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Tom Foster - Architecture Column


Tue 9 Nov 2021

By Tom Foster - Architecture Column

New Centuries often feel like this one – old complacencies collapsing, existential consequences becoming clear.

Back in 1911, doom felt impending. The Liberals’ Winston Churchill and David Lloyd George were the ‘dangerous’ radicals who rose to the moment. Their party of business and commerce finally politicked an end to the English aristocracy’s Tory stranglehold via the House of Lords, and as pitchfork revolution threatened all over Europe, working class plight got their fullest attention.

The Edwardian mutual admiration, kinship even, between the English and German educated classes was extraordinary - and tragic, as colonial rivalry could only come to war. The Prussian militaristic ethos also created the world’s most generous public insurance against age, sickness and unemployment. Lloyd George spent his holiday on a study trip, resulting in Churchill and Lloyd George’s 1911 National Insurance Act. The rest is history, of intermittent progress and present decay.

Fast forward to 2021 - new doom feels impending. Where are our radical political giants? Across the Pond – maybe. Churchill would despair at the present vacuity of the Tory party that he later re-joined and led, not to mention the nostalgic stuckness of Labour, the once-great adversary. The only voices that speak clarity and uncompromised truth, that galvanise and give hope, are children:

I called my congressman
And he said, quote:
"I'd like to help ya son
But yer too young to vote"

                                                                      Eddie Cochrane, ‘Summertime Blues’, 1958


Not just Greta’s international Skolstrejkers, but the young in general (and young-at-heart), courageous, disciplined and non-violent in successive waves of protest - Extinction Rebellion and now Insulate Britain - show no sign of ceasing to generate headlines that embarass their anaesthetised elders, who hope to die before it all gets too bad.

Elder expectation that before it becomes a voting force, today’s overwhelming youthful environmental ’idealism’ will give way to comfortable compromise (because that’s what their own generations did) is in for a shock. For a start, it’s clear that no such ’comfort’ awaits to seduce today’s young – quite the reverse. And ever more personally impactful climate disasters are sure to reinforce environmental urgency all round the world, even in so-far benign England.

Currently, even the Guardian editorial has mild doubts about Insulate Britain’s tactics of traffic disruption. Minister Kit Malthouse says “While we obviously all value the right to protest, there is a difference between causing disruption and causing damage” (regardless of Insulate Britain carefully causing no damage – except to drivers’ tempers). When Ghandi led his March to the Sea to illegally collect salt, he obstructed road traffic for 24 days, but its special rhetorical impact in India really launched eventual independence. In court Ghandi, like Mandela, trained lawyers both, demanded the maximum penalty of the law, but the judges both avoided the trap of creating martyrs.

No such wisdom in Pritti the dominatrix Witch of Suburbia, who just sees an opportunity to shore up the Tories’ Reactionary Pensioner core vote, even as it demographically dies off. Previously Civil matters will now be Criminalised, with six months prison for ‘interfering with key national infrastructure’ – the same as for manufacture or sale of flick knives. Suspected individuals will get travel bans.

This is all to avoid any concession to Insulate Britain’s eminently reasonable, mainstream science-backed demands . Would it be so hard to agree:

1 that the UK government immediately promises to fully fund and take responsibility for the insulation of all social housing in Britain by 2025

2 that the UK government immediately promises to produce within four months a legally binding national plan to fully fund and take responsibility for the full low-energy and low-carbon whole-house retrofit , with no externalised costs, of all homes in Britain by 2030 as part of a just transition to full decarbonisation of all parts of society and the economy

Insulate Britain’s protests would then cease. They would probably settle for a compromise, particularly on the deadlines, but the principles must surely be beyond argument? If the government is not already intending to do all of that, then how can UK possibly comply with the 2015 CoP21 Paris Agreement to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees?

What, if anything, can the UK Cabinet be thinking, to support hard-working Alok Sharma, President of the 2021 CoP26 Climate Emergency Conference (the world’s last hope to commit to actually doing what it takes) in Glasgow in November?

I specialise in new, old and historic buildings, for work or home.

Expert in EcoBuilding, ‘Passive House', Planning Permission, DNPA, Building Regs, build-contract admin; or perhaps you’d just like some can-do advice.

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Other columns by Tom Foster - Architecture Column

TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (July/August 2021) - Mon 2 Aug 2021
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (March/April 2021) - Mon 1 Mar 2021
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (November/December 2020) - Sun 1 Nov 2020
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (July/August 2020) - Wed 1 Jul 2020
TOM FOSTER’S ARCHITECTURE COLUMN (January/February 2020) - Wed 1 Jan 2020

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