No place called home: terraced housing in Greenwich, London. Photo: Getty
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Leader: A short-term fall in prices will not solve the housing crisis

A generation-long failure to build enough homes has made prices soar far in excess of inflation, benefiting homeowners at the expense of their children.

Mamma has every shilling laid out in a first-class mortgage on land at four per cent,” one character tells another in Anthony Trollope’s The Last Chronicle of Barset. “That does make one feel so secure! The land can’t run away.” The belief in an eternal link between property and security has been a mainstay of British household economics for generations. Parents have advised children to get a foot on the ladder, and those seeking investment opportunities have been steered towards bricks and mortar.

For a long time it seemed to work. Individuals were rewarded with soaring personal wealth; politicians with the votes of a grateful middle class. Of late, however, the flaws in the model have become more obvious. A generation-long failure to build enough homes has made prices soar far in excess of inflation, benefiting homeowners at the expense of their children. The situation is worst in London, where the average property price has edged ever closer to £500,000.

This phenomenon raises the spectre of a return to a pre-Victorian class system, in which your prospects depend less on education, hard work or thrift than they do on the generosity of your parents. It does more immediate damage, too. About nine million people in England now live in private rented accommodation, from which they can be evicted at a few weeks’ notice.

There are signs that this particular bull run may be reaching its peak. According to the Office for National Statistics, the average house price in the UK hit an all-time record of £265,000 in June. (The figure for London was £499,000.) But a survey by the property website Rightmove suggests that asking prices have since begun to fall back, dropping by nearly 4 per cent in just two months. This may be an unusually large summer blip. However, with interest rates poised to rise, and mortgage affordability already stretched to the limit, it may be the start of something more significant.

If the long house-price boom has created problems, so, too, would a poorly timed downturn. Britain remains vastly short of the housing that its growing population needs: any sustainable solution will demand an increase in housebuilding rates. That in turn will entail changes to land-use restriction to release more land in our bigger cities and the green belts that surround them. In the meantime, we require new regulations to protect renters from the neglect and caprice of bad landlords.

All these policies will be difficult to implement, and are likely to inspire fierce opposition. The danger is that, with an election looming, this summer’s dip in the housing market could reduce the pressure on politicians to win a mandate for such controversial measures by including them in their manifestos. A slight fall in prices today could, paradoxically, make a significant fall in the long term less likely. 


Exporting the Doctor

On Saturday Doctor Who returns, in the regenerated form of Peter Capaldi (see our discussion on page 38). The BBC’s flagship show has much in common with the band on our cover this week. Both the Beatles and Doctor Who are products of the 1960s that present a distinctively British view of the world, combining wit, humour and lingering imperial pretention. Both conquered America (even if, for all his Gallifreyan technologies, it took the Doctor rather longer).

It is easy to dismiss pop-cultural icons as ephemeral, yet both Who and the Beatles have racked up a half-century and they show no sign of fading. There is an argument that, as our economic and military clout wanes, such exports will be critical tools through which Britain can market itself and its ideas to the world. This is a point worth remembering the next time a minister questions the purpose of the arts budget. When it comes to culture, we remain a superpower. 

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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