Generation landlord: Tories march to defend high rents

The Conservative Party's response to Labour's "cost of living" attacks continues to mystify.

It's as if they have deliberately sought out the least effective strategy available to them, watched it fail, and then decided to repeat it ad infinitum.

Faced with Miliband's latest proposals to limit rent rises and extend lease agreements, the Conservatives have this morning tried to dismiss it as some kind of dangerous Marxist plot.

Grant Shapps, a man whose campaign expertise is second to all, immediately attacked the proposals as "Venezuelan-style rent controls" adding that  it was "yet another Labour policy bought by Ed Miliband's union boss, Len McCluskey."

Now let's leave aside the fact that most voters' knowledge of South American administrative politics is at best sketchy.

But even if we assume, that millions of British people are aware of the intricacies of Venezuelan housing policy, are we really meant to believe they will balk at the idea of living in a country where rents don't go up quite as much?

What exactly is Shapps' strategy trying to achieve here? The only message that voters are likely to take from his comments is that the Conservative party are on the side of the minority of landlords charging exorbitant rents and against the vast majority of renters who are forced to pay them.

It's a truly bizarre electoral strategy, but it is one that the Conservatives seem determined to deploy again and again.

We saw it again last year when Labour announced plans for a freeze on energy prices. The Tories' immediate reaction was to march straight to the defence of energy companies, a group even less popular than Conservative politicians themselves.

It was only after weeks of hammering by Labour, that they finally realised they needed to do something to help people with their bills. But by then it was too late. Labour had made a line in the sand and the Tories had planted themselves firmly on the wrong side of it.

And the scale of the problem facing renters is one that needs tackling

Of the 1.7 million new households created in the first ten years of the century, 1.6 million were in the private rented sector. Just 110,000 were new homeowners.

The dream of owning your own home is increasingly fading into fantasy for most young people and the reality of exorbitant rents and insecure leases continues to grow each year.

This is the reality of modern Britain, yet the Conservatives remain stuck in a 1980s time-warp, where home owners and landlords are the only voters they will ever need to win. As extensive research by former Conservative chairman Lord Ashcroft has shown, the Tories face significant demographic obstacles to ever again re-gaining an electoral majority.

In order to win, the Tories need to forge a new coalition, not just of homeowners and shire Tories, but of young urban voters and ethnic minorities. This is a reality that Boris Johnson long ago faced up to in the capital, but which the national party remain determined to ignore.

But these are long-term problems. In the short term, the Tories also need to come up with an effective criticism of Labour's cost of living policies.

Simply dismissing them as a Marxist plot may play well with the kind of Conservative activists Shapps deals with every day, but so far it is failing to win the party even a single extra vote.