Meet Nigel Waterson: he's Nick Raynsford's shadow on planning, housing and construction. He's passionate about his party and says the government has little to offer but hot air and reheated Tory policies.
With top Tories falling over themselves to renounce Thatcherism, what kind of a future is there for an MP whose favourite politician is Margaret Thatcher? The answer is a pretty good one, judging by the recent promotion of Eastbourne MP Nigel Waterson to Tory spokesman on planning, housing and construction.

Unlike many of his fellow Conservative MPs, Waterson is unrepentant about his party's role in introducing market forces into the National Health Service. And he is not squeamish about the way compulsory competitive tendering forced local authorities to accept private sector involvement in public services.

"CCT was an enormous success and saved lots of money," says Waterson. "Labour's best-value initiative could be seen as building on that success, if it wasn't for the fact that government seems intent on getting itself too involved instead of leaving it to local government."

Waterson was appointed to Gillian Shephard's shadow DETR team in February and readily admits that he is still finding his feet in his new job. He has met with the House Builders' Federation and the Building Material Producers. He does not mention any plans to meet with construction unions.

Another body he is keen to chat with is the National House Building Council. This is not surprising: housebuilders have never shown much love for New Labour. However, it would be wrong to assume that he is simply relying on the views of like-minded housebuilders to form his opinion of the industry.

"I want to meet the NHBC. But in my experience as a backbencher, I've found they're not helping the consumer," he says. Waterson would not elaborate on this remark, but did intimate that the changes the NHBC is undergoing need to continue.

A solicitor specialising in maritime law, Waterson, 48, was elected to parliament in 1992. Before that, he served on Fulham and Hammersmith council, along with the man he now shadows, construction minister Nick Raynsford. What does he think of his former colleague's performance so far?

"Well, his experience is on the housing side of things," he says. "But as far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out on him when it comes to construction."

In spite of Labour's widespread adoption or adaption of Conservative policies, Waterson has little good to say about the government.

"Overall, the Labour government is all about rhetoric rather than action," he says. "I think the government initiative on cowboys is just another headline-chasing initiative. It won't help people on the ground – it's just lots of talk and no action."

The government initiative on cowboys is just another headline-chasing initiative. It won’t help people on the ground – it’s just lots of talk and no action

Warming to his theme, Waterson continues: "This government is a past master at holding reviews and setting up taskforces. But we are pressing to see what exactly it is that Lord Rogers' taskforce is coming up with. What exactly is the cowboy taskforce going to do?

"What's needed is sharp policies, not endless reviews. If they want cowboys to be their high-profile construction policy, let's see some meat. We're two years into this government and they still don't have a housing policy. Voluntary transfers [of council tenants to private landlords] is a Tory policy – they've just adopted it."

But the government has finally got the Construction Act on the statute book. Surely it must deserve praise for that? "It's an important piece of legislation, and all credit to that," says Waterson. "But I've yet to stumble across another example of the government doing something big in construction. Don't forget Latham was a Conservative creation."

Waterson is proud that Labour has adopted Tory views on the private finance initiative. "Well, they've benefited from our learning curve," he says of the government. "If this government carries it forward, so much the better. But we hammered out the legal problems and the government is benefiting from our experience."

That said, Waterson is opposed to government attempts to change the PFI, particularly the idea of creating a government bank to borrow the capital for PFI schemes.

"My instinctive reaction is against a government investment bank," he says. "The whole idea of PFI is to inject both private finance and expertise into public procurement, not involve the government more."

Waterson is equally dismissive of the government's planning and housebuilding policy. His view on the recently introduced planning guidance PPG3 could have come straight from the press office of the House Builders' Federation.

"The problem with a sequential approach is that it could dramatically slow the planning system. If there's an obligation to look at brownfield before greenfield, it will slow down development and make the government target of 60% [brownfield development] unattainable."

Personal effects

Which historical figure do you most admire? Winston Churchill. What book are you reading? I generally have several on the go at once. Currently I’m reading Earl Stanhope and Elizabeth Longford’s Conversations with Wellington, Roy Jenkins’ Gladstone and, for light reading, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. What’s your favourite drink? I love a good French claret. What suits do you wear? A combination of off-the-peg and bespoke from a tailor who doesn’t charge Savile Row prices. Should Nato be bombing Yugoslavia? We had to do something. It’s the next stage that’s the concern. We don’t want to drift into a land war.