Ed Miliband speaks at the Scottish Labour conference in Perth on 21 March 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's bombardment of the Lib Dems shows it is going all out for a majority

Rather than preparing for another hung parliament, Labour is focused on "crushing" Clegg's party. 

Until recently, it was not uncommon for senior Labour figures to openly speculate about the possibility of working with the Lib Dems in a future coalition. In my interview with him earlier this year, Ed Balls memorably revealed that Nick Clegg was no longer a barrier to an agreement between the two parties and said of the Deputy PM: "I understand totally why Nick Clegg made the decision that he made to go into coalition with the Conservatives at the time. I may not have liked it at the time, but I understood it. I also understood totally his decision to support a credible deficit reduction plan, because it was necessary in 2010. I think the decision to accelerate deficit reduction, compared to the plans they inherited – which was clearly not what Vince Cable wanted – I think that was a mistake . . . I can disagree with Nick Clegg on some of the things he did but I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity."

Balls went on to attack the Lib Dems for their support for early spending cuts, the reduction in the top rate of tax and the bedroom tax, but his intervention irked those such as Harriet Harman who advocate a strategy of all-out war against Clegg's party.

In Labour circles they distinguish between those who want to "crush" the Lib Dems and those who want to "accommodate" them. Heavily influenced by Andrew Adonis's 5 Days in May, in which the Labour peer and former transport secretary warns his party that it must be better prepared for another hung parliament, some MPs are wary of of an unambiguously hostile approach to Clegg's party. But with a year to go until the general election, it is now clear that the "crushers" have won. 

Rather than love-bombing the Lib Dems, Labour has today simply been bombing them. It was Harman who led the charge, declaring that "The Lib Dems are a party of broken promises. Nick Clegg says they're different from the Tories, but the truth is they've backed David Cameron all the way.

"From trebling tuition fees when they promised to abolish them, increasing VAT when they promised not to, backing the bedroom tax, cutting tax for millionaires and undermining the NHS, the Lib Dems are not a constraint on the Tories - they are their willing helpers." Her words were followed by an infographic of a Lib Dem lottery card inviting users to "scratch the surface to reveal the truth". 

The attacks are, among other things, a sign that Labour is going all out for a majority. Were the party doubtful of victory, it would, with another hung parliament in mind, be adopting a far less hostile stance. 

If Labour is to triumph, the most important task will be retaining the large group of voters it has won from Clegg's party (think of it as Miliband's firewall). With around 25 per cent of 2010 Lib Dems currently supporting Labour, the party can't risk going soft on Clegg and handing them "permission" to return. In addition to those seats that Labour can hope to win directly from the Lib Dems, strategists point out that in 86 of the party's 87 Tory targets, the Lib Dem vote share in 2010 was larger than the Conservatives majority. In 37, it is more than twice as large. Even if Clegg's party partially recovers before 2015, Labour stands to make sweeping gains. 

It is the Lib Dem collapse combined with the Ukip surge that means Labour can hope to achieve the rare feat of winning a majority after just one term in opposition. The party's bombardment of Clegg and co. is further evidence that Miliband is determined to do so. 

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.