At a party in Bethnal Green recently I found myself at the receiving end of an impassioned lecture about government policy. My lecturer was 28-year-old Londoner Sam who works in production, has little interest in politics and hasn’t voted before. He’s saving, he tells me, to put down a 5 percent deposit on a place and the Government will guarantee another 15 percent to help him secure a mortgage. Good for him, I thought. But I’d rather not talk about government policy at a party so I wished him luck and moved on.
Yet the conversation stuck with me. When people my age (I’m in my early twenties) hear that I work in Westminster there are two common reactions: either their eyes glaze over or I get an earful about uni fees, wages or once from an artist, during an otherwise pleasant dinner, an hour-long rant about cuts to the arts. But this time, Sam was excited by a politics that was speaking his language and a policy that would help him get out of the room he rents for £600 a month somewhere in Zone 2.
The scheme gives an incentive to save, keep a good credit rating and stay abreast the news in politics and finance. This is a big shift for ‘Generation Rent’. Interest rates (and salaries) have been so low while we’ve been earners that there’s no been no point in saving, and when you’re not saving or paying a mortgage you’re unlikely to take an interest in the key issues that decide elections.
So Help to Buy may turn some of these former renters into Conservative voters, not least because Labour is hostile to the scheme. It’s due to run for three years, but that doesn’t guarantee it could weather a Labour Government with other plans. They want to build 200,000 homes a year – this Government may have helped that number of people to buy their own home by 2015.
Voters know which side their bread is buttered on so Help to Buy could create for Cameron, just as the Right to Buy did for Thatcher, a new generation of Tory voters out of ‘Generation Rent’. And fears about a housing bubble? Modern Britain was literally built on them. It seems overly righteous for older generations who reaped the great financial rewards of rising house prices to be so vehement in denying them to others. Extortionate house prices are a problem in cities, but across the country many homeowners will be grateful for the security of their equity rising again.
Moreover, the scheme shows that Tory strategists are listening to activists – here is a simple, vote-winning policy that will go down well on the doorstep, and one that they can warn Labour would take away.