Mind the Gap between the Ears – Ferdinand Mount’s Influence on Tory Planning Policy

I’ve covered some of the influences on conservative thinking on planning over the last couple of months – whether the Simon Jenkins little platoons view of localism, or the influence of some quite extreme right wing american groups with a voraciously anti planning and anti-environmental agenda, as well as there influence within number 10 itself.

One key player and text I have omitted previously is Ferdinand Mount.  He was the former head of the number 10 policy unit and writer of the 1983 election manifesto.  According to Conservative Home his 2004 book ‘Mind the Gap’ was considerably influential in the formation of conservative policy.

The basic thrust of the book is simple, the greatest failure of Thatcherism was the widening gap between the haves and the have nots.

The book clearly shows the influence of the great anarchist sociologist Richard Sennett in his book ‘Respect: The Formation of Character in an Age of Inequality‘, though seem rather off conclusions were taken from it.  Sennett had argued how the powerless  in a non-egalitarian yet meritocratic society, could win back a modicum of self-respect. His book stressed self-sufficiency, not being a burden to others, and, most importantly, mutuality, helping others and contributing to society, without which the self-sufficient person would inspire only limited respect.  It is a key text in the literature of what I have termed ‘actually existing anarchism’ those writings about existing power relations and how to manage them, rather than an overt desire to abolish the state through force.  Mount though has a very nostalgic view of this.

Like the Red Tories & Blue Labour Mount is highly nostalgic for working class institutions, rituals, and group loyalties.  He seeks to overcome the segregation of rich and poor in housing ghettos by creating a property owning democracy, but one where the poor would have access to the countryside.

As Victor Bogdanor commented in his review of the book

Mount’s remedies have something in common with the feudal socialism preached by Disraeli in his “Young England” phase, and excoriated by Marx in the Communist Manifesto as “half lamentation, half lampoon, half echo of the past, half menace of the future”

Or Poly Toynbee

Now three-quarters of the population own their own homes, the whole culture revolves around that self-defining possession of a plot of land and four walls. Those without are more dispossessed than ever. It is time to make ownership possible for all….

The shortage of affordable housing, especially in the south, is due to the astronomic price of land. Forty per cent of the cost of a new house in the south-east is the price of the land. The value of land is due directly to strict planning laws. Fewer houses are being built now than for decades, while agricultural land – no longer of dig-for-Britain economic use – is senselessly protected by middle-class lobbies. But it’s time to let land go, send the price of housing tumbling and make everyone a property owner.

Mount accepts that setting people free to build will mean more eyesores and landscape blots, as people are allowed to build in ramshackle ways. But if it would transform the lives of all the dispossessed, giving them a real stake, responsibility and a share in wealth, isn’t it worth it? The Campaign to Protect Rural England would say no – but here’s a conservative willing to argue against a landscape frozen in time by the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act.

Mount is right to argue that ownership outright is a cause of class divides.  Ironically now, as David ‘two brains’  Willets has rightly realised it means a net transfer of income from debtors to creditors between generations – or of older people who rode the property owning baby boom exploiting younger people trying to get on the housing ladder now – unless they transfer some of that wealth.  (19th century radicals I think would have been shocked by the thought of a generational source of landowning class divide – of children having a net transfer of wealth through land rent to their parents generation).  But in arguing for a laissez-faire approach the only people enriched would be country landowners, and housebuilders, as very little of the uplift in land value would be transferred to buyers, and even then those buying are those able to afford low or no mortgages, those with existing capital.  A typical Tory approach pretending to help the poor but actually enhancing rentier unearned income.  Only truly radical policies, of giving a basic income funded by the unearned increment of land value uplifts, aimed at breaking up large concentrations of landed property, can overcome this.

It is also incredible to think that local areas whose politics revolve around p[reserving and enhancing house prices will vote for extra housing whose purpose is to lower it.  The whole idea, like all of the conservative planning reforms, are founded on an impossible contradiction.

It does lead to an interesting though experiment though. Think of the 260,000 extra houses needed over the next 20 years.  Imagine that all of the 80,000 off English villages were sent names of the 60 houses each of newly forming households they had to allocate land for.  They could either buy them off or buy extra land elsewhere to transfer the plots to.   This would of course lead to a massive transfer of wealth.  Behind all of the rhetoric of ‘imposed’ targets lies true interest – the interests of Daily Express readers who used to check daily how much the value of their homes had risen.

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About andrew lainton

International Urban Planner

Posted on July 25, 2011, in anarchism, National Planning Policy Framework, urban planning. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Mount said… “We need to unlock and allot land on a far wider scale than anyone in this country has so far contemplated.”

    Only 7.7% of the UK is settled FACT! The UK is empty

    Mount is right, land has to be available for the people to use not a cash cow for recipients of CAP. The Queen owns all land, that us all. One one owns land, they only hold title which is a set of rights.. But people will not along with relaxed planing if their home drops in value. If their homes will drop in value then they need something else to compensate them. Enter Geonomics – with Land Valuation Tax as the core – the SINGLE TAX. the only tax. No Income Tax, no VAT, etc Martin Wold and Sam Britten of the Financial Times are fans, amongst many others.

    Economic growth is created by Community activity. This soaks into the land and crystalizes as land values. That is where the land value come from. Few know that. LVT, not really a tax, “reclaims” that community created wealth. Then no Income tax, VAT, or any other tax. LVT can reclaim all the revenue HMG needs and the average man on £40,000 year will be approx £6,000 better off per ann.

    So, relaxing planning is great help, however when LVT, the Single Tax, is introduced the country will fly. Land speculation will be halted. Land speculation brought about the 1920 & 2008 crashes. Debt after debt was poured into tax free land. Money is released for enterprise activities.

    As the economy rises land values (house prices) follow the economy.

    What people put into the economy is taxed – People’s productiveness is taxed - their income and profits from their savings. What people put into the economy, their effort.

    What people take out of the economy is not taxed - the value of the land is not taxed. This value came about because of the communities activities, not the land owner.

    Excessive debt is incurred to buy land. Over the business cycle the biggest capital gains are in land. Debt is accrued to exploit the demand for land. Debt rises exponentially. Land values then leads overtaking the rest of the economy. The scales are tipped and an economic crash results. Currently we have an 18 year boom and bust cycle in land (house) prices. The 1929 and 2008 financial crashes were a result of land (house) prices spiralling out of control. We have an Anglo/American culture of accepting making money from nothing – owning land. This culture has to change to a productive culture.

    Introducing Land Value Tax will solve many problems. Land (house prices) will not spiral out of control, people’s efforts, working, will not be taken from them in tax.

    There was a land price boom in 1989 and the subsequent crash in 1992. Land prices rose sharply from 1997 to just before the Credit Crunch crash. The crash was inevitable. As the land of this country is provided free of charge by nature, rising house (land) prices do not raise national wealth one single penny. They serve no useful economic purpose and are an obvious target for taxation, eliminating taxation on people’s production.

    BTW, Labour were negligent of course in dealing with land, however in 17 years of Tory rule they did nothing about the acute land problem.

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