Worth Reading 184: Abandoning the Antonine Wall

The sin of pride: We can’t afford a smug Chancellor – George Osborne’s policies are too short-term to protect the British economy when the next crash comes.
The 1992 Olympic Bid – In a move that made a lot more sense then than it appears to in hindsight, Birmingham bid for the 1992 Olympics. The Brumpic blog has a lot more about the bid.
Dan Hannan and Owen Jones are both wrong on Portugal – Someone who actually understands Portuguese politics explains why there hasn’t been a coup there, and how partisan commentators are misrepresenting the normal political process to score points.
The Lords and tax credits: fact and myth – Meg Russell of UCL’s Constitution Unit explains the actual position of the House of Lords and its powers, which is different from that assumed by many commentators.
Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse centralises power and devolves blame – From a Labour perspective, but explains very well how the Government’s current devolution proposals are about extending the control of the TReasury, not giving genuine power to regions.

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englandjigsawIn this interview with the Guardian, George Osborne does make some good points about the importance of devolution, and does seem to be genuinely committed to giving more powers away from Whitehall, even to the extent of giving some local authorities more control over the purse strings. Sure, it’s not full devolution or a commitment to proper federalism, but when it’s compared to Eric Pickles’ vision of localism – where you’re locally free to decide how much you agree with him – it’s a refreshing change.

However, all that’s tempered by his devotion to a single model of devolution – combined authorities (usually as ‘city regions’) with elected mayors. I’ve written before about the problems caused by combined authorities in that they’re just adding another level of bureaucracy to an already confusing system of local governance and not making things any easier or more democratic.

However, in the light of some of the rhetoric from the election campaign, I’m still confused by the way Osborne – and so much of Whitehall – is continuing to push elected mayors, despite the fact that people have consistently rejected them. We hear howls of protest whenever it’s suggested that the SNP might consider having another independence referendum in Scotland in the next few years, on the grounds that last September settled the issue for a generation. Apparently, though, the people of English cities aren’t allowed to have the same decisive say over how they want to run their affairs. People want more power locally, and to insist that they can only have that power if they agree to Whitehall’s way of running things – a directly elected model of sole power that doesn’t apply nationally – is to get devolution wrong from the start. It shouldn’t be about regions conforming to what the centre wants to get power, it should be about them claiming the powers they need to use in the way they decide is best.

Insisting on a single way of doing things is the Treasury’s way of asserting and remaining in control through any devolution process. Insisting on something the people have already rejected because Whitehall knows best is anti-democratic and undermines the whole purpose of devolution from the start.

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To those that have shall be given more

"And yes, some of that money will pay for artificial turf instead of real grassroots."

“And yes, some of that money will pay for artificial turf instead of real grassroots.”

This announcement actually happened a few months ago, but I’m surprised it didn’t get more publicity then: George Osborne is giving £50m towards supporting grassroots sport. This sounds like good news and surely this will help sports with little funding and support develop and build the infrastructure they need to retain people in the sport in the face of all the money that gets spent on the big sports.


George Osborne has pledged £50m of Government funding to promote grass-roots football, in a move he said would make England’s national team “the best in the world”.
The Chancellor unveiled the funds as he hailed Abu Dhabi’s commitment to investing in the UK at the opening of a new £150m football academy by Manchester City Football Club.

Yes, not only is he giving £50m to a sport that has so much money sloshing around that teams can spend £50m on a single player, he’s announcing it as one of the global super-rich who now own large chunks of the game in England is announcing another huge spending of money that’s far beyond the dreams of most entire sports, let alone individual teams.

I’m sure English grassroots football will benefit from that money, but it would benefit much more from the FA enforcing a fairer distribution of income across the game, instead of letting it concentrate more and more in the upper echelons. Giving £50m of Government money to make up for the FA’s inability to support the grassroots isn’t my idea of money being well spent or a long term sporting economic plan.

Imagine what other sports could do with that cash. Grassroots cycling could use just a fraction of it to organise closed-road racing for young riders, giving them invaluable safe experience. Imagine the athletic facilities and swimming pools it could fix up or reopen, the underfunded boxing gyms it could support, the ageing gymnastic equipment it could replace, the community coaches in all sports it could train. But no, giving money to football gets the headlines, so football gets the cash, even if it doesn’t need it.


Speaking about the threat of terrorism, Chancellor George Osborne said: “My commitment is very clear. This is the national priority. We will put the resources in. Whatever the security services want, they will get.”

If there hasn’t been a terror attack in your country:
“We are doing all we can to stop the terrorists but our resources are stretched. We need more powers and resources.”
If there has been a recent terror attack elsewhere:
“That could happen here. We are doing all we can to stop the terrorists but our resources are stretched. We need more powers and resources.”
If there has been a terror attack in your country:
“We did all we could to stop it but we didn’t have enough to prevent it from happening. Our methods are not in question, we need more powers and resources to stop it happening again.”
If there’s a global outbreak of peace and love, sweeping across all nations as weapons are cast aside and humanity unites in a new era of joy of optimism:
“We cannot guarantee that this will last. Even now, people may be plotting against us under the cover of everybody getting along. We need more powers and resources.”

Whatever happens, they will always ask for more powers and more resources. If our politicians won’t stand up to them and say ‘no’, who will?

Worth Reading 142: The wrong end of the deal

The personal tax statement George Osborne doesn’t want you to see – Some accurate data on where the British Government actually spends its money.
Norman Baker, political journalism, and hinterlands – “We expect politicians to be “real” and then lay into them when they are. That doesn’t seem terribly healthy to me.”
The ‘Devo Manc’ proposals represent centralisation on steroids – Is it time to coin ‘Osbornification’ to describe the centralisation by stealth they represent?
What commercial aircraft will look like in 2050 – Some interesting speculation on the prospect of electric planes. Those of you with a more technical bent than me may well have a different view on their likelihood.
Five minutes with Robert O. Keohane – Very interesting LSE interview with one of the world’s leading theorists of international relations about the difference between liberal constitutionalism and democracy at the transnational level.

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Shares for rights: The right to have your opinion listened to has been ignored

If you ever wonder why people think government consultations are just a matter of routine that they get out of the way before they go and do what they’ve always planned, then the Government’s response to their ‘shares for rights’ proposal (PDF file) won’t surprise you at all. It’s a masterpiece of setting out all the reasons people have objected to the policy and pointed out reasons why it’s not needed and why it won’t work, then blithely responding that the Government intends to press ahead anyway.

As the Guardian reports (and LabourList illustrates with nice graphs) the clear majority of responses were against the proposals, but the changes suggested within the government response are cosmetic at best.

It appears that yet again, ideology has trumped evidence, and George Osborne will be continuing to push ahead with this, regardless of the fact that almost no one appears to want it. The effort put into this could have been put into some real measures to promote employee ownership, mutuals and co-operatives, but instead we have this scheme which seems to be a way for unscrupulous employers to screw their employees out of rights in exchange for a few magic beans, or for rich investors and their ilk to find more ways to avoid paying capital gains tax.

What really annoys is that while the fingerprints of the Treasury are all over it, this scheme is being pushed by the BIS department, which is one with a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State and Minister. (Indeed, one of Jo Swinson’s first roles at the department was appearing in the introduction to the consultation) They surely must have seen the reaction that this has had from the party, so why did they not take the opportunity to kill it when they were given the tools to do so? Indeed, why were they even attempting to push it through in the first place (under the smokescreen that we supported employee ownership, so we should support this)?

There’s no evidence supporting this proposal, there’s clearly no will or desire for it, it’s not in the Coalition Agreement and has never been approved by the party conference, so Liberal Democrats in Parliament should have no hesitation in voting it down and removing it.

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There’s a very good open letter to Nick Clegg on Lib Dem Voice today, and it covers many of the points I wanted to make on the ‘shares for rights’ proposals George Osborne put forward this week.

The plan itself is bit of political game-playing by Osborne, in my opinion. The Tories have failed to get any traction for any of the Beecroft proposals on employment rights, so they’ve now switched to a different tactic. Employee ownership of companies is a good thing, and something – as Nigel Quinton points out in that LDV article – that the Liberal Democrats have pushed for. So, Osborne’s using those as a Trojan horse to hide his real aims in. By allowing some Treasury support for a version of employee ownership, he can cover the real aim of the policy which is to start chipping away at employment rights. Then once the principle of employment rights being universal has been surrendered, they can come back and look at removing them from others – maybe if employers don’t want to give away shares, they can offer employees a bit more pay for less rights, for instance – until they’re all but gone for everyone.

That’s why it’s especially galling to read that the party leadership appears to have fallen for the con trick and allowed this to progress. The press release on the Treasury website, the talk of consultation, the start date of April 2013: all of this points to something that’s been agreed at a high level, with Osborne given approval to announce at Tory conference as a Government policy, not a Tory proposal. Until Tim Gordon mentioned it in the briefing email that Nigel Quinton mentions, there’d been not a word on this from anyone high up in the party, when they’ve been hurriedly rushing to the media to condemn other Tory Conference wheezes. Indeed, given that Tim Gordon’s email misrepresents the scheme, one has to question just what is going on, and who’s giving who bad information?

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