The relevance of me posting this video may (or may not) become apparent later:
Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /customers/5/0/6/theliberati.net/httpd.www/quaequamblog/wp-includes/post-template.php on line 284
The relevance of me posting this video may (or may not) become apparent later:
You’ve got to laugh. Ben Goldacre writes:
In the case of this Minority Report on abortion, itâ€™s a rollercoaster ride of pseudoscience and dubious data, signed by one Tory MP with the support of one other, and I highly recommend giving it a read. Iâ€™ve posted the PDF here, until it appears on the parliament website.
If you want a good example of how spectacularly weak the evidence behind this â€œMinority Reportâ€ is, then you need look no further than the bit where they talk about, er, well, me, bafflingly.
What Dorries and Spink are complaining about is that Goldacre used publicly accessible evidence to attack the credibility of vacillating “expert” Professor John Wyatt. In his Guardian column on Saturday. Parliament operating policies of openness and transparency? Outrageous!
Another article from the archives. This one was written in Summer 2006 for Community Politics Today, a collection of essays revisiting community politics. Again, I would encourage you to buy the full book and read all the other contributions.
The original Theory and Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman is available on Colin Rosenstiel’s website.
The party has failed to heed the principles underpinning community politics, both in the way it campaigns and the way it treats its own community. If we are to be more than “just another party” we will need to become the change we want to see.
Greaves and Lishman are quite explicit about what they think community politics is not: â€œCommunity Politics is not a technique for the winning of local government elections. Itâ€¦ is not a technique â€¦ not local â€¦ not government â€¦ not about elections.â€ It is clear that they were quite preoccupied with the sense that as Community Politics was being more widely adopted within the party, many of its proponents wildly misunderstood the principles that underpinned it.
Almost a quarter of a century on, it does seem as if this battle has been largely lost. While I have had the pleasure to get to know and work with dozens of gut community politicians over the past decade, the status of Community Politics as anything other than a means to winning elected office has diminished before my eyes. Focus leaflets have become ever more ubiquitous – but as marketing tools, not as community newsletters. Surveys are used not to learn about public opinion, but to harvest data that can be used for targeting and to come up with scare-statistics to suit the party’s agenda.
One politician I worked with once rebuked me for putting a helpline in a leaflet on the basis that “the public should come to me.” So much for helping people to take power for themselves. It is now standard practice in by-elections to send people out with disposable cameras to find “grotspots” in order to portray a totally distorted view of how run down the local area is. In the recent Bromley by-election, the candidate was prominently shown cleaning up graffiti on election material – only for it to be discovered that that graffiti was still in place on polling day. At its extreme, this ambulance chasing is just plain weird: one Lib Dem campaigner recently gleefully published page upon page of photos of rubbish on his website – it would have taken him just as much effort to pick the stuff up himself.
All of this is designed to portray the party as strong campaigners who take local issues seriously, but treats the public as passive consumers – choosing political parties as they might washing powder – not as active citizens. It is extremely effective marketing – particularly in target seats and by-elections when we have sufficient resources to overwhelm the public with our messages. But it is hard to see what it does to challenge power, which is at the heart of Community Politics.
However, what is Community Politics’ loss seems to have been the Liberal Democrats’ gain. What Greaves and Lishman disparage as the “ALC Method” has been refined and reproduced across the country and has gone on to inform Campaigns Department best practice that has seen us increase our number of Parliamentary seats by such a large degree over the past decade. It is a legitimate question, worthy of investigation, to ask whether Community Politics was all that important anyway?
We should ask ourselves two things however. Firstly, by abandoning Community Politics in this way, how do we respond to the charge that we are just another opportunist party concerned with gaining power at all cost?
This is not what many of us signed up for. We are expected to content ourselves with the notion that the more politicians we help get elected, the more we can get the body politic to work on our terms, but how much are we changing the body politic, and how much is the body politic changing us?
Secondly, is this actually getting us tangible power, or is it leading us into a cul-de-sac? Since 1992 we have gained 42 Parliamentary seats – roughly 14 per session. At that rate, we will gain a majority after 18 General Elections – roll on 2090. What is even more likely however – and I would suggest we started to see evidence of this in 2005 – is that we will start to spread ourselves too thinly and encounter diminishing returns or even go in reverse. Let us be clear: while this strategy may ensure we have significant representation in the Commons for years to come is not going to win us a general election.
If we are content with the prospect of being the junior partner in a coalition, that may be fine. Historically however, the party has not done well in a balance-of-power situation. There is also a democratic problem with us relying on horse-trading to push our agenda forward rather than public support, not to mention the fact that we would be expected to prop up a minority government on a whole range of issues that go against our principles.
With this in mind, I find it quite incredible at how the rhetoric within the party – even in confidential meetings at a senior level – remains along the lines of “one last heave.” We are wedded to the idea is that if only the party was more “professional” / had slightly more money / more active members / better market research then we would reach a critical mass and charge home. Yet this invariably leads to concentrating our resources even more on target seats and coming up with a basket of policy-bites that are designed to appeal to swing voters. The result is our public support is extraordinarily shallow with a large proportion of our vote backing us for tactical reasons or because of one or two policy commitments.
Greaves and Lishman’s vision was far wider. Inspired by Jo Grimond’s call for the establishment of “a coalition of different groups putting different emphases on different parts of the same basic idea,” they call on the party to dedicate itself to building a political movement, rather than solely concentrating on winning elections. For them, the goal of Community Politics was to create this movement by “stimulating action by communities to take and use power.”
We should not blind ourselves to the fact that this is exactly what New Labour achieved in the mid-nineties. Tony Blair and his allies recognised that the Labour Party itself couldn’t both win power and beat its opponents into submission long enough to implement a programme of action. They were extremely effective at getting a wide range of groups and communities to buy into their vision for change. The key difference between Tony Blair’s approach and the one spelled out by Greaves and Lishman is that for him building such a movement was first and foremost about getting him into Number 10 Downing Street; for Greaves and Lishman the creation of such a movement is an end in itself.
People are unlikely to be fooled twice however; if the Liberal Democrats were to go into the movement building business they would have to be able to demonstrate what Blair now demonstrably lacks: integrity. We would have to walk the talk. That would mean a major culture shift within the party. We would have to step back from focusing on becoming an election-winning machine and instead truly internalise the values of Community Politics.
How could we go about doing this? To start with, I believe we need to improve how the party itself functions as a community. Are we wolves or bees? Do we run together in packs as equals, or do we organise in hives – a strictly hierarchical structure with workers diligently serving the Queen? Many will look at our constitution and our famous rows on the conference floor and assume we must be wolves (or for that matter, cats, as in “herdingâ€¦”).
But look deeper. Democratic constitutions are not the same thing as democratic cultures – ask anyone who has lived in a communist state. For all the rows we have at conference, the central party invariably manages to get its policy papers passed. The Conference Committee frequently complains that so few local parties actually submit conference motions. Meanwhile, the non-policy business of our conferences is rubber stamped by almost empty debating halls to the complete indifference of most conference representatives.
At a local level, the level of participation in the party is even lower. We do very little to help themselves in this respect. The New Politics Network surveyed the local parties of the three main parties this summer (now available as part of the Unlock Democracy publication Party Funding – Supporting the Grassroots). It found that the Lib Dem local parties held a fraction of the number of social and fundraising events that Conservative Associations did and significantly fewer policy discussion meetings than either the Conservatives or Labour. In short, our members have more rights than the members of our rival parties, yet aside from campaigning we have much lower levels of participation. Ours’ not to reason why, ours’ but to do and die.
The party needs to stop flattering itself that because we have a vibrant activist hierarchy, we are democratic. We should be worried about the stark distinction between activist and “armchair member” and set ourselves the task of doing something about it. For me, that means more informal meetings, from policy discussion (“pizza and politics”) through to simply inviting people to the pub. It was a desire to encourage such meetings that has driven Martin Tod and myself to develop the website Flock Together (http://www.flocktogether.org.uk) and its offshoot Liberal Drinks (http://theliberati.net/drink).
To maximise levels of participation however, we need to look to skilling our membership. Again, activists are already well served in this respect, with ever increasing numbers of training events taking place at conferences. This programme needs to be taken to a lower level however. Local and regional parties should start holding “welcome days” for new members designed to feed them with ideas about what sort of things they might want to do in the party, from coming to help in a by-election through to joining the Green Liberal Democrats. On and off, LDYS has for many years run similar events (including its residential “Activate!” weekends) and they have supplied us with a stream of involved and informed members (including at least one MP).
In his essay After Community Politics (Passports to Liberty IV, Liberator Publications, 2000), David Boyle takes this one step further and proposes local parties running self-help workshops on a wide range of areas from local campaigning through to changing your work-life balance. I strongly endorse this proposal and would love to see more experimentation in this area.
Indeed, everything we do should be concerned with providing people with a toolkit to challenge power themselves. Our national campaigns should be about more than “us too!” petitions – they should be concerned with reaching out to people who are directly affected and advising them on what to do themselves.
To take two recent examples, if we run a campaign on saving school bus services anyone interested could be able to download a campaign pack informing local people about what they can do about the issue. If we run a campaign against homophobic bullying, we should provide both information about the issue, but also meaningful advice for both parents and children about what to do about it. The party is getting very good at producing campaign packs for local parties; it should be equally concerned at providing detailed information for the target audience.
There are electoral gains to be made from such an approach. While it would be less effective than our target seat strategy in terms of maximising votes in the places where they can do the most good, this approach would win us more activists and the sort of goodwill that any party serious about government needs. But if we make New Labour’s mistake of simply co-opting such support for our own ends, then as has been their experience, it is likely to come back and bite us in the arse. The true value is not in simple electoral gain, but in improving the national polity as a whole.
Unless we become the change we want to see, we can’t hope to build the wider movement that we will need in order to truly challenge power, at all levels. If we fail to do this, our only course of action will be to ape our opponents, which will prove ultimately self-defeating.
People wondering why the BBC left Emily Thornberry’s name off their report about her altering Electoral Commission press releases may be interested to note that her name has now been added to the story, along with the following statement:
* Earlier versions of this story did not include the name of the MP as it was a straight report from Sir Philip’s report in which she was not named. We added the name, and some extra background, once we became aware of her identity.
This may seem uninteresting to some, but to those who have for a long time bemoaned the Beeb’s habit of airbrushing its mistakes out of existence, this is the equivalent of the Berlin Wall coming down.
I wrote this article in Summer 2006 for Liberalism – something to shout about, published by Graham Watson MEP and edited by Simon Titley. I’m taking the liberty of republishing it here, but if you want to read the other articles – by Graham, Simon, Ros Scott, Jonathan Calder and Simon Bryceson, follow the above link for an order form.
Any article on this topic will inevitably date quickly, so please bear that in mind. In particular, “Hands off our future” is a reference to an abortive attempt of mine to set up a campaign website on the topic which in the end I didn’t have the time to keep going.
Demographic change is creating a dangerous situation, one where younger generations are suffering increasing economic injustice. A system of â€˜neo-feudalismâ€™ will emerge unless radical steps are taken. Do the Liberal Democrats have the courage to campaign for justice â€“ or will they miss the boat?
Thereâ€™s no easy way to put this, and I can almost hear the shrieks of outrage as I type, but young people are being expected to shoulder too much of the UK economy while older people are getting away with shouldering too little.
That isnâ€™t to say that pensioner poverty doesnâ€™t exist, nor is it to deny that some young people are extremely wealthy. As in any discussion on economics, we are talking in generalities here. It is however to say that, as well as being unfair, it is having a deleterious effect on our economy and stands to reinforce class barriers and social immobility at a time when we are flattering ourselves that such things have been relegated to our past.
Young people are hit by a sextuple whammy of costs that older people do not have to worry about to the same extent. These are: graduate debt, credit, saving for the future, environmental taxation, income-based taxes and housing costs. We should take a moment to consider each one in turn:
The owner-occupier dream of the Thatcherite 1980s is coming to an end. Only 20% of 20-24 year olds are homeowners, compared with 34% in 1994. First-time buyers now make up only 38% of total buyers1.
Why is this? Simply enough, house prices have got out of control. According to the Department for Communities and Local Government2, the average house price across the UK is now Â£190,051; in London it is Â£279,418. Median earnings meanwhile are Â£22,412 (less than one-eighth of the average house price) across the UK and Â£28,912 in London (less than one-ninth of the average London house price)3. According to Nationwide, the median home loan is now worth 3.21 times the incomes of those buying the property, compared with just 2.39 in 19944. That of course means that half of new loans are being lent at even higher multiples. According to the Halifax5, public sector workers cannot afford average priced homes in 65% of towns, compared with just 24% five years ago. Mortgage repayments typically now use up 42% of take home income.
Unsurprisingly, 40% of first-time buyers now get parental help6. For many more people however, the solution is to simply rent. There again, the options available to people 20 years ago simply do not exist. The right-to-buy policies of the 1980s, which got so many people onto the housing ladder (earning many of them small fortunes in the process), were unsustainable as they depended on selling council housing that was not replaced.
One other option is buy-to-let: buy a house in a more affordable area than the one you live in and use the income from that as security. This in turn of course helps bloat the housing market even further, pricing even more first-time-buyers out of the market.
Ultimately, all of this must be unsustainable, although the bubble is still looking fairly robust at the moment. If the housing market does crash however, it is again young people who will predominantly suffer.
The obvious solution to all this is to build more affordable homes. Yet that has been official government policy for years now and little progress is being made. We cannot escape the fact that, under the current system, property developers have very little interest in building large numbers of affordable homes.
People graduating from university this year owe an average of Â£13,500, according to the Association of Investment Trust Companies (AITC)7. As with many of these figures, it needs to be emphasised that this is an average: graduates from wealthy families typically have far less debt to repay, while poorer graduates will have significantly more. This figure also does not take into account variable top-up tuition fees, introduced this year: at a stroke, such fees will increase debt for graduates from the top universities by Â£9,000 to Â£12,000.
Liberal Democrat policy is to scrap tuition fees. This has been very popular, but it should be remembered that students from the poorest backgrounds donâ€™t pay fees anyway while students running up average debts and paying full tuition fees would still end up graduating with Â£10,000 hanging over their heads.
One argument used to justify the increased burden that individuals themselves pay is that graduates earn more; the Dearing Report8 claimed that graduates would, on average, earn Â£400,000 more over their lifetime. Yet, as higher education has expanded, so the worth of each individual degree has fallen. The University of Swansea estimates9 that the â€˜valueâ€™ of a degree for a male arts graduate is now just Â£22,000. Yet with degrees now a minimum requirement for so many jobs these days, non-graduates find themselves severely disadvantaged regardless of their ability.
71% of young people (aged 18-29) have an overdraft facility and one-in-five are permanently overdrawn10. 18.7% of all bankrupts were aged 18-29 in 2004/5, compared with just 7.8% in 2001/2.
There is a temptation to dismiss these figures as simply young people spending irresponsibly, yet that is to ignore how credit has been promoted quite as fiercely as it has been over the past couple of decades. It is also to ignore the fact that banks will tend to refuse lower interest loans to customers with little credit history while being quite happy to give them credit cards. Borrowing is treated as a rite of passage that young people are expected to go through and, whether individuals struggle or not, banks are guaranteed a profit.
To his enormous credit, Vince Cable MP has been making a noise11 about the problems associated with unsustainable levels of debt for some time now. The party should pay him more attention.
Saving for old age
Young people are now expected to save for their own old age in a way that their parentsâ€™ generation never need worry about. Final salary pension schemes are a thing of the past. The Turner proposals12, largely accepted by the government, offer some hope for the future, but there is no escaping the fact that, for them to work, people must contribute more out of their own salaries.
Yet as the importance of saving for the future has increased, in fact the opposite has happened. According to Pensions Minister James Purnell in July 200613, the number of young people saving for a pension has fallen from one-in-three to one-in-four since 2000. Purnell was quick to pin the blame on young people themselves for their â€œlive fast, die poorâ€ lifestyles. Can we really simply dismiss this trend as shortsightedness, or are young people simply expected to cope with debt? This is a vital question for politicians to answer if they hope to make opt-out stakeholder pensions â€“ one of the lynchpins behind the governmentâ€™s new pensions strategy â€“ a success. If it is financial pressures that are putting young people off from taking out second pensions, there is a real risk that a disproportionate number will opt-out under the new scheme.
There is no denying that income taxes fell significantly during the 1980s and 1990s. I mention them here because it needs to be emphasised that this form of taxation is paid predominantly by economically active middle-income earners: the rich avoid them while the poor and economically inactive pay very little.
In the recent past, income taxes have begun to creep up again, under the guise of national insurance contributions. Liberal Democrat policy in 2005 would have added an additional 4p in the pound due to the introduction of a local income tax.
Climate change and resource taxation
It is now largely accepted that the human race is responsible for global warming and climate change. Because of inaction in the past and little scope of major improvements in at least the short term, significant climate change is also now regarded as all but an inevitability. Mean temperatures are expected to increase by two degrees Celsius by 205014. Todayâ€™s young people, their children and their grandchildren will be paying the price in the future.
Todayâ€™s young people, however, are also expected to pay the price now; environmental taxes will either creep up if the timidity of the current government continues, or significantly increase if a more environmentally responsible government takes control. Either way, todayâ€™s young people will be expected to bear the brunt, on top of everything else, in a way that their parentsâ€™ generation was never expected to.
The future â€“ neo-feudalism?
What no-one should be blind to here is that these factors do not affect all young people equally. Families with assets are able to help their children out by subsidising student costs, housing and ultimately by passing on an inheritance. They help out in other ways too. A recent report from the Sutton Trust15 found that 54% of top journalists went to public school, up from 49% in 1986. Similar statistics can be found for the legal profession and other white-collar jobs.
One factor driving this is that, as more and more people have degrees, employers are increasingly dependent on other ways of assessing candidates. A simple mechanism used by a lot of employers is to offer internships and most young people who take up unpaid work experience in this way are dependent on their families to see them through. Thus the expansion of higher education seems to be doing little to improve opportunities for young people from poor backgrounds; indeed, it could actually be entrenching privilege.
There are other ways as well in which the â€˜havesâ€™ can consolidate their position. The subsidised loans available to students may be intended to help poorer students feed and house themselves at university, but increasingly they are used by wealthier families as an investment: invest the money in an ISA and pocket the difference. Inheritance tax, properly managed, is effectively voluntary, with wealth handed down the generations long before the aging relative dies â€“ and the bigger the estate, the greater the likelihood that families will have made such provision.
The important question we should be asking ourselves is, where is this taking us? I have dubbed the (avoidable) nightmare scenario â€˜neo-feudalismâ€™. Through a combination of some talent, some hard work and a large amount of luck, some families are consolidating their position at the expense of other families. The current fad for buy-to-let could be the tip of the iceberg: there is every reason to believe that the people who play the system well will increase their property portfolios over time, pricing ever more people out of the property market in turn.
For the new underclass, the future is bleak, with the rising middle-class operating an effective closed shop in a way that would make the most militant shop steward baulk. Meanwhile, the children within these â€˜landedâ€™ families will be trapped in a cycle of dependency. These mini-Princes of Wales will be forced to wait impatiently for their inheritances to come through, conflicted by love for their parents and the desire for freedom and independence. Entrepreneurship, creativity and hard work will be stifled by an economy dominated by class and privilege.
Higher education policy
The Liberal Democratsâ€™ policy to scrap tuition fees has served the party well, but there are at least two major reasons for reviewing it.
A principled reason is that it doesnâ€™t actually help the poorest. We may well wish to argue that students from lower middle class backgrounds can ill-afford the tuition fees they are forced to pay under the present system, but it is highly doubtful that scrapping fees will see a massive influx of students from the poorest backgrounds.
The pragmatic reason is that tuition fees have been with us for seven years now. Hundreds of thousands of young people have already paid them, and there is an increasing danger that this policy will decline in popularity as young people and their families increasingly ask themselves â€œwell, we had to pay fees, so why shouldnâ€™t they?â€
One equitable solution to this would be to offer tax relief on student debt repayments. The full amount may not be affordable, but a significant proportion would not only amount to the same thing as paying full tuition costs, but would benefit all graduates.
Going further, we could replace our existing spending commitment to scrap fees with a return to the means-tested maintenance grant. This would target our funding at those least able to pay.
It is unlikely to amount to much while the massive expansion of higher education continues however, and this leads me to consider an even more radical proposal. Why not remove the universal state subsidy on university tuition altogether, replacing it with means-tested cover for both tuition and maintenance? This more targeted approach would enable us to help students most in need, while giving the market a greater role in determining demand for higher education.
There are bound to be howls of protest regarding this proposal and I have to admit I am not fully convinced of it myself: how would we preserve liberal arts departments for instance? How can the market determine how many medievalists the country to fund? I am merely throwing these ideas in to provoke a discussion I believe the party desperately needs to be having.
The bottom line for me is that, at the next general election, we need to have much more to say to both graduates and the poorest students. With the party committed to keeping spending commitments down to a minimum, this cannot be done without significantly changing our existing policy of tuition fees.
Just as we are sometimes guilty of portraying our policy of tuition fees as a social justice issue when the poorest are unaffected, so the same is true with our policy to replace council tax with a local income tax. The claim is frequently made that it would benefit the poorest, and specifically pensioners. Yet the poorest are entitled to Council Tax Benefit and are thus exempt.
We arenâ€™t, to be fair, alone in this. Help the Agedâ€™s website16 claims that an elderly couple with just Â£182 per week income â€œcould end up paying the same level of Council Tax as their neighbours, a young and wealthy couple with an income of tens of thousandsâ€. Yet if you look elsewhere on this website, it helpfully explains that an elderly person on that level of income is exempt from the tax. A curious game of deception is at hand here, and unfortunately the Lib Dems bear much responsibility for it.
The real problem with our existing policy is that it represents a massive tax cut for the owners of some of the most valuable properties in the country, while shifting the entire burden of taxation onto economically active young people. This makes no economic sense at all and will help to increase property prices still further, enriching the wealthy and pricing even more people out of the housing market.
We are frequently told that this policy is important because it helps old people who may have large wealth, but have little income. In fact, asset rich, cash poor pensioners form a tiny minority. In his submission17 to the Tax Commission report, Prof Iain McLean cited research from Warwick University, which shows that just 1.2%-2% of the population fits into this category. There are other ways to ensure that this small group does not unduly suffer without introducing a system that would unfairly penalise others.
The signs coming from the partyâ€™s Tax Commission unfortunately sound remarkably confused. By the time you read this essay, its final report18 will have been published but, at the time of writing, it looks as if it will be a strange mix, calling for national income taxes on the one hand while introducing even higher local income taxes on the other. This strange, hybrid â€˜pushmepullyouâ€™ is unlikely to please anyone and is likely to confuse seriously both journalists and the general public.
So whatâ€™s the solution? Simply put, our new taxation policies have a property tax-shaped hole in them. We should fill it with our historical commitment to introduce a system of land value taxation. This would encourage greater efficiency of land, lower property prices, and discourage second home ownership and buy-to-lets. Safeguards could be introduced to ensure that old people would not be taxed out of their homes, such as a system whereby people could voluntarily choose to defer tax payments until after they realise the asset.
Funding the future
Britain is appalling at squandering its assets. North Sea oil, now rapidly drying up, has been used as a cash cow by successive chancellors for the past 30 years, with Gordon Brown using it to fund spending commitments last winter. Yet once this natural resource is gone, itâ€™s gone.
Other countries have a more enlightened view. Since 1995, Norway has invested its North Sea oil receipts into its National Petroleum Fund (recently renamed the National Pension Fund)19. This fund, worth 1.48 trillion Kroner (about Â£125 billion or â‚¬185 billion) in 2006 and administered by the Central Bank, is designed to ensure that this short-term windfall is enjoyed by future generations.
Alaska operates a similar scheme called the Permanent Fund20. Though much smaller â€“ $32 billion (about Â£17 billion or â‚¬25 billion) at the end of 2005 â€“ the fund is enough to pay out a dividend to Alaskan residents of around $1,000 per capita per year.
It is mostly too late to put Britainâ€™s North Sea oil receipts into a similar fund, but as climate change is taken more seriously, this could be a useful way to handle receipts from environmental taxation.
Using environmental taxes to fund general expenditure is problematic at best, particularly at high levels, because if they are successful we can find ourselves with a shortfall. Climate change is likely to make the twenty-first century a very unstable period. Establishing a fund in this way would help give future generations a helping hand.
Getting our message across
One major objection to the party shifting its policy more towards young people is that older people vote in greater numbers and should therefore be our main target. I would repeat that I am not calling for us to ignore old people in elections, and strongly support our policy positions on a Citizens’ Pension and increasing the basic rate.
But, despite the fact that we all but stuffed their mouths with gold coins in the last election, old people did not generally vote for us. This is partly because of tribal loyalty, and partly because of a perception of the party brands â€“ indeed, where we do well amongst older voters it is because they recognise our strengths as community campaigners. By contrast, younger people flocked to us in the last general election, despite us having very little to offer them. We have a real opportunity here not simply to capitalise on the votes of under-40s but to create lifelong Liberal Democrat supporters.
For such a campaign to work, however, it cannot simply be conducted by the occasional press release. At the moment, the media is largely unaware of this issue, normally reporting rises in property prices as an unequivocally good thing. For us to make an impact on this issue, our frontbench team must be seen championing it. It should get mentioned in every speech Ming Campbell makes between now and polling day.
The good news about a campaign aimed specifically at young people is that much of our target audience is web-savvy. Whatâ€™s more, the people whom these issues affect are getting increasingly organised â€“ see websites such as housepricecrash.co.uk, pricedout.org.uk and Hands Off Our Future. It is clear from reading the forums on sites such as these that there is a real sense of injustice out there and that people are crying out for a political party to take these issues on. If we miss this opportunity now, we may find ourselves paying the price in the future.
1 BBC (2006). How hard is it to afford a house? BBC News Online, 6 July; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/5145090.stm
2 UK Department for Communities and Local Government (2006). House Price Index â€“ May 2006 (DCLG Statistical Release 2006/0051). Press release, 10 July; www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1002882&PressNoticeID=2197
3 Bachelor, L. & Flanagan, B. (2005). On average, you canâ€™t afford it. Observer, 4 December; http://money.guardian.co.uk/houseprices/story/0,1456,1658132,00.html
4 BBC (2006). ibid.
5 Halifax plc (2006). Halifax Key Worker Housing Review. Press release, 29 July; www.hbosplc.com/economy/includes/KeyWorkerAffordability(UK).doc
6 BBC (2006). ibid.
7 AITC (2006). Press release, 9 August; www.aitc.co.uk/press_centre/default.asp?id=5439
8 The National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education (1997). www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ncihe/
9 Oâ€™Leary, N. & Sloane, P. (2005). The Changing Wage Return to an Undergraduate Education. IZA Discussion Paper No. 1549. http://ssrn.com/abstract=702781
10 Credit Action (2006). Debt statistics. www.creditaction.org.uk/debtstats.htm
11 Cable, V. (2006). Press release, 23 July; www.libdems.org.uk/news/young-peoples-debt-spiralling-out-of-control-cable.html
12 The Pensions Commission (2005). Second report. www.pensionscommission.org.uk
13 Purnell, J. (2006). Speech, 12 July; www.dwp.gov.uk/aboutus/2006/12-07-06.asp
14 UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2001). Literature review of the implications of climate change for species, habitats and the wider UK countryside. www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/ewd/rrrpac/lreview/06.htm
15 The Sutton Trust (2006). The Educational Background of Leading Journalists. www.suttontrust.com/reports/Journalists-backgrounds-final-report.pdf
16 Help the Aged (2006). www.helptheaged.org.uk/en-gb/Campaigns/PensionsAndBenefits/CouncilTax/
17 McLean, I. (2006). www.libdemsalter.org.uk/archives/000078.php
18 Liberal Democrats (2006). Fairer, Simpler, Greener. Policy paper 75. www.libdems.org.uk/media/documents/policies/PP75%20Fairer%20Simpler%20Greener.pdf
19 Wikipedia (2006). The Government Pension Fund of Norway. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Government_Pension_Fund_of_Norway
20 Wikipedia (2006). Alaska Permanent Fund. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaska_Permanent_Fund
Stephen Tall writes a fantastic opinion piece on Lib Dem Voice today about the leadership candidates’ stance on the EU Reform Treaty:
Some time soon, the Tories will call vote in the House of Commons on whether Britain should hold a referendum, at which point 63 Lib Dem MPs will have to make a decision – to march through the â€˜noâ€™ lobbies with Labour against a referendum; or through the â€˜ayeâ€™ lobbies with the Tories in favour of one. I doubt Iâ€™m alone in feeling queasy at the former prospect.
Stephen is certainly not alone – I agree with him for one. And his lengthy quotes of a 2003 article by Nick Clegg demonstrate quite how far Lib Dem rhetoric about support for a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty went.
But there is another reason why Clegg and Huhne should review their stances. If there is a good example of the Lib Dems being inward looking and obscurationist over the past two years (apart from our current stance on Trident of course), it is Ming’s nuanced, balanced position on opposing a referendum on the Reform Treaty but supporting a referendum on EU membership. He had a point, but it was largely irrelevant and effectively shut us out of the debate. Loyalist to the end, even I felt it made him look like a lame duck, and it turned out I was right.
If Clegg truly believes the party should move out of its comfort zone and reach out to people, here’s his chance. If Huhne really wants to call Clegg’s bluff, here’s his opportunity.
I’ve already rebutted that argument and don’t intend to repeat myself. But I’m not blind to the fact is that by repeating this nonsense argument, Clegg is subtly contrasting himself with Chris Huhne and his stance on Trident. The subtext is that he’s the candidate that will concentrate on the issues that matter to the public, while Huhne would have the party revisiting old policies in an act of ideological purity.
And as I said yesterday, in that respect he’s right. Huhne’s Trident stance is, in my view, good policy but bad politics. This isn’t a debate the party should be having during this contest. It smacks of vanity, and at 11% in the polls, vanity is something we can ill afford.
If Huhne wants to talk about policy, he should concentrate on issues which have immediate relevance to large sections of the public. I’ve already mentioned two interrelated ones – housing and intergenerational equity – I’m sure he could come up with others. He should be concentrating his firepower on Clegg’s inability to make his own rhetoric match his detail, calling on the party to move out of its comfort zone and reach out while being apparently afraid of saying anything of substance along those lines in case it alienates a wing of the party.
Huhne’s advantage is that by going for the big tent approach, Clegg has compromised himself. In a large number of areas he will struggle to say anything at all that won’t alienate either David Laws or Steve Webb and their respective camps. He should be pressing that advantage home, not making Clegg’s points for him.
While at the start of this campaign I was guilty of a bit of policy arson myself by rubbishing our existing commitment to replace council tax with local income tax, even I wouldn’t expect either candidate to use this opportunity to set out detailed policy in that area. This is a good opportunity to signal areas that need revisiting, not to spell out solutions.
An interesting article appears out of the blue:
Last night the Department of Finance and Personnel reiterated the answer they gave to Mr O’Loan when he asked what consideration the minister (Peter Robinson] was giving to the rating of agricultural land.
It said: “Under the current rating system agricultural land is not valued nor rated and there are no plans to do so.
“However as you are aware the current review of the new domestic rating system that was introduced by direct rule ministers in April 2007 is examining a wide range of options for change in the shorter and longer terms, which were included in terms of reference agreed by the Executive.
“Strand 2 of the review is addressing longer term issues including possible alternatives to the current arrangements and one such alternative is Land Value Taxation.
“I have commissioned the Ulster University to investigate the experience of other jurisdictions that have used Land Value Taxation.”
This is being presented as a scandalous attack on farmers, but Tony Vickers makes an excellent case in his recent book for the replacement of agricultural subsidies in favour of LVT.
Either way, it is interesting to see that Stormont is investigating LVT as a possible replacement of the rates – the Tory government in the 80s not having scrapped them in Northern Ireland along with everywhere else. Without being saddled with the mess that is a Council Tax that hasn’t been revalued in 17 years, it would be relatively painless to introduce there and the potential benefits would be immense. And if it could be shown to work there, it would be an easier sell for the rest of the UK.
This is all putting the cart before the horse of course – it remains to be seen if the mishmash coalition in Stormont is capable of pushing anything through. But it is certainly worth keeping an eye on.
I’m pleased to find this on YouTube, taken from the Peter Serafinowicz Show:
Of course, as a geek, I am contractually obligated to mention that Serafinowicz was also the voice of Darth Maul in Episode One.
I went to see Stardust on Thursday and despite having low expectations of it, loved it. Getting the balance of humour and fantasy right so that it doesn’t look like self-indulgent nonsense is tricky and I think they even just about managed to pull off Robert De Niro in a dress.
But one thing spoiled it for me: Ricky Gervais’ cameo. This was basically David Brent in a silly hat and stood out like a sore thumb. It reminded me of Paul Heiney’s cameo in 1985’s Water. Paul Heiney was a That’s Life presenter who made a series called In At the Deep End in which he had to do things he had no prior experience of (sort of an 80s version of Faking It). Somehow he got a small part in this small, rather rubbish British film and his performance – up against Michael Caine – is execrable. It has become embedded in my brain as an example of why film-makers should resist the temptation to include showy cameos in their films for the sake of a bit of extra publicity.
It has become increasingly clear that the reason The Office was so excruciatingly funny was that Gervais wasn’t acting. It was him – or at least scarily close to his true persona. Yet because he remains popular in the public imagination, and has lots of celebrity friends, he has somehow managed to build a years-long career doing the same basic schtick. How much longer is this going to go on?
I have horrible visions of him becoming the 21st century version of Leslie “hel-lo!” Phillips, turning up in films and TV programmes in his 70s to do his David Brent act so long as the fee was right. But while typecast, at least Phillips could act.