Tarzan is back. The former Deputy Prime Minister, who became known as the Minister for Merseyside after his role in trying to rebuild Liverpool after the Toxteth riots of the early 1980s, will run a task force looking at the problems of the inner cities.
Lord Heseltine’s appointment is a strange one. His urban regeneration schemes have always been controversial. The expensive redevelopment of areas like London’s Docklands and the Cardiff Bay area are reasonably positive testimony to his legacy but other expensive schemes left little behind. The Liverpool Garden Festival, for example, left a derelict site. Lord Heseltine’s last major regeneration project in government was the spadework for the Millennium Dome.
Lord Heseltine is also an instinctive centraliser. His Development Corporations were controversial in the 1980s and 1990s because they bypassed local government and focused on large physical regeneration projects, rather than the human infrastructure. There were widespread complaints that buildings were rebuilt – often leading to gentrification – but an area’s underlying problems of family breakdown, welfare dependency and poor schools were left untouched.
Mr Cameron will announce this eighth policy group/ taskforce today – during a visit to Liverpool that will involve the whole shadow cabinet. He will say that “Too many of Britain’s urban areas have been left behind by Labour and let down by complicated and contradictory bureaucratic schemes which take power away from local people… We want to find ways of ending the wasteful mess of too many regeneration bodies failing to deliver.”
There is an obvious overlap with two existing policy groups. John Gummer’s quality of life group had been charged with looking at the built environment and Iain Duncan Smith’s social justice group has a remit for reviving Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods.
Interviewed about his role on this morning’s Today programme, Lord Heseltine was unconcerned about policy group overlap. "Let a thousand flowers bloom," he said, and see which of the policy groups produce the best ideas.
He also said that his new role would not stop him from criticising David Cameron’s policies. He noted his opposition to the Tory leader’s planned exit from the EPP and he still had hopes that it would not happen. Whatever an opposition party promises, he continued, the reality is that governments have to work very closely with like-minded parties in the EU.