Labour leadership candidate Andy Burnham during the State Opening of Parliament on May 27, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Burnham promises to establish pro-EU Labour group separate from the Tories

Ahead of Brussels visit, leadership candidate says he will "learn the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum" by not joining forces with the Conservatives. 

It is Europe that will define British politics until the Tories' promised referendum on EU membership is held. Aware of this, Andy Burnham will today become the first of the Labour leadership contenders to visit Brussels. The shadow health secretary will use the trip to woo Labour MEPs (some of whom wield significant influence among party members) and to further outline the stance he would take on the EU (he has already called for the referendum to be held by next autumn). 

After the party's collapse in Scotland, following its decision to campaign alongside the Conservatives during the independence referendum (a policy Gordon Brown long warned would lead to ruin), Burnham will announce that he would establish a separate "Labour Yes" campaign for the referendum. His stance will assuage fears, most notably among northern MPs, that Ukip could thrive by framing the party as the Tories' accomplice. 

During his meetings with MEPs and the UK Ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rodgers, Burnham will also discuss his renegotiation agenda, including reforms to the EU Posted Workers Directive to strengthen the enforcement of the national minimum wage and address the undercutting of high-skilled labour; action against agencies who recruit exclusively from abroad and deny local workers employment opportunities; and reform of entitlement to in and out of work benefits to reflect the contributory principle.

Burnham said:

Even though Labour is in a leadership campaign, I am not going to let the EU debate be defined by David Cameron. Today, I will discuss with Labour colleagues in the European Parliament what a distinctive pro-European reform package will look like.

These are areas that David Cameron will not be focusing on and that is why we be raising them today to make the Labour case for Europe. Re-negotiation cannot be a green light to turn the clock back and weaken employment rights.

 Labour will also learn the lessons of the Scottish independence referendum and it is my intention to have a separate 'Labour Yes' campaign.

But already there are signs of tensions within Labour over the referendum, with pro-Europeans fearing the party will shy away from full-throated support for EU membership. The shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden writes in the new issue of Progress magazine: "There is no doubt that the way we argued our referendum case was an issue on the doorstep in Scotland, though the troubles of Scottish Labour go deeper than that. The Scottish National party had been running Scotland for years and already held a majority in the Scottish parliament.

"So let us debate how we shape our argument and if learning from the Scottish experience points to a more distinct Labour yes campaign then we should establish that. But there is a difference between campaign tactics and holding to our strategic position.

"We could not have opted out of the argument to maintain the UK. We are not a nationalist party."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

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