October 11, 2021 - 3:00pm

A spectre is haunting Britain: the spectre of Baby Boomers. Beneficiaries of the post-war reconstruction boom, the most prosperous era of modern capitalism, and of free education and cheap housing to advance their social mobility, the baby boom generation has a stranglehold over Conservative policy. Not only is this generation hampering growth and widening social inequality, it is also driving young people towards increasingly deranged forms of activism, threatening the country’s future.

The government needs to change this, fast, not just because it’s right and just but also because it’s eroding any possibility of a Tory support base once the boomers die off. To have any viable future, the Conservatives need to build decent and affordable houses for young people now, where they’re needed, whatever the boomers think.

But this isn’t happening. Instead, spooked by its by-election loss, the government has surrendered to the wealth-hoarding demands of its ageing southeastern power base, with Boris promising at the party conference to assuage their “constant anxiety that your immemorial view of chalk downland is going to be desecrated by ugly new homes,” shrugging off his responsibility to provide housing in the areas where demand is greatest.

This isn’t good enough. Creating future jobs and spreading prosperity across the North is a noble and necessary goal, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to abandon young people in the South-East now, forcing them to cram themselves into squalid and ruinously expensive private rental accommodation, and preventing them from setting up home, saving up, and forming families.

A combination of unduly restrictive postwar planning legislation and Boomer greed is strangling Britain’s natural growth. And Tory MPs are at the forefront of making the housing crisis worse, with Theresa Villiers proclaiming that “we also need housing targets reduced in the South to stem the flood of high-rise, high-density development, which is creating immense pressure in commuter areas”. Backbench MP Bob Seely is demanding that councils withdraw permission for 200,000 homes that have already been green-lit. For short-term advantage, the government is crippling its own future, and that of the country as a whole.

Well-meaning but paltry initiatives like Policy Exchange’s Street Votes scheme, which relies on a dubious mixture of homeowner self-interest and cooperation to succeed, are a welcome start but nowhere near addressing the scale of housebuilding needed to fix the crisis. It is the state’s responsibility to ensure that the British people are adequately housed, and Boris should adopt the radical vision of his paternalist Tory predecessor Harold Macmillan in doing so.

The 1951 Conservative manifesto declared, in a passage as true today as it was then, that:

“Housing is the first of the social services. It is also one of the keys to increased productivity. Work, family life, health and education are all undermined by crowded houses. Therefore, a Conservative and Unionist Government will give housing a priority second only to national defence.”
- Conservative Manifesto (1951)

Tasked with delivering this, then-Chancellor Macmillan pronounced that building 300,000 homes a year was “a war job” to be tackled “in the spirit of 1940,” an ambitious goal he succeeded in, helping a secure a Tory majority in the 1955 election. Boris needs to do the same, whatever the Boomers wail. When even Prince Charles’ green and impeccably tasteful housebuilding efforts on his own land are met with howls of outrage by local boomers, it becomes clear that our suburban pensioner overlords are a stumbling block to national prosperity that the government needs to quash.

Southeastern England needs beautiful, spacious, affordable new homes, with all the transport, medical and educational infrastructure to finally provide millennials now entering middle age with a decent quality of life. He’s won the Red Wall handsomely: but to secure his legacy, Boris needs to finally smash Britain’s growth-sapping Grey Wall.

Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.