Becoming a Minister is a funny business. You have to forget everything you have ever previously said on the topic you take responsibility for and become the mouthpiece of the Government. You then have to parrot all the stuff that has previously been said by your predecessors, even if it means defending policies with which you have previously disagreed.
For the LibDens in coalition with the Tories this must be an excruciating business. Some of those who have been sacked from Government have revealed exactly how awful the Government is looking from the inside, notably Sarah Teather’s denunciation of the Government’s deliberate strategy to demonise benefit recipients.
Poor old Don Foster is the latest to make the transition onto the dark side, picking up the housing junior brief from dumped fellow LibDem Andrew Stunnell in the last reshuffle. It is now poor Don’s turn, as a previously decent human being, to defend the increasingly indefensible record of the Coalition on housing and homelessness.
But I was still surprised when Foster had the opportunity of an article in the Telegraph that he chose to go for an old favourite: red tape. This is normally the last refuge of people who have nothing of any importance to say on anything serious. Evidently he has been entrusted with slashing the Building Regulations and he is, he says, going about it with zeal. He was ‘shocked to find out about the layers of additional standards and red tape, slapped on top of each other by the last government’ as if the regs were only invented in 1997. But he cites an alarming precedent for the approach he is going to take: ‘Just as this government turned over 1,300 pages of technical planning rules into a 50 page, sensible and intelligible framework I’m determined to do the same with buildings standards.’ And he believes he can do this without compromising safety.
Well, we’ll wait and see but, as the Government’s planning policy unravels before our eyes, it would be bad news to see building regs reduced to 50 meaningless and contradictory pages like planning guidance was. And it is serious stuff: detailed rules on fire safety, electrical and gas safety, contaminants, insulation, ventilation, hygiene, drainage and refuse disposal are not to sneezed at. Areas where a bit of red tape is justified by appalling practice in the past.
On New Years Day I was ruminating on how hard it would be for Labour to enter a coalition with the LibDems after the next Election given how hostile some LibDems have been to Labour over the last 2 years. One friend said that if Labour didn’t win outright ‘it would have to kiss a lot of frogs’ to form a Government. I hadn’t quite seen the likes of Don Foster like that before. However, it appears that there are two very different forms of the fairytale.
In one version (Wikipedia says the ‘Americanised’ version) the frog is indeed turned into a charming Prince by a kiss. However, the original Grimm Brothers story has the frog’s spell being broken when the princess throws it against a wall in disgust. Speaking personally, when I watch some of the LibDems in Government, I prefer the latter option.
Happy New Year!