The Daily Telegraph reports that the Association of Lib Dem Councillors, an increasingly niche outfit, has tabled a motion for the Lib Dem conference opposing plans to make is easier to build conservatories and other house extensions.
The report says:
A motion to be debated at the party's conference next week claims that the changes will not boost the economy and will spark neighbourhood disputes.
It will claim the plans "go against the spirit" of the new Localism Act, which is meant to make it easier for local communities to reject unwanted developments.
There is a contradiction in claiming the move will not boost the economy but will lead to a large amount of unwanted development.
I'm afraid the Lib Dem Conference is often a forum for promoting illiberal policies. This is something David Laws has noted in the Orange Book, pointing to the demand to ban goldfish as prizes at fairs.
I wonder if the Labour Party will debate conservatories. While I hope the Orange Bookers amongst the Lib Dems will defend them, will the Purple Bookers in the Labour Party? There is still a Blairite rump, a New Labour faction pleading with their Party not to attack aspiration.
The Shadow Communities Secretary, Hilary Benn, has described the easing of restrictions as "an extraordinary spectacle." The Labour MP Andrew Smith attacked conservatories as "unsightly."
Yet writing in the Purple Book, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said:
"The invention of my friend the late David Cairns comes in useful. He thought up the ‘conservatory principle’: that no one should be allowed to lead the Labour Party unless they understood the desire to own a conservatory. And certainly the charge has been levelled that Labour politicians do not instinctively understand why people want small improvements to their standard of living. Being the party of holidays, home ownership, and an HD TV is something that the party’s struggled with."
In the same book the Shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary Caroline Flint wrote:
"The desire to be close to family, invest, improve, move to the nice neighbourhoods, leave something behind for the next generation or just have a few square metres to call your own – conservatory and all – is instinctive, and the drive to own is unshakeable."
I disagree with Mr Smith and the Lib Dem councillors that conservatories are "unsightly." I think they can be beautiful. But I wonder what the Lib Dem councillors objecting to them think of tower blocks? What have they done to oppose them?
Reading Harry Mount's book How England made the English I discovered that building a conservatory is a patriotic duty. It is helping to sustain our distinctive heritage.
Mr Mount says:
Nothing is more genteel that the conservatory – close to English hearts because it is so well adapted to deal with that peculiar English obsession, the weather. We are a nation of people who live in glass houses.
Of course conservatories crop up abroad, too. But it's striking that the word conservatory, or conservatoire, is normally used in Italy, France or America to mean a musical academy. The desire to bring the outdoors indoors, to make the most of the daylight hours and so maximise the time spent gardening and looking at the garden is not stitched into their DNA in the way it is in ours.
England led the world when it came to developing the first conservatories, and taking the chill off the outside air while letting in as much of that precious northern sunlight as possible.