Housing is a key voter priority. Photo: Getty
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The Home Front: why housing will be a key general election battleground

New Ipsos MORI research shows how important housing is as an electoral issue. So what next for policymakers?

"Rent Freedom Day" and London’s "March for Homes" followed hard-on-the-heels of the New Era and Focus E15 campaigns while our recent research for the Chartered Institute for Housing which found three-quarters of Britons and 67 per cent of MPs agreeing that there is a national “housing crisis”. So, is housing an important issue electorally, and how are the parties polling?

First, the electoral demography; in sixteen of the BBC’s 49 marginal constituencies those who rent their accommodation comprise 40 per cent or more of the population and they are the majority in four seats. By contrast, owner-occupiers vastly outnumber renters in marginals such as Wirral South, East Dunbartonshire and Mid Dorset and North Poole.

Thus the map of Britain’s key marginal seats is not only a patchwork of red, blue, orange, green and yellow, but also one of different tenure profiles. And while owner-occupiers have 2.5 times the "voting power" of renters nationally (being twice as numerous and more likely to vote), this arithmetic will vary locally. Mobilising renters could bring success and there is more electoral ‘upside’ among this group, but their sheer weight of numbers makes it folly to ignore mortgage holders and owners.

How are the parties doing? A problem for both Labour and the Conservatives is that they face challenges among their traditional tenure constituencies. For example, historically, more owners have voted Conservative than Labour (even during the Blair years) but analysis of those "certain to vote" in our aggregated monthly 2014 polls shows the Conservative share dipping, and Ukip’s rising. Similarly, social renters have always been Labour-leaning and the party share is up on 2010, but only just and, again, Ukip have reached 15 per cent.

(Click on graph to enlarge)

The Conservatives and Labour are neck-and-neck among mortgage holders who, along with private renters, are the two "bellwether" tenures (they tend to vote the same way as Britain does). The Conservatives will be relieved that mortgage interest rates will stay stable until later this year while Labour will be cheered by its showing among those renting privately, up eight points on 2010 although their share is being squeezed by both Ukip and the Greens. Moreover, private renters are the least likely tenure to be registered to vote and less likely than owner-occupiers to turn out.

This all points to something we already knew; the general election is extremely unpredictable. The picture is unclear on housing too; it is more salient at this stage before an election than it was in 2005 and 2010, but is an issue which only 5 per cent identify as determining their vote. And while there is a strong sense that housing is in crisis and is something government can do something about, house prices and affordability are the salient issues and are associated more with the market than government (and often weakly associated in the public’s mind with supply).

Labour lead the Conservatives on the issue of housing but we ought to remember that housing is not the be-all-and-end-all issue among any tenure group. Even among private renters who are particularly concerned with housing, the issue trails the NHS, immigration, the economy and unemployment. It does, though, make the top three in London. And perhaps recognising this, the Conservatives have made housing one of their six national election themes while Labour and the Liberal Democrats have repeated pledges to build new homes at volume.

What next? The safest bet is probably that housing will feature more at the 2015 general election than four years ago, especially safe given very limited attention it has received at past elections. But should it be more than the ‘second order’ issue that looks likely? While our polling finds a growing sentiment that we are talking "too much" about immigration, 82 per cent agree that government should give more attention to housing.

Ben Marshall is Research Director, Ipsos MORI Housing and tweets @BenM_IM

Ben Marshall is a research director at Ipsos MORI.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.