Moralizing destitution

Just by way of a change, today I wrote a post at Medium.com. It’s a crisp, clean properly WYSIWYG writing experience. There is just enough formatting to allow you to make your point. But not a lot of bells and whistles to distract you from the writing. That is, I believe, the point. I may well use it again.

Here’s how I got going:

Moralizing destitution

Now the clergy are involved. That adds a whole new dimension to the debate.

A bench of bishops and a whole bunch of other church leaders have called on David Cameron’s government to act to address hunger. They note that:

“Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry … Half a million people have visited foodbanks in the UK since last Easter and 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year”.

While not placing the blame for this situation exclusively at the door of the Government’s welfare reform agenda, the church leaders claim that half those using foodbanks: [Read more...]

Share

The £74,000 question

Piggy bank pound sterling. Clipping path included.The brouhaha over the impending proposal by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to increase MPs pay to £74,000 is understandable. It seems perverse to be considering an 11% pay rise on a £66,000 base salary at a time when most other public sector workers are in the middle of a long period of real wage stagnation.

The cross-party rush by frontbench politicians to publicly distance themselves from the IPSA’s recommendation is equally understandable, even if it is known that many MPs say something rather different in private. They can see it would be politically damaging to accept such a pay rise now. It risks further reinforcing the reputation of politicians as self-interested and out-of-touch. David Cameron stated that the total cost of politics needs to be going down not up.

Of course, some of those graciously foregoing the payrise are independently wealthy so it will hardly make much of a difference to them one way or the other. [Read more...]

Share

On Syrian atrocities

Stop bombing signSyria has been preoccupying the mainstream media and the political blogosphere for several days now. I’ve not blogged about it because I try to stick to things I know something about.

I know very little about Syria. Other than it is an awful situation. And awfully complicated. Clearly, the Syrian government has inflicted some truly unspeakable acts of violence upon the Syrian people. These may or may not have involved the use of chemical weapons. It seems likely that they did. Chemical weapons are horrendous. But even if they weren’t used it is clear that some dreadful crimes have been perpetrated. I’ve never entirely understood why chemical weapons, specifically, are a trigger for intervention. Is killing the same number of people by more conventional means less unacceptable?

The desire to intervene to stop such human suffering is only natural. It is a sign that simple human empathy is still alive.

But how to intervene effectively? [Read more...]

Share

A couple of off-key incidentals from Cameron

The text of David Cameron’s speech today to the National Conservative Convention contains the following passage:
7196134082_e9e49cc5e9_n

… We give people the tools to succeed. Yes, we believe self-reliance is a good thing, but that doesn’t mean “you’re on your own”. You can’t just say to the teenager who no one has ever believed in: “pull yourself up by the boot-straps”.

I know the leg-ups I got in life.

A loving family, wonderful parents, a great school and university.

Aspiration needs to be nurtured.

And this party has always understood that.

We want people to climb up through their own efforts, yes…

…but in order to climb up they need the ladder to be there in the first place…

…the family that nurtures them, the school that inspires them, the opportunities there for them.

Great Conservatives down the generations have put those ladders in place.

When Churchill invented the labour exchanges that helped people into work.

When Macmillan built new homes.

When Thatcher fired up enterprise so people could start their own businesses.

That’s what we’re doing in the Conservative Party right now.

There are a couple of things about this passage that jar somewhat. [Read more...]

Share

Economical with the truth?

The agenda for this year’s Liberal Democrat Spring Conference carries the strapline Stronger economy, Fairer society. Given the parlous state of UK plc, and the deeply inequitable impacts of the Coalition austerity policy, the strapline touches on two of the biggest issues of the day. So the unwary among us might think that the discussion would have the economy somewhere near the top of the agenda.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the cynic might suggest there was strong circumstantial evidence to the contrary. The party leadership is doing as much as it can to avoid giving an airing to the issue of the direction of economic policy.

6162309761_6e59bfde6d_nFirst, Vince Cable has not been given the opportunity to speak to Conference as a whole. Instead, he found himself on a less high profile platform: speaking to a Friday evening fringe meeting organised by the Social Liberal Forum. The meeting nonetheless attracted an audience of a couple of hundred delegates. [Read more...]

Share

Tory tailspin

5828140208_8a97682643_nIt is clear, even to the casual observer, that the Conservatives are in a bit of a tangle. You could say the same about the other main political parties. But the Conservatives appear to be going through a particularly public convulsion at the moment.

They seem to have misplaced 20% of their opinion poll support over the course of 2012. Many of those potential voters appear to have transferred allegiance to UKIP. On the basis of opinion polling, some commentators are already declaring UKIP the third party of British politics, overtaking the Liberal Democrats.

Paul Goodman posted a piece at the Telegraph on the weekend arguing that the rise of UKIP was one of four factors which pointed to the conclusion that the 2015 General Election is already lost. The piece generated a rapid response among the right wing commentariat. Both Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale argued that while a Labour victory in 2015 looks likely, the result isn’t inevitable. There are steps that David Cameron can take over the next year that would revive the Conservative party’s fortunes. Grant Shapps waded in on New Year’s Eve to castigate anyone declaring that the election is already lost. This is just, in his view, being defeatist.

The question, of course, is what Cameron should do to turn things around. Inevitably, views differ. About the only point commentators seem to be closely aligned upon is that Cameron needs to make his long-promised landmark speech on Europe, with some serious substance, some time very soon.

For much of last year the Conservatives’ right wing backbenchers were making a nuisance of themselves both in the House and in the media. The clamour is for isolationism and turbocharged neoliberalism. A decisive swing to the right is claimed to be the way to see off the UKIP threat and encourage wavering right wing voters back into the fold.

Over the New Year it was the turn of the centre-right moderates and the modernisers to make an alternative case. This is a case we hear being made much less frequently. [Read more...]

Share

Camerflaged attack

David Cameron’s speech to the CBI today started with a paean to the exporters of UK plc; the manufacturers of strong liquor and powerful weaponry that do us so proud internationally. His objective – apart from flattering various members of the audience – was to make the case that the UK is facing intense competition in a global economy. As Cameron puts it, “we need the buccaneering, deal-making, hungry spirit now more than ever”. He sought to assure the audience that the Government is committed to doing its bit to help the UK stay in the race.

Cameron provided a headline list of the actions the Government was taking to help UK plc stay competitive. Dealing with the deficit and lowering taxes were prominent among them. It would certainly be good if the Government were doing some of the others. Apparently it recognises that business wants “to have a proper industrial strategy to get behind the growth engines of the future”. We’re no doubt all looking forward to that.

Much of the first half of the speech focused on education. Cameron, not surprisingly, extolled the virtues of Mr Gove’s agenda. He then shifts gear at the end of this passage: [Read more...]

Share

Refreshing Beveridge

Squalor. Ignorance. Want. Idleness. Disease. William Beveridge’s five gaint evils encapsulated the enemies the welfare state was designed to combat. They signalled the battles that needed to continue once the military action of World War II had ended. Yet 70 years on from the publication of the Beveridge report there have been a number of suggestions that we need to move on. That we need to refresh Beveridge for the twenty first century.

At the turn of the year Liam Byrne had a crack at it. He delivered the Beveridge lecture at LSE in which he offered an interpretation of Beveridge that focused on welfare responsibility, conditionality, workfare. Byrne suggested that Beveridge would be broadly behind a move towards more stringent workfare policies. This argument was subsequently strongly and publicly contested by a number of social policy scholars. If nothing else it unhelpfully decontextualizes Beveridge, who was viewing conditionality in the light of a state commitment to full employment. [Read more...]

Share

Cameron’s war on welfare

I was considering blogging in detail about David Cameron’s speech yesterday on welfare. But I decided against it. There are already several very good critiques of the substance of the speech. Plenty of people, including IPPR’s Nick Pearce, have pointed out that the speech was primarily about politics rather than policy. It was about “throwing some red meat” to the pack of feral dogs that apparently prowl the Tory backbenches. Tim Leunig of CentreForum has pointed out that the proposals pertaining to the removal of housing benefit for the under 25s are – how should we put it? – a little ill-thought out. CentreForum were also one of the first commentators to point out that David Cameron seemed to be criticising one of the Coalition’s own policies. We know Cameron isn’t a detail man, but that is pretty inept.

So I just wanted to make a couple of comments. [Read more...]

Share

Age, ignorance or incompetence?

What a shocking week for the Government. We’re well past the odd mishap. As the Government careers from one problem to another we’re now shading into something rather more embarrassing. With the exception of some über-loyalists with an eye to preferment, excoriating comment is emerging from all points on the political spectrum.

[Read more...]

Share