Why Failing to Build Enough Homes Could Lose Conservatives an Election (and Labour too)

It is not like me to praise a Policy Exchange Report – however their new report Northern Lights: Public policy and the geography of political attitudes in Britain today, is based on research not what side of the bed Alex (half baked) Morton got out of on any morning.

A key finding is as follows:

the Tory lead among those who own their own house outright is +15%. Among those buying their house through a mortgage it is +9%. Among those renting from a private landlord it is -14% and for those renting from a local authority it is -39%.

It concludes

 If more and more people are renting these statistics suggest that the Tories could be in danger of losing a lot of votes.

Although the focus of the report is on North of England marginal’s this is too narrow as the real risk is losing ground in the rest of England including areas previously considered safe. Lets whip out a spreadsheet to explain the issue.

This mathematical model is simplistic assuming only Conservative and Labour voters and 100% turnout, and an average of 2 voters per dwelling. From it we can assume for sake of argument from the above figures that if we had 50 units of mortgaged dwellings we would get a % share of 45.5 (voters and %) Labour Voters and 54.5 Conservatives (voters and %).

From the same logic you might assume that if you built 50 council houses the similar split would be 69.5 to 30.5. This would be a big mistake for two reasons.

Firstly council house occupants are very likely to be local residents already, certainly above 90% if not close to 100% in many cases.

Secondly over time the number of right to buy owners will increase so for conservative authorities building lots of council houses and then offering generous discounts is a worthwhile long term ‘votes’ investment for them.

It is important then to examine what tenure people are moving from, and what the knock on implications are for the unit freed up by the household leaving their previous accommodation.

So lets take a simplistic case of a town which builds an urban extension of 2,000 units 75% owner occupied, 25% council. Assuming as above the new council housing does not net impact voting intention, that ¾ of new occupants came from private renting and of those private rented units freed up they were all reoccupied by local concealed households and this did not net impact on voting intentions, then, via my spreadsheet, I calculate a net shift of 345 votes from Labour to Tory, easily enough to shift a marginal seat. Of course the act of allocating the houses may have a negative impact on the Tory Vote but from observing local and general election results in nearby Dartford and Gravesend my sense is that there is far more votes in building houses than not building them.

Of course people don’t change their voting intentions overnight. It is more realistic to consider that the propensity to vote changes gradually over time following a tenure shift and that the Policy Exchange poll results are a snap shot at the age of the voter. This implies of course as well that as the population ages and become mortgage free then with an aging population it will get a lot more Tory over time.

This will be eroded of course by the over time increase in renting and caused by the failure to build enough homes. Consider what the impact over time is of building 100,000 units a year rather than the 250,000 we need, then over 5 years from this model and the same assumptions the conservatives could lose roughly 129,375 votes. This might not seem a lot but these will not be distributed evenly across the country. The lost votes will be concentrated in constituencies with high proportions of private rented housing, precisely the suburban constituencies in and around major towns which are key marginals. Private rented levels are pretty low in most rural Tory heartlands. Neither are new houses concentrated evenly. Places like Milton Keynes now have several Tory seats where before housing growth they would only have one.

So Tory Councils around major cities should not only consider the votes they might lose from approving new houses but the many more votes they might lose in nearby suburbs if they don’t.  

These demographic effects are long term but there is a potential for any party in the short term to tap into the asiprational tenure differences or suffer badly from the consequences if they fail to do so. For example the masterstroke of Thatcher in tapping into working class votes by the right to buy policy, or the way Tory votes could massively suffer (as they did for John Major) if there were a sharp rise into mortgage interest rates and a consequential rise in dispossessions.

There is an open political goal here for labour (and the Tories too) if they offered the kind of mortgage writedowns that Obama is rumourerd to be at the point of announcing, or if publicly owned plots purchased at existing land use value were offered in Garden City like schemes where individuals or groups could then build houses (but not own the land which of course they could not afford) with state guaranteed lending on the construction cost. Then whatever party offered such schemes could then reap the benefit of achieving the aspiration of home ownership.

Of course no politician would wisely state they should build houses where it would affect election results – Dame Shirley Porter and her colleagues were ruined for that.

Cornwall Vote to Approve New Settlement Next to Llangarth Park and Ride Truro

BBC Cornwall

Plans to build 1,500 homes on a greenfield site near Truro [Outline application here  indictative masterplan here agenda here] have been approved by Cornwall Council.

The £140m development proposed by Inox includes a hotel, school and care home at Langarth in Threemilestone.

A petition opposing the application was presented, but the strategic planning committee voted 10 to nine in favour of the application.

The homes are to be built over a 10 to 15 year period, with up to 35% planned as social housing.

The proposal, which also includes provision for a 600-space extension to the existing park & ride, a pub and community and sports facilities, will be now referred to the Secretary of State.

Inox Group is also involved in separate plans for a controversial sports stadium [Stadium for Cornwall] on a neighbouring site.


1. Fishing ponds and stream corridor retained and enhanced creating woodland walks and cycle routes with access to countryside beyond.

2. Wildlife corridors created and Hedgerows retained where possible.

3. Core road to provide a northern distributor road which will link to Trelisk Hospital

4. Proposed Core road providing links to the existing Park & Ride with the option to extend the Park & Ride.

5. New roundabout access off A390 and existing footways and bridle paths to be retained.

I have to say its layout and masterplanning is very ‘Edge City’ rather than Smart Growth, retained hedges but no central open spaces or proper linear park through the Valley?  Not a masterplan but a cellular sprawl of estates – no centrality or walkability focus.  There is a 2011 design brief for the site which simply repeated the developers proposals and was exceptionally weak on urban design issues.  Even with the topography constraints easy amendments could have been made to dramatically improve the sustainability of the design.

So what did CABE say about the design – looking at the report there was no reference to national design review!  Quite extraordinary for a new settlement in effect.  There was reference to the Cornish Design Review Panel, but this has limited expertise on large scale master-planning. Given this is a post NPPF decision with its strong reference to design review this is very curious.

Will No Votes on Elected Mayors Sink Greg Clark’s Promotion as Locals Vote Against Localist Mayors?

John Prescott discovered with the North East Referendum that despite years of calls for devolution if politicians and your government are unpopular then the referendum will be used to send politicians a bloody nose.  Yesterday the Prime Minister in a characteristic’ mega miscalculation  said that he hoped that electors would vote for a ‘Boris in Every City’ – that went down well in Manchester didnt it.

“I want a Boris in Birmingham, I want a Boris in Leeds, I want a Boris in Bradford. They don’t all have to be members of the Johnson family.”

Today at time of writing Manchester, Nottingham and Coventry have voted No, and looks strongly like that Birmingham and others have also dismissed the plan.So far not one city has voted for an elected Mayor and it is unsure that if any will.

Manchester voted against by a margin of 53.24% to 46.76%, and Nottingham by 57.5% to 42.5%. Both cities had a low turnout of 24%.

The outcome in Coventry was more resounding, with just 36.42% backing the change and 63.58% opposing it.


Throughout the issues raised in the campaigns have been what powers will we get and how do we recall a bad mayor- and the government has not been able to answer.  With turnout low there has been no compelling reason to say yes.

Overall this looks like a giant miscalculation for Greg Clark who refused to set out the powers that would be devolved saying it should evolve organically and be subject to negotiation with those affected.  However of course if a government only devolves to a mayor it trusts why have an elected mayor, why not just have an appointed governor?  The whole point of having an elected Mayor is to have someone who can occasionally confront government.

This position alarmed the all party Yes campaign which for several days seeing which way the wind was blowing has been openly critical of this tactic.  Compare the GLA vote for example – where the powers of the Mayor and Assembly were carefully thought out in advance and evolved organically thereafter.  There was no real thought given in advance of what job needed doing – as for example over commuter rail – and what powers therefore needed to be devolved.  All that was on offer was an lected council leader who like council mleaders would do little more than implement austerity.

The Warwick University Commission on  Elected Mayors and City Leadership last month concluded, rightly, that the process would be doomed political gimmick unless city mayors run the economies and transport networks, as well as the education, health and welfare services, of entire surrounding regions, but then doing things in ‘regions’ is a banned thought.  Behind this suppression of powerful bodies below the level of the state is truly a Norman centralising Yoke and not an Anglo Saxon decentralising localism.

Councillors and Council leaders should not take this as a vote of confidence.  This was a profoundly ant-politics vote with many anti-politicians sitting at home.  If the referendum had been to exile all local cllrs to Siberia a resounding yes vote would have been likely.

Greg Clark then may have undone all of the goodwill from the PM he gained from MPs backing the final NPPF if the results of the referendums are as disastrous as they look, early promotion or promotion at all now looks less likely.  One possible way to resolve the situation is to propose very specific powers for a Birmingham Mayor and run another referendum in two years time, if these include greater fiscal powers the approach of local cllrs might change and like Liverpool there could be a yes Council vote without the need for a referendum.  The package offered to Liverpool was worth £130 Million, for Birmingham their mouths were not stuffed with enough gold.

The result however equally creates problems for Labour – what will its manifesto say now on Cities and Localism?

Meanwhile Liverpool has its first elected Mayor Joe Anderson – elected with 57% of the vote.    Peel holdings have got their man.