Housing is a key voter priority. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.