Friday June 10, 2022
What is Boris Johnson going to do about the housing crisis?
Some housing units inviting potential tenants and buyers in a suburban area of Bedfordshire.
This was, by common consensus, the seventh “reset” of Boris Johnson’s three-year-and-just-about-still-counting premiership, and within seconds of taking to the stage in Blackpool, it was clear that the problem had not been resolved.
No, sadly, the country is not going to be able to close the ticket. It’s going to have to keep on doing this, keep on switching it off and on again and hoping for the best, knowing that nothing’s going to change until it’s thrown in the skip where it belongs.
In some ways, Johnson has been lucky that almost his entire time in charge has been taken up either with a pandemic or with lying about what he did during the pandemic as those things have, if nothing else, masked how unimaginably terrible he is at the job anyway.
Having to find something, anything, to say, to move the conversation on, this time it was a big speech on housing. The bit about housing began about half an hour in, which was not to say that at this point it became any less of a waste of time.
The “big” policy, the centrepiece of the new initiative, had been briefed in advance, which is that, from now on, you’ll be able to use benefit payments to pay off your mortgage. By the time Michael Gove came to be interviewed about it on the Today programme, five hours before the speech itself, it had already fallen apart. One of the main reasons for this is that to use your benefits to pay your mortgage you’ve got to have actually bought a house first, for which you need a deposit, and if you’ve got more than £16,000 in savings, you’re not eligible to receive any benefits. So the number of people that can possibly benefit from this is vanishingly small, and absolutely none of them are first-time buyers.
Asked about this, Michael Gove, said the words “we are looking at” no fewer than six times in two and a half sentences. Governments that have been in government for 12 years are kind of past the point of “looking at” things, are they not? Especially when the thing they’re now “looking at” – the cost of housing – is the most serious, most persistent crisis of the entire decade and a bit in question.
By 1pm, it had got no better. There Johnson was, the actual prime minister, explaining how it’s really hard to save up for a deposit because the amount you need to save up is rising faster than you can actually save it, so every day you save you’re further behind than you were before.
It’s fair to say that the people in this position are kind of aware of that unfortunate bit of exponential maths, which has been torturing their every waking hour since just after the 2008 crash. What they want to know is what someone like, say, the prime minister, is going to actually do about it.
What happened instead was like watching a paramedic arrive at the scene of a horrific farming accident to slowly and very patronisingly explain the problem to the victim. “What’s happened, you see, is that your legs are meant to be there, still attached to your body, and not over there, hanging out the back of that combine harvester.”
What is he going to do about it? Well, not a lot really. There was some vague talk of 98 per cent mortgages, which didn’t actually boil down to anything more concrete than a promise to “look at” what’s happening in other countries, which is something he should have “looked at” several years ago, but who even cares because we all know he’s not actually going to do anything at all.
And, in the end, as it has become somewhat arduous to keep typing out, he won’t always be able to deny people the reality of their own lives by reading out a half-arsed newspaper column as a substitute activity for actually doing anything.
But he doesn’t care. It will get him a few front pages and then we can all move on. While he was speaking, as it happens, the front page of the Daily Mail was busy attacking the “lawyers” who have prevented the first planned deportation flight to Rwanda from actually taking off, on the grounds that the whole policy is, well, you know, illegal.