What goes around really does come around. Twenty-five years after Michael Heseltine became minister for Merseyside, he’s back again advising the Tories about inner-city policy. As an admission of a party’s failure, that’s breathtaking.
It will be fascinating to find out whether, on his emergence from his Henley arboretum, Lord Heseltine wishes to rethink the solutions he proposed back in the 1980s.
That’s not to say that his performance back then lacked imagination and drive. It had oodles of both - the moniker Tarzan wasn’t just about his hairstyle. What he didn’t achieve, though, was lasting success.
For all his enthusiasm, Lord Heseltine was, and remains, an advocate of good old-fashioned trickle-down theory. And that’s exactly the solution David Cameron’s new task force appears to have in mind. Do enough high-profile projects in enough places and the benefits will, the theory goes, filter their way down to the poor and the excluded.
That’s after the developers, project managers, local government executives, property professionals, consultants, community engagement experts and politicians have all had their slice of the cake. And each can justify their part. It’s just that there isn’t much left when they’ve finished.
With respect to Lord Heseltine, we’ve tried his solutions. Their success has been, at best, limited (as the National Audit Office commented last week, referring to the Liverpool Garden Festival), and their understanding of the long-term measures needed to address poverty, disadvantage and urban disaffection was inadequate. The flaws in New Labour’s efforts don’t make the Conservative policies of the 1980s and early 1990s any more valid.
As if to emphasise that what we’re getting this time round is more of a shallow PR stunt than a genuine debate about the future of cities and neighbourhood renewal, the Conservatives appear to have leaped unthinkingly on the anti housing market renewal bandwagon, offering a knee-jerk response to concerns about demolition without any serious analysis of the programme’s objectives and raison d’etre.
Lord Heseltine has apparently been brought in to scotch the myth that the Conservatives are the party of the leafy suburbs. It might have been more appropriate to co-opt people who actually live in areas of disadvantage and have experienced the successes and failures of the last 25 years.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine