What have MPs been reading this summer?

Alan Johnson's childhood memoir, Charles Moore's biography of Thatcher and back issues of the New Statesman.

Freed from the confines of Westminster, what books have MPs taken to the beach to inspire them this summer? ComRes polls them every year to find out and has published its results today. 

Top of the list is Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher (reviewed by David Owen for the NS) followed by Alan Johnson's childhood memoir This Boy, Andrew Adonis's account of the hung parliament negotiations, 5 Days in May (which I reviewed - it's excellent), Jesse Norman's biography of Edmund Burke (reviewed by John Gray) and David Kynaston's Modernity Britain (reviewed by Mark Damazer). 

Tory MPs, perhaps unsurprisingly, plumped for Thatcher (their conference will open with a tribute to her), and Burke, while their Labour counterparts took Johnson and Adonis away with them. The Lib Dems, a free-thinking bunch, "expressed no clear choice" but slightly ahead of the rest was Tony Juniper’s What has nature ever done for us? (a reminder that they haven't forgotten about climate change even if much of the rest of Westminster has). 

Other notable titles which didn’t make it into the top lists include the House of Cards trilogy, The Summons by John Grisham and, happily, back issues of the New Statesman ("Haven't had enough time to read them for a few months"). Below are the results in full. 

All MPs

2013

1. Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not For Turning - Charles Moore

2. This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood - Alan Johnson

3. 5 Days in May: The Coalition and Beyond - Andrew Adonis 

4. Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet - Jesse Norman

5. Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 - David Kynaston

Conservative MPs

1. Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, Volume One: Not For Turning - Charles Moore

2. Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet - Jesse Norman

3. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn / Defeat into Victory – Sir William Slim / John Bright: Statesman, Orator, Agitator - Bill Cash

Labour MPs

1. This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood - Alan Johnson

2. 5 Days in May: The Coalition and Beyond - Andrew Adonis 

3. Modernity Britain: Opening the Box, 1957-1959 - David Kynaston

Lib Dem MPs

1. What Has Nature Ever Done For Us: How Money Really Does Grow On Trees - Tony Juniper

Alan Johnson's This Boy was the most-read book among Labour MPs and the second most-read among all MPs. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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 Battersea power station in 2012. Initially, it promised to build 636 affordable units. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers already having failed to develop the site, it was still enough for Wandsworth council to give planning consent. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced 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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