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

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

Democratic deficits

Liberal democracy faces profound challenges. Radically different future trajectories present themselves. We are living through momentous times.

In Britain the media has spent the last fortnight preoccupied with the Hackgate scandal. Incremental, and ongoing, revelations have exposed the inner workings of the nexus between Westminster politicians and the tabloid media. What we witness is the political class showing an alarming level of deference to powerful economic interests. The alleged intimate connection between sections of the Metropolitan police and the tabloids raises equally urgent questions about the prevailing culture and ethics at the heart of a core social institution.

The British media has been preoccupied with this evolving soap opera involving many of its own. And the scandal has certainly opened up a welcome window of opportunity to reform relationships vital to a healthy democracy. But events unwinding elsewhere are likely to play a bigger role in shaping economic and political trajectories in the short and medium term. Read more of this post

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

Monbiot’s tax take and the embedding of plutocracy: an urgent concern for Liberal Democrats

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceWe are, it would appear, reaching a political watershed. There is perhaps a small window of opportunity to step back and consider where we think the country is heading. Then it could be too late. I was planning to post in response to George Monbiot’s article in today’s Guardian. But his post, coupled with other developments, raises some profound issues.

Monbiot’s article gives his take on the implications of proposals for what might, at first sight, appear technical changes to corporate taxation. But he argues plausibly – if rather hyperbolically – that the changes represent  a major concession to the self-interest of multinational corporations. The net result of the changes will be to allow corporations – and banks in particular – to reduce their liability for UK tax considerably. And this is occurring, of course, at the same time as David Cameron is notably prominent in the media saying that the Government is committed to doing precisely the opposite – making sure that banks pay their share in order to help rebuild the economy. Read more of this post

Under-occupation, over-accommodation, and the question of tax

It is always welcome when someone wanders on to your patch and looks at it with fresh eyes. That is why I found George Monbiot’s article in yesterday’s Guardian so stimulating (available here). Not that I entirely agreed with him, but I think he is right to pose unconventional questions about British housing policy.

Monbiot’s argument is, briefly, that if and when we think about under-occupation as a housing problem the focus is always on social housing, but this is to miss the bigger issue of under-occupation in the private sector. This is surely correct. Read more of this post

One and a half cheers (at least) for Mr Shapps

Our Housing Minister must be congratulated. Today’s Observer carries a front page article under the heading Minister pledges to end the housing price rollercoaster. Mr Shapps acknowledges that the rapid increases in house prices we have witnessed over the last decade have caused considerable pain for those seeking to enter the owner occupied market. Effectively many young people are completely shut out of the market by a combination of high prices and tight lending criteria – stringent deposit requirements in particular. Those without access to the ‘bank of mum and dad’ are further disadvantaged. They may be looking at heading into early middle age before being able to purchase a property. The remedy for this problem in Mr Shapps’s view is a housing market characterised by ‘house price stability’. The ideal, from his perspective, would be house price inflation of 2%, which is outstripped by the growth in real wages. This, of course, means housing becoming progressively cheaper in real terms.

This is all good stuff. It could turn out to be a defining moment in UK housing policy. Read more of this post

Cuts, conflict and Alan Johnson getting all mythical

At the RSA last week Alan Johnson gave his second speech on the economy, the deficit, and the direction of policy – both Coalition and Labour. He travelled under the banner “Beyond fiscal fables and Greek myths” (available via @LabourList). This event got rather lost in the fallout from the tuition fee protests and IDS’s proposed welfare reforms. That is unfortunate because there was plenty in the speech that was interesting.

First, Johnson has clearly been doing some background reading of that economics primer he mentioned when he took up his current role, or at the very least he’s being better briefed. The economic content of the speech was rather more plausible than some of his previous pronouncements on the topic. Read more of this post

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