The £200m the government is spending on buying private homes for social tenants may be a drop in the ocean but it could give voters a boost

It was fitting that former construction and housing minister Nick Raynsford was first up to ask a question after Gordon Brown’s speech in the House of Commons today.

The beleaguered prime minister was using the ‘draft’ Queen’s Speech in a desperate attempt to draw a line under a dire few weeks for the government. As the Conservative leader David Cameron has been at pains to remind him there is the small matter of a by-election looming in Crewe and Nantwich on 22 May. This was Gordon’s chance to seize back the political initiative

As Brown has been trying to hammer home for the past fortnight, housing is top of his agenda. When he saw the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich rising to make his point he must have hoped for, expected even, some supportive words for his plans.

Not quite.... Commenting on the initiative to set up a £200m fund to buy unsold new homes and rent them to people on council housing waiting lists, Raynsford declared that he thought further action would be necessary to prevent the housing market from collapsing. So much for wishful thinking.

The housebuilders we have managed to speak to this afternoon have so far been equally non-plussed by the £200m fund to help bale them out or by the measures to help first-time buyers. One described it as “just a drop in the ocean”. Nothing like kicking a man when he’s down.

On this latter point though, according to the latest figures from Nationwide the average house price in the UK is now just under £180,000. A basic calculation shows that Brown’s £200m would buy around 1100 homes. Although in the context of the 100,000 or so homes that will be built in England this year it’s small beer, for housebuilders staring down the barrel of a 50% fall in reservations this cannot be sniffed at.

Then there are the people likely to benefit from these homes the government buys. 1100 homes could well translate into a few thousand votes. Surely the government can’t be looking to spend all that money in Crewe and Nantwich though…?