Ed Miliband answers questions from members of the public during his People's Question Time at Nelson and Colne College on February 19, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Miliband floors Cameron on MPs' second jobs

The Prime Minister was left looking as inert as Gordon Brown following the expenses scandal. 

It is some time since David Cameron has endured a defeat as bad as that he suffered at today's PMQs. Ed Miliband unsurprisingly led on the lobbying scandal and pressed the case for reform of MPs' second jobs (the subject of a Labour motion tonight). Cameron replied that he did not rule out "further changes" but the tone of lofty scepticism was unmistakable. At this, an animated Miliband pounced. Had the PM not once declared that "double-jobbing MPs won’t get a look-in when I’m in charge"? Cameron replied with what he thought was a trump card - Labour's motion would allow MPs to serve as paid trade union officials - but it proved to be a dud. Miliband simply ruled out this exemption and invited the PM to do business. (There are, in any case, no Labour MPs who occupy this role.) He offered to consult on the level of an outside earnings cap, while demanding that the government agree to a ban on directorships and consultancies. 

A wrong-footed Cameron could only respond with pre-heated attacks on the trade unions, intermingled with cheap barbs at Tristram Hunt and David Miliband over their outside earnings. (The most reliable indicator of a defeat for the PM is the number of times he mentions Len McCluskey and co.) Swatting away the case for reform, he appeared as inert as Gordon Brown did following the expenses scandal. "This is a very big test. You can vote for two jobs, or you can vote for one. I’ll be voting for one job; what will he be voting for?" cried Miliband with the confidence of a man who knows he has the public on his side (voters support a ban on MPs holding second jobs by 56 per cent to 25). In return, Cameron could only offer feeble non sequiturs: "I make an offer to him, no more support from trade unions for the Labour Party – then we’ve got a deal!" He looked like what he was: a man desperate to change the subject. 

Following his exchanges with Miliband, Cameron was questioned by the DUP's Westminster leader Nigel Dodds on the seemingly doomed TV debates. Today's session was an apt reminder of why he does not want to face the leader of the opposition. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.