Weak sauce

Stephen Bush in the New Statesman makes an argument I’ve heard from a few people. The young’uns are furious and therefore Corbyn, but they’re also “Thatcher’s children”. So the Tories can solve all their problems by offering something about “getting on the housing ladder”. It looks like they’re going to implement this.

I am not impressed. Here’s why. Hold on to your hat. First-time buyer gimmes are already Government policy. Help to Buy is a thing. The trailed announcement is apparently that it won’t stop in 2021 or whenever. More broadly, it’s been policy all the way back to 2010 that there should be gimmes for first-time buyers and tax breaks for property developers, and section 163 planning requirements for affordable housing should be 80% of London rents. The gimmes-and-breaks policy is in full effect.

As Molotov said to Ribbentrop: if the British are finished, why are we in this air raid shelter? If it was going to be incredibly popular, wouldn’t that have happened? Well, it’s probably because HTB looks after the really rather well off.

What would a real “offer” look like? Well, you could build an enormous amount of council housing. You’d have to end the right-to-buy or you’d just be filling a bucket without a bottom. And you’d have had to repudiate the one thing about Thatcherism anybody actually liked. You could impose rent control and clamp down on buy-to-let lending. And you’d have comprehensively pissed on your voters’ and donors’ chips. You could cap utility prices, or launch a major economic stimulus to drive up wages….of course you won’t. And then, there’s Brexit. Maybe really big HTB, plus dumping Brexit, plus cutting off the culture war bullshit…that might make some progress?

All these things would have one thing in common. You’d have to give up being the Tories. As I see it, they pretty much are the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Party, fighting for anything that looks after the real estate business, with the Brexit guys as an extra internal veto actor. What is it they could give up on that wouldn’t be vetoed?

This reminds me a little of left-wing people doing the Very Real Concerns thing. You can’t go full racist because you wouldn’t be you, and in any case the party has plenty of potential coalitions to veto and disavow you. So you come up with a weak-sauce sop, but nobody wants to hear about nudge bills if renationalising the utilities is available.

Update: If you want a worked example of this post, here’s Theresa May with a full-throated defence of railway privatisation of all things. Chained to the legacy.

2 comments

  1. Dave Hansell

    The real irony about the Tories is they talk a good talk about being pro capitalist and in favour of entrepreneurship but in practice they are mere plastic Capitalists championing rentiers and neo feudalism trying to set a moment in time in aspic.

    Someone should introduce them to the observations of Kondratiev.

  2. Chris S

    In fairness to Bush he also makes the same points further down the article – that any genuine remedy will hit existing voters – including some of those who have benefitted from HTB schemes

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