Theresa May is criticised for her handling of the European Arrest Warrant vote. Photo: BBC
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35 Tories rebel after Speaker halts May on European Arrest Warrant

Disarray in the House after the Speaker gives backbenchers a chance to clarify this evening’s debate on European crime measures.

This article originally appeared on the New Statesman's election website May2015. Follow it on Twitter @May2015NS.

What is going on in the House?

Points of order are flying, the Home Secretary is speaking in disjointed hesitations and Labour sense a chance to escape a torrid news cycle.

The furore is over what exactly parliament are debating, and whether the government is trying to use tonight’s vote to pass measures they haven’t give the House a chance to debate.

The issue at hand is a package of European crime measures. The government opted out 110 of the measures last year but are now partially opting back into 35 of them.

These include a contentious measure know as the European Arrest Warrant. It is opposed by dozens of backbench Tory MPs and Ukip (who protested against it outside the House today).

The debate this evening was meant to be on only 10 of the EU crime measures, and not the EAW. Except Theresa May and the government tried – and still appear to be trying – to suggest that a vote for those measures would also given them approval to opt into the EAW.

In winning approval in this way, it was hoped the government would escape a fight with its backbenchers, who would not approve the EAW in a clearly stated debate.

The problem for the government is the Speaker, John Bercow, suggested members would have some “latitude” to discuss the measures the government has excluded from tonight’s motion, but is planning to opt-into.

During the debate, that “latitude” turned into a scarcely veiled criticism by Bercow that “Most of us think a commitment made is a commitment that should be honoured”.

He was referring to David Cameron’s promise to hold a vote on EAW before next week’s Rochester by-election. There ensued a farce where David Davis summed up the mood of the House by telling Bercow “We are debating we know not what”.

Continued calls were made for May to clarify whether the House was actually debating the EAW, and whether the government would take a vote tonight as a vote for EAW.

Bercow clarified that “the vote is on the regulations, not the European Arrest Warrant”, and then the House divided for a vote on whether to extend the current non-debate of the EAW, or have a longer debate which would, presumably, have involved a more direct debate on the EAW.

After reportedly rushing Tories MPs to the House – including the Prime Minister himself – the government passed the motion to continue their shorter debate by just nine votes. 35 Tory MPs rebelled against the motion, seeking a fuller debate on the EAW.

It remains unclear whether May will try to use tonight’s vote as an endorsement for the EAW. Labour’s Chris Bryant has asked whether she will permit a direct vote in the next week, but has so far received no answer.

May2015 is the New Statesman's new elections site. Explore it for data, interviews and ideas on the general election.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.