Lifelong Tory voters abandoning party over cladding crisis

Lifelong Conservative voters caught up in the building safety crisis are abandoning the party after its MPs voted against protecting leaseholders from potentially crippling costs to fix fire risks discovered after the Grenfell Tower fire.

Robert Booth 

Apartment owners, some of whom have supported the Tories since Margaret Thatcher set out her vision of a “property-owning democracy”, said they could no longer vote for a party which they argued was placing the interests of property developers and freeholders above homeowners.

One who had voted Tory for 50 years said he was “incensed” at seeing young people just climbing on to the housing ladder getting “kicked in the teeth”. Another, who supported the party for 30 years said “they are abandoning the people working hard to own their homes”.

The affected voters include middle-aged people who have invested in one or two apartments as a pension, people who have helped their children on to the housing ladder, owner occupiers and people who have bought a minority share of their home under shared ownership schemes but who are now being asked to pay all of the remediation bill.

The grassroots anger boiled over this week after Conservative MPs voted down an amendment to the fire safety bill, which would have ensured hundreds of thousands of leaseholders were protected from paying billions of pounds to fix apartment blocks found to be defective after the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster.

Thirty-three Conservatives rebelled, voting in favour of the protection, including Stephen McPartland, who have led minority Conservative calls to protect leaseholders, but 320 did not.

McPartland, who proposed the amendment in the first place, has described his party’s position as “morally unacceptable”.

“What we are doing today is shameful,” he told the Commons this week. “If this bill goes through even more leaseholders are going to face bankruptcy, even more are going to face huge issues around homelessness.”

McPartland said the debate was set to return to the House of Lords and he was still hoping for a government compromise. But since the vote, a stream of angry Conservatives voters have contacted the Guardian to say the government’s policy has forced them to rethink their lifelong support for the party.

“I am a lifelong Tory voter, but I am incensed at the clear injustice of how this is affecting so many young people,” said Peter Barnfield, 69, who owns a flat in the Decks complex in Runcorn, which has missing fire breaks set to cost up to £25,000 per leaseholder. “I cannot see this is justifiable. I’ll vote Labour. There are young people who have just got on the ladder and have been kicked in the teeth.”

Jacky Herger, 59, an accounts manager who cannot sell her flat at Ingress Park in Kent because of problems with firebreaks and render, said she feared she would lose her property if forced to pay.

“I have voted Tory all my life but after the fiasco of the vote I will not be voting for them again,” she said.

Sally Ann Burton, a company director in Portishead who owns apartments facing remediation costs of £60,000 each, said: “They are telling us you are better off to rent a home. They are abandoning the people working hard to own their homes.”

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary who also rebelled and voted to protect leaseholders, said his party’s position was burdening homeowners “which is a group we should approve of”.

“This is a regulatory failure on a sizeable scale and the state should shoulder the burden and not allow it to fall on anybody whether they vote Conservative or Communist,” he said.

The government has argued that forcing freeholders to pay could trigger legal action by building owners against the government to reclaim costs, while others could “walk away” from their ownership, making the problem worse. It has also launched £5bn in grants, but only to fix dangerous cladding and not other fire safety defects, and only on buildings more than 18 metres in height.

But its position is leaving some voters feeling “politically homeless”.

“The Conservatives are making themselves look like they’re not the party of homeownership, they are the party that don’t care,” said Alex Kubiakowska-Welch, 30, a Tory voter whose faulty block of flats in north-west London will not qualify for government funding. She said the issue had “absolutely” changed who she would vote for.

Tom Marshall, 31, faces costs of about £30,000 on his flat in the London borough of Bexley and will now vote against the party he has always supported.

“I’ve always taken the Conservative party at their word about being the party of homeownership,” he said. “I’ve had to do a bit of soul-searching. I know the Conservative party has a reputation for looking after its own, but it looks like they’re more keen on hanging on to party donors than protecting leaseholders.”

The Conservative party has been contacted for comment.