Superman vs the blogosphere

My money's on the blogosphere.

Yes, Clark Kent, the humanoid alter ego of benign alien Christ-figure Kal-El, is leaving the inky empire of the Daily Planet to type away in the spare bedroom. 

I can understand Kent's reasons for binning newsprint in favour of the electronic world. We've all been there, Mr Man (or may I call you Super?), working for a faceless and relatively evil corporation, hacking away at deadlines, crafting exquisitely delicate articles about Very Important Things, only to see them spiked in favour of some lightweight pap.

I feel your pain. You may be able to stop a speeding bullet, but you can’t seem to get a front-page lead for love nor money.

Superblogger’s arrival is a timely boost for the public perception of our craft. We're all too easily stereotyped as tragic, forlorn figures frenziedly tapping out our little rants while softly weeping about our hopeless lives - so the arrival of a bona fide superhero in our ranks might up our profile a little.  

Maybe it says something about the parlous state of the industry that one of its leading fictional lights is swapping the press for the blogosphere. Will we be able to call the death of traditional journalism as the date that Superman decided to go it alone? Or is it just a plot point that will see Superman arguing with random strangers about semantics when he really ought to be solving crimes and saving the world? 

I warn you now, Clark, it’s not an easy business being a blogger. Sure, you think it’s probably a piece of cake compared with juggling your busy life as a crime-fighting superhero with finding scoops at the Daily Planet, but let me tell you: blogging is a proper full-time job.

You’ve not experienced true heroism until you’ve fought off a swarm of angry commenters taking you to task over your latest blogpost. You’ve not known kryptonite, my friend, until you’ve written something about racism or the Middle East.

Don’t go thinking, either, Mr Man, that this is going to be some kind of liberating experience away from the newsroom. Far from it. If you’re going to be running your own blog, you’re going to have to forego the security blanket of sub-editors and proofreaders: from now on, every single word you write will come under scrutiny from the most bloodthirsty pedants in the galaxy.

One error in punctuation; one ‘their’ instead of ‘there’ and you might as well go and hide in the corner for the rest of the afternoon, rocking yourself to sleep as the tears roll down your face. Did they teach you about grammar Nazis on Krypton? I doubt it.

Poor Superman. You can just imagine him, in his unwashed costume, surrounded with takeaway cartons in a room only dimly lit by the glow of his battered laptop screen. He mutters: “I really should save those brave kittens from plummeting into the vat of boiling acid... But someone just called me a bad feminist for not being intersectional enough and they're plain WRONG!”

I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy, let alone a superhero. 

Superman quits journalism. Photograph: Getty Images

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media

Photo: Getty Images
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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.