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Shrew bites Squirrel

By Andy Mayer
October 30th, 2010 at 4:54 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in Satire

The Telegraph notes former Labour Equalities Minister, Harriet Harman, has apologised after calling the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander a “ginger rodent”.

A regrettable error for one so senior who herself has overcome the inherited disadvantage of no discernable sense of humour.

We at LV hope she treads more gingerly in future.


Enlightened self interest?

By Tom Papworth
October 29th, 2010 at 1:31 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Uncategorized

I wonder what factors influenced the decision to put the Olympic beach volleyball tournament right slap bang in the middle of Whitehall, between the Cabinet Office and Number 10?


The future of Liberal Democrat thinking

By Timothy Cox
October 28th, 2010 at 4:04 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in UK Politics

Last night I had the pleasure of speaking at the Institute for Government, on behalf of Liberal Vision, on “The future of Liberal Democrat thinking.” Chaired by Lord Adonis (boo… hiss!), the other panellists included Lord Clement-Jones, Neil Sherlock and Julian Astle from Centre Forum.

The IfG have provided a comprehensive summary of the discussion here (and, for those of you who are really bored, a full podcast here!) but I thought I’d briefly add my thoughts on some of the issues raised:

Lord Clement-Jones lauded our exulted one, rightly describing Clegg’s decision to join the coalition as “bold” and referring back to the writings of Jo Grimond to demonstrate that he is “entirely in line with the antecedents in the party”. I was less convinced by his referral to The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett) when summarising key liberal texts from which to set the agenda for future liberal thinking. Really?!

Neil Sherlock, spoke well on the forthcoming priorities for the LDs: ensuring that the government is successful, delivering LD policies and demonstrating that coalition politics worked. All valid points, from a man who certainly knows a thing or two about the higher echelons of the party.

Julian Astle, Exec Director at the liberal (with a small “l”) think tank Centre Forum, was excellent in his defence of liberal values and in addressing the issues at the core of modern liberal thinking. His description of the “big society” as having a liberal core was particularly refreshing: it’s good to see a liberal sticking up for a liberal thesis irrespective of which party it emanated from.


Which brings us on to my point, which was that the LDs must be careful not to warp their agenda in order to distinguish themselves from the Conservatives. Liberal (small l) and conservative ideology is as distinct today as it was at the turn of the 20th century- when the Labour Representation Committee only held 2 seats (arh… for the good ole days!). Attempting to force the distinction, by compromising our core agenda for the benefit of the hard left, risks playing into the hands of our opponents at the ballot box- be they red, blue, green or simply nuts.

Let’s get on with bringing a truly liberal agenda to this government, show that coalition governance works for the people and stop worrying about what disaffected Labour voters think of the LDs in government.

NOTE: Some excellent questions from the floor followed; my favourite of which can be summarised as “what would the LD’s have done differently had they been in power in 1997”. Well not THIS for a starters. Thanks very much for your thirteen year flirtation with “social-democracy”, but I think we’ve all had quite enough now!

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Social cleansing / Social engineering

By Andy Mayer
October 28th, 2010 at 12:01 am | 2 Comments | Posted in UK Politics

The national debate on changes to housing benefit has descended into a rhetorical slanging match, with both sides snarling at one another with mutual incomprehension.

In the red corner the Left accuse the government of ‘social cleansing’; a twisting of the language of genocidal war crimes, apparently deemed appropriate by the ‘new generation’ of Labour groping for a sense of proportion at the bottom of a barrel. The system it describes is one that at most will gradually force a small number of people to move a few miles from where they currently live.

In the blue corner the comeback is to accuse the Left of attempting to justify ‘social engineering’; it cannot be right or ‘fair’ to spend taxpayers money granting housing privileges to non-taxpayers that taxpayers cannot afford for themselves, such as avoiding sharing. Preserving the diversity of communities, whatever that means, is an aesthetic preference, not an argument about social justice. Any arguments about disruption, moving costs, changing schools and so on all apply equally to non-claimants who find themselves down on their luck or living in an area with costs inflating faster than their spending power. Those of us not on benefits live where we can afford to live.

The other major argument deployed by red corner is to blame the shortage of housing for high prices. This is something of a irrelevant truism. Demand exceeds supply across the housing sector. Shortages then impact taxpayers as much as those in need.

Much of the shortages are also due to the political choices taken around high levels of intervention in the sector, from the slum clearances started by the Torrens Act in 1868, to the first rent controls in 1915, to building and planning regulations. Whatever the merits and good intentions behind these changes, building new homes is now a hard risky slog through bureaucracy.

Private investment in social housing is a difficult investment case. Even where schemes can be made to break even, or can be subsidised through quotas, it still has to be relatively more attractive that other calls on capital to close the deal.

These difficulties also apply to the public sector. Even if you can raise bonds to pay for new housing, the only places where it makes economic sense are those the private sector won’t touch. Otherwise there is no market failure to correct. If you build or maintain stock in attractive areas you are actively destroying value; a dead-weight loss in foregone economic activity and lost tax revenues on the back of it. The precise problem the housing benefit changes is trying to correct.

There are market failures in housing. Land is a natural monopoly, overcrowded slums lacking basic utilities are breeding grounds for diseases, crime and fire hazards. But there is precious little evidence state-run utopia is much better. Indeed one of the key moans about market forces breaking up communities is precisely the argument used against state imposed slum clearances in the first place.

Rent controls destroyed maintenance incentives and turned neat Victorian terraces into Rachmanite slums. The 1950/60s experiments in brutalist architecture speak for themselves and have been being blown up across Britain since Birkenhead in 1979. Much housing reform in the last two decades has been driven by the need to correct the mistakes made by national and local government in the previous century.

The proposed changes whilst unpopular with those impacted and vocal pressure groups, are not unpopular amongst their working neighbours.

It is likely then Parliamentary process will see some concessions to transition arrangements and hardship relief. But the central change, restoring some basic market sense to the social sector, will remain. Meanwhile the narrative war will continue to driven by the reporting of extreme cases and class war allusions to the real thing.

Better, fairer schooling and a more stable housing market

By Tom Papworth
October 27th, 2010 at 11:59 am | 1 Comment | Posted in Uncategorized

Paul Collier, Oxford professor and author of The Bottom Billion and The Plundered Planet has a radical proposal for ending the education apartheid that leaves most children in poorer quality schools than their parents would choose.

As well as ending the situation whereby “the parents least committed to their children determine [the] quality” of education that most experience, it would break the link between location and education that has driven up house prices and linked wealth to schooling in the most destructive and counter-productive way.

I have summarised these ideas at the IEA blog, where you can also link to Professor Collier’s original article. Please take a look and join the discussion there.