Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Could Chris Huhne take Nick Clegg or David Cameron with him? (Daily Telegraph)

The by-election in Eastleigh brought about by the Lib Dem's resignation will be fought viciously and will expose every rift in the coalition, writes Peter Oborne.

2. A crisis needs a firewall not a ringfence (Financial Times)

We cannot solve our banking problems until the eurozone does too, says Alistair Darling.

3. Gay marriage: no one can stop this social revolution now (Independent)

Some lives will be improved, a wider signal conveyed about tolerance, but the legalisation of gay marriage will have a negligible effect on the next election, says Steve Richards.

4. The shadow of 1914 falls over the Pacific (Financial Times)

China, like Germany 100 years ago, fears the established power is intent on blocking its ascent, writes Gideon Rachman. 

5. Voters won’t listen if the Tories talk only among themselves (Daily Telegraph)

The Mid-Staffs report demands a united front, but the party is rowing over gay marriage, writes Benedict Brogan.

6. The end of nuclear power? Careful what you wish for (Guardian)

Flawed and stalled as the plans for toxic waste may be, at least they exist, says George Monbiot. There is no way to clean up CO2, the greater evil.

7. There’s no such thing as an MP’s private life (Times) (£)

Chris Huhne’s fall was personal, not political, writes Rachel Sylvester. But in today’s Westminster pressure cooker that counts for nothing.

8. George Osborne: hedging his bets (Guardian)

The Chancellor wants to eat his cake and have it when it comes to banking reform, says a Guardian editorial. 

9. Gay marriage and a split no one wanted (Daily Mail)

In the depths of the worst economic crisis in living memory, the Prime Minister has pushed this fringe obsession to the top of his programme for government, says a Daily Mail editorial.

10. Israel, Palestine and the mapping of power (Guardian)

In portraying politics rather than geography, Ramallah and Jerusalem are displaying instincts as ancient as Ptolemy, writes Tristram Hunt. 

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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.