Bonus podcast: Kings in the north

Siôn Simon, Andy Burnham, Steve Rotherham: next year's metro mayors? Image: National Archive (Simon)/Getty (Burnham & Rotherham).

Last week, Britain's Labour party announced the results of the internal party elections to determine its candidates for three of the new "metro mayor" posts being created next May. Former health secretary Andy Burnham will contest Greater Manchester; Liverpool Walton MP Steve Rotheram is the candidate for the greater Liverpool region; and Siôn Simon is to run in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Coventry and the Black Country).

The Labour party nationally is – and let's be nice about this – completely knackered. But it remains strong in Britain's cities, and won back the mayoralties in both London and Bristol earlier this year. It's highly probable that Burnham, Rotherham and Simon will all be elected as metro mayors next May.

So this seems like a great moment to discuss who these new titans of the British political scene are. Stephanie and I are joined by our colleague Julia Rampen, who edits the New Statesman's politics blog, the Staggers, to talk about what new mayors can do for the Midlands and the North; how Manchester will cope with a Liverpool-supporter as mayor; and, most vexingly, why every one of them is a bloke.

A couple of relevant links...

  • Here's Matthew Smith's infographic charting the history of England's elected mayors. Note the fashion for independents – so maybe Manchester can be saved from Burnham yet.
  • For reason that will become clear we end this podcast talking about pop-up toilets. Here's Beulah Maud Devaney's piece on Amsterdam's retractable urinal for women.

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.


 

 
 
 
 

A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?


Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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