Radical uncertainty the order of the day...
20 September 2021, Paul Finch
Things are topsy-turvy here in what is supposed to be the world’s greatest city. Boris Johnson’s new top-team of Cabinet ministers are not there to continue the status quo in relation to planning and architecture. Out goes Robert Jenrick, a clever man who gave a good impression of being an East London used-car dealer, and out goes the key policy for which he was responsible: revolutionising the planning system to deliver the 300,000 homes a year target set by none other than BoJo.
Back to replace him comes little Michael Gove, currently the object of ridicule following his disco-queen performance in a Scottish nightclub, apparently a public statement that he really is splitting from his wife, the witty newspaper columnist Sarah Vine. She said his performance was a good justification for divorce all on its own.
Gove is no friend of the architectural profession, having insulted everybody involved in school design by claiming in the past that they were ‘creaming it’, and asserting that it would be perfectly ok to teach children in converted redundant supermarket premises.
Undoubtedly clever, possibly by not quite a half, Gove finds himself only peripherally involved with the mother of the arts, however. Instead, he is charged with promoting the ‘levelling-up’ Conservative manifesto agenda, for which read dishing out public subsidies and warm words, and resolving the ever-growing scandal of government concealment of what it knew about dangerous cladding systems for two decades (ie this involved Labour as well as Conservatives and LibDems).
Boris has given Gove a poisoned chalice, because even if the latter succeeds in one area, he is pretty likely to fail in another. That is because the problems already identified will be supplemented by inevitable unexpected ‘events’ which transform the political scene almost instantaneously. They can be world-shaking, like Covid-19, or simply seismic in a local political sense (cf Matt Hancock’s passionate engagements during moments of political intensity).
I have been reading with great pleasure a wise book on this very subject. ‘Radical Uncertainty’, by John Kay and Mervyn King (the latter a former governor the Bank of England), is now available in paperback (The Bridge Street Press, £12.99). It contains a new preface because the hardback edition was published in 2020 just before Covid-19 struck.
Prescient in its predictions about the unpredictable (ie they will happen but what don’t know what they will be), the authors are not frightened of laying into people who think they have the answer to everything, including behavioural economists, lawyers, statistics nerds and soothsayers of various persuasions.
They lay bare the dangers of ‘groupthink’ and the current obsession with attempting to establish incontrovertible causal relationships between events and institutions or individuals, usually intended to establish blame of some description.
It struck me that that the book should be compulsory reading for the ‘managers’ at the BBC, whose dozy and often erroneous opinions about the world and what the world is thinking have reduced a once-great broadcaster to the edge of irrelevance. The pitiful interrogations of ministers on the Today radio programme, in which the opinions of the overpaid woke journalists loom increasingly large, are a case in point.
They don’t talk about architecture much, but generally mess it up when they do so. Today managed to get the name of the new RIBA president wrong in a recent interview. When they interviewed Zaha Hadid before her premature demise, they insulted and slandered her and had to apologise. The journalist involved was of course promoted to run her own lunchtime show.
Boris Johnson is punishing the BBC by putting someone called Nadine Dorries in charge of the Department of Culture, Media Sport (which does not include architecture by the way. Who on earth would regard architecture as a cultural activity?). Miniscule qualifications have never prevented BoJo from promoting women he admires both in private and in public. The BBC will just have to ‘suck it up’ – at least as long as it persists with its continual anti-government and anti-Boris stream of biased news, features and comedy programmes. It probably deserves ‘Mad Nad’, who was suspended from the Conservative party when she abandoned her Parliamentary duties and her constituents to take part in a TV reality show.
She writes ‘novels’ if you can call them that. In the immortal words of Shania Twain: ‘That don’t impress me much.’
More news from the Surreal City next week.