Paul Finch despairs of our elected representatives in Parliament
The headless chickens in the House of Commons have demonstrated the law of unintended consequences.
Many of them have never negotiated anything in their lives, except what they may be able to claim on their expenses (back up to pre-scandal levels, I notice). In a version of cognitive dissonance, they have now demanded a better – or different – Brexit deal from the EU, while simultaneously making it impossible to negotiate any improvement because a clean break has been voted off the table.
Theresa May has been sent naked into the conference chamber, to use Aneurin Bevan’s famous remark about negotiating with other nuclear powers when you are abandoning your own weapons.
I am treating all the Brexit stuff as farce rather than tragedy, in the sense that farce is the tragedy that happens to outsiders, while tragedy is the farce that happens to you. In this case the outsiders are the politicians who will have to live with the consequences of whatever botched arrangements we reach with the EU.
On the upside, I can now cheerily side with the anarchists of yesteryear, who advised against voting at elections, since ‘it only encourages them’. Why bother with MPs when MPs can’t be bothered with us?
Unintended consequences seem to be breaking out all over the place. In Kensington & Chelsea, the Exhibition Road ‘sharing experience’, removing pavements and encouraging mutual use of road space by pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike, has been abandoned on the grounds that it is not working as anticipated, and is more dangerous than conventional arrangements.
This does not mean that the Dixon Jones’ design wasn’t worth pursuing; in fact it may fall into that category of initiatives relevant to historian Hugh Trevor-Roper’s dictum: ‘Better a fertile error than a sterile accuracy’.
It may also be that the design ideas are ahead of their time and will come back into play in the era of driverless cars, which isn’t too far away. It would be comforting to think that impending adaptation of the street design would be something the designers are consulted about.
Subsidising the market is rarely a good idea
So it’s official: the dozy and complacent thinking that informed the government’s Help to Buy programme produced a dud policy whose main achievement has been to line the pockets of people like the repulsive Persimmmon directors. Their products are the worst-rated of the major volume housebuilders, but that won’t worry them as they cash their taxpayer handouts.
The official analysis comes from the independent Office for National Statistics, which has been looking at what happened to house prices after Help to Buy was introduced by the exceedingly smug George Osborne. (His subsequent joke career as a ‘newspaper editor’ suggests he should have gone back to the family firm, Osborne & Little, where paper is something that is stuck on walls rather than thrown in the bin.)
The average new house price before his policy came into force was £190,000. Now it is £286,000, a gigantic 50 per cent increase which can only be explained in terms of taxpayer subsidy – especially since the price of second-hand homes has gone up by a mere 26 per cent. Needless to say, the biggest handouts have occurred in London, where subsidies are far bigger than elsewhere in the country.
In the interests of re-use and recycling, it would make more sense to restrict subsidies to those who are regenerating existing stock. The housebuilders, forever bleating about the joys and importance of the private market, could then be left to build their rubbish free and clear of handouts from you and me. Don’t hold your breath.
Sites for sore eyes
Coming in on cue, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (not so long ago the Council for the Preservation of Rural England) has been reviewing potential housing sites across the country. It claims that it would be possible to build up to a million homes on derelict land and sites of abandoned buildings in English towns and cities. If the use of such assets were taken seriously, it would have big implications for the current push to build on green belt land, beloved by volume housebuilders and the extreme marketeers at Policy Exchange.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the Campaign’s position, but would suggest to its members that their case would be more convincing if they were to accept that not all green belt land is of equal quality and some should be built on. You can also say that about ‘Metropolitan Open Land’, sometimes treated as though mere categorisation creates oases of paradise in an urban hell. Some of it is unusable or inaccessible.
Can’t we have a grown-up conversation about all this?