Strayside Sunday is our weekly political opinion column. It is written by Paul Baverstock, former Director of Communications for the Conservative Party.
Great news for the residents of Spofforth; the relentless encroachment of concrete on countryside has been stopped, or at least paused. Harrogate Borough Council planning committee made what sounds like a good decision this week to reject a planning application to build 72 homes in the village.
Having given outline approval for the scheme in March 2019, sight of final detailed plans for the development clearly spooked the council horse, with the planning committee voting it down 6-3 in the face of a council report recommending the application be granted. Hurray. Local residents had described the development as “a carbuncle of urban sprawl” and had mobilised an effective campaign to block it. Historic England, Natural England, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the council’s principal ecologist, North Yorkshire’s highways, the Lead Local Flood Authority and Spofforth Parish Council joined 300 residents in raising concerns about the scheme. This is local democracy in action and is why we need more of it. It demonstrates that politicians can do the right thing, if we pay enough attention, get organised and fight for a just cause.
Meanwhile, up the road on Long Lands Common, People Power has also won out. A campaign to raise funds for the creation of a community forest, community owned and to be accessible for all, reached a key milestone of £300k. This means the land can be bought, ensure we can enjoy verdant space and, of course, protect our environment. This is just brilliant news and further demonstrates what people can achieve when they act together for the common good.
One politician whom it seems can be guaranteed not to do the right thing is Priti Patel. It turns out our hectoring, reactionary Home Secretary is a bully, so says Sir Alex Allan, the government’s independent advisors on standards. It seems that in her dealings with her civil servants, including toward her Permanent Secretary Sir Philip Rutman, Ms. Patel’s behaviour (allegedly harassing and belittling) broke the ministerial code. Sir Philip resigned (very publicly) in a huff and is now suing for wrongful dismissal.
Although I wish he wouldn’t, Boris will stand by her I suspect. The Prime Minister is fast running out of political friends and allies, particularly those Brexiteer fellow travellers primarily responsible for his elevation. Friends he chose at the very last when he wrote two versions of his referendum coming out article, one Remain, one Brexit, before sniffing the wind and throwing in with the Little Englanders. With Cummings and Cain gone he can’t afford to lose Patel in close succession. If Patel had any honour she would resign. She doesn’t and she won’t.
(While writing I have just received a news notification on my mobile phone to report that Sir Alex Allan has resigned following Boris Johnson’s ruling that the Home Secretary had, in his view, not broken the ministerial code. The Prime Minister has, in effect, officially sanctioned bullying in his government. It really is a world gone mad. Black is white. Up is down. White slacks after November 1st. Red wine with fish. It’s sickening).
It isn’t as if the the Home Secretary doesn’t have form. She had to resign her previous cabinet post as International Development Secretary in 2017, having been caught out freelancing in Israel with the Conservative Friends thereof (the CFI). Forced to fly home in disgrace, on arrival she was photographed grinning like a Cheshire Cat from the front seat of a Jag. Shameless.
Patel claimed she had been on a private holiday, although she had been accompanied on the trip by Lord Stuart Polak, the Chair of CFI. They held upwards of a dozen meetings with Israeli government officials and political leaders. Some holiday. An even if you buy her version of events, what of her judgment?
This week’s further revelations of the way the government procured PPE equipment during the panic created by the advent of Covid are shocking. A Spanish businessman, Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson, was paid a £21m commission by a Floridian Jeweller, Michael Saiger, to secure contracts worth a staggering quarter of a billion pounds for providing PPE at the height of the crisis.
I can forgive not buying British, what mattered then (as now) was saving lives. I can forgive too using emergency powers, rather than the usual strangled, extended and often painful procurement processes. What I can’t forgive is awarding contracts to suppliers with no prior experience in manufacturing essential medical equipment. Saiger is a jewellery designer and owns a fashion brand for goodness sake. Although the makers of novelty face coverings might beg to differ, looking good is not top priority during a pandemic.
Saiger is now reportedly suing Andersson for his middle-man money back. Here at home The Good Law Group is on the case and is set to challenge the legality of the deal with the Department of Health and Social Care. I hope the case succeeds, exposing as it does a total breakdown in good governance, a blithe disregard for the way taxpayers (yours and mine) money is spent and a supine acceptance of the worst consequences of the untrammelled market economy. It drains the last reserves of my support for the Conservative supply-side ‘ideals’. I’m currently reading a book called by Paul Collier and John Kay called “Greed is Dead; Politics After Individualism.” All evidence to the contrary it seems. Freedom should not be this expensive.
That’s my Strayside Sunday.
- Spofforth: a broken planning system that’s failed a village
- Controversial housing development in Spofforth rejected
- Strayside Sunday: bailing out Welcome to Yorkshire was the right thing to do