James Forsyth James Forsyth

The Conservatives admit they have a problem – but can they solve it?

For those who don’t want Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister, the Tory conference was half encouraging and half depressing. The encouraging part is that the Tory party has grasped the problem. There seems to be near universal acceptance that a ‘rigged’ housing market is making the under-40s feel that they have little chance of ever owning a home — and you can’t expect those without capital to be capitalists. But the solutions that the Tories are currently offering are inadequate.

The decline of the property-owning democracy is an existential threat to the Tory party. Homeowners tend to vote Tory, so the fact that home ownership is at a 30-year low has, obvious political implications for the party. At the last election, 55 per cent of those who owned their home outright voted Conservative, as did 43 per cent of those with a mortgage — but only 31 per cent of private renters.

The gap between the voting behaviour of renters and owners has never been larger, perhaps because so many renters now think they’ll never be owners. The Tories cannot afford for the proportion of homeowners in the electorate to fall further. For their own political survival, and for the country, Tories need to build more homes. Theresa May did announce a plan for more council properties and Philip Hammond promised more money for help to buy, but these are sticking-plaster solutions. I understand that there will be further housing measures in the budget, but they need to be truly radical if they are to ensure that the fall in home ownership is reversed before the next election.

The Tories are also divided according to mood. One former cabinet minister told me: ‘That smell you can smell, that’s the smell of a political party dying.’

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