Back in 2010, the Tories made a big play of how they would transform the country through localism and the Big Society. Localism would free communities from the dead hand of Whitehall controlling everything, while the Big Society would encourage a new era of civic involvement, getting people involved in community organisations, allowing them to really make a difference.

If the first leaks from their 2015 manifesto are anything to go by, both those ideas have been thrown into the bin, which has then been set on fire and the ashes scattered to the four winds to prevent any prospect of them ever coming back together again. Community-based organisations are to be ripped apart by Government policy, while councils will have to follow diktats from the centre in order to raise the money to fund this dismemberment.

Housing associations are private non-profit organisations, generally run by members of the community they’re based in and providing a valuable service in providing social housing. The proposed Tory policy will declare them to be nothing more than another arm of the state, in order to compel them to sell off their housing at below the market rate. Yes, because we’re not suffering enough problems in the housing market thanks to forcing councils to sell their stock off cheaply, they’ll go on to compound the error by doing the same to housing associations. Remember, these aren’t government-owned organisations, and yet the Tories – the usual champions of property rights – seem to see no problem in riding roughshod over someone else’s in pursuit of their policy.

(Of course, this policy won’t apply to other private landlords, and tenants in the private rented sector won’t get any right to buy their homes no matter how long they’ve lived there. Perhaps if Housing Associations were allowed to donate to the Tories, they’d have been exempted from this policy too?)

Even the most barking policy to sell assets off at below market price has a cost, and in order to fund this, they’ve decided to show how much they’ve decided localism was a bad idea by committing to a true policy of anti-localism. Councils are part of the government of the country, but in this era of devolution and localism, one would have thought they would be left alone to run their own affairs. Unfortunately, bad policy trumps principle and so to find the money to pay for housing associations, councils will be told to sell off their most expensive houses. They’ll be able to keep some of the proceeds to build new houses, but only one for each house that has been sold off. The remainder of the money raised by these sales – of assets that were built by local councils for their residents, remember – will be handed over to central government to pay for the costs of housing associations being told to sell their properties off cheaply. Yes, it’s a perfect circle of robbing Peter to pay for the tools that are needed to rob Paul. They’re selling off everything that’s not nailed down in order to pay for the removal of the nails to let them sell what’s left.

As Tom King states, it’s the worst policy of the General Election yet, but we’ve still got the rest of the Tory manifesto to see, and let’s not underestimate how bad the rest of it might be.

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To stop knee-jerking, we must cut the supply of poor-quality ‘research’

You may remember how a couple of weeks ago I told you the story of Sajid and his sad addiction to knee-jerking. Well, I’ve found out some more about this story, and it’s not pretty.

One of the precursors to knee-jerking is often a substance that addicts know as ‘research’. However, it’s important to stress that this ‘research’ often bears little resemblance to what you or I might term as research. It’s often of poor quality, comes from unknown sources and has often been cut with self-selecting samples and unweighted data. We’re all aware that even the highest quality research can be misused, so imagine what this poor-quality ‘research’ might be like in the hands of a committed knee-jerker.

You don’t need to imagine, as it turns out that Sajid’s latest knee-jerk was based on some very poor-quality ‘research’. It’s now “a remarkably effective operation” able to turn ‘research’ into a full knee-jerk policy within the space of a morning, and thanks to the internet, that policy can be distributed to hundreds of hungry distributors (often called ‘journalists’ in the knee-jerk trade) to force onto an unsuspecting public, telling them that it’s proper and reliable policy but not of its shady origins.

‘Research’ is clearly a vital precursor to knee-jerking, and perhaps by stemming the flow of it we might be able to begin to win the battle against the knee-jerk policy that’s flooding the country right now. Perhaps one way to start would be to educate politicians and other knee-jerkers about how to recognise the signs of poor quality ‘research’ and to ask questions of their suppliers before using it. Maybe then our streets won’t be flooded with poor-quality policies.

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The 2015 Why Vote books

After discovering that the University library had Biteback’s ‘Why Vote 2015′ books on the shelves, I thought they might be interesting to read to get an idea of the parties’ policies and presentation before the official manifestos come out. This plan was somewhat scuppered by the library not having a copy of the Green book (which seems to have been produced after the others, possibly when they started rising in the polls), and the UKIP book having already been checked out for the Easter vacation by someone else. Still, that left me with three books to look at, and the probability of UKIP’s policy remaining the same between the manifesto launch and election day, let alone between the book and the manifesto, being rather slim.

However, even amongst those three, there’s a question as to how much two of them actually represent the policy of the party they’re ostensibly about and how much they’re just about the author pushing his own agenda and settling some scores. This is the problem with entrusting a book like this to a single author: how much are they going to let their own views eclipse those of their party?

whyvotelabThe one that doesn’t fall into this trap is Why Vote Labour, where Dan Jarvis has written the introduction and conclusion, but in between has got various Labour people, including several Shadow Cabinet members, to contribute chapters on their areas of interest. This makes both for a longer book than the other two, and a more interesting one as it can actually go into more detail in some areas, and you’re confident that what’s being discussed actually is Labour policy.

Some sections are more interesting than others, but I suspect each reader would have their own opinion on that. Personally, I found Stella Creasy’s chapter on people power and Steve Houghton on localism an interesting insight into the broader directions Labour might go in the future, while Rachel Reeves’ chapter on work was of her usual tenor in that one could imagine Iain Duncan Smith contributing a near-identical chapter in a Tory version of the book. The chapter titles – ‘An economy for all”, “Supporting modern families” and “Aspirational Britain: Empowering young people” amongst them – show the sort of studied slogan neutrality that mean they could just as easily be plastered on a podium from which David Cameron is speaking or a Lib Dem policy paper without change. There’s little in the book that’s too radical (assuming the claim that ‘Under Labour, our classrooms will be at the centre of a cultural revolution’ (p75) is a sign of someone not being up on their history of China) but it at least gives the reader an idea of Labour policy.

whyvotetoryBy contrast, Nick Herbert’s Why Vote Conservative is much more one person’s vision of what Tory policy should be. Herbert has been a Government minister during this Parliament – he was responsible for steering through Police and Crime Commissioners, amongst other things – but is now a backbencher, apparently because David Cameron didn’t share his view that he should be promoted to the Cabinet. According to Tim Montgomerie’s quote on the cover, it’s ‘a compelling reminder that the facts of economic, social and cultural life remain Conservative’ which only goes to show how easy it is to persuade him of anything. I found it more of a compelling reminder that for all Tories might talk about responsibility, they’re masters of whinging and blaming the problems of life on anything but themselves. Everything is either the fault of the previous Labour Government or occasionally, if the present one hasn’t achieved something, the Liberal Democrats, and it seems the Conservative Party only needs to take responsibility for good things.

The book is so dominated by blaming Labour for everything that you almost feel glad when he gets to a policy, except that policy is often just defined as ‘whatever Labour don’t do’ or appears to have been cut-and-pasted from a report by the Reform think tank Herbert used to run. What policy there is appears to be privatising anything that’s not nailed down then putting out a lucrative nail-removal tender before getting to the rest while stripping rights from everyone. Now, that may well turn out to be the Tory manifesto, but I suspect they’ll at least make a better job of presenting it than Herbert does here.

whyvoteldWhile Herbert is offering a slightly idiosyncratic take on Tory policy, his book at least bears some resemblance to the party’s actual policies. The same can’t be said for Jeremy Browne’s Why Vote Liberal Democrat. As Alex Marsh points out in his more detailed review of the book, Browne appears to be more interested in putting forward Coalition policies than Liberal Democrat ones, and the book feels more like an advocacy of voting National Liberal, but unfortunately published in a world where they no longer exist.

I’ve previously written about Browne’s Race Plan, and this is a better book than that but that’s mainly because it is – in the words of the old quote – both good and original. The parts that are good are pretty much Lib Dem boilerplate and could have been taken from hundreds of manifestos and party documents over the year, while the original parts are little more than Browne making the same points he does in Race Plan, with some added extra sneering at the Labour Party bolted on. As Alex puts it “the argument pretty much amounts to saying: scratch the surface of Ed Miliband and you’ll find Tony Benn underneath.”

The choice of Browne to write this book, and releasing it a long time in advance of a general election whose date has been known for some time, is one of the curious decisions that make these books a lot less useful than they could have been. As we know now, Browne’s not going to be an MP in the next Parliament, regardless of the result in Taunton Deane, and anyone reading his book isn’t going to find out much about what the party might want to do, or the range of opinions with it. Herbert’s still a backbencher, without much clamour heard for his return to Government, and these two books feel like they’ve failed to answer the question of their titles. It perhaps explains why Dan Jarvis is seen as a rising star of the Labour Party, in that he’s willing to work with others to deliver a vision, not assume that all people need to support his party is hear from him in more and more detail. If the others had followed that approach, then not only would their books have been more interesting, but their Governmental careers might have seen more success.

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I’m happy to announce here the results of my latest in-depth research into a troubled group within our population. It’s been a long and detailed investigation, taking me all of several minutes to carry out, but it’s shown that this group have terrible problems with an addiction that they just can’t control. It seems that for this group the addiction is almost impossible to control, let alone kick. Every time they see something troublesome it triggers an automatic response to plunge back into an addictive response to an extent it’s almost instinctive rather than conscious, and my research shows that this addiction is widespread, possible even endemic within the studied population.

Tragically, a large percentage of our politicians are addicted to knee-jerk reactions. For some it may have started as a simple pleasure, perhaps even a small fetish, carried out in the privacy of their own home, or occasionally shared with friends over a drink. I’m not going to judge them for this addiction – who among us hasn’t succumbed to that occasional temptation to demand that Something Must Be Done, usually with its accompanying belief that the Something we’ve just thought of is the thing that Must Be Done? But most people keep that to themselves, or just share it amongst friends, we don’t go on to display our full knee-jerking tendencies to the entire nation.

I want to tell you the story of Sajid. Like many politicians, Sajid is an occasional knee-jerker, but he normally keeps himself under control and doesn’t blurt out too many policy proposals. He’s very good at his job, and has recently been given an important promotion (with many predicting even more in his future) in which he’s responsible for dealing with the internet. Unfortunately, Sajid’s addiction to knee-jerking makes him forget everything he knows about the internet as he hastily comes up with a policy in response to a press release. The thrill of that momentary rush he gets from a jerking knee and the instant policy buzz it provides overwhelms all his common sense and basic knowledge. Everything – even basic questions like ‘how can the UK Government impose regulations on sites based overseas without widespread filtering and regulation of UK ISPs and users?’ – is ignored, in favour of experiencing another brief patellic spasm of muscular pleasure.

To propose a solution to knee-jerk addiction here would be a foolish task, and merely surrendering to my own desires to have an opinion on anything. We must instead take our time and consider every option and every angle to this problem before tentatively proposing a solution that will likely still require some amendment and will not solve the problem instantly. Until then, all we can do is watch our politicians carefully for whenever they show the signs of public knee-jerking, and respond to them with mockery, which experience has shown is the best way to counter the symptoms of the addiction, if not the root causes.

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Celebrity candidates

Scenes like this will not be seen in the House of Commons.

Scenes like this will not be seen in the House of Commons.

The news that Frank Lampard has apparently turned down the chance to be Conservative candidate for Kensington is perhaps unsurprising given that I’ve never heard of him expressing a political view before, and City Football Group will pay him much more to not play for somebody than he’ll ever earn as an MP. (One does wonder if he was only mentioned because he has so much in common with the seat, as both have cut all ties with Chelsea)

Those who still wish to see Parliament filled with sportsmen who’ve never expressed political views before could still be in luck as Andrew Strauss, James Cracknell and Sol Campbell have all been linked with the seat. I wonder just what it is that attracts the Tories to wealthy celebrities?

It’s curious, though, that it’s these sporting celebrities who are linked with careers in politics, not those who’ve spent much of their sporting careers campaigning, and are now retired, so would likely have the time if someone approached them. The two I’m thinking of were known throughout their careers for speaking up even in the face of ostracism, and have led global campaigns for equality in sport. They managed this while training hard with little financial support and winning World and Olympic titles, one of them even managing to complete a PhD during their career, showing the sort of dedication, campaigning experience and wide range of knowledge one would want in a politician.

So, has anyone ever approached Nicole Cooke or Emma Pooley about the prospect of using all their skills in a political career?

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An opportunity for everyone to use the same slogan

We should be glad that having decided to emphasise something other than ‘Stronger Economy, Fairer Society’, the Liberal Democrat message of ‘opportunity for everyone’ is something clear and distinct that no other leader would ever use…
blairopportunity

John-Major-GQ-17Feb15_pa_b_813x494

(Blair headline here, Major picture from here)

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Two snippets of Tory silliness

A couple of things that caught my eye yesterday.

First, apparently Prime Minister’s Questions was yet again dominated by grown men flinging insults at each other, rather than actually discussing any issues. (I’ve long thought that the most transgressive thing you could do there is to ask an actual question) It was capped by David Cameron making a huge deal out of Ed Balls forgetting someone’s surname, because no other human being in history has ever had a minor memory failure in a public situation.

After all, it’s not like the Prime Minister once managed to forget the existence of his own daughter, is it?

Meanwhile on Twitter, everyone’s favourite answer to ‘who’ll be the next Tory to join UKIP?’ was marking a little bit of history:


Except that, a cursory glance at the document, or indeed a basic knowledge of British political history would have told him that anniversary wasn’t actually until next week. Yesterday was merely the anniversary of the first round of that election, not the second round in which she was actually elected.

Of course this doesn’t matter, because Hannan’s not in a role where his basic job relies on him being able to understand what official documents say before commenting on them. You or I might think that’s exactly a member of a Parliament might be for, but Hannah’s clearly transcended that.

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