Champagne or sham pain

Citizen Dave's bubbly ban is being defied.

Citizen Dave's bubbly ban is being defied by the chain-smoking Simon Burns, the unhealthiest of health ministers. The portly Tory is so fond of a glass of fizz that he's prepared to lay down both his diet and Cameroonian solidarity with austerity for the sake of a bottle of Pol Roger. The gasping Burns was overheard in Westminster by a radar-lugged snout yearning for the stuff to be served at a farewell for one of his department's senior officials. “I hope they have champagne," swooned Burns. "It may not be good for my diet but I do love champagne." I'm old enough to recall when Conservatives claimed to love not champagne but the NHS. You may remember, too: it was before last year's election in May.

Ed Miliband was, I hear, chuffed to learn that he beat Michael Gove on "fanciability" in the Sky News Politicos Top Trumps. But Gove can look down on the foetus-like William Hague, who may mock Danny Alexander, Harriet Harman's ginger rodent. In the land of the geek, the panda-eyed one is king.

To the North Durham fiefdom of Kevan Jones, Fox-hunting member of the shadow defence pack. Nothing is regarded as too good for the workers in a seat held by Labour since 1906, so the constituency party's annual dinner was in the four-star Beamish Hall hotel. The raffle, however,remained a distinctly Old Labour affair.

The chief fundraiser, Jack Doyle, gnarled veteran of the GMB machine, must be one of the last dictators since Muammar al-Gaddafi's death. Doyle's Law deprived the Labour educashon spokesman, Stephen Twigg, of £100 in M&S vouchers. The grand mufti ordered a redraw because the Liverpool MP wasn't present to pick up the prize.

My advice to Twiggy is: let it go. Doyle's Law would be a tougher challenge than party policy on free schools.

Boris Johnson's pledge to take the last of London's bendy buses off the road by Christmas could prove costly for Zoe Williams, the Mayor
of London's foe-in-chief at the Guardian.Williams, I discovered, is a self-confessed fare dodger. Your columnist's eye was directed to a hitherto overlooked admission in the pages of her rag. "I actually had a lot of affection for bendy buses, mainly because evading your fare was so easy that to pay was almost missing the point," wrote Williams in May. "We used to call it 'freebussing'. I said that to the photographer and she said:
‘But they only came in a few years ago. You weren't 12 . . . You weren't even a student. You were . . .' I was 31. Can I be arrested for saying this? Ach, I will just pretend it was a joke." Nurse! My ribs hurt from laughing.

Thieves broke into the office of the City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods and drank a bottle of House of Commons whisky destined for the Jones raffle. She's also lost two bottles of wine - another victim of Doyle's Law, because Blackman-Woods, too, wasn't in Beamish Hall for the raffle.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?

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.