Dissent in the ranks

Modern HousingYou’d expect lefties to kick up a fuss about the Coalition’s austerity-justified policies. An agenda that is having serious negative impacts upon the most vulnerable, while at the same time transferring wealth to the already wealthy, will have a tendency to annoy those who prioritize solidarity, dignity and security over the search for profit and the appeasement of plutocrats.

But that can be dismissed as just so much hot air from the naïve and irresponsible.

The problems really begin when your own people start cutting up rough.

And perhaps we’re beginning to detect that that is what is happening in the housing sphere. [Read more...]

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Insipid centrism

That’s what the Liberal Democrats are risking. That, at least, is the view Jeremy Browne expressed on last night’s Radio 4 programme about Nick Clegg. Chris Huhne wasn’t much more complimentary about the current strategy of trying to situate the party between the two major parties. Huhne felt that defining the party negatively – at least we’re not as bad as Labour on the economy or the Conservatives on just about everything else – isn’t really a very appetizing message. A more positive case for what the party stands for needs to be made.

We could dismiss these views as sour grapes from the rejected and discarded. There might be something to that. But Browne and Huhne are hardly alone. While there are high profile defenders of what we might call the “non-specific centrism” strategy, there are plenty of activists who feel that just parroting “stronger economy, fairer society” all the time hardly adds up to a compelling political offer. And I’m not even thinking of those who would have preferred it to be “fairer economy, stronger society”.

The leadership’s non-specific centrism strategy is now seemingly accompanied by an attempted rapprochement with Labour, presumably in the expectation that a coalition with Labour is viewed as more likely than another coalition with the Conservatives.

It seems to me that pursuing the strategy of publicly courting Labour may make the coalition outcome less likely. [Read more...]

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Ed and Nick go courting

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Today, as might have been anticipated, Andrew Rawnsley took as his subject the apparent thawing of relations between Labour and the Lib Dems. The opinion polls suggest that an outright Labour majority in 2015 is by no means assured. So it makes sense for them to leave the option of plan B open this time around. The major news this week was Ed Balls’ concession that it would be possible to work with Nick Clegg, rather than demand his head on a plate as the price of coalition. Others in the Labour party – notably Tom Watson in the New Statesman yesterday – are, however, holding firm to the Clegg’s-head-on-a-plate option.

[Read more...]

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Recalibrating the savings from the bedroom tax

To be fair to the DWP, ex ante assessment of the impacts of policy change is difficult. Especially when the impacts rely upon behavioural effects that are unknown and unknowable in advance. So when it modelled the savings from the implementation of the so-called bedroom tax it was always going to represent a broad estimate. The DWP quite rightly conducted sensitivity analysis to see how robust its conclusions were to different assumptions on key variables.

However, once the policy is in place real data will begin to emerge and ex ante assessments can be recalibrated. That is what Rebecca Tunstall of the Centre for Housing Research at York has attempted. Her report, published yesterday, has generated considerable political and media interest.

The brief report is well worth reading, for several reasons. [Read more...]

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Browne study

Reshuffle day is for politics nerds as transfer deadline day is for football supporters. You hope for some big name signings and some surprise moves between big clubs, but most of the activity takes place in the lower divisions.

What was the most interesting component of today’s activity? For some it is no doubt Ed Miliband’s so-called culling of the Blairites. The right wing press have already interpreted this as incontrovertible proof of a lurch to the left and a sign that Len McCluskey is the power behind the throne. On the other hand, most commentators seem to see the reshuffle on the Tory side as being rather unexciting. And that that is fundamentally a good thing.

One specific issue which might develop into something interesting is the fate of the housing policy portfolio. It appears that Labour have moved the shadow housing brief up the pecking order to give it greater prominence. Yet the initial impression is that the Tories have demoted the housing brief within DCLG. If that is the case then it is a frankly bizarre move, given that there is general agreement that housing is going to be one of the top half dozen issues in the run up to the General Election. This may be a story that has further to run.

But perhaps the single most interesting move in the reshuffle was the removal of Jeremy Browne from the Home Office and his replacement by Norman Baker. [Read more...]

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‘roots against the machine

Last weekend’s Liberal Democrat conference was hailed by most of the mainstream media as a victory for Nick Clegg over the party’s grassroots activists. Commentators across the right wing press congratulated him on a job well done. Clegg engineered a situation in which the party voted to adopt a range of positions deemed to represent serious and grown up policy, suitable for a ‘party of government’. That is, the sort of policies that tend to find favour with right wing publications. The implicit association of ‘grown-up policy’ with policy that is hardly distinguishable from that of the other main parties is one of the most insidious, but clever, tactics the leadership has employed in volume, over time.

Anyone who believes in offering a radical social liberal alternative must be childish, because they are clearly not interested in ‘grown-up policy’. [Read more...]

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The need for “grown up” policy

[Originally posted at Social Liberal Forum blog, 29/07/13]

SuitsIt’s being billed as a set piece set-to.

The rapidly approaching Autumn Conference in Glasgow is of great significance. Discussions that shape the content of the next General Election manifesto will be at the core of the agenda. It would appear that Nick Clegg and his aides are aiming to use a string of votes at Conference to push the party in his preferred direction. The major Clegg-sponsored motion on the economy – which basically asks voting reps to sign up to Osbornomics as official party policy – is likely to be a particular flashpoint; just as previous motions on the economy have been.

Some are portraying this conference as a battle for the heart and soul of the party. That may be overstating the case. But it appears that, depending on how the votes fall, the party could end up approaching the next General Election with a rather different policy platform to those upon which its previous electoral progress was built. [Read more...]

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Clegg courts catastrophe

4432808605_43e7400304_nThe way the Liberal Democrat party leadership has handled the Justice and Security Bill seems little short of extraordinary.

To depart so dramatically from party policy is one thing. It isn’t the first time it has happened during this Coalition. I’m sure it won’t be the last. But to do so on civil liberties – a topic many see as close to the core of liberalism and a topic particularly dear to the hearts of many activists – is barely credible.

As Jonathan Calder pointed out at Liberal England yesterday, one of the biggest issues in this sorry saga has been the lack of communication. Nick Clegg took a very long time to agree to meet Jo Shaw, who has been leading the campaign against the Bill. There has been little attempt to explain why the majority of the party in the Commons decided to vote against the wishes of Conference.

Paddy Ashdown is undoubtedly right when he is quoted in one of today’s papers as saying that Parliamentarians are representatives rather than delegates. They therefore have the latitude to depart from party policy when it is deemed necessary. But when they do so it would be good to have an explanation as to why it was deemed necessary.

I witnessed a couple of attempted explanations yesterday at Conference, neither of which brought clarity to the situation nor calmed activists’ anger. [Read more...]

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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...]

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Amateur hour for the Liberal Democrats?

Rafael Behr uses the ongoing Rennard imbroglio as a jumping off point for some broader points about the positioning of the Liberal Democrats in a post today at the New Statesman.

He argues that:

Clegg’s office has a clear enough sense of where they think he and the party can stand on the political spectrum … There is, in theory, a gap in the political market – a Blair-shaped hole – for third-way candidates who combine economic rigour with a social conscience.

Juggling MagicianBut to fill that gap the Lib Dems must above all look like a serious political outfit. The pitch is non-ideological and pragmatic … They are offering themselves as the moderate technocrats who aren’t afraid of compromise and keep Westminster grounded and centred. You aren’t necessarily expected to like the Lib Dems anymore, but … you are supposed to think it worthwhile having them around in government.

The defining feature of this offer is professionalism and it is the absence of that very quality that stands out from the mess they are in over Lord Rennard. The charges themselves (unproven and denied, it must be said), the original handling of complaints five years ago and the sprawling case study in crisis mismanagement over the past week all conjure up the impression of an organisation staffed with chancers and over-promoted amateurs.

… Lib Dem plans for 2015 are based on the hope that eventually some voters will come to look at their record in office and judge them to have been decent and useful. Yet here they are in a colourful parade of shabby and useless.

Is this fair? [Read more...]

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