Isabel Hardman

Labour fails to split the Tories on planning

Labour fails to split the Tories on planning
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Labour's attempt to bring Tory divisions over planning reforms into the House of Commons flopped this evening, with no Conservatives at all supporting the party's opposition vay vote. They all abstained.

It was a reasonably anodyne motion, calling on the government 'to protect the right of communities to object to individual planning applications'. But there weren't even that many Conservative MPs who turned up to the debate to be critical of the reforms as they are proposed at present. A smattering of them lambasted Labour for being opportunistic, or for overseeing inappropriate development at local government level. A couple — namely Bob Seeley and Andrew Griffith — took the opportunity to urge ministers to think again. But in the main, it was a non-event.

But Labour's failure to capitalise on the row following the Chesham and Amersham by-election upset doesn't mean the planning problem is going away. It's just that a lot of Conservative MPs are playing a much longer game than a non-binding opposition day debate. They have, as I wrote in the Observer, largely felt empowered by the by-election defeat. Their hope is that ministers will stop merely holding meetings with them and actually start listening to their concerns. 

Robert Jenrick is having constant briefings with groups and individual MPs about their worries, but so far has not budged. Boris Johnson has given others the impression he thinks they are just Nimbys and that the reforms must be forced through because there is always Conservative woe about these things. But this Nimby revolt will be dwarfed by the woe of failing to create new Tory voters — making homeownership impossible for people well into the years when they want to be buying their own place and starting a family.

Planning is now also becoming a proxy for many other grievances that Tory MPs have, particularly those in 'blue wall' seats who feel it underlines that their voters are being ignored by the government. This makes it all the more difficult for Johnson and colleagues to solve the policy problem because it is no longer just about policy. It's about attention, rhetoric and time spent wooing people. Which is almost as hard work as trying to reform the planning system.

Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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