Douglas Murray’s housebuilding hyperbole

Posted on December 04, 2012

It’s a commonly known fact that human DNA is 97% identical to orangutan DNA. It sticks in the mind because of the remarkable implication – that if you were to change just 3% of the basic code of you or me, we would be hairy tree-climbers, coveting little more than the next lump of fruit, rather than the remarkable, shoe-wearing, mostly literate creatures we are instead.

Of course, not everything works like DNA. Most things, in fact, can be subjected to proportionately small changes without ditching their metaphorical iPads and abandoning their commutes in favour of flinging faeces and clambering around the jungle canopy.

This is a subtlety that seems to have escaped the normally wise Douglas Murray over at the Spectator. Firing a broadside at Conservative Ministers who propose new development in the countryside, Douglas asks “Why are Conservative MPs so intent on wrecking our countryside?”

I have sympathy with some parts of his case. Greg Barker’s argument for wind farms – that they are sufficiently beautiful to become a tourist attraction – deserves scorn. As it happens, I’ve always thought that elegance of wind turbines is one of the few things the costly, ineffective installations have going for them, but it’s totally insufficient to justify spending a fortune scattering thousands of them nationwide to little environmental effect.

My problem comes with the Murray critique of Nick Boles’ proposals to build more houses on green field sites (which, please note, are different to green belt sites). For Douglas, Boles was “extolling the virtues of concreting over what green space we still have in order to tackle an alleged housing shortage”.

In reality, the Minister proposed expanding the area built on in Britain from 9% of our land area to 12% – an increase of 3%.

Does that extra 3% mean “concreting over what green space we still have”? Of course not. It doesn’t even mean concreting over that whole 3%, given the need for gardens to go with the houses. Even if it did mean Nick Boles taking his cement mixer on a road trip and personally turning 3% of the country from rolling pastures into a grey parking lot, would doing so truly “wreck the countryside”?

This is not liking changing Britain’s DNA. For a 3% change to make such a fundamental difference, Britain would have to be a human being – and a Britain where we would have sufficient houses to live in would be an orangutan. Which, fairly obviously, it isn’t.

Cool Whips

Posted on September 06, 2012

As ever, the reshuffle has raised crucial political questions: What does this mean for the Third Runway? Who cried when they got the sack? Did we really need to see the receipt for Grant Shapps’ now famous £4 machine washable tie?

But perhaps the most important mystery is this: how are you supposed to punctuate the Government Whips’ Office? Is it an office belonging to many Whips, or is the Whip an intangible, singular entity in itself? Alternatively, is the office simply where the Whips sit, and therefore not in anyone’s possession?

Westminster is deeply divided on the matter.

The Cabinet Office and the Spectator go for zero tolerance on apostrophes: “Government Whips Office”.

The normally omniscient House of Commons Library goes for a singular Whip: “The Whip’s Office”.

Meanwhile, the BBC plumps for a plural possessive: “the Whips’ office”.

The political establishment has, all of a sudden, found itself trapped in the “Cool Whip” conversation between Stewie Griffen and Brian in Family Guy.

Perhaps some grammarians can settle the question once and for all?