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

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

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

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

Access denied

Yesterday saw Ken Clarke present the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to Parliament. While the focus has been on the sentencing U-turns, that is a bit of a sideshow. Any liberal with a concern for rights, and in particular the rights of the relatively less powerful in society, should be deeply concerned. The proposals for reform of legal aid are, by any standard, alarming. David Allen Green has described them as ‘horrific and wrong-headed’. That isn’t hyperbole. Read more of this post

Dr Cable: the Cassandra within Cabinet?

Vince Cable seems to be occupying a somewhat awkward role in Government as the Coalition enters its second year. While continuing as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, he appears to be acting as agent provocateur-in-chief of the new style Lib Dem “opposition within government”. He popped up as the surprise guest at the recent Fabian Progressive Fightback conference. And ConservativeHome placed him squarely at the top of their Yellow B**tards Premier League.

Yet, while this role appears rather awkward from the point of view of cabinet unity and collective responsibility, you get the sense that it is more congenial to Vince personally.

Vince is at it again in an interview in the current New Statesman. Read more of this post

Harsh but fair? Marquand on the Liberal Democrat leadership

David Marquand reviews Vernon Bogdanor’s new book The Coalition and the Constitution in today’s Guardian. Bogdanor is clearly not impressed with the Coalition’s mandate to pursue its radical agenda. And Marquand agrees. He is particularly scathing on the process by which the Coalition agreement was established as the basis for government. As an interim conclusion Marquand observes that:

Though Bogdanor does not say so, the clear implication of his account is that the present coalition is the least legitimate peacetime British government in modern times.

Read more of this post

Upstairs at Eric’s – What’s on the big guy’s mind?

Earlier this month Communities and Local Government launched what they describe as an ‘informal consultation exercise’ reviewing the statutory duties placed on local government.  It’s aiming to gather views on the full range of statutory duties with a view to identifying any that are no longer appropriate or necessary. The Department makes it clear that this is not an exercise expected to deliver short term outcomes. This is the long game. And it needs to be seen in context. The accompanying explanatory note makes this clear:

In order for this Government to achieve its goal, as announced in the Coalition Agreement, of decentralisation and promoting the radical devolution of power and greater financial autonomy to local government and community groups, clarity is needed about what the current demands on local authorities are and careful consideration as to whether they can continue to be justified in the move towards decentralisation and localism.

So one could see this as an exercise of profound significance. Yet, at another level, the way in which the exercise has been set up seems almost custom-made not to gather any very useful information. As with much that originates within the Pickles empire, it is an initiative that raises a host of profound questions. Read more of this post

Housing associations and new policy-induced risks

The Coalition government has well and truly disrupted the trajectory of social housing policy in England. That is partly a product of austerity, but also a product of seeking to implement different ideas on tenure and funding that have been brewing for some while. Current initiatives will no doubt open up new opportunities, but they will be accompanied by new risks. How this will play out is by no means clear. I have discussed the broad scope of the changes previously, starting here. The net impact could well be to the considerable disadvantage of vulnerable households. Read more of this post

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