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Clegg talks Double Dutch

The Deputy PM is using his knowledge of Dutch to foil Cameron's spies.

Mistrust is deepening between the Europhobic David Cameron and the Eurofanatic Nick Clegg. I hear Downing Street insisted that a No 10 minder attend a meeting in the Deputy Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office lair with Herman Van Rompuy of the European Council. Van Rompuy is that elusive creature, a near-famous Belgian. Clegg is even rarer – a polyglot Brit. The Lib Dem internationalist has five languages: French, German, Spanish, Dutch and Tory. Irritated at No 10’s snooping, Clever Cloggs conducted the entire session in Dutch, so the PM’s cloth-eared spy was left fuming in the corner, listening but not understanding a double- Dutch conversation.

Regulars at a watering hole in Shropshire have sided with a local copper against a prominent Tory MP after an unfortunate incident in the toilets of the Huntsman of Little Wenlock. DS Graham  Cooper was cautioned for common assault against Mark Pritchard, the cop pushing the Wrekin politician into a wall when the pair fell out. My snout with the pewter tankard whispers that drinkers rallied behind the fuzz, unfurling a “Welcome Back Graham” banner and purchasing drinks for Cooper when the detective popped back in. Pritchard, on the other hand, must buy his own drinks.

To the TUC rally in Hyde Park, London. Ed Miliband supping tea with James Smith, the actor who plays Glenn Cullen in The Thick of It, wasn’t his only private cuppa. Red Ed (as was) looked very comradely with Red Len, that is, McCluskey of Unite. The risk of a snapper papping the brothers-in-arms for a Tory rag proved resistible for a One-Nation Labour heavy. He positioned his bulky frame in the door to block prying lenses.

I’m told Grumpy Labour’s John Prescott crashed when he copied One-Nation Ed by prowling the stage at a fundraiser for the Jimmy Knapp Cancer Fund. My snout compared Puffing Prezza’s performance to the derailment of a restaurant coach, all spilled words and spluttering. The one-time transport secretary’s expression of “pride” in public ownership of the east coast main line was met by a sound similar to screeching brakes from the direction of Bob Crowbar. The RMT’s high-speed militant complained Prezza did nothing and that routes are in state control only because two private operators, Sea Containers and National Express, hit the buffers. Bad blood has flowed between the pair since Crowbar evicted Prezza from a cheap union flat.

Eric “Rambo” Joyce claims another victim. Brewers of Sunderland’s 111-year-old Double Maxim brown ale were instructed to produce a 4 per cent version of the 4.7 per cent beer for sale in trangers’ Bar. House officials fear strong drink could send another MP berserk. In my experience, members are more likely to fall over than lash out after imbibing strong drink.

Government grants of £8m are Labour’s joint-biggest income source besides union affiliation fees. One wag suggested that such nationalisation of the party would fulfil the dream of Labour’s old Clause Four.

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 29 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Something Rotten

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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.