Stalin's lovechild

The rozzers enter Westminster without a warrant, help themselves to the contents of an MP’s office a

This is the time of year for traditions. And one of them is that the newspapers are full of untrue stories about killjoys trying to ban Christmas. Luton council has forbidden people to celebrate the festival. Birmingham has renamed it “Winterval“. A Reading man has been told to take his decorations down.

I came across a good example the other day. The management of the Marlowes Centre in Hemel Hempstead has banned the Brownies’ usual carol-singing event on health and safety grounds. They have been declared a fire risk.

Unlike the journalists who raged about this decision, I took the trouble to ring Hertfordshire Fire Brigade. They confirmed that Brownies are highly inflammable and that the centre had no choice.


I had not heard of Len Duvall before today. He sounds like a ballroom champion whose attempt at Continental sophistication - by adopting “Duvall” - is undercut by his first name. Maybe he is one of the less popular judges on Strictly Come Dancing?

He turns out to be the leader of the Labour group on the Greater London Authority.

How times change! In the winter months, as the wind howls around the Devil’s Chair and rattles the windows of the Stiperstones Inn, I keep the locals enthralled with tales of the glory days of the old Greater London Council.

There was Sir Horace Cutler. Ken Livingstone, his newts and acolytes. And more exotic creatures too.

Adrian Slade, for a time the only Liberal on the GLC, was a cousin of the Julian Slade who wrote Salad Days.

George Tremlett, a Tory councillor, was the king of the cut 'n' paste biographers. In the 1970s he poured out instant, uncritical works on chart acts like Gary Glitter, Alvin Stardust and Slik.

Slik? A poor girl’s Bay City Rollers, they were the band Midge Ure started out with. He doesn’t talk about it.

These leading GLC councillors were public figures whose reputations reached far beyond London. So much so that councillor-spotting became a popular hobby with schoolboys. They thronged the approaches to County Hall with their notebooks, squealing with excitement when a Tony Banks or a Dave Wetzel came into view.

You won’t find them at the new City Hall. London politics has not produced a figure of substance for years. Some people mention Nicky Gavron, but I never worked out who he or she was.

But then whole point of the new way of governing London was to produce a strong, charismatic figure who would bang heads together and get things done without wasting time on committee meetings. Tony Blair’s ideal candidate would have been the bastard lovechild of Richard Branson and Joe Stalin.

The anaemic assembly set up to monitor the Mayor has not proved the sort of institution that allows politicians to build support across the city. But then it was not meant to.

Which brings us back to Len Duvall.

He has written to the chief executive of the Metropolitan Police Authority complaining that Boris Johnson has breached its code of conduct by speaking to Damian Green and discussing the case in public.

Wonderful. The rozzers enter Westminster without a warrant, help themselves to the contents of an MP’s office and all Labour’s leading London politician can do is complain the Mayor has not been supportive enough.

From what I hear, local councillors now spend their time reporting the opposition to the Standards Board like officious schoolchildren: “Miss, Miss, he said a bad word.”

But shouldn’t a great city like London be able to produce one politician who can rise above that?

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England
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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.