While You Were Sleeping
Never let it be said that this is not a populist blog. After a brief spat with the BBC, I am deeply repentant. I know what the nation wants and I plan to give it to you. So, without further ado, let me inform you of what is going on in the news.
Kate Middleton went somewhere. In an outfit. Airbus is building a transparent plane – just like Wonder Woman’s. Prince Philip, that paragon of virtue and progressive thinking, has celebrated a birthday. Kate Middleton attended. In an outfit. Psychic Sally Morgan has told Katie Price that Leandro is “the one”. Finally, David Cameron re-re-launched something. I missed it, but I will try to catch it when he re-re-re-launches it again on BBC Parliament +1week.
Good. Now that we’re done with real news, a lighter item to cheer you up. Many of you may have missed this heart-rending story of public/private collaboration, buried as it was under more shocking items about five-year-old documents that revealed that – shock! horror! – labour politicians are ambitious.
The Government is selling off £10bn worth of public land. Well… not exactly selling it. “Releasing” it, was the word used by Housing Minister Grant Shapps. They are giving the land to private investors and developers on “Build Now, Pay Later” deals. Actually, “Sell First, Pay Later” would be a more accurate description.
“I can confirm an ambitious challenge across Government to release enough land from Whitehall’s grip for 100,000 new homes across the country.” Like a baby Peregrine chick, nurtured but eventually released into the wild. Out of the insane ‘grip’ of Whitehall idiots who may have thought that, at a time when we are being told again and again that we are nearly bankrupt, giving away the nation’s assets for free may be a bad idea.
Still, needs must. There is a housing shortage at the moment. Presumably this land will be transformed into affordable housing. Let me scan the press release again. Nope. No mention of affordable housing. Never mind. I am certain, absolutely certain, that New Covent Garden Market (one such site released from civil servants’ maniacal “grip”), right by the river, Zone 1, overlooking the Houses of Parliament, will not be turned into luxury apartments.
I take comfort in the fact that Danny Alexander, who has a proven track record of constraining the Tories in their dogmatic, market-obssessed agenda as a valiant and outspoken LibDem partner, has said: “This is a double dose of good news, creating and sustaining thousands of jobs by boosting housebuilders while also creating thousands of new homes for people to live in.”
Everyone clear? The giving away of public assets to private companies is not just good news. It is a double dose thereof.
And if you cynical lot needed more convincing, then listen to what Mark Clare, Chief Executive of Barratt Developments PLC, said: “This is a big step in the right direction. The rapid release of publicly owned land has the potential to be an effective catalyst for increasing the supply of land for new homes in this country during the next few years.” This is the same Barratt Homes that were criticised 18 months ago by the Commission on Architecture and The Built Environment as leading the trend in building homes which are too small for human occupation. With partners like this, how can we fail?
So, let me ask the obvious and perhaps stupid question: If we, as a nation, are strapped for cash and there is a housing shortage and we own all this land and there is profit to be made out of building houses on it and jobs in the construction industry to be created, why the Dickens doesn’t the state do it? The denial of such opportunities and the handing over of public assets for a pittance is not only reminiscent but also symptomatic of a Thatcherite ethos at work. We have already sold the “family silver” and are now in the process of selling the “family land”, but are still refusing to regulate the financial sector. What will we sell next time their greed brings about an economic Armageddon?
But not to worry. In charge of the whole operation is none other than Captain of Industry and regular Mother Theresa, Francis Maude. Apparently, Francis “will go through each department’s plans with a fine tooth comb, to make sure every possible site is made available for housebuilding”. Which translates into: if it isn’t nailed down, it is for sale – no, not sale. That would imply some consideration in exchange. It will be “released”.
I guess, in the final analysis, it will all be worth it, if it works. But is it working? Well, this is what Robert Chote, Chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility said in the closing remarks of his speech at the University of York, yesterday (13/6):
“The budget deficit has barely fallen from its post war high, the economy is still struggling for momentum, there is significant uncertainty about our medium‐term growth prospects, and there is considerable disagreement about the appropriate path of fiscal policy. But it is not for us to complain.”
Nor is it for me or you to complain.
And now back to our regular programme with news that Kate Middleton watched a Polo match. In another outfit. Sleep well.