Who Owns Ownership?

September 6, 2019 | by Field Team

In the first of a new The Word From Westminster policy series, Field's Consultant Alex Morton writes about the issue of home ownership, and whether the Conservatives are losing their political hold over the issue

It is clear that a General Election is on the cards, and it is likely to be one dominated by Brexit. But other issues will get a strong look in as well, and perhaps one of the most important ones will be the question of ownership. Who will politically own the idea that ordinary people have a stake in the economy and society through home ownership?

For years this area was the territory of the Conservatives who sought to make a home-owning democracy a reality through policies around pensions, shares, and property. But since the referendum in 2016, this has lapsed. Instead it is the Labour Party that is pulling together a radical package based around the idea of ownership for the many, not the few. To a critical eye, the new policies could sound like simply expropriation at below market value. For example, a new Right to Buy for private tenants sounds uncomfortably like an attempt to compel landlords – large or small – to sell to tenants at a discount. But more reasonable measures, such as using the public sector and incentives to boost co-operatives, and other forms of employer ownership are also in the mix. It might be an appealing plan, especially to young people who view home ownership as beyond their reach.

This package looks much bolder than what the Conservatives seem to be planning. Compared to the Theresa May era, the Conservatives have switched back to home ownership as a priority. But the policies, while all in one direction, have been fairly limited and appear to be a very distant second in the priority list to the Dominic Cummings strategy of Brexit plus more money for public services. This may change as the election campaign itself unfolds, or they may just stick rigidly to the existing lines.

If the Tories do leave this ground to Labour, they may well regret it. 85-90% of people say that they would like to be owners, and more people say they will be affected by rising housing costs than by Brexit in the next few years. Polls show it is an issue that most voters think politicians spend too little time talking about. There is a widespread feeling most people are locked out of prosperity in this country. It would be ironic if the Labour Party duo of Corbyn and McDonnell, who have railed most of their life against private property, end up benefitting electorally by being seen as the politicians most likely to spread it.

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