Building A Britain Fit For The Future

Building a Britain fit for the future - new Conservative Party Tory slogan

Strong and stable, version 2.0

Word on the street is that the Tories have got themselves a shiny new slogan. Guido Fawkes reports:

Here are seven words you can expect to hear a lot more of over the next few weeks and months: Guido understands the new Tory slogan is “Building a Britain fit for the future”. Theresa May used it three times at PMQs on Wednesday, telling the Commons: “this government is building a country fit for the future”, “we are building a Britain fit for the future” and “We in the Conservative Party are building a Britain that is fit for the future”. This morning the CCHQ Twitter account used the same phrase.

As slogans go, I suppose that “Building a Britain fit for the future” could be a hell of a lot worse. It is certainly better than “strong and stable”, though according to Guido it seems as though the Tories are already in danger of wearing out their new slogan through enthusiastic over-use.

BABFFTF has potential because it at least acknowledges that we are entering a period of discontinuity – a time where the current system or political consensus is starting to fray and show signs of fatigue, where new and previously politically unfeasible policies are required to break the impasse or respond to the concerns of the electorate. The rise of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and the vote for Brexit are just two of the most prominent signs that we have entered such a time of discontinuity, with the pro-EU, centrist consensus adopted by Labour and the Conservatives through 2015 increasingly failing to address the hopes, fears, concerns and priorities of many people.

The problem, though, is that the slogan seems to have been trailed before the necessary supporting ideas – the vital national reboot checklist which can steer Britain through Brexit and on to the other challenges – have been developed. Now, it’s possible that Theresa May has been huddled in Downing Street with her SpAds brainstorming some breathtakingly original new ideas, and that we will all be bowled over when they are announced in the coming weeks – but it seems unlikely. Firstly, she would be breaking the habit of a lifetime (doing something bold and visionary) and secondly it is hard to tell when such inspired policymaking might have taken place given all of the shenanigans going on in her Cabinet.

While we can finally detect a few faint signs of new intellectual life in the Tories – notably the Big Tent programme launched by George Freeman, and the Square Deal initiative led by Nick Boles – these groups are barely getting formed, and are months away (if not more) from reaching full fruition. And as I have previously written (and will continue to expand upon in coming days and weeks), we are still missing anything like an overarching framework to diagnose the issues facing Britain, draw out the links between them and produce an electorally viable set of policies to tackle them. Discontinuity requires policymaking through extraordinary means; the same old processes tend to yield the same old solutions.

That being said, the Tories cannot remain silent altogether while they try to get their act together. It is good, in a way, that Brexit is currently consuming most of this government’s energy because that means that they have little time (and even less political capital) to push through some of the authoritarian, statist, anti-market policies which one suspects Theresa May would now be rolling out had she won a thumping majority. A de facto “first, do no harm” doctine has thus been partially imposed on this government, like it or not.

But still the Tories must do something, starting with the Budget next week, to show that they are starting to understand the depth of public dissatisfaction with the old political settlement, particularly on housing (since this is a vital policy area more separated from some of the others). Years of disappointment mean that I have zero positive expectations of Phillip Hammond when he gets to his feet to deliver the Budget next Wednesday. I fear that even if there is noticeable movement on housing, it will be a big sop to Labour by focusing on the building of new council housing rather than the big unleashing/encouraging of private development (upward, not outward) which we need. This is Hammond’s chance to prove me wrong, as well as everybody else who has lost faith in the current government being anything more than a very clumsy caretaker.

The pessimistic part of me still believes that a mid-term rescue for the Tories is simply impossible; that it will take a (hopefully) short, sharp spell in opposition to rid the current Tory frontbench of much of its dead wood and see some new talent push forward – hopefully talent less beholden to the current political consensus, and which wants to do more than simply make a few cosmetic tweaks to win back public opinion. Readers will no doubt correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot think of one example of a successful political turnaround that was driven by refreshed policies rather than the good fortune of events.

But a Jeremy Corbyn government is not something to be entertained lightly. The next government will likely set the tone and direction of Britain’s immediate post-Brexit years, and so will play a large role in stamping their imprint on whatever the new emerging political consensus or centre of gravity happens to be. After years of leftward drift under both New Labour and Conservative governments, it is important that the next significant course change is to the right. In a world of pure ideology one may well want the Tories decimated at the next election so that they can grow back stronger and with a renewed sense of purpose, just as controlled forest fires can ultimately benefit an ecosystem even as they destroy in the short term. But since we all have to live in this forest for the duration, dropping a match onto dry leaves by ushering Jeremy Corbyn into 10 Downing Street really must be an option of last resort.

Therefore let us hope that “Building a Britain fit for the future” and whatever quickly-concocted policies lie beneath it buy the Tories sufficient breathing room to attempt a more fundamental policy review – to create the new Stepping Stones report for 2018 that Britain needs to chart our way from one failed political consensus to a new one which addresses today’s challenges.

Let’s hope that it falls to conservatives to build the Britain of the future, and not Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

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An NHS For Housing And Food – What Fresh Hell Is This?

Free school meals

With all the political momentum behind them and the Conservative government in chaos, even more moderate leftists are now pushing for a radical expansion of the size and role of the state

Fresh from advocating for a 100 percent inheritance tax, Guardian columnist Abi Wilkinson takes her desire for all of us to be vassals of the state to the next level by calling for a National Housing Service and National Food Service to rival the wonder that is the NHS. No, seriously.

Wilkinson is responding to a new report published by UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity, which calls for an ever-expanding range of “universal basic services” to be provided free of charge to all British citizens.

From the report’s summary:

The UK should provide citizens with free housing, food, transport and IT to counter the threat  of worsening inequality and job insecurity posed by technological advances, a report launched by the Insitute for Global Prosperity recommends.

The proposal for ‘Universal Basic Services’ represents an affordable alternative to a so-called ‘citizens’ income’ advocated by some economists, according to the expert authors working for UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity.

Building on the ethos that saw the establishment of the NHS and public education – that essential services should be free at the point of need – the plan would “raise the floor” of basic services all citizens can expect, providing better protection for workers in the face of rapid advances in technology and automation.

As always, the report’s sponsors and cheerleaders make heavy use of emotional manipulation to press policy solutions which make people feel good and altruistic at the time, but which ultimately do more harm than good as they act as a dead weight on the economy. Andrew Percy, “citizen sponsor” for the report, predictably puts a rather more positive and moral spin on it:

It cannot be sufficient to excuse hungry school children or an uncared-for elderly population with a notion of ‘unaffordability’ in a society that is as rich as any that has ever existed.

Because let’s not blame irresponsible parents for having children they can’t afford or selfish adults for having no interest in caring for their elderly relatives, both groups not just being willing to palm these responsibilities off on the state but expectant of doing so. Let’s not assume that any of these problems require even the slightest change in the way that we ourselves behave. No, let’s just scream about human suffering and point angrily toward the government, demanding a solution.

Cynically using the Grenfell Tower tragedy as a convenient emotional launchpad to push her leftist Utopian vision, Wilkinson picks up the banner and writes:

The horror of Grenfell Tower has also given impetus to those who wish to see a more communal politics. Though a public inquiry into the tragedy is in progress, leftwingers have long argued that programmes for poor people are poor programmes. That is to say, when fewer people are dependent on a service – and when they’re among the most marginalised, disempowered and ignored members of society – there’s a higher chance that standards will fall.

If a larger proportion of people lived in social housing, this sort of treatment would be impossible. Politicians can only neglect a certain percentage of the population without facing consequences: mess with too many of us, and we’ll vote you out. In essence, this is the basic argument for universality. It’s one that even many left-of-centre politicians seem to have forgotten in recent decades. The higher the number of people who have a stake, the better resourced, monitored and defended a public service will be.

Interesting. Abi Wilkinson seems to have forgotten the more important and proven lesson from history – that when everybody is dependent on a service (as in every Communist state yet attempted) standards do not just fall, they crash through the floor, except for those well-connected apparatchiks who are given unofficial permission to bypass state provision and get what they want or need on the black market.

At first glance, Wilkinson’s argument may make sense to many people – because  many of us do not have an immediate, direct stake in social housing or welfare payments, we are naturally less concerned with the service offered to those who are. But even this is not entirely accurate, since the majority of Brits are now net beneficiaries from the state rather than contributors to it. And this is reflected in the dismal Politics of Me Me Me which has utterly taken over, our selfish badgering at every general election not about what we can do for the country, but what the country can do for us.

In other words, half of the population effectively consider themselves (or are considered by government agencies) to be among “the most marginalised, disempowered and ignored members of society”, or at least among the most entitled members of society, and still this has not generated sufficient political pressure to force the socialist gold-plating of these services. But then clearly this is why Abi Wilkinson is pushing for more. Her New Jerusalem can only be achieved when literally everybody relies on the state for housing, food, healthcare, transport, education and probably cultural and leisure services too, for good measure.

And this is precisely what she then calls for:

As the neoliberal order of the past several decades enters its death throes, we should take the opportunity to reconsider our conception of universal rights. Healthcare and under-18 education we already agree on. In a changing economy with a growing need for highly skilled workers, why not university education as well? What about state-provided universal basic services, which is what leading economists and social scientists at UCL propose as a practical, affordable and morally justified response to growing poverty and inequality?

The left has spent years focusing primarily on opposition: resistance to spending cuts, punitive welfare changes and the erosion of employment rights. Now, with Labour tantalisingly close to power, we have, at last, a chance to imagine something better.

Except it’s not better at all. What she proposes has been tried, tested and failed every single time it was implemented. There is already a steady ratchet towards greater state provision underway, both fuelled by and fuelling public clamour for the same. People now expect to be able to procreate and have the state cover the cost of raising their children, and to even question this absurdity is to find oneself excommunicated from polite society. People expect schools to feed their children, and act as though schools expecting parents to provide meals for their own kids is somehow a mark of barbarity.

After a brief retrenchment, more and more people once again are clamouring for the state to be landlord to everybody, and the weak, pathetic incumbent Conservative government is actively cooking up plans to build more council homes while doing almost nothing to increase private provision. At every turn, people look first to the government to solve their problems, and with some justification – they have been falsely led to believe that this is normal and moral their entire adult lives.

Leaving aside universal basic income (for which there may arguably one day be a case if current trends toward automation continue on their present trajectory) the idea of universal state provision of individual services like housing, food, endless tertiary education and more besides is corrosive to the human spirit, as is the idea that it should automatically be the compelled responsibility of productive individuals to pay for the bad choices of another person. A basic welfare safety net is absolutely required, particularly at the present time, when civic society is so eroded after years living under a system where government comes to be seen as an auxiliary parent. But we must recognise the ratchet effect for what it is – increasing state provision leads to decreased personal initiative and increased demand in an endless, self-fulfilling cycle.

And where would it end? Today, food, housing and internet access are seen as essentials for which no human being or head of household should have any responsibility for providing for themselves. Presumably, then, every new invention from here onwards will quickly be decreed by the Left to be so vital to wellbeing and participation in society that it requires nationalisation and state provision to an ever-expanding pool of “vulnerable” people. Where does it end? And what happens when the innovators and high-income people who fund the wretched Ponzi scheme leave Britain in disgust?

The irony of such wicked proposals emanating from an organisation calling itself the Institute for Global Prosperity is almost too much to bear. How does the IGP think that prosperity is generated in the first place? Which is the economic system which has lifted more people out of poverty and want than any other, and which is the system which always begins in a blaze of idealistic optimism and ends with round-the-block queues for government bread?

But this is why it is essential that conservatives wake up, stop their petty infighting over personalities and develop an alternative policy programme to address the issues tackled in the IGP report. At present, the socialists are the only one with ideas and the political courage to speak them out loud. And at a time when dissatisfaction with the status quo is high and populist policies quickly gain traction, these ideas could end up being implemented by a Corbyn government sooner than many people think possible.

Carefully cultivating their reputation as the wooden, uncharismatic, technocratic comptrollers of public services, as the Tories seem determined to cast themselves (witness Theresa May’s most recent awful performance at Prime Minister’s Questions this week), is now a recipe for political suicide. Indeed at this point, given the uselessness of the present Tory party, it may already be inevitable that the political pendulum swings toward the Corbynite Left no matter what is done now. But thinking conservatives of vision and courage need to be ready to step in with an alternative as soon as the opportunity presents itself, whether it be a successful U-turn while still in government or a quick bounce back from Opposition.

And unlike the Left’s beguiling promises of an easy life stripped of any personal responsibility, this new conservative vision must inspire humans at our hardworking, civic-minded best rather than pandering to us at our grasping, self-entitled worst.

 

UCL - Institute for Global Prosperity - Universal Basic Services report

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Of Course Brexit Will Not Solve The Housing Crisis

Housing Crisis - Brexit

Build. More. Houses.

Rosamund Urwin has a rather strange and unnecessary piece in the Evening Standard warning us that Brexit will not miraculously solve the housing crisis:

Brexit may well enable a fast-moving few to buy, but I doubt it can offer a solution for the majority of those who want to escape renting. It’s like letting crows snack on a carcass; the rest of the aviary will still need feeding later too.

Although it may make the average home cheaper, Brexit is also expected to deplete the number of homes (including the “affordable” variety) being built. There’s a shortage of land earmarked for residential construction in London, partly because developers keep most of their vast landbanks as empty plots, rather than putting homes on them. Given the uncertainty Brexit has unleashed, developers are more likely now to delay or mothball schemes. That will exacerbate the shortage of housing stock long-term.

To top that off, building will soon incur bigger bills. The cost of imported materials has risen with the sliding pound and labour costs would increase without EU workers.

I don’t know a single person with a functioning brain who thought for a moment that Brexit would solve the housing crisis.

The only thing which will ever solve the housing crisis – bar a lethal smallpox pandemic that wipes out half of the population – is the one thing that successive cowardly, pathetic governments have not done: Build more houses.

But this government is committed to building a million new homes by 2020“, whines David Cameron in protest. Does he want a medal? Net migration is running at upwards of 300,000 per annum. Even the government’s most sunny estimate of future housebuilding means less accommodation per capita in 2020 than there is today. Every month of this dithering, prevaricating (and now leaderless) Coke Zero Conservative government is a month when demand for housing further outstrips supply.

If you were captain of a sinking ship, taking on hundreds of gallons of water a minute, you should not expect to be hailed as a hero for filling your coffee mug with seawater and flinging it overboard instead of plugging the massive hole in the ship’s hull. It is a worthless gesture which makes almost zero difference – much like the government’s furious pretence that building more council houses and cooking up various “help to buy” schemes is a fitting response to a festering national crisis.

It’s all quite deliberate, of course. To actually build the number and type of new homes that Britain needs – in the cities, and upwards not outwards – would cause house prices first to stagnate and then to fall. And since houses in Britain are now revered more as an investment vehicle than somewhere to put the flat screen TV and shelter from the elements, we are now blessed with a generation of politicians more than happy to waffle on about the housing crisis but loathe to do anything to tackle it.

Dishonest, NIMBYish politicians are what stands in the way of resolving the housing crisis and putting the dream of home ownership back within reach of millions of hard-pressed middle class Britons. Brexit makes little difference either way.

Unlike education or healthcare, the solution to the housing crisis is actually as simple as it looks. But we continue to tolerate politicians who almost take pride in conspicuously doing nothing about it.

 

Brexit - EU - European Union Flag - Missing Star - Britain - UK

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What Conservative Government? – Part 2

Housing Crisis

Rather than do any of the things which might actually ease the housing crisis, David Cameron’s Coke Zero Conservative government wants the state to enter the housebuilding business

When faced with the inescapable truth of the housing crisis – the fact that demand for housing is increasing faster than supply – David Cameron’s Conservative government has typically preferred to faff around with headline-chasing proposals to boost demand for the same inadequate housing stock rather than upset any of their vested interests by unleashing a real, consumer-focused supply side revolution.

But doing nothing at all in the face of a pressing national problem doesn’t look very good, and so the government has simultaneously been grasping around for eye-catching policies which give the illusion of taking serious action, while doing almost nothing to tackle the root causes.

And since this government is clearly content to pick freely from any policies ranging anywhere from the authoritarian left to the bland centre, they have come up with a doozy of a socialist idea: being unwilling to deregulate the market or meaningfully ease burdensome planning restrictions, the state will simply start commissioning new housing itself. What could possibly go wrong?

The breathless government press release informs us:

The Prime Minister will today announce that the government is to step in and directly commission thousands of new affordable homes.

In a radical new policy shift, not used on this scale since Thatcher and Heseltine started the Docklands, the government will directly commission the building of homes on publicly owned land. This will lead to quality homes built at a faster rate with smaller building firms – currently unable to take on big projects – able to get building on government sites where planning permission is already in place. The first wave of up to 13,000 will start on 4 sites outside of London in 2016 – up to 40% of which will be affordable ‘starter’ homes. This approach will also be used in at the Old Oak Common site in north west London.

A plan for every stage of your life, indeed.

This amounts to nothing so much as a nationalised British Housing corporation – on a small scale for now, but who knows where or how far this statist adventure could lead us? Where once we had British Coal, British Steel, British Rail and even British Restaurants, now we are about to have British Housing foisted upon us – and by a supposedly conservative government, no less.

But just as nationalised, centrally planned companies like British Leyland churned out low quality, uncompetitive products that nobody wanted back in the last century, so British Housing will inevitably see the construction of more cookie-cutter, non-high-rise, low density “developments” that barely keep pace with rising demand and do nothing to tackle house prices or put the dream of home ownership within reach of more people.

But who cares? George Osborne will have another excuse to don his high-vis jacket, strap on his hard hat, and prance around a building site with his sleeves rolled up like a man of action and plausible Future Prime Minister. And that’s all that matters. Not solving real problems. Not applying the best of contemporary conservative thinking to transform Britain for the better. Just another good photo opportunity and more of the same endless, vacuous triangulation and electioneering.

Rigorous conservative thought and policymaking is capable of producing compelling answers to nearly all of the problems facing modern Britain – unemployment, housing, welfare, competitiveness and the democratic deficit. But we do not have a prime minister or a government who have any respect for conservative thought, or the principles of small government, free individuals and the free market as a force for good.

We have David Cameron, George Osborne and the bricks-and-mortar equivalent of British Rail sandwiches.

 

British Restaurants - Nationalisation

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Dispatch From Hampstead And Kilburn – Interview With Tulip Siddiq (Labour)

 

Tulip Siddiq displayed her knowledge of local issues (she is local resident of Kilburn) when responding to my question about gentrification in the Hampstead and Kilburn constituency and its implications for affordable housing, proposing a national register of landlords to help safeguard the interests of people who rent privately.

When asked to look back at Labour’s most recent thirteen-year spell in government (1997-2010) and identify their greatest achievement, Tulip Siddiq highlighted “the NHS” and referenced the treatment that her father received on the NHS as her personal inspiration to join the Labour Party.

Surprisingly, Siddiq is Labour’s sole ethnic minority candidate in a currently Labour-held seat, though her chances of election are strong and (as this recent profile in The Independent suggests) she is well positioned to rise up the ranks of any future Labour government,  especially having been an early supporter of Ed Miliband.

 

Click here for interviews with each of the 2015 candidates standing for election in Hampstead and Kilburn, and a summary of the recent hustings organised by West Hampstead Life.

Tulip Siddiq - Labour Party - Hampstead and Kilburn - General Election 2015