Tag Archives: think tanks

The Casey Review: Not Worth The Paper It’s Printed On

Yesterday saw the release of the Casey Review into integration. Commissioned by the Cameron government, its stated intention was to review social integration in Britain.  However, it merely added to the already poisonous anti-Muslim narrative, which is tirelessly promoted by the likes of The S*n, The Daily Mail and The Daily Express. Was the report properly researched? No.

Let’s start with the most obvious question: who is Louise Casey?  As this Guardian article from 2002 notes, there is very little biographical information available. No details of the schools she attended or whether or not she’s attended and institution of higher or even further education.  Even her Wikipedia entry provides scant details save for her career highlights.  This has got The Cat scratching his head: how and why did she manage to get into a position where she was permitted to produce government reports?  In the words of Toyah Wilcox: it’s a mystery.

Casey apparently had a turbulent childhood and once considered sleeping rough. She then worked at a holiday camp. That was followed by a spell in the old Department of Social Security where she handled payments for homeless people. From there her trajectory took her to St Mungo’s and a number of other charities. It was from her last job at Shelter that she was plucked from her relative obscurity to lead Tony Blair’s Respect Task Force. Yet, at no point does Casey appear to have studied a social sciences subject either at school or at tertiary level, nor does she appear to have any experience of peer-reviewed research. Yet, the mass media accepted her review without asking pertinent questions about its validity.  Yesterday’s Guardian, for example, was one such newspaper that accepted its ‘findings’ prima facie. As I write this, there is a Commons debate on the Casey Review taking place. Even here, the review is uncritically accepted as ‘evidence’ of “segregated neighbourhoods”.  One glaring aspect of the Casey Review is its obsessive focus on Muslims.  Indeed, it merely repeats the same kinds of narratives that can be found in any Tory-leaning newspaper on any given day of the week.

At no point in the Casey Review is there any mention of how the research, if it exists, was conducted.  There is no mention of methodologies used nor is there any mention of references. This begs the question: how can this review be accepted as the basis for future policy making when it is clearly nothing less than a flagrant example of a confirmation bias? In academia, steps are taken to produce research that is valid. This means that the research must first, be peer-reviewed and second, the researcher must act self-reflexively. Pierre Bourdieu and Loic Wacquant (1992) were insistent on the need for researchers to analyse their social and professional positions when conducting research, since objectivity is research or journalism, for that matter, is a chimera.  Yet such things are of no importance to ideologues, MPs and tabloid newspapers, who will seize upon any passing ‘report’ as a confirmation of their deeply held biases. They will, however deny any accusations of bias with the weasel words to which we have become so accustomed to hearing.

Casey herself, far from being a researcher, is a civil servant; a role that she found herself in thanks to the grace of Tony Blair.  Legitimacy has thus been bestowed on her by the consecrating authorities of the government, Parliament and the mass media (Bourdieu, 2003).  Her title of ‘Dame’ also lends an added degree of legitimacy, thus in the eyes of journalists she’s some kind of authority in some field or other.

Casey is by no means unique in producing reports that have little basis in actual research.  As I reported in 2011, Localis, a think-tank with connections to Policy Exchange, produced a report titled ‘Principles for Social Housing Reform‘.  Rather than propose useful solutions to the housing crisis, it reflected the class disgust of it authors, Stephen Greenhalgh and John JC Moss.  Its epistemological assumption rests on the notion of “broken neighbourhoods” (sic) rather than the real issue like the acute shortage of social housing.  Instead, social housing is seen as an impediment to penny-pinching local authorities and the report wrongly places the blames on social housing for social problems. Unlike the Casey Review, however, it claims to be peer-reviewed with its peers drawn from like-minded Council leaders to the  Chief Executives of housing associations.

Evidence-free reports like the Casey Review rarely ask a research question and tend to be written according to the biases of their authors.  They do not offer genuine solutions to the pressing social and economic problems that face the country and do nothing more than provide further fuel for hatred and division.  Reports and poorly conducted research can either be useless or worse: downright dangerous. In any case, they exist to flatter the tiny minds  of government ministers and their ideological bedfellows. We deserve better than this.

References

Bourdieu, P. (2003). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard University Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. J. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology. University of Chicago press.

 

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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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Fairness…what’s that?

Fairness is in fashion! Suddenly Tory politicians are all talking about ‘fairness’ as if they had coined the word in the last couple of weeks.  But if we cast our minds back to Nu Labour’s election campaign of 1997, the word ‘fairness’ was deployed ad nauseum by Blair and his cohorts. It was the stick that they poked the Major government with. Indeed the last Labour election campaign bore the slogan “A future fair for all”. A suitably vague slogan that had little, if any real meaning at all. Colourless and odourless, it failed to inspire.  But what is fairness anyway and why are today’s politician so concerned about it? Is it employed like the words freedom, choice and democracy?

Freedom, as we know means different things to different people and like choice it is presented as the defining feature of our so-called democracy which is, itself, only a partial democracy. True democracies are participatory. The formulation of our present democracy is only a little over 160 years old and has never been participatory in any sense of the word. The electorate, whom many modern politicians will claim have ‘the real power’, are only permitted to participate in the ‘democracy’ when the government allows them to vote’. The act of voting is therefore regarded as the alpha and omega of the electorate’s democratic participation. Once the registered citizens have exercised their mandate they are then free to return to their lives and forget about the whole process until the next time.

Choice is a word that is  much loved by the mainstream politician. They will use it to try and convince the public they are getting what they want rather than being forced to accept what is given to them which is, more often than not, the case. But as Dick Hebdige reminds us that “you can only what what is available”. Therefore, like our democracy, it too is an illusion. Supermarkets and other retailers are also fond of telling us they want to give the customer ‘more choice’. However if the range of choices in the supermarket in question is limited and the supermarket is challenged on the unavailability of certain goods that were once on sale, it will reply with “it’s a slow mover” or “no call for it around here”.  The supermarket is a useful analogy: governments are no longer interested in real ideas which will lead to the advancement of humankind, rather, it is their role to manage and offer products for consumption; the range of which is limited because the products themselves are not real. Mainstream parties outsource their thinking to think-tanks which, while pretending to be ‘non-partisan’ enjoy close fraternal links with a political party. Think-tanks will produce intellectual products or ideas (sic) that are based on some form of research which they hope will be transformed into policy, which is a rebranding of the original product (the pretence of a think-tank’s non-partisanship evaporates at this point).  But choice is an empty sign that requires an investment of meaning. “We want patients to have a choice of which hospital they go to”;  “There needs to be greater parental choice, hence the need for free schools”. Through the  invocation of such statements the empty sign is given meaning.

Choice is promoted tirelessly. During the Cold War, we were told that the citizens of the  Soviet Union and its empire had no freedom and this was because they had no choice; they had to accept what was given to them. There was only one political party: the Communist Party (in reality there were more but they formed a bloc with the various communist parties and were small by comparison) which dominated all forms of socio-ideological production. On the other hand, the ‘free’ west had freedom because we had choice: we could buy what we wanted provided we had the income to do so. For those without the income, however, the choices were limited; these are the poor, where the word fairness does not seem to apply. The multiple choices at the ballot box often resulted in the election to office the same party or parties in government. The electoral systems  that are in place in some Western countries offer neither real choice nor fairness to the citizen.

For the Objectivist or neo-liberal, fairness is anathema. The Objectivist rejects fairness on the basis that it is intrinsically altruistic (altruism is also rejected by the Objectivist for ‘moral’ reasons). If the choices are limited to an individual – who is perversely, a God to the Objectivist – then that is the market making a ‘decision’ as if it were a sentient being rather than a system of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. If the individual is poor, that is merely a representation of the condition of  their karma. Karma is not fair. It isn’t supposed to be.  Objectivists don’t believe in karma: they believe in money.

So why do mainstream politicians believe they can create ‘fairness’ when the word is so subjective? They do not have magic powers; they can no more create fairness than I can create money in seconds. The current way in which society is formed negates fairness; it is acquisition which is important. fairness merely obstructs people from making profits and these people will tell you that “life isn’t fair”. They should know: they have benefited from an institutional lack of fairness; the system that they support has no need for fairness. For them fairness only occurs when they are given the freedom to exploit others for profit. This is also their idea of freedom.

The vague notion of fairness has been largely substituted for the more tangible idea of equality. The mainstream politicians know this and the current government is loath to mention the word ‘equality’ because it rubs against the grain of their basic principles. Fairness sounds like it means something when it doesn’t and therefore it is  well suited to government rhetoric.

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