Yesterday, Monday, was a day for politicians in David Cameron’s Coalition Government to put on Hi Vis and go forth with the intention of multiplying as they pointed at potholes and tail backs in marginal constituencies from Lands End to the Scottish Border and as the Department of Transport announced the biggest environmental project since the Stone Age. Anyone would think there was an Election in six months time.
Oh there is.
That must be why David Cameron made his play for the Druid vote by staging his media call at Stonehenge to re-announce the A303 tunnel plan which was first announced in AD43 when Claudius proposed dualling the Calleva to Isca Dumnoniorum road to make the journey twenty minutes faster for his elephants and attract jobs to the West Country Woad Industry. That said Chancellor Osborne is a supreme political operator and there is a logic to the Stonehenge announcement. In a tight Parliamentary campaign every vote counts and thePipeLine is sure that both the Chancellor and Conservative Election Guru, and earthly incarnation of Sauron, Linton Crosby are fully aware that according to the 2011 Census there were 4,189 Druids as well as 56,620 Pagans and 11,766 Wiccans, living in the UK- that is almost a full constituency worth to keep from the hands of UKIP…
Of course Mr Cameron had a full supporting cast from English Heritage [or is it Historic England?] for his photo opportunity among the Sarsens and that reminds us that once the nations historic property portfolio is floated off to charity the new English Heritage will be as free to be an outspoken champion of the historic environment and scourge of shoddy, lazy and damaging planning decisions, as it’s big cousin the National Trust has been, particularly recently under the Chairmanship of Sir Simon Jenkins. At least EH can find its voice if and when it has developed the income streams to be self supporting. But for now both English Heritage and the National Trust are on the case and monitoring the A303 scheme as it develops; so there may come a time in the not too distant future when Mr Cameron, or whoever becomes Prime Minister after May [other potential Prime Minsters are available], is not allowed quite so close to the stones to grandstand on the historic environment.
The sudden interest in protecting the historic and natural environment of Salisbury Plain was because this Wednesday sees Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement when he lays out the Government’s financial forecasts and spending plans [if the Government is returned to power] and sets spending traps for Labour [if it isn’t]. Significantly most analysts say Mr Osborne has to come clean, in the published accounts if not in his statement to Parliament, which over the last few years has come to resemble a cross between Marvo the Magician’s patter and a recitation of The Emperor’s New Clothes, whereby the Chancellor attempts to produce tax cutting rabbits to make Tory back bencher MP’s ooh and aah, while applying misdirection over the series of self imposed fiscal targets he has conspicuously missed.
And that was the point of today’s road building road show. A couple of days good headlines before the potential fiscal bloodbath at the hands of the economics editors on Thursday morning.
One thing we can be sure. Whatever Mr Osborne has left to announce on Wednesday, it will be significant for the Heritage Sector. Whether it is funding allocations to spending departments, the fiscal settlements for local authorities, grant in aid for our museums and Government funded bodies, or further jiggery pokery, with the planning system, it will all have a direct or indirect impact on our historic and natural environment and the people who care for it, understand it, learn about it and try to share that understanding and learning with the public. Apart from anything else, if even a proportion of those Road schemes go ahead that will mean a lot of NPPF based archaeology for the commercial units and the new “Historic England” to facilitate, and in all probability some judicial reviews to fight [assuming we the people are still allowed to seek Judicial Reviews after this weeks vote in the Commons- if not in many places it will be time for “Son of Swampy”]. The decisions could also impact on the wages and employment conditions of archaeologists. Who knows, the Gang Master legislation might even be extended to the Contracting Units…
…all of which means there might even be a few archaeologists who are tempted to cast a vote in May. So, on the principle that Information is Power, which ever party you vote for, or “none of the above”, join thePipeLine on Wednesday at midday for our live Twitter feed @ and updates from the House of Commons as Chancellor Osborne makes his Autumn Statement. Then, once the statement is complete, thePipeLine will be trawling the news feeds to bring you the sharpest analysis as to how the forecasts and spending plans might impact on the heritage sector.
Short of finding David Cameron buried in a midlands car park, it might not be the most exciting archaeological event of the year, but it might give you an idea of whether you will still have a job or University Department to attend in five years time, or whether it is time to retrain as a Barista. We understand there will soon be numerous opportunities in a Garden City coming to a site near you. Planning permission permitting of course.