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The public won't buy Right to Buy

David Cameron's Right to Buy policy scored good headlines but the public won't buy it.

Earlier this week, David Cameron announced the Conservative Party’s flagship election policy: to extend the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. The discounts, it was explained, would be funded by selling off high-value council houses. Scoring every national paper’s front page (bar The Mirror) was certainly the PR coup that that Conservative Party was looking for, but more in-depth analysis has been mixed. Will this policy stand the, albeit short, test of time between now and polling day?

I hope not. I don’t think that voters will buy it for three reasons: unlike politicians the general public understand that this nation’s housing crisis’ roots lie in the shortage of homes, particularly affordable homes; the public have also been told time and time again to keep the faith that we’re midway through a programme of austerity; and, the public will recognise that it is wholly unfair.

Our polling shows that 8 in 10 members of the public believe that there is a housing crisis in this country. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, they don’t think that an extension of the Right to Buy policy is the answer. Just 16% think extending Right to Buy to housing associations is good way to tackle the affordability crisis, in comparison to 46% who want the Government to give more public money to housing associations and councils to build more affordable homes that will benefit more people. 

Swathes of the public will almost certainly not ‘buy’ this policy, especially those millions of people in private rented homes who are desperate to buy but have no hope of doing so, nor the three million adult children living with their parents because they can’t afford to rent or buy. Little wonder then that 60% of the public believe that it would be unfair for social housing tenants to get a discount to buy their home while private renters do not.

The £17.5bn the Conservatives are planning to raise to fund the discount is enough for housing associations to build nearly one million shared ownership homes open to everyone, not just the lucky few already well housed in secure social homes. That would be a far better way of meeting the nation’s housing aspirations and ambitions than this policy.

 

David Orr is Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation.

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How Ukip’s Douglas Carswell made himself obsolete

The brightest possible future for him now involves joining one of those sinister US think tanks.

On a muggy day in August 2014, Douglas Carswell, the Conservative MP for Clacton in Essex, defected to Ukip, saying that he hoped to see “fundamental change” in British politics. He won the ensuing by-election comfortably, becoming the first person elected to parliament on the purple ticket. The next day, in a column in the Daily Express, his new leader, Nigel Farage, asked how many more Tory MPs would follow suit: “Two, seven, ten?”

Farage wasn’t alone. There were rumours that other Tory right-wingers were poised to follow Carswell over the top. The bookies started laying odds on who would go next. In the end, just one did: Mark Reckless, the MP for Rochester, who defected on 27 September 2014, donning the chain mail and gormless expression of a particularly unthreatening crusader for an ill-judged Sunday Times photo shoot. (Reckless, unlike Carswell, lost his seat in the 2015 general election; he now fights the good fight as a Ukip member of the Welsh Assembly.)

Not only did Farage’s predicted flood never happen, it has now gone into reverse. On 25 March, Carswell quit the party to sit as an independent. This time, oddly, he seems unconcerned that the “only honourable thing” to do would be to call a by-election. Ukip, once again, is left without an MP.

The party’s grandees are delighted. Farage has dismissed Carswell, without irony, as a “Tory party posh boy”, too much of a wuss to talk about immigration. Arron Banks, formerly Ukip’s main donor, was even threatening to stand against him – an interesting approach to take to the only man ever to win your party a seat at a general election.

It’s hard to imagine that Carswell feels too heartbroken, either. He claimed that he only defected in the first place to pressure David Cameron into promising a referendum and to stop Ukip from wrecking the Leave campaign’s chances of victory. On both counts, he succeeded: the referendum was included in the Tories’ 2015 manifesto; official recognition as the voice of the Leave campaign went to the cross-party Vote Leave group, rather than the Ukip-dominated (and Banks-funded) Leave.EU. In this version of events, Carswell was never really a Ukip man at all: the reason so few Tory MPs followed him is that he made sure they didn’t need to.

So has Carswell won? He has achieved his big goal of getting Britain out of the European Union. Yet there’s a measure of pathos in this victory, because he was wrong. It wasn’t his liberal, free-trading vision of Brexit that swung the referendum. It was Banks’s and Farage’s warnings that 70 million Turks were going to move in and take over.

More than that, the tone set by the referendum has put the rest of Carswell’s agenda out of reach. The Plan: Twelve Months to Renew Britain, the 2008 book that he co-wrote with the Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, painted a liberal picture of Brexit, all Norway model and free trade. It spoke of other libertarian pipe dreams, too: moving powers from prime minister to parliament, local democracy and (God forbid) more referendums.

This now looks quaintly irrelevant. It’s hard to see Theresa May’s newly authoritarian Conservative Party embracing these ideas. If Ukip is dying, that’s largely because the ideas that it espoused have been adopted by the governing party.

As for Carswell, he has given up any influence he once had. May, not one to forget betrayals, is unlikely to welcome him back. The Tories will probably throw everything at retaking his seat in 2020 to show that they have conquered the Ukip threat.

How the Clacton MP, aged just 45, will fill the second half of his life is an open question. His CV is not one that points towards a career as a well-paid City adviser. He has neither the passion nor the charm (nor, frankly, the looks) for a broadcast career. The brightest possible future for him involves joining one of those sinister US think tanks that talk a lot about freedom while plotting to make poor people poorer.

Carswell joined Ukip to drag it in a more liberal direction. He ended up pushing the Tories in a more Farageist one. Today, he is best described by an epithet that he once reserved for the EU: obsolete.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition