Now Prescott's bulldozers are coming for Penny Lane It is a policy that defies logic ...the economic map of Britain looks like a swelling tear drop, getting ever fatter at the bottom; and to hell with local democracy or the environmentMaybe there was something going for the yellow submarine idea after all.... Go to Liverpool, Prescott, and say sorry We all knew Labour was a government of barbarians. We knew they cared nothing about history. But are they so spiritually impoverished that they are prepared to insult the Beatles? Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64? sang the twentysomething Beatles; and look what happens when Ringo Starr attains that age. How does the Labour Government propose to show its respect to him and his band, which must surely rank among Britain's greatest cultural contributions to the 20th century? It is destroying his house. It is a fine terrace house in the city of Liverpool, a city that has no equal as a centre of culture. The birthplace of Ringo - the man whose voice immortally informs the world that he can get by with a little help from his friends - is a place of pilgrimage. It is a lodestar for tourists across the world, and deservedly so. And how is Ringo's first home treated by his friends in the Labour Party? In an act of urban desecration unseen since the days of the Luftwaffe, it has been designated by John Prescott as one of the 400,000 houses to be destroyed. And where will this mayhem take place? Across the map? Oh no: that is to miss the stupefying snobbery of this New Labour Government, and the treachery of Prescott to his regional origins. It is only in the North that Prescott has unleashed the wrecker's ball, heedless of the consequences for our Liverpool heritage. Strawberry Fields has already been closed because of vandalism; and now Prescott's bulldozers are coming for Penny Lane. It is a policy that defies logic. It is not as though Labour believes we have too many houses in this country. On the contrary, this same Prescott recently announced that, as a nation, we were so short of houses that it would be necessary, over the next 20 years, to construct another 640,000 in the South-East, with 200,000 going on greenfield sites. The policy is philistine, expensive and environmentally disastrous. On the one hand, semi-sacred northern terraces are to be flattened, when it would be cheaper and more sensible to renovate them in a way that many potential residents might like. And, with the other hand, Prescott waves the green flag to the developers who want to turn the South-East into a great homogeneous mass of roundabouts, multiplexes, out-of-town shopping centres and ribbon development. But there is one thing worse than the illogicality and the brutality of this policy; and that is its complete refusal to take account of local wishes. In both cases - the harrowing of the North, the concreting of the South - Prescott is using his new anti-democratic regional satrapies to force his will on the local population. The people of Oxfordshire have been told they must accept the plonking of about 2,500 new houses every year, with 40 per cent of them going on greenfield sites. These quotas have been set by the South-Eastern Regional Authority, based in Guildford. With all respect to Guildford, a fine town, we in South Oxfordshire feel no sense of fiefdom or fealty towards its regional quangocrats. We do not understand how they came to have this authority over our elected politicians; and we do not understand how we may remove them from office, since they seem to have simply appeared, by Prescottian prestidigitation. The fact that they take ever more decisions, of ever greater political importance, is a source of increasing friction and despair. As for the occupants of the terrace houses of the North, they are not all so lucky as to live in a kind of Hovis advertisement. Some of the terraces are boarded up and infested with drug dealers. But there are a great many happy inhabitants who keenly resent the decision by regional government to go for the £500 million bung that goes with the Prescott demolition plan, and it seems most unfair that their voices are not heard. So we have a plan that is symmetrically barbaric to the North and South, illogical and anti-democratic. Why is the Government doing it? We are told that it is because of a "market failure". The price of houses in the South is unbearably high, because there are too few of them, and, following the laws of supply and demand, the Government believes it can cause the price to fall by building hundreds of thousands of new houses. Houses in the North are dirt cheap, and it is presumably the intention to push up values by reducing the quantity. The question is whether it is really the business of government to skew the market on this colossal scale, and whether Prescott is right to encourage this Stalinist resettlement of populations, from north to south. The Treasury thinks of Britain as a machine for generating taxes, and it has made a utilitarian calculation that it can maximise tax yields if encourages the development of the South-East. With the assistance of Prescott and the House Builders' Federation, the Treasury has decided to assist the process by which the economic map of Britain looks like a swelling tear drop, getting ever fatter at the bottom; and to hell with local democracy or the environment. This policy ignores the possibility that, if central government stopped interfering, we might see an acceleration of the recent phenomenon, by which high prices in the South have been driving people back up North, and thereby pushing up values there. Look at the East End of London, throbbing with yuppies, fighting over architectural features that they find in skips and restoring the slums with pride and money. Why does Prescott assume that people might not do the same in Liverpool? Because, deep down, he assumes that people just don't want to live there. That is the only conclusion one can draw from his amazing decision to knock down Ringo's house: that he thinks it is not good enough. Well, that sounds like an insult and, if he takes my advice, John Prescott should go to Liverpool, in person, and apologise.
Thursdays wouldn't be the same without a Boris Johnson D T comment to chew over ... Under Prescott's demolition plan Ringo Starr's home looks set to be pulled apart along with many other terraced homes in the North, while rabbit hutch style homes are to mushroom in the South.