Hackney Wick police see how infrastructure failure endangers cyclists

The local police safer neighbourhood team were out on my commute home tonight warning cyclists about breaking the law on Victoria Park Road. They seemed to accept, though, that Hackney Council’s failure to provide safe lanes on an important cycling route was causing scores of cyclists to either put themselves in danger or conflict with pedestrians on the (also inadequate) pavements. I’m also hopeful from my chat with the SNT officer that the police in Hackney are actually already advocating for better infrastructure.

There is a busy eastbound cycle route on Hackney’s southern border. The safest ways to get from the City to anywhere in or beyond northeast Hackney pass through or around Victoria Park. One such route skirts the north of the the park, then diffuses as it hits Well Street Common. It’s always busy, and in the few minutes I was there talking to the police more than a dozen riders passed.

The problem is that the people planning the transport infrastructure did not prioritise the cycle route – so it is broken for one stupid moment by a one-way street.

Victoria Park Rd is part of the Hackney Wick racetrack circuit: traffic here routinely breaks the speed limit. We can see that, because the council did helpfully provide those warning signs that flash on when cars are going too fast – and they come on for almost every car. How many? We’ll never know, because Hackney Council would apparently rather not think about it, let alone do anything.

On the north side, the pavement is both narrow and fenced off with railings; on the south side there is a bus shelter. Even if you walked your bike here you would come into conflict with pedestrians.

The road is wide enough here for a short contraflow cycle path, just linking up the two parts of the route. Instead, the lack of thought by the council is just asking for cyclists to risk putting themselves at danger by rushing the wrong way up an unregulated road of speeding traffic, or to annoy pedestrians on a narrow, crooked, fenced-off pavement.

This wouldn’t be a particularly difficult fix, especially compared with the killer junctions that still dot the borough, so the failure to do anything about it is just symptomatic of the lack of real attention given to cycling under Mayor Jules Pipe’s leadership. But the local SNT, and apparently also the local Labour councillors, do believe that the community safety issue here is the cyclists who are put at danger by bad traffic planning, not the risk to the abstract integrity of the one-way system from forty yards of cyclists being encouraged to break the law.

Published in: on January 17, 2012 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cory Doctorow: copyright wars are just the first salvo in a fundamental fight

An important lesson from Cory Doctorow on what the coming war on general purpose computation. The attempts by industry to censor the internet and control our computing devices are just the first salvo in a century-long conflict.

The stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.

I particularly like his upbeat ending:

“We’ve spent the last ten years sending our best players out to fight what we thought was the final boss at the end of the game, but it turns out it’s just been the mini-boss at the end of the level… but like all good level designers, fate has sent us a soft target to train ourselves on.”

Published in: on January 4, 2012 at 12:49 am  Comments (1)  

Up yours, Delors

I didn’t start this blog to gripe about Lib Dems doing dumb stuff, but those MEPs and Lords mouthing off to the media about Cameron’s Brussels veto are making our party look like naiive Euro-Federalists with no regard for our national interest. Oakeshott, Davies et al are running against the grain of public opinion and the press are seizing on this to damage the Lib Dems.

On the substantive issue, all the OMG about the veto is as much froth. This won’t change Britain’s relationship with the EU on a fundamental level: Europe needs Britain, Britain needs Europe. Most countries joined the EU for free trade and the common market, not French protectionism or German domination.

Whipping up a frenzy over the issue is purely domestic politics, on all sides: the British right wants to present this as a victory; Sarkozy has an election coming up, so has domestic reasons of his own for giving Cameron the cold shoulder and railing against the City of London. Diplomacy sometimes involve sticking to your negotiating positions. Compromise is not always possible. There wasn’t a politician around that negotiating table who didn’t understand that.

The British public are broadly Eurosceptic, and Cameron will have won himself a great deal of support. You only have to look at the popular press to see that. The media is also entirely hostile to the Liberal Democrats, so it’s no surprise that they are encouraging Europhile Lib Dems commit political automutliation on our behalf.

So we have extremist Europhiles Chris Davies MEP and Lord Oakeshott going on TV claiming to represent the Liberal Democrats. We have “senior Liberal Democrats” (although this could mean anything) briefing the press anonymously that this means that Clegg may not be able to control the party any more, there will be a Lib Dem revolt over this, and the UK government will fall. I believe that all they are doing is confirming public suspicions that the Lib Dems are not sound on Europe.

I don’t even vote Lib Dem in European elections, and I’m obviously not the only one: in the 2009 Euro elections the Lib Dems got 13% of the vote and came fourth. There are huge numbers of Lib Dem voters and members who still can’t stomach Chris Davies and our MEP contingent.

It’s always worth mentioning that Nick Clegg’s chapter in the Orange Book is about the EU, and remains one of the best statements of a liberal, British position on Europe that I have ever read. It starts from the position that the EU is broadly a good thing, but that it is an imperfect system and still in desperate need of reform.

British interests need fighting for, and it’s hard to see how any liberal could agree to a treaty that legislates against democratic, local budgeting decisions and enshrines in international law a strictly European People’s Party view of economic governance.

MPs like Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes are doing a good job of presenting a sensible liberal position on this, but their work is being undermined by noisy, unpopular Federalists.

Published in: on December 10, 2011 at 5:55 pm  Comments (2)  

Lib Dem villains of the month: Bob Russell and Mike Hancock

I’m pretty sure that no Liberal Democrat members volunteered time and money to put people into Parliament so that they could join notorious crook/idiot Keith Vaz MP in trying to ban computer games

But this month Bob Russell and Mike Hancock co-sponsored an EDM essentially calling for a ban on Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, which is to say a ban on letting adults choose how they entertain themselves.

It’s hard to tell why they would do this. Maybe there was a splash about it in the Daily Mail or something. Maybe Hancock is concerned that the game portrays Russian spies in a bad light, just when he’s trying to rehabilitate their reputation as sexy secretaries rather than gun-toting fiends.

Of course this is nothing more than an EDM, the most pointless of Parliamentary documents, written by a dumbass and essentially signifying nothing, but as Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee Croshaw put it, if someone who wants to legislate the censorship of arts and culture gets elected, then the next thing you know you’re picking jackboots out of your teeth.

It’s worth remembering that politicians all over the world, even those who call themselves Liberals, are gagging to regulate culture, and may one day require an organised response – such as the Video Game Voters Network in the USA.

In the meantime, though, it would be nice if some liberal Liberal Democrats could sign up to Tom Watson’s anti-censorship amendment to the motion, just to counterbalance the embarrassing actions of Bob and Mike. Julian Huppert to the rescue?

Published in: on November 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm  Comments (3)  

Tories don’t understand the countryside

Tories are waging a bitter war against anything they see as damaging the countryside. Wind farms, high speed rail, and new housing developments are all encountering their organised resistance. This is because they have, dangerously and inaccurately, come to regard the countryside as a garden for their own enjoyment.

Prince Charles described wind farms as “a monstrous carbuncle”; his father just called them “a disgrace” (Wind farms are defended in the Mail article by fellow Lib Dem blogger Adam Bell!) The Government’s draft National Planning Policy Framework is condemned on the basis that it might allow buildings to go up on green fields. The HS2 high speed rail link to the North is excoriated just for having the temerity to pass through the countryside. Forget the energy crisis, the housing crisis, the decades of underinvestment in the country’s infrastructure, these people say – what about our views of grass?

The countryside is not, and has never been, some kind of vast pleasure-garden. The countryside is about grinding a hard living from the soil, corralling and slaughtering beasts by their millions, blasting rock apart for its mineral wealth, gouging out solid energy from the earth’s crust. It is a landscape wholly created by industry and toil, girded all about by steel rails.

There is wild land that is wholly worth preserving as national park. But a national park has the same relation to the countryside as a city park has to its urban context: a necessary complement, but something fundamentally unlike its surroundings.

One of my favourite spots in the country, perhaps the world, is Stanton Moor in the Peak District, for its megaliths, its ecology, a curious folly commemorating the Reform Act of 1832, and because its height affords a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. That view is of working farms and working quarries – of toil. That doesn’t detract from the view any more than all those damn buildings detract from the view at the top of the London Eye. It is the view; it is the essence of it. The moor itself was shaped by its industrial history. You can’t walk anywhere in the Derbyshire countryside without seeing where our Bronze Age ancestors carved rocks from the earth, or the Romans dug for lead, or where Victorian Englishmen started a little thing called the industrial revolution.

These commuter Tories who escape to the country and buy up farmhouses to create a fundamentally suburban simulacrum of rural life misunderstand the element they are entering. They don the Barbour and attend the village fete and enjoy the view from their rustic-style barnconversion kitchen windows, but they misunderstand.

There is another moor that I love, just to the North of Stanton-in-the-Peak: Beeley Moor. From here you look down across an artificial rustic landscape – the Chatsworth House estate, with its Capability Brown gardens, neat turf and precisely-picturesque number of lambs. The fourth Duke of Devonshire went as far as to demolish the local village, Edensor, and have it rebuilt behind a convenient hill so that it would cease spoiling his view across the Derwent.

Now every two-bit Tory in the land thinks that they can act like this Duke and look out across a panorama of bucolic fakery. Never mind that this stops affordable housing development and drives up housing prices beyond the reach of real low-paid rural workers. Never mind that we’re dependent on Arab sheikhs for our energy security.

Tories of the shires: our countryside is not your frivolous playground. It is a serious place for serious work.

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 8:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Neighbourhood planners: at least they’re not on drugs.

Anyone following the neighbourhood planning aspect of the Localism Act 2011 will be interested in seeing whether letting real people take the lead in shaping their own surroundings will actually result in better places. But professional planners are already failing to create decent places. In Middlesborough this appears to be because they are dropping acid during working hours.

People know intrinsically what they like in a place. To quote the heir apparent: “in a strange way we operate like bees making a hive and ants making a nest or whatever. The universal pattern is within us.” People want streets that feel safe from crime. They want convenient places to buy groceries. Places that are safe from traffic and easy to travel around. Places with a diversity of use.

You can always tell when you find a good place, because there are people around – and they look happy to be there.

One of the tragedies of the modernist housing projects of the twentieth century is that they constructed decent homes in solid buildings (whatever your personal view of municipal brutalist architecture), but put them into terrible contexts. Set in pedestrian canyons that are not overlooked at almost any hour of the day, they usually feel unsafe and sometimes are. They are starved of amenities. The eradication of traditional street patterns makes them difficult to traverse (I had to climb through a children’s playground while crossing through a Hackney estate the other day, because there was no other clear route through). They tend to be surrounded by dangerous roads as if by a moat. They are single-use structures dropped into dehumanising environments as if they were self-contained units.

And professional planners are still making the same mistakes. Middlesborough’s Middlehaven regeneration project reproduces these mistakes by plonking regeneration structures (a college, a museum, a football pitch, a hotel, and so on) into a wilderness, without considering how people actually use places and what they actually want from them.

Oh, and because they were taking acid when they were drawing up the plans, the regeneration buildings looks like fish and eggs, and stand in the middle of impenetrable jungles of gladioli.

No, really.

Yes, this is seriously what expensive urban planning consultants came up with, and what the council signed up to. Random buildings dropped into cripplingly expensive, uncrossable, and hilly fields of flowers.

Here’s a close up of how they supposed a normal day would look in this part of Middlesborough in 2015.

Sadly this was done before councils were obliged to account for each item of spending, so we may never know how much acid their planning officers were buying on the rates, but even disregarding the LSD-induced design elements, don’t forget that this is supposed to be Middlesborough.

And here we have another problem with the planning establishment: their chronically, compulsively dishonest use of architectural renders.

Who are all these people? Where are they going and where did they come from? Are we supposed to believe that they are just taking a wander through the Willie Wonka wilderness? There are no shops here, no purpose for people being there. It’s easy to drop non-specific pedestrian activity into architectural renders: they come free with Google sketchup. But it’s incredibly hard in reality to get people to congregate in any given place.

Note also the crisp blueness of the sky, which is so characteristic of Northeast England.

Here’s another, just to make the point that, yes, they really are apparently envisioning replacing Middlesborough’s derelict docklands with colossal fields of gladioli. Take that, age of austerity. The non-specific pedestrians here are perhaps even more baffling. You might be able to make out half a dozen men standing on a platform half way up the Space Invader thing. How did they get there? What are they doing? How will they escape?

In conclusion, urban design is a discipline that could do with the dose of reality that community planning will hopefully bring.

The task will be to get people to think seriously and methodically about how they actually go about creating the kind of place they already know that they like, and find a way to articulate it. But I will bet everything that I own (ie, a framed portrait of Gladstone, one half-decent tweed suit, and a dog-eared copy of Jane Jacobs) that no neighbourhood plan will advocate bulldozing a street to replace it with a gladioli field or a giant Space Invader statue thing.

Published in: on November 21, 2011 at 12:43 am  Comments (1)  

The Localism Act: are you ready for war?

The Localism Bill finished its passage through Parliament this week, and the consultation has closed on the new National Planning Policy Framework. The Coalition Government’s reforms in this area have been called the biggest shake-up of the planning system in fifty years. Neighbourhood planning is going to be a big deal. I’m not sure that the Government knows quite how big. But the evidence is that the current planning establishment are absolutely fucking terrified.

The system of neighbourhood planning comes largely from the Conservative green paper ‘Open Source Planning’, which identified the democratic deficit in the old planning regime, and wanted to move it away from being an issue primarily for ‘insiders’ to one where real people take the lead in shaping their own surroundings.

I’ve blogged before about how I think this will lead to better outcomes, and it’s no surprise that this Conservative policy paper made it into the Coalition agreement: it is fundamentally liberal.

But I think the vanguard schemes might be presenting an inaccurate view of how Neighbourhood Planning politics might pan out.

They have been basically cooperative, with council planning officers in some cases being heavily involved in preparing them – either as dedicated resource for the neighbourhood forum, or in some cases seemingly taking the lead on the project. In consequence, it looks like the vanguard Neighbourhood Plans generally exist to embroider District plans.

The vanguard schemes have been chosen by the Council in areas which are rather unproblematic – where the council doesn’t mind them existing.

There have been 134 front-runner Neighbourhoods.

According to an impact assessment carried out by the DCLG there are more than 4000 more neighbourhoods expected to produce a neighbourhood plan in the next 10 years.

What will these look like? I’m betting that the experience be quite different from the cooperative vanguard schemes.

At a conference recently on the Localism Bill, with an audience largely composed of members of the planning establishment, there was an audible gasp of horror in the room when someone suggested that a Neighbourhood Forum might want to do something that went against the district plan or an Area Action Plan agreed by the council. Planners fretted that there will be legal challenges if the council tries to resist.

The establishment seem terrified that neighbourhoods will think that they are in the driving seat. That people who live and work in the green belt might want to build on it.

The talk was of intervening early in the process to ‘manage expectations’ and make neighbourhood forums and parishes aware of what they couldn’t do. Or shouldn’t do, rather, because the scope within legislation is actually very broad: scarily broad for the planning establishment.

They hope that neighbourhood planning will add the fine detail, and will embroider existing plans (where they exist, I guess. Two-thirds of councils haven’t managed to get their act together and produce their main planning strategies yet, somehow).

They hope that neighbourhood plans will help by identifying development sites that are somewhat beyond the ken of the Town Hall, like infill on estates, rather than address the big questions, like deciding what development should go on brownfield sites or replace decommissioned office blocks. Anything large or important should be “beyond the scope of neighbourhood planning”, they said.

I hope that neighbourhood forums and parish councils fight such a reactionary stance if they find it in their district or borough authorities – and I predict that they will.

Most of the neighbourhood forums will probably be established because of some perceived defect with the existing system. Communities will think that the district has done planning badly and want to do a better job themselves.

This could be anti-development, and worries that the localism agenda will be hijacked by NIMBYs is well-documented. Or it could be quite the opposite. Real, working rural communities are currently desperate for rural industrial development and for affordable housing – while their planning authorities are often more representative of suburb or town, or of rich noveau-rural gentrifiers, whose main interest is preserving the green belt or countryside rather than the industrial interests and housing needs of its inhabitants.

Political parties who represent a minority on the council will want to take what control they can of neighbourhood plans, particularly if they are elected in an enclave.

Indeed, if there are any Liberal Democrat ward councillors who are not already busy working on neighbourhood plans then I would strongly urge them to do so right now – as a way of getting in touch with the other local movers and shakers, leading the debate locally, and putting a Coalition Government policy into practice thereby showing the value of coalition reforms.

Has the ALDC produced a Neighbourhood Planning guide for councillors yet?

Essentially, I predict this to be more combative than collaborative in the long term.

And that is a good thing.

Published in: on November 11, 2011 at 7:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

Lib Dem villain of the month: Annette Brooke

There’s a sentence I never predicted that I would write. Still, what else would you call an MP who is proposing a bill that would criminalise valid parenting choices solely in order to suppress environmentally friendly and healthy travel options?

Her new Private Member’s Bill– the Cycles (Protective Headgear for Children) Bill- will make it mandatory for children under 14 to wear cycle helmets when cycling on roads and in open spaces.

If I somehow became responsible for a child under 14 who was learning to ride a bike, I would try and get them to wear a helmet. If there’s one thing a helmet is good for, it’s for people who aren’t steady on two wheels and might be expected to fall off. But that would be my choice. We already have two paternalistic parties in this country: we don’t need Liberal Democrats joining in the game of who can interfere most in private decisions.

Ms. Brooke: parents do not need your help to raise their children responsibly. I say this in the nicest possible way, but please do fuck off.

The main, perhaps only, effect this bill would have would be to stop children cycling.

Going out on our streets is not an extreme sport.

In fact, it’s not legally required for you to wear a helmet while actually doing extreme sports, like skateboarding or parkour stunts. I can’t think of any other area of civilian life where the Government intervenes to force you legally to wear protective padding.

So if you make cycling out to be one of the most dangerous things a person can do, how will that encourage people to take it up? If the Government made it compulsory to wear Kevlar body armour to visit, say, Glasgow, do you think a) more, or b) fewer people would visit the city?

This will reduce the number of children cycling. And if children don’t learn to love cycling we can expect that when those children are adults, even fewer of them will choose to make healthy and environmentally-friendly travel choices.

Cycling is not dangerous. To the extent that it is dangerous, it’s the fault of bad drivers, negligent traffic police, and poor municipal traffic planners. Maybe Ms. Brook could have used her incredibly precious opportunity to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill to tackle that.

At this point, I would like to pronounce my Lib Dem heroes of the month: Firstly, sir Alan Beith, who has used his Private Members Bill to tackle blind spots on lorries.

Secondly, Julian Huppert, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentarty Cycling Group, who said of Ms. Brooke’s plan: “The Lib Dem transport team disagrees with her. I’ve tried to persuade her! Lib Dem (& coalition) policy is not to have compulsory helmets.”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 9:58 pm  Comments (6)  

Resisting the lure of protectionism

I’m living in Derby at the moment, so have been particularly conscious of the news that new carriages for Thameslink will be built by German firm Siemens rather than local firm Bombardier. Well, I say local. German/Canadian, actually, as if you couldn’t tell by the rum foreign way everyone pronounces it. Still, it means the loss of 446 permanent jobs and 983 temporary contract staff, which is sad for a city that’s already struggling.

What has been still sadder, though, is the protectionist rhetoric that the decision has prompted.

Bob Crow and the RMT today announced that they are considering a legal challenge to the decision. The general response from the popular press has been to demand British jobs for British people. Local Labour MPs Chris Williamson and Margaret Beckett have been doing the same. Which I suppose is fair enough– they could hardly be expected to do otherwise. But the Shadow Cabinet have also jumped on the protectionist bandwagon, which is the height of irresponsibility from the Labour Party.

Most of the Tory argument has been evasive – just noting that the previous Labour Government wrote the tender rules and are technically responsible, and noting that Labour also left the incoming Government with a project 16 years overdue and £600 million over budget. Fair enough, but good on Philip Hammond for also making the point of principle in the House: “I firmly believe that free trade and open markets are the best way for us to proceed.”

Shirley Williams was a hero on Question Time last week, making the case for Free Trade:

“I’m going to say something very unpopular: think very hard before you go for protectionism. We have thousands of people in this country who work for German firms, French firms, Japanese firms, and they have on the continent thousands of people who work for British firms. If you want to start down this train, I’ll tell you exactly what will happen: you will lose at least as many jobs as you’ll gain. If you bring in protectionism, you’ll see the 1930s back again.”

The World Depression was caused and exacerbated by protectionist policies.

We need world trade- free trade. It will be vital to the country and the world’s economic recovery.

If you’ve ridden the railway in South Africa recently, you may have been on a train manufactured at the Derby Carriage and Wagon Works. Likewise if you’ve been to Taiwan. If you’ve traveled on a high-speed train in Switzerland, Italy, or China, ridden the light rail in Madrid or Melbourne, been on the Metro in Guangzhou or Shenzhen, or a tram in Strasbourg or Milan, it may have been one of those designed by one of the hundreds of design engineers employed at the Derby plant.

Which is to say, British manufacturing relies on exports as well as the home market. What would have happened in Derby if the government in Pretoria had demanded on a policy of South African jobs for South Africans?

Published in: on July 12, 2011 at 12:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Islington Fairness Commission: one out of three ain’t bad I suppose.

I bet Ed Miliband thought he was being original when he came up with his wheeze of starting with a blank sheet of paper and crowdsourcing all of Labour’s new policies. Not so! Islington Labour pioneered this stupid tactic with their ‘Fairness Commission’. The Commission has now produced its report, as advertised in the Guardian and online.

I’m not sure what I think about this method of producing policy. One one hand, surely it’s a political party’s job to come up with a manifesto and put it before the public. I can’t help but feel that Labour unexpectedly snuck into power in Islington on the back of a national election campaign, and then had to ask other people what they should be doing. Basically, it’s a bit like Labour spent £13,990 of public money (plus the extensive amount of work presumably done by the council’s scrutiny and press officers) to crowdsource a manifesto that they really ought to have written before the election. There’s also a whole weird appendix to the Commission’s report dedicated to the positive press coverage it got, demonstrating that it was also a massive publicity stunt to be judged in terms of column inches as much as anything else.

On the other hand, it is good for civil society groups and the wider public sector to get involved in the policy-making process, and Commissions are a good way of doing this. The Fairness Commission took inspiration from a similar Commission on Young People and Safety, chaired by Cllr Greg Foxsmith back in Islington’s Liberal days. Because of the input of the CPS, Youth Offending Service, police, and charities and civil society groups, it produced some genuinely good responses to the problem of Islington teenagers constantly stabbing each other to death in the streets.

But the Young People and Safety Commission had a clear aim, and a clear frame of reference. The Fairness Commission had no particular goal. Fairness. It’s a word that focus-groups well, but/because no-one knows what it means. It’s not like asking the community and experts a question – ‘what can we do about youth gangs?’ – and getting some informed answers. It’s just saying, ‘so, guys, what do we think would be nice?’

And lo, the Commission just ended up producing some ideas about what would be nice.

I was actually expecting something pretty radical to come out of this process. Labour councillors in Islington are unabashedly socialist, unreformed loony-lefties. I was expecting a report that looked like it came from bloodthirsty communards.

They even got academic huckster Richard Pickett to chair it, and he was ostensibly intent on applying his (demonstrably wrong, obviously) idea of the Spirit Level, which is to say communism. They talked– and the report’s preface goes on and on about– their desire “to close the gap between Islington’s rich and poor.”

“The campaign against excessive inequalities in income is the next major task in front of us. What is at stake is nothing less than the emancipation of a very large part of the population. And Islington is leading the way.”

Adam Bell has written a great post in which he calls it The Wishful Thinking Commission.

Asking local businesses to voluntarily pay more to their staff certainly falls into the wishful thinking category. Even publishing pay differentials is wishful thinking, for all the difference it would make. What scientific purpose does it serve to know that big local employer Arsenal FC has a pay differential of at least 475:1?

Other bits are just bizarrely ineffectual and ill-considered, like banishing payday loan companies from the borough. Indebtedness is one of the worst causes- and features- of poverty, as an actually-good report on Islington from the charity Cripplegate reveals. But if you get rid of regulated debt companies, people will turn to loan sharks. It’s really not the supplier that’s the problem here. And in any case, people from Islington could just nip to the Money Shop in Dalston. Or phone one of the companies off the telly.

Apart from the wishful thinking and the crappy, we’re just left with a list of nice things.

Identifying unused grassy areas on estates that can be perked up. That’s nice. The last Lib Dem administration already negotiated a contract bringing standards of estate green space management up to park standards, but I’m sure there’s more that can be done

Safer streets. That’s nice. I’m pretty sure someone already thought of that, though. Do we need this insight from a £14,000 Commission?

Apprenticeships! I don’t think I’ve ever seen an attempt to end poverty that doesn’t have this as its main plank of tackling youth joblessness. It’s nice, but only ever going to be a tiny sticking plaster on this massive issue.

… but is this what the Spirit Level was calling for? Is this the best that the land’s most bloodthirsty communards can muster? Is this closing the gap between the rich and poor in any meaningfully radical sense? Does this even come under the watery abstract concept of “fairness”?

No. These are nice things. Good things. Motherhood AND apple pie. The things that every political party has in every manifesto.

It doesn’t begin to say how they are going to bake or give birth to it, but it is the Labour party, who were always better at theory than execution.

There is one thing covered in the report that is a serious Fairness issue: a huge problem of overcrowded housing combined with massive underoccupation in council housing.

The report reveals the shocking fact that “tenancy audits of large council homes suggest as many as 40 per cent of them are now under-occupied as family members have moved on since the tenancies were granted.”

The Fairness Commission suggests a poster campaign and easing the bureaucracy, which is fine, if unambitious. Do they really think that this will clear out the 40% of houses that ought to be going to the people in desperate need? That this will really address the horrors of inner-London overcrowding?

You know, it would be good to get this problem sorted out. The Coalition Government is moving to clear high-earners out of social housing they don’t need, and have fixed tenancies to prevent underoccupation.

What do you think, Ed Miliband?

“Social housing should not be immune to reform, but we are opposed to the government’s plans on tenancy reform.”

Essentially, there are a lot of people sitting on subsidised housing who don’t need it. Or, in this case, don’t need as much of it. Stopping this is going to effect a lot of people who are enjoying large houses on the cheap. It’s a lot of voters to alienate, even if there are desperately overcrowded families living next door. Ed Miliband won’t do anything about this problem. Simon Hughes has spoken for the Lib Dems that we won’t do anything about it. Islington Labour and Prof. Pickett won’t do anything about it.

Maybe the Tories, precisely because they don’t rely on those votes anyway, can do something about this real fairness issue.

Meanwhile, Labour are left tinkering, and pleading with business, and offering pointless merit badges to do things that don’t actually make any difference anyway.

Published in: on June 11, 2011 at 2:47 am  Leave a Comment