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I’m a Labour voter but I have severe doubts about the current gang

Paul Finch

Paul Finch reflects on the current Labour line-up and recalls an architect MP who made trees fashionable in the 1970s

News that an architect is standing for election reminded me of the only RIBA member in my lifetime who made any impact on life in the House of Commons.

Sydney Chapman was a decent, mild-mannered Tory MP who had qualified as an architect at Manchester before pursuing his political ambitions. He became MP for Handsworth, Birmingham, and during his time there in the early 1970s he became a well-known figure – as a result of leading a government campaign to plant trees.


‘Plant a tree in 1973’ was a national catch-phrase, though an attempt to follow up with ‘Plant some more in 1974’ less so. The campaign needs a contemporary revival because although on their own trees cannot solve the problems of carbon emissions, they can certainly do their bit.

There is no reason why people should feel guilty about off-setting, if that is what they can do by supporting tree-planting initiatives, and the range of possibilities means that you can choose to support efforts to make the UK carbon-neutral, or invest further afield where planting or maintaining forests that might otherwise have been cut down, can have ecologically beneficial impact in addition to absorbing carbon.

In a typical ‘why-oh-why’ Radio 4 broadcast earlier this week, a miserabilist presenter wanted to know why there couldn’t be a standard method of measuring or charging in respect of planting programmes. The proposition seemed to be based, whether consciously or not, on the bogus idea that standardisation is always the answer – in this case, no doubt, the result of the BBC licence fee.

All construction activity should require appropriate [carbon] offsets

Throw another non-standard policy into the mix: all construction activity should require appropriate offsets, whether in respect of materials manufacture, construction itself, or the maintenance and running of built stock. It wouldn’t be hugely difficult to make the necessary calculations – and companies and employees would probably feel pretty good about planting woods and, over time, forests.

Sydney, incidentally, lost his Handsworth seat, but was a popular choice to take over from poor old Reggie Maudling in the safe haven of Chipping Barnet, after a scandal involving the architect John Poulson and others. This led to Maudling, who was Home Secretary, in effect having to approve a police investigation into himself, which naturally led to his resignation.

So Sydney became a House of Commons fixture, eventually becoming vice-chamberlain, a post which he told me required him to produce a hand-written summary of Parliamentary proceedings, delivered each evening to Buckingham Place when Westminster was in session. I wonder if this still happens.

Reflections on Labour

Good luck to Jay Morton, the architect from Bell Phillips who is standing for election, though it will be tough to dislodge her Conservative rival in Chichester.

Her interests in better deals for tenants, and in support of low-cost housing, are admirable – and the sort of policy one automatically associated with the Labour Party in recent decades.

Having mostly voted Labour since 1970, I fear I have severe doubts about the current gang running the party. Jeremy Corbyn must be the worst Labour leader in history, proposed for the post (because they never thought he would win) by idiots like Margaret Beckett and Sadiq Khan.

But I worry more about his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. He has a destructive personality and was sacked from the Greater London Council, where he was finance committee chairman, for being too left-wing. The leader of the GLC who sacked him was … Ken Livingstone. I wish I was making this up.

We need a land policy

Whatever happens at the election, it is time we had a national policy on what we plan to do with land, whether for housing, trees or multiple other purposes including food production.

We have an odd attitude to ownership and valuation which distorts the economy and still leaves us short of homes.

It is no accident that the crown, aristocracy, church and other major land-owners are exempted from paying ‘council tax’ or rates, as I prefer to think of them. It is time for a new form of feudalism, where private interest and public need are creatively combined.


Readers' comments (8)

  • I'd imagine that you're not going to vote labour because deep down inside you have tory sensibilities.

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  • Your severe doubts about the current Labour gang are entirely understandable, and I have the same doubts about the current Tory gang (read Patrick Cockburn's take on them last Saturday in the Weekend i) - and there are also concerns about the shrill 'take no prisoners' line of the relatively fresh-behind-the-ears LibDem leader.
    But unlike me you are a voter in England, and totally in thrall to the seedy 'first past the post' electoral system that's done so much to stymie the genuine representation of the people in the Westminster parliament down the years.
    Resident in Scotland it's tempting to vote SNP just to give a bloody nose to the rotten 'main party' Tory/Labour cabal that's served the UK quite indifferently down the years.
    But rather like the regular need for the injection of new blood into the architectural establishment, I'd go for the LibDems on the basis of 'nothing ventured, nothing gained' - and in the hope that they could achieve the critical mass to hold the loonies of the left and right in check - and also attract more of the MPs with real integrity to jump their rotting ships.

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  • Paul Finch mournfully reminisces about a Tory MP who liked to plant trees, and in the process carelessly discards the real and desperate need for contemporary working people to earn enough money to afford their outgoings. A situation that many young (and older) architects find themselves in.

    While we are privately funnelling the lion's share of our income into the wealth funds of other people just to keep roofs over our heads - many architects are looking forward to a time when we might be able to devote our profession to designing homes that don't cost the earth, rather than financial assets for the already hideously wealthy.

    There are only one group of politicians that can enable this, and that is who I will be voting for, OK Boomer?

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  • Thank you for your constructive comments.

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  • Paul, which particular Labour policies do you object to - particularly on the Built Environment? Or are you just jumping on the anti-Corbyn bandwagon? Pretty lazy journalism - in fact a very poor article.

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  • Paul - I'd be interested to see your response to Bob Ghosh on policy - especially on green issues, student fees (and associated extreme interest rates), housing programme etc

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  • This dismissal of the opportunity for real change in the balance of power in society and the recalibration of the economic machine to benefit everyone rather than an increasingly avaricious elite, is I hope, intentionally provocative rather than an attempt at serious debate? The regurgitation of tired tropes attacking the man rather than the policies would feel more at home in one of our billionaire owned newspapers than in the more auspicious pages of this publication. Surely taking the opportunity of your position to engage in even the most cursory examination of the opportunities for the profession offered by the substantial level of public investment proposed by the Labour Party might be a better use of both your time and indeed that of your readers too?

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  • Happily I am not standing for election. Experience suggests that manifesto pledges/promises/commitments don't mean much in practice, so forgive me for not responding in detail. I have frequently expressed my views about the failure of the political class in respect of housing, and as mentioned I believe a national policy on land use would be useful in addressing that issues, as well as environmental matters.

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