Category Archives: Think Tanks

Will anything ever be done about the blacklisting of trade unionists?

Whenever I hear someone tell me that we live in a “free country”, I laugh and I laugh long, loud and hard. Britain is a country in which people are spied on for being environmental activists and blacklisted if they are members of trade unions. The democratic process is corrupted by right-wing politicians who abolish county councils because they oppose government policy and they gerrymander constituency boundaries to stay in power. Those who speak out about abuses in high places are shut down or marginalized.

This is a country in which you cannot say what you like, even though you know it to be true, because some fat bastard with a fat wallet is going to threaten you with a libel/slander suit. This is a country where members of trade unions are blacklisted and denied employment opportunities because their union activity.

We may not live in what could be officially described as a police state but it’s pretty damned close. The roles that would be carried out by the official repressive apparatuses of the state are carried out, perversely enough, by private institutions like the defunct Economic League, which was succeeded by the Consulting Association. One could say that the Economic League, which was formed in the 1920s, never went away and simply changed its name. It also enjoyed close ties to the Conservative party. Indeed, Ian Kerr, a private investigator who had been hired by the league, worked for both groups. Kerr ran a illegal secret database of 3,200 workers in breach of privacy laws. Kerr died last week, Solfed reports,

His £50,000 a year salary + bonus + BUPA + Mercedes company car lifestyle, funded by the major UK construction firms including Sir Robert McAlpine, Balfour Beatty, Skanska, Carillion, Kier, BAM, AMEC and AMEY came to a halt

Building.co.uk tells us that Kerr

had been set to be a key witness on behalf of more than 80 former workers who are preparing to sue Sir Robert McAlpine in the High Court as part of a major compensation claim mounted by the Blacklist Support Group.

Sir Robert McAlpine, along with Balfour Beatty and Skanska, operated a blacklist for the 2012 Olympics.

Seumas Milne, writing in The Guardian last week says:

It’s now clear that workers across Britain have been systematically and illegally forced into unemployment for trade union activity – often on publicly funded projects and in collusion with the police and security services – by some of the country’s biggest companies, using secret lists drawn up by corporate spying agencies.

Liberty has equated blacklisting with phone hacking, insisting that the “consequences for our democracy are just as grave”. Keith Ewing, professor of public law at King’s College London, calls it the “worst human rights abuse in relation to workers” in Britain in half a century.

But would there be an inquiry? Not on Lord Snooty’s watch.

But whereas David Cameron ordered a public inquiry into hacking, he rejected any investigation of blacklisting out of hand. And while a mainly anti-union media has largely ignored the scandal, all the signs are that it’s continuing right now, in flagship public projects such as the £15bn Crossrail network across the south-east.

We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that blacklisting is a recent phenomenon because it’s been taking place for the better part of 90 years. Indeed we can go back to 19th century classical liberal Britain, where early trade unionists were rounded up on trumped up charges and transported to Australia.

The role of the so-called radical Right should not be underestimated. The forerunner of The Freedom Association also had a close relationship with the league.

In the early 1970s there was an expansion and consolidation of the Radical Right. Amongst its new members was the Freedom Association, which had grown out of the “Private Army” movement associated with the conspiracies of the early seventies. Originally it seems to have been a demobilised version of Major General Walter Walker’s army – “Unison”. NAFF’s subsequent activities have been well documented; it specialises in maverick private prosecutions, and encouraging and funding legal actions.

The “maverick private prosecutions” included taking Greenpeace and the Labour Party to court in an attempt to eliminate them.

For the chinless right libertarians, this equates to “freedom”. It’s the freedom to make a profit at great human cost. It’s the freedom to to restrict the freedom of others to work or to seek work.

Reference

Hughes, M (1994), Spies at Work.
Available at: http://www.1in12.com/publications/library/spies/spies.htm. Accessed 15/12/12

7 Comments

Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Think Tanks

More on the Liberty League

No sooner than I’d published this blog than I found myself dealing with three trolls, all of whom claimed to be dedicated to the cause of freedom. I also had three of them respond to me on Twitter, two of whom abused me (typical) and the other, Anton Howes, the League’s head honcho tried to tell me that they “appealed to left-libertarians”, and asked me if

@buddy_hell spiked +IOI not count as “leftwing” anymore? Besides, orgs not same as ppl who attend our conferences. Many left-anarchists, etc

Spiked? IoI? Left-wing? Same sentence? “Good Lord, no”,  I said but just because they call themselves “left-wing”, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are. I have already written about the LM network, their origins and their constituent parts in a blog that was cited on Powerbase. Anyone who takes LM’s left-wing credentials at face value is in for a major disappointment.  In fact, the Revolutionary Communist Tendency (the forerunner of the RCP/LM) was expelled from the SWP for being too “right-wing” (sic).

But what is a “left-anarchist”? Is that an anarchist who is not an anarcho-capitalist? Anarcho-capitalism is an oxymoron. Anarchists despise the capitalist system and no anarchist in their right mind would knowingly associate themselves with a network that includes the likes of The Freedom Association or the Institute for Economic Affairs. I told Howes this but I have yet to receive a reply.

Howes also told me that he was a PhD student but it turns out, according to Spiked’s Patrick West (brother of Ed) that he is, in fact, an undergraduate student at Kings College, London. The article was written in March of this year, so it is entirely possible that Howes skipped the Masters degree and went straight for the doctorate. It has been known to happen. He told me,

@buddy_hell and yes, I’d noticed. Although I’m not ‘rightwing’ at all, it won’t stop me using the terms.

He works for the Adam Smith Institute, you can’t get more right-wing than that. But like so many right libertarians, he presumed me to be stupid. They’re an arrogant bunch.

While not being a fan of Spiked, I found some of West’s article interesting because it shed a little more light onto the Liberty League. West opens in strident fashion.

For decades, university students in Britain who wanted to change the world often had little more than a handful of left-wing groups to sign up to. And, as time has gone on, these radical groups have become more and more outdated and divorced from political reality. Left-wing student associations are now more likely to call for state intervention into people’s lives, embrace the welfare state and demand fewer cuts, rather than fundamentally challenging the state’s role.

Ah, yes, the “left” is “outdated”. So presumptuous and so wrong. if Spiked is left-wing, then this West article puts paid to that notion. The left is marginalized. Yes. The left is divided. That’s true. But these libertarians will not change the world in a way that benefits all of society, they want the same world but with bells, whistles and a fringe on the top. Let’s continue,

Howes recognises this phenomenon. ‘People are sick of seeing tonnes and tonnes of Socialist Workers Party or Marxist groups hounding them on tables outside campus all the time, posting fliers and posters everywhere. They think “well, I don’t agree with this”. Students want to see an alternative group on campus that has pro-liberty ideas.’

“People are sick”, he says, “of seeing tonnes and tonnes of Socialist Workers Party or Marxist groups hounding them on tables outside campus all the time”. Does he ever think students may be genuinely interested in left-wing groups? I mean, it isn’t as if the right doesn’t organize on campuses. It does. They just don’t happen to be popular with a good many students and for very good reasons.  The other thing that is evident in the passage is Howes’ insistence that only his network understands the true nature of “liberty”.

The demand for such a group is coming from a mix of students, says Howes, who place themselves all over the traditional political spectrum, from left-wing anarchists to young conservatives. Liberty League now has 30 active student societies on campuses across the UK and it is rising all the time.

I would be interested in seeing exactly how much “demand” there is for “libertarianism” at, say, a post-1992 university like London South Bank for example. These libertarians are top-down, hierarchical types and if you scratch the surface you’ll find an authoritarian underneath. “Left-wing anarchists” that is to say, real anarchists  would have no truck with this kind of “libertarianism”. Further down the article, I found this,

One enthusiastic Liberty League supporter is Gabrielle Shiner, a young American studying at Queen Mary, University of London. Shiner recounts: ‘When I got to the UK I couldn’t really find any student group to join. It was really disheartening for libertarian students. And then Anton, who I’d never heard of, started tweeting asking me if I was looking to get involved in something and I was really excited about that.’

Later we learn that Shiner is involved in Students for Freedom, a US  student libertarian organization that is part of Cato’s “limited government movement”.  We all know what The Cato Institute does but it seems Howes and his buddies don’t or are lying. I think it’s the latter.

So as we can see, part of the League’s job is to undermine what’s left of the rather ineffective Student Unions. There are some universities that have strong SU’s – University of London Union, for example – the rest are little more than providers of student freebies. The process of destroying the SU’s began under Thatcher, who was concerned that the NUS was a hotbed of student radicalism. Instead, we now have a situation where the Right, led by the Liberty League, are attempting to dominate political discourse on campuses around the country.

The Right – the Conservative Party, especially – is against political activity on campus unless it is either right-wing or “libertarian”. This is the reason why the Thatcher government wanted SU’s to disaffiliate; it hated the very idea that students chose left-wing politics over the right. It felt that by eliminating left-wing political discourse on most campuses and confining it only to Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities, it would destroy left-wing politics in Britain for good. It nearly worked.

Pretty disgraceful that @libleague society being discriminated against by Manchester SU in terms of funding, for not backing Demo12

This is pretty typical of the Right. I know how hard it is to set up and run a society but in terms of funding, the SU will only match the membership money and any other monies that the society has raised in its coffers. I get the feeling that the League wanted more than its fair share. But this tells us something else about the Lib League: they support cuts to higher education and regarded Demo12 as something that  only “lefties do”. They are above protest unless it’s to demand more cuts to public services. I wonder how many of them attended the disastrous Rally Against Debt last year?

The one thing that I left out of the original article about the Liberty League was its campus network. If you look at the list, you’ll see one called the LSE Hayek Network. There’s nothing “non-partisan” about Hayek, the great guru of neoliberalism, he is most certainly right-wing and was a supporter of Pinochet’s economic liberalization. You see, economic liberalization can only be forced onto people. If given the choice people would reject it without a second thought.

Right libertarians seek to perpetuate the notion of the importance of the sovereign self over society. Please the self, pamper the self, flatter the self, the self is king. This is the atomized society that Thatcher spoke of; one that is bereft of communities. Our society is in tatters, wrenched apart by the spoilt brat of the sovereign self.

If you inculcate the notion that the individual is more important that the rest of society, before you know it, people will begin to see themselves less members of society but more as consumers at the end of a long supply chain. Individualist anarchists fit in well with Objectivists or Randists, because they place the self at the centre of the universe.

Right libertarians speak movingly about freedom but, as history has shown us, they are more than happy to collaborate with fascists or military strongmen (the  Italian Futurists, for example, described themselves as “anarchists” and joined Mussolini’s fascist government). Anarchists, on the other hand, fight fascism and all forms of authoritarianism. The right libertarian would happily watch as the cops beat the shit out of you for protesting against an authoritarian state.

Cato supported the Pinochet dictatorship. Jose Piñera, the architect of Chile’s private pension system and former Chicago Boy is a “senior fellow” at the Cato Institute. That’s right libertarianism for you.

POSTSCRIPT

Not “right-wing”? The Tories don’t think so.  Last year, Conservative Home heaped praise on the Liberty League.

Here’s a revealing paragraph (I’ve bolded a bit for emphasis),

This work was started by Simon Richards, Director of The Freedom Association, with his vision for ‘Freedom Socs’. There are now five such societies, the first of which launched at York three years ago. In addition to this, there are a large number of libertarian societies, which spontaneously popped up around the country. The Liberty League enables these individual groups to be part of a cohesive network and acts as a gateway for young freedom lovers in the UK.

Bingo!

2 Comments

Filed under economic illiteracy, Economics, laissez faire capitalism, neoliberalism, Political parties, Spiv capitalism, Think Tanks

Mediating freedom: the role of the libertarian think-tanks

Madsen Pirie: the architect  of Thatcher's privatization programme

Madsen Pirie: the architect of Thatcher’s privatization programme

How does one define the word “freedom”? There is a group of people who believe they know exactly what the word “freedom” means. “Freedom” and its cousin “liberty” are abstract nouns, there is no hard and fast definition for either of them and any attempt to give them some kind of single meaning or, indeed, a list of meanings is utterly futile and is most likely going to be dishonest. Moreover, it could take you a very long time to compile such a list.You can no more easily define “freedom” than you can words like “happiness” or “love”, because these words mean different things to different people at different times.

There are people who believe that they have knowledge of the true nature of freedom. They form themselves into ‘non-partisan’ think-tanks’ and discussion groups and refer to themselves collectively as “libertarians”. It’s as if as libertarians, they and only they have found the true meaning of freedom. It is as though they had heard the word of G*d Himself who spoke unto them and revealed the secret of liberty.  He said unto them, “It is not Communism”.

And lo, it became the everlasting Truth… until the collapse of the Wall of Berlin, when the disciples of The Truth believed unto themselves that freedom had triumphed over the tyranny of Communism, which they declared to be “unfreedom”.

After some soul-searching and not an inconsiderable amount of hand-wringing, they decided among themselves that unfreedom was to be represented by so-called radical Islam. They had found their antithesis! Lazy thinkers are attracted to binaries because they can only define themselves against their opposite. They are not Communists/Socialists/Lefties/Islamists, therefore they love freedom!

Those who call themselves “libertarians” deny that they are of a right-wing disposition and will gather at the feet of some economic guru or high priest, where they receive The Word directly from the master’s mouth. They may also deny that they are ideological and claim that they are “non-partisan” or “neither right nor left” but this is dishonest for when you press them on certain matters, they will produce a reply that contains the usual messages of “responsibility” and a “small state”. They speak in maths. Society is merely an afterthought.

Classical liberalism, as a term, has become both a touchstone for nostalgists and means by which to reorder language. Even neologisms are subjected to this transformation. The term “neoliberalism” is resented by the Right because they did not coin it. In its stead came “classical liberalism”, a term made seemingly older by the prefix “classical”. It is still neoliberalism in form and in substance. We cannot return to the past, no matter how hard the Tories try to recreate the past in the present. Therefore they revive old terminologies and long for the days before they were born.

The economic theories embraced by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), for example, are most definitely on political right and are therefore ideological. There’s no escaping it. In the 1980s, the ASI was very close to the Thatcher government. To whit, ASI’s president/high priest, Dr Madsen Pirie was  the architect of privatization. His freedom is that which steals food from the mouths of babes and condemns the poor to lives of never-ending serfdom.

Right libertarians believe themselves to be the arbiters of the freedom ideal. Their idea of freedom is a mediated one. That is to say, it comes from someone else or is produced by a body of people like ASI who make a deterministic argument of freedom, based more or less on the notion of economic liberty, which they assert is the fount of all freedoms. Such thinking is absurd when one considers the tyranny exerted on the poor and working poor by states that have operated this model.

For neoliberalism or classical liberalism to work, it must be imposed on the citizenry. These economic ideologies can only benefit the rich and any claim that they will “liberate” the poor is patently absurd and is not supported by the evidence. “Trickle-down” is a lie.

The ASI, like so many other libertarian think-tanks have convinced themselves that they know the True meaning of the words “liberty” and “freedom” but it doesn’t and to claim that it has a form of superior knowledge that leads them to a position where they can provide a definitive meaning for these words is arrogant, mendacious and self-delusional. Have a look at this pamphlet from the ASI, from which I shall quote a portion,

Liberty can be defined as not being interfered with, or not being
imposed on, by others (non-invasive liberty). Not being attacked
or robbed is part of liberty; attacking or robbing people is not part of liberty.

It follows that liberty means being able to do what you like with
your own body (the principle of self-ownership) and your own
property, as long as you are not thereby imposing on the body or
property of others. You are free to harm yourself, for example by
taking dangerous drugs, but if you harm someone else or damage
their property without their consent, you are violating their liberty.

This sense of liberty is what libertarians, or classical liberals,
mean when they advocate liberty. It is also the dominant idea of
liberty within Western history and it applies to any society that is
described as generally ‘liberal’.

This is a mainly Hobbesian formulation of liberty that has been infused with neoliberal discourse (Hobbes was a supporter of absolute monarchy). But to characterize liberty in purely Western terms is misleading and rather vague since it presumes that freedom does not exists outside Western ‘liberal’ discourse. It also suggests that “liberty” was conceived by Westerners, ergo they are the arbiters and owners of the “freedom” concept. Furthermore the essentialistic arguments on the nature of freedom put forward by the ASI is only one set of definitions and can never represent a totality of freedom, because there will always be limits or disagreements.

The Freedom Association (TFA) is a right-wing pressure group, whose idea of freedom is narrow. Indeed, its name is Orwellian. I can think of no group that calls itself The Love Association or UK Happiness League.  No one can tell you what constitutes  love or happiness. If I were to ask you to sum up what the word “love”  in a few words, you would tell me one thing. If I were  to come back to you in a couple of months and asked the same question, you may have a different answer for me. No one can tell you or I what love is; it is dependent upon one’s individual perception of that word at a particular moment in time.  You could say that love is not hate. But then, what is hate?

The idea of freedom put forward by ASI or TFA is a spectacular one, precisely because it has been mediated. These groups have set themselves up not only as arbiters of liberty but have hijacked the discourse on the subject. It stands to reason that those who accept the ASI’s and TFA’s definition of freedom as Truth, do so because it emphasizes their relationship to capital. If you do not accept their kind of freedom, then you are a supporter of unfreedom; a totalitarian. It’s as simple as that.

When the government announced it was going to “measure” the nation’s “happiness”, I was suspicious and rightly so, you cannot measure, let alone define, happiness. It was a government attempt to manipulate people’s emotions. Nothing more. Nothing less.

In George Orwell’s satire, 1984, he created a dystopian world in which ignorance was a virtue and in which the state created ministries with names like the Ministries of Truth and Love. He was onto something.

There was some  Situationist graffiti that once said, “Don’t liberate me, I’ll take care of that”. That is my motto.

1 Comment

Filed under Cultism, economic illiteracy, Economics, laissez faire capitalism, Late capitalism, neoliberalism, Philosophical musings, robber baron capitalism, Spiv capitalism, Taxpayers Alliance, Think Tanks

Policy Exchange: our solution to the housing crisis? Sell off more council homes!

Policy Exchange, the think tank with close ties to the so-called Notting Hill set, has proposed that ‘expensive’ council homes be sold off in order to ease the housing shortage. A few years ago, Localis, which in its own turn has close ties to Policy Exchange, also proposed the same thing in this report. So there’s nothing new about this latest announcement from Policy Exchange and as ideas go, it’s one of a few that gets recycled and presented as a stunning new, but ultimately evidence-free, report.

Think-tanks exist to give credence to the barking mad ideas of whichever party they happen to be associated with. Policy Exchange, in common with many of the other think-tanks, describes itself as “non-partisan”. Of course we know that isn’t true, particularly if the think-tank in question goes out of its way to talk up its notional neutrality. They doth protest too much! The Tories prefer their think-tanks to conduct slipshod research and to base their reports on their own prejudices and their sense of self-righteousness rather than on evidence.

I heard Neil O’Brien, Policy Exchange’s director, on the Today programme this morning talking about the latest report. His rationale appeared to suggest that people who rent council street properties (that’s what they’re called) shouldn’t do so, because they’re not the right class of person to be occupying such a high value property. Okay, he didn’t put it in those exact words but that is the essence of what he said. He claimed that councils bought up street properties in the 1970s and therefore those council tenants who occupy them are less deserving than a Tory-supporting rentier capitalist.

Policy Exchange’s slogan is

For better public services, a stronger society and a more dynamic economy.

“Better public services”? Coming from a think-tank that is committed to destroying what’s left of public services, it’s an Orwellianism to be sure.

I’ve only skimmed the report and like all the other reports that are produced by Policy Exchange, it isn’t based on any kind of research, but on a form of class disgust that is couched in academic-sounding language and supported by impressive-looking graphics.

The report’s synopsis opens with this,

Is extremely popular with all sections of society. 73% of people including social tenants think that people should not be given council houses worth more than the average property in a local authority. By 2:1 voters agree people should not be given council houses in expensive areas.

Then there’s this,

Raises tenants’ standard of living. The majority of social tenants are either totally or largely reliant on benefits. Someone living on benefits in an expensive part of London will pay a 10-15% premium compared to someone living in a cheaper area.

Again, there is no evidence to support this assertion that the majority of ‘social’ tenants are totally or largely reliant on benefits and even if that were the case, the issue is not the benefits themselves but the lack of decent jobs coupled with the high cost of living, neither of which can be ameliorated by the author’s proposals.  Where did this figure come from and what percentage of the respondents were actual council tenants? The author doesn’t say.

The report’s author is Alex Morton, who

was Secretary to the Conservative Party’s Globalisation and Global
Poverty Policy Group under the Rt Hon Peter Lilley MP. Following this he worked in the Civil Service Graduate Fast Stream before leaving to join Policy Exchange.

And

He is the author of the 2010 report Making Housing Affordable, which won the Prospect magazine’s Think Tank Publication of the Year and highlighted the cost of current housing policies.

Prospect magazine. Am I supposed to be impressed? This is perhaps the most important bit of Morton’s ‘report’.

Social housing tenants deserve a roof over their heads – but not one better than most people can afford

And there you have it, the author’s class disgust and class prejudice was the driver of this report. But who is this majority that Morton alludes to? It’s a mystery.

Housing Associations like Peabody have been selling off properties as soon as they become vacant for several years.  This blog from Peabody tells us that the policy of selling council properties in desirable areas has been on the table since before last year.

Last week, Policy Exchange’s Matthew Oakley argued in the Guardian that social housing properties in desirable areas – eg, central London boroughs – should be sold off. The revenue, he suggested, could be invested in social housing elsewhere – eg, in cheaper and less desirable areas in outer London or even outside of London.

But it is also ironic that while Peabody complains about this policy, it is more than happy to comply with the government’s diktat. But have Policy Exchange merely duplicated their own previous work? It seems likely. Here’s more from the ‘report’.

Ultimately, as our report Making Housing Affordable set out, we need affordable private housing to cut social housing waiting lists,
which fell from 1.2 million to 1 million between 1979–1997 as market housing was cheaper.

With rents the highest they’ve ever been, how does the author propose to make private housing more “affordable”? This cannot be achieved without some form of rent control and, as we know, the Tories are implacably opposed to rent caps or rent controls. I get the feeling that any solutions that are proposed by the Tories and their think-tanks aren’t real solutions at all, but are, instead, a means of rationalizing their class prejudices.

Naturally the news of this report in the media has been accompanied by a blog from O’Brien, whose own short biography tells us that, “He writes in a personal capacity”. That would appear to be untrue.

To be clear, what I’m proposing wouldn’t mean a single person having to move house. We are only talking about selling off houses that become empty. Nor would it mean that social housing would disappear from expensive cities like London, because the definition of “expensive” I am using is specific to a particular region, not the national average.

O’Brien speaks with forked tongue. Those properties that become empty will not be used to house a council tenant but sold off to someone with money to spend on a useless leasehold tenancy. He claims that social housing will not disappear but this is precisely what would happen. This next quote is similarly disingenuous,

Lots of expensive social housing has come about unintentionally. In the 1970s Britain’s big cities were on their knees. London boroughs in particular took the opportunity to snap up terraces of housing in run-down places like Islington at bargain prices. But Britain’s inner cities – particularly London – have been transformed. What were slums are now eye-wateringly expensive places to live. Two thirds of the heads of households in social housing are not in work, and when you’re living on benefits, it’s not helpful if your nearest shop has been turned into a mini-Waitrose.

My bold. There are three things here. The first is O’Brien’s assertion that London has been “transformed”, he offers the neutral-sounding, “What were slums are now eye-wateringly expensive places to live”. But O’Brien, a sophist by trade and a liar by nature, can only tell part of the story, the rest is simply discarded because it doesn’t fit the narrative. There has been a housing shortage in London for several decades, local authorities were performing their public duty. The alternative would have been to have let such properties to crumble. Indeed, O’Brien has deluded himself into thinking that middle class, would-be property owners would have flocked en masse to places like Brixton to snap up the many empty street properties that were available in the late 1960s and 1970s.

When many councils bought street properties, so too did many middle class people who bought these properties for a song at auction. O’Brien also deliberately ignores the ongoing gentrification programmes, but what really stands out for me is the last clause in bold. This illuminates O’Brien’s deep-seated class disgust.  He assumes that people on council estates would not shop in Waitrose (which, incidentally, offers substantial reductions on items that are close to their sell-by date. The others will knock off 10 or 20p and think they’re doing you a favour and their own brand butter is cheaper than the other supermarkets own brands too. So there!). What O’Brien also assumes is that middle class home-owners don’t shop at Lidl or Aldi. But he would be mistaken because many of them do. Why? Have a look at the prices (especially on wines) in the big three supermarkets and then come back to me. In many of the places that O’Brien and his team would like working class people to move, there are few amenities. These are the so-called food deserts, where the local shops will include a takeaway, a betting shop and a general shop that sells newspapers and tinned and frozen food, all at a premium price. But nothing fresh.

So to sum up, there is no methodology mentioned in this report and the graphics that are used to bolster Morton’s thesis are the product of a YouGov survey that was commissioned by Policy Exchange. These graphics are used in conjunction with cherry-picked graphics from a previous YouGov survey, which was commissioned by The Sun. So it’s hardly non-partisan and most certainly not objective.

Another attack on tenants has appeared on 24 Dash. Foghorn Phibbs, who is already well known to Nowhere Towers, aims his fire at the Tenant Participation Advisory Service (TPAS). Is this some sort of absurd pincer movement?

Phibbs once infamously described council tower blocks as “vertical slums”.  In his recent blog, Foghorn has

accused TPAS of spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money on “lavish” awards and employing policy officers to lobby against government housing policy. He also criticised the cost of its annual conference and branded the performance of chief executive Michelle Reid a “farce”.

Naturally, Foghorn doesn’t offer any analysis, just bile. Here’s an excerpt from his screed.

“Substantial taxpayer funding for social housing is being redirected from spending of practical benefit and passed instead to an organisation called the Tenant Participation Advisory Service.

“I couldn’t find its accounts on its website but it has 23 full time paid staff which implies its budget is substantial. Funding would also seem to come overwhelmingly from the taxpayer – via housing associations and assorted council housing departments and “arms length” bodies.

“Spending transparency data shows the TPAS is paid thousands by, for example, Salix Homes, who manage Salford Council properties, for ‘customer involvement’. Taunton Deane Borough Council has paid it £2,440.80 for ‘supervision and management’. Hounslow Council has paid it £16,000 in a single month. Lambeth and Luton are among other councils that splash out a lot of their residents money. North Lincolnshire Homes paid the TPAS for a report – which praised North Lincolnshire Homes for giving £500 to Unison for CRB Checks.

Pure sophistry. But those awful CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) checks…. terrible things.  Much better to have child sex offenders and rapists looking after vulnerable tenants. No? But that’s not what’s got his goat, so to speak, it’s the fact that there exists an organization that provides help, support and advice for tenants that upsets him. He rationalizes this in typical Tory style, “why should I pay for these people”, he thunders.  Notice the way he gets in a swipe at Unison. But it’s a badly aimed swipe. Those people who are members of Unison are working with vulnerable people and they are required by  law to undergo CRB checks. Perhaps Phibbs would rather the local authority in question broke the law?

I found this on Conservative Home (yes, they get homes, while everyone else has to make do with a bit of plastic sheeting and some newspaper for insulation).

It is an odd brand of socialism that argues that the state should provide luxury mansions for the few rather than sell them to enable an increased supply of housing for the many. Socialism by jackpot.

Sensationalism, hyperbole and exaggeration are employed here to mask the patent lack of thinking. No one is provided with a “luxury mansion” and I would challenge the author of this drivel to provide me with some evidence, but I know that I could be waiting forever because Tories don’t like evidence, much less the truth.

UPDATE 20/8/12 @ 2307

I’ve seen Foghorn Phibbs on Newsnight trying and failing spectacularly to defend Policy Exchange’s, er, thinking on the housing crisis. This is the best they could do, apparently, such is the intellectual talent that was available that they chose Harry ‘Foghorn’ Phibbs, former member of the FCS, pillar of the local community, councillor, Greenhalgh’s mouthpiece and Daily Mail hack, to fight their corner.  Bravo, chaps!

3 Comments

Filed under Government & politics, Think Tanks

Localis and Policy Exchange – two think-tanks and one mission

I first became aware of Localis when I encountered this report written by the Dear Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council,  Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh and his wingman-in-letters, John Moss. After following the trail from the report to the website, it became patently obvious that this was another right wing think-tank churning out counter-factual reports and chunks of ideologically-slanted research under a nominal cloak of independence.

It’s a game.

Localis, like other think-tanks of its kind, have to compete with like-minded groups of researchers who rival one another to catch the eye of a minister or two. They want to influence the direction of both the party and government.  Sometimes they exist to perform cosmetic surgery on the face of the party. They’re often formed by serving MPs and it is within these think-tanks that they groom the next generation of  the dominant political caste. These are literally the factories of false consciousness.

But it’s a market out there.

Localis is a brand name. It’s as if its founders, who were probably stumped for a name and just lopped the “m” off “Localism” or the “t” off “Localist”. There, that was simple, it even looks like a word from a dead language that only Old Etonians would know! Like it’s part of your “Grecian”. It’s ‘our’ little secret. But it isn’t. It’s like the name “Consignia”. Remember that?  It was dreamt up by the Royal Mail as its new brand name – just add “ia” to the word “Consign”. Piece of piss.   They thought it sounded like a real word but it meant nothing. The public knew it meant nothing.  The name was dropped. Localis have no such problem. Most people don’t even know who they are or what they do. But this is to the advantage of think-tanks. The media can call upon them as ‘experts’ to dispense large helpings of ‘blue-sky’ thinking and ‘common sense’. If you aren’t aware of them, they can appear to be reasonable…

It’s all a mirage.

Face it, you’re being conned.

Localis say they are

dedicated to issues related to local government and localism. Since our formation we have produced research on a variety of issues including housing, the reform of regional government, innovation in services and local government finance.

That’s all right, then… or is it?

Localis was set up in 2001 by Lord Hanningfield, Colin Barrow and Paul Bettison. Hang on… Rewind…  Stop. Lord Hanningfield? Wasn’t he recently sentenced to prison for claiming nearly £14,000 worth of parliamentary expenses? Yes, he was. He was also the leader of Essex County Council from 2001 to 2010 when he, er, resigned. Apparently there are also serious questions over his use of the Council credit card. By the way, his real name is Paul White and he used to be a pig farmer. Well, you know what they say about snouts and troughs…  nudge, nudge.  According to the Localis website, Hanningfield White is still a director. It’s going to be a little difficult to work as a director of a think-tank from a prison cell. No ?

Radix malorum est cupiditas.

That’s from a real dead language.

Latin.

It means “greed is the root of all evil”.

Localis and Policy Exchange have something in common. They share board members. For example, Nick Boles and Neil O’Brien are members of both think-tanks. One could argue that in the case of Localis and Policy Exchange that “one hand washes the other”. They are, for all intents and purposes, the same think-tank with two different names. This probably means that they conduct their ‘research’ in the same slipshod fashion. In 2008, Policy Exchange published a report titled  Cities Unlimited in which its authors recommended that northern industrial towns and cities be abandoned and their inhabitants moved south to take up jobs (that did not exist). It’s one-dimensional thinking of the worst kind: it assumes that people can simply uproot themselves from their communities and transplant themselves into the Oxfordshire countryside.  In 2007 Policy Exchange’s report, The Hijacking of British Islam was revealed by Newsnight to had been based on fabricated evidence. Policy Exchange took umbrage and threatened to sue Newsnight’s editor, Peter Barron but later withdrew its threat. I wonder why? Could be because their evidence was actually made up? This raises questions about the work of Localis.

When all else fails, make it up.

Localis’s best known report was written by Greenhalgh and Moss and titled Principles for Social Housing Reform. The word “reform” should set off alarm bells because it always means “cuts”. The report appears to have been based on nothing more than broad brush assumptions and ritualized class prejudice. Moreover, at no point in the report is  proper research even mentioned. On Page 62 of the report, the authors claimed to have been “peer-reviewed”. The first ‘peer’ to review the report is Philip Callan of the estate agent Savill. Wandsworth Council’s Edward Lister also chips in with his ‘peer review’ but these reviews are not academically rigorous and are arranged to suit the ‘thesis’ put forward by the authors, who believe that social housing is “welfare housing”. The ‘report’ calls for the abolition of Housing Benefit. It also demands that local authorities be freed from the responsibility of housing homeless people in their areas. This already happens in Hammersmith and Fulham where shelters have been closed and the homeless have been displaced elsewhere. Last year, a homeless, pregnant woman was forced to sleep on benches in the borough because the coucnil refused to house her.

The Ombudsman said the standard of record-keeping by housing officers in the case “was so poor that it hindered the Ombudsman’s investigation of the complaint and fell so far below acceptable standards that it amounts to maladministration”.

He added: “It has not been possible to resolve some conflicts of evidence because of the absence of detailed contemporaneous notes recording housing officers’ contact with Ms Kenza, voluntary caseworkers and other professionals.”

Redmond said the council had applied too strict a test when deciding whether to provide Ms Kenza with temporary accommodation “by insisting she provide proof of homelessness first”. It also failed to follow its own procedures for referring victims of domestic violence to a specialist domestic violence housing advocate. Liaison between officers in different departments of the council was also labelled “ineffective”.

Priorities?

A borough for the rich.

Localis is well-supported by the Tories in Hammersmith and Fulham. On Conservative Home, Foghorn Phibbs wrote,

The paper is more outlining a general approach than offering a shopping list of examples. But it suggests that swimming pools, libraries and other oublic amenities could often be provided “more effectively by businesses, charities, social providers or a combination of providers.” Rather than the lazy assumption that they have to be the service provider themselves the Council should see itself as becoming “a commissioning and procurement hub.” Sometimes a service that it “identified as marginally beneficial” should not be provided at all – whether by the Council directly or by the Council paying someone to provide it.

On the same site, Localis tells us that the coalition has adopted many of their policies. One of which is to end council tenancies for life and treat those homes solely as housing for the poor. It would seem that Localis, like many of their supporters at Hammersmith and Fulham and in government, are about to create the very thing they want to abolish: namely ‘ghettoes for the poor’.

Localis’s website has a rather amusing Testimonials page. All the testimony comes from those who either work for Localis or those who have written reports for them. Here is three of them,

“Localis is not afraid of nurturing the big ideas that lead to radical reform”

(Stephen Greenhalgh, Leader of London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham).

“Localis is a driving force for change within the localist agenda. Their research is innovative and thought provoking”

(Eric Pickles MP, Conservative Party Chairman)

“Localis is moving from strength to strength with their ambitious project”

(Merrick Cockell, Leader of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea)

These aren’t testimonials in the accepted sense of the word. This is praise-song and it all comes from people who are either board members of Localis or who are otherwise associated with it.

Far from being independent, Localis and Policy Exchange are very close to the Conservative Party.  Both think-tanks are separate for the sake of convenience: Policy Exchange is a registered charity and Localis is not but money flows from Policy Exchange into Localis’s coffers. Colin Barrow, who sits on the board of both think-tanks, donates large sums of money to both. He can afford to, he’s a millionaire.

This is the rationale of Localis and Policy Exchange: to find ways to justify and rationalise the selfishness and cupidity that lies at the heart of Tory thinking.

UPDATE 3/10/11 @ 1221

I’ve noticed that Localis has added more “testimonials” to its Testimonials Page and just to make it look as though it isn’t Tory-led and funded, it’s included Richard Kemp who it describes as a “former Liberal Democrat LGA group leader”.

1 Comment

Filed under Conservative Party, Government & politics, Think Tanks

The thing about research is…

..it can be pretty awful, faulty even dangerous stuff. I’m not talking about my own research, rather the research that is conducted by think-tanks, political parties or their members. Political parties like the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP will present research as though it was conducted in a hermetically sealed chamber. Meanwhile the media will cherry-pick the best parts of the research because it makes a good story. Remember all those news items about the ‘latest medical research’ and how the telly journo told you that ‘butter was worse for you than margarine’?  Yes, that nugget was cherry-picked.

The upmarket tabloids like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express thrive on moral panics and health scares; they will produce ‘evidence’ that they have filleted from some piece of research and present it as factual. Recently I posted an example of some ‘research’ that was carried out by former UKIP leader, Malcolm Pearson that claimed the BBC was institutionally biased against them and other Europhobes. A certain MEP who appears frequently in this blog, presented the research as ‘methodologically sound’ but was it? Well, for a start the research was conducted with the outcome already in mind. That is to say, the outcome was already established before any research took place; it was self-confirming and selective.

Think tanks will always produce ideologically skewed research. For example anything that comes from Policy Exchange or the Centre for Social Cohesion needs to be examined against an ideological backdrop. In the case of the CSC, we know that its director, Douglas Murray, is a neo-conservative whose appearances on the BBC’s Question Time or his many speaking engagements act as the means to disseminate CSC’s research. But the research that is conducted by CSC is on the same subject: Islam and the so-called Islamization of Europe. The message is repeated ad nauseum and ad infinitum.

Last year, Policy Exchange produced some research that informed us that it would be better if people moved from the north to Oxfordshire to take up [phantom] jobs there. But the research was based on a flawed premise: that the North is beyond help. It also helped to reinforce the north-south divide in the mind of the southerner. I also talked about this research in an earlier blog. Because of its potential for embarrassment, Cameron rejected it. But this doesn’t stop some Tories from holding an image in their minds of an entire region full to bursting with work-shy people.

Singling out Sunderland as an example of a town in decline, the report says: “It is time to stop pretending that there is a bright future for Sunderland and ask ourselves instead what we need to do to offer people in Sunderland better prospects.”

The Conservatives were desperate to distance themselves from the report last night, which threatened to damage months of work by a team led by William Hague to win northern urban strongholds held by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

So the real reason behind this ‘research’ was electoral rather than social? Well, there’s a surprise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Research, Think Tanks