Author Archives: Chris Nicholson

Opinion: A note to my successor (Part 2)

To read part 1 of Chris’s note to his (as yet unknown) successor as chief executive of Centre Forum click here. Here’s the second, concluding part.

Yesterday I set out three areas of policy where there is a need for liberal thinking to be developed as a note to my successor as Chief Executive of CentreForum, the liberal think tank. Today I set out three further areas and a challenge.

Early Years policy

CentreForum has always placed a high priority on “early years policy” as an engine of social mobility. All the evidence points to the critical importance of years 0-5 …

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Opinion: A note to my successor (Part1)

Liam Byrne famously left a handover note to his successor as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, saying “There’s no money left – good luck!” I was reminded of this as, after a very enjoyable 21 months as Chief Executive of CentreForum, I start on Monday as one of Ed Davey’s Special Advisers at DECC. I suppose the think tank equivalent would be “There are no ideas left – good luck!”

In fact that is far from being the case. One of the joys of running a think tank is that there is never a shortage of ideas to be …

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Opinion: Is a “John Lewis economy” a liberal economy?

Nick Clegg hit the headlines last Monday in a speech at a CentreForum/City of London event calling for a “John Lewis economy” . John Lewis is employee owned where employees get a bonus each year depending on the performance of the group. Last year  this led to every employee getting an 18% bonus on their salary. But they do not hold individual shares in the company and so do not have the associated direct potential of building up substantial asset ownership .

I, along with most liberals judging by the reaction on Lib Dem Voice, warmly welcomed the substance …

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Opinion: Before the debate – What’s the evidence?

The relaunch of the Beveridge group featured in Lib Dem Voice on 10th January, said that it hoped to generate debate amongst Liberal Democrats about how public services are best delivered.

Liberals in general are clear that public services should be democratically accountable at the lowest possible level. Where there is far less agreement is the role of choice, competition and the private and voluntary sector in provision of these services – particularly in relation to health and education. Inevitably many people’s reactions are heavily influenced by their own personal experience as a service user, public service employee or indeed …

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Opinion: If the cap doesn’t fit, don’t wear it

The NHS Emergency Motion which was not debated at Conference in Birmingham had a clause that stated the cap on Private Patient Income (PPI) by NHS Foundation trusts should be retained. Shirley Williams has since stated that this is one of four main aspects of the bill which she will be trying to change in the House of Lords.

But Lib Dem peers would be wrong to press for retention of the cap. Even for those who want to preserve a strongly public sector provided NHS the retention of the Private Patient Income (PPI) cap makes no sense.

The cap limits the …

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Opinion: Driving better performance across public services

25 years ago, when I was Leader of Kingston Council, Margaret Thatcher was planning to introduce Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) for services like bin collection and road sweeping. The Council Director responsible for these services started working out what measures he would take to improve efficiency and cut costs. But then the government announced a delay in CCT so he proposed shelving these plans. I said no.

I often recall this incident when the subject of competition in public services comes up. Liberals should never be afraid of competition where it is likely to lead to better public services. Nor …

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Opinion: What is worrying Labour and the Tories? Part 2

Yesterday Chris Nicholson looked at what is worrying Labour. Today he turns to the Conservatives.

What’s worrying the Tories?

The consensus view after the local elections was that the Tories had done amazingly well and so had the least to worry about. But amongst strategists there are some very real concerns. The General Election had shown that Cameron’s attempts to de-toxify the Tory brand was still work in progress. Despite all of David Cameron’s efforts enough people were still unsure about the Tories to deny them a majority. Michael Ashcroft’s recent polling shows that there is still considerable work to do …

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Opinion: What is worrying Labour and the Tories? Part 1

Amidst all the concerns which Liberal Democrats have about future electoral prospects, particularly after the local election and AV referendum results, it would be easy to think that everything in the garden is rosy for Labour and Tories who both made substantial gains in the local elections – it is not.

What’s worrying Labour?

For all the spectacular gains which Labour made in the Northern cities and industrial towns – mostly from the Liberal Democrats – in Parliamentary terms this would amount to, at best, less than a handful of MPs. In Liverpool, Hull and Newcastle the Liberal Democrats do not have …

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Who are the heirs of the SDP?

Today (March 26th) is the 30th anniversary of the founding of the SDP. To mark the occasion last Monday CentreForum organised a discussion “the Class of 81: Who are the true heirs of the SDP? with leading former SDP members, Chris Huhne , Greg Clark (Tory Decentralisation Minister) and Andrew Adonis (Labour’s former Transport and Schools Minister) on the panel. In the audience were Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, members of Roy Jenkins’ family, countless former SDP members as well as a good few ”political anoraks”.

It was an evening of reminiscing, “what ifs”, analysis, historical reflection and a few amusing ironies. …

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Opinion: The importance of ideas and policy

It is only a few months ago that my whole life, as Lib Dem PPC for Streatham, revolved around knocking on doors, meeting with community and tenant groups, delivering leaflets and doing casework. Nothing could seem more distant from the world I now inhabit, as Director and Chief Executive of CentreForum, of think tanks and discussions on reforming welfare or what the Big Society means.

But one thing which was clear from the election result on May 6th was that knocking on doors and putting hundreds of thousands of leaflets through letterboxes is not enough to win. Yes, ‘where we …

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