Caring diddlysquat about democracy

[Originally posted at Dale&Co, 27/09/11]

One of the less pleasant characteristics of the Coalition government is its cavalier attitude towards transparency, accountability and Parliamentary process. This is part of a more general impoverishment of democratic practice.

We hear reports of serious, but relatively small scale, issues such as Ministerial advisors using private email accounts for Government business in order to evade oversight and avoid Freedom of Information requests. We have last week’s news reports of the proposed scheme of Ministerial buddying with big business. This is a scheme which, in many other contexts, would be condemned as tantamount to formalising the corruption of the political process.

The Government is not above ignoring the letter and the spirit of good Parliamentary practice. Examples proliferate. Read more of this post

Penurious progressives

There will no doubt be much soul-searching at this week’s Labour party conference. There will no doubt continue to be subtle – and not so subtle – attempts to distance the party from the legacy of the Brown government and its cataclysmic electoral implosion. Without, of course, suggesting that it is therefore inappropriate for some of Brown’s closest associates to be leading the party to a bright new dawn, whether red, blue or purple.

The biggest issue on the agenda is the party’s stance on the economy. How can it regain credibility for its stewardship of the economy, given the perception among much of the electorate – successfully promulgated by the Coalition – that the poor state of the public finances in 2010 was almost entirely attributable to Labour’s uncontrolled largesse with other people’s money? Personally, I don’t buy the narrative that it was all Labour’s fault. But it doesn’t matter whether it is accurate or not. It is the one that the party will have to neutralise if it wants another sniff of power any time soon.

Yet, there is a different way of thinking about the problem. And it perhaps highlights the scale of the challenge the party faces. Read more of this post

Pop goes the #ldconf

The feature article in yesterday’s G2 magazine was a piece from the Liberal Democrat conference by the music journalist Alexis Petridis. It was fascinating to read the impressions of a party conference novice. All the more so because I wasn’t at Conference this time around (for reasons discussed here).

A leitmotif of Petridis’ piece is that Liberal Democrats at Conference are just enjoying being in government, after years in opposition. It may only be for short period of time before electoral annihilation awaits, but members are determined to enjoy the ride. He likens the atmosphere to that of a holiday camp. This may be the case for some. But I’m not sure enjoyment is the right approach to government. It seems to me that it underplays the awesome responsibilities one is entrusted with. Read more of this post

Economics as a vaccine against economists?

On Friday a quote from the great Cambridge economist Joan Robinson was circulating on Twitter:

Purpose of studying economics – to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists

In fact, the full quote is:

The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists.

This pretty much sums up the spirit in which I teach economics to policy students, so I thought it was worth a Retweet.

But it triggered a bit of deeper reflection. Read more of this post

Global Political Leadership – The Need For Bravery And Vision

Today I posted over at Dale & Co:

The global financial system continues to convulse. The latest shock to the system is the exposure of an alleged $2bn fraud at UBS. Grave concerns about the external regulation of the financial system are reinforced by equally serious concerns about the internal regulation of investment banks. And, lest we forget, this $2bn bet that went wrong follows commitments by investment banks that they had overhauled their governance structures so this sort of thing wouldn’t happen again.

Today finance ministers are meeting in Poland to see if they can work out what to do to stave off the implosion of the Eurozone, and closer to home the political classes are still digesting the proposals contained in the Vickers report.

The seriousness of the financial crisis is hard to overstate. But even so the political diagnosis of the problem lacks vision and bravery. Read more of this post

So how was it for you?

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 11/09/11]

I hope your experience of today’s Bristol Half was a positive one – that you got to the finish line in one piece and with a smile on your face. If you were aiming for a time then I hope you hit your target.

It was great to see so many people of all ages, sizes and shapes out there pounding the streets. First timers mingling with those who’ve had a lifetime of distance running. The guys with the bagpipes probably deserve some sort of special award. Read more of this post

Understanding housing market choices

Occasionally I divert myself from tweeting and blogging long enough to write something a bit more academic, usually about housing. I have a paper in the current issue of the journal Housing, Theory and Society. It looks at Uncertainty, expectations and behavioural aspects of housing market choices. The paper is coauthored with my good friend Ken Gibb from Glasgow University.

Here’s the abstract:

Housing is a complex commodity and housing market choices carry with them substantial economic and social consequences for the households making them. Housing market decisions are complex, uncertain and involve expectations-formation. This paper argues that the standard economic theory of decision-making under uncertainty – expected utility theory – is particularly ill-suited as the basis for understanding such complexity. The paper then explores alternative avenues for potential development, reviewing the key characteristics of owner-occupied housing markets and housing search, and examining how the resources of institutional and behavioural economics could be used to inform our understanding of the residential mobility process. The paper concludes by outlining an agenda for empirical research. Read more of this post

The rethinking of social housing

If you’re not careful you can lose sight of quite how far housing policy has travelled in a relatively short space of time. Some of the fixed points in the housing policy debate have been destabilised. Grant Shapps talks of radical change and the need to disturb the “lazy consensus” in housing policy. I would agree that there has been a considerable degree of consensus. But I don’t think it was a product of laziness.

Making sense of what is happening, while it is happening, is no easy task. Read more of this post

Crunch time for the Liberal Democrats –The NHS Bill and electoral oblivion

The tuition fee debacle was bad. But at least there was a reason, if not an excuse. Neither major party was committed to removing tuition fees. So whoever the Liberal Democrats ended up in Coalition with it was unlikely that the party was going to be able to honour its pledge. The hand was no doubt badly played, but the outcome was going to be nothing other than politically damaging.

This time there is no excuse. The Conservatives may claim that their manifesto refers to extending GP commissioning. But this passing reference is a threadbare justification for the enormous changes being proposed. And how many electors actually read the manifesto? If they bought the story at election time then it was more likely to be Cameron the compassionate Conservative reassuring them that the NHS was his top priority, that it was safe in his hands, that there would be no top down reorganisation, that it wouldn’t be privatised, etc., etc., etc. That these reassurances were not worth the breath required to produce them seems increasingly apparent. Significant chunks of the electorate have interpreted the Government’s plans as taking an axe to their beloved NHS. Read more of this post

The Work Programme isn’t working …and that raises bigger issues

The Work Programme (WP) is the Coalition Government’s £5bn replacement for the range of programmes – including the Flexible New Deal – designed to assist unemployed people back into work. While the WP learns from and builds upon previous initiatives it also represents a departure. Its key characteristic is a more thorough-going application of the payment by results approach.

Last week the Social Market Foundation published a brief report on the Work Programme, which got a fair bit of coverage in the mainstream media. The headline conclusion is that all is very much not well with the new approach, as currently structured. The programme is, as they put it, at risk of “financial collapse”.

Even if assistance for the unemployed isn’t particularly your interest, this debate is important. It has much broader resonance in the light of current directions for public service reform. Read more of this post

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