David Cameron rode into Westminster on his bicycle almost a year ago as the new leader of the opposition, and promptly captured the high ground on what is becoming the leading domestic issue of the day – climate change.
Employing the kind of spin that new Labour used in 1997, he has been shrewd in his line of political attack and choice of future election battleground.
From our interviews with the Conservative leader and the builder refurbishing his house (page 48), it is clear that there is some substance to Cameron’s green rhetoric. But how does this translate into measured policy and inform other election-winning issues? Cameron’s problem is that he needs to woo big business, including the construction sector, but cannot yet give any meaningful details on how his principles might be translated into, for instance, public spending. The trick he has to pull off is to portray the Conservatives as ready to do business without saying exactly how, because that would offer targets to his enemies. After all, any imaginative policies Cameron might propose in the way of spending, planning reform, housing supply or nuclear power could easily be trumped by Gordon Brown – the man who everybody expects to be Cameron’s opponent at the next general election.
The Queen’s speech announced the government’s intention of bringing forward climate change legislation, alongside bills on immigration, security and the economy. This parliamentary programme will set the ground over which Brown and Cameron will fight at the next hustings. And Cameron will be forced to engage Brown in a detailed debate on the issues of the day in order to make headway. So now is the time to begin lobbying Cameron on the issues that would benefit the built environment – and that have been largely ignored up to now by this government.
Although Cameron is declaring in the pages of Building this week that he doesn’t know what his policy is “on the hoof” for issues relating to construction, in the future he would do well to give us a few specifics. For starters, he should say whether he will have a dedicated minister solely for construction, a plan for the future of the Building Regulations or some idea about how to increase investment in research and development for the built environment. Then the construction industry might just sit up and take note – as well as forcing the government to take seriously issues that it has tended to marginalise.
Tom Broughton, deputy editor