How Conservatives Can Make Housing a Winning Issue

Lessons From the 1980s

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher points skyward as she receives standing ovation at a Conservative Party Conference on October 13, 1989.  REUTERS

In the Woody Allen film Everyone Says I Love You, the lone Republican son in a Manhattan household becomes a Democrat, but only after an arterial blockage is surgically removed, allowing more oxygen to reach his brain. In real life, changing one’s political opinions rarely requires such severe measures. Instead, among British voters in the 1980s, it was buying a home that made all the difference.

In the United Kingdom in the 1980s, government interventions in housing helped persuade a majority of voters to back the Conservatives. A liberalization of mortgage lending and the creation of the Right to Buy policy—which permitted and indeed subsidized renters in social housing to purchase their own units—led homeownership rates to rise ten percentage points between 1981 and 1990. Three million more households became owner-occupiers, including over a million of the skilled working class—the famed “C2s” in the National Readership Survey

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