The Sketch: Prescott bowled over by the search for sustainable community

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The Independent Online

Community. Who could be against it? Yvette Cooper, somewhat prior to her current exile in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, made an admirable contribution to the debate.

Community. Who could be against it? Yvette Cooper, somewhat prior to her current exile in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, made an admirable contribution to the debate.

As I understand it, she was at a Tony Blair seminar addressed by that American who wrote Bowling Alone. He said that Americans used to bowl mainly in leagues, now they mainly bowl alone, and this is a symptom of communities decaying. The mournful atmosphere was broken by Ms Cooper, so the story goes, who said that she had been brought up in "a community" and she couldn't wait to get out of it.

Bloody awful places. Intolerant, prying, judgemental, exclusive, oppressive - that's why communities are decaying and why metropolitan life is thriving. That she made these intelligent and amusing points explained her demotion in the next reshuffle. And here she is, in with John Prescott for re-education. What cruel humour Mr Blair is capable of, at his best.

Mr Prescott brought his plan for sustainable communities to the House yesterday. It is a five-year plan, and on that basis half as ambitious as his 10-year transport plan. Mind you, that lasted a good three years so the sustainable plan will be unsustainable in, I'd guess, 15 months.

Mr Prescott is a likeable sort of character, from a distance. Fat and brutal, he appeals to those who react badly to the sleek New Labour holograms. Some flea-maddened monkey is sitting up there inside his skull bashing out a random script for him, and so he says all those things which look well in a sketch.

"Bad landlords" came out as "bland lords", for instance. And to the Tory gibe of "public service ghettos" he talked about his "housing pogroms". But the sombre fact remains: anyone who speaks the way he does can only tell the truth by accident.

He said he was investigating "how to promote sustainable home ownership". This is the normal chaff of government, we have to indulge them in these displays. We even smile wearily at new initiatives called MoveUK or HomeBuy or Choice Based Lettings (or "Choyt Bait Lettings" as he called them). But it's a slippery slope. He relied on dodgy research, dumb methodology and some insane economics - now he's "investing" over a billion pounds in low-value housing in no-demand areas in "nine Market Renewal Pathfinder" schemes.

Bob Spink queried the revamped Right to Buy scheme, whether it would create a problem, selling to tenants at a subsidised rate and expecting Housing Associations to buy the properties back at market rates. "Er ... That's a serious point that will have to go into the debate," the Deputy Prime Minister said. If he hasn't thought that through yet ... I wouldn't be at all surprised.

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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