Serial bloggage

One of the most intriguing characteristics of blogging is its flexibility. You can find plenty of people willing to offer their views on how you should go about blogging if you want to maximize your audience and the like. But, while some of these hints and tips may well be of value, I’m not sure there is a formula for success.

While the received wisdom might be that posts of around 500-600 words will hit the spot most effectively, there are hugely effective bloggers who have mastered the art of the meaningful single paragraph or, indeed, single sentence post. Or bloggers who intersperse textual posts with images or videos that are left to speak for themselves.

Then again there are windbags like me who can barely say anything sensible in less than a thousand words. Occasionally – and more commonly when I started out – I have published posts of 2,500 to 3,000 words. These days I’m more likely to bung something of that length on to Scribd and use a blogpost to signpost to it.

Another distinctive blogging format is the thematic series. I don’t suppose there is any technical reason why series of thematic posts could not feature more regularly in the mainstream media. But I guess they are perceived to require a degree of commitment from the publisher, the author, and the audience. That is probably sufficient to discourage some publishers. When you’re pushing the publish button yourself it isn’t so much of an issue. [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

Housing – winding the clock back

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 12/11/12]

Friday 9th November 2012 could well come to be seen as a landmark date in the history of English housing policy. A key change introduced by the Localism Act 2011 came into effect. The Liberal Democrats are part of the Government presiding over the change. Is it a change we can be proud of?

Local authorities can now discharge their statutory homelessness duty by allocating households a tenancy in the private rented sector rather than in social housing. This has been an option for years. But until now to pursue this route the local authority has had to secure agreement from the household concerned. The Localism Act removes this requirement. Households can be sent to a twelve month private sector tenancy without the local authority needing their agreement. This would constitute discharge of the homelessness duty.

Given the housing benefit cap introduced as part of the welfare reform agenda, local authorities in areas of high housing costs face a challenge. There are few, if any, properties in their local private sector that are affordable to homeless households.

So local authorities have been looking further afield to find properties at rents that will be affordable, given housing benefit restrictions. Homeless households could face relocating by hundreds of miles to secure suitable independent accommodation. London boroughs are reported to be in negotiations with authorities in areas including Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester and Merthyr Tydfil. [Read more…]

Reaching the Terrible Twos

Today is the second anniversary of this blog opening for business. Happy Birthday – Blorthday? No, that sounds awful – to me. Another year of offering a largely indifferent world some more or less coherent thoughts on a range of loosely related topics.

This landmark arrives at a time when the Liberal Democrat blogosphere is going through a period of reflection. This was triggered by Stephen Tall’s comments at the Liberal Democrat Voice Blog Of The Year awards at the Brighton conference. He made the point that things aren’t quite what they used to be, with a reduction in the number of active Liberal Democrat bloggers, and the enticements of alternative social media – primarily Twitter and Facebook – seemingly proving a distraction. Several prominent bloggers – including Jonathan Calder, Richard Morris and Neil Monnery – responded. The assessment that emerged was not, perhaps, quite as downbeat as Stephen’s initial comments might have been taken to suggest.

My view is that, for all their virtues, other social media cannot supersede blogging or, if they do, then something will be lost in the process. [Read more…]

The Localism Act – Issues and Questions

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 14/02/12]

Last Wednesday the LGiU and Bristol City Council collaborated to host a day conference on the Localism Act. Yesterday I introduced some of the main themes from the Government’s perspective, as set out by Andrew Stunell. As the conference progressed many issues and questions emerged. Today I identify those that particularly struck me. A broad message is that there remain significant challenges in effectively communicating to local communities the nature and extent of change. [Read more…]

The Localism Act – over to you

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 13/02/12]

Last Wednesday the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) collaborated with Bristol City Council to run a major one-day conference on the Localism Act, which is now rapidly moving towards implementation. The audience comprised primarily local authority elected members and senior officers. The conference was kicked off by Barbara Janke, the Liberal Democrat Leader of Bristol City Council. The day’s discussions were bookended by wide ranging presentations from Westminster Liberal Democrat politicians: Lord Shipley in the morning and Andrew Stunell, our man at the Ministry, in the afternoon.

The Localism Act is huge – both physically and in the range of topics it addresses. [Read more…]

Oh, what is the point?

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 03/12/11, where it was 2nd most read post of the week]

Having followed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement and then watched Danny Alexander interviewed on Newsnight on Tuesday I have to say my initial reaction was “oh, what is the point?”. That was a reaction to both substance and process.

The Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, as the IFS analysis demonstrates, hits the poorest hardest and those on middle and higher incomes less hard. Most would call that regressive. I’m sure some bright spark can come up with an argument that if you look at the data from a different direction – on the basis of expenditure not income, for example – then it isn’t regressive at all. Be that as it may, how can it be a just strategy to uprate out-of-work benefits by freezing child tax credits – thereby moving a further 100,000 children into poverty – while leaving the tax burden on higher income households largely untouched? It conflicts directly with Government commitments to reward those contributing actively to society because it weakens work incentives. I’m glad that the Coalition catchphrase – “we’re all in this together” – seems to have been retired. We so palpably aren’t. [Read more…]

Will it take more than fixing the planning system to improve housing supply?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 18/11/11, under a slightly different title]

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Britain has a housing problem. There are problems of shortage and, consequently, access and affordability.

There are three principal mechanisms for dealing with significant housing shortage and indirectly reducing the affordability problems that go with it: (1) You can reduce the number of households needing to be housed; (2) You can increase the number of properties available; and (3) You can improve the utilization of the existing stock of properties.

You can try to do something on all three fronts. A couple of weeks ago LibDemVoice co-editor Mark Pack identified six options, covering all three of these mechanisms. The options differ in their desirability and political feasibility.

Government efforts to increase supply have so far focused on the planning reforms ushered in by the Localism Act, while the New Homes Bonus is intended to incentivise communities to welcome such development. Whether the planning reforms will deliver is still open to question. On the day the Localism Bill was signed into law the Federation of Master Builders warned that top-down targets may need to be re-introduced if sufficient supply is to be secured. They are, it appears, expecting localism to equal NIMBYism.

One issue that has received limited attention in the debate so far is the construction industry. Developers and the Government are happy to point the finger at planners being the major barrier to new build. But planning is at best facilitative. Designating land for residential development doesn’t, in itself, get properties built. [Read more…]

Criminalising squatting

[Originally posted at Liberal Democrat Voice, 01/11/11]

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offender Bill has returned to the House of Commons this week. The problems with the Government’s proposed Legal Aid reforms have been apparent for a while. Some people will see their access to justice seriously curtailed, while the courts are likely to silt up with inexpert litigants-in-person. The chances of any money being saved – when considered in the round – are limited. In this context it is good to see reports that Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Mike Crockart are tabling amendments to seek to address some of the most egregious injustices embodied in this part of the Bill.

But the Bill poses other profound challenges to those concerned with social justice and evidence-based policy making. [Read more…]