Lost souls

I find it hard not to feel a little sorry for Labour.  It is being offered plenty of advice, much of it conflicting. Move left to recapture ground lost to the SNP in Scotland. Move right to combat the threat from UKIP in white working-class areas in England. Offer a radical vision of hope sufficient to stir the dispossessed and disenfranchised to engage with the political process. Position a millimetre to the left of the Conservatives to demonstrate fiscal rectitude and appeal to the few thousand fickle voters that constitute the political ‘centre’, who are conventionally seen as the key to victory.

Of course, there is more than a suspicion that the party has to pursue all these strategies simultaneously if it is to form a government again. To implement such a multidimensional strategy successfully, and avoid descending into abject incoherence, would truly be a work of political genius. It may quite possibly be a feat beyond even the subtlest of political intelligence.

Political genius has not been much in evidence during the current party leadership campaign. [Read more…]

Policy-induced uncertainty

[Originally posted on The Policy Press blog, 24/07/15, under a different title. Reposted here under the original title.]

Choices of a businessmanGeorge Osborne’s recent “emergency” budget proposed many changes to state support to lower income households in a bid to fulfil the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to cut £12bn from welfare spending.

One unexpected aspect of this package was the proposal to cut housing association rents by 1% each year for the next four years.

This proposal was justified with reference to social housing rent rises over the last few years. These have pushed up the already substantial housing benefit bill. Households have needed greater state assistance in order to afford the rents being set. Bearing down on rents over the next few years will, it is claimed, both reduce the housing benefit bill and force social landlords to deliver efficiency gains.

To the unwary or unfamiliar this argument could appear entirely plausible. It is surely time to try to rein in this sort of behaviour: landlords extracting income at the taxpayers’ expense.

Yet, it is important to understand how we have arrived at the current situation and what the consequences of this policy change are likely to be. [Read more…]

Through a glass, darkly

414585868_2c8513d269_nThe community of housing bloggers has already offered plenty of comment on the implications of the Chancellor’s “emergency” budget for housing. Comment from almost all quarters – be it Jules, Ken, Joe, SteveTom or Gavin – highlights, in more or less lurid terms, the challenges the budget measures are going to present the housing sector.

Some of the changes announced in the budget – the reduction in the benefit cap, cuts in tax credits, and the benefit freeze – were heavily trailed. However unwelcome they might be, they didn’t come as a huge surprise. Yet, the precise dimensions of the change – the reduction of the cap to £20,000 outside London and the inclusion of LHA in the benefit freeze – made for grimmer reading than many might have hoped.

But other policy changes were rather more of a surprise. [Read more…]

The Q#2 quintet (the decidedly liberal left edition)

Here are the five posts on this blog that recorded the most hits between April and June 2015:

  1. Why is Owen Jones so annoying? (4th July 2013)
  2. Selling off social housing (14th Apr)
  3. Labour, leadership and the catastrophic benefit cap (11th Jun)
  4. Social liberalism and the Liberal Democrats (26 May)
  5. Liberalism redux (12 May)

So my venerable ‘Owen Jones’ post continues to attract plenty of traffic. In fact, this may have been its biggest quarter so far.

[Read more…]

On politics and the ‘common’

The Political Quarterly announced the winner of The Bernard Crick prize for the best piece 2014 a couple of weeks ago. It was awarded to Alan Finlayson’s article Proving, pleasing and persuading? Rhetoric in contemporary British Politics (free to read at the moment). Finlayson contrasts political rhetoric at the start of the twentieth century with contemporary rhetoric. The thrust of his argument is that contemporary politics offers an inhospitable environment for sophisticated rhetorical strategies.

There are several reasons for this. Rhetoric is about appreciating where audiences start from in their understanding of the world and tailoring your arguments so as to take them from where they currently are to where you’d like them to be. And that is the heart of the problem. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #10 – Social housing: heading for history or the tenure of the future?

Policy UnpackedIn this podcast I contrast some the current Conservative government’s policy proposals with alternatives offered by a couple of recently published reports, and then reflect on the current state of the debate, particularly the role of evidence.

(Running time: 28′ 07″)

Mentioned in this podcast:

[Read more…]

Osborne’s surplus rule and citizen economics

3542341781_2e07e18657_nThere is much that is troubling about George Osborne’s proposal to oblige future governments to run a budget surplus in normal times.

There is the small matter of identifying “normal” times. It implies something important about how one is thinking about the macreconomy. What does “normal” look like? In the thirty years that I’ve been paying attention to the macroeconomy there always seems to have been some argument or other floating around as to why things weren’t quite normal just at the moment.

This could drive us to the conclusion that the whole thing is a charade. It’s a policy that will never be implemented because there is so much wriggle room built in.

A contrary conclusion might be that whatever macroeconomic behaviour we’re observing is normal, given an appropriate understanding of the macroeconomy. So it’s surpluses all the way.

And then there is the small matter of who gets to define “normal”. It would appear that George Osborne would quite like to pass the responsibility to the OBR, who clearly aren’t all that keen to take it.

A more significant reason to find the Osborne proposals troubling is the sense that they are all politics, no economics. They owe everything to Osborne’s desire to drive home the Conservatives’ political advantage on the economy. It is the next stage in the strategy of boxing Labour even further into a corner. It is clearly working, if Chuka Umunna’s comments in yesterday at the Independent are anything to go by. [Read more…]

Labour, leadership and the catastrophic benefit cap

Affordable housing concept.Tightening the Overall Benefit Cap. It’s going to cause chaos. Why isn’t more fuss being made about it by Opposition politicians? I know why, of course. But, I mean, y’know, why?

Last night I met another member of the housing policy and politics blogging community for one of our occasional curries. We were putting the world to rights, as you do on such occasions. Or, perhaps more accurately, contemplating where the heck it had all gone so dismally wrong.

During the course of the evening we touched on the Labour leadership contest. [Read more…]

Politicians, markets and the Which? magazine strata

Supply and demand graphThe way politicians talk about markets is odd. This is not, I’ll admit, a novel observation. Indeed, very likely it’s not the first time I’ve made it on this blog. But it hit me again reading Heather Stewart’s interview with Chris Leslie in today’s Observer.

It is partly about reification and deification. The market is – or perhaps more accurately “the markets” are – a capricious god that cannot be tamed and must be appeased. At the same time, the market is the repository of all that is dynamic and innovative in society.

But it is also about the simplistic and uncritical way in which the issue is approached. [Read more…]

Parliament and the fight for change

lucas honourableEarlier this week Caroline Lucas visited Bristol to speak at the Festival of Ideas on the key themes of her recent book Honourable Friends? Parliament and the fight for change. As well as being a hugely impressive Parliamentarian, Lucas is an extremely engaging speaker. The response from the audience of around four hundred was very positive. It was patently clear – from the spontaneous round of applause during the introductory comments onwards – that Lucas was among friends.

It was also evident that the audience largely shared the frustrations and anger at the failings of the Westminster political process that are at the core of Lucas’ book. [Read more…]