An overdue confession

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It is a shock to discover that the Prime Minister went missing during the Eighties.

His remarks about the Thatcher-Lawson housing boom and the associated inflationary spurt had the detachment of an economic historian, rather than the confessional tone of the man who was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury at the time house prices ran out of control.

It is not that there is cause to doubt Mr Major's prime ministerial resolve on inflation; his government's reputation has suffered along with the nerves of the rest of us as the economy has gone cold turkey on inflation. What does sit ill is the recollection of all those speeches about the idea of a property-owning democracy: a chicken in every pot, a taxpayer- subsidised mortgage in every pocket and a slice of British Gas for Sid.

The idea that everyone, whatever their circumstances, should strive to own a home was always a dangerous generalisation. Healthy societies and economies, with the right mix of mobile workers and strong communities, also require effective social housing and a strong rented sector. Houses are for living in, not betting on.

For a Conservative prime minister to acknowledge this, even in stilted and guarded terms, is a step forward.