I was reading a very interesting pamphlet this morning by Labour MP Gregg McClymont and Ben Jackson.
The pamphlet tries to look at the lessons of past periods of economic austerity and Tory government.
They ask a key question: How have Tory governments succeeded in being re-elected in the past, during periods of high unemployment, economic stagnation and deep government cuts in public services?
It’s a good question. Britain’s worst economic periods have been presided over by Tory governments racking up consecutive election victories. In the 1930s The Tories won in 1931 (Tory dominated National Government) and 1935 (the largest ever Tory majority). In the 1980s and early 1990s of course they won four in a row.
The authors give a range of reasons for this. One of these is that even in economically dire times the Conservatives have managed to increase the prosperity and stability of some key groups in society, who then supported them strongly. Critical to this has been increasing homeownership.
In the 1930s the boom in suburban house building created a new class of homeowners and pushed homeownership further down the income scale. In the 1980s, the Conservatives repeated the trick, not by building more homes, but creating 2 million working class homeowners through right-to-buy.
Could that happen again? Well, they may manage to build a coalition of those less affected by austerity and stagnation, but I can’t see how housing will be part of it. The prospects for more house building are grim and despite their attempt to warm-up right-to-buy this could only be at a fraction of the scale of the 1980s.
But it is a lesson for Labour too. If you can provide people with a quality, secure home that they feel they can call their own, you can change the shape of the political landscape in fundamental ways.