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 relevant 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 of this post

Ready for the off?

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 29/08/11]

We’re now less than two weeks away from the Bristol Half Marathon. If you’re running then I hope your training has gone well and you’ve managed to stay injury free. As Ben mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, the conventional wisdom is that if you can run 10 miles then you should be able to manage to get around a Half. I think that’s right, although the last mile or so may present your quads with an interesting challenge.

If your preparations have fallen a bit short of what you had hoped for then it’s a good idea not to try to catch up by cramming in a lot of extra training at the last minute. That’s a good way to get injured. And it’s not really a hugely effective way to increase your fitness – the rest periods between runs are integral to improving endurance. Even if you avoid injury, the chances are you’ll be knackered when race day arrives. Read more of this post

If We’re Concerned About The Legacy We’re Leaving Our Children…

Today I posted over at Dale & Co:

It will be interesting to see how the Chancellor responds to the Treasury Select Committee’s report on the Private Finance Initiative, released to relatively little fanfare on Friday. The Select Committee’s conclusions are stark. The Private Finance Initiative, in its present form, fails to deliver value for money. It should be avoided, except in limited circumstances, until serious structural failings can be addressed.

Pretty much all “public” infrastructure investment over the last twenty years has been financed using PFI. So this conclusion represents a profound challenge. It is a call for a radical change in policy. Not so much a new approach but a return to the old one.

You can read the full post here.

The middle classes, mansions and Mr Pickles

Last Friday’s Telegraph published a couple of brief pieces drawing on a wide ranging interview with Eric Pickles. The Communities Secretary had a few characteristically pithy observations to make in relation to the ongoing debate over the future of the 50p tax rate and the alternative mooted by the Liberal Democrats of moving to a tax on high value properties.

The Telegraph reports that Mr Pickles:

… is determined to face down Liberal Democrat sensitivities and reduce tax for the middle classes. New taxes on more expensive properties are definitely not on the agenda.

“We as a government have got to understand that middle-class families put a lot into this country and don’t take a lot out,” he says. “It would be a very big mistake to start imposing taxation on the back of changes in property values.”

Mr Pickles also goes further than some of his colleagues by insisting that the 50p higher rate of income tax should be scrapped for ideological reasons.

The Treasury is conducting a study to establish whether the new top rate actually raises much money, but the Liberal Democrats have said it is “cloud cuckoo land” to consider scrapping the tax at the moment. Mr Pickles expresses the views of many Conservatives when he says: “We always said it [the 50p rate] was temporary.

“We’ll get an assessment at the end of this financial year as to how much money we’ve got [from the tax]. But you know I’m a Conservative, I like the idea of lowering taxation.

“I believe you get more tax revenue by lowering taxation because people work harder. I like people to keep more in their pockets for their family.”

Elsewhere in the Telegraph he is reported as saying that:

“… a mansion tax on high-value homes could hit many ordinary middle-class families because of high property prices in some areas.”

“People will suddenly find themselves in a mansion and they hadn’t realised it was a mansion,” he says. “If it is only going to be mansions, the kind of thing you and I would regard as a mansion, it ain’t going to raise very much.”

It is important to put these comments in perspective. Read more of this post

Could the riots be the beginning of the end for the Coalition?

Today I was idly wondering whether the way in which the Government responds to last week’s riots could turn out to be pivotal for the Coalition. Possibly the beginning of the end. Why might that be? I was pondering what makes Liberal Democrats distinctive.

If you think about Liberal Democrats on a left-right political axis then the Party’s identity is perhaps rather indistinct. It encompasses a broad range of opinion. It stretches from the left of the Social Liberal Forum, which would appear to share common ground with the remnants of the left wing of the Labour party or the Green party, to Liberal Vision and beyond which occupy parts of the political spectrum where it is hard to tell a Liberal from a Libertarian at twenty paces.

But if you look at the Liberal Democrats on the authoritarian-liberal axis then they are hugely distinctive from the other major parties, which share a strong authoritarian streak (although Labour is perhaps less clear what it thinks on this point than it might appear, as discussed here on Liberal Conspiracy today). The only party that comes close to the Liberal Democrats on questions of human rights and civil liberties is the Green party. The only comparable area of divergence between the Liberal Democrats and the other major parties might be constitutional reform.

This is, I think, why things might start to unravel. Read more of this post

The riots and the return to the big picture

Last week’s riots were shocking. The effect upon the many communities, families and individuals affected was undoubtedly profound. They have prompted plenty of soul searching and a wide range of diagnoses. If we are optimistic we should hope that they act as a catalyst for addressing problems of urban Britain that have been developing over many years.

The riots have not shown the political classes in a great light. There was the slow response from the Government – was this really a situation sufficiently serious to justify curtailing our vacations? There was the muddle over who has shaped policing strategy, leading to a potentially damaging war of words between the Government and senior police officers. And there is the extraordinary range of illiberal and disproportionate measures that David Cameron has seen fit to propose in response to the crisis. He seemed intent on manufacturing a full blown moral panic in order to take a worryingly authoritarian turn. Liberal Democrat MPs are clearly very uneasy at the way in which Mr Cameron has changed his tune from those far off days of compassionate Conservatism.

The riots have pushed just about everything else to the back of the news agenda for the last week. That is deeply unfortunate for at least two  reasons associated with this period of momentous – indeed unprecedented – economic turmoil. Read more of this post

Governing in the private interest?

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerated the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than the democratic state itself. That in its essence is fascism: ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power.

Franklin D Roosevelt

Anyone interested in the health and sustainability of liberal democracy should be concerned if the levers of government come under the control of concentrated, sectional interests. That is the case whether the interest is corporations, the military, trades unions, bureaucrats, or organised religion. By happenstance such situations may result in benign government with a concern for the broader interest. More typically they result in government not for the many but for the few.

The merits of pluralism have been much debated. Political processes in which all have the potential to prevail, on the basis of the strength of the case they can make, capture something important about the nature of liberty. They are the antithesis of systems in which entrenched and powerful interests systematically shape and dominate the agenda. It is a topic close to the hearts of Liberal Democrats. Genuinely pluralist political practice remains something to strive for. Its attainment is by no means assured and precarious at best. But it is nonetheless a noble aspiration.

These thoughts crossed my mind at 3.30am this morning as I was enjoying some bonus time awake courtesy of rather too much late night caffeine.

While I was waiting to see if sleep might revisit I read the recent Democratic Audit report Unelected Oligarchy: Corporate and Financial Dominance in Britain’s Democracy. And the content is alarming enough to keep a good democrat awake at night all by itself. Read more of this post

Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

Voting is now open for this year’s Total Politics Blog Award. Voting is open until midnight on 19th August.

You need to vote for at least five blogs for your vote to count. You can vote for up to 10 blogs.

Click here to vote in the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011

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