I think of the phrase ‘may you live in interesting times’ whenever I’m watching our politicians (and now judges) in action.
I used to believe it was an old Chinese curse wishing chaos on your enemy, an ancient invocation for them to never be allowed to relax.
But it turns out it is not Chinese at all, but wrongly attributed as such by a British politician early in the 20th century. It’s ironic, then, as it is British politics where such a curse seems to have been applied of late.
Since 2016, the news cycle has gone into overdrive amid votes, resignations, appointments, more resignations and a number of other events, which, under any other circumstance, would have dominated our political discussion for weeks in the past, but now merely flicker into consciousness before disappearing again into thin air.
Given that the prime minister has lost his majority and an election could be imminent, policy statements by opposition parties would usually receive a lot more coverage.
In less interesting times, many of you would be reading this, readily familiar with what has come out of the party conferences this week.
But we are where we are, and so I think it’s incumbent on CN to bring you some of the latest on what’s happened.
HS2 was notably absent from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech yesterday; although, as noted before, scrapping the project is one of the few policies that the Brexit Party has to its name.
According to the polls, the popularity of Nigel Farage’s party, and potential influence on the shape of a future government, depends on what Boris Johnson can achieve in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats, who were in government not that long ago and are staunch supporters of HS2 and Crossrail 2, said they want the Department for Transport to be removed from everyday rail decisions last week.
In less interesting times, the leader of the opposition declaring support for improving Northern rail links may have made more of a ripple. When paired with Mr Johnson’s recent announcement to back Northern Powerhouse Rail, it really should make us confident that investment will indeed be put into the creaking rail infrastructure up North.
Mr Corbyn reiterated his commitment to several other things that could have ramifications for the construction industry, including bringing “rail, mail, water and the National Grid into public ownership”.
The boss of one contractor who does some work in the water sector recently told me he was totally relaxed at the prospect, as whether water companies or a national board are in charge, private firms would still be called on to carry out work for them.
But I’m not sure everyone else in the sector is totally prepared for the potential disruption such a change could bring about.
Earlier this year, Energy UK, the trade association for energy suppliers, warned that nationalising the energy grid would “waste precious years on the unnecessary and complex restructuring of a system which is delivering results … jeopardising the billions of investment required”.
But Mr Corbyn reiterated his dedication to the policy yesterday, alongside plans for massive investment in what he said would result in a trebling of solar power, doubling onshore wind and bringing about a seven-fold increase in offshore wind projects.
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said that Mr Corbyn provided “a lack of detail” especially on built environment proposals.
“Labour should have added more meat on the bones,” the group said in a statement.
Those of us interested in how the policies of a potential Labour government would change the construction landscape would all like to see that, but I don’t see it coming. And to be fair to Mr Corbyn, why would he provide it?
He is setting out his election stall against a Conservative Party that recently promised an “infrastructure revolution” with zero detail.
This came just after it launched a review of HS2 that could see it scrapped, along with its promise to invest in Northern rail, which now has to wait until that HS2 review is complete; and then deal with the future of nuclear power station funding, which remains “in consultation” some 10 months after ministers began floating their preferred model for the future.
We are living in times of interesting plans and statements, but I think the sector could use just a little more detail.
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