Jonathan Meades - Politics tends to have less of an influence over design than brute economics – which is a good thing, considering the shallowness of "New" Labour
The imprecise labels that Britain popularly uses to classify its past, and especially its buildings, its fossilised yet living testament, are mostly dynastic: Tudor, Jacobean, Victorian and so on. This is understandable. We do not live in a republic.

The eschewal of this method to differentiate the various "periods" since the end of the First World War is occasioned by temporal proximity and by a realisation that Georgian, derived from George V and George VI, could never compete with that shorthand for the 18th century, and that Elizabeth – R, now, for 49 years – also had a celebrated namesake. The tag "new Elizabethan", coined at the time of her succession and intended to be proudly worn by the children of that bright dawn, turned out to have no legs. Instead we classify by decade, by such loose catch-alls as inter-war and swinging sixties.

We rarely, however, have recourse to the names of politicians. We do not talk of the Bonar Law months, of Baldwinesque building (you can be sure it would have been yeoman neo-vernacular), of Churchillian England, of Wilsonian Industry. Only Margaret Thatcher has, possibly, lent her name to her time. But happily she does not define an architectural ethos. That is the prerogative of absolutists and dictators, of Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini: totalitarianism means just that – it includes aesthetic dirigisme.

The present government is the most self-regarding and image-obsessed in my lifetime

In Britain, architectural idioms have rarely been associated with specific political regimes and, equally, there are mercifully few buildings named for individual politicians. Those Bevin houses, Bevan towers, Bert Grunt points and Alf Scrof heights are exceptional, and so too are Palmerston's fortresses around Portsmouth. Our tradition of what American art-historical jargon insists on calling representational building is slight, apologetic and appropriate for a culture that pretends to regard modesty as a virtue and mistrusts grand gestures.

British governance has tended to be conducted with stealth and cautious obliquity rather than with statist bombast. Our retrospective characterisation of an age by the buildings made during it tends, commensurately, to view political forces and dogma as possessing a merely tangential influence. The legacy of laissez-faire is unplanned cities and uncontrolled sprawl. The Welfare State fomented the now tarnished golden age of social housing – a great socialist ideal, sure, but it was under the successive Tory administrations between 1951 and 1964 that most of it was built. Thatcher's decade of sauve-qui-peut was contemporary with the rise of postmodernism, but can it really be said that "witty" pediments and revived constructivism express that vanished administration of Tebbit and Joseph? No. What buildings really "reflect" are architectural fads that are independent of politics, yet rely for their realisation on economic strength, which is beyond the control of mere national governments. The present government, which will in eight weeks be the next government, is the most self-regarding and image-obsessed of my lifetime. Four years ago Jonathan Miller disparaged it as "an advertising agency", and he has been proved right time and again. It might, then, have been expected to pay a typical British attention to buildings as a token of its modernising mission, of its rebranding (an advertising word) of Britannia. And so it did, up to a point.