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%.
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.