Killing Control 2: The Market Ethic

January 19, 2011

This is a follow-up to my recent post on the Coalition’s Grand Strategy of reshaping Britain in such a way as to leave no political space open to their rivals. Here, I’d like to briefly examine one of the ways they plan on doing this – via the planning system.

The Localism Bill does something very interesting to the relationship between the public and private companies when it comes to development. Whereas previously applications for planning permission happened without legal regard to the priorities of people in the extreme locality of a development, now those people will, via Neighbourhood Plans, be able to determine what sort of development is appropriate to that area. Furthermore, neighbourhoods will have the ability to grant planning permission to whatever development they want via Neighbourhood Development Orders. It would therefore seem that, unless one happens to be lucky enough to want to build in an area about which none of its inhabitants care, any developer will be compelled to win the support of local people – a majority of local people, because of the new referendum powers – in order to build.

In the information age, the key to winning public support is openness and honesty – because everything you do is recorded somewhere and is available with a wave of the magic Google. It requires genuinely good works – building community centres, or refurbishing local libraries, and so on – all those projects funded out of Section 106 monies well-known to local campaigners. The scope for this activity will only expand as the requirements vouchsafed by the watching public expand in the wake of the new powers granted in the Localism Bill. Private development companies will be compelled to be good, not through legislation but from compulsion wrought of public opinion.

While they only represent part of the UK’s economy, this forced transparency is mirrored elsewhere – the Fair Trade Movement, Which? and many similar civil society organisations. The increasing glare of public view, abetted by legislation exposing private investment decisions to democratic oversight (which, lefties, is exactly what you’re constantly calling for and is to be found in the Localism Bill), will have a very precise impact. It will be to reduce the ethical premium the public sector has over the private.

It’s fair to say that the public sector is seen as more moral than the private sector – the concept of co-operative work that it’s meant to represent is more ethically appealing than private competition, which historically has been blamed for all manner of ills. What happens to that perception if the private sector begins to hold itself – irrespective of outside intervention – to extremely high ethical standards? There’ll always be exceptions, but the repeated day-to-day exposure of the public to a more ethical private sector will diminish support for a party seen to represent the public sector to the exclusion of private – a fully left-wing Labour party.

With this in mind, I’d like to make a few predictions:

(1) Labour will find it impossible to move further left. Ed Milliband will continue to denounce public sector strike actions, for fear of being out of touch with the popular mood.

(2) The star offenders of the private sector, the banks, will be reined in again – not using taxes, but from some kind of regulatory solution that exposes them to the same force of democratic will as that beginning to come to bear on the development industry. This is the prime policy challenge facing the coalition – if they fail to do this, their overall project of reshaping Britain’s political landscape will also fail, as the private sector will continue to be tarnished by association.

As I said in my previous post, it promises to be an interesting five years.

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3 Responses to “Killing Control 2: The Market Ethic”

  1. Good post – though it’s worth noting that the law forbids Section 106 deals to be on anything not “directly related to the development”. It’s a tricky one – no-one wants a bribery system, but also you don’t want to bind developers so much that communities miss out on being able to demand good deeds.

    • declineofthelogos said

      There’s another class of community benefit payments typically used by the wind industry, which doesn’t come under Section 106, which can be spent on pretty much anything. While they don’t constitute a material planning consideration, their existence is an incentive to councillors to permit development in the face of local opposition.

  2. […] have previously written about how the parties of the Coalition are expressly aiming to use Government to overhaul the way […]

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