Author Archives: David Boyle

Opinion: Underpinning local enterprise through the banking system

Despite a last minute attempt to scrap criticisms of the big banks, the Lib Dems are now committed to a powerful programme to create a diverse local lending infrastructure in the UK.

And most important of all, thanks to the Rebanking the UK debate yesterday, the Lib Dems are now clear about how this great diversification is going to be achieved.

The big banks are going to pay for and mentor a new infrastructure of local banks, which will be geared up – and with the expertise they need – to lend money to a new UK mittelstand, the UK small and …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 6 Comments

Opinion: The next devolution?

Manchester Town Hall ClockChange is in the air, or that is the implication of the strange alignment of George Osborne for the Conservatives and Andrew Adonis for Labour, whose new report on re-balancing the economy – not that he used those terms – was published on Monday.

If you add Michael Heseltine’s 2012 review into the mix – published with a full-page portrait of the great Liberal reformist Joseph Chamberlain (yes, I know he became something else) – then the shift towards serious devolution of economic power seems unstoppable.

Why has it …

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Posted in News | Tagged , and | 4 Comments

Opinion: Public services need public involvement

arrest in chicagoI must admit, I have become sceptical about the word ‘empowerment’.  For two reasons.  One is that it is a Blairite word, and based on a misunderstanding about where sovereignty lies.  Power isn’t distributed by an all-powerful prime minister. People already have it – they give it to the governments – but sometimes they have to be encouraged, persuaded or cajoled to use it.

The other reason I have become sceptical is my experience of the word.  I have sat in too many conferences where disabled people are encouraged to …

photo by: grendelkhan
Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Opinion: Small plus small plus small equals BIG

ultra-micro economicsIn the heady days of the Thatcher government, when the hideous mistakes of Big Bang were being forged and coming to fruition, I used to run an excellent magazine called Town & Country Planning.  In those days, we were extremely exercised by the idea of the huge and mounting cost of rundown private sector homes. Who was going to repair them?

We don’t talk about that problem any more. This is not because it was ever exactly solved, but because of one of the more benevolent effect of rising house prices, before the oligarchs came in, was that it made a bit of DIY worthwhile. Instead of the government shelling out to repair all those privately-owned dwellings, the young owners went down to B&Q and bought a paintbrush.

It was a lesson to me that neither the conventional public sector nor the conventional private sector may be best placed to tackle the really intractable problems.  And it makes me wonder whether the great unanswered questions about rebalancing the economy might eventually be answered – not by the long night of the soul as we wait for the Treasury, but by the places themselves.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Opinion: The key economic shift we need next time

Lloyds Bank, Leighton Buzzard - Some rights reserved by dlanor smadaIt is a lovely spring morning in 2015 and you are on someone’s doorstep. There is a delightful breeze and you clutch your canvas cards to make sure they don’t blow away.

The lady on the other side of the front door gives you a big smile and asks you about jobs – she recognises that the coalition has made important strides towards making us all a little less reliant on the City of London.

“But how are you going …

Posted in Op-eds | 8 Comments

Opinion: How to balance the UK economy

A-Co-operative-bank-sign-007I was a bit flummoxed after being taken to task on Lib Dem Voice last week for being anti-business. What had I done? I had been criticising payday loan companies for hoovering up money away from local companies.

There are two underlying problems here, confusions which muddy the political debate on business.

The first is the misleading idea that somehow all business is always on the same side.  Organisations like the CBI claim to speak for business while actually promoting the interests of the biggest.  It isn’t the way the world is.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 7 Comments

Opinion: Are payday loans impoverishing our neighbourhoods?

There is a central moral conundrum at the heart of the payday loan phenomenon.

It is that payday loan companies are designed to help people through what are intended to be unusual and temporary periods of financial difficulty.  Long-term and repeated use of payday loans is seriously expensive.

Yet – and here’s the rub – the business plans of most payday loan companies envisage growth.  Their business purpose, and the purpose of their investors, is to maximise their profits – and this is bound to be at the expense of some of the poorest families and the most vulnerable places.

My report for …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 25 Comments

Opinion: The demise of the middle classes

I was on a policy panel recently, when I heard somebody dismissing the idea of ‘choice’ in public services as a sop for the middle classes.

Now, there are two rather odd aspects of this.

The first is that, depending on what you mean by choice – and every political party has its own distinct meaning – it isn’t actually true.

The polling I carried out during the Barriers to Choice Review showed that nearly 90 per cent want ‘choice’.  It is just that they are often muddled about what that actually means.

The second is that I hear this kind of sentence in …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 27 Comments

Opinion: Why local banks need Lib Dems to act

It hardly seems worth Ed Miliband’s time to actually make the speech on economics today, because it has been previewed, leaked and debated – almost sentence by sentence – all week.

There was a debate about the middle classes on Tuesday.  Then there was the important commitment to competition in the banking sector, where he flagged the idea of a market cap, an important idea – but there are three practical problems with it.

First, there is a danger that it will lead to the big banks dumping poorer customers – though equally, there will be more banks available for them to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 8 Comments

Opinion: Why I backed the lobbying bill

Sarah Teather’s interview in the Guardian over the Christmas period talked about the way the political system tends to invent simple issues, in order to give the impression of solving them.

She is clearly right. Because governments are beset by global issues, by phenomenally complex systems, and they fear upsetting their key compromises – then it must sometimes seem easier to stick to the purely symbolic.

What Sarah didn’t say is that oppositions and campaign groups are almost as guilty. They create symbolic issues over proposed legislation which they can campaign on. They win, nothing changes, and everyone stays …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 27 Comments

Opinion: This could be the historic moment the banks shift

Tuesday will see one of those moments which may prove a turning point in the development of an effective UK banking system.

That is the day that the banks will reveal the geographical spread of their lending, down to 9,000 different postcode levels.

It is the culmination of a major effort by Lib Dems in the House of Lords earlier in the last two years, with a great deal of help from elsewhere, to make sure that this happened.

It is also a creative moment of possibility – not to criticise the banks, because they need to be given the credit for this …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 3 Comments

David Boyle writes… Choice works – so why not in legal aid?

Barristers wigChoice is a funny thing.  I spent seven months studying how it worked in practice when I was running the Barriers to Choice Review for the Cabinet Office.

Despite the rhetoric from parts of the left, I believe that people can improve public services by being able to choose between different providers.

I’m also only too aware how many people are excluded from that – by a lack of information or advice, by a lack of transport and any number of other factors.

I am also aware of the

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Opinion: Can the middle classes get some political clout?

I have been trying to weave a new political narrative out of the plight of the middle classes. I’ve no idea whether I’ll be successful or not, but I have learned that you gargle with the word ‘class’ at your peril.

One fact alone should tell the story. If house prices rise in the next three decades like they did in the last, the average home will be worth £1.2 million. Does anyone really believe average wages will rise enough for our children or grandchildren to afford to buy or rent a home, certainly in London and the south east?

Despite all …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 11 Comments

Opinion: A new direction for choice

“What’s a nice guy like you doing with a bunch of Tories?” one journalist asked me as I discussed the Barriers to Choice Review.

“You see, I’m a Liberal Democrat,” I explained…

The truth is that this was not a coalition problem.  It was a problem about the word ‘choice’.

My task as an independent reviewer, appointed by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, was to find out how people used the choices they have been given in schools, hospitals, social care and so on – especially disadvantaged people.

But the word ‘choice’ itself divides people, even those who might otherwise agree on pretty …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 9 Comments

Opinion: time to shift the public services debate?

Every nation dates the beginning of its welfare system from a different date. In Britain, we usually date it to 1909 and also 1942 – because that was the date that Sir William Beveridge published his famous report.

It’s the only government report in history to have reached bestseller status. British soldiers went into action against the Nazis with it in their pocket.

It provided hope, but it also set out the blueprint for the future, caring world. But there was a problem there, in retrospect, that goes to the heart of why public services remain such …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 16 Comments

Opinion: Save the NHS Bill

I must admit I’ve been wondering a little at being so contrarian.

My mobile phone address book and filofax (yes, I’m a certain age) is full of people who say they are too busy to talk to me this week because they are working hard to kill the NHS Bill.

I am not. What’s the matter with me?  I’m going the right way to being thrown out of the lunatic fringe.

So please, if you read this blog. Have a heart. Tell me where I’m going wrong.

Here’s my problem. I cannot see why we should be striving to maintain the NHS exactly as …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 28 Comments

Opinion: Why competition is the key issue

One of the many frustrations with our dysfunctional banking system is that we have nowhere else to go unless we want to keep our money under our mattresses.

Yes, there are the ethical alternatives, like Co-op or Triodos. Yes, there are a handful of surviving building societies. But we don’t have what other countries have: an effective banking and lending infrastructure at local level.

So when World Development Movement nominates Barclays for the Public Eye awards for the worst corporation for speculating in basic food commodities – artificially pushing the price beyond what the world’s poor can afford – what …

Posted in News and Op-eds | 19 Comments

David Boyle writes… The missing explanation of public service failure

The doyen of Liberator magazine, Simon Titley, just sent me through a cutting from the Leicester Mercury which gives us just a glimpse at the reasons why public services became so expensive under New Labour.

The report tells us of the unused regional fire control centre for the East Midlands, standing empty in Castle Donington, but still costing £5,000 a day to run, with burgeoning interest accruing in the PFI contract. It wasn’t just the dream of regional government, or the manifest problems of PFI, that caused the problem here. It was another example of a huge …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 12 Comments

Opinion: Only two cheers for community politics

I wasn’t there to hear the Birmingham conference back the community politics motion on Tuesday. I had meant to be but had to go back to London early.

It was one of those pieces of sacred Liberalism that you daren’t speak against, but I would have done. I’m not sorry it was passed but the party must also understand that there is another side to it.

Community politics may be a revolutionary doctrine, but BAD community politics – and we have practised some of that occasionally, let’s face it – damages the party and damages the political process.

I know I’m …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 12 Comments

Opinion: What we should do if the USA defaults

You can’t use the phrase ‘perfect storm’ these days.  It is a cliché. But how do you express, with sufficient clarity, the phenomenon of a financial tsunami and a financial hurricane happening at the same time?
 
Because we need to start asking how we might cope if the very worst happens – as well it might – and both the US government and key European nations default on their burgeoning debts at the same time?
 
The euro has been rescued by the latest bail-out, but an American default would unravel that and cause a second banking crisis, far more …

Posted in Op-eds | 32 Comments

Opinion: Time to publish the magical ratio

A week is a long time in politics, but it also sometimes seems to move at a glacial pace.

It is now two decades since Bill Clinton won the presidency on the slogan that ‘trickle down economics’ doesn’t work. Yet even a couple of years ago, there was Labour’s Peter Mandelson being ‘relaxed’ about people getting ‘filthy rich’.

Well, finally things seem to be shifting. Even Max Hastings, of all people, writes in the Financial Times that “gross disparities seems likely sooner or later to promote an upheaval, perhaps graver now than most western societies can now envisage.”

It certainly seems to …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 18 Comments

Opinion: It’s all my fault!

For the past half century, the party has been growing steadily in influence and numbers. There have been electoral set-backs (1970, 1989, and now 2011). The question is: is this our nadir?

And what will decide if this is really the low point, or if we are doomed to carry on sinking in the esteem of the public?

Most commentators have talked this question in terms of short term issues, like how the party manages to play the coalition. But actually there is something far more fundamental that requires attention.

It is whether we can …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 46 Comments

Opinion: The next big idea – humanity

The cacophony from Facebook, the blogosphere and all the rest of the Twitterati sometimes drives out what is most significant.  But every so often someone writes something that you know is important for the future.

Neal Lawson is an indefinable character.  His Compass campaign group is a fountain of new ideas designed to revitalise the Labour Party.  He is no friend of the Liberal Democrats, but neither is an enemy or party to the destructive game of name-calling and innuendo that characterises the Labour campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth.

I also believe his article in the Guardian, with a slightly …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 12 Comments

Opinion: RBS bonuses this year. Don’t.

If there is one issue where destiny seems be demanding the Liberal Democrats to be bold, it is the issue of Britain’s dysfunctional banking system. Ninety per cent of the banking industry goes through the Big Six in the UK, some of which are not actually UK banks at all – and, in those circumstances, it is hardly surprising that they don’t do the job that needs doing. Funding local enterprise.

A fortnight or so ago, things were looking quite bleak, at least for the coalition’s will to act. George Osborne had indicated that he wasn’t going to force the banks to be transparent …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Opinion: Cleggmania in reverse, or the right side of the revolt

You only had to open last week’s Observer to realise what a lot the party leader has on his plate at the moment. As well as dealing with the ‘Petition of 104’, the constant repetition in the paper of the ‘liar’ tag was pretty unpleasant.

Nick Clegg has managed to survive the battering with great dignity so far. But it is hardly surprising that the commentariat are currently writing off his party.

I think they are wrong. But the health of the Lib Dems depends on staying on the correct side of the revolt.

Just set aside …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 53 Comments

Opinion: The Tea Party – lessons for the Liberal Democrats

The Tea Party movement is even now preparing for its first big electoral test.  Banners are being printed, bumper stickers peeled, computerised push-pollers tested.

They are a frightening prospect for European liberals.  Perhaps any foreign radical movement looks bizarre to outsiders, but the combination of Sarah Palin, red-neck fundamentalists and the shadowy Koch brothers with their billions is a fearsome prospect.

Yet the Tea Party has lessons for us, even if it doesn’t make its way over here – which in some form or another it seems likely to do.

Posted in LDVUSA and Op-eds | Tagged | 10 Comments

Opinion: time to take on the Thing

The avalanche of cuts that are due to be announced later this month could decide the fate of the government, perhaps even of the country. Most Liberal Democrats I know are extremely nervous about, and they are right to be.

But beyond the arguments about the deficit and the national debt, there are other reasons why some cuts – the right cuts – might be a welcome opportunity. I believe this, I suppose, because of William Cobbett.

Cobbett was the great radical campaigner, as much of an influence on the future Liberal Party as Cobden or Bright, and he used …

Posted in Op-eds | 19 Comments

Conference policy motion: “Giving citizens a voice in parliament”

I was a local government reporter in Oxford in the dark days of the 1980s. No public question time. No scrutiny. No appeals of any kind.

I even remember one definitely old Labour councillor telling me that he screwed up and threw away letters from his constituents, without reading them, if they had the temerity to send them to his home address. Or, worse – address him in ways that seemed not to reflect the dignity of his position.

Liberals and SDP councillors around the country were then introducing the right of members of the public to address council meetings, or ask

Posted in Conference | Tagged | 6 Comments

Opinion: Nuclear? Not now!

Imagine, for a moment, that the terrifying secrets of nuclear fission did not wait until the wartime dash for knowledge under Robert Oppenheimer. Let’s imagine, instead, that the basis for nuclear energy was developed closer to Einstein’s breakthrough, maybe just before the Great Depression.

Ask yourself, what would the Chamberlain government have done with nuclear energy in the weeks after the outbreak of war, expecting at any time the drone of Nazi bombers? It doesn’t take much imagination. They would have abandoned such tempting and potentially devastating targets, just as they abandoned BBC television because its transmissions could guide bombers.

So how are we to understand the Brown government’s determination to press ahead with a vastly expensive investment in nuclear energy, with all the concomitant transport of plutonium and nuclear waste, at a time when we are supposed to be facing an unprecedented external threat? Are we really facing such a terrorist threat after all? Or is modern government hopelessly in thrall to departmental divisions, to the extent that one department deals with risks and another deals with something else entirely?

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments
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  • User AvatarBill le Breton 21st Dec - 8:29pm
    Tony, the main players in this, Laws, Alexander and Clegg do understand the different ways of defining the deficit, and when some of them and...
  • User AvatarMark S 21st Dec - 8:18pm
    @Richard Dean Retrain to do what though? Some estimates claim that upto 45% of workers will lose their jobs to automation in the next 20...
  • User AvatarStevan Rose 21st Dec - 8:13pm
    I know three people who have switched to e-cigs from being heavy smokers. None still smoke. Small sample but 100% success. I am one if...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 21st Dec - 8:01pm
    Thanks Sue S - Dec 20th 5.57pm. I was beginning to think that no one apart from Andrew Ducker had bothered to look at a...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 21st Dec - 7:41pm
    No-one understands the difference between the deficit and the structural deficit (or indeed the cyclical deficit if anyone considers that any more) and as far...
  • User AvatarCaron Lindsay 21st Dec - 7:32pm
    @hireton: there is flexibilty to vary the housing elements of Universal Credit and to create other benefits which will then be added to the benefit...