The Coalition and private renting

The intersection of housing policy and benefits policy has become a focal point for political debate, and for tension within the Coalition government. Now that Tory MPs in marginal seats are starting to realise the electoral implications of a mass migration of poorer households into their constituencies perhaps there will be some movement away from the proposals. Self-interest may win the day where a concern for the welfare of the poor has little traction.

Much of the political concern has been over the changes in social rented housing, but the proposals will have equally profound implications for the private rented sector. It is worth pausing to reflect on how things are developing. Read more of this post


easyCouncil? Not so easy cuts

Barnet council is in the vanguard in the pursuit of significant changes and savings in service delivery, under the headline grabbing tagline ‘easyCouncil’.

Reports today that its programme of change will cost more this year than it will save should fill no one with great surprise. For several reasons.

Read more of this post

Totally startled … but in a good way

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 25/10/10]

Where did that come from?

I’m guessing we’ve all had runs when, for no apparent reason, everything clicks. You pull out a performance that surprises you, let alone other people. The clearest example I have was my 10k PB, recorded in Cardiff way back in 2003. I managed to run 50s faster than I’d ever done before, with no idea why. I was getting to within touching distance of 40mins that year, but then succumbed to a chronic achilles injury.

Anyway, enough nostalgia. It happened again yesterday. Read more of this post

On debating the CSR: a simple plea

Since Wednesday’s CSR announcement much has been said and written about whether the proposed changes in public spending are “fair” or otherwise. Nick Clegg in particular has gone on the offensive and attacked the IFS for drawing the conclusion that the CSR measures are regressive, below the top 2% of households. I don’t think he has come off best in that particular battle. Quite the contrary. But, to me, there is something lacking about some of the public debate on this issue. Read more of this post

Making the coalition work, seeking electoral reform

In  Self-denying … and self-defeating I offered some alternative readings of why the LibDems seemed to be willing to concede so much ground to the Tories, and what the consequences might be for the chances of success in the AV vote.

In response to the version posted over at Liberal Democrat Voice a further possible reading of the situation was offered. Nick Clegg’s overriding priority is to demonstrate that coalition government can work. The aim is to show that coalition can deliver strong, pluralist government with a clear sense of direction, rather than being dysfunctional and expending much energy on bickering and in-fighting. This will demonstrate to the electorate that they can safely vote yes in an AV referendum without fear of a paralysis of leadership. I’ve been thinking about this. Read more of this post

Dealing with the deficit, broadening the mind

In 1927 the American Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes stated that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society”. That is sometimes rendered slightly more catchily as “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization”.

This observation seems entirely apposite in the context of current debates over how to deal with the UK’s structural deficit. The coalition is clear that the only plausible means of dealing with the deficit is to place the emphasis upon cutting spending rather than raising taxes. Read more of this post

Self-denying … and self-defeating?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 21/10/10]

It may have been a “miserable little compromise” back in April but AV would now appear to be the big prize. The coalition has to hold together, whatever the cost, at least long enough to allow a vote on electoral reform. But will the way we get from here to there impact significantly upon what happens when we get there?

Only those on the inside know what’s actually happening, but there are many competing readings of how things are playing out coalition-wise.

Read more of this post

The sound of silence

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 17/10/10]

Are you the type of person who distracts themselves with music on the run? Or someone who prefers the company of their own thoughts when on the move? I love listening to music in all sorts of situations – at work, on the train, in the house – but never on the run. I’m not quite sure why, but when running I’ve always preferred listening to whatever is going on around me. Even if that’s the sound of silence.

I only ask because it seems to me that music on the run can be a mixed blessing.

I was out on Friday evening at about 8pm for a 5 miler which took in part of the Downs. I ran past two or three lone female runners who were listening to music. I wasn’t running fast; they were running 10 minute miles at most. In one case I got within half a metre without the young woman even registering my presence. In another case the runner was so busy fiddling with her playlist a herd of wildebeest could probably have a stampeded up to her unnoticed.

Of course I just headed on past and on my way. But someone with more malign intent could very easily have caused some serious trouble in that situation.

I’m not generally an alarmist, but this doesn’t seem like a sensible position to put yourself in.

So if you’re running in the dark in a location with few other people around, maybe it would be worth enjoying the sound of silence – and as a byproduct not put yourself in quite such a vulnerable position.

Even better, why not find a running companion and enjoy some company on the way round? But that’s a topic for another day.

The LibDem community on(the)line: rediscovering its voice?

The online reaction from LibDem supporters to the Browne report on Higher Education funding, at Liberal Democrat Voice (LDV) and elsewhere, has been intriguing. And, depending on your perspective, encouraging.

Following the General Election many of the blog posts over on the public areas at LDV have been broadly, if cautiously, supportive of the LibDem decision to enter a coalition with the Tories. There has been a considerable degree of support for, and willingness to rationalise, the tough choices the Coalition have been making, even where these choices would appear to run against LibDem policy or “liberal” principles more broadly. Comment threads have often entailed elaborating this defence of coalition policy, criticising the performance of the previous Labour government, and seeking to root out posts by alleged Labour trolls.

There have undoubtedly been voices of dissent. Concerns are raised that the LibDem leadership in government is strongly associated with the Orange Book contingent, even after David Laws’s untimely departure. But having followed many of these threads over the past months, my feeling is that this critical position has not been as prominent as might have been expected.

And yet following the announcements on tuition fees it has all kicked off. The tone of the blog posts, and particularly the comments, has completely changed. The question is why?

There have been suggestions that this is simply a demonstration that the LibDems are fundamentally a middle class sectional interest group and the hike in tuition fees is going to affect them much more than caps on housing benefit or a limit on the maximum benefit income to a household. Clearly it is impossible to rule this out as a motivation, but it would be cynical and inappropriate to settle on this as the explanation.

A more plausible argument is that the response by the LibDem leadership to the Browne report represents not simply something which sidelines previous LibDem policy, but actively rejects an established and totemic policy position. Many thought they appeared to do so with a haste and a relish that was entirely inappropriate.

The sight of a rather discomfited Simon Hughes being pressed by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight about the possibility of LibDems in government voting against backbench LibDem MPs, and against agreed party policy, was distinctly troubling. If the leadership do support the Browne proposals, and of course that is – let’s hope – a big if, we would be entitled to ask what has happened to the promised new politics of honesty and integrity? The credibility of any policy claim the party might make in future will be completely undermined. If the party can simply shake off this longstanding policy, is that the end of the LibDems as an independent force in British politics? What is the point?

And that leaves aside entirely the immense constitutional implications for the party if the leadership goes off and does its own thing. That’s the sort of thing we expect from Labour and the Tories.

This is a policy of deep significance to the party. This in itself could explain the reaction. But I would like to think it is also a case of the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is just the latest in a series of announcements which challenge the core beliefs of anyone with a concern for human rights, equality of opportunity, and human flourishing. Not so exceptional in itself. But one disappointment too many. Perhaps the result is that the community is rediscovering its voice.

What are the fundamental differences between the LibDems and the Tories? The Coalition Agreement incorporated some LibDem policies that were red lined. But, with the imminent arrival of what can only be dreadful news in the CSR, are we clear enough what is truly core to the party’s values and priorities – and whether there are changes coming that should lead the party to say enough is enough?

To hill and back …

[Originally published on Bristol Running Resource, 10/10/10]

I’ve been out and about this weekend, visiting the in-laws in south Wales. Managed to squeeze in a run this morning.

We ran north out of Beaufort on the road to Llangynidr. Within five minutes you’re into Powys and the Brecon Beacons National Park. You’ve got moorland, babbling streams, free roaming sheep and horses, and fantastic views from one of the highest points around. And given you’re tracing the (not particularly busy) B4560 you don’t have to go off-road to enjoy it – unless you want to.

An hour’s run basically involves running uphill for 30mins. Then turning around and running back down again. A pretty good workout.

That got me thinking about runners and hills. Anyone who runs any distance in Bristol can’t go far without finding themselves on terrain that’s less than flat. But do you love it or hate it?

Running hills is often considered to be strength and interval training in disguise. I always think that hills I’m including in my regular runs tells me a lot about how the training’s going. Whether I approach them with enthusiasm or trepidation tells me even more!

So I composed my personal top 10 list of ‘uphill bits’ of north Bristol as they feature in my training runs – in order of increasing difficulty. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Redland Hill
  2. The Promenade (plus the Observatory)
  3. Jacobs Wells Road
  4. Parrys Lane
  5. The zigzag path in Ashton Court
  6. Stoke Hill
  7. Bridge Valley Road (Clifton Down and on to the top of Blackboy Hill)
  8. From the towpath near Paradise Bottom, through Leigh Woods to North Road
  9. Nightingale Valley
  10. Offroad up Castle Hill to Blaise Castle

At the moment I’m feeling pretty positive about tackling Stoke Hill regularly. So things aren’t going too badly. But I know that I’m going to have to step up to something a little more challenging to move the training on. Something to look forward to!

Would any of my regular uphill routes make it into your top 10? Anywhere else you think I should be venturing for a change?