Tag Archives: Policy Exchange

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!

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Identifying the attacks on state education

There isn’t a week that goes by when some Tory or their pals in the press are complaining about the state education system. Over the years I’ve heard all kinds of excuses from the Right with regards to state education but none as feeble as those dreamt up by Gove and the authors of The Plan, Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell. For them and so many other right-wingers, state education teaches children nothing and they identify the history syllabus as one of the prime suspects. Into this discourse they have smuggled in notions such as parental choice. Gove designed the free school to subvert and erode the state system. I shall return to Hannan and Carswell later.

If we go back to the beginning of the comprehensive education system we can see why the Tories are so adamant that it should be destroyed. In the years before the comprehensive system, pupils were required to take the 11 plus exam. A pass meant advancement to a local grammar school, failure meant going to the local secondary modern, secondary technical school or an art school, if you were lucky. The comprehensive system was supposed to level the playing field and perhaps this is what the Right hates about it the most. The Tories have demanded the reinstatement of grammar schools, not because they will lead to greater social mobility, as they erroneously claim, but because they (the Tories) are devoted entirely to nostalgia.

Policy Exchange’s Neil O’Brien is, as you’d expect, a champion of Pob’s harebrained education policies. Writing in the Torygraph on May 1, 2012, he says,

Lots of people have written about the blistering pace of Michael Gove’s school reforms. Half of secondary schools are now either academies, or on their way to becoming so. The programme started in 2002, but by April 2010, just before the election, there were 203 academies, as of 1 April 2012, 1,641 out of a total of 3,261 secondary schools were academies.
That’s an impressive rate of change. Lots of them are schools “converting” to academy status. Some people – particularly on the on the left – want the government to focus more on “classic” sponsored academies, where a failing school is shut and replaced with a new one. That’s an important model, and it is good that Gove has responded by announcing a shut-and-replace programme for failing primary schools.

Let’s deal first with this idea that schools that sign up for academy status will be better than those that remain in the state system. Many academies are actually Pupil Referral Units and, because of their nature, these places have a high turnover of pupils. It’s easy, therefore, to claim that you’re meeting targets when the pupil cohort changes from week-to-week. The second thing that needs to be dealt with is this focus on “classical” education. This idea has been borrowed extensively from the public schools with their focus on Latin and the Classics and it’s easy to see why: those who propose this model have either attended public schools or wished they had gone to one (Toby Young). But how well would such schools serve their pupils? Will they have the same advantages as their counterparts in the public schools? Unlikely, that’s down to such things as social and economic capital. If your family has a deficit of these kinds of capital then you can forget about social and professional advancement. If you go for a job in, say, the media, and the kid next to you has been to Marlborough College and you’ve been to a local academy or free school, guess which one out of the pair of you is going to land the job? You’ve guessed it; it isn’t going to be you.

Doc Stanley, also writing in the Telegraph, is pleased with Gove’s ‘reforms’, he gushes,

But they also promise to raise standards and, with the hint of more vocational learning, make us competitive again with our European partners. Anyone who has worked in education can confirm that all too often the learning process has been reduced to meeting targets in fields of knowledge that feel removed from students’ lives. Hopefully we can now say “goodbye” to the straightjackets of silly, wooly GCSEs that were approached with all the educational rigour of a Sudoku and “hello” to a more nuanced system better designed for the individual’s needs and aspirations. And the fact is that O-levels were tougher and, therefore, more internationally respected.

Along with free schools and academies, Gove wants to resurrect long-dead qualifications. The ‘O’ Level, as Stanley asserts, is “tougher”. Of course, all those who are in favour of a return to the ‘O’ Level have conveniently forgotten that it was their idol, Margaret Thatcher, who abolished it and replaced it with GCSEs in the 1980s.

But it is the assertion that state school pupils cannot “write their own names” or identify the capital of this country or that, which appears to be the Right’s main line of attack. While they assume that those who have been to state schools are inferior to those in the public schools, it is worth considering those public school pupils who leave with poor qualifications but still end up with a top job in the Cittie.

This files in the face of the assertion that all those pupils who go to public school will be smarter than those who did not. All they have is a level of articulacy that is greater than their counterparts elsewhere and it is this that they to use to mask their poor intellects.

Martin Stephen the former “High Master” of the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Barnes airs his prejudices,

I thought it was immoral that so many parents were denied their first choice of school. I thought it was immoral that one of the richest countries in the world, and one which spends billions on its schools, cannot even get its pupils in the Top 10 of the international league tables. I thought it was immoral that unions’ knee-jerk reaction to any criticism is to defend the status quo, and that so rarely, if ever, have they themselves led the drive to raise standards. I thought it was immoral that the unions have never accepted that it is in their and their members’ interests to drive bad teachers out of the profession, instead of just complaining when their inaction leaves the Secretary of State for Education no option other than to do it. I thought moral professional associations such as the British Medical Association and the Law Society recognised that they had a duty the patient and the client that they received good service, so did not have to leave it to Government to strike out of the profession members who failed to meet high standards in their treatment of the patient, the client – or the parent and child. I thought it was immoral that the unions seemed always to listen to their members, and not to the parent or the child. I thought it was immoral to think that schools existed for teachers, when the truth (and sometimes a very painful truth) was that teachers and schools exist for the child.

This whole idea of “choice” is misleading: if a school is full, then there are, by definition, no more places on offer. In other words, if you wanted to get your kid into that school, then you should have pulled your finger out long ago and put in the necessary effort. Here, Stephen, like the rest of the Right, blames the unions for the alleged failures of the state system. He also suggests that the state sector is full of “bad teachers”. What Stephen doesn’t dare mention is the fact that teachers in the state system are paid less than their counterparts in public school, have to work with larger classes and are over-burdened with paperwork. Now who is to blame for that? I think it’s only fair to point out that Stephen, as well as being High Master of St Paul’s, was educated at Uppingham, a public school in Rutland. He is also the chairman of Clarendon Academies Group and is the Director of Education at GEMS Education.

Those who constantly attack the state school system do so, almost always, from a position of privilege. Hannan and Carswell spend a great deal of time lambasting the state system but both of them went to public school: Hannan went to Marlborough and Carswell went to Charterhouse. Their understanding of the state education system is entirely based upon a cultural relativism, which is informed by their social class. Therefore their attacks on the state school system are little more than a poorly-disguised form of class disgust. I would further argue that neither author has had any direct experience of the system that they criticize. Yet they feel that they are in a position to pass judgement on a system that they know nothing about. Hannan and Carswell’s book has formed the template for a variety of insane government policies and you can bet that if this government remains in power after 2015, then education vouchers will be introduced.

Applied to the field of education, the traditional voucher scheme may be likened to the mass privatisations of the Thatcher years. The equivalent of the sale of council homes would be to give every parent with school-age children the right to demand, from his local authority, the sum that it would spent on his child, and to take that sum where he pleases.
2008:81

Great in theory but in practice, it’s unworkable and will only lead to a two tier system where those parents who cannot afford ‘choice’ will have no option but to accept a lower standard of education for their children. This is known as social Darwinism where I come from. Hannan and Carswell aren’t interested in such things and tell us.

Opponents of parental choice might argue that parents are not always best qualified to exercise choice. While we do not accept this argument, it is certainly the case that if responsibility is taken away from people, they behave less responsibly. Parents have, by and large, been denied responsibility for their child’s education, with too many decisions made for them in our ‘like-it-or-lump-it’ education system.
2008:81

Hyperbole and guff. This is not a “like-it-or-lump-it” educational system; it is a geographical arrangement that is designed to produce some notion of fairness. While it is not ideal, it is not necessarily an entirely flawed system either. It is assumed that, like other services provided by public institutions, education is a marketable commodity and that the entire educational system should be subjected to this process of reification in order to magically transform it into a ‘product’.

We also need to ask ourselves what is the purpose of school. The current educational system, as it is arranged, perpetuates class divisions. Gramsci (2001) would argue that the current system and the one proposed, reinforces and reproduces the hegemony of the dominant culture. The public schools of Britain existed to reproduce the ruling class and its values. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, education was outside the means of the peasantry and the urban proletariat and they were thus excluded from the political structures of the country. The aim should not be to create a system of reinforced inequalities but to create a decent state educational system for everyone regardless of class. Free schools and academies are nothing less than cash cows for friends of the government.

References
Carswell, D. and Hannan, D. (2008), The Plan – Twelve Months to Renew Britain. London: Self-published

Gramsci, Antonio (2001), Selections From The Prison Notebooks, London: Lawrence & Wishart.

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H&F Council, the riots and the knee jerk call for council house evictions

The Tories have made their feelings clear about council housing. It’s a “benefit” and it’s “subsidized” or “it should only be for the poor”. In the wake of the recent riots, the Tories have all been screaming for council tenants arrested for rioting or looting to be evicted from their homes – even if the tenancy holder was not involved.

Tory-controlled Hammersmith & Fulham is no different. Following the lead of Wandsworth Council, it also declared that anyone arrested for looting could face eviction.  On its website, the Council says,

Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F) Council has said it will seek to evict any council tenant who is proved guilty of being involved in criminal acts following the riots in London.

H&F Council’s Cabinet Member for Housing, Cllr Andrew Johnson, has joined colleagues in condemning the images of destruction and looting from across the capital and vowed that any H&F tenant that is found to be involved will be ‘robustly pursued’.

But my local MP, Andy Slaughter has opposed these proposals. As far as I know he is the only member of the shadow cabinet to take this line. Writing for Shepherds Bush blog he says,

This is Government by PR and gimmickry. Poor at any time, positively dangerous at present.

Iain Duncan Smith is on the lookout for evil people who, bereft of moral values, are hiding in dark corners of society. I doubt he will find any but it is an excuse to evict families from secure homes and to deduct benefits from poor families. How punishing a household for the actions of an individual is either equitable or rational, I don’t know, but it has been repeated by politicians seeking soundbites and at a loss for real answers from Nick Clegg to Tory councillors in H&F.

Promising to evict families from council homes if a member of the family is convicted of an offence implies council tenants are more prone to criminal behaviour and that they should have a greater punishment than others committing similar crimes. Of course, the Council has no power to evict in most cases, that is a matter for the courts and this is gesture politics, but if families are evicted and on the streets how is that going to aid social cohesion?

Making people homeless and taking away their benefits will only make things worse. These people will be forced into crime. But that doesn’t matter to the Tories who only want knee-jerk solutions.  I’m only surprised that the more barmy of the Tory backbenchers didn’t call for the re-introduction of transportation to the colonies.  But there aren’t many of colonies left (they’re referred to as British Overseas Territories). I do suspect that they will call for more private prisons to be built and all of those prisons will be built by companies that donate money to the party.

The H&F Tories responded in the usual fashion on its website by claiming to be part of a consensus,

His views are at odds with most voters, including most Labour supporters, as well as several Labour councils including Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Greenwich, Manchester, Nottingham, Salford, Southwark and Waltham Forest.

Are they? How many voters have H&F Tories actually spoken to? They don’t say. Here they repeat a by now familiar lie,

His stance offers little hope for decent Council tenants who want to see neighbours from hell removed. Also what sort of position would that leave the thousands of law abiding families who are on the waiting list for a Council home while stuck in overcrowded conditions? They would see the rioters allowed get away with retaining the privilege of subsidised, secure, Council housing.

But council housing is not subsidized. Notice how they throw in the word “privilege” too. This goes with the narrative of council housing as housing for the ‘deserving’ poor.  This article appeared in the London Review of Books. It says,

Labelling council housing as ‘subsidised’ is part of a wider ideological attack in which it is being redefined as welfare housing, from which people who can afford to should be quickly moved on.

This phrase “welfare housing” first appeared in a Localis report written by H&F Council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh and chartered surveyor, John Moss. It’ s deliberately misleading and misrepresents the nature of council housing. These attacks on council housing and the people who live in such properties is nothing short of ideological. The class disgust expressed by these Tories is barely concealed and couched in the matter-of-fact language of business.

The only time council housing has been subsidized was during the Right to Buy rush when the properties were deliberately sold at discounted rates to encourage people to buy them.

Perhaps the authoritarians who run my local council would like to read this report.

But I know that they won’t; Tories hate things like facts and evidence. All you need to do is look at some of the ‘research’ done by Policy Exchange and Localis to see that what I’m saying is true.

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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”.

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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.

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No one likes a bully.

Before the General Election the Tories were upset. They were upset because of suggestions made about them by the Labour Party that they were a party of the privileged; all toffs to a man. Labour and others pointed to their front bench and saw a team led by old Etonians and other überprivileged types. Such a scene had not been witnessed since the last MacMillan government of the early 60’s.  The Cons claimed that the spectre of class war had been raised by Labour  and moaned about how ‘unfair’ it was. Bless. Life’s tough when you’re a Tory.

Since the Tories have been in power, they have embarked on a series of measures which reflect the relationship of their class to the working class and those who are unemployed. The claims that Labour was embarking on a class war now ring hollow given the Tories’ fondness for targeting those who do not share the same level of social, economic and political capital as them. Make no mistake, this is a class war and it is being waged on the working class by the upper middle classes. This is Thatcherism without Thatcher – a sort of Thatcherism: The Empire Strike Back, produced by Policy Exchange and the Adam Smith Institute; directed by David Cameron and edited by the Lib Dems, it has been shot entirely in black and white.

This Spectator blog sums up the Tory zeal in pursuing the weak while handing out favours to the rich. The article typically ignores how unemployment comes about and how certain regions of Britain had their industries systematically destroyed by the party’s ideologues in the 1980’s. For them, it is the fault of the poor and, more importantly, the housing that they live in. We can’t all be derivatives traders living in £1,000,000 homes in Surrey,  you know. The blog title is also instructive, “Smashing the welfare ghettoes”. The words ‘smashing’ and ‘ghetto’ suggests two things: the word “smashing” suggests a symbolic will to violence with which the anti-working class policies will be pursued. While the word “ghetto” is conjured to suggest a kind of social housing hell which is allegedly at the ‘root’ of the ‘problem’. Just ask Hammersmith & Fulham’s Stephen Greenhalgh what he thinks of council housing.  He has gone on record as saying that he wants more rich people to move into the borough and he wants those in social housing to move out.

The real answer to the housing problem, and the one that has been misidentified by the Conservatives, is the way social housing has been built: much of it is high density and designed to maximise income without considering the aesthetic needs of the residents. Let’s face it, no one likes ugliness so why subject the working classes to the cruel architecture of blind urban planners? The new brutalism of post-war urban architecture has been replaced by a class-based ideological brutalism to deny and de-skill the working classes. Attack the people and attack the homes that they live in. This is the Big Society.

IDS talks of jobs but what sort of jobs does he have in mind for this reserve army of labour that he plans to attract to the southern shires? For Tories like IDS most people who are unemployed choose it as a way of life. This is a slur: many people have no choice but to be jobless because the opportunities; those jobs for life that their grandparents enjoyed, aren’t there anymore – the Milk Snatcher turned Job Snatcher and stole them all away. For me, it’s a clear indication that the Tories have found an easy scapegoat and are working tirelessly to project at least part of the blame for the country’s economic problems onto them. This is a sign of philosophical bankruptcy. No wonder Ayn Rand has become popular with Tories. It’s all black and white.

IDS proposes that the government would provide incentives for people to move from areas where there is no work to areas where there are ‘jobs’. This all sounds remarkably like the ‘research’ done by Cameron’s favourite think-tank, Policy Exchange, which claimed that people in the North should simply abandon their homes and move to places like Oxford to take up phantom jobs. The thinking here may be described by many Conservatives as ‘blue sky thinking’ or ‘independent’ but from where I stand, it looks nonsensical and plumbs the very depths of the worst of bad thinking. I laughed when Policy Exchange came out with this,  little did I know that it would find its way into government discourse. What other wacky ideas have these guys got?

So, if we were to take Policy Exchange’s proposals to their logical conclusion, there are questions that need to be answered: what will happen to those parts of the country that have been abandoned? Will they be placed under martial law or razed to the ground? Or will they be converted into massive theme parks that remind people of  ‘the way we used to live’, complete with cap-tipping, clog-wearing, pigeon-fancying Northern types who keep whippets and bash people over the head with black puddings? Who says there isn’t a north/south divide?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – no one likes a bully.

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