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…]

Social liberalism and the Liberal Democrats

Last week a tweet by the estimable Stephen Tall crossed my timeline. The tweet pointed to his blogpost The Economist is right. Liberalism is winning. Which could be bad news for the Lib Dems in 2020. That immediately piqued my interest. After all, it is axiomatic, as all right thinking people surely know, that the Economist is pretty much never right about anything. Except, of course, on the odd occasion when, through enlightenment or inadvertence, it takes a position on an issue that I happen to hold already.

But I think on this occasion the Economist, and Stephen’s blogpost, raise an important issue. Nick Clegg, in his emotional resignation speech, argued that liberalism is needed now more than ever. This is a theme that has appeared pretty regularly in statements from leading Liberal Democrat politicians and bloggers, including the candidates for the party leadership, over the last few days. The substantial increase in the party membership since the election is taken by many as an indication that there are plenty of people who agree, but were previously, for whatever reason, not inclined to pin their colours to the mast.

A need for liberalism does not, however, necessarily imply a need for the Liberal Democrats. [Read more…]

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…]