Conservative chairman Grant Shapps speaks at the party's conference. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories' claim to be the "Workers' Party" is just another cheap rebrand

Just as earlier iterations have faded fast, so too will this blue collar phase pass unnoticed and unloved.

"There are 47 per cent of the people who will vote for the President (Obama) no matter what....47 per cent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement....My job is not to worry about those people."

That was the moment when right-wing Republican, Mitt Romney, speaking at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in a hedge fund manager’s mansion, finally blew any chance he had of winning the White House in 2012. Telling half of America that he wasn’t interested in them or their vote wasn’t the smartest move, of course, but it was a revealing acknowledgement by Romney of how little appeal the austerian right has to blue collar workers in the US. Of course, there’s no straightforward read-across from American politics to our own, but there’s been more than a whiff of Romney-esque high-handedness in some recent comments here, and a hint of panic in yesterday’s risible re-launch of the Tories as the "Workers’ Party".

First there was the blundering reference by Tory peer, Lord Howell, to the "uninhabited and desolate" areas of the north east – fit only for fracking, it appears. Then the acknowledgement by working-class Tories’ poster-boy, John Major, that parts of Great Britain are now "no-go areas" for his Conservative successors. Finally, and most extraordinary, was the comment made after the Wythenshawe by-election by a senior Tory that they couldn’t possibly hope to win in Manchester as is it was "a safe Labour seat with the largest council estate in Europe."

Pause and think for a moment about just how telling – and how toxic – that sentiment is. Forget about Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the 47 per cent, what about the eight million British citizens living on estates that this Tory Party has apparently given up on? Perhaps, David Cameron, another close watcher of US politics, thinks it isn’t his job to worry about "those people".

Some in the Tories (perhaps the handful who didn’t go to Eton) are less sanguine, however. Robert Halfon, the Tory MP for Harlow, has long argued that blue collar needs to replace blue rinse in the hierarchy of Tory influence. And Mr Halfon has clearly been heard, because his standard has been picked up this week by no less than the chairman of his party. Grant Shapps, aka Michael Green, has announced that Compassionate Conservatism, Liberal Conservatism, and even Green Conservatism are all so last year, and that Blue Collar Conservatism is the only thing for a modern Tory to sport around town. Even more amusingly and implausibly, Mr Shapps (who patently knows a thing or two about branding), says the Tory Party is now the "Workers' Party" – "not defending privilege, but spreading it".

The problem for the Tories, of course, is no-one believes this tripe for a minute. No-one believes that a party which cut taxes for millionaires while millions struggle to pay their bills can ever be on the side of workers. And no-one will believe that a party which, time after time, stands up for crony capitalists and corporate, vested interests can ever truly work in the interests of working men and women – and of those seeking work or unable to work too. No, it is only One Nation Labour that can credibly reach out to all parts of Britain, standing up for people in all communities with a plan to tackle David Cameron’s cost-of-living- crisis.

That’s why the Tories barely scraped 15 per cent of the vote in Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election. That’s why of the 348 council seats in Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Manchester, none is held by Conservatives. And why the north east boasts just two Tory MPs, Wales just eight out of 40, and Scotland just one (making them famously rarer than mating pairs of pandas). And those harsh electoral realities are the reason why most Tories don’t believe it either, with the leadership reportedly split about whether to make special appeal to the workers of the north and west or to cut them adrift as a Tory lost cause.

Little matter, as I suspect this latest rebrand will last no longer than any of its predecessors. Their uniting feature is that none of them are credible to those outside the Tory Party and none of them believed within it. And just as those earlier iterations have faded fast, to be replaced by the true face of David Cameron’s Tories, standing up only for a privileged few, so too will this blue collar phase pass unnoticed and unloved. Still, with a chairman as inventive as Mr Shapps, you know there’ll be another make over coming soon. Tea Party Tories has got a ring to it, Grant, and a ring of truth too.

Owen Smith is shadow welsh secretary and Labour MP for Pontypridd.

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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.