Saturday, June 02, 2007

Housing Need According to Cruddas

Basildon and Billericay Constituency Labour Party has nominated John Cruddas for Labour deputy leader. This is interesting because he was a contributor to a furore around the the local election campaign here in Basildon. What happened was this: Basildon Council under its Conservative administration runs a policy whereby one of the criteria for obtaining a council house is having a local connection. This is very popular and features in Conservative election material, but during the campaign the Times newspaper picked up on this and tried to spin it as some sort of racist policy. It was an appalling article that used single and two word quotes taken out of context, they were actually from part of a leaflet on defending the Green Belt and nothing to do with housing policy, but it also contains a quote from one John Cruddas MP. At the time this caused a bit of head-scratching among local Tories, why would he be sticking his nose in when it's not his portfolio or constituency? Subsequent events suggest that the article and the nomination may not be unconnected. He's warmed to the subject since after trade minister Margaret Hodge suggested that UK nationals should have priority over immigrants for social housing, saying that "Housing is allocated according to need and it is disingenuous for Margaret Hodge to suggest otherwise". So, in Cruddasworld people don't 'need' to live in their own community or near their own family and such things should count for absolutely nothing when considering social housing allocation.

Thank God it looks like Benn

Friday, June 01, 2007

Not A Campbell

The Conservative Party has a new Communications Director, and he's a Wickford boy, educated at Beauchamps High School no less! Andy Coulson is the former editor of the News of the World, and, of course, that has led some so compare him with Alistair Campbell. All I can say is, God, I hope not. Campbell is a proven liar. He lied as a print journalist when I used to read him in Today, and he brought his poison to professional politics as Blair's éminence grise. Michael Howard efficiently filleted him on Newsnight a while back, when he said what most of us had been thinking for years.

The fiasco over grammar schools certainly shows that the Conservative Party needs a better grip on communications. What is doesn't need is another amoral spinner. Let's trust it hasn't got one.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


At last the government has decided on the Shellhaven port at Thurrock in Essex. Dubai ports wanted to bring £1.5Bn of investment to turn a disused refinery into a container terminal, with much associated commercial space. As you might expect, there was a lengthy planning process and much local activism, then the whole thing disappeared into the government machine, and everyone else waited, and waited, and waited. Now the news has come, the smoke from the chimney is white, and there will be a port.

To be fair, serious decisions do take time, especially when they have the potential to affect such a large community. A port will alter the area in ways that are difficult to determine, and it should be noted that towns with ports are often defined by those ports. It's just that this has taken such a long time, nearly 7 years from first announcement, that most of the locals will greet the news with something approaching exhaustion, no matter if they are in favour or against.

The recent Planning White Paper suggests that large infrastructure projects need to be decided quicker. Ironic, when you consider where most of the time is actually spent.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Peter's got Guts

Speaking as a straight, married with two kids sort of chap, I have got some admiration for Peter Tatchell. As most people know Mr. Tatchell is a long-standing campaigner for gay rights and in so doing he has occasionally been quite controversial. What he has never been, however, is a hypocrite. If someone or some group is homophobic then they get it both barrels, no matter how fashionable they may be. So, when the Left was cosying up to fundamentalist Islam because of a shared view on the Iraq war, Mr. Tatchell wasn't going to mute his criticism of the treatment of homosexuals in Islamic countries. Likewise reggae or hip-hop singers with homophobic lyrics are exposed and feeble attempts to defend their bigotry on the grounds or ethnicity or culture are, quite rightly, brushed aside. Now he has been to Moscow for a Gay Rights rally, which was predictably subject to violence by the local bigots. He knew what would probably happen, but he went anyway.

Peter Tatchell stood for Labour in the infamous Bermondsey by-election in 1983. It may be that they lost more then they knew when he was defeated.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why no Houses?

The front page of the Telegraph castigates John Prescott for planning guidance that more homes should be built on less land, leading to an explosion of flat building at the expense of constructing houses for families. The idea of PPG3, as it is called, is to increase the housing density in town centres, which takes pressure off the Green Belt but has the effect on skewing housebuilders towards building flats. Now there is apparently an oversupply of flats and an undersupply of houses. Of course there is an undersupply of new homes in general, hence the current crazy house prices.

The Telegraph piece was right as far as it goes, but it totally missed the point when it comes to Prescott messing up planning. Land used to be allocated for building via an easy-to-understand and reasonably straightforward local plan process. Prescott replaced this with a process called the Local Development Framework, a hideously complex and enormously lengthy exercise that requires about an hour just to explain, with diagrams. Completing the framework takes years, and those Councils that have successfully negotiated the obstacle course have found themselves in the High Court because in addition to being complex and time-consuming the process is also badly designed and easy for interested parties to challenge.

Here in Basildon we are doing an LDF, which means we won’t be allocating any new land for housing until 2009 at the absolute earliest and it will probably be much later than that. Every local authority in the country is in the same boat, so next time you hear the government whinging about nimby local authorities bear in mind that the same government has added years to the process of housing land allocation. You could even suspect Machiavellian motives at this point: fewer new houses equals higher house prices equals economic growth pumped from remortgages.

Or maybe they just screwed up.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Liberal Democrat Rainbows

What is going on with the Liberal Democrats in Wales? First they are for a coalition with just about everyone who isn't the Labour Party, then they aren't, and a slightly bemused Rhodri Morgan becomes First Minister again, and now the coalition is back on. It's all a bit of a shambles really. Let us move smoothly to bottom lines: electoral politics is about power, because only if you are in power can you deliver your vision for the electorate. If you are serious about politics then you want to be in power. Only the ideologically blinkered prefer the purity of opposition to actually being able to do things. It seems, however, that the Welsh Liberal Democrat executive bottled it when their chance came and it took their wider membership to remind them that all of that campaigning was not just to keep their AMs in expensive-account lunches. So, we may yet have a rainbow coalition government in Wales. It's the sort of thing that occasionally happens in local councils, but that is about as far as precedent goes. The people of Wales seem doomed to live in interesting times.