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Brexit and the Politics of Housing in Britain

Abstract

Political earthquakes—both real and perceived—are trembling through Britain. In the 2015 general election, the Scottish National party and the UK Independence party mounted successful challenges from the periphery. In the 2016 referendum on EU membership, the Vote Leave campaign captured a surprising number of votes from both sides of the traditional political divide. And in the 2017 general election, an unlikely Labour leader turned metropolitan areas red, while the incumbent Conservative Prime Minister turned post‐industrial towns blue—bringing the whole party system back into a familiar bipolarity. At this breakneck pace of political change, scholars have struggled to make sense of what is driving British politics, and how.

In this paper, we argue that the answer to this question might lie right under our feet. Over the last three decades, the British housing market has undergone a rapid transformation. In the postwar era, British housing featured high levels of social housing and low levels of housing wealth inequality. Today—following a mass social housing sell‐off and a historic boom in asset prices—it features the inverse. We argue that this transformation has had a profound impact on British politics by dividing regions, tenures, and generations in a new housing cleavage.

Professor Ben Ansell is Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions, Nuffield College