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What Boris Johnson’s election victory means for architects

Shutterstock boris johnson leave brexit
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The Tories have triumphed, Corbyn is crushed and we should expect a new type of Conservative government, writes Will Hurst

Well that was pretty definitive, wasn’t it? Thanks to a crushing electoral victory, the Conservative Party today has a large majority with Brexit expected to be ‘got done’ in line with Boris Johnson’s endless (and very effective) campaign message.

But what does it mean for architects? Certainly many in this left-leaning profession will despair as Richard Waite’s story illustrates. Gone is the prospect of a Labour government ushering in a new generation of council house-building which would have seen 100,000 local authority-backed homes built a year by 2024. So too is the prospect of the more interventionalist response to the climate emergency promised by Labour, the Lib Dems and the Green Party including specific plans to upgrade the energy performance of existing homes.

Many architects probably feel a degree of relief that some of the uncertainty swirling around Brexit has dissipated

And let’s not forget the hopes for a second referendum, alive yesterday but dead and gone today. Given their deep antipathy to Brexit, many architects will be deeply disappointed that this election has essentially endorsed the result of the 2016 referendum, at least in the context of our first-past-the-post system.

On the other hand, many architects – whether they be leavers or remainers – probably feel a degree of relief that at least some of the uncertainty swirling around Brexit has dissipated. Huge question marks will remain, not least over Johnson’s ability to strike a trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020, but the prime minister now has a decisive mandate to push through Brexit, perhaps even a softer version than the kind previously envisaged should he so choose.

There will also be many in the profession who will be pleased to see the back of Jeremy Corbyn, who has said he will not contest another election after Labour lost 59 seats in its worst result since 1935.

Many architects embraced Corbyn when he became the party leader in 2015 but the love affair has cooled.

‘It is clear that the UK didn’t want Corbyn or his leftist policies,’ said Grimshaw partner Mark Middleton on Twitter this morning. ‘It is a damning indictment that as a leader no one wanted him when compared to the alternatives. Labour need to regain the centre.’

Whatever the opposition does, it’s apparent that the Conservative government the country has elected will differ from those of recent years. True it has moved further to the right, but the Tory manifesto also reveals it is now a borrow, tax and spend party albeit to a far more limited extent than the opposition parties. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) was also probably correct to criticise both the Labour and Tory spending plans last month, saying it was ‘highly likely’ that the latter would end up spending more than their manifesto pledges.

Therefore, expect the new government to borrow in order to invest in (some) hospital building, railway projects (with the future of HS2 still hanging in the balance) and green infrastructure given the legally binding commitment to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Given Johnson’s preoccupation with bridges, we cannot discount the prospect of a new bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland either.

What this election means for Scotland and its relationship with the UK as a whole is another matter. The huge gains made by the SNP suggest a second independence referendum is on the cards. The Conservatives may end up securing Brexit at the expense of the union. If that came to pass, talented architects on either side of the border would end up practising within separate nation states following starkly different paths.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The future status of Scotland risks getting more like that of Ireland in the early 1900s (hopefully without the strife) but the situation of Northern Ireland is less clear.
    Boris and co have been papering over the cracks, but they're the sort that could hugely influence progress toward building a bridge to Scotland.

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