Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Community politics is not nearly enough

Why the debate at the party conference in Birmingham did not go nearly far enough.  We need to do more than simply re-commit to community politics - we need to completely re-invent it:

Monday, 26 September 2011

Why we need green quantitative easing

Compare the speed with which Roosevelt rolled out the New Deal in 1933 with the terrifyingly slow nature of decision-making during our own crisis - when what we really need is green quantitative easing.  Or was that what Vince Cable meant in his deft and opaque speech last week?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The feral elite and The Thing

The Compass campaign to identify a 'feral elite', that parallels the feral underclass, has some remarkable parallels with the campaign nearly two centuries ago by the great radical William Cobbett.  This is how I put it on the new economics blog:

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The great policy gap: local economics

There is a bizarre moment in the half-forgotten Lindsay Anderson film Britannia Hospital, where the Queen arrives to open the new hospital wing wheeled in on a trolley, to avoid the demonstrators outside.

I was reminded of this going to hear Nick Clegg’s speech on the economy at the LSE, where the security was so tight and labyrinthine that only the demonstrators knew where he was actually speaking.

Nick could be heard in his microphone, as he was being slipped in through the back door, asking: “Has the lecture theatre been booked?”

It was a good speech, well-delivered, and what he said was important – infrastructure, green investment, devolving money-raising powers (though I’m not sure that transport infrastructure inevitably brings growth, since it is likely to undermine local business as much as it opens opportunities for more distant business).

But there was nothing in the speech about those elements that might actually have some chance of reviving the struggling economies of many of our cities – enterprise, small business, local lending.

This reflects the gap in Treasury thinking and it is a serious problem. The establishment has no idea how to revive local economies, and increasing money flows there, and local government looks hopelessly and pathetically to the Treasury to do it for them.

The problem is that, although infrastructure projects and trade negotiations may help in the long term, we all know they will have little or no impact when and where it is needed.

Lib Dems have had so little to say on economics since the death of Keynes in 1947, and now it really matters. Time we got our act together.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why public services fail

Kenneth Clarke's intervention in the debate about the riots was a breath of fresh air.  If 83 per cent of those arrested had already been through the criminal justice system at least once - then the system is not doing its job properly.

What interests me is how much this same argument could be applied to other public services.  It may be ridiculous to expect that people who have been through the NHS once should not remain ill, or that so many interventions are required with problem families.  Yet that is what Beveridge expected when he set out the terms of the new welfare state in 1942.  He expected it to get cheaper because it was so effective.

In fact, of course, Beveridge's Five Giants have to be slain again and again, every generation at at increasing expense.  The political establishment needs to start asking why this is.  So far they have been too afraid to, but those of us who support public services need to start asking why the are not more effective.  And, yes, I've got some ideas (see my new book published next month!)

In the meantime, we may not embrace the cuts.  But we should not unthinkingly defend all public services exactly as they are, because there may just be more effective (and therefore cheaper) ways of doing the same job.

Are the cuts heading in that direction.  No they're not.  But this admission about the manifest failings of the crimial justice system is an opportunity where we might just begin the debate.