In January 2020, the United Kingdom’s Building Better Building Beautiful Commission released its long awaited report, Living with Beauty: Promoting Health, Well-Being and Sustainable Growth, which proposed a framework for beautifying, greening and democratizing housing developments and urban planning. The Commission was initially assembled by British Government Housing Minister Kit Malthouse in response to London’s horrific Grenfell Tower Fire, to determine how the nation could better address rising homelessness, dilapidated public housing and what has been perceived as ugly glass-and-steel scrawl festering like warts across England.
Interestingly, despite the Commission’s tenuous start, the report is non-partisan. It appeals to conservative desires to preserve British identity and liberal desires to increase sustainability and infuse democracy into planning processes. It appeals to all people in its desire to reject ugliness and steward beauty via local participation. Most notably it suggests the following policymaking processes and changes pertaining to:
- Planning: create a predictable level playing field
- Communities: bring the democracy forward
- Stewardship: incentivize responsibility to the future
- Regeneration: end the scandal of left behind place
- Neighborhoods: create places not just houses 6. Nature: re-green our towns and cities
- Education: promote a wider understanding of place-making
- Management: value planning, count happiness, procure properly
Strangely this innovative document received little mention in the news, despite the Commission’s troubled start. Shortly after its creation, progressive architects immediately lambasted its mission. Sam Jacobs, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor and architect, fumed:
“[t]he Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission is an ill-informed waste of time that will, in any case, never influence anything. In a few weeks we will have forgotten about it – like all of those other things that you can’t quite remember that were supposed to make things better. But right at this moment there is something pretty sick about it. It resonates in a particular way as Britain sinks further into the Brexit mire, with its plastic jingoism, hollow nostalgia and pathetic Empire 2.0 rhetoric.”
Mind you, she penned this for Dezeen in November 2018 long before the commission even released its interim report last summer or its final report this January. Although Ms. Jacob makes some interesting points in her article, it shows a reactionary desperation to condescend and mistrust actions by the Right even before anything had been released. How dare these conservatives attempt to meddle in affairs of culture? How audacious are they to think they can influence communities for the better? How idiotic of them to think they know what is aesthetically beautiful?
The most shocking hit piece was from New Statesman’s George Eaton. Again, rather than focusing on the Commission’s mission and its yet-to-be-relaesed proposals, in the Spirit of Resistance, he focused on character assassinating Co-Chair, Sir Roger Scruton.
After soliciting an interview with Sir Roger Scruton using his 75th Birthday as a Trojan-like impetus, he intentionally misconstrued quotes in a manner that falsely portrayed this kind-hearted gentleman as a racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, antisemite. Unfortunately, this lazy, hate-driven ‘journalist’ was successful in getting Sir Scruton hastily removed by Theresa May’s weak kneed Cabinet. This illustrated not only the ‘Resistance’s’ juvenile scorched earth tactics but also the cowardliness of David Cameron and May’s strand of conservatism.
As Scruton’s battle with cancer wore on and he contemplated his pending death, he wrote for the Spectator: “During this year  much was taken from me — my reputation, my standing as a public intellectual, my position in the Conservative movement, my peace of mind, my health.”
Luckily the truth prevailed. After Douglas Murray’s pointed effort, the full transcript was uncovered. Both the New Statesman and the Tory Government had to issue an embarrassing apology to Sir Scruton. George Eaton was surprisingly not fired but was demoted from Deputy Editor to Assistant Editor.
What is most absurd about these kinds of responses to the Commission and figures like Scruton, is it shows how terrified progressives are of losing even the slightest ground in the Culture War. The Left has traditionally been the champions of the working class. They are associated with social welfare, equal rights, democratization, environmentalism and protecting the poor. The brilliance of the Living with Beauty report is its non-partisan spirit. It simply seeks to elevate all Brits and to seek answers through reasoned dialogue at the local level. To democratize the planning process – for public and private development – and provide a path that addresses the concerns of nearly all constituents at the community level. A brilliant idea that would not only enrich the lives of those living confined to social housing, but all members of the community who have to live by these edifices. In the end, we do live in a society and must work together to effect positive change.
Going forward conservatives would be wise to adopt the spirit in the report and Scruton’s philosophy. Conservatives may support the preservation of culture in theory, but in practice they are reluctant to allow the government to be the steward of it. As Scruton wrote in How to be a Conservative, Thatcherism and Reaganism have been critiqued by the Left as a “radical assault on vulnerable members of society.” He explains that Thatcher’s main flaw was that, “she leaned too heavily on market economics, and ignored the deeper roots of conservatism in theory and practice of civil society. [Her theories] stemmed from a sense of national loyalty … [but] she had no philosophy with which to articulate that ideal.”
Sir Scruton has spent decades developing a holistic, flexible philosophy that can help conservatives even in the Post-Brexit, Post-Trump Era. As the Resistance Left has proven time and again, they care more about steamrolling over the right rather than helping their own constituents. Scruton, one of the first conservatives to suggest solving the government housing by first making them beautiful and something people would want in their cities, was addressing a prime concern that most Labour voters have: How to uplift society’s most vulnerable? Scruton was appointed to provide proposals for this, and was immediately shot down by people purported to be socially, environmentally and aesthetically conscious. Is this because Scrutonian philosophy is a threat to their hegemony of these demographics and cultural institutions?
The Commission’s report is a perfect example of how conservatives can make their ideas more palatable to modern audiences. Conservatism should not be just about free-market capitalism, corporate welfare and freedom of the individual. We need to also influence architecture, literature, music and film. When democratic-socialists demand utopias, conservatives must provide a beautiful vision of the future that even these people would be willing to accept. Otherwise, as Sam Jacobs pointed out, conservatives will never pose a real threat to postmodernists, socialists and progressives. Worse, they will continue to win the Culture War, pushing us away from beauty and into a world of ugliness.