Category Archives: politics

Easteligh By Election Anti Greenfield Twitter Stunt Backfires

Don’t build over here, No don’t build over here too.

Interesting isn’t it that the Conservative election tactic now seems to to be to campaign against greenfield locally – a lot of mps of  anti regulatory bent manage to get away with campaigning against any loss of greenfield locally whilst endorsing it nationally –  im sure central office has noticed how well this has worked and how few people notice.     Interesting to that this could only have come through Micheal Green – Sorry Grant Shapps (now the Minister for Stopping Housing).  We will see if Lyndon Crosby finds an immigration angle to this nearer a general election.  Will Nick Boles comment on this new approach?

Ive been too busy to post on here for a while but the combination of a Grant Shapps Twitter stunt gone wrong and him covertly campaigning against housing was too good a combination to let pass.

Guardian

A spate of statements from party activists and MPs, including Robert Halfon and Nadhim Zahawi, appeared on Twitter just before 2pm attacking the Liberal Democrats over housing policy.

Each tweet was identical – “The Lib Dem Eastleigh campaign in turmoil as Party’s candidate admitted he ‘voted for’ 5,000 new houses on green spaces” – and the social networking site was soon abuzz with users claiming the episode was orchestrated from Tory central command and proof that some in the party were still struggling with the subtleties of campaigning in the digital age.

Jim Waterson, a reporter with City AM tweeted: “Tory party press operation: it doesn’t work if you get all your MPs to mysteriously tweet the same phrase.”

The Liberal Democrats said the incident revealed how out of touch the Conservatives’ campaign had become.

“The Tory Twitter lemmings are just showing how little the CCHQ spin machine actually knows about Eastleigh,” said a spokesman. “By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk.”

This is from the 13th Feb Speccie blog by Isabel Hardman

Alarming news reaches this blog from the Eastleigh by-election, where the battle has descended into a catfight about a policy the two main parties support at national level. How unusual for parties to detach themselves from their own policies when a prize seat is in sight: this time round it’s the Lib Dems and Tories fighting over a development of new homes in the area on greenfield land.

The Lib Dem leaflets promoting Mike Thornton say ‘residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders’. The Tories backing Maria Hutchings point out that Thornton and his Lib Dem colleagues on the council voted in favour of the local plan for Eastleigh, which includes provisions for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land. Oddly enough, both parties at a national level backed the government’s Localism Bill and coalition ministers in the Communities and Local Government department worked together to develop the National Planning Policy Framework.

Fighting a by-election on protecting green spaces is hardly a new tactic. But it’s still disappointing as at a national level both parties have been outspoken on the need for more homes to solve this country’s housing crisis. Pollsters will point out that it’s also all about the framing of the arguments. Turn up on the doorstep and tell someone their area is about to get a new development of homes and they’re unlikely to react well. Tell them that new homes are being built in their area so that their children can afford to stay there and they’ll be much more positive.

In Eastleigh, research by housing charity Shelter found rents rose by £289 between October 2011 and September 2012: a rent inflation of 3.2 per cent while wages rose by just 1.5 per cent, and house prices in the constituency are 7.76 times the average wage, as opposed to 6.65 nationally. Yet just 220 new homes were started in Eastleigh in 2011/12, down from 310 the previous year.

I had a conversation with a Tory MP recently which underlined this. We’d been discussing some of the problems with the ‘bedroom tax’, and the concerns that this MP had about cutting housing benefit for the under-25s. But a little later, we started talking about development. The MP said they would vote against any plans to water down protections for greenfield sites because they ‘believed in the green belt’. They didn’t see the connection between the two: if you keep taking away with one hand so that house prices and rents rise as a result of the housing shortage, there comes a point where the state cannot afford to keep giving with the other hand in the form of housing benefit to cover those soaring rents. I also always wonder when someone says they ‘believe in greenfield’ whether they realise how arbitrary the designation for greenfield actually is: the quality of the landscape is not relevant to whether land is included within a green belt (you can read the criteria here), and researchsuggests 60 per cent of the green belt is actually devoted to intensive farming.

Of course, it’s naive to expect candidates to start knocking on the doors of Eastleigh constituents and engage them in an argument about housing demand, just as it would be foolish (but perhaps not impossible) for Ed Miliband to pitch up at a local market stall and tell shoppers ‘I want to talk to you today about pre-distribution’. The other big fight in this very local by-election is, after all, about a gravel pit. But this scrap is a useful foretaste of the sort of campaigns other Tories and Lib Dems will run in 2015. Though it is laudable for a minister to speak from an ivory tower about the housing shortage being the greatest threat to social justice, it is far more tempting at constituency level to talk about ‘protecting green spaces’.

And 12th Feb Telegraph

Planning has now become the central issue of the close-fought Eastleigh by-election, with both Tories and Liberal Democrats claiming the other wants to pave over the countryside.

The Liberal Democrats have been accused of particular hypocrisy by their Tory rivals, who say their local councillors are backing plans for up to 4,700 new homes on greenfield land in the local area.

Leaflets distributed by Mike Thornton, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Eastleigh, say he is “working to protect the land between our villages from development”.

“In our area, residents are angry with the Conservatives for putting green fields under threat from big builders,” his campaign material says.

During a visit on Monday, Mr Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, also said the Liberal Democrats are the party to fight for “green spaces” against the Conservative Hampshire County Council’s proposals for a gravel pit in the constituency.

However, Tory sources point out that Mr Thornton is one of the 37 Liberal Democrat councillors who voted in favour of Eastleigh’s draft local plan, which approves thousands of new homes on greenfield land.

Last night, Mr Thornton said the local council’s plans for more housing are necessary.

“By jeopardising plans to build vital homes, the Conservatives have put all of Eastleigh’s green spaces at risk. Eastleigh needs new homes and that is why the Liberal Democrats designed a sustainable plan,” he said.

“The Conservative refusal to support our plans has meant that bulldozers will be forced into the important countryside and green space in between our villages.

“Our plans were even supported by the Conservative County Council, until the Council Leader was undermined by his own by-election candidate, who said she was against them.

“The Tories are now desperately trying to cover the mistake their candidate made. Hampshire Tories have put our countryside at risk, and put job creation in jeopardy.”

Leaflets for Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate for Eastleigh, claim she “spoke out against Lib Dem plans to concrete over the countryside by building almost 5,000 houses on greenfield sites in Eastleigh.”

The campaign literature, bearing pictures of Mrs Hutchings with a Save our Countryside banner, point out that she also “campaigned against the County Council’s plans for gravel extraction in Hamble”.

The row illustrates how the issue of planning has caused acrimony in a local community, pitting local politicians against national ones.

A Conservative source said: “Candidates and MPs are, of course, free to campaign against bad development in their area and there is no inconsistency with Government policy.”

Cameron Invents the Ante-Climax

Breakdown of the Grid and What Should Replace it – Policy Coordination in Chaos at Number 10

As has been frequently commented on in the last couple of days, Steve Hilton’s grumble to his own students at Stanford

 “Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the government is doing. And you think, well, hang on a second – it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it!”

Is entirely number 10s fault as it had abolished the ‘grid’ system designed to do just that coordination

Damion Mc Bride

This ‘Upcoming Business’ document would be circulated by No10’s Strategic Communications Unit each Thursday evening, and would then form the basis of a Friday morning meeting to go through each item in the grid line-by-line.

I was chatting before Christmas to two relatively young, junior members of Downing Street staff …One of them answered: “I’m not sure”. The other answered: “I don’t know if we still do grid meetings”. Now, as I say, they were junior, but the idea that what used to be the second most important meeting of the week in Downing Street is now one that is barely on the radar of two members of No10 staff seems deeply worrying to me.

Now it appears the main means of coordination across government is no longer the ‘upcoming business’ spreadsheet, but a more business-plan like spreadsheet used by the cabinet office of the actions each department has agreed to to implement the coalition agreement.

There is a problem with this.  It is used as a tickbox document by civil servants, they deliver on the coalition agreement commitment  even if it is daft, counterproductive, out of date and irrelevant, cast a sigh of relief and get on with it. Then they make policy new policy commitments and announcements without Number 10 or the cabinet office getting a whiff of it.

There is a basic problem here.  A business plan is not a policy programme, the skills of programme planning are needed by government and business planning by delivery bodies (including ministries) once the policy has been agreed.

The basic structural problem that the coalition has is that the coalition agreement is a dog of a document full of gruff none evidence based ideas that certain policy measures will work without evidentail backing or clear performance metrics that can be used to assess risk and programme failure and reorganise the programme accordingly.

So what is needed is not a spreadsheet but a Primevera type database backed programme planning tool of the type used to manage the Olympics.

This would present several coordinated ‘views’ looking like spreadsheet lists but crucially keeping track of the links across government between policy areas and spending.  These views could comprise:

  • High Level Policy Outputs – such as youth Unemployment, Offender Reoffending, O level Test results etc.
  • Financial – the allocation of resources on projects to achieve agreed outcomes in zero based budgeting.
  • Policy Announcement Coordination
  • Evidence Base Coordination
  • Cross Ministry Strategy Coordination – for example agreement by the Transport Ministry on a new station to unlock a major new housing area – tracked as project dependencies.

Is it any wonder then that Francis Maude and Oliver Letwin in using 20C tools more suited to running a small family firm with with one aim (profit) have run into tehthe ground with a large complex multi-objective organisation like national government.

Im Memorium – The Liberal Party 1859-2013

Guardian

Nick Clegg braved a cold London street on Monday evening to commemorate the founding of the Liberal party more than 150 years ago by unveiling a plaque – but mistakenly called it a memorial in his short speech.

Here the correct plaque

Liberal-party-plaque-unvel-010

Osborne’s and Cameron’s Fundamental Difference on EU Membership

A few days ago George Osborne stated that the EU ‘must change’ to a void a British exit.  That implied that the current conditions of EU entry were intolerable and if a referendum were to be held today with only current conditions of membership available one should vote no.  Logically if this were not the case then it was just an idle and worthless bluff with no intention of leaving.

Yet today we learn that Cameron believes

The UK is “better off” being part of the EU, Prime Minister David Cameron said today.

But Mr Cameron said he wanted to see changes being made to “find a Europe that suits us better”.

So logically the PM believes then even under current conditions of membership we should be in, and if a referendum on EU membership were to be held tommorrow you should vote no.  The threat to leave then is again just an idle one.

So the one or the other is making an idle threat then, so who is it?

A better way to avoid NHS tax distortion

Of course the whole purpose of the new NHS watchdog ‘monitor’ was to remove the competitive advantage the NHS has on not earning profits or paying dividends, and borrowing at (low) treasury rates. The Lansley aim was to gradually squeeze out the public sector, as he made very clear in several pre-election pamphlets.

Hence it is no surprise today to see Monitor propose a ‘level playing field’ of no corporate tax payments for private health providers.

Of course Monitor does not have amongst its statutory purposes that its proposals make any economic sense whatsover – hence it is free to propose such nonsense.

All sectoral ax breaks do is distort investment towards that sector, causing an asset price boom in shares in that sector, and of course an eventual bust and excess capacity harmful to the economy as a whole.

Think about it, two sectors each earning an average rate of profit, one earning tax on profits the other not, which one would you invest in?

There is a better way, all arms-length public sector bodies, such as HNS and Educational Trust should pay the standard rate of corporation tax.  Of course most will be non-profit making returning all profits to investment, and so they wouldnt pay a penny, but if they did earn profits, and I have have no ideological objection to them engaging in profit making activities which don’t divert resources from their public service priorities, then tax those profits at the standard rate.

This way there will be a level playing field, an incentive for public service providers to innovate and for the private sector to invest capital; in public services, whilst there being no distortion of investment between sectors.

 

 

Cameron Deliberately Misleading on Benefit Tourism

In his speech tomorrow, flagged up in the Marr program this morning, the PM  claims that

only working immigrants should be allowed into the country, even if it means undermining the EU’s key principle of “free movement”.

What principle, as anyone who knows anything about Immigration and the treaty of Rome knows there is only a right to free movement for the working. 

Article 45

  1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Community.
  2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.
  3. It shall entail the right, subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health:
    (a) to accept offers of employment actually made;
    (b) to move freely within the territory of Member States for this purpose;
    (c) to stay in a Member State for the purpose of employment in accordance with the provisions governing the employment of nationals of that State laid down by law, regulation or administrative action;
    (d) to remain in the territory of a Member State after having been employed in that State, subject to conditions which shall be embodied in implementing regulations to be drawn up by the Commission.
  4. The provisions of this article shall not apply to employment in the public service.

So what rubbish is he spouting.

I can only conclude that it is deliberately misleading.  That this is a Lyndon Crosby/Osborne operation designed to deliberately differentiate the Conservatives on immigation and get out the xenophobic vote, as all Crosby s plans are.  Of course under channel 4 fact checking and forensic questioning on Today it will fall apart, as it always does for Cameron, even befo0re the speech is made; giving the impression of yet another Omnishambles,.

 

DCLG ‘Polcy Advisor Andy Gale ‘frogmarched out’ of Eland House for revealing truth about Housing Policy – But only to Newham

Nearly Legal Housing Law

 

then there is the curious case of the advisor who wasn’t (or was he?). Andy Gale ‘CLG Policy Advisor’ was the author of a briefing paper to Council officers that appeared to advocate unlawful gatekeeping, reducing the homeless preference in part 6 to effectively nil, and acknowledged out of borough offers were going to happen (not the official CLG line or guidance). We revealed the briefing document here. The Guardian picked up on the detail of the briefing paper here, and then all hell broke loose.

The CLG aggressively denied to the Guardian that Andy Gale had anything to do with them (though I noted at the time the strange precision of the wording used “Andy Gale is not employed by the department and [...] it has no contractual arrangements with him”). Andy Gale vanished from a January 2013 conference where he was billed as CLG policy advisor. An erratum slip was issued at a November conference to say Andy Gale was not a CLG policy advisor.

Meanwhile, I was hearing odd tales, including one from several different directions that Andy Gale had been ‘frogmarched’ out of CLG HQ one afternoon about a week after the Guardian article. There were also whispers about him working at LB Newham as ‘a CLG advisor’. Bits and pieces were coming together to make it clear that the CLG’s denial was not necessarily as clear cut as it seemed.

Now the Guardian has gone public with the whole story, straight out of the Thick of It. Do read the full article. It might even make you feel rather sorry for Mr Gale. But some highlights are the CLG suggesting that Andy Gale had been effectively making up his ‘policy advisor’ title since 2008:

He [Gale] has advised the Government in the past, but he is not employed or seconded by DCLG, and it’s not true that this advice reflects our views. This alleged advice was not paid for, or commissioned by, or given to DCLG.

and

He has been told he should not present himself as a government advisor, and he accepted that.

Meanwhile Andy Gale was using a CLG email address…

As the Guardian Picks up

Gale, it turned out, was indeed not employed directly by DCLG. But unbelievably, the emails revealed the department was directly paying Newham to “host” Gale, precisely to advise local authorities on how to tackle homelessness

On 3 February 2012 an unnamed DCLG civil servant (the name is redacted) wrote to Newham:

 

‘I believe Andy has spoken to you about Newham hosting Andy Gale to continue to provide support to local authorities to tackle homelessness. I would be most grateful if Newham are able to help in this respect.
The objective is for Andy to continue to provide support for two day a week to local authorities. DCLG would provide additional grant funding to Newham this financial year of £72,000.’

Turquoise Tories Claim Anti-Green Shift Will Cost Seats – Indy

Independent

David Cameron has been personally warned by a group of his MPs that he risks losing seats to the Liberal Democrats at the next election unless he takes on anti-environmental “dog whistling” from Tory ministers.

A group of 12 “Turquoise Tories” met the Prime Minister in Downing Street last week to express their concerns that some ministers, including the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and the Energy Minister John Hayes, are killing off the Conservatives’ green agenda with anti-wind farm rhetoric and allowing Nick Clegg’s party to take the credit for coalition environmentalism.

The latest salvo in the coalition’s battle over the environment came yesterday when Mr Paterson told a newspaper that wind turbines were “inappropriate technology which matured in the Middle Ages” and were “doing real damage” to areas of British countryside.

The Prime Minister attempted to stave off a “Turquoise rebellion” by asking the group to put forward new ideas on renewable energy and other environmental measures for Mr Cameron to push in the New Year.

The 12 included Tim Yeo, the chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, Ben Gummer and Laura Sandys, a ministerial aide to the Climate Change Minister Greg Barker. A number of MPs also attended who are not known for their pro-green stance but are thought to be concerned about the Government missing out on investment in the low carbon economy. They included Gordon Henderson, Andrew Percy and Peter Aldous. Nicola Blackwood, who was not present at the meeting but is also understood to have concerns, has a 176-vote majority over the Lib Dems in Oxford West and Abingdon.

A source said: “There are concerns that the whole green agenda is being contracted to the Lib Dems, that we are failing to carve out a distinct Tory agenda on green issues and that we have gone back on our manifesto pledges. It’s important that we stick to our green guns.”

Yet any attempt by the Prime Minister to renew his pledge to “vote blue, go green” will be met with scepticism among environmentalists. He recently blocked the appointment of David Kennedy, the chief executive of the government’s Climate Change Committee, as permanent secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Last week, Mr Osborne gave the go-ahead for tax breaks for shale gas extraction.

The Government’s Gas Strategy, published last week, reveals plans to dismantle the government’s future climate change targets. The document suggests ministers are planning to revise upwards the fourth carbon budget, agreed in 2011, which sets out targets for carbon emissions between 2023 and 2027.

At the same time, the Office for Budget Responsibility has warned that energy prices will continue to rise, sending gas and electricity bills soaring. Labour’s Energy spokeswoman, Caroline Flint, said: “With warnings of more price hikes to come, it’s clearer than ever why we need to break the dominance of the energy giants, open up the energy market and create a tough new energy regulator with the power to force energy companies to pass on savings to consumers.”

First Target for Massive Civil Service Staff Cuts Should be Economists that Produce Impact Statements

Given the massive cuts in the Civil Service proposed with remaining staff supposed to focus ‘ruthlessly’ on ministerial priorities where should the cuts first fall.  I would suggest on the staff producing impact statements which have now become a complete and utter waste of time.

The Civil Service used to operate on the basis of objectively identifying the pros and cons of different options.  The Civil Service Code states as one of its four key values

Objectivity –basing advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence

But we no longer have evidence based policy but policy based evidence.  In the last couple of years Impact statements have become a joke.  We are expected to believe they are objective when one year they can argue one position – for example that brownfield first doesn’t reduce housing numbers because of the viability test, and the next the precise opposite.  Impact statements have become post-hoc justifications of policies drempt up by lobbyists and dumb tanks and no options presented by department or agency civil servants (the latter having had their policy role – essential as an expert based check on policy excesses – completely abolished).

Indeed it is no longer evidence that doesn’t matter but reality.  England has become infested with the same ‘reality deficit’ that neoliberal values  has caused the rot of American Conservatism.  Science, statistics, impacts are all derided as ‘moral relivatism’ and inferior to gut instincts.  A position laid to ridicule by the triumph of Nate Silvers cool calculated methods.  If you doubt this is happening look at the impact statements of the DWP, as so comprehensively savaged by the JRF,, where civil servants attack the Work Programme as ineffective, even though the DWPS own buried research suggests a low cost per job, when the replacement programme has a worse chance of finding you work then had you not been on the programme at all.  All claimants have to do now is state that they are refusing to go on it as the evidence suggest it will hinder their chance of finding work.

When civil servants droop to such moral relativism they do not justify their position according to the values of the Civil Service Code.  Values sadly now only of historic interest to be remembered with nostalgia in St James Clubs and Institute for Government Seminars.

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