Labour listless

AndyBI was following the live tweets coming from Saturday’s debate among the Labour leadership contenders. I could sympathize. Many moons ago I was quizzed at a couple of public events by Simon Fanshawe, the chair of Saturday’s event. He’s not backward in coming forward with the difficult question that gets to the heart of the matter. I think I’ve now just about recovered.

This is already shaping up to be a peculiar contest. Dan Jarvis disappeared from the running before it even got started, but nonetheless has raised his profile enormously in the process. Chuka Umunna dithered a bit, then arrived and departed before the whole carnival really got going.  Who knows what the full reasons for his exit were. I can imagine that that the level of press intrusion is absolutely hideous, but it seems odd that it took him by surprise in the way he suggested it had.

So what are we left with? [Read more…]

British bill of all kinds of wrong

Human rights concept.We are getting a very strong indication of the Conservatives’ preoccupations for the opening weeks of this Parliament. The tabloids are keen to tell us the Government is acting decisively by going to ‘war’ against a range of its established bugbears – extremists, the EU, the trade unions, human rights law.

It appears that the Government is aiming to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights during its first hundred days in office. This has all the hallmarks of a legislative car crash.

Liberals of all parties and none are very exercised by the prospect of the removal of human rights. And rightly so. But we are rather in the dark regarding how horrific the Government’s proposals are because no one has yet seen what a British Bill of Rights would comprise. The Conservatives have been talking about it for several years but a draft has not yet seen the light of day. All we really know is that the Government wants to re-establish the sovereignty of the British supreme courts, because they feel the activities of the ECtHR represent an unacceptable interference in domestic affairs.

As well as being awful and awesome in its implications, I find this whole area of policy discussion very bizarre. In a rational, civilized country seeking to show global leadership – a society such as the UK was when it played a major role in establishing the international architecture of human rights – this would be a non-debate. [Read more…]

Liberalism redux

peaceIt’s conceivable that I am just about the last Liberal Democrat blogger to post something in the aftermath of the General Election horror show. Plenty has been said. There is no doubt plenty more to say. I thought I’d add something to the mix.

A little of the comment that has emerged so far has been predictable. Those who lean to the left feel vindicated: Cleggite entryism is the root of the party’s problems, as they’ve been saying all along. Those who lean to the right feel vindicated: the mistake was to attempt to differentiate from the Conservatives and the record of the coalition government. Perhaps the most notable contribution of this type was the early response to the election result from the Social Liberal Forum, which emerged with almost indecent haste as the election result became clear. But so far we’ve not had too much of that sort of stuff.

There have been plenty of thoughtful contributions touching on what went wrong and what might happen now. [Read more…]

In defence of liberal democracy

VoteYesterday’s Independent newspaper appropriated this title for its unprecedented editorial backing something that is clearly impossible. The Independent abandoned its traditional, and commendable, stance of remaining independent. It threw its support behind a second Conservative-Lib Dem coalition. The editorial added the caveat that it would like a second coalition to be more liberal and less conservative. Which is precisely why it is supporting the impossible. Whatever happens later today, we know that the Conservatives have swung to the right and the Liberal Democrats will be fewer in number come Friday morning. So the chances of a second Con-Lib coalition – if such a beast were to come into existence – being more liberal and less conservative are precisely zero.

Whether such a coalition is arthimetically possible and necessary to form a government we are yet to discover. Whether it is desirable for the parties or the country is quite another matter. But that is a discussion for another day. [Read more…]

The smoke and mirrors of small politics

This is supposed to be the most exciting election for decades, with the outcome still unclear only four days before polling day. But I can’t say I’m feeling it. With the exception of yesterday’s quite extraordinarily bizarre #Edstone stunt, it has all felt pretty humdrum, slightly surreal, and deeply infuriating. All at the same time.

It is humdrum because the spinners have tried to ensure politicians say as little as possible of substance and have largely managed to erect an impenetrable cordon between the politicians in their charge and anything resembling either a real person or a real question. So much of what’s happened during the campaign has felt rather anodyne. Last week’s special Question Time event in Leeds stands out so clearly as a consequence. The leaders had to engage with ‘the public’ in a way that was slightly less than rigorously stage managed – and for a change some of the bowling was overarm rather than underarm.

The election campaign has felt slightly surreal because politicans on most, if not all, sides have been allowed to get away with making all sorts of egregious pledges and commitments with very limited effective challenge. It would appear to be entirely acceptable for political parties to promise simultaneously to reduce the tax take, increase spending, and remove the deficit without thereby being derided as utterly incoherent. You would have thought adopting this sort of position should mean a party disqualifies itself from being treated as a serious party of government. But it seems not.

It’s as if tactics to achieve short-term impact on the headlines are everything. Promises are perceived to be consequence-free. You can promise anything you like, as long as it sounds enticing, because no one is really going to be able to hold you to account if you don’t deliver. Even if you chisel it into limestone. So our political debate carries on in a world unencumbered by concerns for prosaic questions of logical coherence, implementation and feasibility.

The debate is infuriating in so many ways it is hard to know where to start. [Read more…]

The disconnected housing debate

There is something of an oddity in the debate over the nature of the problems facing the UK housing system, and therefore by implication where the focus of policy attention is best directed. I’ve remarked on it before but it struck me forcefully this week when reading Christian Hilber’s new briefing, prepared with the aim of informing the election debate, UK housing and planning policies: the evidence from economic research. This was reinforced by Andrew Lilico’s contrarian post at CapX yesterday, which argues that there is no housing crisis and never was one. I don’t agree with Lilico’s overarching argument, but in the course of his discussion he makes a very important point. [Read more…]

Further leverage in the housing policy debate?

I’m not sure quite how I missed it the first time around. Most probably because, like many policy commentators, I’m inclined to focus too closely on the relatively parochial and the marginal shifts in domestic policy position.

As a consequence of this failure to look sufficiently far beyond the end of my own nose I only recently became aware of the Geneva UN Charter on Sustainable Housing, a document that was finalised back in October 2014. This document is not legally binding, but it offers a potential resource in ongoing discussions over the direction and ambition of housing policy emanating from Westminster. [Read more…]

Housing markets and economic stories

Part of the story isn’t being told.

As we move towards the General Election strands of news and snippets of information have emerged which circle around the issues but there is a gap in the middle where the story could – and should – be.

I’m thinking here of housing-related aspects of the party manifestos: cuts in inheritance tax on property versus mansion taxes. I’m thinking of the observation that buy-to-let lending was the only component of mortgage lending not to stall in February. I’m thinking of Hannah Fearn’s argument that removal of the obligation to invest pension pots in annuities can be interpreted as a move to recapitalize the bank of mum and dad. And finally I’m thinking of Christine Lagarde’s words of support for George Osborne’s strategy for economic management.

So what’s the story that is missing? [Read more…]

Selling off social housing

8182240298_f9770a9cbeRumours have been circulating in the housing policy ether for several months now. Given the housing policy influence of the Policy Exchange at No 10 those rumours should have been, and were, treated seriously.

And now it looks like those rumours are well-founded. They’ve only gone and done it.  The Conservative manifesto pushes the Policy Exchange line that local authorities should be forced to sell high value properties in order to fund building new properties in lower value areas, and, if elected, they are proposing to extend the Right to Buy to housing associations. This opens up the possibility of an extra 1.3 million households having the chance to buy their home at a discount.

This is supposed to be the Conservatives’ big offer. Although, to be fair, it would seem to be a big offer targeted at a relatively small group of people – housing association tenants who earn enough from stable employment to be able to afford a property which, even at a substantial discount, is going to be a financial stretch.

Despite what some people seem to think, extending the Right to Buy to housing associations is not a new idea. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #9 – Housing and the General Election

Policy UnpackedFor this podcast I am joined again by Ken Gibb to discuss housing policy ideas emerging from the political parties in the run up to the General Election. We review some important discussions over the future direction for aspects of housing policy in Scotland, and reflect on the development of policy competition between the Edinburgh parliament and Westminster. We also consider one or two policy proposals emanating from other commentators.

(Running time: 50′ 05″) [Read more…]