17 March 2024

Weekly Briefing: A 30p vision for Britain


News of Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK was not what Rishi Sunak was hoping to wake up to on Monday morning. For a bit of background, Anderson, who served under Sunak as Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, recently lost the whip after accusing Mayor of London Sadiq Khan of being under the control of ‘Islamists’. 

Since Anderson’s move to Reform, his common refrain has been that he ‘wants his country back’, something he no longer feels the Tories are capable of delivering. But what would Anderson’s renewed Britain look like? According to a recent post on X, it would be a nation characterised by hard coppers, doing away with ‘woke rubbish’ and ‘putting British people first’ by lowering immigration. There are other suggestions, but these are the highlights.

Now, while this is a message that will understandably resonate with many, it also reads like a cartoon version of mid-century Britain.

Of course, a national revitalisation is definitely in order. But if Anderson really wants to transform Britain, then he surely ought to have a more up-to-date prospectus – not least by campaigning to address our broken housing market.

Benjamin Disraeli, the paterfamilias of the modern Conservative Party, warned of the emergence of ‘two nations’ within Britain. In the 1870s, when Disraeli was Prime Minister, that described the disparity in living standards between monocled aristocrats and juvenile chimney sweeps. But these days, the glaring division between the haves and have nots is home ownership. And the latter group is disproportionately populated by the young.

Bridging this gap is central to boosting Britain’s prosperity. As my colleagues at the Centre for Policy Studies have endlessly highlighted, Britain is currently building homes at a fraction of the rate that we did in the 1960s, despite our growing population (and an even smaller fraction of the rate before Labour nationalised planning in the 1940s). But the desire for a place to call your own hasn’t diminished. This mismatch between supply and demand has caused house prices to surge, plunging a generation of young Brits into despondence over the fear that they may never own a home.

At the root of this quagmire is a planning system which has remained largely unchanged since the Town and Country Planning Act was introduced in 1947. The Act, which stipulated the preservation of green belt land to halt urban sprawl, has created a perverse environment in which local residents with an affinity to an old tree have more power to block vital housebuilding than developers have to build it. 

The housing market this has engendered is subsequently rigged in favour of those who happened to be born when homes were cheap and plentiful. This is not a model for British success, and its reform is essential. But apparently this isn’t something that concerns our man in Ashfield.

Of course, insufficient housing isn’t the only barrier to ‘getting our country back’. Economic growth has slowed to the point where we celebrate anything with a positive sign in front of it and our productivity has plummeted since the 2008 financial crash. Our complex tax code is also hampering our international competitiveness and repelling much-needed investment.

While the package of deregulation required to tackle these chronic issues might not cohere with Anderson’s soundbite analysis of what Britain needs, we won’t restore our nation without it. What we need is an economy that works just as well for those inheriting it as it did for those who designed it. 

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Joseph Dinnage is Deputy Editor of CapX.