Sunday, 1 February 2015

Nuns don’t wear high heels…

Last night when I told you all that stuff
About the way things are
You didn’t understand a word
But you said you did
– The Selecter: Missing Words

Whenever I read the proclamations of any politician (I tend not to listen, because of my deafness), I first – I suppose like many – engage my inbuilt bulshitometer™; and then, if my attention doesn’t drift away, will compare the message that they appear to be delivering, against what my gut, my intellect, my experience, my knowledge (if any) of them (their past actions, as well as their current words) and their subject, tells me they are really talking or writing about: not just attempting to ascertain the ‘truth’ – such an emotive word; although it is out there, somewhere – or decide if there is a hidden agenda; but also to try and learn more about those who govern us – as well as more widely, about politics – whether or not I should believe the orator in question (or give them the benefit of the doubt – at least for the moment…); and if, therefore, they are worthy of my support.

I am quite cynical in my approach, though – and therefore in no way partisan – as so much of modern (although it probably was ever thus) political rhetoric seems to be entrenched in defensive egotism: and therefore we are frequently subjected to disdain for those who disagree with or oppose the speaker (or writer); obvious obfuscation or omission of important facts – or, at worst, economies of honesty; plain falsehoods – and a pronounced attitude of condescension. Most politicians’ utterings, today, also lack any meaningful humour (which may be why they are the subject of so much satire).

It was in such a frame of mind – mixed in with just a soupçon of eagerness: because local planning is so important to me – that I approached Stratford-upon-Avon Town and Stratford-on-Avon District Councillor Anthony Jefferson’s letter – “Emotion alone is not enough” – in last week’s Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.

As do so many politicians, he begins his pronouncement by setting out his credentials – thereby adding the appropriate amount of proficiency and knowledge, expertise and gravitas to his utterings – one of which is that he serves “on the Town Council’s Planning Consultative Committee”. This, I would have hoped, means that he has genned up on all the requisite planning laws – especially the umbrella National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF): parts of which, even I, a mere proletarian, can recite from memory. In addition, knowing that this piece of legislation is pre-eminent, I would have hoped that he, too, would have had the following (“pre-eminent”) sentence engraved on his very soul…

At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking.
– NPPF: Paragraph 14

…if not, shouldn’t he have checked, first; done a little research, to ensure that, when he cited it, he didn’t omit the most important word [my unitalicized emphasis] – not only in that sentence, but probably in the whole document? Take away that core word – “sustainable” appears in the NPPF over a hundred times; and “sustainability” has eight mentions itself – and the whole nature of the phrase he believed(?) he had reproduced collapses, like an arch without its keystone:

These are ‘the rules of the game.’ Making the challenge even greater is a ‘presumption in favour of development.’

To make things even worse, this is then followed by…

To misquote[!?] The Hunger Games it often seems as though “May the odds be never in your favour”.

…which appears to confirm that he didn’t realize (or even know) that he had similarly reversed the meaning of his extract from the NPPF; and was unpicking its seam; removing its heart. (Perhaps he also wasn’t aware that sustainability was such a central precept; or perhaps he was playing Candy Crush Saga during that section of the Planning 101 course?)

Now, normally, despite my recent bombastic utterings, I would have given him that “benefit of the doubt”; and might even have questioned if the Herald had actually omitted the word itself. But, from the rest of his letter – and its tone: which, to me, confirms a typical political arrogance and a need to frequently assuage the addiction to the sound of his own utterances (something which I may, too, be inclined to…) – I am quite confident that this is his ‘mistake’: especially as its fits in with his – to me – whole “calm down dear” approach. It may even be deliberate: as his argument would be weakened considerably with “sustainable” given its due place.

Indeed, he appears to be teaching his grandmother to suck eggs; whilst avoiding not only the most crucial word, but doing his best not to utter his true accusation of that-which-must-not-be-namednimbyism – which, as far as I can tell, no opposition group to any planned development in Stratford-upon-Avon District could remotely be accused of; in fact, most such organizations seem to be more au fait with the planning ‘regs’ than the politicians; and are more than aware that “Emotion alone is not enough”: even if it is that which fuels them. They do not need telling so.

This, by the way, is the first appearance of the dreaded ‘n’ word in my blog – principally because it has never before been relevant. As I wrote to the Planning Inspector in charge of the Gladman appeal:

Before I continue, though, I must stress that I – along with all the other villagers I have spoken to – would not want to deprive others of living in this wonderful place. We know that we have to grow.

In fact, the whole argument – as it should be – against the development of Oxhill Road was not just evidence-based, but centred on sustainability: in all its various relevant guises.

Unfortunately, apart from my positings above, I am at a loss to explain what, therefore, prompted Councillor Jefferson’s letter. Perhaps it was just a need to make his mark, being a relatively new councillor (which I can understand)? Or perhaps he had drawn the short straw during a meeting of the Stratford-on-Avon Conservatives: currently under siege, in the form of the rulers of Stratford-on-Avon District Council, for their dire mishandling of the Core Strategy?

Perhaps we shall never know – at least those of us who do not ‘think’ as politicians do. Perhaps it was just, simply, wishful thinking….

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