Boris Johnson inspects police cadets who have completed their training in the grounds of West Ham United Football Club. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Boris could be mayor and an MP - but he couldn't be mayor and Tory leader

The London mayor would be forced to break his "solemn vow" to serve a full term were he to become leader of his party.

Will he or won't he? Time is running out for Boris Johnson to decide whether or not he stands for parliament next year, with all agreed that a decision must be made before the Conservative conference. A YouGov poll in today's Evening Standard shows that just 37 per cent of Londoners believe it would be "reasonable" for him to become an MP (down from 43 per cent last October), while 43 per cent believe it would be "unreasonable" (up from 39 per cent).

Boris's allies have long argued that he could wear two hats at the same time, as Ken Livingstone did when he remained the MP for Brent East during his first year as mayor (and he has been careful to never rule the option out). But should the Tories be defeated, with Boris standing in the subsequent leadership election (his principal motivation for returning), the situation would become more complicated. 

It is inconceivable that he could serve as both Conservative leader and Mayor of London for any significant period of time, leaving him with three options: to avoid standing in 2015, to persuade the party to delay any contest (if Boris stands down a minimum of six months before the end of his term, his deputy takes charge), or to trigger a costly mayoral by-election.

Were he to resign as mayor, he would break his "solemn vow" to serve a full second term. He said before his re-election in May 2012: "If I am fortunate enough to win I will need four years to deliver what I have promised. And having put trust at the heart of this election, I would serve out that term in full.

"I made a solemn vow to Londoners to lead them out of recession, bring down crime and deliver the growth, investment and jobs that this city so desperately needs. Keeping that promise cannot be combined with any other political capacity."

The abandonment of this pledge would leave him exposed as a shameless liar (not a good start to his prospective leadership). The move would also do damage to the Tories, who would be accused of disrespecting the mayoralty and would struggle to avoid defeat in the capital. It is for these reasons, you suspect, that Boris is still dithering. 

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.