From the moment the exit polls were announced last Thursday evening, the political drums have barely paused. It’s pretty clear that this election has not brought the political stability the Prime Minister hoped for – but what does the result mean for CPRE?
Our issues, of course, remain those key concerns of our members and supporters who want to make sure our beautiful countryside thrives – and were set out inour manifesto at the start of the election campaign. Given the low profile the countryside had in the election debates, it’s clear that, more than ever, the countryside needs a strong voice and CPRE will continue to champion these issues to new and returning MPs, both in the Government and in opposition.
MPs will find their vote counts that little bit more in a hung parliament, so for CPRE this is an opportunity. CPRE’s branches, engaged in local planning, can inform and influence their local MP on how national policies are playing out in their constituency. Now is the time to strengthen old friendships and start building new relationships with local MPs. It’s a role we are great at and our depth of knowledge is well regarded in local constituencies, Westminster and Whitehall.
However, the legislative programme is likely to be slimmer than previously expected and marginal concerns will likely fall away or be dealt with via non-parliamentary routes as the Brexit negotiations get up to speed. We will need to wait longer than expected to hear details of that programme given that a postponement in the Queen’s Speech was announced today.
That said, many of the issues that CPRE is working on, be it housing, infrastructure or farming will remain active areas of policy although there will be some changes in tone as new ministers are appointed. Though the cabinet remains largely unchanged, the arrival of Michael Gove at Defra will cause raised eyebrows for many with his strong views on regulation. But look closely and he has spoken with passion about nature in a 2014 speech in Westminster:
‘We all know that when we have that opportunity to be outdoors and to see natural beauty, we find that our own spirits are lifted … But we also want to pass onto the next generation the natural beauty that all of us have enjoyed – the diversity of creation that has flourished in these islands – and we wanted to make sure that this is properly valued and available to future generations in the way that it was been available to us.’ Lines, it must be said, that could have come straight out of a CPRE speech.
Former housing minister Gavin Barwell lost his Croydon seat but was then recruited as Theresa May’s Chief of Staff. CPRE will miss his acumen and understanding for the housing brief but his influence at Number 10 will be a positive addition. We now welcome Alok Sharma as the new Housing and Planning Minister, with whom we hope to build upon our existing influence into the Housing White Paper.
The times are changing but CPRE remains a strong and positive advocate for the countryside, a vital role as the Government gets back to work – we look forward to working with that new Government.