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Artillery Row

Rise of the NIMBocrites

The political equivalent of having your cake and eating it

Over the weekend, The Times reported that Cambridge is to become “Europe’s Silicon Valley — with 250,000 extra homes”. Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, is reportedly “drawing up proposals” that could see “the prospect of billions of pounds of investment” pumped into the city, through the construction of “new business parks, laboratories and science hubs”. Fat chance, I thought to myself upon reading this, because a) Gove is useless, b) nothing ever gets built in this country and c) (related to b) we have too much opposition to new developments.

The term typically used to stigmatise people who block new developments is “NIMBY” (Not In My Backyard), aka locals who never want things built near them. NIMBYs are a pain, but the acronym isn’t always as damaging as Generation Rent likes to think. Most don’t care about being called a NIMBY, sometimes seeing it as a badge of honour. They are often consistent in their views. Many of them don’t want to build more housing and believe immigration should be controlled. Maybe the two positions won’t win them friends in fashionable circles. Still, they go together.

Far more deserving of wrath than traditional NIMBYs are those I call “NIMBocrites” — a faction within the former, whom the Cambridge plans predictably offended. These are liberal types who advocate population growth — wanting more immigration, often mourning the end of free movement and a “compassionate” approach to asylum — whilst doing everything they can to stifle the infrastructure needed to support this.

Take Pippa Heylings, a Liberal Democrat Councillor in South Cambridgeshire, who tweeted that the Government’s plans for the city would “ride roughshod over communities and our precious local environment”. Often with liberal politicians, it doesn’t take long to find them expressing contradictory sentiment elsewhere on housing. Previously, Heylings criticised former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s immigration policy, writing, “I stand for the rights of all migrants and I celebrate the many benefits they bring to South East Cambridgeshire!” Where does she think migrants will live — never mind the backlog of approximately four million people needing homes in England? Apparently it shouldn’t be anywhere near her progressive self.

Millions suffer when politicians push for greater immigration without the infrastructure

Heylings is far from alone in the NIMBocrisy stakes. Rupa Huq, the Labour MP, frequently posts concerns about new infrastructure, mostly on aesthetic grounds, only to berate the Government for not being “pragmatic” about immigration (aka ministers should increase it). In 2021 she expressed concern over a development called Perceval House, expected to deliver 477 new homes, describing it as a “hideous”, “monster” entity that would “ruin the skyline forever”. Never mind that three years earlier she appeared on Sky News to warn that “[t]he gov’s artificial and unachievable immigration target is leaving schools and hospitals understaffed”. If the Government were to take her advice on increasing immigration, could she explain where the new arrivals are supposed to live? Huq would argue that she’s actually pro-housing — it’s just the type of development she objects to. For instance, she has said, “Low density, two-storey family housing is, I think, what people are crying out for.” Fair enough, but is that pragmatic in a country with a huge and growing housing crisis?

The easiest NIMBocrites to spot tend to be left-leaning women, like Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP, who was sad in 2020 when the Government ended free movement, bemoaning a “hostile environment” — yet two months earlier joined forces with other campaigners to block almost 11,000 new homes in Oxford.

Conservatives, individually, tend to be less blatantly hypocritical in their NIMBYism. Theresa Villiers and Anthony Browne, for instance, two of Parliament’s most vocal NIMBYs, are conservative on immigration — even if their party is not as a whole.

Still, there are other noticeable examples of NIMBocrites in the Conservative Party, such as Maria Miller and Chris Grayling, both of whom seem to have experienced cognitive dissonance around Ukrainian refugees. Whilst Miller volunteered to help those in need, she also started a petition titled “Slow It Down”, calling for her borough to “drastically reduce housing targets” — not much use to the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who moved here. Similarly, the ostensibly caring Grayling joined forces with Theresa Villiers to block government targets for housing.

“Actions speak louder than words” goes the saying, and never has this been more true for the NIMBocrites. Whilst Miller, Grayling and other parliamentarians preached the importance of welcoming those fleeing persecution, their political activities undermine the best chance of a secure existence for anyone needing accommodation, never mind some of the world’s most vulnerable. Case in point: newspapers have been full of stories of Ukrainians left homeless after they finished stints with the British host families who initially took them on.

Similarly, millions of renters, young and now increasingly old, suffer the consequences when politicians across the spectrum push for greater immigration without the infrastructure to accommodate it. It is no coincidence that rents have reached record levels as net migration has done so too. The people calling for more liberal immigration policies say it’s the Government kicking away the ladder whenever there’s talk of secure borders. What about them? What’s the point of a ladder if there’s nothing to get to?

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