Ed Miliband delivering a speech on international development in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Miliband pledges to scrap stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader promises to remove charge on properties worth up to £300,000 as party steps up housing offensive. 

At the start of the final full week of campaigning, Labour is maintaining its focus on housing, an issue that is playing a bigger role at this election than any other in recent history. After yesterday promising a cap on private rent increases, Ed Miliband will pledge to scrap stamp duty for almost all first-time buyers and to give them priority access to new homes - two strong policy offers that the Tories will struggle to match. He will also announce that Labour would begin construction on a million new homes by 2020 to deliver its commitment to build 200,000 a year by the end of the parliament. 

Stamp duty will be reduced to zero on properties worth up to £300,000, which Labour estimates would benefit nine in 10 first-time buyers by up to £5,000. The £225m cost would be met by tackling tax avoidance by landlords (through the introduction of a national register), increasing the tax paid by holding companies that buy property on behalf of investors, raising stamp duty on foreign buyers from outside the EU by at least 3 per cent and reducing the tax relief that rogue landlords receive for repairs and upkeep when the properties they own are not up to the required standard. 

Labour's "first call" policy would give first-time buyers that have lived in an area for more than three years priority access to up to half of all the homes built in their area. In addition, the "local first" policy would make it illegal to advertise properties abroad before doing so at home, increase taxes on foreign investors and allow local councils to charge 100 per cent more council tax on any homes that have been left empty for one year to discourage "buy to leave".

In a speech in the ultra-marginal Tory seat of Stockton, Miliband will say: "There’s nothing more British than the dream of home ownership, starting out in a place of your own. But for so many young people today that dream is fading with more people than ever renting when they want to buy, new properties being snapped up before local people get a look-in, young families wondering if this country will ever work for them. That is the condition of Britain today, a modern housing crisis which only a Labour government will tackle." 

Of the stamp duty pledge, he will say: "It is simply too expensive for so many young people to buy a home today, saving up for the deposit, paying the fees and having enough left over for the stamp duty. So we’re going to act so we can transform the opportunities for young working people in our country. For the first three years of the next Labour government, we will abolish stamp duty for all first time buyers of homes under £300,000."

The aim of widening property ownership has historically been viewed as a conservative aspiration but it is one that Labour has also embraced. In an article for the New Statesman in 2012, Marc Stears, Miliband’s chief speechwriter, wrote: "The stable patterns of social interaction that are associated with communities of ownership are preconditions for the kind of social reciprocity that the left champions, as well as the more conservative disposition that is more usually commented upon." It is also true that the majority of voters continue to wish to own their own home. No party with an interest in winning elections can afford to neglect this desire. Miliband has made it his ambition to double the number of first-time buyers to 400,000 by 2025.

Unlike the Conservatives, however, Labour has recognised the economic reality that, even with state assistance, property will remain prohibitively expensive for many. There are votes to be won in improving conditions for the UK’s 11 million private renters (who now outnumber their social counterparts). Thirty five per cent are swing voters and more than half of these (52 per cent) cite the cost of housing as their greatest concern. Even more notably for Westminster psephologists, there are 86 constituencies in which the incumbent party’s majority is smaller than the former group. Of this total, 37 feature on Labour’s target list of 106 seats. It is with an eye to capturing such constituencies that the party has promised to standardise three-year tenancies, to cap rent increases and to ban letting agents from charging fees to tenants. In London, in particular, where the party hopes to win almost all 12 of its target seats, this will help give Labour the edge. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

A tale of two electorates: will rural France vote for Emmanuel Macron?

His chief rival, Marine Le Pen, was campaigning as the “candidate of the forgotten” years before Donald Trump entered politics.

It was a wet night in Paris, but hundreds of people were queuing outside the Antoine Theatre. It was standing room only to see Emmanuel Macron tonight, as it has been for weeks.

The 39-year-old former investment banker gave his usual energetic performance, delivering a well-practised pitch for a progressive, business-friendly and unabashedly pro-European France. His reward: a standing ovation and chants of Macron, président!

This theatre appearance on 8 March was an appropriate stop for a campaign that has been packed with more political drama than a series of House of Cards. Ahead of the first round of voting in the French presidential election on 23 April, the centrist independent has gone from underdog to the man most likely to beat the Front National’s Marine Le Pen. His other main rival, François Fillon of the right-wing Republicans, has been hampered by allegations that he paid his wife and children as parliamentary assistants, despite scant evidence of them doing any work.

Macron, meanwhile, has been attracting support from disenchanted voters on both left and right.

“It’s a new party, a new movement, a new face,” said Claire Ravillo-Albert, a 26-year-old human resources student and ex-Socialist in the queue outside the theatre. “We’re worlds away from the old Socialists and the Republicans here.”

Macron is not a typical outsider, having made millions in banking before serving as an advisor to François Hollande and as economy minister from 2014 to 2016. Nor can his ideas be described as radical. He is “of the left”, he says, but “willing to work with the right”.

For many he seems to embody an enticing alternative to the tired political class. Macron has never run for office before and if successful, would be the youngest president of the modern French republic. Many recruits to his one-year-old party En Marche! are young and relatively new to politics.

“I think he’ll change the French political landscape, and we need that,” said Olivier Assouline, a bank worker in an immaculate grey suit. “He knows business, he knows the state. I think he’s the right person at the right moment,” said the 44-year-old, who previously voted for right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Many queuing for the rally were underwhelmed by Socialist achievements over the past five years – not least the dismal state of the economy – and had little enthusiasm for Fillon, a social conservative and economic Thatcherite.

Macron’s manifesto sticks firmly to the centre-ground. He has promised tax cuts for companies and millions of poor and middle-class families, as well as a few offbeat ideas like a one-off 500-euro grant for each 18-year-old to spend on books and cultural activities.

“With his central positioning, Macron is taking from everywhere – he has the capacity to seduce everyone,” says Frédéric Dabi, deputy director at the polling company IFOP. They estimate that Macron will take half the votes that went to Hollande when he won the last presidential election in 2012, and 17 per cent of those that went to runner-up Sarkozy.

Outside the theatre, the line was split between voters from the left and the right. But there was one word on almost everyone’s lips: Europe. At a time of continental soul-searching, Macron’s converts have chosen a candidate who backs the European Union as a guarantor of peace and celebrates free movement.

“He’s unusual in that he puts that centre-stage,” said Emma, a 27-year-old legal worker who preferred to be identified by her first name only. “Macron offers a good compromise on economic issues. But for me it’s also about Europe, because I think that’s our future.”

With Fillon and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon both languishing behind in the polls, the second round of the presidential vote, on 7 May, is likely to be a contest between Macron and Le Pen. These are both candidates who claim to have moved beyond left-right politics, and who are both offering opposing visions of France.

This is also a tale of two electorates. Le Pen was campaigning as the “candidate of the forgotten” years before Donald Trump entered politics, traipsing around deindustrialised towns appealing to those who felt left behind by globalisation.

In the queue to see Macron were lawyers, PR consultants, graphic designers; students, gay couples and middle-class Parisians of multiple ethnicities. These are the representatives of a cosmopolitan, successful France. It was hard not to be reminded of the “metropolitan elite” who voted against Brexit.

Macron has called for investment in poorer communities, and his campaign staff pointedly invited onstage a struggling single mother as a warm-up act that night.

Yet his Socialist rival, Benoit Hamon, accuses him of representing only those who are doing pretty well already. It is hard for some to disassociate Macron from his education at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration – university of choice for the political elite – and his career at Rothschild. One infamous incident from early in the campaign sticks in the memory, when he told a pair of workers on strike: “You don’t scare me with your t-shirts. The best way to pay for a suit is to work.” For Macron, work has usually involved wearing a tie.

IFOP figures show him beating Le Pen soundly in when it comes to the voting intentions of executives and managers – 37 per cent to her 18 per cent. But when it comes to manual workers, she takes a hefty 44 per cent to his 17. He would take Paris; she fares better in rural areas and among the unemployed.

If Frédéric Dabi is to be believed, Macron’s bid for the centre-ground could pay off handsomely. But not everyone is convinced.

“He’s the perfect representative of the electorate in the big globalised cities,” the geographer Christophe Guilluy told Le Point magazine in January.

“But it’s the peripheries of France that will decide this presidential election.”