Clegg has nothing to lose and much to gain from his phone-in show

The Lib Dem leader should use his new LBC radio slot to give his critics both barrels.

It's 10 O’Clock Thursday morning, and the interweb and chatterati are abuzz with Nick Clegg going off on one, in his first live phone-in programme on LBC.

"I've been listening to a broadcast that's disgusting, that's being run in a way that's despicable, vile, repugnant," the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told host Nick Ferrari during a live radio show on Thursday morning. "I've heard theories that are distorted and far from the truth. I've seen a reconstruction of reality that's the opposite of the truth." And he finished up by calling the whole programme ‘a whorehouse’.

It probably won’t happen. But then, Nick Clegg’s no Silvio Berlusconi, is he? Of course, that’s not an entirely bad thing. But if there’s one thing Mr Berlusconi is good at, it’s how to use the media to make a splash - as the above quote demonstrates. It’s what he actually told TV host Gad Lerner last year when he saw a programme he really didn’t like – and called in to let them know, live on air…

Now most people who’ve seen Nick in action fairly regularly will tell you that he doesn’t especially mind telling you exactly what he thinks - in quite bald terms. It can be quite unsettling if you’re used to the bland emollients of the normal political interaction with the public.

So might I suggest that Thursday morning’s show – and every subsequent edition of ‘call Nick Clegg’ – might go rather better than expected if he disregards the normal conventions of the political discourse with the public, and gives folk both barrels instead. After all, I suspect not many of those ringing in are likely to be on the line congratulating Nick on what a fabulous job he’s done – LBC would see that as rather poor radio.

So if callers are aggressive - get on the front foot, Nick. When the left give you a kicking, remind them what a fine job Labour did on the economy. When the Tories blame you for all the pernicious right-wing fantasy policies they’d like to enact but can’t, stick it to them.

Frankly – there’s nothing to lose, and quite a lot to gain. And I guarantee everyone would listen.

Nick Clegg will take questions from LBC radio listeners each Thursday. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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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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