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

Greece and the augurs of global disaster

Current events in Greece are genuinely transformational in more ways than one. Clearly the Greek economy is in a heck of a mess. It is not at all obvious whether either of the future directions on offer – eye-watering austerity, on the one hand, or default, exit from the euro and return to the drachma, on the other – offers the better economic route forward for Greece. But it is clear which direction European authorities see as better for the wider Eurozone.

Greek default would create turmoil and render the viability of the Spanish, Italian and Irish economies questionable as creditors sought to reassess and downgrade their holdings of sovereign debt. It would pose serious questions for banks across the Eurozone, in particular in France and Germany. While Greece accounts for a very small component of total Eurozone economic activity it is the symbolic significance of a default – and the profoundly negative chain of events that it could set off – that is feared. 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

The Big Society and Community Politics: My Contribution to #SLFconf

[This is the text accompanying my presentation to the Social Liberal Forum Conference: “Liberalism, Equality and the State”, City University, 18/06/11. Not all of it was delivered on the day, because of the way the session panned out and because there's too much of it. My thanks to my co-contributors Mark Pack, Simon Hebditch and Lee Chalmers - and to everyone who attended - for a really interesting session.]

“ … a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” (MacBeth, Act V, Scene V)

David Cameron clings tenaciously to the Big Society as the organising concept behind his approach to state and society. He does so in the face of almost universal indifference and incomprehension from political opponents, the public, and many on his own side of the House. One is tempted to invoke the above quotation from Shakespeare and leave it at that.

That would, however, be unfair. It would also be a mistake.

Because the Big Society could signal something significant. Although not, perhaps, what its architects intend.

My aim here is to reflect a little on the idea of the Big Society, the consequences of the context in which the idea comes forward, and what it might have in common with the more venerable Liberal idea of Community Politics. In considering these issues it is essential to distinguish clearly between intention and outcome. The pursuit of the Big Society has the potential to set in train processes that may lead to outcomes quite unlike those intended or sought. 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

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