UKIP once pledged to turn London's Circle Line back into a circle. Here’s why it’s a bad idea

These are good, British shapes. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Today marks the start of UKIP’s annual conference. There are still a few loony lefty idiots out there who'd have you believe that Nigel Farage's UKIP is all lukewarm beer and genteel bigotry. Should you be one of those narrow-minded, liberal (and, frankly, bigoted) fools, here's an extract from documents accompanying the party's 2010 manifesto which shows that there's so much more to the party than that. (We’ve taken it from The Guardian, because the original document has mysteriously been removed.)

"Ukip will return London's Circle line to a circle – the complete circular service recently stopped. We will build grade-separated junctions to improve the number of trains and their reliability at Edgware Road, Gloucester Road and Aldgate."

See? They have actual transport policies, too, you racist.

In fairness, you can sort of see why this idea might have some appeal. Once upon a time, Circle line trains did exactly what you'd expect them to do: go round and round a loop enclosing much of central London (it's the yellow one):

Since December 2009, though, the line hasn't been a circle at all, but a sort of spiral, beginning at Hammersmith and going once round the loop before giving up at Edgware Road.

This throws up all sorts of irritating anomalies. It means the same train will stop at Paddington twice, 65 minutes apart, but on two different platforms. It means that the train will terminate at Edgware Road and reverse, but only the second time it gets there. And it means that there is no way to travel from the north side of the route to the west without changing trains at that very station.

Worst of all, it means it's called the Circle Line and it's not even a little bit like a circle. And that's just really irritating, in the same way as when someone leaves a cupboard door slightly open in your eye-line when you're trying to watch television, or when someone arranges all their books by order of colour. It just feels wrong.

So, bringing the circle back would be good, right?

Sadly, as with so many UKIP ideas, it all falls apart the moment you start thinking about it. The new service pattern was introduced for two reasons. Partly it was to increase the number of trains on the Hammersmith branch; but partly, it was because the old service pattern required trains to cross each other's paths at three different points. That places a limit on how frequently trains can run (sometimes, there’ll be another train in the way). Worse, it means that a delay on one bit of the line quickly has a knock on effect right across this bit of the network.

UKIP clearly know this – hence the promise to create "grade separated junctions" at the three pinch points. That'd mean creating new tracks travelling either under or over the existing ones, so that trains no longer have to cross each other's paths.

In other words, UKIP’s promise was a commitment to spend a lot of money on tunnelling, which might require paying compensation to those who own the properties above, would certainly mean moving a lot of utility pipes, and might not actually be possible at all – and all for no other reason than that it’s mildly annoying to have a line called the Circle line that isn't actually a circle.

Alas for fans of policy-making-through-OCD, Nigel Farage later described his party's 2010 manifesto as "nonsense", adding: "I didn't read it. It was drivel." Tragically, it seems the Circle line may never be a circle again.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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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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