YIMBYs, NIMBYs and the Battle for the Soul of the Tory Party
Three internal Tory rows this week neatly illustrated the thesis of my last piece – that the government is trapped in a doom loop by its own voter coalition. Helpfully they were on the three topics I discussed in that piece: Brexit, immigration, and planning.
The Brexit row followed a briefing to the Sunday Times that the government were considering a “Swiss style” deal with the EU. There is much speculation in Westminster as to where this idea came from. Many were quick to point in the direction of Jeremy Hunt, who, as I pointed out last week, is manifestly aware of the economic costs of our current position. He denies it and no one else is taking responsibility. Either way it caused a meltdown on the Tory right, which does not indicate a great deal of confidence in the longevity of the status quo. Some more self-aware Brexit fans are realising the long-term threat to their project if GDP growth remains sluggish. New analysis this week shows a very clear shift in favour of re-joining amongst under 50s – 70% of 35-44 year olds now say they want to rejoin. As recently as February it was just 50%. (Though I will be digging into the practical and electoral challenges of this in a future post).
The second row on immigration was triggered by figures released on Thursday showing a record net increase of over half a million in the last year. This is partly due to one-off schemes offering visas to people leaving Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and Ukraine. But it also reflects the growing number of sectors that need migrant labour to cope (e.g. social care) and the financial dependence of UK universities on international students. This has led to the return of a perennial internal argument on whether we should cut foreign student numbers – with Suella Braverman arguing for stopping them doing “low value courses” and the Treasury plus Department for Education against. It makes zero sense as a policy suggestion – if a course really is low value why would we want to reserve it for domestic students only? – but indicates the growing desperation in parts of government about their inability to do anything on an issue that matters a lot to their voters.
But it’s the third row on housing I want to focus on as it so perfectly encapsulates the Tories’ fundamental strategic problems.