Sketch: Nick Clegg's speech

Members should “prepare for vitriol and abuse".

When Nick Clegg revealed his message to his members was to go back to their constituencies and “prepare for vitriol and abuse" observers wondered why wait that long.

And thus the sound of blades being sharpened on handy rocks from Brighton’s sand-less beach provided a useful indicator of the welcome being prepared for the Lib Dem leader as he prepared to tell his party that they would not be reaching the sunlit uplands any time soon.

Obviously aware of the threat to their leader the lights in the conference centre were switched off before the speech to allow loyal and ,one assumes, fully frisked members to gather on stage to provide a safe, if staring, background to his end of the conference speech.

With party support now in a place where the doldrums would be a plus and half the MPs in the hall heading for the dole the audience brought a whole new meaning to enthusiasm.

Thankfully for Nick his path had been smoothed yesterday by the decision of Danny Alexander’s mum to allow her youngest a day trip to Brighton to make his own speech.

Still masquerading as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny had plundered the “Greatest Scottish jokes of all time” annual for 1908 to remind party members why they were as deep in the odure as the opinion polls suggest.

Whether this was a deliberate attempt to remind delegates just how worse the situation could be is unknown but Danny was certainly given a prominent position as his leader addressed the faithful.

Having spent much of the parliamentary season in mournful contemplation of the turn-ups in his trousers it was a slightly surreal scene as he strode onto the platform to be announced yet again as the Deputy Prime Minister.

As half the members in the hall joined the party confident in the belief that they would never be in power the reality is clearly a shock but Nick made it clear that having got a sniff of it—and what goes with it—for him at least not to mention Danny’s mam, there would be no going back.

And he turned the history of the Lib Dens on its head by declaring if people wanted protest not power they should vote Labour which, sadly for him , most are apparently already doing.

The past is gone and is not coming back he told the delegates as he announced the last leader but three, Paddy Ashdown, would be getting them ready for the next general election.

And talking of which there was no mention of the other one with Prime Minister in his title busy getting ready for tonight’s appearance on Letterman in New York.

One can only hope that if the” Pleb” story comes up Letterman will seek to confirm with the PM whether his Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell prefers to be called “Thrasher” after his time at Rugby school or by his other favourite title BSD , ‘Big Swinging Dick.”

But that is for conferences to come but meanwhile back in Brighton where

days past a chauffeur-driven was only a dream a party leader’s speech would go on and on as pledges never to be fulfilled were made.

But Nick needed just over the half hour in the new world to tell them they would need binoculars to see the good times coming.

“Imagine yourself standing on the doorstep in 2015”, he asked them.

They did and he left to slightly hysterical applause.

Nick Clegg and wife. Photograph: Getty Images.

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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