Category: Uncategorized

An example

I do wonder what Tom Barry would have made about this photo. All that money we spent on converting the Olympic Stadium to be football-ready for West Ham, and the new seating is literally a bunch of scaffolding.


What is the source for all this mayor stuff?

Thinking about this, does anyone know what or who the patient zero for the idea that “mayors” solve something in British politics might be? I remember it as an early Blairite thing, but thinking about it, the Treasury seems to love it even more than DCLG. That said, it seems to have become part of the political class’s common sense, despite the public’s enormous indifference, so it might not do to ascribe significance to where it ended up.

Jonathan Hopkin, on Twitter, points out that Italy introduced directly elected mayors in 1993, which would be well-timed for the thinktank world (perhaps Demos, or Will Hutton?) to pick up as something fashionably European. I hadn’t thought of this, chiefly because it was always presented as being American in inspiration. Perhaps someone sold it to Tony Blair as being Italian and to Gordon Brown as being American?

I remember it as being associated with John Prescott’s ministry as well as with Tony Zoffis, but lately the Treasury seems to be the key actor.

Consider this an open thread on the issue; I suspect either Chris Brooke or Jamie Kenny might know.

Nothing to see here.

The remarkable thing about this is just what Nigel Seed QC was willing to consider normal.

“On the day of her trial there was a large number of reporters at the court,” he said. “I was informed by the police that this was because the defendant, who had been on bail, had let it be known that if the case progressed as far as her having to give evidence she intended to allege that she had provided rent boys to Edward Heath.”

Just another day at the office. And then all his witnesses dropped out.

Seed said three witnesses, all sex workers who allegedly worked for Forde at her brothel in Salisbury, Wiltshire, failed or refused to give evidence at court, leaving him with no choice but to offer no evidence.

The combination of the two facts does not seem to have worried him in the slightest. After all, it wasn’t as if they were people, was it?

Seed said there was no suggestion the men were underage or “anything more than male prostitutes”

This is of course how they get away with it. But the guy’s enormous incuriosity is what gets me. There’s sang froid, and then there’s just sitting there like a sack of spuds.

eternal #savileweek

Everyone now knows who The Tory was. No. Everyone now knows that the idea of The Tory is obsolete, as opposed to an open-ended search for more perpetrators. I think it’s worth flagging up this post that ran in the Daily Beast on the same night the Mirror broke the Ted Heath story.

The first point of note: there are at least three lines of enquiry here. There is an Exaro/BBC story based around the statement from a retired Wiltshire Police officer. There is an Exaro/Daily Mirror story based on statements from a witness. And there is a separate Beastly story, which is neither based on the Wiltshire story, nor on Exaro’s witness, but rather on documentary material. Exaro’s witness “Nick” is, for the absence of doubt, the same person as the Mirror‘s source.

Second point of note. Don Hale, for it is he, is bylined as a co-author on the Beast piece; he has previously said Barbara Castle MP showed him the document. Castle’s papers are mostly in the Bodleian Library at Oxford, except for her diaries which are at Bradford University, but there was apparently some difficulty about getting access to them. According to this Mirror piece from July last year, the famously lost Geoffrey Dickens dossier contained much of the same material as the Castle one.

Third point of note. As the Mirror, Exaro, and the BBC seem to have known the name for some time but to have held onto it for legal or investigative reasons, there was presumably some reason to break it when they did. Does that mean someone got access to the Castle file? Certainly, the Beast piece taken together with the earlier Mirror one lets you have a good guess at the contents. Also, the story is in no way single-sourced.

And then there’s this:

Chancers, respectability politics, and IDS: A4e, Kids Co, and Trussell

What to make of this story? Camila Batmanghelidjh has been basically forced out of Kids’ Company after the Cabinet Office wanted to know what it’s been doing with the money. Much detail is available in a Buzzfeed piece of the sort you’re meant to think Buzzfeed doesn’t do.

She, of course, blames austerity, cuts, etc. This is pretty rich coming from someone who repeatedly endorsed David Cameron in the run-in to the 2010 elections and even afterwards, appearing at the 2006 Conservative conference and taking part in the Big Society founding meeting at Downing Street in May, 2010.


This may have been the brief interlude between the coalition being formed and the first Osborne Budget, but they had already agreed on the extra £6bn in-year cuts, so it’s not as if we weren’t warned.


One way to look at this is the photo above. The Tories had a go at being nice, that’s how she fell in with them, and then they turned on her. Because they’re Tories. By December 2010, this narrative was already falling into place. Even the Lib Dems had their own creepily sexist and racist version of the same pattern.

But there was always another side to the Big Society project. The May 2010 kickoff meeting also included Ray “Robocop” Mallon, mayor of Middlesbrough and professional populist, for example. That doesn’t sound like the nice straightforward story about the Tories letting down a nice charity for children, does it? Also, this blog post was justly much read for what it said about working for Kids Co – pretty much the management from hell – but it also mentioned them “feeding in” to the DWP’s policy agenda. It also brought out was the degree to which their astonishingly high staff-pupil ratios were achieved by ruthlessly strip-mining volunteers.

The post and indeed the whole site has now been scrubbed, to the point of getting rid of it from the Internet Archive. But let’s take a look at what they might have been feeding in to policy. Here’s a document from July 2007.

Ms Batmanghelidjh told the MPs: “I actually think the mothers [specifically black – ed] are hugely responsible because they have created a culture where they can get rid of the adolescent boy. They can get rid of the male partner, they can survive on their own.

Often people think it’s the males who are the culprits, the irresponsible people who actually come along and make these girls pregnant and walk off. And they underestimate the level of rejection and cruelty from the females towards the males.

I actually think the males are really vulnerable and it starts in adolescence. The minute the adolescent boy begins to look slightly like a male and behave like a male, often the mother wants that young male banished from the house. A hate relationship often develops. I really think we underestimate the vulnerabilities of young black men.”

I don’t know about you but I see a hell of a lot of NOT OK in there. The “males”? That’s not a bit…veterinary? Also, I read the first paragraph as carrying an anti-welfare subtext, especially as the target audience was a bunch of MPs.

What we’re talking about here is US-style respectability politics, really. For some fine snark, which would do for a quick start tutorial, try Adam Serwer. This is very important in understanding Iain Duncan Smith and specifically his interest in the works of Lawrence Mead. It’s a double-edged sword; one swing blames the poor for their problems, while the backswing has at the unglamorous poor-bloody-infantry in schools and social services with their unions and budgets.

As I’ve said before, I see A4e, Kids’ Company, and the Trussell Trust as key institutions in understanding how we got into this mess.

A4e actually did start off as a grassroots charity in post-steel Sheffield, but it drifted – in terms of its leaders’ aspirations, in terms of the increasing irrelevance of the approach both it and the DWP had learned, and in terms of its ability to manage a rapidly growing team of people who were working on commission, essentially a sales force.

Kids’ Company represents something different. In its constant drive to recruit celebrity donors, it came to offer legitimacy to the politicians. Iain Duncan Smith, more than David Cameron, locked onto this as political cover for his respectability politics agenda. Because it didn’t really have an articulated agenda of its own, it also leaked unexamined prejudices into the policy market (see above). And its commitment to an interventionist, treatment-ist world view fit right in with the IDS agenda.

Trussell will need another post, or a PhD, but I’m deeply suspicious of it because I can’t think of anywhere that has foodbanks that has ever managed to get rid of them and return to a normal society. I suspect they know this and worry about it, which is why they’re really quite critical of the DWP, rather than just hollering for more budget, and why Iain Duncan Smith keeps falling out with them.

And of course there’s the great overarching IDS theme, the role of the chancer. It is beautifully ironic that the great chancer of the times himself accuses Trussell of chancerism, when they are the least chancerish of the satellite NGOs spinning around DWP. Chancers are important; have you ever wondered why everyone started carrying bottles of water around in the 1990s? Wonder no more. Yes. He’s her dad.

Weak, weak, weak.

Just a final thought about the Harman/Welfare Bill saga. My original thinking was that it was all about Labour/SNP politics, and I kind of expected a U-turn once it became clear the SNP would be available and would vote no. So, look how that turned out.

Apparently it was all about looking “weak on welfare”. The problem, though, is that Labour avoided that by just looking weak. This is worse, because specific events create a general perception, which then frames future events. It also ended up looking divided. This is worse still. And to think we started off the week by re-forging the opposition whip with the SNP and knocking down a string of awful Tory initiatives.

If you thought Ed Miliband looked silly with a bacon sandwich, well, this is what really hopeless leadership looks like.


I just got the statements from the various people who want to be the Labour candidate for mayor of London.

The good news is that candidates Christian Wolmar, Diane Abbott, and David Lammy all seem to be supporting some version of the simple plan. Wolmar wants to set up a London Housing Development Agency. Abbott wants “an agency that builds homes”. Lammy, and this is a surprise, specifically wants to issue London housing bonds to finance a building programme.

That’s about as specific as any of them get, although Gareth Thomas wants to raise the minimum wage. The rest of Lammy’s statement is mostly about how great he is. The fourth sentence is as follows:

London has given me all I have – going to Harvard, becoming a barrister and later a government minister

Sadiq Khan’s doesn’t say anything at all about what he might do, but does say:

My story is the story of the best of London

Tessa Jowell’s is like you might expect:

I believe I can win, and I promise you I will deliver.

Neeraj Patil, apparently, feels your pain. There, there. And the NHS. Which the mayor isn’t in charge of. Christian Wolmar is very pleased with what the Guardian said about his campaign, and lots of stuff about trains. Keran Kerai didn’t bother to proofread:

We need to make the city think that they can achieve in getting housing. Building homes will change some of that by helping the supply and we can also create social housing to give people a place to have shelter. Homelessness need to be solved. Polices times can be improved. Waiting in need needs to be improved by the NHS.

We need to build better backbone to the city. Transport need to be upgraded. We need to look to convert the city to the future by investing in green tech. We need to spread the wealth of the city by linking it to UK and foreign cities.

My past in mathematics has given me the logical step towards building a better London. I how to use data to predict treads and how best to serve those options. I have lived in London and know the big problems we face in housing and transport. The way I lay out way to do it by creating a system of learning and adapting to change in the future of the nation.

We need to build a legacy for Londoners to have a dream to feel that London is their home and that the future is brighter than ever. Investing in trade links will help to create wealth for London as well, using it to help Londoners with their problems. Policing and health care is one of the things people want improvement in.

Diane Abbott should get some credit for managing not to use me or I even once in her statement, quite a literary achievement.

The coalition had a majority of 76.

While we’re rejecting stuff, here’s something else to reject. The notion of a progressive alliance or progressive majority involving the Lib Dems wants rejecting, badly. You might think 2010 killed it, but it stumbles on. (Before you all write at once, yes, I believed in it, but I got over it and there’s no reason you can’t.)

Back then, everyone thought the new government would be unstable and chaotic because it was a coalition. There were those of us who started a whole web site. As it turned out, though, it was chaotic because the Tories and Lib Dems together kept pratfalling, like that time Cameron left the West Country in the pub and it went all soggy and Francis Maude tried to dry it out with petrol. The coalition, as such, could not have been more stable.

There were maybe three reasons for this. First of all, the Lib Dems were never going to pull out of it because what happened to them at the elections would have happened to them at the elections. Second, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act constrained the Tories from pulling out of the coalition. As such, it was a costly signal, a self-binding commitment that made a stable agreement possible. And third, the Lib Dems and the Tories agreed on much, much more than they would ever have admitted, basically everything with a £ sign in front of it. Clegg was even willing to give up their support for the EU in the election campaign. The ultimate evidence of this is how many of their voters seem to have swung to the Conservatives.

(A thought: does anyone have a read on how much Tory-Lib Dem tactical voting existed? Everyone tends to think of this in terms of Lib-Lab tactics, but there’s no reason why it doesn’t work the other way.)

Since it was a stable government, it’s no surprise that it was able to push its programme through. It had, after all, a parliamentary majority of 76, and the coalition whip worked reasonably well until they let Michael Gove have a go. Although they often had to give Tory backbenchers the Gina Ford controlled crying treatment, the margin provided by the Lib Dems was easily enough to keep them in line when it came to anything important. The whips could simply use Liberal votes, denying the troublemakers any leverage.

Compare the current situation. The Tories no longer depend on the Lib Dems, but then they don’t have no 76 majority no more. Rather than depending on the Lib Dems, they depend on the 6 most marginal backbenchers on whatever issue is up for a vote. Unlike the Lib Dems, Tory backbench rebels usually aren’t facing certain termination in the event of an election, so it’s entirely down to the whip to keep them in line. Every substantial vote can be a crisis. It’s the political version of Back To ’95, good times for lobby correspondents. Ironically, the coalition had the effect of concealing the Tories’ internal coalition.

Question: were the Lib Dems more of a “restraining influence” than the 6th most marginal Tory? Well, the only issues they ever disagreed with the Tories about were the civil libertarian ones. On things like the budget, they didn’t do any restraining, so that’s no loss. The 6th most marginal Tory on, say, the snoopers’ charter is likely to be a lawyer, so I think we have a reasonable chance on that one. The only reason to be defeatist about this is if you still, after all I’ve said, believe in a progressive majority with Lib Dems.

This calculation changes, of course, if the SNP suddenly discovers it doesn’t mind Tories that much after all as long as it gets what it wants.