Gordon Brown has claimed to issue his vision of Britain, in his Observer interview s few days ago. There are slightly warmer words for those of us who believe in defending and strengthening our civil liberties, with a promise that ID cards will not be compulsory. Why not just drop them altogether, as an unwanted expense and a temptation to government to intrude too far? Why not introduce proper border controls, and use the passport and visa system, to deal with immigration?
In contrast there are tough words for those who want to preserve Englands green and pleasant land ?? or what remains of it. Mr Brown has decided his crusade is to go to war with the Nimbys, using a highly overcentralised and bossy state to drive through new houses, nuclear power stations, new runways and eventually new train lines. He thinks he can make himself more popular by announcing unpopular decisions. It is an unusual approach.
I think Mr Brown is fighting yesterdays war on housing in the wrong way, instead of fighting todays war the right way. The issue today is not how to expand the supply of new housing, but how to stabilise the market in second hand homes. If he does not succeed in protecting the UK housing market from the credit crunch, housebuilders will not want to build all the extra homes in Mr Browns 12 year plan.
Mr Brown tries to create the impression that the credit crunch is made in the USA. He needs to recognise that the run on Northern Rock was made in the UK. It is banks based in London and regulated in London that are having to pull in their horns after a period of easy money and excess which occurred during his time as Chancellor. Today Mr Brown needs to come up with the right mixture of regulatory reform and money easing to prevent the credit crunch pushing house prices down too far too fast and undermining his hopes for new homes.
He also needs to understand that in many constituencies that Labour needs to hold in the suburbs and the countryside in England there are strong feelings that communities can only take so much extra development. There is growing resentment at the way large scale high density development is pushed onto reluctant communities by the centre. Trying to trap the Tories over Nimbyism is a very high risk strategy at the best of times. It is particularly silly at a time when government can force through the planning permission but cannot force a housebuilding industry under pressure to build on the scale Mr Brown thinks is needed.
In this mood we in Wokingham should not expect any favours when it comes to protecting what remains of the green gaps between settlements in our part of England. The Council has been listening to local opinion that is alarmed by three major new development proposals looming on the horizon. I trust they will reject these schemes on good planning grounds ?? there simply isnt the infrastructure to support such large scale additions to our housing stock. Thereafter we will all need to maximise pressure on the government, that in its current mood is all too likely to court more unpopularity by insisting on overturning Wokinghams settled view.
Mr Brown is right that the UK is short of transport capacity of all kinds. It has become so because this Labour government has failed to initiate any major new project to expand rail, road or air capacity. They have completed the Channel tunnel rail link they inherited, but precious little else.
I pursued their last announcement that they intended to build Crossrail, only to discover that they are not going to make the final decision about it this Parliament. I doubt if anything has changed, and assume this is another re-announcement of the same lack of progress. Their much publicised difficulties with engineering works on the West coast mainline over Christmas will not encourage them to try to speed up rail improvements, against the background of poor performance and a shortage of trained staff.