Category: politics

IDS and the Great Skip of Initiatives

So I was having a long talk with Declan Gaffney on Twitter about incapacity benefit and the Department for Work and Pensions. The Gaffer mentioned that when he’d been working for the Greater London Authority with John Hutton’s DWP in 2006, nobody seemed to have been aware that the IB caseload was rapidly ageing-out, and that therefore it was increasingly ridiculous to expect people to launch a new career with only a couple of years to go before retirement age and anyway the problem was going to solve itself.

I nearly fell off my chair – the big run-up in IB happened in the 80s and early 90s. A lot of ex-industrial workers had at least one problem that could justify IB, and the political imperative to make claimant count unemployment look better led to them being transferred from unemployment to inactivity, in the dry statistical terms. Further, the older people were naturally less likely to get on their bikes, etc, etc. And by 2006, it was all twenty years in the past. Wasn’t all this trivially obvious? Apparently no.

I said to the Gaffer that the main problem with DWP is that it’s always fighting the last war. He agreed, saying that by the mid-90s it had just about come to terms with unemployment and therefore missed inactivity as an issue. By 2006, I said, it had been trained as an organisation to worry about inactivity and especially incapacity, as unemployment seemed to have gone away.

This led it to see its mission as dealing with relatively small groups of people with complex and entrenched problems, justifying more intervention and a sort of pseudo-medical attitude. It also led DWP to engage with the NGOs that had sprung up in the post-industrial north, mostly, to look after the long-term unemployed. It’s worth remembering that A4e started off as a charity called Action for Employment in Sheffield.

It was around this time Iain Duncan Smith was in the process of reinventing himself. Having decided to “faire du social” as the French say, he, most of all politicians, needed to import some ideas about how. He got the ideas from the US neo-conservative Lawrence Mead and his circle’s idea of a culture of poverty. This seemed to fit the facts, ish, and also fit with his own Christian-inspired self presentation. The IDS package consists of Mead-ian moralising, DWP treatment-ism, and charity capitalism.

But of course, none of this stuff was in the least bit applicable to the 2010s. First of all, unemployment made a comeback in a big way. DWP struggled to realise the world had changed. Then it began falling, but two new problems emerged: underemployment, and soaring housing benefit calls. Meanwhile, the post-industrial IB caseload was aging out, leaving the group subjected to Atos assessments enriched with people whose problems were much worse than a bad back.

So what’s going on here? Meet Michael D. Cohen and his Garbage Can Model of decision making. Cohen observed that organisations do not, in fact, observe problems and proceed to derive solutions to them. Instead, having met a problem, they reach into the garbage can, the stock of unused proposals that is always lying around, and try to force-fit anything that seems likely to the problem. This explains why the same old rubbish comes up every time there’s a crisis. In the UK, rather than a garbage can, we might say we have a skip full of initiatives.

We will now pause to consider the Labour Party leadership contest.

That done, back to the DWP. They’re always behind because the stuff in the can is always the surplus of ideas from a while ago. That’s why it’s garbage. We could think about how to do better, but that would probably take us in the direction of why cache invalidation is a notoriously hard programming problem. Also, it strikes me that the history of DWP from the 1980s is the history of our movement towards a low-trust society. I just found it in this skip.

I am the party of no.

Something I left out of this piece, because it doesn’t really fit my self-imposed terms of reference for the Pol, is my own two cents on what the Labour party should do. (Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?)

The problem, according to me, was defining a political statement that addressed about four quite divergent constituencies. The cliché options – Blairism, Blue Labour, imitation SNP, Socialist Labour like the party of that name – only seem to address two out of four at best. Ed Miliband tried to identify a constituency that cut across them, in essence, people discontented and robbed by the design of the UK-wide markets in energy, housing, transport, labour, and media created by Thatcher and Major. This didn’t work but at least he recognised the problem, which is more than you can say for the entire leadership field from Tristram “literally the least popular MP in the country” Hunt across to Liz “Who?” Kendall via Andy “I worked for Gordon y’know” Burnham and Yvette “So did I” Cooper and even Keir “let’s impress the ‘kippers with a human rights lawyer, that’ll work” Starmer.

Here’s my suggestion. What about rejectionism?

All the constituencies can, at least, agree that we reject the Tories. Rejectionism doesn’t aggravate the divisions among them. Rejectionism mobilises, which is good. Rejectionism is tactically appropriate in the context of a parliament with a majority of 11. Rejectionism will put us in the right place for the London Mayoral elections, the EU referendum if it happens, and the Holyrood elections.

I think it was Graham Lowe who said that you should work on your best performances and your worst performances. (Years later I realised this was just the principle of management by exception, but there you go, and it’s worth having a Rugby League quote that’s not from Jack Gibson.) It’s not just that the best outperform when they’re playing at the top of their game, it’s that they don’t collapse completely when they suck, as they inevitably do some of the time. It’s important not to let the Tories repeat the 2010 experience, rushing to action while we’re arguing.

The lesson here is from the US Republicans and the French conservatives. Like Labour, they were in charge when the great financial crisis blew up and were punished by the voters. They have, however, managed to cause a hell of a lot of trouble in opposition. Even if the teabaggers are no closer to the White House than they were in 2008, they have managed to colour public discourse, advance their agenda at the state and local level, and keep the activist base mobilised. French conservatives have the advantage that France is stuck with the euro, but we ought to be impressed by the speed with which they went from utter rout in the 2012 elections to filling the street with numbers against the mariage pour tous. The only parties who were in charge in 2007 who have managed to renew themselves did so through hairy-arsed, gut rejectionism, and especially, through an aggressive campaign in local government.

I would point out that this should not be confused with your favourite left-of-the-left campaign. The problem with those is that they always come with a shopping list of nice things as long as your arm, half of which is unacceptable to one important constituency or another. Rejectionism skips this in favour of the clearest possible message: no.

So here’s my advice. Appoint Tom Watson as combined Opposition Chief Whip and Defence Commander. Appoint somebody party leader. I’m not sure I really care who. Then pick a highly emotive issue (it doesn’t much matter which) and start the biggest possible row.

This may not be a policy, but then, who cares? Ed Miliband had one of those and look what they did to him. In the end, perhaps my point is that we all spent too much time being an alternative government rather than yelling NO. Anyway, as the Germans say, kommt Zeit, kommt Rat. With time comes counsel. We can work out detail later. For now, we need a big fuck-off row, and hairy-arsed rejectionism. This is the only option I can see that minimises the damage and contests both UKIP and the SNP as well as confronting the Tories.

why Ed Miliband won’t commit in advance to the SNP

Why won’t Ed Miliband commit to a deal with the SNP in advance? The explanation is incredibly simple. Here are the last three Scottish polls – Survation for the Daily Record, TNS Global, and Ipsos MORI. As expected they both show a monster LAB>SNP swing. But the interesting bit is this: there are a lot of undecided voters.

TNS, for example, shows 29% of their sample as Undecided. That’s twice as many as all the other parties other than Labour or the SNP. That’s as many Don’t Knows as there were Scottish Nationalists. That’s more than the gap between the SNP and Labour. The biggest groups of DKs are the young (34% of 18-34s, 38% of 18-24s). Socioeconomic groups C1 and C2 and women are the other likely DKs, but the difference from the national result is much smaller.

Survation formulated its questions rather differently. As a result, you might think TNS got a dodgy sample, as they only saw 11.5% Undecided. However, they also asked those respondents who picked a party in the voting intention question if they might change their minds between now and polling day – i.e. if they might actually be undecided. They found 19.2% were still, in this sense, undecided.

You can’t add the two percentages, because the second only includes those who picked a party. But we have the full tables, so we can tot up the 163 undecided here and the 111 earlier and divide by the weighted n=968, and conclude that 28.3% of Survation’s respondents are undecided.

Ipsos MORI, on the same basis, gets 26% undecided/DK. Pretty close!

If you’re Scottish, you are much more likely to prefer a Labour government to a Conservative one. TNS makes the split 35% to 16%. Therefore, if you’re undecided you are most likely wavering between a Labour-first route to this or a Labour-SNP route. The most immediate reason to prefer Labour is obviously that voting SNP denies Labour seats it needs to form a government and therefore risks a Tory-[something] coalition.

If Ed Miliband was to pre-commit to an alliance with the SNP, this possibility would vanish and with it, any chance to save seats in Scotland. Also, you know if he thought there was any advantage in stabbing Scottish Labour in the neck he’d already have done it.

With almost a third of the voters still in play, there is absolutely no point in giving up. This ain’t the movies, so it’s not as if all 29% of them will break for Labour, but there is a possibility that the SNP will disappoint significantly on the night. Rather like they did in the referendum, in fact. Also, Survation provides the interesting detail that the biggest group of people who might change their minds, out of those who named a party, are ex-Lib Dems, or in other words, the group of people in the UK most likely to support Ed Miliband.

That’s why Miliband won’t pre-commit to a deal with the SNP.

After the latest update the problems will be solved…

Remember that time Mitt Romney bought his campaign a massive IT system that completely broke down and failed utterly, because they gave all the money to their mates’ outsourcing company and did everything on the cheap, and nobody would take any responsibility for it? Now consider the possibilities of getting Grant Shapps to procure a major computer system. He’s a digital entrepreneur, after all. Both of him.

The Tory Diary:

Thirdly, there’s the question of campaign technology. VoteSource has arrived, Merlin is mercifully on its way out, and I gather that after its latest update many of the new system’s early teething problems have been solved. However, it’s far from ideal to receive and have to adapt to a whole new platform so shortly before polling day. Grant Shapps would, I’m sure, have introduced it earlier had he been appointed Party Chairman earlier, and previous Party Chairmen should have acted on it years ago, but the practical impact remains the same regardless of intentions. Most associations still only have a small number of people trained in using VoteSource, while recent weeks have been spent battling with and then ironing out problems (either of the system or of its users’ abilities or both).

O HAI. It looks like Flipper’s trying to tell us something. Shapps decided to cut over to a completely new platform? After the campaign started? This could be fun. You’ve got to love the “if only the Tsar knew!” bit where they say the solution would obviously have been even more Shapps.

That said I did have an exciting technology moment on the doorstep the other weekend when our voter ID database claimed I was about to canvass probably the only black, cockney Plaid Cymru voter in London. Well, as the board runner said, anything’s possible, but the returns use a one-letter code for most things and then get OCRd, so it’s quite possible that a slightly sloppy character going through the slightly chancy OCR process gives you a weird data point.

She’s going to vote Labour.

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, you had a whole year.

Hark at Liberal Democrat Steve Webb. Where once he suggested you might take your pension pot and buy a Lamborghini, now he is having to do the rounds of the media saying “When it’s gone, it’s gone”, as my mum says. But the interesting bit is this quote:

The three government-backed “guidance” services that are supposed to aid those looking to cash in their pension pots cannot currently be promoted publicly for fear of breaking strict pre-election rules.

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb has had a year from the 2014 budget to get this working. Liberal Democrat Steve Webb has, however, run out of time before the pre-election purdah kicks in to get it working. Look at Liberal Democrat Steve Webb.

Unlike Liberal Democrat Steve Webb, I don’t believe anyone’s actually going to cash the whole lot and blow it on hookers and coke – I’m more worried about daft business ideas, buy-to-let mania, and dodgy investment schemes. But as far as I can see it, Steve Webb has given every scam artist in the kingdom five weeks’ head start on the honking big pile of money.

Liberal Democrat Steve Webb is an embarrassment, but the scary thing here is that this is exactly the sort of thing his officials should have caught. What with fixed-term parliaments, the date of the election was perfectly predictable years in advance. Either the civil service has lost its grip on the calendar, or they were overruled.

When we look back on the Coalition, I think we will see it either as the era of the pet project and the half-baked thinktank, now happily closed, or else the point when we began to realise that the institutions were doomed, that a bit of the commonwealth might come off in your hand, that Somerset just went soggy and the Cabinet Office thinks you should keep petrol in your kitchen.

It’s a choice between competence and chaos, as someone said.

PS: I’m not bound by any pre-election rules, so Pensions Wise is the service you’re looking for and that Liberal Democrat Steve Webb should have organised a mass publicity campaign about 6 months ago if he hadn’t left it in the pub.

Being prime minister looks prime ministerial and nearly being prime minister…

Several different polls, by multiple pollsters using different methods, have now shown Ed Miliband’s personal ratings improving sharply after the various not-quite-a-debates. You doubt? Here’s Hopi Sen, presumably tweeting through gritted teeth:

As a long term, in-the-tank Edist or Edator Drone, I should be rejoicing in vindication, but I though I’d do something more interesting.

Here’s a post from December 2011. My point back then was that the quality of looking like you might be prime minister wasn’t something inherent in an individual, any more than Laurence Olivier was like Othello. Instead, it was a theatrical or priestly role that the audience projects on whoever appears on the stage. If you want to appear prime ministerial, it helps to be the prime minister.

We can operationalise this apparently waffly and artsy concept with data by looking at what happened to people who became prime minister. David Cameron and Gordon Brown both saw their score increase by about 2.4 standard deviations over the 6 months during which they became prime minister, a highly statistically significant result. Importantly, this doesn’t just track popularity, because there was no election in 2007. When Tony Blair remained prime minister over the 2005 elections, his score actually fell, although by so little it was almost certainly noise. Becoming the PM, then, makes you look like the PM.

This applies here, too. Taking part in the debates shows Ed Miliband, and also Nicola Sturgeon, who got a similar bump, as someone taking part in prime ministerial politics as an equal with the prime minister. In 2010, Gordon Brown already was the prime minister and couldn’t get any more so. The only comparable stage is Prime Minister’s Questions, but this is an institution lots of people find weird, offputting, stupid, and elitist, and which the government benches specialise in manipulating by putting on the North Korean Mass Games every time Miliband gets up. During the campaign, this is no longer an issue.

You can’t blame anyone in Labour for pocketing the improvement in the ratings. But I didn’t believe in their meaningful status in the first place, so I logically can’t take any comfort from its unwinding.

Update: Here’s an example of the sort of thing I mean. Being an MP makes you more ugly, not in some “the face you deserve by 50″ sense but in that if you tell representative members of the public that someone is a politician, they score them as being less attractive.

I invent a tiresome electoral marketing concept

So, I was out on the #labourdoorstep. And I had an interesting insight. We live in Doorbell Britain, which is divided into two tribes, the Friedlands and the Knockers.

The Friedlands have evidently spent a lot of money on the technology of being alerted to visitors at their front door. Sometimes the bell is slickly modern. Sometimes it is cod-Victorian, but quality cod-Victorian. Sometimes it is disconcertingly silent, leaving you to wonder if it works, but sometimes it makes a noise like a police raid. Sometimes it is gold-plated. Occasionally, it includes a little CCTV camera and a bank of white LEDs to illuminate your face as you wait for a response, wondering whether you should stand politely facing the door or try to display your best profile to the camera. Either way, it’s manufactured by that same German company and it is redolent of an almost intimidating middle-class security that reminded me of, say, the suburbs of Hamburg.

The Knockers are very different. It is not that the bell is absent. Rather, there are usually four or five of the things. The original Edwardian setup is sometimes present, long rusted up and painted over. Several different generations of the technology can be observed. However, none of them work. There may be a name scribbled next to one or more in crabbed handwriting, but it will not be any of the names on the register of electors. If the door opens, it is just as likely that there is an additional voter you didn’t know about than that one is missing. There is sometimes a sticker over one of them with a message like PLEASE DO NOT RING THE BELL – why? – or KNOCK FOR 54C. You end up rapping warily on a window pane, worrying that you might put your fist through the rotting timber of the door itself.

You don’t know, until you talk to them, whether you’re looking at a nest of students or someone on local housing allowance who has a real problem.

Clearly, what’s doing the work here is the housing crisis. It is fairly well known to specialists that the UK housing economy roughly managed to keep up with the rate of household-formation but it did so mostly by reducing the space available to each household. It should perhaps be better known to the wider public, though, as it helps to explain why it was an invisible crisis for so long and how it survives although so many cranes are visible on the London skyline. This chart shows that the total number of dwellings managed to rise despite the plummeting rate of construction, precisely because we all packed in tighter.

1545

It’s from this post by industry analyst Neal Hudson, who points out that the number of houses in London actually fell as so many of them were subdivided and also that:

While the conversion of terraced properties into flats may be taken by many as an indicator for a lack of supply, it is better as an indicator for stretched affordability as first-time buyers are forced into buying flats and artificially driving up demand for smaller units while actually requiring larger family housing but prevented from buying them by high house prices due to excessive mortgage lending…

That is to say, more and more houses were cut up into flats, more and more euroboxes went up near canals in Northern cities, and more and more existing conversions were revisited and chopped up again in pursuit of more rent. Similarly, the vast expansion of buy-to-let as an investment product generated vast numbers of nonprofessional or perhaps just unprofessional landlords, even before minigarch investors became a thing. As a result, we get Landlordistan, this territory of shinbarking conversions, forever-deferred maintenance, and insecurity, a world on hold, next door to the Bank of Mum & Dad’s head office. But, of course, nobody thinks they’re their kids’ exploitative landlord. As long as it’s somebody else’s, it’s OK.

I said as much to the guy who wanted to complain about the “mansion tax”, and it seemed to cut through as they say – at least, he went from threatening to vote Conservative (a stupid gesture in our Labour/LibDem marginal) to asking to speak to the candidate. So I offer you Doorbell Britain. To place myself in this I would just say that we’ve got four buttons on ours but it does work, although the intercom crackles annoyingly.

It’s not enough, though, tempting as it is, to rail at the BTLers. Hoping for another crash ignores just how…crashy the last one was. As Steve Hilditch says:

My view is that policy has to aim to hold house prices steady for a generation, declining in real terms, avoiding a burst bubble, which creates as many if not more problems as it solves.

That said, 7.5% of GDP is now accounted for by rent we pretend to pay ourselves to live in our own homes and I think everyone can agree that’s too much. The Independent frames a somewhat depressing story of emigration as property rah-rah. This shared ownership project is only available to those who earn less than £66,000 a year, but only affordable to those who earn more than £62,000. The Greens haven’t updated their policy statement in 10 years.

Want an idea? I would borrow the housing wage from the Americans. In a real sense, Doorbell Britain is a story about wages as much as it is about houses, which was part of what I was trying to get at with this post on Bob Crow and Shelter’s estimate that the average Brit took a £29k pay cut in terms of house between 1997 and 2012.

More questions on the Biryani Project.

Randy McDonald, and probably others, seem to have found the Afzal Amin piece baffling, so I thought I’d draft a brief explainer as follows.

Afzal Amin, potential Tory MP and ex-army officer, tried to incite the EDL to stage a provocative demonstration in his heavily Muslim constituency during the campaign, while also inciting a group of radical-ish Muslims to protest the EDL. He then tried to get the EDL to call off the demo (that he incited) when he asked. The point was to create a situation in which Amin could appear at the last minute and resolve the conflict without a nasty ruck between EDL football thugs and semi-jihadis, presumably vastly adding to his prestige and authority and getting him elected.

Obviously, as this involved the EDL backing down and CAVING IN TO THE TERRORISTS, or maybe just COMPROMISING WITH THE SYSTEM, they needed a big side-payment. Amin promised their leaders money or possibly jobs, plus support to integrate the EDL into respectable politics, and also offered to pay rank-and-file EDL activists hard cash to campaign for him. Using hired canvassers at an election is illegal in the UK in itself. He also seems to have had ambitions to roll out the process elsewhere in the UK, and to be inspired by David Kilcullen/Galula/etc counterinsurgency theory. Unfortunately for him, he was caught – somehow – by the Mail on Sunday‘s investigations team, which managed to video him conspiring with the EDL in a curry house.

A really interesting question is where he was going to get the money to pay off the EDL (and presumably also his vaguely edgy Muslims). It turns out he has an incredibly shady fake NGO, which got a no-bid contract to the tune of £120k with a bit of the government that has responsibility for counter-radicalisation policy, the CONTEST programme, incidentally headed by a political buddy of his. So the obvious conclusion is that he planned to put the EDL, and probably the Muslims, on his NGO’s payroll and bill the expenses to the government. At which point we need to ask whether the CONTEST people knew about the whole caper and this was some sort of ill-thought out amateur spook scheme. That said, it’s not like huge irresponsibility, deceit, incredibly careless handling of public money, and the use of government resources for one’s election campaign aren’t enough to be going on with.

Before the whole affair sinks into obscurity, I think it’s worth following up some questions that are still outstanding. First of all, Amin mentioned to the EDL that he’d been meeting “some Muslim lads” regarding what I will from now on call the Biryani Project. This sounds very much like he wanted to make sure there would be an angry and at least somewhat radicalised reception committee for the planned EDL march, in order to maximise the conflict he would then solve.

Presumably, if the Biryani Project was indeed meant to serve as a model and be rolled out nationally, it would need angry Muslims just as much as it needed the EDL. Logically, if he needed to hire Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, he would also need to hire the Muslims. So that’s another group of people he’d need to pay or place in a sinecure of some sort. What did he promise them and how did he intend to deliver?

Secondly, who were these Muslims? A place to start looking would be here – via Labour candidate Kate Godfrey’s Twitter feed, it seems he tried to incite the Muslim Public Affairs Committee to insult him about his military service.

Why he bothered when Dan Hardie will insult him about his military service for the sheer pleasure of the thing is another question.

MPAC UK’s involvement needs some parsing, though. The simplest explanation is that they were the “Muslim lads”, in which case we might reason that they were involved and are accelerating away from the mess, or alternatively, if we accept they are telling the truth, that Amin was deluding himself about their involvement. Both are possible. It is also possible that he addressed himself both to MPAC UK and to some other group.

In general, we should be looking for a group around Dudley who were offered a grant, and I suspect a detailed review of the DCLG’s report and accounts (here) might be telling. I’ve yet to find anything suspicious, although I do wonder why literally the only Google hit for “Srebrenica memorial day” and the organisation DCLG thinks it gave the grant to is the DCLG accounts. That could be a clerical error, though. Anyway, the Curzon Institute’s grant is in there, and Amin says he’d been talking to the EDL for at least a year – which means he had DCLG’s money in hand when he began the project.

Meanwhile, Theresa May sets out an important counter-radicalisation initiative:

After several months of disagreement the only official anti-extremism unit to be formed immediately is an “Extremism Analysis Unit”, which set out a blacklist of individuals and organisations with whom the government and the public sector should not engage.

Presumably, except over a chicken biryani at the Celebrity Restaurant, Dudley?

Meanwhile, on the question of Amin’s career, the Wikipedia article has improved to the extent of including the London Gazette mentions for his commission, promotion, and retirement, which places him in the Education & Training Branch throughout. The “Counterinsurgency and Stabilisation Centre”, which someone asked about, is a terminology error for the Land Stabilisation and Counterinsurgency Centre, which was headed by Alexander Alderson and whose name implies it belonged to Land Command rather than the Defence Academy.

ramshackle coalition of interests: black country edition

My first thought about this story was that it was roughly what would have happened if the surviving characters at the end of Four Lions – the hopeless MP, the sinister-but-pathetic spook, the bungling police negotiator, the windbag imam – had to draw up a policy to prevent this from ever happening again. In fact, the story is much better than that.

For a start, there’s the point, now widely remarked on, that Defence Academy lecturer on counterinsurgency Afzal Amin essentially carried out a key-leader engagement with the leaders of an extremist militia, deliberately generating a serious but manageable community dispute that he could then resolve, gaining influence and authority. In Smethwick. Less Three Cups of Tea than Three Pints of Lager and a Portion of Onion Bhajis.

But there’s so much more. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka fake ISAF veteran/Stone Island terrace dandy/thug “Tommy Robinson”, is meant to have given up politics and checked himself into a “deradicalisation” course via the Quilliam Foundation. Yet there he is, apparently able to order the EDL onto the streets. Curious.

And Amin promised Yaxley-Lennon that he “would never go hungry again”, as well as that the EDL would appear “reasonable” and be integrated into normal politics. The second is a matter of opinion, but the first sounds very much like an offer of hard cash or something that could be turned into cash. He also specifically offered to pay the EDL for canvassers, which is flagrantly illegal.

Right. Cash. At this point it’s probably time to turn up this story from the Daily Diana of all papers in January last year.

Amin’s company, Curzon Education Ltd., got a contract from DCLG to deliver 50 talks by “distinguished military figures” to schoolchildren about the history of soldiers from the British Empire and Commonwealth in the world wars. This was worth £120,000, and was approved by Baroness Warsi as the responsible minister on a DCLG “Cross Government Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred”, described as part of the government’s “social cohesion work”. Interestingly, Amin repeatedly refers to his scheme with Yaxley-Lennon & Co as being about “community cohesion” or “confidence-building measures”.

The project seems to have started as a wizard wheeze of Amin’s. Apparently he discussed it with Sir David Richards when he was Chief of the Defence Staff, but he waited until he left the service and became a Tory PPC to act on it further. He briefed it to Francis Maude, who routed it to Eric Pickles at DCLG, who tasked his officials. Didn’t I tell you Maude is a crucial node in the lobbying network?

Amin is an old political buddy of Warsi, so presumably she introduced him to Maude. The job was never put out to tender, although Pickles’ officials beat Amin down from £500,000 to £120,000, amounting to a generous £685 hourly rate. In parallel to this, it seems, he was also angling for a free school, so Michael Gove and friends will have been involved in the lobbying process.

Asked about it by the Daily Di, Amin denied he took any salary from “the Institute”. But the Institute – the Curzon Institute – is of course not the same thing as Curzon Education Ltd., which is company number 08631266. (It has never filed accounts.) Admittedly it is limited by guarantee, so it cannot make a profit, but that doesn’t stop it paying salaries, so this is a non-denial denial.

Curzon Institute? Whassat? Well. Here is an incredibly thin and amateurish website, which names precisely three individuals involved with it. All are described as working on some specific project, rather than the institute itself. One of them also helps to run the HALO Trust mine-clearance charity, another is Afzal Amin, and the third is basically some guy. This is what it says it does:

The Curzon Institute’s vision is to be the preferred partner in the provision of advice, products and services to all agencies and organisations that work with UK and European minority communities and who employ personnel abroad.

And yes, it’s named after comically pompous imperialist Lord Curzon:

Lord Curzon was a patriot, a formidable visionary, an able ruler of disparate communities and all the while a humble servant of our nation

I’m not sure Curzon’s mother would have thought him humble. Here he is, arriving at a massive state ceremony he put on to honour…himself.

DelhiDurbar_LordCurzon

As we will see, though, the institute named after him is a ramshackle coalition of interests, as he said about the Congress Party. The Curzon Institute is not a registered charity, nor is it a company. (There is a contemporaneous Curzon Initiative Ltd in Birmingham, though, a commercial company, but I have yet to find a direct link between them.) Its domain name is registered to “Identity Protect Limited”, which provides anonymous DNS registration. It does not give a street address. It is a wanktank in the purest form. But it is a wanktank that has some damned interesting job adverts.

Have you served in the British Police or the British Armed Forces? Are you interested in a very well paid and exciting career opportunity as an international trainer and mentor? The Curzon Institute’s Consultancy Branch is pleased to be recruiting retiring and retired Police Officers and Armed Forces personnel for work overseas. If you are interested, if you want to take on this challenge, then send in your CV with full career and educational history and a covering letter. We welcome all applications and a working knowledge of Arabic or French would be helpful.

Seems legit, as they say. Now Afzal Amin’s statements since the Mail on Sunday burst the story suggest he was in touch with Yaxley-Lennon and friends for at least a year, and that he had some ambitions to scale the project up, taking it on the road around the UK.

For the past year, I have been undertaking discussions with Tommy Robinson and more recently with the leadership of the EDL to prevent further inter-communal tensions and violence. I recognised that there was an opportunity to promote better community cohesion between various communities in Dudley and that this may serve as a model for further dispute resolution in other towns and cities.

If it was going to cost £250 per EDL “canvasser” per week, as Yaxley-Lennon and Amin agreed, presumably the leadership would want paying too. Amin said as much. So who was going to be paying? I suspect, and this is now speculation, that they would be put on the Curzon Thing’s payroll, and the costs would be billed to some DCLG project or other, probably under the banner of counter-radicalisation. Amin mentions repeatedly that he contacted the police chief, too, so did he think he had official approval for his caper?

So we have several different themes here – ill-thought out and inappropriate spook plotting, use of government resources for party politics, a hell of a lot of general perversity and deceit, and some quite shameless grant-hunting. It’s emblematic, I tell you. In the light of yet more Shapps/Green, I think it’s the spiv element that’s the key.

My offer to you is…Nick Clegg.

Circling back to this post, here’s Alex Massie on a similar theme.

I would point out that if being in a coalition, in general, would be Cleggifying, being in a coalition with the Tories would be the absolute ne plus ultra of Cleggification. The fast support the SNP gained over the referendum campaign would fade away as fast as it had come.

Also, Massie suggests that the Tories might make the Scots an offer. However, there would be nothing to stop Labour from matching, beating, or pre-empting such an offer. As Massie says, the Michael Corleone* option – nothing, but a non-Tory government – has a very good chance of being better than the SNP’s alternatives on its own. This implies logically that this option, plus X, will also be better than the alternative.

The SNP BATNA is an interesting issue. The only way I can see a solution other than supporting a Labour government paying off for them is a sort of maximal #the45 heighten-the-contradictions strategy, hoping that the two years of ultra-vicious cuts planned for FY2016-2018 will piss everyone off so much that Indyref 2.0 would be a shoe-in. Did I say cuts? I said cuts.

That assumes, however, that a second referendum could be brought about quickly, and that the ensuing Cleggification doesn’t destroy the organising capability needed to win it.

Also, the SNP is an In party in Holyrood, where it has to administer the effects of the cuts. Ins rarely benefit from heightening the contradictions. Being a local pol in times of Tories always sucks because you get the abuse from the public, but you can’t get away from the fact the council has to have a legal budget and pay salaries, or you go to jail and Eric Pickles takes over and turns the library into a McDonalds. Scotgov has the same problem as the London Borough of Socialism on that score.

Labour’s BATNA, on the other side, is pretty simple. It’s I d-double dare you – walk out and dare them to put in the Tories. If they aren’t actually willing to vote down the Queen’s Speech, well, in that case they’ve already given in. Depending on the exact numbers it might also be possible to get away with the Welsh, Irish, and Greens as an alternative. If Labour were the plurality, I would even think this might be the first option – let them either vote no (and commit suicide), sign up by voting yes (and get a reward), or else do something weak like abstaining (and be ignored).

*Ed Miliband as Michael Corleone. You can totally see it. #meme