Letter from London
Paul Finch, 17 December 2019
Time to get a grip on political reality
I have always been suspicious about ‘surveys’ claiming that architects think this or that. The surveys are often in fact questionnaires, so the people who fill in answers are, by definition, self-selecting. As professional survey folk will tell you, the results are scarcely worth the paper, or on-line response mechanism, they are written on, since they can only be representative of those who chose to take part in the exercise.
Similarly, the near-hysterical reaction on the part of a small handful of architects in the hours following last week’s election result cannot be regarded as the considered view of the profession at large -- but the inevitable headlines suggested otherwise. They gave the impression that the architectural profession is utterly remote from the feelings of much of the country; and that it (along with much of the media and the self-supporting luvvie tendency at the BBC) live in a metropolitan bubble completely at odds with general sentiment.
Extraordinary arrogance is the description often applied to architects, often unfairly. Yes, you need an ego to be an architect, at least if you want to get buildings delivered in the context of the minefield of planning, construction, consultation and client expectation that accompany any significant project. However, the belief that you are the only one who really knows what needs to be done does not necessarily (if ever) transfer to the wider world of politics, sociology and economics.
For the first time in my professional career I was subjected to verbal abuse (not argument), and in one case the threat of physical assault (ok it was a surveyor, not an architect), during the 2016 debate over Brexit. I would not describe myself as a Brexiteer, and only wrote about the subject in the AJ at the invitation of the editor, partly because it was proving difficult to find readers prepared to put their head above the parapet on the ‘Leave’ side — even if they were sympathetic to that view.
The party line on Brexit was that it was evil, based on a semi-fascist Little England attitude, and that anyone supporting it must be definition be a Trump supporter, hate non-whites, and be of limited intelligence. This Guardianista suite of ingrained prejudices was and is an absurdity. Eagerly adopted by the Today morning radio programme at the BBC, it helps to explain the revenger nature of the recently election coverage, designed to trash the Prime Minister who had proved his critics to be the real liars rather than him: he did indeed want a better deal than Theresa May’s with the EU; the EU was indeed prepared to do a deal, as was Eire’s prime minister; and a deal was indeed done.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. So infuriated were the Left-ish media by this success that they spent the election campaign in a fruitless exercise to discredit the man who had proved them wrong. When the New Statesman refused to endorse Corbyn’s Labour campaign (for the first time in more than a century), the downplaying of this by the BBC was quite extraordinary. In the event, the ‘Staggers’ understood the country far better than Broadcasting House.
I don’t believe that the architectural profession is as frightened of the election result as some of its noisier elements, they no doubt taking a cue from Guardian Queen Bee Polly Toynbee and her intemperate post-election column about a ‘nightmare’ for the country. It was certainly a nightmare for Corbyn and McDonnell – who really won’t be missed.
The profession should now be thinking about how to make the most from an ambitious new government which has housing, infrastructure and regeneration, especially of forgotten towns, very much on its agenda.