Building's first blogger looks at local fallout from George Galloway's antics in Celebrity Big Brother.
As the Blairites continue to bore us with minor changes to education policy dressed up as wholesale reform, and the most interesting debate surrounding David Cameron is just how big his quiff will be in his latest interview on GMTV, so the minor parties are enthralling the nation.
George Galloway, whose ‘Respect' Party is something of a misnomer, and the Lib Dems have provided great entertainment in recent weeks, and this will have more impact on construction than you might first think.
Starting with everyone's favourite cat impersonator, Galloway's antics on Big Brother might finally persuade the people of Tower Hamlets, which is in his constituency, to question his views on stock transfer. With a £436m funding gap, Tower Hamlets desperately needs to transfer its stock to housing associations to stop the rot, but Galloway is ideologically opposed to what he erroneously labels "privatisation". Prior to Galloway's election last May the council had won eight ballots to transfer stock on the bounce, but lost two shortly afterwards.
I personally find Galloway's oratorical style unmeasured, jammed full of inaccuracies and, frankly, too loud for my delicate ears (having fallen asleep in front of the telly on election night, it was Galloway's notorious, embarrassing rant at Jeremy Paxman that abruptly woke me up). However, many of his constituents adore him for his passion, and have bought his arguments that housing associations are "empire-building" and greedy (they are, in fact, not-for-profit organisations).
Galloway's personal charm should not be underestimated, either. I interviewed him for Building towards the end of last year, and he was able to influence me and others around him in the most bizarre ways. There he was dressed in his slick, Italian designer suit, smoking a Monte Cristo Number Three, while I was attired in a crumpled Burtons' suit and shirt that looked like it had been bought in a Millets' sale. Yet his rants about yuppies meant that when he offered to buy me a cup of coffee in a local café meant that I baulked at asking for a skinny cappuccino, and instead ordered a nice cuppa. Bloody awful it was, too.
Hopefully, his cringeworthy performance and silly decision to go on Big Brother will lead to those constituents living in degrading Tower Hamlets homes to voting ‘yes' in further stock transfers, realising that the force of Galloway's arguments does not necessarily mean that they are balanced and sensible.
At least Galloway has got some people interested in politics, but I think it is the Lib Dems who might re-energize an apathetic electorate. Alcoholism, rent boys, and admissions of homosexuality are truly in the great Liberal tradition of Gladstone (whipped himself when tempted by prostitutes), Lloyd George (while prime minister he sold peerages and had a mistress), Thorpe (alleged to have conspired to murder his former gay lover), and Ashdown (had it away with his secretary).
I personally find Galloway’s oratorical style unmeasured, jammed full of inaccuracies and, frankly, too loud for my delicate ears
In this day-and-age it is scandal that maketh the celebrity, so maybe scandal will do the same for the Lib Dems. Ok, probably not. Certainly the confirmation that Simon Hughes has had gay relationships will probably barely raise an eyebrow, given that anyone who has been even briefly involved in politics already knew this, while Mark Oaten's rent boy and Charles Kennedy's alcoholism will surely do the party damage.
But it has opened several debates that will engage the public. Kennedy: Are a leader's personal vices of any importance when expressing the public's concerns over issues such as the Iraq War? Oaten: Is it time for further decriminalisation of prostitution? And Hughes: He lied about being gay, but should a fairly inconsequential deceit about a politician's private life really mean that we doubt their political honesty?
Which leads me to why the Lib Dems extraordinary leadership troubles will impact the construction industry. In our general election poll last April, we found that the Tories were marginally the party of choice in construction, with a 3.5% lead over Labour. But the Lib Dems fared well, garnering 23%. I believe that much of this support will now ebb to the Tories, if it was not going that way already.
Some will argue that it is the lefties that vote Lib Dem so they will go Labour next time. I doubt it - a government of nearly a decade is always unpopular, and many centrists that voted for Kennedy will be making admiring glances at what appears be a more moderate Conservative Party.
I therefore expect the construction industry's support of the Tories to grow as the Lib Dems falter, meaning that chief execs and leading industry figures will be helping them develop their policies in construction, PFI, the environment and major projects like the Olympics and Crossrail.