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Jimmy Young, housing and the TV election debates

Watching the three election debates on TV I was reminded of a radio interview with the now retired DJ Jimmy Young and Adrian Coles, director general of the Building Societies Association.

This I suppose is a sad reflection on my age, my listening habits, what I remember, and how little the dark art of spin has moved over time.

Young always conducted his Radio 2 interviews from a lengthy crib sheet provided by a team of researchers and Coles had and still has the happy knack of acknowledging a question he really doesn’t want to answer and then to simply go on and say exactly what he wants to say.

The thing was that Young wasn’t really that interested in the answers anyway, and so while there was the illusion of a dialogue taking place in actual fact their was a complete disconnect between the two men.

Thus Young would ask a question and Coles would say “Thank you very much Jimmy, that’s a very good point, but before taking you up on that, I just want to say this…”

And so it went on with Young linking his questions with platitudes that were totally irrelevant to what Coles had just said.

The election debates didn’t quite achieve that Pythonesque level of comedy, largely because the debate didn’t even attempt to establish a dialogue between those who asked the questions and Messrs Brown, Cameron, and Clegg.

They simply used the questions from the floor as hooks on which to hang what their spin doctors had obviously identified as core messages to repeat over and over again for the benefit of the ill-informed electorate.

In this respect the media missed an interesting opportunity to subsequently interview the people who’d asked the questions what they truly thought of the answers.

Probably not much, I surmise, especially in the final debate in the series which was suppose to focus on the economy but wasn’t much different than the previous debates, except for the fact that someone actually raised the issue of housing supply and the problems of first-time buyers.

Gosh, they hadn’t rehearsed that one! All three wannabe prime ministers empathised with the question.

Brown mumbled something about Labour’s commitment to extending homeownership (quite overlooking the fact that homeownership had actually shrunk under his premiership), Cameron waffled on about easing planning restrictions, and Clegg talked about utilising empty housing and, with miracles in mind, about converting unsold one bedroom flats into homes fit for families.

As David Smith, economics editor of the Sunday Times, pointed out as guest speaker at the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ annual lunch on Friday, none of them had a viable policy to improve housing supply.

Indeed, he even added darkly that with two of them their policies might actually reduce the number of homes available though disappointingly he didn’t identify which two.

Of all the economic pundits, of course, Smith is always the most upbeat. My own feeling is that with none of three men even attempting to address the issue of improving mortgage supply, there’s not much hope for the first-time buyer or the new build sector, whoever gets lucky on Thursday.


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