Have the Tories lost the plot?

When exactly are the Conservatives playing at with their election campaign? A relentlessly disciplined and on message electoral machine has instead looked erratic and directionless. Personal attacks on Ed Miliband have transformed him from a weird nerd into a ruthless dude. Even the right-wing press that is meant to sing to the Tory tune sounds like it has forgotten the words.

I could be completely wrong about all of this of course. There are still 25 days to go till polling day: the UKIP vote could collapse in enough seats the see the Tories home: we could end up being brainwashed rather than bored by the endless repetition of ‘long-term economic plan’ and ‘hardworking families’; Lynton Crosby is a genius, the cross-over will come and the polls could be as wrong as they were in 1992.

For the moment though things seem to keep going wrong for the party that ruled Britain for most of the 20th century but hasn’t won a majority for 23 years. Just as at the last election, the Conservatives seem unable to win more than a third of the vote. For me, this is about more than just UKIP splitting the vote. A bit like with Labour in the 1980s, I’m not clear what the Tories stand for any more.

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Plan C

So the Conservatives will pledge a ‘housing revolution’ at the election. Sound familiar?

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, George Osborne outlined a Tory plan to help a million more people into home ownership in the next parliament thanks to schemes like Help to Buy, Right to Buy and the Starter Home scheme.

‘I would like to see us double the number of first time buyers, up to half a million. That is the kind of level we saw in the 1980s. There is no reason why our country can’t achieve that again. That’s a goal we set ourselves today.

‘I think we can deliver a revolution in home ownership and make this the home-owning democracy, the home-owning society that I think is one of the Conservatives’ core beliefs.’

The chancellor says that visiting building sites is ‘the best part of my job’, not to mention donning high-vis jackets and being pictured with happy first-time buyers. ‘It reminds me of why we are doing this. Ultimately this is about people’s aspirations, their futures and their dreams.’

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The man with a plan who won’t tell us what it is

Question of the day: why won’t George Osborne say where he will find another £10 billion of cuts in welfare?

The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want us to find out before the election but there is a more immediate one too: because he can get away with it.

I found myself shouting at the radio twice today as interviewers failed to pin down first Osborne and then financial secretary David Gauke. The £10 billion figure is the so-far unexplained bit of the total £12 billion of welfare cuts Osborne is planning after the election. It matters both in its own right and because it enables him to deflect the Office for Budget Responsibility’s point about ‘rollercoaster’ cuts in public services.

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Beyond the pale

When if ever will politicians catch up with the scale of the housing crisis unfolding before their eyes?

As the Homes for Britain campaign moves to the heart of Westminster, the default response of the major parties is to promise new homes. Traditionally, these come in multiples of 100,000:  the Conservatives want 100,000 and then 200,000 starter homes; Labour promises 200,000 new homes a year by 2020; the Liberal Democrats say 300,000 with a tenth of those being rent to own; and the Greens want 500,000 rented homes.

It was ever thus of course. Back in the 1950s, Labour and the Conservatives competed with each other to promise more homes. The difference was that they delivered. Macmillan pledged and then exceeded 300,000 a year as housing minister in the 1950s. This numbers game had major downsides in terms of design and build quality that we need to remember but it showed that governments were serious about housing.

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Minority rule

How do flawed policies that are opposed by a majority of MPs manage to survive unscathed?

One of the remaining mysteries of this parliament was solved in the Commons yesterday. Why has it taken the government almost a year to fail to respond to the all-party work and pensions committee’s report on housing benefit? The answer has much to say about how coalition government, and power, work.

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Rallying call

If the political weather turns out to be even half as good as the winter sunshine at Land’s End today, then Homes for Britain is set fair for success.

A rare national housing event happening up the road from me was too good an opportunity to miss so I was there at lunchtime for an event to mark the start of a baton relay that will make its way through the South West by bus in time for the campaign rally in London on March 17.

Hosted by around 30 different housing associations, progress will be marked in different towns and cities along the way with events including snakes and ladders in Bristol and school children making model houses in Witney (David Cameron’s constituency). Regional events are also happening in the North East, North West and Yorkshire & the Humber.

The relay will reach London for March 17 for what is being billed as ‘the biggest housing rally for a generation’ at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster and that will be followed by a billboard campaign in April.

The housing problems of the South West will be highlighted along the way. As Simon Nunn, assistant director of external affairs at the National Housing Federation, told the Land’s End launch, house prices cost 11 times average earnings in Cornwall. You need earnings of £50,000 to buy an average home on an 80 per cent mortgage and £40,000 to buy a lower quartile home. Mean earnings are below £20,000.

Backing his call for action were representatives from housing associations and other organisations across the region, pictured here with the Betsy, the Routemaster bus that will make the trip to the capital:

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-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


Own goals

Could housing hold the key to the Conservatives’ chances of winning the general election?

I’d assumed till now that the fact David Cameron made housing (or rather home ownership) one of his six priorities for speeches signalled no more than a desire to put aspiration at the heart of the Tory campaign. Mixing a few dubious claims about Help to Buy with some boasts about the Starter Home Initiative might mean some extra votes but housing would remain a secondary issue behind the economy, the NHS and immigration.

But two tweets this week by influential Conservative Tim Montgomerie made me wonder about this. Montgomerie is a Times columnist but that understates his influence in the party as the co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice, creator of the Conservative Home website and speechwriter for two Tory leaders.

-> Read the rest of this post on Inside Edge 2, my blog for Inside Housing


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