Liberal Democrat travails over the bedroom tax

Well, well, well. It turns out that the bedroom tax isn’t such a good idea after all.

Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander have U-turned on the policy, ostensibly in the light of the (delayed) publication of interim report of the DWP evaluation. The report indicates that the policy largely isn’t achieving the objectives set for it.

Early tabloid headlines announcing that the Liberal Democrats were calling for abolition were misleading. Instead, what Clegg and Alexander would appear to have done is withdraw support for the policy in its current form and adopt a position broadly in line with the motion critical of the bedroom tax passed by Liberal Democrat conference last autumn in Glasgow. To be fair to NC he did state at the time of the Glasgow conference that the independent evaluation would be important in shaping support for the policy. And so, it would appear, it has proved to be. [Read more...]

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Are Mandarins the problem?

The relationship between politicians and civil servants is back in the spotlight. Janan Ganesh in the FT, for example, has argued that civil servants need to be brought to heel more effectively by their political masters. Cries of ‘politicisation’, whenever the prized independence of the civil service is threatened, should be recognized for what they are – an attempt by civil servants to maintain their capacity to undermine democracy by frustrating the will of elected governments.

Giles Wilkes, in contrast, argues that the machinations of a Mandarinate intent on frustrating the will of the people are much less of an issue than this suggests. There are many reasons why Ministers’ pet ideas do not translate into policy. He argues that the independent testing of the feasibility and desirability of proposals delivers better policy. It is rushed policy, that civil servants fail to question or refine sufficiently, that often provides the most egregious examples of policy failure:

… ministers and their advisers frequently do not understand the implications of their policy spasms. Such spasms often stem from a pitifully thin evidence base, and are only subject to scrutiny from a generally tame bunch of close commentator-friends, who will naturally be told, and repeat back to their readers, that the policy idea is sheer, radical genius.

No it isn’t.

I find myself with greater sympathy for the view Giles sets out. [Read more...]

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Liberal Democrats and #DRIP: naïve or nefarious?

The enemies of liberty

The enemies of liberty

The sudden appearance of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill and the proposal to bulldoze it through Parliament in a few days has set off alarm bells for many who care about civil liberties.

Members of the Liberal Democrat leadership and Parliamentary party have been out and about pressing a three stranded argument to try to counter the view that their support for this Bill represents a complete abandonment of the party’s principles.

The three strands are that:

  • The Bill does no more than re-establish the status quo ante, following the adverse ECJ ruling on the legality of the previous legal framework.
  • The Bill therefore does not represent an extension of powers and is in no way comparable to the Snoopers’ Charter that the party rightly opposed only a few months ago.
  • The party has won valuable concessions in terms of constraints on, and oversight of, snooping activity, which would not have happened without hard work on the part of the Liberal Democrats. These concessions include a sunset clause to repeal the Bill in December 2016.

It seems appropriate to make three points in response. [Read more...]

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Is the summer campaign an admission of failure?

I had to read Dan Falchikov’s The new Lib Dem summer campaign is an admission of failure a couple of times to get to grips with the issue. The blogpost topped last week’s LDV Golden Dozen so, presumably, it attracted a decent readership. And so it should.

Dan comments critically on the technocratic and tin-eared nature of the first part of the title of the campaign “A record of delivery”. He rightly argues that it now appears that Clegg and his “frightfully bright” “teenage acolytes” have realized it might be good to tell a better story about the Liberal Democrat agenda for government. Very much as several of his internal critics have been saying he should for the last three years. Better late than never, I guess.

Attention then turns to the second part of the summer campaign: the “Promise of more”. [Read more...]

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Learning implementation lessons

mistakes in setting goalsChris Dillow draws our attention to the issue of policy implementation. He rightly argues that implementation is vitally important, but does not play well in the media. Unless, that is, something goes spectacularly wrong. The media tends to be more interested in the political “soap opera” or in new policy initiatives.

Chris argues that there are reasons for thinking that implementation will be sub-optimal. These include that:

There’s a fetish of “leadership” and “boldness” which encourages a neglect of the unglamorous gruntwork of proper management: tracking progress, achieving small partial targets and overcoming problems. This neglect will be magnified by cognitive biases such as overconfidence and groupthink … Perhaps the most grievous problem, though, is a lack of information.

Chris draws our attention to something very important here. Politicians are mostly, at best, decision makers; they are more rarely doers or managers. In that respect at least the simple division between politics and administration continues to be relevant. In a system that is increasingly populated by professional politicians who have taken the think tank, SpAd, MP route few members of the political classes have much first-hand experience of managing large-scale organisations or delivering successful organisational change before entering politics. [Read more...]

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Strategic silences

I’ve been thinking a bit since Nick Clegg’s big speech on Monday. It was a speech intended primarily for the party faithful, rather than the broader public. Some of the shifts in position it signalled were only really going to be detected by those with well-tuned antennae.

Some of Clegg’s speech on Monday was as toe-curling as usual. It repeated some tired Coalition tropes. Some passages captured that air of vacuous profundity that you expect from these types of political speeches. But then again I thought some of the substance wasn’t so bad. [Read more...]

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Going down fighting

decision...My goodness the atmosphere around the Libdems is febrile at the moment.

No sooner had it become clear that Friday’s Libdems4change petition was going to fizzle out than we learn of Lord Oakeshott’s freelance polling manoeuvre. It’s almost as if the timing of the leak of the poll results was planned to keep the heat on.

A number of people online referred to Lord Oakeshott as a Scooby Doo villain, but his acrid resignation letter may yet prove to be genuinely damaging not only to Nick Clegg but also to Vince Cable, his preferred party leader. If so then the self-inflicted damage means the comparison with Dick Dastardly might turn out to be more apt.

As Lord Oakeshott disappeared sulphurously into the sunset the next instalment in the saga arrived in the form of a letter to The Times from the co-chairs of the Social Liberal Forum. The letter calls for a review of strategy and approach, including to the leadership. This was initially represented – and indeed was represented by the Times – as another call for Nick Clegg to stand aside. But, to be fair, the letter doesn’t call for that. Not quite. [Read more...]

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Storm in a Libdem teacup?

You might have thought we were currently in the eye of the storm. We’ve been through the pain of seeing more than 300 Libdem local councillors lose their seats. And today the results of the European Parliamentary elections will no doubt bring fresh horrors. So perhaps the intervening period was the time to take a moment to quietly steel ourselves for further bad news.

Not a bit of it. Person(s) unknown thought it a good idea to launch Libdems4change. My first reaction to that title was to think surely all Libdems are for change? They are very much for a fairer and more liberal society than the one we currently have, for a start.

But Libdems4change has a rather more specific agenda. The website sets out the argument that Nick Clegg needs to step aside as leader in order that the party can get a fair hearing in the run up to the General Election next year. Clegg is seen as so unpopular and so untrustworthy that the voters have simply stopped listening. So it’s time for a change. That way it might be possible to prevent electoral annihilation. [Read more...]

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Is third party expertise just what the kids need?

On Thursday Noah put up a brief post on the Market Priesthood. It relates the story of Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, of Freakonomics fame, meeting David Cameron, of Coalition Government fame. Levitt and Dubner tried to persuade Cameron that health care was just like any other part of the economy. Cameron was, apparently, not impressed.

Noah riffs off this story:

This is exactly what I call “free market priesthood”. Does Levitt have a model that shows that things like adverse selection, moral hazard, principal-agent problems, etc. are unimportant in health care? Does he have empirical evidence that people behave as rationally when their health and life are on the line as when buying a car? Does he even have evidence that the British health system, specifically, underperforms?

No. He doesn’t. All he has is an instinctive belief in free markets … I don’t think Levitt has a model. What he has is a simple message (“all markets are the same”), and a strong prior belief in that message.

Then yesterday in the Guardian Patrick Butler picks up on the proposals put forward by the Department of Education to local authorities the power to outsource pretty much all of their children’s services apart from adoption. [Read more...]

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