Rachel Reeves speaks at the Labour conference earlier this year in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Rachel Reeves: Tory MPs apologised to me over "incredibly rude" Duncan Smith

Shadow work and pensions secretary says Conservative MPs apologised to her over Duncan Smith's claim that she had not bothered to vote. 

Relations between Rachel Reeves and Iain Duncan Smith recently reached a new low when the Work and Pensions Secretary refused to apologise for accusing his shadow of not bothering to turn up for a vote. 

Reeves said: "The Secretary of State criticised me for not turning up to vote on an Opposition day motion last week. He knows nothing of why I was not able to attend last week. I kindly ask him to withdraw his criticism and apologise for the aspersion that I could not be bothered to turn up to vote in the House of Commons." (Her absence was due to illness.) 

But Duncan Smith refused to do so, declaring: "I simply made the point that it was good to see the hon. Lady here because she did not turn up to vote in the last debate. I understand that she retweeted that she was Rochester at the time. She was not put down as a signatory to the motion. Those are the points that I made." 

Reeves replied: "Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was not in Rochester last week. I will give the Secretary of State one last opportunity to withdraw the aspersion and apologise. He knows nothing of the reason why I was not here last week, so I ask him to withdraw the aspersion and apologise." But Duncan Smith was unrepentant: "I stand by my assertion that the hon. Lady did not vote and that her name was not on the Order Paper."

Now, in an interview with me in this week's New Statesman, Reeves has revealed that "a number of Tory MPs" came up to her afterwards to apologise for Duncan Smith's behaviour. She told me:

I think that he’s an incredibly rude man and I think that anybody else would have apologised. And, actually, the number of MPs from the Conservative Party came up to me afterwards and said that they thought that Iain Duncan Smith behaved very badly and wanted to apologise on his behalf, which was very nice of them, but they don’t need to apologise on his behalf, he’s quite capable of apologising for himself. 

When I asked Reeves whether she was surprised that Duncan Smith had remained in his job despite multiple policy failures, she replied: "Well, I expect that people like Michael Gove and Owen Paterson, when they were summarily dismissed from their jobs at the last reshuffle must have wondered why the axe came for them but not for Iain Duncan Smith who has presided over £25bn of Tory welfare waste in additional spending compared to what they set out, Universal Credit which has been a huge failure, the bedroom tax, which is probably the cruellest and nastiest policy that we’ve had from this government, devised by Iain Duncan Smith. I think there’s probably a lot of people, not just in the Labour Party, but in the Tory Party and across the country who wonder why someone like that is in his job." 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.