Is use it or lose it the answer?

Garden plan View SketchThe components of a Labour housing policy are gradually being revealed. First we had some pronouncements on the need for longer tenancies and more stability in private renting. Then we had the idea that what we need is less money spent on benefit and more spent on building affordable rented housing. And yesterday we had Ed Miliband comments on boosting housing supply, as part of a wide ranging speech on the theme The discipline to make a difference.

The central contention was that the key to the housing supply problem is land hoarding – organisations and individuals owning land that could be developed but with no intention of developing it. This is a practice that needs to be discouraged, principally by giving local authorities more powers, including time-limiting planning permissions. [Read more…]

Osbo’s poverty trap and pinging the elastic of reality

Message opposed to unemployment.Since they entered office the blue-tinged contingent of the Coalition has been engaged in a systematic process of stigmatising those in receipt of social security benefits. Great emphasis has been placed upon the undeserving and the fraudulent. There is support for the hard working strivers, but condemnation for the skivers. The spotlight has been on the most extreme cases of households receiving substantial financial support from social security in order to create a smoke screen for cuts in benefits to the poorest. The Tories are convinced that welfare “reform” – particularly the overall weekly benefit cap – is their most popular policy. Yet many of the components of this policy have yet to be fully implemented. The general public has yet to grasp their full impact. It may transpire that once they do, the Tories will feel they acted precipitately in drawing such a positive conclusion. [Read more…]

Is the end nigh?

It is surely not simply the feverish atmosphere that always takes hold as the end of term approaches. The backbench Tory revolt over Lords Reform has genuinely destabilised the Coalition. The party leaders may have been back out on the road in a show of unity. They may have reaffirmed their commitment to see it through until 2015. But it’s just not quite the same. Like any relationship where one partner has been unfaithful, the trust has gone.

While the leaders profess everything in the garden is rosy and they’ll stay the course, each attempted relaunch comes with a slightly stronger whiff of desperation. And the relaunches seem to be arriving at more regular intervals.

The speculation over the early implosion of the coalition grows more intense. [Read more…]

The media and the subversion of democracy

The media, both old and new, is currently under intense scrutiny. Last week James Murdoch was back before the Media Select Committee, making his bid for the title of least inquisitive Chief Executive in corporate history. On Monday we witnessed a fascinating encounter between the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Privacy and Injunctions and four high profile members of the blogging community. The bloggers adopted more or less abrasive approaches when responding to the Committee’s questions. The aim was to explore the ways in which privacy issues are handled online. I suspect that not all the bloggers’ answers would reassure the Committee that the bloggers’ power, such as it is, will be exercised responsibly. Perhaps more worrying was the fact that several members of the committee did not appear to have a strong feel for the relevant law (as discussed by one of the four bloggers, David Allen Green, here). The Committee had an even shakier grasp of what this “blogging” lark was all about. That didn’t stop dark mutterings about the need for greater regulation, the practicalities of which were not explored.

But the biggest and, in the end, most important show in town is the Leveson Inquiry. [Read more…]

Penurious progressives

There will no doubt be much soul-searching at this week’s Labour party conference. There will no doubt continue to be subtle – and not so subtle – attempts to distance the party from the legacy of the Brown government and its cataclysmic electoral implosion. Without, of course, suggesting that it is therefore inappropriate for some of Brown’s closest associates to be leading the party to a bright new dawn, whether red, blue or purple.

The biggest issue on the agenda is the party’s stance on the economy. How can it regain credibility for its stewardship of the economy, given the perception among much of the electorate – successfully promulgated by the Coalition – that the poor state of the public finances in 2010 was almost entirely attributable to Labour’s uncontrolled largesse with other people’s money? Personally, I don’t buy the narrative that it was all Labour’s fault. But it doesn’t matter whether it is accurate or not. It is the one that the party will have to neutralise if it wants another sniff of power any time soon.

Yet, there is a different way of thinking about the problem. And it perhaps highlights the scale of the challenge the party faces. [Read more…]