Conservative blogs lead online, says new report

Study says smears scandal has damaged Labour's online efforts

Conservative blogs have established a clear lead over their left-wing rivals, according to a new report published today.

The study, carried out by Social Media Affairs, found that 19 per cent of bloggers identified as Conservative Party supporters compared to 16 per cent each for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

The report Politics Online 2009 coincides with the launch of Social Media Affairs, the UK’s first major directory of political blogs.

Graham Lee, the Chief Executive of the group, suggested that the email smears scandal, which forced LabourList editor Derek Draper to resign, had stunted Labour’s online efforts.

He said: “During the weeks that news of the scandal took hold, LabourList, which Derek Draper so effectively grew in 50 days to become a central hub for Labour in the political blogosphere, quickly turned face to house the majority of criticism and furore online.”

LabourList, founded to counter popular right-wing blogs such as ConservativeHome and Guido Fawkes, is now run by former deputy editor Alex Smith.

In a foreword to the report, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications and one of Labour’s most prominent bloggers, makes a passionate appeal for more politicians to engage with social media.

He writes: “Politicians need to stop seeing social media as an alternative to traditional media communications. It is not about bypassing the papers or TV. It is understanding that people are both more demanding and more understanding than they get credit for.”

Campbell urges Labour to emulate the online success of Barack Obama, who he says “married the best of new campaigning with the best of the old.”

The study found that 19 per cent of Conservative MPs blogged, compared to 14 per cent of Labour MPs and 6 per cent of Liberal Democrats.

All the major parties are seeking to strengthen their online presence as they prepare for a general election late this year or early next year.

Labour have advertised an internet manager role with a six-figure salary and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg recently appointed MP Lynne Featherstone to head a technology advisory board.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.