According to new data from the Office of National Statistics,UK property prices rose 12.4% in the year to April. Housing is becoming ever less affordable for people on average incomes. Britain's housing market continues to exist in a parallel universe, weirdly detached from prevailing economic pressures. Visiting Northumberland on holiday last week brought home the reality of our distorted property market. Strolling around the pleasant streets of Alnwick we paused by an estate agent's window, curious to check local prices. I was struck by how expensive three-bedroom family houses were. Many were on the market for over £300,000. A glance online revealed the average salary in Northumberland is £31,000. If decent-sized family homes are trading at nine or ten times average pay in a region where property has historically been relatively cheap, then our affordability crisis remains acute. What is a young single person on average earnings without family wealth behind them - a nurse, a primary school teacher, a scaffolder, a gym instructor - supposed to do, when even entry-level flats cost five times their wage?
Orthodox political thinking has long held that people become more conservative as they grew older and acquire a material stake in society. This theory sees western lifespans as a predictable arc - education, steady job, rising income, mortgage, partner, family, pension. As we acquire more to lose so our political views change. A desire for security, an instinct to hold what we have, slowly dissolves any youthful idealism. People become pragmatic and averse to risk with age. Now, though, this thesis may no longer hold good. Younger Britons are faced with declining real wages, insecure jobs, surging inflation and skyrocketing housing costs. The age at which most can afford to contemplate buying a property, getting married and starting a family, never mind saving for a pension, is rising inexorably. The experience of this technology-savvy generation of 20-35 year olds, half of whom will go to university, means their lives and political attitudes are following a very different trajectory to their parents.
For some time I've been convinced that this trend spells potential long-term disaster for the British Conservatives. If they can no longer rely on voters becoming more Tory as they get older they face an existential threat. As the Baby Boomers whose votes have propped up the last four Conservative governments begin to die off, our politics could shift in radical and dramatic ways. The timescale is hard to judge. We may not see significant change for five years or more. Even despite their by election disasters in Wakefield and Tiverton, the Tories could yet manage to scrape back into power at the next general election. But beyond that their prognosis looks bleak. A strategy centred on Brexit, English nationalism and trumped-up "culture wars" will have ever-diminishing effectiveness unless the Tories can find a way to broaden their appeal beyond the over-55s whose support currently keeps them in Westminster. For Labour the burning question is whether it can discover the ideas, vision and boldness to give young people in places like Alnwick a different and compelling vision of what modern Britain should be. Over to you, Keir Starmer.