“We are the party of working people” stated David Cameron during the launch of the Conservatives’ election manifesto. But the polls say too few working people are planning to vote for his party on 7th May, depriving the Conservative Leader of what he craves in the next term – a majority government. So Cameron is putting a 21st Century spin on one of the most popular policies of the Conservative PM he is consistently, and unflatteringly, measured against – Margaret Thatcher.
One of the Conservative election manifesto’s six key pledges is to extend Right to Buy to tenants in Housing Association properties. Right to Buy was originally introduced in 1980 by Thatcher’s first administration and is widely recognised as one of the most important, and popular hallmarks of Thatcherism. It is certainly one of the most enduring, having survived pretty much unchanged for 35 years.
Extending Right to Buy makes sense to the Conservatives and is a natural partner to one of their more recent policies, Help to Buy. A year ago I assessed the success of Help to Buy on its first birthday. I concluded that, whilst many critics questioned the impact Help to Buy would have on an already over-inflated housing market, the policy had proven popular with first-time homebuyers across the nation.
Another year on, the property bubble still hasn’t burst and Help to Buy itself has been further extended with George Osborne’s announcement of the Help to Buy ISA in last month’s Budget. Specifically targeted at the ‘hard working people’ the Conservatives are so keen to woo, The Help to Buy ISA is designed to help those saving for homes worth up to £250,000 (or £450,000 in London). It’s not for millionaires, but they already benefit from the inheritance tax ‘giveaway’ so it’s unlikely too many tears will be shed.
By extending Right to Buy, the Conservatives hope to tap into the aspirations of working families who have been priced out of buying a home on the open market. Whilst there has been no shortage of criticism for this most recent announcement, they are taking a calculated risk – probably rightly – that these most vocal critics were never going to vote Conservative anyway.
The extension of Right to Buy harks back to the ‘traditional’ Conservative policy that proved a massive vote winner for the most successful Conservative Prime Minister in living memory. We’ll have to wait until 8th May to find out if it has done the same trick for David Cameron.