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Enjoy being cool as long as it lasts

editorial

Harold Wilson's 1960s Labour government oversaw the rise and fall of 'Swinging London'. The same decade produced the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, which heralded our current condition with their immortal lyric 'Cool Britannia/Britannia take a trip/Britons ever, ever, ever/Shall be hip'. We are back where we started more than 30 years ago. Sexual licence, illicit drugs and a thriving music scene, then as now, underpin a sense of excitement reinforced by the arrival of a Labour administration. Happily, there is plenty to satirise in all this. The three Cabinet members who represent (sort of) the trinity of activities described above are, presumably, Robin Cook, Jack Straw and a drenched John Prescott. If New Labour thinks it can reconcile coolness with its compulsory c&a suits and instructions from Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell on how and when mps should go to the lavatory, it is sadly mistaken.

For architects and designers, the message must be: enjoy things while you can. The last government tended to see design simply as a useful selling tool, to be promoted by the dti as an export aid. There didn't seem to be much joy in it. Tony Blair et al do give the impression that they like design and designers - and even architects. That must give us hope that the initiatives talked of before and after the election may yet come to pass, under the stewardship of Mark Fisher at the Department of Culture.

Thus far, the impression is that the Treasury distrusts cross-departmental initiatives in the design sphere because they suggest that government building is more than merely a matter of procurement. This attitude is wrong. This government should leave behind it a solid record of achievement on the architectural front. As we have argued before, the ethos of the Lottery (no money unless you can show you have used procedures to get good design) should be adopted across the public sector. Symbolically, the powerhouse::uk exhibition, with its Branson Coates pods, is a step very much in the right direction.

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