Category Archives: The Independent View

The Independent View: Clegg can’t just take on Farage – he also needs to spell out his own vision for EU reform

Like all political obsessives up and down the country I’ve stocked up on popcorn ahead of Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage’s upcoming duels over Europe in anticipation of some captivating political theatre. However, from my more sober perspective as a political analyst, such a binary, ‘all-or-nothing’ debate over Europe is fundamentally flawed as it does not speak to where the majority of the British public are at. Polls have consistently shown that when respondents are offered options beyond staying in on the current terms or leaving altogether, the option of staying in a reformed/slimmed down EU proves the most popular across the political spectrum.

People hold different views about how they would like to see the European Union develop. Which of these statements comes closest to your view?

Graph

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The Independent View: Rooting out criminal landlords

Landlod and tenant License Some rights reserved by umjanedoanIn his recent article, Julian Huppert MP declared that “landlords should have to compete on quality not just on price.” The Residential Landlords Association agrees. The question is how to achieve this.

Many councils have chosen some form of licensing to identify the ‘rogues’ who over-crowd homes and rent sub-standard properties.

The problem with licensing schemes is they identify the good landlords who sign up but fail to find the crooks. Even Newham, the most pro-active borough in this respect, has failed to reach the hardcore of 20% of rogue landlords after a year’s intensive enforcement.

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The Independent View: Keep academy freedoms – and extend them to all schools

schoolsignThe question whether to curtail or extend academy freedoms to state-funded schools was resurrected last October in a speech by Nick Clegg. The answer he put forward was to extend academy freedoms to all schools, albeit in a limited form. Clegg would like to claw-back the freedoms academies have over unqualified teachers and the curriculum, but to extend the remaining freedoms to all state-funded schools.

 Clegg’s new-found middle way is based on a belief that guaranteeing high standards in education is best achieved by curtailing autonomy. In October 2013, he said: “There is nothing…inconsistent in believing that greater school autonomy can be married to certain core standards for all.”

 Yet high levels of autonomy and accountability are conducive to high pupil attainment. The Deputy Director for Education and Skills at the OECD, Andreas Schleicher, has said that England’s multiple measures of accountability, along with a “high level of autonomy and discretion at the front line”, are key to success in education.

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The Independent View: Censorship is not the way forward in countering online extremism

Earlier this month, the Government reiterated its intent to censor online extremist content through ISP filtering systems. This has largely been in reaction to fears over radical jihadi videos coming from Syria and has been heightened due to recent estimates of 2,000 European fighters travelling to Syria. There is particular concern over the influence foreign fighters may have on the young and impressionable upon their return to their countries of origin.

Though well-intentioned, government-controlled filtering is problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it raises big questions about what can be deemed ‘extremist’ in theory. Secondly, current filtering technology …

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The Independent View: London – a magnet for talent

london by Harshil ShahVince Cable recently accused London of acting like a giant machine that sucks in all of the talent from the rest of the country. Our new report, Cities Outlook 2014, shows that London is indeed a magnet for young people from across the country. But the big question is: why does this happen, and what does it mean for policy?

First, let’s look at the key stats. Somewhat counterintuitively, overall London loses population to the rest of the country. But this is overwhelmingly to the Greater South …

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The Independent View: The crisis in Egypt is not in anyone’s interest

egypt fistsThe reaction of the US and EU governments to the crackdown on protestors in Ukraine has been swift. EU governments seem to be considering possible sanctions on Ukrainian officials, the US warned the Ukrainian Government of “consequences” on relations, and the Prime Minister of Ukraine was not allowed to speak at the World Economic Forum at Davos. This stern reaction comes as up to five protestors have been killed in clashes with the police in Kiev over the past week.

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The Independent View: Vince Cable should make sure all companies are bound by new transparency law

Consider this question – what is the difference between a T-shirt from Tesco and one from TopShop? Lib Dems will undoubtedly have their own style preferences.

But for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Minister Vince Cable there’s an important distinction. Cable is seeking to weaken proposed EU rules that would require companies to report annually on risks their operations pose to communities and the natural world, such as accidents, pollution and human rights. The new non-financial reporting directive could be a game-changer on a path towards more sustainable production.

It should ensure that a firm like Tesco, as a large …

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The Independent View: Clause 118 of the Social Care Bill must be defeated

nhs sign lrgIn the post-Lansley NHS the Secretary of State for Health no longer has the duty to provide a comprehensive health service. Such responsibility as remains has been handed to the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). CCGs do not have a responsibility for everyone in the neighbourhood – there is no universal state responsibility to provide us with healthcare any more – but they do at least have the responsibility for commissioning the care needed by their own registered patients.

The Clinical Commissioning Groups are about to be undermined.

When Jeremy Hunt, the current Secretary …

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The Independent View: Transparency in Government

This week the Liberal Democrats face a test of their commitment to transparency in government when the House of Lords considers Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. Bizarrely for a Bill with transparency in the title, it will provide the public with less information than we already have under the discredited system of self-regulation.

Last week the BMJ published details of the way the drinks industry had lobbied government to drop the commitment to minimum alcohol pricing including 130 meetings, few of which were in the public domain. This is not about …

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The Independent View: Lobbying Bill protects multinational corporate interests at expense of charity campaigns

The Robin Hood Tax campaign is facing a tough opponent – not just from the usual source of the financial sector and their allies, but from legislation currently going through the House of Lords.

The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is due to go to its report stage next week. The Robin Hood Tax campaign cannot support it for a number of reasons, and we urge peers of all political colours not to rush the bill through just to get it passed in time for the 2015 election. The legislation would hamper our campaigning abilities whilst empowering …

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The Independent View: Non-gender-specific passports – why the EDM matters

This week has seen the submission, by Julian Huppert, of EDM 907, LEGAL RECOGNITION FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH A PARTICULAR GENDER. If it sounds familiar, that’s because a similar EDM was introduced by Simon Hughes last month but had to be withdrawn when he became a minister. The subject, of course, will be unfamiliar to most of those who come across it, and that’s why it’s so important to explain how deeply it impacts those affected.

I work for a charity called Trans Media Watch which aims to improve media understanding, and thereby social understanding, or transgender and intersex people. As it happens, I’m currently processing results from a survey about people who don’t identify as male or female (generally described as non-binary people, though personal definitions vary). The survey relates to perceptions of the media, but two things come through clearly in it that seem relevant to this situation too. The first is that this is a group of people who feel very poorly understood. The second is that they experience a great deal of distress because of that lack of understanding.

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The Independent View: The Public Service Users Bill is an opportunity for Lib Dems to show whose side they’re on

weownitIn 2011, Nick Clegg strongly backed the government’s ‘open public services’ agenda. In practice, this was used as a figleaf for outsourcing everything from prisons, probation and the NHS to council services. Corporations like G4S, Serco, Atos and Capita have won billions of pounds in contracts yet they are hugely unpopular with the public and the scandals keep coming.

Clegg also promised to ‘take a hard line against the kind of blanket privatisation which was pursued by governments in the past’. Yet the coalition has sold off the Royal Mail, …

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The Independent View: Could Ireland’s emerging healthcare reforms test David Laws’ NHIS vision?

Nearly a decade ago now, David Laws MP raised the idea of evolving the NHS into a continental-style universal ‘National Health Insurance Scheme’ (NHIS), where healthcare would be progressively funded from dedicated income contributions, individuals could choose insurers and everyone would be entitled to a comprehensive package of set treatments within a decentralised but heavily regulated system. It was a bold and interesting proposal, which for better or worse helped define the 2004 Orange Book in eyes of many, though it has perhaps also been misunderstood and straw-manned to a degree.

However, besides substantive criticisms and the understandable sensitivities that talk …

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The Independent View: Help, don’t judge – better uses for the £700 million marriage tax break cash

Don't judge advent calendarAnother Westminster set piece, another piece of the jigsaw for David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance. This Thursday the Chancellor gives his Autumn Statement. With the economic upturn shaky at best we can expect little in the way of good news and plenty more squeezing of budgets. Except, that is, for the little matter of the £700m the Conservatives are gearing up to spend on giving tax breaks for married couples. The Chancellor is expected to give more detail on this policy, which even its supporters believe is only of symbolic value.

With …

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The Independent View: Shareholder democracy should be for the many, not the few

Whether it’s payday lenders or rising energy bills we’ve never been more interested in corporate behaviour. But despite the fact that through our pensions we own billions of pounds of holdings in British businesses, pension savers are shut out of the investment system and denied the opportunity to have their voices heard.

Legal & General’s decision to set up a pension fund AGM (PAGM) represents an important first step in spreading ‘shareholder democracy’ to the millions whose savings are managed through a pension fund.

Shareholder democracy means giving shareholders the rights and means to hold companies to account – making …

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The Independent View: Legal aid cuts – a compromise too far

In the week of the JCHR evidence session with Chris Grayling, the Justice Alliance has provided Simon Hughes MP with testimonials from over 100 organisations under the banner ‘Justice Deserves Lib Dems Stay Legal Aid Proposals’. The Testimonials represent a cross-section of society from The Howard League for Penal Reform, Liberty, Reprieve, Justice, to the British Tamil Forum, Kurdish Community Centre, René Cassin, Unite the Union, The Children’s Society and Women Against Rape.

As Liberty say in their testimonial:

UK justice should be open to all, with everyone having the opportunity to refute an accusation of criminal

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The Independent View: Help stop legal aid becoming the new secret courts

Liberal Democrat members know that cuts to civil legal aid are illiberal. And they know the leadership is not facing a  dilemma between protecting liberal values and cutting the deficit because these cuts will cost, not save, money.

It was why the Emergency Motion to oppose cuts to legal aid (until it can be proved there will be “no adverse effect upon access to justice”) came out top of the ballot at conference this year and was then overwhelmingly passed. I had previously asked Lib Dem Voice readers to support this motion in the ballot so I want to say …

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The Independent View: Judicial review changes would advance state powers at expense of individual freedom

In its 2010 Manifesto, the Liberal Democrats pledged to ‘restore and protect hard-won British liberties’.  The Government’s consultation on judicial review, which closed this week, could result in a radical shift of power from individuals to the state. If this happens, the legal system and the people who depend on it for fair treatment will be weaker for it.

Plans from the Ministry of Justice to introduce serious restrictions on access to judicial review will make it much harder for people to challenge the execution of public power on behalf of an individual citizen.

The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has argued that …

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The Independent View: Is the Coalition is doing enough to help Britain’s couple families?

The Chancellor looks set to announce a new tax break for married couples in next month’s Autumn Statement, while universal credit continues its slow and increasingly painful roll out. Both are heralded by the Coalition as flagship policies to support families by raising incomes, helping more parents into work and promoting stable family life. In practice, neither will provide the help that Britain’s couple families need to cope with the growing pressures of time and money that push too many into poverty and put enormous strain on relationships.

A tax break for married couples has long been a core demand of …

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The Independent View: Anti-Social Behaviour Bill – A new legal threat to public protest

The Coalition Government is introducing a law which could seriously hit the right to protest. The Home Office wants to replace Labour’s ASBOs with something called an IPNA – Injunction Preventing Nuisance or Annoyance. But the threshold is so low and the safeguards are so weak that it could catch ordinary legitimate protest, charity collectors, or even street performers.

An IPNA could apply inside a private dwelling (ie your own house) as well as in a public place. It could apply to any activity which has merely the ‘potential’ to be annoying or a nuisance. Courts can grant an IPNA on …

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The Independent View: Democracy for Toddlers

One of the things I love most about being a parent is being asked questions that make me think about the world in a new way. Why, my toddler daughter wants to know, don’t we have dessert after breakfast? And why there is a moon? And where the people we can see from the bus window are going? In my household we call in ‘Whying’. I am quite convincing on the first of these questions, and can make a stab at the second. And for the third, about the people on the bus, I make up answers and that does …

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The Independent View: The future of social science

Campaign for Social ScienceThe future of social science in the UK is a timely concern in the light of the assault on US social science funding and similar omens in Australia. But social science in the UK is thriving.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has been consistently supportive of UK social science. Last week, he gave the first Annual Lecture for the Campaign for Social Science: “Where Next for Social Science? The Agenda Beyond 2015.”

We should be proud of it; we should celebrate it and we should encourage its further growth.

The minister is right that we should be proud. Second only to the US in its quality and quantity, social science is a national asset in terms of its vital contributions to issues our society faces (such as climate change, crime and the ageing population) and its economic impact is estimated at £19.4bn.

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The Independent View: What’s wrong with HS2?

HS2 Brick WallHigh speed 2 easily cleared its first parliamentary hurdle yesterday, with just 34 MPs voting against the High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill – 350 voted in favour. Here Penny Gaines argues the case against HS2 is still strong.

High Speed 2 will cost £50bn, including the trains. But it is an environmentally damaging vanity project, with a constantly shifting rationale for building it.

The current argument is that speed is irrelevant for the case for HS2, but that our existing railways are nearly full and the only option is to build a new high speed railway. This argument does not stand up to scrutiny.

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The Independent View: Want an extra £140,000 in your pension without paying a penny?

Pensions Road Sign 200This week brought welcome news for millions: Lib Dem minister Steve Webb wants to introduce a cap on pension fees.

Who cares? With 12 million people not saving enough for an adequate income in retirement, forcing charges to be capped could substantially improve the standard of living for pensioners without requiring an extra penny of their income.

The government is consulting on three different caps for workplace pensions: a 0.75 per cent cap, a 1 per cent cap, or a “comply or explain” cap, which would allow providers to charge between 0.75 and 1 per cent if they could justify doing so.

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The Independent View: Planning out Poverty

Planning out of PovertyPlanning has become increasingly disconnected from peoples’ lives because it no longer deals with many of the issues people care about. At the same time much of the political and media debate about the future of planning has become a largely sterile discussion of the merits of continued deregulation. Everyone should have a right, irrespective of earnings, to a decent home

Planning has played a transformational role in improving the quality of life of all of our communities. It has a critical responsibility, along with wider public interventions, to tackle entrenched poverty. Planning has the potential to enhance our wellbeing by ensuring access to high quality environments and economic opportunities and to give communities a voice in their future.

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The Independent View: The Living Wage can be fair but affordable in tough economic times

On Saturday, Adam Corlett outlined his concern that how the Living Wage is calculated could cause problematic increases over the next few years. He raises some valid issues. However, the Living Wage has been designed so that it cannot rise uncontrollably, and in reality it is likely to rise much less, relative to general pay, than Adam is suggesting.

The Living Wage’s growing popularity shows so many employers have been willing to take on the commitment to pay enough for a decent living standard, even though times are tough. With average living standards going down, this reflects a widespread moral view …

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The Independent View: The Lobbying Bill threatens grass-roots campaigning

 gagging law

Take a good look at this picture. This is what grass-roots political activism looks like – and you’ll be seeing a lot less of it if the coalition’s “Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” becomes law.

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The Independent View: The merits of Swedish-style localism in improving UK healthcare

Swedish flagDebate about NHS reform has been intense in 2013 as the service has entered its historic 65th year and the need for greater accountability has become apparent in response to lapses in care such as those at Mid Staffordshire.

In light of this, it is important to learn from what is already established practice abroad and one of the best examples is Sweden, a nation with a word-class healthcare system with a history and ethos closely comparable with our own revered health service.  It was developed after the war by a reforming social democratic government, it is financed from general taxation, it is universally accessible and it was traditionally provided by the state.  On closer inspection, however, there are significant differences in both design and performance which may be instructive for the UK.

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The Independent View: I know what next month’s living wage will be and it doesn’t relate to the cost of living

On 4 November we will learn the level of the new Living Wage, which many employers have volunteered to pay as a minimum. At present it is £7.45 an hour outside London. I’m betting that next month it will rise to £7.65.* How do I know? Well, the current calculation is remarkably simple, and it has nothing to do with the cost of living. What’s more, future increases risk making proposed living wage policies unaffordable or even damaging.

Academics at Loughborough University do calculate the wage needed to fund, after tax and benefits, what members of the public consider a basic …

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Tsar code of practice could have stopped Nick Clegg’s mistake with Caan

tsar 200The government’s growing use of tsars is not governed by the principles or rules that apply to other advice given to ministers. It is time for a code of practice. That could have shielded Nick Clegg from his mistakes over James Caan.

Nick Clegg has enlisted two social mobility tsars.

He appointed Alan Milburn as his Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility in 2010 and appointed him to the chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission in 2011. (Clegg welcomed the Commission’s report yesterday.)

Two years later, Clegg launched Opening Doors, which aimed to give more young people from poor backgrounds access to work opportunities on merit. In June 2013, he announced the Opening Door Awards and asked businessman James Caan to chair the panel of five judges. The awards are intended to recognise employers’ efforts to take on capable young people whatever their backgrounds; winners will be announced in November 2013.

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Recent Comments

  • User Avatarpeter tyzack 1st Sep - 12:05pm
    going back to 'the Sunday Papers', did anyone see an article about Clegg and Davey on a Trade Delegation to India..? I thought not, it...
  • User Avatarnvelope2003 1st Sep - 11:57am
    Yes the sensible thing for the Conservatives, in view of their poor showing in the Daily Mail opinion poll for Clacton, would be to refrain...
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 1st Sep - 11:54am
    Great Liberal - best of comrades.
  • User AvatarNigel Cheeseman 1st Sep - 11:44am
    I often wonder why the greens have under- delivered electorally. It is undoubtedly the case that they will suffer the same sort of antipathy as...
  • User AvatarPeter Chegwyn 1st Sep - 11:39am
    Very sad news. A friend and colleague to many of us over many years, Simon's wit and wisdom really will be missed.
  • User AvatarIan Eiloart 1st Sep - 11:22am
    The threshold for NI is not an annual threshold. It's calculated weekly, which results in unfairness for people who don't earn all year round: they...