Labour Party Conference. Does anyone care? Described by journalists in terms reminiscent of some sort of bizarre dawn raid, Mr Edward Miliband has appropriated the term "one nation" from the Tories. Oh the derring-do of the man! I'm sorry, but I find this all too depressing. The fact that we are still palpably NOT one nation - the gap between the south and the north hugely widened by the last (Labour) administration - is one of the most manifest symptoms of our moral collapse as a nation. Frankly, a civilised person would be at a complete loss to try to explain it. But there you go. Mr Miliband thought "one nation" had a ring about it, as Mr Disraeli did before him (in...er...1852).
We do not progress. We fiddle while Rome burns.
At any political gathering though, there's always room for a pop at planning. Mr Hilary Benn, who shadows Mr Eric Pickles as Secretary of State for Communities (an extraordinary misnomer in itself), said yesterday that the Labour Party will oppose "outrageously centralising" government plans to take decision making powers away for under-performing local authorities and hand them to the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).
And, you know, on the "outrageously centralising" thing, he has a point. Whether or not the proposed planning changes are necessary, whether or not they could make an impact on local economies, whether or not they affect the local environment, there is no escaping that these are top-down imposed changes and the antithesis of localism. Shame! Why can't we give localism a chance? Or even common sense? The logical extension of all this (if people pay any attention, which I'm rather hoping they won't) is to remove the opportunity for the adoption of locally-specific policies which shape the local environment and maintain, support and promote the local economy. And the suggestion that local authorities can "opt out" of the centrally-imposed policy changes through the use of Article 4 directions is something of a red herring; it takes a year to establish such safeguards and could prove completely unaffordable to many local authorities, if it involves a huge amount of compensation.
The NPPF (particularly paragraph 51) has already made it difficult to retain key economic uses but at least it enables local planning authorities to justify their policy. An across-the-board legislative change negates any possibility of planning policy being tailored to local circumstances.
And, you know, all this has a whiff of angels on pins about it. Why, oh why, are we having these hair splitting debates? We can't afford it really. We are leaving real people behind. The language we use is abstruse and dissociative. There is currently nothing stopping local authorities adopting policies to encourage conversions of offices or hotels. No amount of bluster from Mr Eric Pickles will compensate for a lack of strong civic leadership, vision and imagination, pride in our towns and cities, or the ability to embrace change. Just get out there and do things, people, stop asking for permission.
"Give Peace a Chance" said John Lennon. "Give localism a chance" is what I say. "Stop your messing around" said The Specials.