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“Green GOOD – Concrete BAD!”

By Sara Scarlett
May 29th, 2013 at 9:31 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Planning, Policy

A Tory Minister recently said something imminently sensible. Naturally, the Daily Mail doesn’t like it. In the most typically characteristic rant, the DM blames immigrants and marital breakdown for the lack of housing. They also blame an aging population but that’s the only point on which they are correct. The odious commentary actually uses the phrases “glorious green fields” and “children’s and grandchildren’s heritage.” *shudders*

You may enjoy the sight of those green fields but when your 28 year old adult son or daughter is still living in their childhood bedroom you may prefer it if there were more houses… If green fields and having nowhere to live is the heritage you want to leave my generation, then, f*ck you… actually. And we know the fear of “concreting over the countryside” is utter codswalloping tosspottery of the highest order. There’s plenty of room. If we all had the incomes and housing density of a Monegasque household everyone in the UK could fit into Cornwall.

Even if the DM’s claims weren’t ridiculous and you forced couples to stay together, closed the borders and started forcing our elderly to participate in regular ‘Hunger Games’ style melees, that wouldn’t diminish the fact that our planning laws are unfit for purpose and have been for years. Boles is right and I hope he stays the course against these rent-seekers and NIMBYs. It’s this wooly view that green good – concrete bad! It’s a lot easier to admire the country side when you already have a house to go home too.

So be careful what you wish for Oldies, an aging population means fewer bungalows in the home counties become available to retire to each year, that’s for sure.

Human beings need to be together in cities for almost every single industry to thrive. If you don’t believe me, I strongly suggest reading ‘Triumph of the City.‘ The greenbelt was another shambolic piece of planning policy of the highest order. Only New Labour could come up with notion that it is undesirable to built homes where they are needed most, forcing primarily younger workers to commute for longer. If you really want to protect the countryside – why not build more high rises closer to cities? Having higher density in urban areas, where everyone wants/needs it, means the countryside is less likely to be encroached on.

 

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Lib Dems “promotion” of British business is a joke

By Editor
October 24th, 2012 at 8:23 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Policy

One of our readers forwarded an email they received from Lorely Burt MP today. It reads

 Dear             ,

 The Liberal Democrats are a party of business. Tonight Nick Clegg is giving a speech to a group of business leaders, to highlight just that.

 Nick will say that the Liberal Democrats are determined to put the private sector at the heart of a strong, rebalanced economy.

 As a former entrepreneur myself, this rings true with me – because since coming into Government, our party has been promoting British business in lots of ways:

  •  giving shareholders new powers
  • pushing employee ownership
  • taking action to open up more boardrooms to more women

Good grief. If the party big-wigs really think that any of the above measures have helped “promote” British business, then we are in serious, serious trouble.  We hope Nick’s speechwriters are more in tune with what business actually wants (rather than forced upon them) than this email seems to suggest.

Laughingly the email invites business people to answer a survey “Listening to Business”. Having read the above email and been reminded of the new regulations that the Liberal Democrats have played a significant hand in forcing upon business it seems unlikely that many will actually feel minded to complete the survey.

So to let you know, the survey consists of asking the following: name, email, phone number, address, business sector, turnover  – oh plus one question “If there were one thing the Government could do the help your Business, what would it be“.

How about delivering on the coalition promises of 2010? A “bonfire of red tape”; Removing existing regulation that unnecessarily impedes growth;  Introducing new regulation only as a last resort; Reducing the overall volume of new regulation; Improving the quality of the design of new regulation; Reducing the regulatory cost to business and civil society groups;  Moving to a risk-based enforcement regime where inspections are minimised etc

So far the Lib Dem’s promotion of UK business has been lamentable. Nothing here suggests it is going to get any better, any time soon.

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Minimum Pricing– autocratic, badly researched, regressive & unchallenged by liberals.

By Guest
October 12th, 2012 at 3:31 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in Policy, pseudo science

It seems that the increasingly weak case for minimum pricing for alcohol is being promoted mainly on the basis of “something must be done and this is the something makes us look best” by those to whom gesture politics is second nature. Sadly that category appears to include allegedly liberal democrats.

As someone who prefers to drink alcohol socially rather than at home I have to admit to having been intrigued and initially quite positive about the concept. It was only after reading most of the 500 plus pages of poorly explained, opaque gibberish produced by the University of Sheffield on the subject that I came to realise how bad an idea it actually is

The theory that has been heavily sold to the public by politicians and the public health industry, supported by the BBC , can be summarised as follows:

  • Alcohol is price elastic so increasing the price of alcohol reduces consumption and small acceptable changes produce big effects.
  • At risk groups including heavy drinkers, binge drinkers and young drinkers tend to consume lower cost products.
  • Increasing the price of lower cost products therefore targets “problem” drinkers
  • As only lower cost alcohol is affected the impact on moderate drinkers is minimal
  • It’s all good so people will support the idea.

The problem is that it isn’t this simple as I will attempt to illustrate using examples from the Sheffield Study. The Sheffield team admit that one weakness in their analysis is that there is very little UK data to work with. However, amongst the few studies that they cite are two that appear to undermine the price elasticity theory that is the basis for their model:

“Reviews of demand models from 1989 and 1990 in the United Kingdom found that the demand for beer, wine, and spirits was generally price-inelastic, with the demand for wines and distilled spirits being more responsive to prices than the demand for beer (Godfrey 1989 1990).”

It is logical that at some point, price affects behaviour but the idea that small changes will have big effects is extremely suspect unless you ignore common sense and evidence to the contrary:

“Chaloupka and Wechsler (1996) used a questionnaire approach to explore likely reactions to a tenfold increase in the tax on beer and found it would reduce binge drinking by young women by about 20%, but would have no effect on young men.”

They concluded:

“A substantial tax increase is thus required to achieve modest reductions in binge drinking by female students.”

 With respect to minimum pricing targeting “at risk” groups:

“Wagenaar (2008) found in his meta-analysis that price/tax also significantly affects heavy drinking (p<.01), but the magnitude of effect is smaller than effects on overall drinking.”

Manning et al (1995) derived a price elasticity response function with respect to drinking quantile, indicating that moderate drinkers are the most price elastic”

“One study found that modest increases in levels of taxes have no effect on the number of drinks consumed or on binge drinking (6 or more drinks on one occasion) (Gius, 2002)”

And from Gallet (2007)

“Moreover, if we are particularly concerned with teenage drinking, since we find that teens are least responsive to price, then perhaps the best approach to reducing teen alcohol consumption should involve alternatives to taxation, such as education campaigns.”

So there is some evidence from the Sheffield study suggesting that price increases do not target the groups the politicians say that they do and that it is somewhat speculative, without the benefit of hard evidence, to claim that because those groups currently consume a disproportionate amount of the cheapest alcohol that increasing bottom end prices will change their behaviour.

The Sheffield team do acknowledge some quite significant discrepancies between their model and previous work. Faced with the fact that their methodology produces results inconsistent with other findings for price elasticity in heavier drinkers they do provide an analysis that is consistent with the literature…

“To enable more direct comparability with the estimates in the literature we have also generated elasticity estimates for total alcohol purchasing from the EFS, shown in Table 11. These are in broad agreement with the literature, showing that  - at the highest level of aggregation – hazardous and harmful drinkers (combined elasticity of -0.21) are less price elastic than moderate drinkers (elasticity of -0.47).”

….but then ignore it.

 “Note that these high-level estimates are provided for reference only and are not included in the model.”

This is an extremely important aspect of the whole exercise because if price elasticity is lower for people who are heavy consumers, the result of minimum pricing will not be a reduction in their consumption but a significant increase in the amount they spend with attendant social consequences for them and their dependants.

The high level analysis suggests that heavy drinkers are less than half as likely to change their habits as a result of price increases but even that may be misleading because the Sheffield team lump “hazardous” and “harmful” drinkers together in the analysis placing a man who drinks a couple of pints each evening in the same category as one who consumes a bottle of brandy a day.

“Hazardous” and “harmful” together with “moderate” are entirely arbitrary non-evidence based definitions that are used in rather cavalier fashion throughout the Sheffield study and apparently in subsequent media interviews. According to the BBC:

“This would reduce levels of alcohol consumption by 10.3% among harmful drinkers – those who drink above the recommended limit of 4 units per day for men or 3 units per day for women”

It appears that either an error prone BBC journalist or the Sheffield team themselves have chosen to broaden the definition of “harmful” to include “hazardous” drinkers. It should be pointed out to those unfamiliar with bizarre WHO definitions that the inappropriately named “hazardous” group is defined by the absence of any symptoms /ill effects making it very different from the “harmful” group.

I believe that there is strong evidence to suggest that the neat analysis presented by politicians and the public health industry is extremely questionable and that the claims made for minimum pricing are based not on evidence but on speculation. Furthermore, I believe that there is credible evidence that minimum pricing is a regressive tax that will impact lower income consumers of alcohol at any level and will have potentially serious impact on families of heavier drinkers on low incomes.

The politicians have certainly failed to convince the public on this subject.  A perusal of comments on even left wing media such as the Guardian and BBC shows consistent public antipathy towards the idea. It is a heavy handed statist solution to what most people view as a social problem that is more in keeping with soviet style government than liberal democracy. I am not surprised that it is advocated by the Marxist public health industry and most ardently supported by those on the far left such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kevin Barron, but I am amazed and disappointed by the absence of either a social or classical liberal political challenge to an illiberal regressive law that like many similar interventions is doomed to failure and unforeseen negative consequences.

Dodgy expenses are not the only reason why people don’t trust politicians.

By Chris Oakley. Chris has previously posted on Liberal Vision:  Smokers-State Approved hate and Intolerance is UK policy,   Alcohol is Old News – Minimum Pricing for Digestives is the “Next Logical Step” , Soviet Style Alcohol Suppression Campaign Called for By Public Health Activists , Alcohol Taxation: The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth , A Liberal Tolerant nation?What hope is there for liberty if truth becomes the plaything of political lobbyists , Public Health Success? & Lies, damn lies, statistics &….

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Nick Clegg sets out his vision

By Simon Goldie
December 20th, 2011 at 3:07 pm | 5 Comments | Posted in Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy, Policy

This Monday, Nick Clegg set out his vision for British society. As someone who has argued that Clegg has been weaving a liberal narrative from liberalism’s rich tradition, it is interesting to see Clegg draw these strands together.

Clegg distinguishes the socialist, conservative and liberal views of society. He argues that socialists, or social democrats, believe in a ‘good society’. Conservatives want a ‘big society’ and liberals promote an ‘open society’.

He makes it clear that there is some overlap for liberals with a ‘big society’ as both conservatives and liberals are sceptical of State power. There are also differences, which is why Clegg is a member of the Liberal Democrats and not a Conservative.

There is very little in the speech that nods to any overlap with Labour’s ‘good society’ bar that both parties see themselves as progressives. On this point, he makes it clear that Labour’s progressive agenda is based on a fixed blueprint. Having a set view is not, according to Clegg, compatible with an ‘open society’.

Clegg makes it clear that his liberalism is about people. As far as he is concerned the other two competing traditions put their faith in the State or non-State institutions.

The speech also covers some policy. Clegg’s interest in taxing unearned wealth fits with a party that has long had a fan base for land value taxation.

He ends the speech quoting Karl Popper.

The party now has to flesh out these ideas on social mobility, dispersed political power, transparency, a fair distribution of wealth and property and an internationalist outlook.

The challenge after that is to build an electoral base who support an ‘open society.’

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Ever Closer Union?

By Simon Goldie
December 1st, 2011 at 11:00 am | No Comments | Posted in Economics, Liberal Democrats, Policy, UK Politics

The Liberal Democrat leadership had intended to fight the next general election on the basis that they had taken tough decisions and those decisions had paid off. The view was that by 2013 the economy would have turned around and voters who were angry with the party would forgive them by 2015.

After the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement it looks as though this strategy is no longer tenable. Danny Alexander made clear on Newsnight that he believes the party will go into the election arguing for more cuts to public expenditure in order to deal with a structural deficit that will not have been entirely dealt with. This is because in government, the party is committed to the plan set out by the Conservative Chancellor, George Osborne.

It is true that Ed Miliband has said that the Labour party needs to think hard about how it can deliver its social justice agenda while dealing with a difficult economic situation. If the leader of the opposition is making the case for continued cuts, it is not surprising that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is too.

However, Alexander’s statement has already caused concern for some in the party.

That is not surprising given that Alexander’s comments have profound implications for the party.

If the good times had arrived by 2015, it might have been easier for the Liberal Democrats to distance themselves from their coalition partners. Now they will enter the election standing on a record of austerity with more austerity to come. The party will say that things would have been worse if the country had had a majority Conservative government. Whether the voters will make that distinction is open to question. Both parties will not only sound awfully similar as they fight for every vote they can get they will, apparently, be fighting on the same policy regarding cuts.

By now, the reader will have realised that this post is not about the ever closer union of Europe.

The fate of the Liberal Democrats will depend on the electorate’s verdict. It will be very difficult for the party to enter into coalition with Labour given the current political atmosphere. For those in the party who wold prefer that outcome, they need either Labour or the Conservatives to win outright and for the Lib Dems to have time to regroup and develop a different political agenda that will differentiate the party from its years in power. Then they need another election that produces a hung parliament.

If the 2015 result leads to five more years of a blue and yellow administration the parties will start to be seen as natural allies.

The upside of all this is that the party continues to govern and implement its policies. The downside is that it could lose its identity. The electoral consequences would then be bleak.

Assuming Lib Dem members would rather see the party carry on governing but not lose their identity in an ever closer union with the Conservatives, they need to ensure that the party offers a set of clear liberal policies. If people understand what the party stands for, that it is implementing some of these policies in government and that its vision for the future is consistent with the past, the party will stand a better chance of electoral success.

Crucially, it needs to be positive in government while being separate. It can’t appear as simply complaining about the Tories. It has to work with them in order to ensure its policies are successful.

It is not going to be easy. The public are rightly worried about the economy and what will happen in the next few years. Being in government is a great responsibility. A wrong decision can impact on many people. The party will need to think long and hard about the policies it puts forward.

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