Until the early 1970’s Britain was a nation in which most people lived in rented accommodation, whether from private landlords or in social housing owned by Councils. Home ownership was an aspiration out of reach of large sections of the population.
That began to change in 1980, when Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme, which allowed council houses to be sold at discounted rates to long-term tenants, created a surge in home ownership rates.
The effect of ‘Right To Buy’ and other measures which made it easier to buy a house was profound. From 1980 to the year 2005, the percentage of residential housing in Britain which was owner-occupied rose from 56% to 70%, while the percentage of housing that was occupied by social renters (i.e., council housing) fell from 31% to just 12%.
Since at least that time, Britons living arrangements have been a relatively strong predictor of voting intention in UK General Elections.
Between 1983 and 2010, the Conservatives won a higher share of the vote among owner-occupiers, those whom Margaret Thatcher championed as members of the “property-owning democracy,” than Labour in every election except for the Labour landslide victories in 1997 and 2001. Meanwhile, Labour took more votes from those who lived in social housing in every election during that period, while private renters oscillated between the Conservatives and Labour.
More recently, data from the 2019 General Election suggests that about twice as many owner-occupiers voted Conservative in that election as voted for Labour, while pluralities of both social (45%) and private (46%) renters voted Labour.
Now, however, the link between owning a home and voting Conservative appears to have weakened.
Since the mini-budget last September, the Conservatives have consistently trailed Labour in national voting intention polls amongst those who own their own homes.
However, that advantage has narrowed since the wide leads of October and November last year, when panic about mortgage repayments was at its highest, and our latest national voting intention poll finds Labour and the Conservatives are neck-and-neck among those who own their own homes.
In addition, among voters who either live in the family home (predominantly younger voters) and those who rent, Labour retains wide advantages over the Conservatives.
Among voters who live in their family’s home (with parents or similar), Labour has held a consistent thirty-plus point advantage.
It is much the same story with those who live in rented accommodation.
Among renters, Labour currently holds a 37 point lead, having led among this demographic in every poll that we have conducted that included this demographic question (since January 2021).
In simple terms, Labour is competitive (and winning) among a demographic (homeowners) which the Conservatives had heretofore been dominant and is dominant among a demographic that, in its youthfulness, represents the future of the country.
Labour does not need to win among homeowners to win a General Election (as the exit poll figures from the 2005 election show). But the Conservatives, given their weakness among those who rent or live at home, certainly do.
For this reason, Labour’s lead among this group should be of great concern to Conservative strategists. And while identifying the problem is one thing, solving it, as we discussed in a recent Magnified email, is quite another.
Every Conservative Prime Minister since at least the Second World War has known the electoral importance of not just home-ownership but genuinely secure home ownership. Now, their heirs in the Conservative Party appear to have lost ground among both those who aspire to be homeowners and those who are already homeowners too.