Osbornomics – the path to enlightenment

Is a major change in policy thinking imminent? Will Hutton’s piece in Sunday’s Observer focused on the question of quite what the Labour party stands for. It is relatively clear what it is against, but its positive project is rather less obvious. And it needs such a project if it is going to counteract Conservative economic strategy. In the course of his discussion, Hutton argues that we can expect a change in the Coalition’s approach to deficit reduction some time soon and the recent less than congratulatory OECD report on UK policy is evidence in support of the case: 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

Cameron’s Big Society – 8/10 for effort; 3/10 for content

You have to admire David Cameron’s tenacity in the face of widespread indifference and incomprehension. On Monday he sought to relaunch his idea of the Big Society for the third time. The results of yesterday’s YouGov survey were then reported over at Liberal Conspiracy. This indicated that 62% of respondents felt they understood the Big Society “not very, or not at all, well”; a third said the Big Society sounded like a bad idea; 73% said they thought it wouldn’t actually work; and 59% thought it was “mostly hot air” rather than a “real vision”.

Reading Cameron’s speech (available here) suggests several things. Read more of this post

Liberalism, Equality and the State – The SLF Conference

The first Social Liberal Forum annual conference – on the theme Liberalism, Equality and the State – is being held on 18th June at City University.

I’ll be saying my piece on the the compatibility of the Big Society and community politics – accountability and marketisation.

Here is the full list of speakers:

Vince Cable, Lee Chalmers, Evan Harris, Simon Hebditch, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne, Will Hutton, Neal Lawson, Alex Marsh, Mark Pack, Ed Randell, Alexis Rowell, Naomi Smith, Claire Tyler, Halina Ward

Read more of this post

The elephant in the (waiting) room

The McNulty report – Realising the potential of GB rail – is a queer beast. The report, published last week, is the final report of a long term investigation, established by the last government, into the efficiency of the British rail industry. And the report identifies a sensible and quite extensive set of barriers to efficiency in the rail industry. But it then proposes a slightly odd set of solutions to address those barriers. Or, rather, it fails to address the most obvious question of them all – are the problems generated by the fragmented and semi-privatised ownership structure of the industry?

Actually, that’s not even true. The report identifies industry fragmentation as key part of the problem. But it doesn’t explore the most obvious solution to that problem – large scale reintegration. Whether that is a result of Sir Roy McNulty’s disposition or the DfT setting a brief that precluded asking the question publicly is less clear. It does, however, mean the review is a missed opportunity. Read more of this post

Getting in the swing

[Originally posted on Bristol Running Resource, 19/05/11]

What are your arms up to when you run? You may not have given it much thought. Surely running’s all about putting one foot in front the other? If you want to run faster then the key is to move those legs quicker. Well, yes, but what you’re doing with your arms can make a big difference as well.

I’m rebuilding my running after injury at the moment. Speed and distance aren’t top of the list. So I thought I’d work a bit on my running style. Read more of this post

Up to the task? Dealing with housing market volatility

It does not take great insight to realise the UK housing market is in a mess. Recently we’ve witnessed significant nominal house price declines and consequent negative equity, a massive contraction in the supply of credit, a private sector construction collapse, and social house building as a victim of austerity. Repossessions have risen. And that affects not just owner occupation but also ripples out to the private rented sector as Buy to Let landlords fall behind with their payments and tenants lose their homes. Demand for both social and private rented housing has increased as ownership becomes unaffordable or inaccessible for many.

Layered on top of all this we’ve had a series of policy initiatives around housing allowances in the private rented sector, support for independent living, and rents and tenure in the social sector that are not obviously going to improve the situation. Indeed, critics argue forcefully that these policy manoeuvres are only going to exacerbate the problems.

The dimensions of the problem are not generally contested. The question is what we do about it. The latest attempt to chart a course out of the jam we’re in is the final report of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Housing Market Taskforce Tackling Housing Market Volatility in the UK, published today. 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

Progressive but not centre-left? Best not to …

On Sunday we had an interesting juxtaposition.

The Observer declared that Ed Miliband ‘opens the door to future co-operation with the Liberal Democrats’, contrasting Tory policies with ‘progressive ones’ and inviting Liberal Democrats to join him on the side of progress. This resonates with his previous attempt to appeal to the putative ‘progressive majority’ as the banner under which left-leaning Lib Dems might align with Labour to dislodge the Tories.

While I was reading this Observer piece Nick Clegg was interviewed on Andrew Marr’s show. Lib Dem commentators have already noted that Nick’s performance contained some promising signs of differentiation from the Tories, although some of his comments on health reform were perhaps not quite what some would have hoped for (as noted, for example, on Caron’s Musings here) . Read more of this post

Sense prevails on public services?

[Originally posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, 08/05/11]

The reports this week were that the Government is planning to scale back its proposals for outsourcing public services. A significant policy shift means that the delayed Open Public Services White paper will not feature proposals for “wholesale outsourcing” to the for-profit private sector when it finally emerges in a few weeks time. Read more of this post