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Negative vibes, media spin and surviving the week that was

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Last week was one of those times when, as the now chastened Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, 'a lot of stuff happened'. In fact the 'stuff' started happening at the end of the week before, when a broadsheet newspaper announced that the boss of MI5 - one of the more visible manifestations of our otherwise invisible Military Intelligence network - had said that this country had become so volatile that it was always only four mealtimes away from a state of anarchy.

As though to bear out his words, 'big week' proper started out with yet another report on the pensions crisis. This one was a gloves-off number delivered by the chairman of the Pensions Commission himself, who not only announced that more than 12 million working people in Britain faced poverty on retirement because they had not saved enough money when they were in work, but cast himself among these unfortunates by revealing that his own pension prospects had become so mishandled that he himself would receive a bare one-third of the £3 million his 'pension package' had at one time seemed to promise.

Rather surprisingly, every vox-pop figure dredged up by the media to discuss this matter seemed to be taken in by this simple ploy, and one all but proposed a whip round on the spot. Next up was the war, resolutely filtered through the tragedy of Ken Bigley's murder - a harrowing enough event in itself, but one that served well enough to smother reportage of an even stranger occurrence. This one involved none other than the governor of the Bank of England answering questions at the Eden Project in Cornwall on subjects such as the war, house prices, unemployment, $50 barrels of crude oil, the probity of gambling casinos and flip-flop interest rates. The questions were distinctly robust, but not as robust as the answers, which steadfastly refused to rule out a return to high inflation and unemployment and a resurgence of critical energy issues and casinos in every town.

This quick reminder is included here in case, by chance, this present week should turn out to be even more heterodox than the one in question. This, however, is unlikely, if only because another report from CABE complaining about identical new housing estates creating a bleak suburbia is not expected.

Smacking resoundingly of the sort of report that a body puts together when it is seriously underemployed, this document waxed comic-opera angry over the presence or absence of something called a 'sense of community' - the presence or absence of which is easily ascertained by simply questioning a resident, preferably one who has been installed for no more than a week or two.

This was a trick quickly adopted, and used to good effect, by The Times, which mounted its own survey the day after the publication of the CABE report.

Not slavishly following the usual populist line - deploring a perfectly market-readable housing project , built by a subsidiary of the Barratt Group and featuring a double-height columniated portico in the style of St Paul's Cathedral - yet praising its complete opposite in the shape of an 'Artisan Quarter' in the style of Walter Gropius (circa 1923) leaves both judgements open to the charge that they would have been reversed only 20 years ago. The fact that the newspaper returned to the fray later in the week with two more contenders from the CABE 'bottom 100' makes me wonder what the point of demanding better design from a standpoint of macroscopic uselessness really is.

I find myself giving only one answer: it must, in some way, support high house prices and slow down housing completions. What a noble calling.

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