The Prime Minister misled the country at Conference – for the same reason as always – the wellbeing of the Conservative Party.
As regular Sloggers know, this site primarily exists to deconstruct bollocks, without favour for any of the 600 odd dissemblers at Westminster. Some bollocks is emitted through lack of common sense and/or sheer incompetence. But most of it exists to mislead – and almost always with the use of statistics. It is not true to say there are lies, damned lies and statistics: there are actually liars, damned liars, and politicians let loose to ‘interpret’ statistics.
As regards land use in the UK, David Cameron has misled us all using bollocks. Today, The Slog explains how, and why.
I’ll begin by stating simply that when the Prime Minister told the Conservative conference recently, “Remember, only 9% of England is built up”, my immediate reaction was “That must be wrong”. Others elsewhere have already blogged to the effect that this is the UK figure, not the English one, and that nearer to 20% of England’s land is built up.
However, Slog research shows that David Cameron’s statistical innumeracy goes well beyond incompetence.
For starters, based on data in the UK Census, urban land use represented about 9 per cent of the UK’s total land area in 2001. In the decade since, unless there’s been a great deal of secret demolition at night, that figure will have increased further….partly thanks to Labour’s Open Door immigration policy.
Here’s how we can be sure about that: at the Dwellings built by previous use communities.gov.uk site, it shows that in 2009 alone, 2,140 hectares of land changed from greenfield to dwellings. The same site also shows that 1 in 5 houses built in 2010 used formerly agricultural land….whereas precisely the same percentage replaced existing dwellings. The total area of rural land lost to urban use between 1945-2004 was 720,000 hectares - an area the size of Greater London, Berkshire, Herefordshire and Oxfordshire combined.
But land lost to ‘built up’ use is also misleading: the fasting growing sector of housing development in the UK is the addition of ‘land envelopes’ to small villages….none of which come under the definition of ‘built up’.
Partly because of these realities (using their brains for once, and under pressure from rural campaigners) Labour tightened up the planning rules considerably. Thus during both 2008 and 2009, the amount of land use change from rural to dwellings halved. This meant, further, that such a restricted availability sent the price of permissioned land shooting up – by a whopping 15.5%. This Rise in farmland value in the face of lower supply can be viewed at the UK Land Directory.
For the UK housing development sector, of course, that was a double nightmare. And so around this time, various construction consortiums began making large contributions to Conservative Party election funds….a total of some £3.5M in all.
The Prime Minister’s crime here is twofold: first, taking one statistic, and applying it during a nationally televised address – although it used the wrong definition, the wrong year and the wrong area. The figures I present above offer an entirely different picture. And second, Cameron once again spectacularly fails to miss the point about land capable of producing food must come before housing for the buggers who eat it.
A technique often used to rubbish the idea of more support for farming (by those who deny that Britain could become food self-sufficient) is to say that ‘most’ so-called rural land is not suitable for crops – and that’s true: 40% of Britain is woodland. In fact, largely due to overclaiming by various Green groups about climatic damage, there is now more treed land in Britain than existed in 1000 AD.
But 40% is not ‘most’. And further, while 75% of UK land is deemed agricultural, only 23% of this is actively used for crops. According to The Prince’s Fund, Britain produces just 41% of the food it eats. Again – as I’ve boffed on endlessly about before – UK agriculture is in woeful decline because prices have been screwed into the ground, and foods imported more and more in the drive towards unrealistically cheap sustenance. Both these developments can be laid squarely at two doors: multiple supermarkets, and the Common Agricultural Policy. So then, Dave, time perhaps at least to stop giving ridiculously easy permissions to Tescopoly, and start getting us out of the EU?
I suppose one could also call such obvious lack of vision a crime too. But there is a fourth crime that overrides all others put together in my mind, and it is this: the Prime Minister lied to the Nation in order to further the cause of an anti-social interest group: property developers. He did this, one must assume, because he feels more in common with them than struggling farmers, and because they gave his Party a shedload of money.
This is no different at all to giving in to, and then lying about, his cronies at Newscorp in return for huge media support for his Party.
It is no different at all to being gutless about the EU’s encroachments and meltdown, because he fears another split in his Party.
And it is no different at all to sticking his bum in the air every time the banks get uppity, because he fears they can (and would) ruin the Coalition recovery policy in order to get their own way.
David Cameron is a man who thinks of the money first, and what’s right for Britain second. And as anyone who has ever built a business will tell you, once you start putting money before quality and culture, you’re running scared from them on. My watchword in business was always very simple: do better than the competition, and the money will follow. The Prime Minister needs to give that fundamental principle some thought. And soon.