Clueless on conditionality

job centre plus policeOn Thursday I blogged about the weak foundations underpinning some of the Coalition government’s policies. On lobbying, on Universal Credit, and on Legal Aid the policy has run into serious trouble. I might return to the lobbying issue again soon, because you could read it in different ways. But that’s for another day. Two days ago I wrote:

A common thread in all these cases is the apparent lack of sufficient thought at the outset: thought about what the policy is trying to achieve and thought about whether the proposed mechanisms are, even in principle, capable of achieving those objectives. This would seem like a profound – and elementary – mistake.

Such thinking won’t stop a policy getting mired in implementation problems. But building the policy on weak foundations increases the chances of it turning into a fiasco.

Today we are presented with another example. [Read more…]

Liberal Democrat commentators in the media

x2_c54b516Yesterday’s Week in Westminster on Radio 4 has generated a little bit of a spat in the Liberal Democrat blogosphere. Not so much because of what was said, but because of who said it.

The BBC was looking to hear some grassroots Liberal Democrat opinion. The two contributors to the programme were Ben Ramm and Nick Thornsby. Presumably these were intended to be views from the left and the right respectively, but you never can tell.

The media’s repeated willingness to offer Ben Ramm opportunities to air his views on party matters is curious, given that to the best of anyone’s knowledge he hasn’t been in the party for quite a while. It is even more puzzling than their insistence on asking Mark Littlewood for his views on the state of the party. At least Littlewood did at one time hold a key post at LDHQ, even if he hasn’t for quite some time now.

But we already know about the Ramm problematic.

The spat I have in mind is Gareth Epps’ criticisms of Nick Thornsby, whose position he summarises thus:

Nick Thornsby … to my knowledge is known solely as an opinionated blogger and has not held any office in the party. He represents no-one.

That seems more than a bit harsh. [Read more…]

Leveson, liberals and legislation

Was David Cameron’s reaction the Leveson report any great surprise? One of the starting points of the inquiry was the concern that politicians – including Cameron himself – had got “too close” to the press. Forecasting that he would side with the press interest rather than the public interest took no great insight. And it looks like we’re heading that way. One might argue that this is simply one further illustration of the problem in question.

The response from parts of the press was similarly predictable, on at least two levels. First, it was predictable that the papers, particularly those who came closer to Lord Justice Leveson’s attention, would come out strongly, and pre-emptively, against statutory regulation. It’s the thin end of the wedge. It opens the door to totalitarianism. Type of thing. Second, it was predictable that the way in which they would portray Leveson’s proposals would in no sense represent fair reporting. One might, yet again, argue that this is a further illustration of the problem in question.
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All “thin end of the wedge” arguments should, as far as I’m concerned, be dismissed out of hand. Whether or not the Leveson recommendations are implemented will make no difference to any future clampdown on the free press, if we were foolish enough to elect a totalitarian government.

And it would, in any case, be a peculiar state of affairs if we were to afford the views of perpetrators pride of place in determining our future strategy for dealing with their crimes and misdemeanours.

The liberals online and on my timeline seem seriously divided in their response to Leveson. [Read more…]

Communication breakdown

We’d all like everyone to like us. We’d all like everyone to think everything we do is great. Unless we’re very lucky, that doesn’t tend to be how things are in real life. But apparently it is in CLG-land. I invite you to have a quick look at this news item published by CLG today, summarising the responses by “housing groups” to the long-awaited housing strategy launched on Monday.

You will have spotted two things about that post. First, the reported responses to the strategy are unanimously positive. And there’s no reason to doubt that is the case. For example, Stewart Baseley, of the Home Builders Federation, refers to the proposed mortgage indemnity guarantee (MIG):

This scheme will allow people to buy their new home on realistic terms and help in particular hard-pressed first time buyers.

It will also be a huge boost to house building. Since 2007, the biggest constraint on homes being built has been mortgage availability. This scheme will see more desperately needed homes being built, create jobs and give the economy the boost it needs.

Second, with the exceptions of Harry Rich of the RIBA and Kate Henderson of the TCPA, who give bigger picture responses, all those quoted in the post stand to benefit directly, in the short term, from the policies announced.

That raises a question. What about those who are approaching the issue from a more – shall we say – disinterested perspective? [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…]

The Dorries distraction

What is Nadine Dorries for?

Obviously she is very much for reducing the number of abortions. And, it would appear, is the willing purveyor of any amount of nonsense in pursuit of her objective. Today Channel 4’s Factcheck blog has her bang to rights. Dorries has made a number of apparently evidence-based claims in a newspaper article about the damaging effects of abortion. It turns out that the claims are less than scrupulous in their handling of the evidence. Critics would no doubt say this isn’t the first time Dorries has been exposed in this way.

But in many ways being charged with abusing evidence is irrelevant. Dorries, one would surmise, isn’t really interested in the evidence one way or the other. My guess is she feels that deploying evidence is a way of giving an argument rooted in zealous religious belief a veneer of credibility and respectability. She’s just not very good at it.

More interesting is the vested interest argument being used against Marie Stopes and BPAS. [Read more…]

Democratic deficits

Liberal democracy faces profound challenges. Radically different future trajectories present themselves. We are living through momentous times.

In Britain the media has spent the last fortnight preoccupied with the Hackgate scandal. Incremental, and ongoing, revelations have exposed the inner workings of the nexus between Westminster politicians and the tabloid media. What we witness is the political class showing an alarming level of deference to powerful economic interests. The alleged intimate connection between sections of the Metropolitan police and the tabloids raises equally urgent questions about the prevailing culture and ethics at the heart of a core social institution.

The British media has been preoccupied with this evolving soap opera involving many of its own. And the scandal has certainly opened up a welcome window of opportunity to reform relationships vital to a healthy democracy. But events unwinding elsewhere are likely to play a bigger role in shaping economic and political trajectories in the short and medium term. [Read more…]

Tribalism and coalition in a media-saturated political environment

We still have a lot to learn about Coalitionland. It is, certainly for Westminster politicos, a foreign country. As Mark Thompson pointed out at MarkReckons last Thursday, Labour seem unable to grasp the concept of compromise, which lies at the heart of successful coalition government. The idea that someone in the Lib Dems or Conservatives could simultaneously support both their own party policy and coalition policy, even though the two differ, does not (yet?) appear to compute for Labour. Of course, while Labour may be making a particularly bad job of adjusting to the new political landscape, they are not entirely alone. A while ago at Liberal Democrat Voice, George Kendall posted in response to tribalism from Lib Dems. The thrust of his argument was that it is not sensible politics for Liberal Democrats to engage in excessively tribal responses to Labour attacks on the formation of the coalition and its agenda. After all, it may be that next time around the voters’ wishes signal that the most viable coalition would be with Labour. It would be rather unfortunate if all bridges had been burned. Remaining civil would seem more prudent. [Read more…]