Has The Good Right got it right?

7134884983_5301865c77_zI’ve only just found the headspace to catch up with Tim Montgomerie and Stephen Shakespeare’s The Good Right, an agenda for the modernisation of conservatism. I was reminded of it yesterday while reading Stephen Tall’s final – and excellent as ever – post for ConservativeHome. The overarching aim of the project is to break away from the idea that the Conservative party is the party of the rich and seek to reinvigorate its mass appeal.

The Good Right styles itself as a contribution to internal debate on the future direction of the Right, but it has generated a lot of critical comment from all points on the political spectrum. The “libertarian” right clearly don’t like it very much because they don’t see it as “right” at all. While the left don’t like it for rather similar reasons: a Conservative party that embraced this agenda would be much better able to reach beyond its core vote and therefore would pose a much greater threat.

I’ve seen a number of people comment on how many of the 12 draft policy ideas presented by The Good Right they agree with. It would appear that the ideas resonate quite well with many. People with rather different public political alignments are willing to acknowledge that they could endorse many/a majority/pretty well all of the ideas. [Read more…]

Three aspects of coalition government

[This post is the original version of a text that first appeared in issue 370 of Liberator magazine (February 2015), under the title “Sustained by useful idiots”]

4604466137_65e4ae185d_nAs we approach the last few weeks of this Parliament it is almost inevitable that our thoughts turn to evaluating the Coalition Government as a whole, the role of the Liberal Democrats within it, and the implications for the party of participating in a Westminster government for the first time in many decades. But this is by no means a trivial task. Not least because the answers depend on the angle from which the issue is viewed.

If we focus on the politics of the Coalition then one common criticism has undoubtedly been put to bed – coalition governments are not by definition weak because at their heart sits horse-trading and compromise. This government has pursued a radical agenda renegotiating the role of the state. It has set in train structural changes in a whole range of policy areas that have yet to fully work themselves through the system. This was possible in large part because for much of the Parliament the Liberal Democrats were willing to put aside dissent, in public at least, and support a wide range of Conservative projects. Only in the last year of the Parliament has the party made any real effort to differentiate from the Conservatives. [Read more…]

Policy unpacked #8 – Giving away social housing

Policy Unpacked 5In this podcast I discuss proposals emanating from the Conservative party for new ways to dispose of social housing. At the moment IDS’s proposal to give properties to previously unemployed tenants who manage to secure a job for a year is the one gaining the most media attention.

At the end of the podcast I speculate on how the incentives facing housing associations may change in the face of conflicting imperatives.

(Running time: 22′ 18″) [Read more…]

The narrow politics of slogans and symptoms

The long election campaign is now well and truly under way. It is hard not be underwhelmed by the story so far.

Politics is a complicated, multidimensional business. Indeed, one of the things I don’t envy politicians is that they are expected to have intelligent views on all sorts of topics close at hand, or at the very least be able to recite the current party line with some semblance of cogency and sincerity. At one level I rather admire those who manage it, and in the process avoid the bear traps laid for them by the media.

But at the moment we aren’t getting a very multidimensional view of what the parties are thinking or planning. Isabel Hardman’s piece in today’s Observer gives us an insight into why that is the case. [Read more…]

Articulating problems, finding solutions

I’m not sure whether anyone is tracking the frequency with which stories about the UK’s problems appear in the media, but intuitively you get the sense that it is increasing. Barely a day seems to pass now without something appearing prominently somewhere. Housing is not just on the agenda but moving up the agenda.

Quite a lot of this something is someone identifying a problem or an injustice. The arguments here are now becoming relatively well-rehearsed. The increased frequency with which this situation is being articulated and reported is more about turning up the volume, sharpening the focus and broadening understanding than it is about adding significant new dimensions to the story.

It is about moving concern for these issues into the mainstream. Housing is a major public policy concern, not just a problem for a minority perceived to be directly affected or a fascination for the community of housing policy wonks. [Read more…]

The Coalition’s social policy record

Budget Cuts sign with clouds and sky backgroundLast week researchers associated with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics published a substantial suite of papers reviewing the Coalition government’s policies across a broad range of social policy areas. They summarize the key strands of policy and try to provide an assessment of the impact of those policies, both in aggregate and distributionally.

The latter task is hampered by inevitable lags in data availability – the most recent data available for some policy areas relates to 2012 or 2013. So you are quite often still picking up the imprint of the tail end of the Labour government, rather than the full impact of Coalition changes. In that respect, a key conclusion the researchers draw on quite a few of the Government’s flagship initiatives is simply “it’s too early to say”.

The task of evaluation is further hampered by the fact that the Government has either redefined or discontinued various statistical series, making it harder to examine trends and compare outcomes under the Coalition with outcomes under the previous Labour administration.

The researchers are thus suitably cautious in their evaluation, but that does not mean that some concrete conclusions cannot be drawn.

[Read more…]

Lib Dem blogging on the slide

BlogOver at Liberal Bureaucracy a few days ago Mark offered an overview of activity in the Liberal Democrat blogging community. He argues that the trend is not healthy – fewer bloggers, less activity:

So, there are less of us, and we’re quieter than we once were, which feels to me to be an accurate reflection of the Party generally, a bit loathe to put its head above the parapet for fear of being shot at.

I seem to remember Stephen Tall saying something similar about the decline of active bloggers at the BOTY award ceremony in Brighton a couple of years ago.

I’m not sure that anyone could disagree on the broad trend. It is easy to think of quite a few well-established bloggers who have either explicitly called it a day or who have drifted into relative inactivity. It is less easy to think of new voices that have emerged to achieve a significant profile or make a substantial impact. Nick Tyrone perhaps falls into that category, but he can hardly be characterised as a new voice emerging out of nowhere.

But I wonder about Mark’s interpretation of this trend. [Read more…]

The political classes lagging not leading on housing

The signs of housing stress accumulate. On top of established problems of affordability among young people living independently we are seeing increasing numbers of households sharing and a rise in multigenerational households as children find it more and more difficult to leave the parental home.

A sense of injustice about the state of the housing market sits just below the surface of many conversations across generations. It doesn’t take much to trigger some heated words from those who feel they have been shut out of the housing market by the selfish actions of their elders. Something I experienced again the other day.

Allister Heath has a comment piece in today’s Telegraph in which he highlights what he describes as Westminster’s deafening conspiracy of silence over the major policy challenges facing the UK. He highlights three policy areas. The first two are funding the NHS and dealing with the public spending deficit.

The third is the dysfunction of the housing market. Here he argues: [Read more…]

Resuscitating Greek myths

4432808605_43e7400304_nNick Clegg has a rather extraordinary post at the Telegraph today.

The second half of the post is pretty standard: the Libdems are less spendthrift than Labour and less ideologically anti-state than the Conservatives. Split the difference and aim for the sensible centre.

But in order to grab the opportunity to reiterate this message he has to find a hook to hang it on. And the hook that he – or, presumably, someone in his team – chose was the Greek election.

He makes some comparisons between Greece and the UK in 2010 when the current UK coalition was formed. In doing so he resuscitates some myths about the state of the UK economy and, therefore, makes some implausible claims about the role of the Libdems in government. [Read more…]

Social housing futures

[First posted at the SPS blog: Comment and Analysis, 21/01/15]

The housing problems facing the UK are multifaceted. They include the failure to build sufficient new dwellings to keep pace with population growth; significant market volatility; problems of affordability for both owners and renters; and problems of insecurity in the private rented sector.

The Coalition government has been quite strong on rhetoric and has announced a succession of new policies and initiatives. In the social housing sector these have included changes to subsidy, tenancy security, regulation, and rent levels. The Coalition has had rather less success in bringing affordable, secure accommodation within reach of a greater proportion of households. Indeed, housing circumstances have become more precarious for many.

In the run up to the General Election, the Chartered Institute of Housing has published a series of policy essays looking at various aspects of the housing challenge and the policy responses not only in housing, but also in related areas such as welfare reform.

In the most recent essay in the series I have provided a perspective on the future of social housing, focusing on housing associations in England. The essay covers four broad areas: the squeeze; looking beyond housing; narratives; and marginal voices. [Read more…]