This article by Joyce McMillan for The Scotsman dated 3rd December 2021 begins with these words:
Last month, I went for a two-night break in the pretty Northumberland coastal town of Alnmouth, a famously picturesque place with plenty of attractive shops and cafes, and a glorious beach.
When I took an evening stroll through the town, though, I could not help noticing how many houses and flats – perhaps a half, perhaps more – seemed dark and shuttered, clearly unoccupied on a November night. Airbnb rentals seemed plentiful, but hotel rooms were hard to come by, and local people struggle, so it seems, to find anywhere to live at all.
It’s a familiar story from around coastal Britain; and it set me thinking about the current condition of UK politics, and which of the many woes currently besieging Boris Johnson’s government might finally drive the Conservatives out of power.
It is becoming increasingly clear, in this second Covid winter, that we are now living in the relatively shattered aftermath of the great Thatcherite experiment that began in Britain four decades ago.
One by one, the great shibboleths of that revolution have begun to fall, from the idea of rail privatisation, to the private energy supply companies now going down like ninepins, and being caught by government as they go.
The pandemic itself, of course, has taken a wrecking-ball to the myth that the main task of government is simply to get out of the way of markets.
And with the gradual collapse of the Tories’ grand ideological project have come all the other signs and symptoms of a political movement in decay, including the Brexit debacle, the ugly and unseemly grab for cash in pandemic-related contracts, and the mounting suspicion that Tory politicians and their wealthy backers simply do not feel bound by the same rules as the rest of us, on Covid or anything else.
What remains unknown, though, is which of these evident failures might begin to damage the Conservatives to the point where they might lose their grip on power; and if there is one increasingly conspicuous area of failure that affects every family in the UK, one way or another, it is the growing dysfunction of the UK housing market, where the ever-increasing popularity of UK land and property as an investment – both for large commercial interests, and for individuals – has made it far more difficult for the next generation of British citizens to gain a foothold on the property ladder, while coping with soaring private sector rents.
The promise of near-universal home ownership was, after all, one of the most popular aspects of the Thatcher revolution, a generation ago; and at first it seemed hugely successful, as millions of working-class Britons bought up the council houses that had served their families well since the Second World War.
In an age of mounting social inequalities, though, the consequences of that revolution for those on ordinary wages have become steadily more damaging.
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An estate agents window display is pictured in Epping in Essex, in south-east England. British estate agents are selling less than one property a week as a lack of mortgage finance hits the number of people moving house, fuelling plummeting prices, a surveyors' body said Tuesday. AFP PHOTO/Shaun Curry (Photo credit should read SHAUN CURRY/AFP via Getty Images)