Tag Archives: tim leunig

Three things for your attention

Firstly, I just thought I would direct people to my piece defending the Convention on Modern Liberty and its “outrageous” decision to be cross-party.

It has had an interestingly muted response. The most fascinating one was from Sadie Smith whose paraphrase of my article was that I defined anyone who is boycotting the Convention “because of the miner’s strike” is a “ZANULIARBORE HATER OF THE LIBERTIES WE’VE ENOJYED SINCE THE MAGNERCARTER WHO IS MORE AUTHORITARIAN THAN HITLER AND STALIN ROLLED INTO ONE!!!!1!!!! LOLZ!” If self-obsessed lefties want to turn themselves into a parody of themselves, that suits me.

Secondly, and slightly more constructively, Paul Bergin asked me to take part in his bloggers’ interview series. My contribution can be found here.

Finally, the Social Liberal Forum’s Ideas Factory is starting to take off. At the moment, Tim Leunig’s “right to move” and Thomas Hemsley’s ratification of appointments are available for your perusal, comments and rating, with more to come.

Lord Jacobs becomes rightwingers’ new poster child

The Times reports that Lord Jacobs has quit the party to sit as a crossbencher on the grounds that the party’s position on tax does not include tax cuts for the rich, paid for (if Lord Rennard is to be believed) by a 6p hike in NIC. Despite Sam Coates’ best attempts to dress this story up into another typical Times piece of donor porn (I was half-expecting the piece to start going on about the quality of the soft-furnishings in his central London home and to coo erotically over the prospect of him owning a yacht), it hardly looks damaging for the party. Old man in a hurry throws toys out of pram. Shrug.

What is rather more interesting has been the reaction on Lib Dem Voice. The general reaction has been one of bemusement, but Tim Leunig leapt to Jacob’s defence:

It is easy to rush to attack someone who is leaving, but I think this is a bit churlish. Lord Jacobs has worked very hard for the party over the past twenty years, in financial and other ways. He is not someone who turned up, donated £100k one day and became a Lord the next without understanding or supporting our principles. When someone that committed leaves the sensible thing is to sit them down and talk to them. Because who knows, they may be representative of a chunk of the party.

Except that, um, no-one was attacking him. Later still, Oranjepan quipped:

“…Jacobs his obviously flounced off in a huff…”

Oh dear, I don’t think anyone could seriously believe that (I mean seriously!).

For someone who has been around our party (and forebears) for so long he is clearly aware of our role in the process and pragmatic enough not to have walked away during more contentious times.

Jacobs clearly sees some other merit in these actions as he is still overtly supportive, so I think it will be interesting to see whether he continues to be a donor to the party… wheels with wheels…

My feeling is that he has deliberately isolated himself in order to open up a debate on this issues. If the Fabians and others are coming out in favour of Clegg’s leadership then these manoeuvers demonstrate clear political dexterity and a full awareness of how opinion is formed.

At age 77 such a principled gambit should be applauded and it shows he has both the nous and the cojones to make one more throw of the dice.

I genuinely don’t understand this. Cutting personal taxes by raising employer NIC is not a tax cut at all. To use Osborne-esque rhetoric, it is a tax con. It would massively increase the cost of employing people. Those who weren’t made redundant as a result of the hike would find their wages suppressed over the medium term and find themselves no better off over the longer term. And what is this to pay for? A tax cut for the pensions of the wealthy.

I can understand why an old school Tory would be attracted to such an idea – as I said before they aren’t the free marketeers they are often portrayed as – but why would an economic liberal be attracted to it?

It does seem, superficially at least, that they got drawn in by the Times (and Jacobs’ own) spin about tax cuts and thought they would portray him as some kind of martyr of the right. The enemies’ enemy is my friend, and all that. It is quite curious and generally surprising. I look forward to seeing if this is the start of a discernable pattern with interest.

Will Tim Leunig be burnt at the stake in Liverpool city centre tomorrow?

For those of you who missed it this morning, here is a quote from today’s Thought for the Day by The Rt Rev. James Jones:

Tomorrow Daniel enters the Lion’s Den up here in Liverpool. The author of the report that recommends ‘ the rolling up’ of the regeneration strategies of the Northern cities is coming to the Anglican Cathedral to face the music! The Dean’s arranged for him to debate with the city’s leaders and academics. Dr Tim Leunig of the Policy Exchange is an economic historian with radical views. As well as questioning the value of regeneration schemes he proposes a shift of the population ‘encouraging significant numbers of people to move , to London and the South East’

Did I hear a groan from those grid locked in traffic within the M25 doughnut? Well, there’s some serious stuff in this paper, even though some of the conclusions will raise hackles in the south and the north. Reading the report in the light of the last two weeks certainly widens the eyes not least its appeal to market forces as a panacea for our urban problems. Whatever else is going on at the moment it’s surely about the limits of the market to guarantee the common good. And although communities need markets, they also need other interventions that secure the peace and safety of the realm. That’s what these urban initiatives are all about.

Now, I have my criticisms of Tim’s presentational style and fear that the heat generated from the introduction of his Policy Exchange pamphlet obscured the light to be found in the content. But I would baulk at misrepresenting his proposals in this way.

Fundamentally, the idea was to take all the money being spent on regeneration currently and hand it over to local authorities to spend as they see fit. This isn’t even mentioned in Jones’ caricature, for all his stoking the fire with talk about entering the lion’s den. Instead Tim is being held up as an advocate of prescribing “market forces as a panacea for our urban problems” – which is utter bilge. In what way is proposing to spend billions of pounds of regeneration budgets differently count as leaving things to market forces?

Is it too much to ask the Bishop of Liverpool to have read a pamphlet which he then denounces on the radio? Worse, not only is it insinuated that Tim has incurred the wrath of God, but he apparently is flying in the face of St Tracey of Emin (no, I didn’t realise she’d been canonised either).

In other news, a new campaign has been launched to secure the official pardons of the thousands of people who were burnt at the stake for witchcraft by populist religious bigots in the 18th century. Not that there is a connection at all, oh no.

Three Cheers for Tim Leunig!

Tim Leunig has written an excellent, one page article in the Green Lib Dems‘ Challenge magazine about why Lib Dem support for road user charging is thoroughly wrong headed. Sadly, you can’t read the article online as it is GLD policy not to do so in order to encourage you to join the organisation (for the record, I disagree with that policy, but it is what it is). But it comes recommended.

Let battle commence next Tuesday!

Is it okay to hate Tim Leunig?

Burning a dummy in effigy
Guardian Readers burn Tim Leunig in effigy.

Press, politico and blog reaction to the Policy Exchange’s Cities Unlimited report has been quite extraordinary. The Guardian today was particularly wretched, producing a big special article extolling the North (if you really think it’s so great, why did you leave Manchester then?) and quoting David Cameron extensively (audio here):

“This report is rubbish from start to finish,” he said, repeating the charge four times in two minutes. “I think the author himself said it might be a bit barmy. It is barmy.” Referring to the report’s co-author Tim Leunig, he added: “I gather he’s off to Australia. The sooner he gets on the ship the better.”

Being part of a multi-media network these days, the paper has been prominently advertising Chris Grayling’s rebuttal of the report on Comment is Free (“I’m not allowed to say what I really think of it on a family website”) while failing to mention that Tim Leunig himself has an article giving his side of the story. To compound things, the paper has issued a handy extract of the report providing all the “damning quotes” while failing to mention its actual proposals or even provide a link to the report.

On the blogosphere, Leunig is variously described as a “twat” and a “fucking idiot.” Recess Monkey has been far more restrained, merely posting a mugshot of who presumably all right thinking socialists should direct their Daily Hate towards. Finally, noticing that no-one in the media appear to have noticed that Leunig was the central party’s golden boy 12 months ago (he being of the Community Land Auction idea), the Lib Dem press office have issued a standard press release so all local parties can join in with the fun (I’m surprised that Tom Papworth is moaning about this though; doesn’t he have some Focus leaflets to deliver?). But just to show what a classy act we really are, the party has declined to issue a national press release. I’m sure those of us working in public policy are now really reassured that the party will stand by us when the chips are down.

What is most remarkable is that in the last 24 hours since it has been available, none of these people appear to have bothered to read the actual report. Jonathan Calder has, and it is hard to fault his analysis:

David Cameron has called Cities Unlimited “insane”. My own reaction on reading it is quite different. While I like the idea of selling empty property cheaply to its neighbours and local control of development funds, it seems to me to be based on two quasi-Marxist assumptions. They are:

  • contempt for piecemeal reform;
  • the belief that it is the state’s role to forecast how society and the economy will develop and then expedite that development.

The fact is, Leunig and James Swaffield do bear some responsibility for the mess they have found themselves in. Fundamentally, they appear to not be able to make their minds up. On the one hand, most of the prescriptions of their report are excellent. But their analysis of the situation is at the height of economistic hubris. No-one can deny that northern towns such as Manchester and Newcastle have declined since the height of the industrial revolution and have struggled to recover since, but how does that inform us about the future? No-one can deny that the south east has been beneficiary of the post-industrial era, but how does that lead one to conclude that it will remain the case over the next 20-50 years? Can you really measure success and failure in such simplistic economic terms (I for one would move back to Manchester in a heartbeat if I thought I could have a similar career to the one I have here in London; I can’t stand the Capital)? Fundamentally, how can you claim to believe in devolution and reject ideas of a command economy while proposing to plan UK-wide demographics down to the last neighbourhood?

It isn’t really the north that should be upset by this report, it is the good burghers of Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire whose countryside Leunig and Swaffield are proposing to tarmac over. Yet this is based on the assumption that in a post-industrial information age, location will remain as important as it was 100 years ago. My ill-informed analysis is different: the south east has boomed while the north has wilted because that is where the UK’s knowledge economy has been focussed. Invest in a knowledge economy up north and there is no reason why we can’t see benefits across the country. From reading the report, I would expect Leunig and Swaffield to agree with that, at least up to an extent, so why preface their work with the counsel of despair which has caused them so much heat over the past 24 hours?

Back to the media reaction though, I have to wonder if this whole row has been engineered by the Policy Exchange deliberately. The Smith Institute has just had an uncomfortable year with the Charity Commission breathing down its neck. The Policy Exchange must know that its intimate, revolving door relationship with the Conservatives is likely to come under scrutiny sooner or later. So, why not engineer a row with the Tories? And use a Lib Dem as the patsy to boot?

Earlier this year, there was a suggestion that Nick Clegg’s Policy Exchange speech had been leaked to David Cameron thus allowing the Conservative leader to undermine his rival by making a strikingly similar speech 24 hours earlier. Charity Commission investigation or not, if you are a Lib Dem you would be well advised to only sup with the Policy Exchange with a very long spoon.

Tim Leunig: “unworkable, unreasonable and perhaps plain barmy”? (UPDATE)

The Guardian is getting itself into a lather attacking the “Tories’ favourite thinktank” for suggesting that Northern towns are failures. What they don’t report is that the pamphlet in question is co-written by the Lib Dems’ own Tim Leunig.

The summary of the pamphlet does indeed sound quite provocative. The idea that people should simply follow the money and that national governments shouldn’t examine why northern towns have failed to get themselves out of a decades-long economic slump and should instead encourage people to follow the money down south seems entirely unworkable. Where are all these northern incomers to London, Cambridge and Oxford supposed to live for one thing? Isn’t the south under enough pressure as it is at the moment? And somehow I suspect that paying people from the north to move south while southerners themselves are priced out of their neighbourhoods is likely to go down like a bucket of cold sick. But I will suspend my judgement until I read what they are actually proposing rather than the Guardian spin.

UPDATE: I’ve just read the exec summary of this report and the Guardian spin is balls. I’m not necessarily saying I agree with all of it, but much of it is very welcome. Will blog more later.