Monday, 17 December 2012

Tory Growth and Infrastructure Farce

Politics, Lenin once wryly observed, is concentrated economics. You don't need Hegel's Logic to realise the reverse can also be the case, that economic decisions are driven by political considerations. And nowhere is this more true than the treasury under the stewardship of George Gideon Oliver Osborne. As Paul Richards observed a couple of weeks back, Gideon is a chancellor who is political to his fingertips. He is not driven by the national interest (however you define it) nor an amorphous desire to "help people", it is - as it always is with the Tory party - about the exercising and perpetuation of power and, by extension, the privileged interests the Conservative Party has always represented.

It is in this context that one should approach the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which had its third reading in the Commons today. According to the explanatory notes, it "covers promoting growth and facilitating provision of infrastructure, and related matters". Because of the plethora of local government measures it contains, Eric Pickles has the pleasure of steering it through the House.

There are four key measures in this legislative dog's dinner. First and foremost is the ludicrous shares-for-rights wheeze. Conceived by Gideon as his big idea for the Tory faithful at party conference, employers will be able to buy out workers' statutory rights in return for between £2k-£50k worth of shares (not tax free). More disturbingly, firms can offer this on a take it or leave it basis to prospective employees from day one in lieu of established protections. In short, it's a transparent attempt at stripping away rights at work and locking unions out of workplaces. Of this, noted Bolshevist Justin King of Sainsbury's asked "What do you think the population at large will think of businesses that want to trade employment rights for money?" Marxist militant Mike Emmott, an employment advisor at the CBI said "employees have little to gain by substituting their fundamental rights for uncertain financial gain and employers have little to gain by creating a two tier labour market.” And lastly, latter day Trotsky, John Cridland - the boss of the CBI - remarked "I think this is a niche idea and not relevant to all businesses." Indeed. Of 200 businesses consulted by the government in a 33 week exercise, just *five* said they would consider the scheme. Neither is there any evidence that businesses will take more people on. Workers' rights don't kill jobs, economics do.

With attacks on the workplace sorted, it moves on to local government. Or, rather, the undermining of it. Now, Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 sounds as sexy as me at drunken karaoke. But it is a vital element for building the sorts of housing that turns out mixed and cohesive communities. Presently, developers are required to provide facilities for community benefit, such as recreation grounds, transport infrastructure, leisure facilities, public art, or affordable housing. What the Tories want to do is strip back the latter requirement altogether. Apparently, Dave is of the opinion there are some 400,000 stalled residential development sites across Britain, of which 75,000 are in abeyance thanks to the commercial environment. Of them no one knows how many have ground to a halt thanks to S106 obligations, because the government hasn't asked anybody. They have jumped to the conclusion that "red tape" is to blame and that Britain would get building if it was removed. Never mind the existing provisions that allow flexibility around this. Never mind the ongoing housing crisis and stupid prices, which this measure does nothing to address.

On top of that comes a triple whammy of dodgy changes to planning laws. Under the proposed changes, business projects arbitrarily determined to be of infrastructural importance by Pickles could be sent directly to the Planning Inspectorate. So, concerned about the fracking rig turning up at the bottom of the road? Don't fancy your local landscape blighted by open cast mining? Tough. The Tories also would like to see the rules relaxed on some development in the National Parks - so keep an eye out for new phone masts next time you're hiking round the Peak District. But the most ludicrous, simply because it's the most hypocritical, are the dictatorial planning powers Pickles wants to assume for himself. Under the bill, if Pickles arbitrarily determines that a local authority is failing to approve enough applications, he can strip it of its powers and drive through development himself. This is not only profoundly undemocratic, this central power-grab is from the man who's extolled 'localism' more times from the despatch box than he's had hot dinners - and that's a lot.

Considering them all intellectually, they are facile anti-red tape measures Gideon and Pickles believe will unleash the creative powers of the markets. And like nearly every piece of legislation pushed through the Commons by our LibDem-supported Tory government, it is yet another example of evidence-free policy making. But in reality, it comes back to the opening paragraph. It's about the naked exercise of power and creating the conditions that will allow the Tories and the interests they represent to rule for as long as possible. Ultimately, it does not matter to them if their policies undermine communities, rubbish local democracy, blight the countryside, or keep the economy locked in the doldrums. They are cushioned from the consequences of their actions. It's I'm alright Jack writ large, a couldn't care less attitude for which our people will end up paying the price.

Humpty Numpty courtesy of Dom Richards.


Gary Elsby said...

Had to laugh at the spat between Eric Pickles and the people's champion, Tristram Hunt, yesterday.

In the blue corner King Eric and in the (other) corner, Comrade Tristram (ice axe, the lot).

Tristram: "Why are you shutting libraries".

(The people of Stoke awaited with much anticipation for an answer, oh so dear to their hearts)

Eric: "You are just another Labour luvvie, who dismisses bin collections in favour of books".
(The House roars).

All over the radio (in stereo).

Phil said...

I'm glad you found it a rib-tickler.

Gary Elsby said...

By the sound of it, everyone around BBC Stokeland indeed found it hilarious.
My own ribs tickled at the pickles numpty at the top of your page.
Gets people going, that.

Batten down rhe hatches on the new gold find.
He won't be able to help himself speak of what is most important round here.

Chris said...

Can I just point out that for the left, it isn't bin collections v books. We think you can have both.

But I am satisfied if this is the Tory/right wing vision of the future. No wonder they are well behind in the polls.

Anonymous said...

I am all for the fracking, though.