Building A Britain Fit For The Future

Building a Britain fit for the future - new Conservative Party Tory slogan

Strong and stable, version 2.0

Word on the street is that the Tories have got themselves a shiny new slogan. Guido Fawkes reports:

Here are seven words you can expect to hear a lot more of over the next few weeks and months: Guido understands the new Tory slogan is “Building a Britain fit for the future”. Theresa May used it three times at PMQs on Wednesday, telling the Commons: “this government is building a country fit for the future”, “we are building a Britain fit for the future” and “We in the Conservative Party are building a Britain that is fit for the future”. This morning the CCHQ Twitter account used the same phrase.

As slogans go, I suppose that “Building a Britain fit for the future” could be a hell of a lot worse. It is certainly better than “strong and stable”, though according to Guido it seems as though the Tories are already in danger of wearing out their new slogan through enthusiastic over-use.

BABFFTF has potential because it at least acknowledges that we are entering a period of discontinuity – a time where the current system or political consensus is starting to fray and show signs of fatigue, where new and previously politically unfeasible policies are required to break the impasse or respond to the concerns of the electorate. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the vote for Brexit are just two of the most prominent signs that we have entered such a time of discontinuity, with the pro-EU, centrist consensus adopted by Labour and the Conservatives through 2015 increasingly failing to address the hopes, fears, concerns and priorities of many people.

The problem, though, is that the slogan seems to have been trailed before the necessary supporting ideas – the vital national reboot checklist which can steer Britain through Brexit and on to the other challenges – have been developed. Now, it’s possible that Theresa May has been huddled in Downing Street with her SpAds brainstorming some breathtakingly original new ideas, and that we will all be bowled over when they are announced in the coming weeks – but it seems unlikely. Firstly, she would be breaking the habit of a lifetime (doing something bold and visionary) and secondly it is hard to tell when such inspired policymaking might have taken place given all of the shenanigans going on in her Cabinet.

While we can finally detect a few faint signs of new intellectual life in the Tories – notably the Big Tent programme launched by George Freeman, and the Square Deal initiative led by Nick Boles – these groups are barely getting formed, and are months away (if not more) from reaching full fruition. And as I have previously written (and will continue to expand upon in coming days and weeks), we are still missing anything like an overarching framework to diagnose the issues facing Britain, draw out the links between them and produce an electorally viable set of policies to tackle them. Discontinuity requires policymaking through extraordinary means; the same old processes tend to yield the same old solutions.

That being said, the Tories cannot remain silent altogether while they try to get their act together. It is good, in a way, that Brexit is currently consuming most of this government’s energy because that means that they have little time (and even less political capital) to push through some of the authoritarian, statist, anti-market policies which one suspects Theresa May would now be rolling out had she won a thumping majority. A de facto “first, do no harm” doctine has thus been partially imposed on this government, like it or not.

But still the Tories must do something, starting with the Budget next week, to show that they are starting to understand the depth of public dissatisfaction with the old political settlement, particularly on housing (since this is a vital policy area more separated from some of the others). Years of disappointment mean that I have zero positive expectations of Phillip Hammond when he gets to his feet to deliver the Budget next Wednesday. I fear that even if there is noticeable movement on housing, it will be a big sop to Labour by focusing on the building of new council housing rather than the big unleashing/encouraging of private development (upward, not outward) which we need. This is Hammond’s chance to prove me wrong, as well as everybody else who has lost faith in the current government being anything more than a very clumsy caretaker.

The pessimistic part of me still believes that a mid-term rescue for the Tories is simply impossible; that it will take a (hopefully) short, sharp spell in opposition to rid the current Tory frontbench of much of its dead wood and see some new talent push forward – hopefully talent less beholden to the current political consensus, and which wants to do more than simply make a few cosmetic tweaks to win back public opinion. Readers will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot think of one example of a successful political turnaround that was driven by refreshed policies rather than the good fortune of events.

But a Jeremy Corbyn government is not something to be entertained lightly. The next government will likely set the tone and direction of Britain’s immediate post-Brexit years, and so will play a large role in stamping their imprint on whatever the new emerging political consensus or centre of gravity happens to be. After years of leftward drift under both New Labour and Conservative governments, it is important that the next significant course change is to the right. In a world of pure ideology one may well want the Tories decimated at the next election so that they can grow back stronger and with a renewed sense of purpose, just as controlled forest fires can ultimately benefit an ecosystem even as they destroy in the short term. But since we all have to live in this forest for the duration, dropping a match onto dry leaves by ushering Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street really must be an option of last resort.

Therefore let us hope that “Building a Britain fit for the future” and whatever quickly-concocted policies lie beneath it buy the Tories sufficient breathing room to attempt a more fundamental policy review – to create the new Stepping Stones report for 2018 that Britain needs to chart our way from one failed political consensus to a new one which addresses today’s challenges.

Let’s hope that it falls to conservatives to build the Britain of the future, and not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Conservative Party Logo - Torch Liberty - Tree

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Separate But Equal, Part 1

Instituting a new series to examine disturbing cases of deliberate self-segregation of “marginalised” communities carried out in the name of social justice

Forget “the only gay in the village” – Manchester City Council is putting forward plans for a majority-LGBT housing community for people aged over 50. In this socially engineered ghetto, eligibility to live would depend not on one’s ability to afford the rent but one’s ability to satisfy the diversity checklist of a local government busybody.

Once again, the best intentions of the social justice community result in the most extreme and counterproductive of solutions.

From the Guardian’s report:

Manchester city council has announced plans to create the UK’s first retirement community aimed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

According to the local authority, the city is home to the country’s largest number of LGBT people outside of London and is due to see a rapid growth in the number of LGBT residents over 65 in the next two decades. More than 7,000 over-50s living in Manchester identify as LGBT.

A recent report by the Manchester-based LGBT Foundation, commissioned by the council, revealed that older LGBT people experience higher levels of loneliness and isolation.

Many were fearful of discrimination in existing accommodation and there was a desire for affordable LGBT-specific housing where people could be open about their identity in later life.

The extra care scheme – a targeted development for older people – will house a minimum of 51% LGBT residents, but heterosexual people will also be welcome to apply to live in the accommodation.

The housing will have specially trained staff based on site and pets will be welcome. As well as the LGBT Foundation, the project is being supported by Stonewall Housing and the Homes and Communities Agency.

As one sceptical interviewee in the BBC report wisely asks:

The issue we are going to come up against along the way is that we’ve fought for equality. Do we need a separate space?

Quite.

Of course, the gimlet-eyed do-gooder at Manchester City Council responds, patronisingly:

It’s not necessarily about ghettoising particular communities. It’s offering people who want it that opportunity to spend their time with people who they know will understand them.

Ah well, that’s fine then. If people want to withdraw from wider society into strongholds (weakholds?) where fragility is pandered to rather than resilience developed, of course it is the sacred and noble duty of local government to assist them in their folly at every turn. Who are the guardians of the public purse to question the latest social justice orthodoxy?

Some may say that this is a local decision for local communities, and ask what standing a writer from London possibly has to weigh in on a decision made by Manchester City Council? And I would be amendable to that argument if it were actually the people of Manchester on the hook for this experiment in social divisiveness. But of course they are not.

In overcentralised Britain, the dominant single source of local authority funds – 40% in the case of Manchester – are disbursed by central government after having been raised through general national taxation. And besides the obvious social folly inherent in creating fragile, unresilient and homogenous minority communities in the name of social justice, the fact that all British taxpayers are funding this folly makes it directly my concern, and that of everyone else.

If a private developer wants to create an ethnically, gender or sexuality-based homogeneous environment for private tenants or homebuyers then that is a separate discussion fraught with its own parallel legal questions about discrimination and equality. But in the case of a public initiative and social housing, the government has absolutely no business discriminating along these lines, setting quotas or engaging in any other form of naked social engineering.

We should not be unsympathetic to some of the stories of older LGBT people featured in the BBC News report – being ostracised by friends and family of one’s own generation after coming out must be incredibly hard, particularly in older age. But it should be for institutions of civil society to step in to address these real social problems, and we must get out of the habit of immediately pivoting to local and national government for a solution to each and every problem – especially where the mitigation involves the use of general taxpayer funds.

Heavy-handed governmental interventions such as this only serve to crowd out independent solutions from civil society, and reinforce the expectation that government must play an active, watchful part in nearly every area of our lives. And no matter how well-intentioned individual schemes may be, British taxpayers should not be left on the hook for implementing a social justice revolution in Manchester or anywhere else.

 

Separate is NOT equal - Stonewall - segregation - LGBT

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What Conservative Government? – Part 2

Housing Crisis

Rather than do any of the things which might actually ease the housing crisis, David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government wants the state to enter the housebuilding business

When faced with the inescapable truth of the housing crisis – the fact that demand for housing is increasing faster than supply – David Cameron’s Conservative government has typically preferred to faff around with headline-chasing proposals to boost demand for the same inadequate housing stock rather than upset any of their vested interests by unleashing a real, consumer-focused supply side revolution.

But doing nothing at all in the face of a pressing national problem doesn’t look very good, and so the government has simultaneously been grasping around for eye-catching policies which give the illusion of taking serious action, while doing almost nothing to tackle the root causes.

And since this government is clearly content to pick freely from any policies ranging anywhere from the authoritarian left to the bland centre, they have come up with a doozy of a socialist idea: being unwilling to deregulate the market or meaningfully ease burdensome planning restrictions, the state will simply start commissioning new housing itself. What could possibly go wrong?

The breathless government press release informs us:

The Prime Minister will today announce that the government is to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes.

In a radical new policy shift, not used on this scale since Thatcher and Heseltine started the Docklands, the government will directly commission the building of homes on publicly owned land. This will lead to quality homes built at a faster rate with smaller building firms – currently unable to take on big projects – able to get building on government sites where planning permission is already in place. The first wave of up to 13,000 will start on 4 sites outside of London in 2016 – up to 40% of which will be affordable ‘starter’ homes. This approach will also be used in at the Old Oak Common site in north west London.

A plan for every stage of your life, indeed.

This amounts to nothing so much as a nationalised British Housing corporation – on a small scale for now, but who knows where or how far this statist adventure could lead us? Where once we had British Coal, British Steel, British Rail and even British Restaurants, now we are about to have British Housing foisted upon us – and by a supposedly conservative government, no less.

But just as nationalised, centrally planned companies like British Leyland churned out low quality, uncompetitive products that nobody wanted back in the last century, so British Housing will inevitably see the construction of more cookie-cutter, non-high-rise, low density “developments” that barely keep pace with rising demand and do nothing to tackle house prices or put the dream of home ownership within reach of more people.

But who cares? George Osborne will have another excuse to don his high-vis jacket, strap on his hard hat, and prance around a building site with his sleeves rolled up like a man of action and plausible Future Prime Minister. And that’s all that matters. Not solving real problems. Not applying the best of contemporary conservative thinking to transform Britain for the better. Just another good photo opportunity and more of the same endless, vacuous triangulation and electioneering.

Rigorous conservative thought and policymaking is capable of producing compelling answers to nearly all of the problems facing modern Britain – unemployment, housing, welfare, competitiveness and the democratic deficit. But we do not have a prime minister or a government who have any respect for conservative thought, or the principles of small government, free individuals and the free market as a force for good.

We have David Cameron, George Osborne and the bricks-and-mortar equivalent of British Rail sandwiches.

 

British Restaurants - Nationalisation

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A Very Modern Exodus: The New Era Housing Estate Saga

New Era campaign

 

This article was originally published on the In My Shoes blog, and subsequently at Guerilla Policy.

It took Hitler’s Luftwaffe to provoke the last great exodus of people from London. First went the children, evacuated en masse to the care of strangers in the countryside, and then after the war whole families were relocated from the rubble of the Blitz to the post-modern New Towns of Britain’s brave new world.

Fast-forward seventy years, and a new displacement is underway. But in 2014, people are being driven from their homes and communities not by bombs from the air but by the process of gentrification and the callous indifference of London’s housing market.

Today’s high-profile case is that of the New Era housing estate in Hoxton, which houses over 90 families at below-market rate rents. Earlier this year, the estate was bought by American property management company Westbrook Partners, who announced their intention to serve notice to the tenants, refurbish the flats and let them at market prices.

The Guardian contrasts the philanthropic spirit that conceived the New Era estate with the vulture capitalism that now threatens to tear it down:

[The estate was] built by a charitable trust in the 1930s in order to offer working-class residents affordable private rented accommodation. Even when the blocks were sold this spring, residents say they were assured that the old tenets would apply. Within weeks, new owners told them that rents would rise to market values: spiralling from £600 a month for a two-bed flat to something closer to £2,400. That was meant to happen by summer 2016. After [Conservative MP Richard] Benyon’s firm pulled out of the deal last week, residents were told that Westbrook would accelerate the process.

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The New Era Housing Estate Saga, And The Price Of Gentrification

 

Back in August I was on London Live TV alongside politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt, debating the contentious issue of gentrification, and whether it is something to be welcomed or a shameful exercise in social cleansing. Never one to duck a challenge, I argued in cautious defence of the principle of gentrification and the seemingly interminable dereliction-hipsterisation-bankertown cycle, and said that the benefits of gentrification would outweigh the costs – if only Britain would start building new housing supply at the rate and volume we need.

Three months later and I stand by my argument. But as successive governments have failed to stand by their pledges to tackle the housing crisis, gentrification rightly remains a hot-button issue; we should all be concerned that increasing numbers of people are not just being priced out of their neighbourhoods into slightly cheaper adjacent areas, but are having to contemplate moving half way across the country, far from families and support networks, in order to be able to afford to keep a roof over their heads.

This blog has always been an enthusiastic proponent of free markets and maximal personal freedom, and will continue to fight that corner. But when housing supply is artificially restricted through NIMBYism, political cowardice and simple bureaucratic ineptitude, interventions in the market become not only plausible but even desirable. Since the government is in effect already picking winners – choosing to bless existing homeowners with rapidly increasing house prices at the expense of those trying to get on the property ladder or live anywhere in the south east of England – any possible reticence about siding firmly with the underprivileged, the vulnerable and the low paid goes out the window.

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