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This blog will be closing shortly …

I’ve spent a year blogging here. It’s been good fun, but I’ve decided that it’s time to move on …

… so Alex’s Archives is moving to a new home at alexsarchives.org

We’re up and running over there with all the content you’re familiar with. But in time I will be looking to enhance the functionality of the site.

At the moment the new site has got a radically different new look. But I’ve not entirely made up my mind about that. So it’s very much a work in progress.

Goodbye for now. Hopefully see you over there soon.

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 of this post

Finding an antidote for Europhobia

When doing away with our yearly ritual of moving the clocks forward and back is condemned because a change would mean we’d be using “German” time I think we know we’re in trouble. When Conservative MPs like Julian Lewis feel able to go on record to criticise senior civil servants representing the UK in Europe for being too integrationist while others, such as Douglas Carswell, do so indirectly, it is clear that the forces of Euroscepticism are emboldened. Apparently the UK is sending people to Europe who are too positive about the whole European project. They are not sufficiently unyielding in their pursuit of the repatriation of powers.

Nigel Farage’s performance on BBC Question Time last week was typically monomaniacal. The institutions of Europe were portrayed as the very root of all evil. But you get the sense that, rather than being written off as a cartoon zealot put in the wingnut chair to provide some entertainment, his views increasingly resonate with at least some sections of the voting public. The New Statesman blog yesterday suggested that the Conservatives have more to fear from UKIP than from the Liberal Democrats, given the sentiment in the country. That doesn’t strike me as entirely implausible.

It would appear that the Eurosceptics are making all the running on Europe at the moment. Yet, it is not really helpful to talk in terms of Euroscepticism. Read more of this post

Shifting underoccupiers

There is little doubt that we are facing significant problems in the housing market. Most obviously, problems of access and affordability. And there is little doubt that we must be heading towards a housing statement from the Government. Reports from think tanks and lobby groups – each trying to exert some influence over the direction of policy – are appearing with alarming regularity. Last week it was the turn of the little-known Intergenerational Foundation to produce a report called Hoarding of Housing. The report received quite a lot of media coverage. As far as I could tell most of it was negative. That seems to me both fair and unfair. Read more of this post

Clarity and freshness

In a recent New York Times blogpost Paul Krugman responds to a correspondent who complained about the looseness of his writing. Starting sentences with ‘And’ or ‘But’ seemed a particular irritant. Krugman is only too conscious of the challenge he faces. The subject matter he is dealing with is generally very dry. If he is going to make it accessible to interested non-specialists then it has to be written with some verve. And that may require taking a few stylistic liberties.

Krugman is constantly vigilant against producing indigestible economic stodge. I think he succeeds. Especially if you compare his popular writing with some of his work of professional economic audiences, some of which can be a little stodgy at times. Krugman cites George Orwell’s 1946 essay Politics and the English language as his ‘bible’.

I read Krugman’s piece on my phone while on the train. So, being at a loose end, I thought I’d reread Orwell’s essay.  Even though it’s one of the most famous pieces of criticism of political writing, I’d forgotten quite how great it is. Read more of this post

RAGging the Coalition on housing policy

So far this week we’ve seen plenty of activity around housing policy. Yesterday we had the launch of the Intergenerational Foundation report on private sector underoccupation. This was revealingly juxtaposed with the debate in the House of Lords on the restrictions to housing benefit for underoccupying tenants in the social rented sector. That is a debate worthy of a separate post. Perhaps the most significant development this week is the launch of edition 1 of The Housing Report, jointly compiled by CIH, NHF and Shelter. This isn’t just any old housing report. Oh no, this is The Housing Report. It is an impressive work of collaboration by organisations spanning diverse perspectives within the housing policy community.

The idea is a good one. Government makes all sorts of statements about its policy aspirations and achievements. Scrutiny of those claims is facilitated by piecing together the available evidence in order to assess progress. The Housing Report does that by applying a traffic light rating to ten areas of housing policy. The aim is to return to the issues during the life of the Parliament to review the assessment.

Such a document is about holding Government to account. But, of course, if you want Government to keep talking to you, you can’t be too strident in your criticism. If you step too far over the line you’ll be banished to the outer darkness – Government will feel under no obligation to listen. So documents of this type have to tread an interesting diplomatic line.

Given that it is framed diplomatically, it is all the more striking that  the report’s overall assessment of the Coalition’s record on housing is hardly overwhelming. Read more of this post

Ethical renewal to banish that fin de siecle feeling

[Originally posted at Dale&Co, 15/10/11]

The Cash for Questions scandal and the associated perception of endemic sleaze contributed to the demise of the Major government. It ushered in a period of institutional renewal. The Committee for Standards in Public Life was established under Lord Nolan in the mid-1990s to keep an eye on MPs’ conduct. Similarly, the expenses scandal contributed not only in some small way to Gordon Brown’s demise but also to a substantial minority of Parliamentarians exiting stage left. It led to the end of self-scrutiny as the processing of MPs expense claims passed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Equally significantly, it heralded a new government promising a new cleaner, fresher approach to politics. How quickly such promises turn to dust.

These were scandals afflicting tired governments. If we think about the significance of Cash for Questions or the expenses scandal, they did not really go to the heart of the business of governing. Cash for Questions was about some relatively inconsequential backbenchers receiving inappropriate payments for asking questions in the House. With its imagery of allegedly dodgy businessmen and publicists handing over brown envelopes of used notes to elected Members it caused outrage and played well in the media. But its impact upon the course of policy or the practice of governing was arguably relatively minimal. In the light of current experiences it all looks rather tame. Similarly, the expenses scandal exposed many MPs as greedy, grasping and out of touch, but it did not speak directly to the way in which policy is made.
The situation we face now has far more serious implications for government. Read more of this post

On economic amnesia

Economists, one might assume, have something useful to say about the current problems afflicting the world economy. Yet, since the crash of 2008 there has been a considerable amount of reflection in parts of the discipline about its failure to anticipate the crash and its failure to offer effective prescriptions for getting the economy out of the hole it’s in. Of course, elsewhere in the discipline it is business as usual – with a range of prescriptions for privatisation and deregulation at the microlevel and fiscal restraint at the macrolevel.

This week’s Nobel announcements are salutary in that respect. Olaf Storbeck described them as a prize for the Ancien Régime. He was criticised for doing so, but his intervention might be better seen as simply the most recent in a chorus of disapproval directed at an approach to macroeconomics that came to dominate the field. Thomas Sargent, who shared this year’s prize, did as much as anyone to propel rational expectations and new classical macroeconomic models to the forefront of the field, and his macroeconometric work has been hugely influential. That is why he was awarded the Nobel prize. But that can be separated from the question of whether, looked at from a broader perspective, such models actually shed much light on the way the economy operates.

Some see the solution to the problems afflicting macroeconomics as the need to search for new ideas. Paul Krugman has recently argued, on the contrary, that the problem is that the discipline has amnesia. Read more of this post

Why bother?

Last Thursday saw this blog’s first anniversary. I’ve been thinking about why I put the time into it. There are hundreds – thousands – of bloggers out there. And that’s just in the politics field. Each blogger has his or her own mixture of reasons for launching their thoughts on an unsuspecting world that is – initially at least – pretty indifferent to them. Plenty of bloggers have shared their reasons. Maybe it has become conventional to do so. A bit of a cliché. It is surely a bit self-indulgent. But there you go.

Anyway, here are my thoughts, should you be interested. Read more of this post

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