The Conservatives must combat NIMBYism if they’re to win back younger voters

Bella Wallersteiner

November 25, 2022

Covid lockdowns exposed fault lines in society between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, those with access to gardens and those who had to make do with the local park.

Generation rent hunkered down in cramped flats as Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised better times ahead and a return to pre-Covid ‘Merrie England’ of craft beer drunk in country pubs, village cricket and festivals for the young.

When we emerged from the pandemic, young people faced an even greater betrayal as they discovered that they are unlikely to get a foot on the housing ladder and will be forced to rent or live at home with their parents for much longer than previous generations.

The housing crisis now poses an existential threat to the party. In recent months, rents have risen dramatically, particularly in cities where jobs are to be found. The average house price in the UK hit a record high of £276,759 at the start of 2022, going up by about £24,500 in 2021. The average 18-to-29-year-old only earns £23,250. Most first-time buyers in the UK are now in their mid-thirties, whereas fifteen years ago first-time buyers were usually in the late twenties.

As a 27-year old professional living and working in London, I am deeply uncomfortable to be a member of a Party which appears to have turned its back on Mrs Thatcher’s promise of creating “a home owning democracy”.

Estimates suggest we need up to 340,000 homes to be built a year to tackle the housing crisis. In 2020/21, we built 216,000 – far below the Government’s target of 300,000. The political consequences for the Conservatives should be obvious. It’s always been the case that homeowners are more likely to vote Conservative. Yet only this week the Conservative MP Theresa Villiers tabled amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which would abolish mandatory housing targets and the requirement for councils to provide a 5 year supply of land for new houses.

Villiers’s amendment for the “prohibition of mandatory targets and abolition of [the] five-year land supply rule” was backed by 47 Conservative MPs, and on Tuesday, the Government announced it had pulled the vote.

Robert Colvile, co-author of the 2019 Conservative manifesto which pledged to build 300,000 new homes a year in England, said on Twitter that the impact of the amendments would be “cataclysmic” and “eviscerate the current planning system”.

Studies suggest the housing shortage has had a number of effects on young people, including rising rents, a deleterious impact on family life, exacerbated intergenerational inequality, and contributed to driving up homelessness. A report by the Metropolitan Thames Valley Housing Association found in February 2022 that four out of five young people worry about their future housing prospects. The shortage of housing is having a major impact on when young people get married, have children and their ability to re-locate to take new jobs.

The situation has progressively deteriorated and no one seems inclined to grasp the nettle. Yet, this issue is relatively easy to solve. Rapidly rising rental charges aren’t not the result of some inexorable, unstoppable force of nature. When house and rental prices have risen, supply hasn’t kept up with demand and successive governments have failed to provide solutions to enable developers to build enough houses to bring prices down to a reasonable level.

The Government cannot vacillate and dither any longer. Boris Johnson secured the Conservative leadership in July 2019 because of his ability to simplify complex issues and deliver Brexit. The Prime Minister was tough with Michel Barnier and his cohorts from the start, making them think about how no-deal might affect them. It is time the Government took the same approach with housing.

MPs need to understand that if NIBYism and inertia continue to be the default setting of the Conservatives, young people will continue to turn their backs on the Party. As I recently discovered, when you buy your own home, there is a sense of pride and belonging to a community. At present, the majority of young people are deprived of becoming stakeholders in property and they feel betrayed and neglected because of Conservative Party apathy and inaction. The Conservatives cannot hope to win elections by appealing only to those fortunate enough to own properties.

One of Dickens’ most appealing characters is Mr Wemmick in Great Expectations. Mr Wemmick is a hard-working lawyer’s clerk by day, a cog in the legal machine, but after work and at weekends Wemmick goes home to his miniature castle and garden where he can pull up the drawbridge, metaphorically and literally, take care of his “Aged Parent”, and pursue his interest in horticulture and inventions. Britain needs to unleash more Wemmicks and turn into a nation of people who say ‘Yes’ – yes in my town, yes on my street, yes in my backyard. The old adage that An Englishman’s Home is his Castle remains as true today as when the phrase was first coined.


Written by Bella Wallersteiner

Bella Wallersteiner works in political due diligence.

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