John Harris

Journalist & Author

Undermining housing associations is the next big Tory vote-winner | John Harris

Spurred on by the memory of right to buy, the Conservatives are resorting to extreme measures in a doomed attempt to replicate Thatcherism’s popularity

As an exam question would put it: David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher – compare and contrast. She wanted to go “on and on”; he thinks two prime ministerial terms – or thereabouts – will do. Triumphant populism came to her as a matter of instinct; he and his allies still cannot bond with the all-important lower working-class C2s, nor articulate a vision of the Britain the Tories now want to create. Inevitably, those failures haunt them: whereas Thatcher entered the 1983 and 1987 elections with a clear sense of her mission, Cameron has been fretting about a pitch to the electorate that earlier this month he reportedly rejected, wanting something “crisper” and “more political”.

Modern Conservatives’ Thatcher-envy has long been focused on one iconic measure in particular: the right to buy, which – at no small social cost – turned council tenants into citizens of the property-owning democracy, and sealed the Tories’ electoral deal with a whole swath of the public. Three years ago, in the manner of a revived 80s pop hit, the policy was dusted down by the Tories and remixed, via increases in the discounts offered to prospective buyers. Legislation in progress shortens the length of residence required to qualify, from five to three years. George Osborne’s help to buy scheme reflects much the same thinking.

Related: No exit: Britain’s social housing trap | Polly Toynbee

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