Mrs May’s Salzburg humiliation and the subsequent diplomatic fall-out somewhat obscured the two other stories of the week – her sharp Left turn on housing and the much-awaited Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) Report.
Under cover of Brexit the Conservatives, knowingly or not, have just said goodbye to Margaret Thatcher’s defining home owning/council house sale policy and said hello to housing socialism – which to those conversant with its history from post-war to present means one thing – more poor housing for poor people.
That was not of course how Mrs May justified her promised £2billion injection. The only thing wrong with ‘social housing’, it turns out, is our ‘looking down’ on it and the ‘second class citizenship’ its residents suffer as result. It’s not the endemic low-quality build, damp and disrepair, the ‘men deserts’ some estates now are or the lack of safety in others, not housing association corruption, unaccountability, untrammelled illegal subletting or anything else that James Bartholomew describes here.
Forget the concrete sink estates and the cladding that the EU demanded, approved by the hopeless tenancy management companies in charge of contracts.
No, once the stain of stigma is removed, we’ll all be rushing to live in them and be proud.
It’s all about the nasty party again and disavowing fundamental Tory tenets to detoxify it. This time the nasty rest of us aspirational home owners are to blame too. Re-educate us out of a misguided mindset that results in stigmatising council house tenants and all will be well. Then people can be proud to say, ‘I’m an estate person’, as Mrs May patronisingly put it. Really? As Allison Pearson tweeted, ‘I am sure council tenants will be thrilled to be told people “look down on them”.’
May is hopeless, cloth-eared on any issue she addresses. I’m sure council tenants will be thrilled to be told people “look down on them”!
— Allison Pearson (@allisonpearson) September 19, 2018
It is worse than a cloth ear though, Mrs May’s social housing utopia is dangerously disingenuous. It doesn’t just ignore those basic Tory tenets of personal aspiration and pride, it actively junks them.
No conservative should be under any illusion that the Leftist vote is in Mrs May’s sights or as to what her promotion of class war and identity politics resentment means. It’s not an attempt to reclaim the centre ground. That’s not where she is pitching her tent but far to the Left of it, where the union malcontents and Owen Jones reside. Why not? The middle-class vote is safely in her bag with nowhere else to go.
Except that it won’t work – she’ll never have the Momentum street cred to out-Corbyn Corbyn. And then there’s that small matter of Conservative principle.
Feeding resentment, pitting those who do not own their own homes against those who do, marks a cynical betrayal of the people who vote Conservative because they value independence and self-sufficiency, and know too that everyone’s prosperity depends on it – those for whom their home is their castle.
Worse, it sidesteps the real issue at stake in the housing crisis: that great unmentionable, the impact of migration on affordability.
But migration can’t be ignored forever, even Matthew Parris now concedes that:
‘You may think it unreasonable and you may think it ill-informed but it’s a political fact which I doubt can be argued out of existence.’
The point is that it is neither ill-informed nor unreasonable.
Nor are people alarmed only by non-EU immigration as Parris conjectures. Firstly they have experienced what the MAC report confirms, that EU migration has indeed depressed the wages of the lowest earners:
‘For the lowest paid — in the bottom tenth of the wage scale — EU migration is estimated to have reduced pay by 5 per cent in real terms between 1992 and 2017, but it raised pay by 3.5 per cent for those in the top tenth of the wage scale over the same period.’
This is not much help when it comes to the lowest earners buying a house. Unless Mrs May thinks the low paid are not allowed that aspiration.
It also underlines the differential benefit of EU immigration that in part at least drove the Brexit vote, Britain’s growing social divide that those at the top of the tree remain so careless about.
Yet the MAC report dodges, as Theresa May did in her speech, the impact of immigration on housing demand and affordability, as Lord Green has already detailed here. He criticises the report’s authors for losing sight of the bigger picture, which is that England is a crowded country, one of the most crowded in Europe, and attracts 90 per cent of all migration.
It contained ‘no reference in it even to the government’s own projections that we will have to build nearly 300 homes every day for the indefinite future just to house new migrants’, he wrote.
Yet half of the current demand for housing is a result of immigration and, that with respect to house prices, the growth of the non-UK-born population led to a 21 per cent increase in England between 1991 and 2016.
These are the facts that Matthew Parris also needs to ponder on before the party he once represented as an MP abandons conservatism altogether – and the nation-state that it is based on.