Friday, March 21, 2008

In Defence of Tom Watson

Yesterday, the government slipped out this written answer...
Mr. Pickles: To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what the budget for works associated with Crown proposal 08/00696/1884 made under the Circular 1884 Procedure is; and on what date such works are expected to be completed. [193177]

Mr. Watson [holding answer 10 March 2008]: Costs incurred on refurbishments and improvements to No. 10 Downing street will be available only when the Department’s resource accounts are fully audited and laid before Parliament.

The Government are legally required to maintain the Downing Street complex to standards appropriate to its Grade 1/2 listed status in consultation with English Heritage. In addition to providing office accommodation the building also fulfils an important representational role. No significant refurbishment works have been undertaken at the Downing street complex since the large scale rebuilding works that took place between 1960 and 1963. As a result much of the infrastructure now needs to be renewed or upgraded. It has therefore been recommended that essential improvements are undertaken through ongoing annual maintenance works.

Essentially, this means that Number Ten is about to get a full refurb. The Conservatives have rightly complained that this is a typical example of the government slipping something out on the last day before Easter, hoping it won't be noticed. However, the faux outrage which followed did them no favours. Number 10 Downing Street is a national treasure. It doesn't only play home to the Prime Minister, it plays host to countless foreign visitors. If building experts come to the government sand say "it's falling down" (which is what I assume happened), what is the government supposed to do? Ignore the advice and leave to the next lot to deal with? It is right for the Opposition to hold the government to account and to ask questions about cost etc, but to pretend that eighteenth century buildings no not need attention from time to time is a little silly. Does anyone think that if David Cameron is Prime Minister for eleven years there won't need to be any building works?


Twig said...

Same can be said for Buckingham Palace.

Anonymous said...

By eck- a Tam Watson question that doesn't mention a pork pie!

simonh said...

Eric Pickles claims money will be spent on replacing Cherie Blair's wallpaper, installing new toilets and changing the curtains. Either he has privy knowledge or he's making it up for the benefit of the Sun. Given it's Mr Pickles, we can probably guess which.

Incidentally, Downing Street is seventeenth-century, not eighteenth, isn't it?

strapworld said...

It is time to move out.

It is time to reconsider the House of Commons. If we want a more adult politics then the present facing each other chamber must be changed.

We need a modern chamber which can take our politics into the 22nd Century NOT be held back by old buildings. They did us proud for all the years but we, like time, must move on.

We should be brave and site our new Parliament in the centre of England. A purpose built new building for which the Conservatives could hold an International Competition for architects to draw up thei proposals.

Such a building could incorporate individual accomodation both office and living, for Members of Parliament.

The Prime Minister would have a new impressive building within the Parliament precinct.

The present building would remain a magnificent historical monument to our democracy.

Let us move away from decaying old buildings. We are a vibrant country. These old, albeit impressive, buildings just give the impression of a tired moribund regime.

Time for change?

Anonymous said...

Downing Street was largely "jerrybuilt" when first constructed and it is not unreasonable to expect that a building of that age is going to require work. It's also the case that the building was felt to be somewhat less than prestigious - lots of 60's standard government issue fittings, ugly convection heaters etc - when Blair took over from Major.

Famously the incoming Clinton administration reacted in horror when they took over the White House in 92 at how antiquated some of the systems were. The telephone switchboard was a 50's antique which was anything but secure.

Anonymous said...

they should ask dave what wallpaper he would like! bit pointless brown deciding he wont be there when its done.

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Grim, predictable politiking over nothing.

It's a shame any Party goes in for this nonsense - it really demeans the level of debate and, I believe, is the chief cause for voter apathy.

Of course - it's not only Tories that do it from time to time.

Well done for pointing it out.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Lady T oversee some restoration works when she was Prime Minister? I seem to recall pictures of her in Hello! chatting to the decorators.

As for Buckingham Palace, it is a disgrace that Her Majesty's Government will not fund the restoration of Her Majesty's London home. It has a much greater representational role than Number Ten.

Ed Vaizey said...

The trouble is the Government has cut the heritage budget by £100 million in the lst ten years, but feels free to spend what it likes on maintaining Downing Street. Should no 10 get in the queue with all our other national treasures, like our cathedrals, for example?

Anonymous said...

just watched you on question time extra. thoughts
1. you look 9 years older than in your blog pic
2. you are nervous as a stuck pig on tv
3. stick to hiding behind your computer. it is a bit like those kids who can do all sorts of sick stuff online because it doesn't quite feel like real life.

Anonymous said...

The great British Conservative Party is against No 10 having new wallpaper.

Can you imagine, Winston Churchill in 1940 surveying the ruins of London during the Blitz and being informed that 'the great British Conservative Party is against the new wallpaper'?

How about during the Dunkirk crisis?

Let's ask Barack Obama what he thinks of this question.

Just being helpful.


Man in a Shed said...

Time to get No 10 refurbished ready for David Cameron to move in.....

Anonymous said...

Downing Street was built in 1684.
10 Downing Street was refronted in the 18th and enlarged in the 20the century. The last private resident of No. 10 was a Mr. Chicken.

Anonymous said...

How apt! The current temporary occupier is one

Me vs Maradona vs Elvis said...

I take your point Iain - obviously Number 10 needs work doing to it. What's sad is that the public would probably understand this too, and yet these paranoid, spin-obsessed, manipulative people we have in and around Number 10 still see the need to bury the news by releasing it juts before Easter.

Anonymous said...


I may have got this wrong but surely No 10 had a big refurb in John Major's time. If I'm talking bollox, many apologies all round. If I'm right, what went wrong?

Somebody posted that the house was originally jerry-built. Can they really substantiate that? Posh London town houses from the 18th and early 19thC seem to survive pretty well compared to post 1945'social housing'. Even decidedly lesser ones on the fringes of Belgravia (built for the servants of greater houses?) haven't done too badly.

It would be nice to learn more. Are we about to witness vandalism in the name of 'modernisation? Yet again??

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall that there was an extensive works programme in 10 Downing Street during the Major years, to the extent that Major had to move out of Downing St temporarily, to Admiralty House? Can anyone confirm?

If there is a further refurbishment programme necessary now, wouldn't it be sensible to publish the proposals and estimated costs in advance so that we are not faced with absurd expenditure such as was incurred on Derry Irvine's Pugin wallpaper when he was Lord Chancellor?

All the Poor Bloody Taxpayer expects s a bit of transparency and restraint (such as not taking the fullest advantage of the now-fabled 'John Lewis list'): we do recognise that the fabric of government buildings has to be properly maintained, as do our own roofs and gutters.

Iain Dale said...

Ed, a fair point.

Colin, I think the Major refurb was because of the IRA bomb.