Show Hide image

Commons Confidential: When Nadine met Nigel

Plus: Dave the builder - can he fix it?

The dead hand of Tory HQ is a running joke in Conservative circles. In the run-up to the local elections, the Prime Minister was packed off to Lancashire and trailed by TV cameras to Buckshaw Village, just outside Chorley. There, David Cameron put on a hard hat and high-vis jacket to lay the foundations for the Tory victory, which, of course, failed to materialise. So far, so controlled spin. Until, that is, Dave was ushered in to a prearranged chat with a nice couple, Amy and Neil, who’d recently purchased a Barratt home. Just the type of aspirational couple that Dave the Builder might hope would vote for a Tory councillor. Except, according to my snout, this happy Mr & Mrs weren’t registered on the electoral roll at their new address. Another dazzling Tory triumph.

The Ukip barfly Nigel Farage has, I hear, made overtures to Nadine Dorries, the MP for Limbo Land. The conversations are more detailed than hitherto publicly acknowledged. Farage is desperate to have a Ukip MP and Dorries fits the bill, as a right-wing, Eurosceptic Con with her own seat. Still hurting from a Nad Attack on “two posh boys who don’t know the price of a pint of milk” – a blue-on-blue strike more damaging than any Labour hit –Dave and George the Buller Boys oppose restoring the whip, suspended nearly six months ago after Nadine’s I’m a Celebrity . . . jungle jaunt. Unless they swallow their pride, the odds may shorten on Mid Beds acquiring a Ukip MP.

His Marxist historian father, Ralph, and CND mother, Marion, make Ed Miliband Labour royalty. I’ve discovered that the Labour leader also has something in common with real royalty: like the Queen, he doesn’t carry cash. On an incursion into Cameron’s Witney backyard, Miliband twice cadged from his aide James Stewart. First he needed a few quid to buy a red tie, then a second subvention to purchase a copy of the Big Issue from a street seller who had more money on him than the man who wants to be prime minister. In-the-Red Ed promised to repay his personal banker. He won’t want borrowing and spending to become a question of individual credibility as well as economic competence.

The Daily Express, a rag styling itself the “world’s greatest newspaper”, was an early cheerleader of the Faragists. Westminster hacks increasingly speculate if its chief political commentator, Patrick O’Flynn, will run for Ukip in the 2014 Euro elections. The hope in the party is he will. The journo himself is uncharacteristically evasive when asked.

Alan Bennett is David Miliband’s parting gift to South Shields. The morose playwright was booked to speak in the town next year before the former foreign secretary decided to set sail for America. Disappointment and tragedy run, appropriately, through Bennett’s works.

Kevin Maguire is the 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 13 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Eton Mess

Show Hide image

Who benefits, and who loses out, from David Cameron’s housing plan?

The prime minister’s plan to scrap the affordable rental homes requirement, explained.

What has Cameron actually announced about housing today?

In David Cameron’s closing speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester today, he announced plans to change the requirements to build affordable rented homes in new developments so developers can build "starter homes" instead of homes to be leased at affordable or social rents. 

The policy is geared toward ensuring that his party meets its campaign pledge of building 200,000 new homes by the close of this parliament, by taking the emphasis off renting (affordable housing requirements usually refer to rented, not owned houses) and onto owning. It should, claims Cameron, take us from “Generation Rent” to “Generation Buy".

What sort of houses will they build instead?

"Starter homes" are homes sold at 80 per cent of market rates to those under 40. These an be sold for a maximum of £450,000 in London, and £250,000 everywhere else. 

That sounds quite good!  

There is a chance that Cameron is right – that removing these obstacles will make developers move through the planning process more quickly, and will help boost the number or houses built. 

But (and this is a big but): most predictions so far are that this won’t happen, and if it does, it’ll only help a very specific demographic. As my colleague Stephen Bush has already pointed out, the announcement is good politics, but bad policy. It makes it look like Cameron is doing something about the housing crisis, while scoring points with big property developers along the way.

My colleague Jonn Elledge, meanwhile, notes that this system could actually slow down housebuilding, as the houses will take longer to sell than they would to let. Moreover, if housebuilding is more profitable in the long run, this will push up land – and therefore house – prices. 

Who'll benefit?

Tory voters and their children, in a nutshell. The starter homes will mostly be one or two bedrooms, and will be aimed at working couples.

Shelter calculated earlier this year that a couple would need a combined income of £76,957 in London and £50,266 in the rest of the UK to afford one of these homes, which makes it clear that they're aimed at well-off professionals. If you're in a stable relationship, earn £40,000 or £26,000 a year each and are looking to get on the housing ladder, you're in luck. 

Who won't it help? 

Everyone else. Under this policy, the Conservatives are effectively redefining “affordable”, just as they co-opted the phrase “living wage” earlier this year. By most peoples' definitions, a housing option only available to those with access to £80,000 in earnings a year is not affordable. The situation outside London is a little better. 

That’s not to say the affordable housing requirements were perfect before – these, too, were defined by some councils as 80 per cent of market rents, which in many places equates to anything but affordable. Yet removing the requirement for affordable rentals leaves nothing for those unable to afford to buy, leaving the squeezed lower-middle (and most young people) increasingly in the lurch.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.