking to show that it is on a "war footing". 

At an all-staff conference tomorrow, Alexander and Livermore will deliver a joint presentation on "election strategy and structures" and will explain "how the party will now be organised around a structure of seven taskforces in an election war room." This will include a "strengthened Attack and Rebuttal Unit and a Digital Taskforce".  The conference will be opened by general secretary Iain McNicol followed by a Miliband speech and Q&A.

Judging by the early extracts released by Labour, Miliband will emphasise the message that he delivered at today's PMQs: that the Tories' U-turn on payday lending marked "an intellectual collapse of their position". Here's the key passage:  

Two months ago, David Cameron and George Osborne were warning that a Labour Party that wanted to fix broken markets and build an economy which works for working people was flirting with communism and being inspired by Das Kapital.

This week, George Osborne has finally followed our lead on pay day lending and declared, with a straight face, that he now believes markets must be made to work for people, even while he and David Cameron still refuse to take on the big six energy companies.

So be in no doubt: we are winning the battle of ideas, the Tories have no answers. They will always stand up for the privileged few.

But while seeking to show how it's making the intellectual running, Labour will also point to its plans to win the ground war. The party has revealed today that it has already recruited over 100 full-time organisers in key target seats, more than the number achieved at the height of the 1997 election campaign. 

Optimistic Labourites and pessimistic Tories have long cited the party's superior ground game as one reason why it is likely to win in 2015. One shadow cabinet minister recently told me that Labour's strength in this area helped it to win "a 1992-style share of seats on a 1983-style share of the vote" at the last election. The party currently has 187,537 members, significantly more than the Tories' 134,000, a stat which prompted political and campaign communications head Michael Dugher to remark recently: "Labour still has its historic competitive advantage – people. Tory party membership is dying on its arse and no one is joining the Liberal Democrats."

Conscious of this gap, Grant Shapps has written to every Tory MP asking them to increase the average number of Conservative members per constituency from 0.5% of Tory voters to 3% (something that would increase the party's total membership to 800,000). But barring a dramatic transformation, Labour can be confident that it will retain its ground advantage right up to May 2015. 

Ed Miliband speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton earlier this year. 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.