Property has had a rough time over the past few years at the hands of government.
Former chancellor George Osborne’s obsession with making the Tories more popular with the soft left inspired him to a whole series of actions, such as: lowering stamp duty for cheaper home sales while massively increasing it on homes over £1m; killing private investment in rental property; squandering billions on a help-to-buy scheme that is about to bite an awful lot of young buyers in a very painful place; and telling foreign buyers that they were probably all thieves who were no longer welcome and if they had the effrontery to come here, they should pay through the nose for the privilege.
Much good it has done him or his party. I doubt a single Labour voter ever decided to vote Tory as a result. Alongside wee George’s actions were his inactions, for example the failure to deal with business rates that cripple the high street while online retailers go from strength to strength, or the lack of progress on reforming council tax.
Elsewhere in government there has been a complete lack of interest in reforming the planning system, while the industry is constantly berated for not fulfilling housing need. Meanwhile, we have an opposition offering rent control while mouthing platitudes about inadequate housing supply, but incapable of offering any viable solution.
And then there is Brexit. Surely no parliament in living memory has inflicted more damage on this country than the current crop. We have a prime minister who – decent, hard working, dogged and determined as she may be – is a useless leader and an even worse negotiator, and a Labour leader who provides no leadership to his party, while mired in accusations of anti-Semitism and refusing to condemn the Maduro regime in Venezuela, which is starving that country to death on the grounds that it is a socialist Valhalla. Neither the Liberal Democrats nor UKIP offer any serious alternative and meanwhile almost every sector of the economy is feeling the effect of this morale-sapping paralysis.
But despite all this there is reason to hope. We now know that if Mrs May can get the EU to agree a solution to the prospect of a hard border in Ireland that the DUP and many Tory MPs can accept, she can get her withdrawal agreement through parliament.
Room for hope
Thanks to the failure of the Cooper Boles amendment, we also know that if she meanders to 29 March without such a deal, the UK leaves the EU on World Trade Organization rules. This may not be good for the UK, but it is even less attractive to the EU 27. And that is why there is room for hope. EU leaders’ current stance is that there is no room for renegotiation, but that is a predictable opening gambit. They may yet have to save the British prime minster from herself but for whatever reason they will want to give her a deal the Commons will agree to.
No parliament in living memory has inflicted more damage than the current crop
Nor will the EU want to extend our leaving beyond March, because European Parliament elections are due in May and the last thing the EU wants is to see a crop of anti-EU UK MEPs arrive when they are already bracing themselves for an assault from the ultra-right AfD in Germany, the equally Eurosceptic Five Star Movement in Italy and the National Front in France, buoyed by their equally anti-EU friends among the gilets jaunes.
Expect movement from the EU, urged on by chancellor Merkel and others, to sort the border and backstop, whether Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar likes it or not. It is still likely that when you wake on the morning of 30 March 2019 life in the UK will look remarkably like the way it looks now.
And that, believe it or not, will be a significant result, after which perhaps we can expect our government to concentrate for the first time in three years on some of this country’s chronic problems, which for so long have been left untouched.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land
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