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Commons Confidential: A donkey stalks Westminster

Why has supposed Tory leadership hopeful Adam Afriyie been popping in to visit Liam Fox?

Declarations of loyalty to David Cameron from Adam Afriyie were undermined by an admission he had discussed the “long-term future of the party” with other Tories. The hapless Windsor MP may be more stalking donkey than stalking horse but his wealth, reportedly as large as £100m, buys him clout. He might never wear the crown, but one so rich could finance a coronation. Which office did my snout see Afriyie popping in and out of in the weeks before the great plot was publicly alleged? None other than the Commons den – an office along a corridor called the North Curtain, a short cut from the hairdressers – of Dr Liam Fox. Afriyie may not harbour leadership ambitions but I’m not sure the same could be said of the right-wing former defence secretary.

The “Nazi stag party” MP Aidan Burley continues to confound colleagues on the Commons work and pensions committee with his poor grasp of government programmes. Hurly-Burley interrupted a discussion of Disability Living Allowance with a question about Employment and Support Allowance. My informant said it was rather like raising India during deliberations on South America. The more I hear about Burley, the easier it is to grasp how he failed to understand that an SS uniform would cause offence. I suspect he isn’t overwhelmed with bids when pub quiz teams are formed.

Interesting to note how peers’ attendance in the House of Cronies is going up with their expenses. A parliamentary answer disclosed that the average daily turnout in 2010 was 397 unelected lawmakers, who claimed a mean (in the arithmetical sense) of £270. Fast-forward to 2012 and the typical attendance was up to 488 and the average payout had risen to £287. Meanwhile, Lords staff are heading for their fourth successive annual pay freeze.

Food for thought after Ed Miliband and Mervyn King got into a stew by claiming that Brendan Barber would be going on a Jamie Oliver cookery course after he retired from the TUC. The Labour leader and the governor of the Bank of England, I gather, both got the wrong end of the ladle at the general sec’s farewell party. Barber is no union chef. The recipe for confusion is blamed on a half-boiled rumour.

The Pizzagate photograph of the upper-crust Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson enjoying a Davos dinner on the eve of hard cheese for the British economy has been labelled, as William Cash notes on page 13, the Bullingdon Club on tour. Despite its familiarity, the idea that the three most powerful Tories were members of the same Hooray Henry society at Oxford retains the ability to startle. I’m told Boris boasts privately that his £389,625, including Torygraphmoney, exceeds the salaries of Dave and George combined. They’re not all in this together.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 04 February 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Intervention Trap

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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.