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Could housing be the next big political divide?

Reports the Tories will resurrect Help to Buy open them up to accusations of being tired and out of ideas.

By Freddie Hayward

The government is looking to resurrect the Help to Buy scheme for first-time homebuyers, according to the Times. The scheme, which was George Osborne’s creation and enabled first-time buyers to get a house with a 5 per cent deposit, ended in March. Reports suggest the government is ready to revive it, in some form, as part of a pitch to an electorate cramped in small and expensive housing.

The government has a long way to go to regain credibility on the issue of housing. Housebuilding has collapsed in the past year. Since Rishi Sunak gave in to backbench pressure to scrap compulsory housing targets in December, 55 local authorities have dropped their targets. Increasing demand, as Help to Buy and two stamp duty cuts in recent years have done, without building more houses leads to higher prices. Not exactly the radical proposals such a crisis demands.

Even though housing doesn’t feature in either Labour or the Conservatives’ priorities, the conservatives will know they need a response to Labour’s increasingly strident statements on the issue. “I want Labour to be the party of home ownership,” Keir Starmer told the Observer over the weekend, saying that Labour would reinstate the housing targets. The Times’s Patrick Maguire reports that Labour is set to re-examine the green belt and draw up plans for new towns. As ever, the party is withholding the details until the autumn.

In any case, it suits Labour for the conservatives to revert to a policy that is almost a decade old and didn’t solve the problem in the first place. “The same old Tories, with the same tired solutions,” is an easy line for Labour to take. Sunak’s weak grip on the parliamentary party when he first took office – although it has now tightened, as I pointed out in my profile of his best friend and new aide, James Forsyth – has limited his ambitions. That is a weakness Labour can exploit.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

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[See also: Housing crisis: A generation locked out]

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