Property dysfunction could send Tories packing before Brexit

Focus on property in UK budget reflects electoral threat facing the Conservative party

Philip Hammond: might use this week’s budget to announce a massive house-building programme. Photograph: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Hammond: might use this week’s budget to announce a massive house-building programme. Photograph: Andrew Yates/AFP/Getty Images

 

Much of the focus of this week’s UK budget will be on housing. And like the Government here, the Tory administration in London is in danger of being railroaded out of office on the issue.

Five years of rising prices, stagnant wage growth and inadequate supply have spectacularly blown up in its face, alienating the government from an increasingly vociferous younger demographic, who feel permanently locked out of the housing market.

Surveys show people under the age of 40 in the UK are less likely to vote Conservative than ever before, and those in this age cohort who are renting are even more disaffected with the party.

The younger voter issue is now seen as the biggest existential threat to the party; bigger even than its floundering approach to Brexit.

Despite successive pledges to build more houses and make them more affordable – much like Fine Gael here – the Tories have succeeded in doing the opposite: inflating prices and rents, building only a trickle of new homes, and widening the affordability gap.

Its singular achievement, in the eyes of many disenchanted voters, has been to enhance the profits of property companies, and reinforce its reputation as the party of landowners, developers and free market ideologues.

Fine Gael’s performance

While Fine Gael is not as ideologically driven as the Conservative Party, its performance on property is not dissimilar, and its failure to resonate with young people was also highlighted as a factor in its poor showing at the last general election.

Property has become one of the most polarising issues in western democracies, particularly Anglo-Saxon ones, where adherence to free-market policies is stronger.

To address the issue there is speculation that chancellor Philip Hammond might use this week’s budget to announce a massive house-building programme and/or a cut in stamp duty for first-time buyers to help young people get on to the property ladder.

Whether his Brexit-constrained budget or his party’s free-market moorings will allow for a major change in policy is open to speculation, but addressing the property issue has now become a matter of political survival for the Tories, and perhaps for Fine Gael, too.