Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Baker’s vocational lesson for young Mr Gove (Times) (£)

I’ve always been a believer in an old-school generalist education but visiting the JCB Academy has shifted my thinking, says Matthew Parris.

2. Britons still don’t believe that the Tories are on their side (FT) (£)

As things stand, the Conservative party faces defeat in 2015, writes Michael Ashcroft.

3. Walking away from Leveson is not acceptable (Guardian)

The press's alternative royal charter is a brazen attempt by powerful newspaper proprietors to remain unaccountable, says Christopher Jefferies.

4. James Boswell revolutionised the way we see great men – and women (Telegraph)

Ever since the 'Life of Samuel Johnson’, the biography has been a force in British culture, says Charles Moore, authorised biographer of Margaret Thatcher.

5. The IMF's check-up will give George Osborne another headache (Independent)

Miliband may need five symbolic cuts to convince that he means business on the deficit, says Andrew Grice.

6. Want to boost the economy? Ban all meetings (Guardian)

David Cameron has had the cabinet table extended so more spads can fit around it. Wave goodbye to productivity at No 10, says Marina Hyde.

7. ‘Eton is dedicated to public service’, says No 10 adviser Jesse Norman (Times) (£)

Jesse Norman, David Cameron’s new policy adviser, insists it won’t be all Old Etonian mates at No 10, he tells Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson.

8. Could he trigger a snap general election? (Daily Mail)

Mr Clegg threatens that if David Cameron pulls out of the convention to allow the extremist Islamist to be sent to Jordan, the Coalition could collapse, writes Simon Heffer.

9. Scandal of social housing sell-offs putting more on homeless waiting lists (Mirror)

With more than two million people looking for somewhere to live, this cynical vote-buying exercise has to be reined in, says Paul Routledge.

10. Planet Tory has just got a whole lot more like today’s Planet Britain (Telegraph)

David Cameron's U-turns are reminiscent of Mrs Thatcher's banana skins in the Eighties; then, as now, the real opposition was Conservative MPs, says Graeme Archer.

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.