Right to Buy is a short-term solution for a short-term party

Even May struggled to defend her party's behaviour over the general election today
Even May struggled to defend her party's behaviour over the general election today
Ian Dunt By

Finally the Tories have done the right thing and targeted the aspirations of the working class. But because it is the modern Tory party, they have done so in a way which worsens the situation for everyone but a tiny group of targeted voters.

Today's Right to Buy proposal comes with a promise that housing associations will build to replace the homes sold off, although housing associations themselves aren't fans and are unlikely to do as they're told. This is a quite mad solution. It is a response to a crisis of supply which further limits supply. It is like throwing food in the bin because your child is hungry. It just doesn't make sense, apart from in the most limited, cynical, electioneering manner.

There are plenty of ways of targeting aspirational working class voters without worsening the situation for everyone. The most obvious is to cut their taxes. People on lower incomes are very useful recipients for tax cuts because they tend to spend money and circulate it around the system. The rich just bank it.

Perhaps there will be such a policy in the Tory manifesto later today. Certainly George Osborne's enthusiastic embrace of the Lib Dem policy of taking lower earners out of income tax suggests he plans something of the sort. A text intended for an Osborne aide but seen by the Guardian over the weekend suggests the party is planning on taking those on minimum wage out of income tax. That would be more sensible.


But it would still leave the losers of today's Right to Buy announcement distanced from the Tories. Aspiring home owners in the private sector are now seeing social renters granted a home. These are people who have been given nothing but the most cursory, tepid government responses to the housing crisis. Now, at election time, all the stops are pulled out to help a small group in a way which worsens the situation for everyone else. Ukip voters, who are more likely than other voters to be renting and wanting to get into social housing, will find the stock dwindling because of the sell-off.

Dream big? The Tories seem intent on pursuing small, short-term solutions to systemic policy problems

These Ukip voters remain the Tories' best chance to cling onto power. As the polls clearly show, the churn between parties is within the left and right, not between them. Ukip voters seem to be slowly coming back to the Tories and Green voters to Labour. The winner will be the party which can tempt the most back by May 7th. Limiting their options on one of their core concerns is not a smart way to proceed.

The abiding sense of Conservative personality is that of irresponsibility. They have no sense of long term or common good. Their only ideas are short term electoral solutions, targeting a key group of voters to the detriment of everyone else. It's there in Help to Buy, in cuts for upper rate tax payers, in the married couples' tax allowance. Right to Buy is faintly more depressing because it isn't even original. It is a desperate gaze back to the good old days, like a sentimental old man getting misty-eyed over the love life he had in his twenties.

No party has been impressive in this election campaign, but the Tories have been especially turgid. They merely repeat over and over again that they have a long-term economic plan, although actually they may well be the most short-termist of all the major parties. And even here, Lord Ashcroft's polling shows the economic message doesn't necessarily work. In his assessment of ten marginal seats today he found the one with the most upbeat voters about the economy, Finchley & Golders Green, had the biggest swing to Labour.

The married couples' tax allowance was rejected by Lib Dems and would be reversed by a Labour government

Beyond the absence of narrative or long-term vision there is just the ugly spectre of brutal negative campaigning. Asked again about Michael Fallon's description of Ed Miliband as a "backstabber" this morning, Theresa May, the person who popularised the term 'nasty party', refused to distance herself from it. Asked if she personally thought he was a backstabber, May replied: "Yes." She then said she'd never called the party the nasty party and was merely repeating what others had said. You could hear her inner beliefs fighting with her marching orders when she was asked if the nasty party was back. This was all she could say in response.

"No, the description I said other people use is not back."

Listen carefully to Tory ministers on air and you can hear the nervousness.

At the heart of these errors is the Tory failure to embrace a sense of common good – the phrase Miliband was confident enough to use last week and which the Greens have already claimed as their slogan. If the Tories really wanted to do some political cross-dressing they could have stolen that phrase themselves with a traditional right-wing message about how a rising tide raises all boats. Now, there is just division and cynical electioneering, with long-term damage traded happily for short-term political advantage.

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