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Party time as the RIBA throws its policies into the election race

editorial

How are you going to vote in the election? Which election? While the government maintains its pretence that nothing has been decided yet, the RIBA has been preparing its campaign to get the parties to adopt architecture-friendly policies for the battle on 5 May.

It has recognised the first essential point: that there are too few architects to persuade the parties to court their votes. In this case 'representing architecture not architects' is not only policy but also sound strategy.

Instead, the RIBA has come up with a number of proposed policies for improving our environment through architecture - policies that it will need initially to sell to the public rather than to the politicians. With Tuesday's (22 February) Guardian/ICM poll showing Labour only three points ahead of the Tories, all three parties will be desperate to win votes - and to persuade their core supporters that they are offering something important enough to convince them to actually go to the polls.

It is easy to guess which of the RIBA's 20 proposals will appeal most to the politicians. While issues such as discounting council tax for energy-efficient schemes or equalising VAT on construction have obvious cost implications, others look far more cost-neutral. The Labour Party, at least, is unlikely to support anything that looks expensive; the other parties have the advantage of not being in government, and are therefore free to adopt a much more hand-waving approach to cost. But ideas such as making the planning system sympathetic to domestic renewable-energy generation, or making government funding conditional upon good design quality, look as if they could be almost free. Any party would be wise to add them to its shopping list.

And where once one could easily have predicted which policy was likely to appeal to which party, these days that is a much harder call. Any one, or maybe all of them, could pick up a policy that they thought could garner a few votes. So while there will probably be some policies that never find a home, others may end up in the manifestos of all three parties. Which would only leave the post-election challenge of ensuring that the winner actually carried out its manifesto commitments. No problem, surely?

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