The recent, catastrophic local election results demonstrate that the Conservative Party is failing to connect with the majority of hardworking voters. Brexit paralysis has created a vacuum in our domestic policy agenda and voters feel as though our party increasingly has very little to say to them. And nowhere has our failure to deliver been more pronounced than in the area of home-ownership.
The UK housing market is broken and the political class’ inability to find solutions to stem the tide of soaring house prices has been shameful. How can it be tolerable that since the mid-1990s, house prices have risen almost seven times as much in real terms as incomes? It’s time for a radically new approach. The UK housing market is failing and unless we combat it now, we will shatter the dream of home ownership for generations to come.
And if this wasn’t enough to make us act, this should: home ownership, according to a recent survey commissioned by the conservative think tank Onward increases the likelihood of Conservative voting by around 30%. So we need to find new ways to increase home ownership, in a fiscally responsible way. That’s where Blue Collar Conservatism comes in.
Blue Collar Conservatism is not a difficult concept to understand. It is about broadening our appeal and reaching out beyond our core supporters, demonstrating to the majority of hardworking voters – who ultimately will determine whether or not we will be forming the next government – that we are on their side. Representing just under half the UK’s population, it is the C1 and C2 demographic – more than any other cohort – that determines the outcome for general elections in the UK. They proved to be decisive in both the Conservative victory in 2015 and Vote Leave’s triumph in the 2016 referendum. Our failure to secure their backing in 2017 led to the Conservative Party losing its majority less than two years later. It’s time to win them back.
We must develop a new blue collar vision, be ruthless in our pursuit of these would-be Conservative voters and generate a fresh policy platform that speaks to improving their lives and the futures of their children. For me, the best way the Conservatives can do this is by, once again, showing that it is proud to be the party of home ownership.
In the past, the Conservatives have sought to put a lid on house prices and to help young people onto the housing ladder with policies such as Help to Buy and by cutting Stamp Duty. Whilst this has helped some, the reality is that in most cases – as numerous independent studies have shown, including by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Social Mobility Commission – they have acted as government subsidies to wealthy middle-class families. The Chancellor said in the last budget that the Help to Buy scheme would come to an end by 2023 so we need a new answer.
Part of the solution might be to focus on what the actual hurdles are for prospective property purchasers: minimum deposit requirements and caps on loan-to-income ratios. That’s why expanding shared ownership housing, which allows aspirant homebuyers to purchase part of their property and to pay rent on the remaining share, is a sensible way forward. Assuming property prices increase, then their equity stake will also increase in value. Shared ownership is not without its drawbacks – many of which are being addressed through the government’s Social Housing Green Paper, but it would allow those who work hard to get something back for the contributions they make to society. And by leveraging at the same time the government’s existing affordable homes programme, we could ensure that a percentage of it goes to the building of shared ownership housing – thereby guaranteeing a new generation of homeowners every year.
The people we collectively need to win over as a party are typically like my constituents in Walsall North. They believe in a society where hard work is rewarded and they desperately want to be able to secure a future for them and their families. A generation of homeowners were given their first opportunity when Margaret Thatcher allowed them to buy their own council homes. It’s time for today’s Conservative Party to be equal to the task.