Lessons of Coalition (14): what do the Lib Dems need to learn from the first 3 years?

ldv coalition lessonsLibDemVoice is running a daily feature, ‘Lessons of Coalition’, to assess the major do’s and don’ts learned from our experience of the first 3 years in government. Reader contributions are welcome, either as comments or posts. The word limit is no more than 450 words, and please focus on just one lesson you think the party needs to learn. Simply email your submission to [email protected] Today Joe Otten shares his thoughts.

Government is hard

As it should be. There is an idea that there are easy solutions to all the world’s problems that could be delivered if only the right person could be made Prime Minister, and if only they could be kept in touch with the grass roots, and not corrupted by power, or captured by the civil service. And if only the forces for evil, whether they are corporations, trade unions, bosses, newspapers, foreigners, scroungers, bureaucrats, the rich, the poor, the religious, the atheists, do-gooders, scientists, hippies, motorists, etc, could be faced down and kept at bay by strong leadership from the centre.

When this doesn’t happen, clearly there has been a massive betrayal, and politicians are all the same. Well maybe there is another party or personality who has not tasted government and will be different.

Politicians frequently encourage this view, it being grander to be a king than a conciliator. Civil servants flatter it too, suggesting they can implement their masters’ wishes for change. Yes minister, together we will face down the bureaucrats and deliver this performance management system which will make them more effective.

And yet, if this world existed, it would be terrible. Much more of our lives would be controlled from the centre. Politics would often ride roughshod over your interests and mine, under some governments if not all – it would be little more than chauvanism of one form followed by another.

The reality is that the problems we face in our economy and society do not require conspiracies of one evil group or another to explain. They exist because the advance of peace, freedom, security, equality, prosperity and human rights is something that as a species we are still learning to understand.

I think as liberals we should welcome the fact that change is difficult to work, that checks and balances limit the power of the centre over the individual, and that well meaning policies agreed by a democratic conference can founder on the rocks of closer examination.

Let us not be too quick to blame coalition for problems that are budgetary (and therefore Labour’s making), or for the failure to deliver policies that would, rightly or wrongly, be difficult for a majority government to deliver.

We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty, and an opposition to bureaucratic management – the tick box culture beloved by Labour. So why has there not been more progress here? Why haven’t teachers, nurses and other professionals been liberated from Labour’s time-consuming and soul-destroying illusion of control from the centre? Perhaps it is because of resistance from the civil service, but that is just one reason that change is hard. As it should be.

As a party we have been on a hard slog for decades. I hope we didn’t imagine that the hard slog would end when we got into government. Frankly, that is when it begins.

Previously Published:

Stephen Tall: Stronger policy development and campaigning on issues that matter to the public (AKA where’s our liberal equivalent of the benefits cap?)

Mark Valladares: Better party communications responding to the realities of governing

Gareth Epps: Government: What’s Occurrin?

Nick Thornsby: Making a success of coalition government as a concept

Caron Lindsay: That old “walk a mile in each others’ shoes” thing works

Louise Shaw: One member, one vote for all party elections

Mark Pack: The invisible ministers should up their game, or be sacked

Robin McGhee: We should organise ministers better

Rob Parsons: Understand the mechanics of government

Richard Morris: Make the red lines deeper and wider

Bill le Breton: The Open Coalition and Its Enemies

Patrick Murray: Make sure our policies are reflected in our manifesto

David Allen: If It Won’t Work, Walk

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52 Comments

  • mike cobley 12th Aug '13 - 1:10pm

    “We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty, and an opposition to bureaucratic management – the tick box culture beloved by Labour.”

    Utter specious nonsense – private sector involvement in public services is all about commodification and monetisation, which requires bureaucracy and lists of boxes to be ticked. Case in point, the Work Capability Assessment, as run by ATOS on behalf of the DWP, and which consists of – yes! – a computerised tick-box process.

    Lessons learned from the last 3 years? That we should have only agreed to a limited coalition for a limited period for limited aims, thereby allowing us to actually test the economic rescue plans over, say 18-24 months , ample time to see if Osborne’s notions were working. And it would have given us more parliamentary independence and the freedom to criticise. But that was not what Clegg was after – he was hellbent on trying to prove that a) the Liberal Democrats could function in government, and b) that coalitions worked. On a) we’ve found out that working in too close proximity to the Tories has corrupted the leadership and toxified the party, and on b) this coalition has proved that only coalitions between parties with real shared values might avoid the minor party getting ground to a pulp.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 1:35pm

    @ Mike Cobley.

    Indeed. This article shows just how out-of-touch and brainwashed by the propaganda of the wealthy elite are those wonk types who now dominate the upper level of politics. They are like the old-style revolutionaries, settled in their place long after the revolution has put the new boss class in place of the old boss class. They are still spouting out the old revolutionary slogans, still fighting the old battles, and utterly unaware of how THEY are now the ones who need to be deposed, they and their failed ideas.

    So, here we have it, 34 years after the Thatcher government and we are still spouting out “Private sector good, public sector ba-a-a-d”. All the problems in public services are due to the counter-revolutionaries who have not accepted the wisdom of the Thatcher revolution, and who still have that socialist mentality in them that needs to be expunged.

    What rot.

    No, the problem is not “Labour’s time-consuming and soul-destroying illusion of control from the centre”. It’s the Conservatives’ dog-eat-fog mentality, the idea that service improvement comes from imposing a market style in which people are left in fear of unemployment if they don’t meet the targets set by the need to beat the competition and win the contract or push their way up the league table.

    This soul-destroying pressure we who work in public services are experiencing – and everyone I know who works in a public service job is saying the same, it is soul-destroying, it is stress-inducing, and it is wrecking the service mentality that used to motivate us – comes not from socialist style imposition by government, as Joe Otten is suggesting, but from the managers of our institutions who are pushing these targets on us in order to jump through the league table “quality” hoops which the out-of-touch at the top of government think is the essence of free-choice liberalism.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Aug '13 - 2:03pm

    “Indeed. This article shows just how out-of-touch and brainwashed by the propaganda of the wealthy elite are those wonk types who now dominate the upper level of politics”

    LOL

  • Doing the right thing in Government is hard, but doing a hard thing in Government doesn’t make it right.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 4:48pm

    Joe Otten

    Yes all the box ticking /target culture / micro management reflects the more dysfunctional parts of the private sector too. But to say it is the essence of free choice liberalism is just so completely upside down, I struggle to see why you suspect anybody of thinking that.

    Because the language you have used sounds very much like the language that has come from the Tories and the right-wing press over the decades, about how the problems are all down to Labour Party socialism and the semi-socialism of the Conservative Party before Thatcher, who let lazy public sector workers do what they wanted, so what’s needed is a good dose of fear and competition to shake them all up.

    Sorry Joe, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s a duck. You are walking like a Tory and quacking like a Tory. You didn’t have to use the Cleggie language which puts it all down to Labour, with the hints that the problem is Labour’s socialist mentality, but you did. You could have acknowledged that what Labour was doing here was following on from the previous Tory government’s belief in the inherent badness of the public sector and people who work in it, and so imposing what they thought was the sort of discipline that the private sector would use, but you didn’t.

    You and people like you are the reason people are deserting our party in droves. You sound like a Tory and you sing the praises of Tory ideas and Tory policies, you spout out Tory propaganda about how what they are doing is all about freedom and liberty and ignore the way it is the opposite, and it is driving down quality and causing misery, not driving up quality of service.

    If you don’t want to be thought of in this way, don’t be like the Cleggies. Don’t put down as some sort of Labour Party socialism policies which actually the Labour Party took from the previous Conservative government and were regarded as part of their attack on supposedly lazy public sector workers. Don’t pretend the current government is doing anything much to reverse this stuff. Don’t ignore the way it was started under the previous Conservative governments with New Labour just carrying on with it.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Aug '13 - 5:17pm

    @Matthew Huntbach
    No-one is saying that public sector emplpyees are all lazy. But it is a simple fact that public sector productivity has stayed flat while private sector prodcutivity is increasing. Labour disguised this by throwing billions of pounds of additional money at the public sector. That is no longer an answer ( and with demographic trends will be even less so in the future).
    “Productivity for public services has remained broadly constant between 1997 and 2010, with an annual average growth rate of 0.0%. Both public service output (activities performed and services delivered) and public service inputs (labour, goods and services and capital), grew by 3.0% per year on average”
    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/psa/public-sector-productivity-estimates–total-public-sector/2010/index.html

  • David Allen 12th Aug '13 - 5:26pm

    Joe,

    You’re saying that apparent failure should be excused, because the problems being tackled are hard to solve.

    So (acid test coming up) do you think the previous Labour government should be excused for the occasions when they apparently failed?

    And if it’s different for the Coalition, if they deserve to be cut some slack while Labour don’t, why is it different?

  • jenny barnes 12th Aug '13 - 5:48pm

    “We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty,”
    That’s easy to say when you have enough money. When you don’t, you have very little liberty. And as there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one (indeed, I think that’s deliberate policy by this government), how are these “individuals” meant to get enough money to exercise this marvelous individual liberty you believe in? Why am I reminded of “There is no such thing as society”?
    It’s commonplace to talk of social mobility as a way of justifying inequality – although it seems that social mobility drops in unequal societies. So the idea that it’s all a poor person’s fault for being insufficiently upwardly mobile (bootstraps, anyone) turns out not to be the case – and the rich person’s belief that they deserve it for being hard working etc turns out to be more to do with their inherited privilege than any actual hard workingness.
    Government is hard if you want to convince people you’re changing things for the better, while introducing more neo-liberal privatisation. Still, the NHS is well set for privatisation and eventual dismantling – you can’t say this government didn’t achieve anything. Just not what I thought the LDs were about.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Aug '13 - 7:14pm

    @jenny barnes “as there are not enough jobs for everyone who wants one (indeed, I think that’s deliberate policy by this government)”

    You havent seen the stories today about next and tesco being unable to hire enough british workers ?

  • The lesson that I have learned from this article is that the LibDems are indeed a pretty Thatcherite lot nowadays. The lesson that Mr Otten ought to learn is that he and the numerous Cleggites are doing a wonderful job of driving voters away. But I suspect he and his kind within the Libdems just don’t ‘get it’. So be it.

  • Little Jackie Paper 12th Aug '13 - 9:38pm

    Joe Otten – With respect (and to be clear I do mean that) can I perhaps put this another way to you. You say that you are a governor at a school. How many of the parents at your school do you think in some way take note of the local school league tables? You see it is one thing to legitimately decry managerialism, but there is very fine line there between managerialism and accountability. And in government that line suddenly becomes rather sharp.

    We have all been here before several times over. All political parties, stress all, talk a good game on devolving power in opposition, but in office the picture suddenly looks rather different. The stark reality is that if the government announced tomorrow that it was no longer going to produce school league tables then newspapers would just build and publish their own using accountability legislation like FoI. Abolition of things like KPIs or key stage tests would be seen in the court of public opinion as producer interest, rightly or not. It is exactly the same in health where, for example, people who decry managerialism are also people who look closely at whether granny got seen in 4 hours or not regardless of professionally determined priorities in the hospital.

    Universities are a good illustration. Most certainly the REF is perceived as a bureaucratic imposition. Rightly I think. But equally, I know of very few who think that there should be no quality-related element at all in higher education funding. Where does the accountability end and the managerialism begin? I don’t have a clear answer, but it is, after all, rather hard to argue that if the state spends £Xbn it has no interest at all in measuring quality, certainly most other countries do. And at least the REF is peer review in nature.

    To my mind, the thread running through this series on lessons from the coalition has been shortcomings on occasion in seeing the difference between politics and government. In politics it is the easiest thing in the world to act as a sectional interest group. But government does not exist to legislate for the prejudices of interests. Ministers are not there to be at the beck and call of, ‘the grass roots.’ Politicians are elected to represent the interests of society as a whole. I may not think highly of the Conservatives, but if they take on the propertied boomers on fracking they will get my respect.

    It may well be that there are conflicts in accountability. Some one else mentions British workers. But is the aim of policy to bring about wage arbitrage for corporations or to help protect wages for British (and I take that to mean ‘British citizens’) people. Who exactly are the immigration managerialists there, ‘for’ and what does good accountability look like given competing interest even within government?

    The point Mr Otten I think is that whether you like managerialism or not, the pressures on central government to, ‘manage,’ act on Liberal Democrats in government the same as any other party. There hasn’t been more progress because there is very little political interest for any party to be seen, rightly or wrongly as acting in the producer interest. That applies to Lib Dems as much as anyone else.

    I hope that your school spends its Pupil Premiums wisely. But if people locally want you to be accountable for it, I’m afraid that is the nature of the public service beast today, I don’t see that you have any grounds for complaint. I’m afraid that the article skates dangerously close to missing the important distinction between politics and government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 10:15pm

    Simon McGrath

    You havent seen the stories today about next and tesco being unable to hire enough british workers ?

    Unable or unwilling? Funny how we’ve had these governments since 1979 all pushing this dog-eat-dog work ethic, telling us this will give us the workers we need, but the result seems to be to produce people who are rubbish workers, so the companies instead turn to workers from countries where state socialism was dominant until recently.

    It seems to me this dog-eat-dog, stamp on others to reach the top, greed is good mentality that we’re encouraged to believe in actually turns out people who are useless for most jobs going. This is what I’m continuously being told by employers – kids who’ve had their head stuffed full of this celebrity culture and told they must be aggressive selfish types to move forward in life just don’t have the steady, co-operative and persistent attitude to life that is needed for the jobs they have to offer. So the best workers come from countries where people have not been mentally poisoned by this aggressive “neo-liberal” extreme capitalist ideas that now dominate here.

    Big companies like Tesco could be making an effort to train British people into being good workers, but they can’t be bothered. Instead, they abandon British people and bring in workers from other countries. That’s easy and cheap for them, someone else is left to pick up the pieces.

  • @Tim Oliver
    I associate people who talk about an “over-mighty central state” but excuse the outcomes of markets as being down to a “distorted market” rather than, presumably, the improved outcome from a purer, free-market, as being Tories. That’s what you sound like to me. You may call yourself something else, but it is pretty irrelevant to me as a voter. I won’t vote for a Tory and I won’t vote for a party that represents your views (the same goes for the views of Joe Otten, Tom Papworth, etc). If I wanted a Tory I’d vote for one.

    Still on 9% in the polls I see.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 10:41pm

    Joe Otten

    OK, but do you have anything to say about what I have actually said as opposed to what you think it sounds like?

    Well I agree with your first part about there not being easy solutions, and the need for checks and balances. I’ve no problem with that, that’s always been my political viewpoint. I’m a pragmatist, not a believer in some sort of idealistic approach, whether socialist or capitalist or whatever.However, I now find that holding to the same sort of moderate pragmatic views that I have always held to means I’m treated as some sort of loony leftist. The Labour Party under Tony Blair moved into New Labour, and moved to my right economically, while retaining the sub-Leninist view of The Party that I always found really offputting in all varieties of socialism. The Liberal Party, in which I once felt very comfortable, has now become the Liberal Democrats and is full of people who are spouting lines that when I was first involved were found on the right-wing of the Conservative Party and were called “Thatcherism”. In Liberal Democrat Voice these days, I no longer feel I am amongst friends as I used to be in this party. Instead I feel I am amongst enemies, the sort of person I used to fight against when that sort of person with that sort of mentality was found firmly in the Conservative Party.

    What language do I have to use to make that point without offending you?

    Well, you could drop this for example (I quote your article) “We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty, and an opposition to bureaucratic management – the tick box culture beloved by Labour”. Sorry Joe, but that is what really got me. The Conservatives have no such belief. Oh, sometimes they think they do, but all they’re really interested in is defence of the freedom of the wealthy. If they think they aren’t, it’s because they are so out of touch they just can’t see how the sort of freedoms they value aren’t open to most people and often constrict the freedom of most people. To suggest that the party pushing forward the current NHS “reforms” has an “opposition to bureaucratic management is laughable. Their privatisation obsession is all about making things more complex and bureaucratic and managerial.

  • Joe Otten has a lot of good ideas – the challenge is turning that into local party manifestos……

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 10:56pm

    Little Jackie Paper

    Universities are a good illustration. Most certainly the REF is perceived as a bureaucratic imposition. Rightly I think. But equally, I know of very few who think that there should be no quality-related element at all in higher education funding.

    The REF had a disastrous effect on the quality of higher education. What it meant is that since extra money came from churning our research papers, university lecturers were more or less told – on the pain of being sacked if they did not go along with it – to put minimum effort into teaching and instead to put all their effort into research. The research record dominated the league table position, and since students generally think the higher the position in the league table, the better the university, it was pointless putting any effort into improving teaching, all it meant was you slipped down the league table, so students thought you were a “poor” university, so you lost the best applicants. Many figures in the league table which were meant to measure education quality were also in effect measures of research output rather than quality of education. For example, a university with 1000 lecturers and 10,000 students might seem to have a 10-1 student:staff ratio and so be better than one with 700 lecturers and 10,000 students. But that is false if in the first lecturers spend 75% of their time on research and 25% on teaching, while in the second they spend 25% of their time on research and 75% on teaching.

    Attempts to measure quality of education in universities almost always end up as box-ticking exercises, which only really measure incidentals. So the result is that staff are forced to do whatever it is that fits these incidentals, even if that’s at the expense of real quality teaching.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Aug '13 - 11:01pm

    Simon McGrath

    But it is a simple fact that public sector productivity has stayed flat while private sector prodcutivity is increasing

    Is it a simple fact? Well, as a university lecturer, I’m in the public sector, so how has my productivity decreased? I’m teaching much bigger classes than was the case when I first started the job 24 years ago. Seems to me that means an increase in productivity rather than a decrease. Most people I know in other public sector jobs tells a similar story – workload has increased, number of staff to do it has decreased.

  • Peter Bancroft 12th Aug '13 - 11:27pm

    @Matthew I’m sure you can do a lot better than simply parrot back an original version of Ed Miliband’s speech today about Tesco which was corrected before he even said it. There is really no clearer example of someone being willing to swallow any Labour propaganda (even stuff so ridiculous the Labour party won’t stand by it) than this today.

  • Peter Watson 12th Aug '13 - 11:57pm

    @Peter Bancroft
    Actually it was Chris Bryant’s speech.
    And it appears that his mistake was to accuse Tesco of moving to Kent to recruit foreign workers and to accuse Next of bringing in lots of foreign workers, whereas the truth according to The Telgraph is “Next saying that a lack of local workers meant it had to hire from abroad while Tesco said its distribution centre had never been in Kent [it was Essex].” Hardly sounds like a damning indictment of Labour’s propaganda.
    Bryant’s stance doesn’t even sound too far from tory minister Matthew Hancock’s recent pronouncements that employers should consider it a social duty to recruit locally rather than taking the easy option of hiring from abroad.

  • “Thankfully I see no sign of anybody in the liberal democrats supporting liberty just for the rich.”

    If that’s meant to be a joke, it’s in very poor taste.

  • “Bryant’s stance doesn’t even sound too far from tory minister Matthew Hancock’s recent pronouncements that employers should consider it a social duty to recruit locally rather than taking the easy option of hiring from abroad.”

    Well, then they are both talking pure cant, then. You can’t expect a private employer to obey a so-called “social duty” at the expense of their competitive position, when the thing you are hoping to dissuade them from doing is neither illegal nor even (like tax avoidance) an attempt to sidestep the law. If an immigrant is legally here, a company can legally hire the immigrant, end of story. If you don’t like that, you must propose changes in government policy, not scapegoat the employer.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Aug '13 - 12:19am

    Simon McGrath – thank you for providing a link above to that ONS paper. I have heard increasing reference over the last three or four years to this notion of “public sector productivity” being “flat”, in contrast to the ever-rising productivity of the private sector. The problem is knowing what on earth is being measured. How to measure private sector productivity is relatively (relatively) straightforward, but how, I have asked myself, do they claim to measure the productivity of nurses, doctors, police officers, civil servants…? I was sceptical, but here at last is a document, less than 100 pages long, that might explain it.
    Oh.
    I tried extracting a whole bunch of telling points, but it was going to turn into a post so long that even Matthew Huntbach would blush to own it. So, in a nutshell:
    Much of the “productivity” is measured on “the ‘output=inputs’ convention. That is, output is deemed to be equal to the volume of inputs used in generating the output” (p. 7) – so that’s pretty useless. Only in health and education is there any attempt to measure “quality” – I don’t have time or energy to delve deeper into that, but I don’t think it’s a convincing counterweight to the accountancy assumption that a nurse who looks after 20 patients on a ward is more “productive” than one who looks after 10 (though as it happens they do record a slight increase in productivity in these sectors). On adult and children’s social care, which have experienced the biggest “productivity falls”, the report points out that “These output estimates take no account of quality, or of the intensity of need.” (p. 20)
    Finally, here’s what the report itself says about “interpreting estimates of public service productivity” (p. 31):
    “Productivity statistics published in this release are based on a concept of output as measured by government consumption expenditure rather than government or state production. … traditional measures of productivity, including those published by ONS, use a supply or production framework. These measures of productivity use Standard Industrial Classification categories of production as the measure of output, and are on a gross value-added basis. … Caution should therefore be used when considering the differences between productivity measures published using the expenditure approach and those using the traditional production approach” (empasis added).
    “Public sector productivity” turns out to mean about what I thought all along – booger all. Just because you haven’t worked out how to measure what someone’s doing doesn’t mean it’s not worth having them do it.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Aug '13 - 12:20am

    Huh – link not working. Try this: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_307152.pdf

  • “We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty, and an opposition to bureaucratic management”

    Historically this is not true. However even if it was true today, is it a basis for government. Didn’t we want to abolish some government departments? They are not in the coalition agreement. Do we really believe that individual liberty trumps everything else (I hope not) and do we really care about levels of bureaucracy for their own sake (don’t we care about getting the best outcome)?

    @ Mike Cobley makes an interesting point in saying that we should have had a more limited agenda and for only 18-24 months and then we could evaluate how it was working before deciding to continue it with a new agreement. However one of the outcomes that I think Nick Clegg wanted from the coalition is to refute the idea that coalitions can’t last for a whole parliament and that they are unstable and therefore he wouldn’t have made such an agreement.

    It could be said that as Liberals we wish to control power and one way to do this is to decentralise and one way to do this is for local government to be given the freedom to do things (in the same way it was given such freedoms in the nineteenth century) and not for central government to impose no council tax increases and rules on how local government can use its capital (or even give them extra money if they are collecting the bins every week).

    As is so often the case with Joe Otten his choice of language gets in the way of what he is saying. I think from his later comments he is saying it is good to move decision making out of central government and that liberty has to be linked to social policies to enable people.

  • @Tim Oliver. What you are saying (as Steve noted) is that any shortcomings in the ‘market’ economic model are a result of that market being ‘distorted’. It follows logically, therefore, that if the ‘market’ is working in a pure way, minus any ‘distortion’ then we would have something approaching economic utopia. Is this not an argument for unhindered capitalism/market economics/free market economics. To me this says ‘Conservative’. With respect.

  • Simon McGrath 13th Aug '13 - 8:26am

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Your comment that you and your fellow workers in higher education are now more productive is rather worrying. Given that the ONS have found that overall public sector productivity is flat this clearly means other public sector workers are getting less productive. Any ideas on which part of the public sector they are in ?

  • Peter Watson 13th Aug '13 - 8:41am

    @David Allen “you must propose changes in government policy, not scapegoat the employer”
    I entirely agree. The problem for tories / liberals / new labour is that the outcome they (and their voters) want is “british jobs for british workers” but they are ideologically opposed to any actions that will make it happen. I do not know how they can square that particular circle, but until they do we will probably have high levels of youth unemployment followed by high general unemployment as the NEETs get older. Scapegoating the employer is similar to naming and shaming tax avoiding corporations: politicians hope that saying something might be mistaken by voters as doing something, and public opinion / negative PR might influence the actions of companies.

  • Peter Watson 13th Aug '13 - 8:43am

    @Simon McGrath “other public sector workers are getting less productive. Any ideas on which part of the public sector they are in ?”
    Government? 😉

  • Joe: I know you’re no more a Tory than I am, but perhaps your choice of language was unfortunate. Also you spelled chauvinism wrong 😉

  • jenny barnes 13th Aug '13 - 9:42am

    @simon next and tesco being unable to hire enough british workers ,,,
    yes I heard that. I don’t believe it. What I think is much more likely is that they were unable to hire british workers at a price they were prepared to pay. Companies are all for the market when it benefits them, but when it comes to employees being a bit scarce, they forget about that price/marginal return thing, and try to bring in workers from elsewhere. Or, as in Detroit, move the factories to elsewhere. Very similar behaviour in the IT business, where they bring in Indian workers, even though there are plenty of UK people with the expertise. In both cases, it’s a case of refusing to pay the market rate for British workers.
    Now, you might argue that Global Capitalism has no liability to do anything but get the cheapest workforce it legally can, pay the least tax it legally can, disappear all it’s profits to the Cayman Islands… but I think there is a need to maintain society, which is better met by a living wage (at least) for the work force and companies paying tax for the benefits they get from the state. The reproduction of society has to happen somehow.
    What has the state ever done for us – apart from roads, property rights, the legal system, police, courts, global security over shipping lanes, rescuing the financial system, providing a safety net for people who become unemployed… nothing, and we’ve legally avoided tax, so .

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '13 - 10:05am

    Simon McGrath

    Your comment that you and your fellow workers in higher education are now more productive is rather worrying. Given that the ONS have found that overall public sector productivity is flat this clearly means other public sector workers are getting less productive. Any ideas on which part of the public sector they are in ?

    You’re the one that made the claim, and insisted it was fact not opinion. So you’re the one who is now under an obligation to answer that question. Maybe you should go back and look at the statistics where what you claim was “a simple fact” come from and see what the REAL facts are which underly them. We have a problem in this country that most people involved in politics come from an arts rather than a science/engineering background, have very little in the way of serious numeracy, and so are very easily misled by simplistic argument derived from statistics.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '13 - 10:52am

    Peter Bancroft

    @Matthew I’m sure you can do a lot better than simply parrot back an original version of Ed Miliband’s speech today about Tesco which was corrected before he even said it. There is really no clearer example of someone being willing to swallow any Labour propaganda (even stuff so ridiculous the Labour party won’t stand by it) than this today.

    Oh puh-lease. Can we have some real thought on this issue rather than political ding-dong?

    This is something I’ve been expressing concern about for a long time, not something I’ve just jumped on because one of Labour’s shadow ministers (it was not Ed Miliband himself) happened to include it in a speech (putting it rather badly). To me, the failure of the political left to talk about things like this out of fear of being accused of being “racist” is one of the biggest signs that the left is full of out-of-touch poseurs. If you are actually working with people in the lower wealth/income part of society, as I was when I was a councillor for one of the country’s 10% most deprived wards, you cannot fail to note the extent to which this sort of thing is a major topic of conversation. But because the left is full of poseurs from wealthy backgrounds who’ve never known what real job/housing/etc insecurity feels like, they ignore all this talk, or write off those talking in this way as “bigots” without listening to their concerns. That leaves those people feeling the political left is nothing to do with them, feeling that left-wing politics is for upper class liberals, not for poor people, and makes them easy prey for the likes of the BNP, EDL, NF and UKIP.

    To me, there is something OBVIOUSLY wrong when there are large numbers of people unemployed and desperate for jobs in this country, and yet employers claim they “can’t find the people with the skills”. Are these really specialist skills they want, something which requires long years of training that only can be done in Poland or the Philippines or wherever? Is there some genetic thing involved which means these skills are impossible for British people to pick up? No, no. Mostly the sort of jobs involved are low skill manual jobs. The people who are brought in to do it are given a couple of days training to do it (if that), and that’s it. Take the agricultural jobs for which large number of people from eastern European countries are imported to do. Why are we paying thousands upon thousands of kids to be on the dole in places like London, and yet importing workers from thousands of miles away to do these jobs?

    In part this is an attitude problem. As I put it previously, we’ve had decades where we’ve been pushing the idea about being very entrepreneurial, and all t hose attitudes that go along with that, supposing that’s what a go-ahead economy requires. And what’s the result? Kids with attitudes so bad they can’t actually do the jobs that need to be done.

    In part also, however, and I think that’s what the speech you reference was trying to get at, even if it put it badly and wasn’t properly fact-checked, it’s an indication that the big employers lack any sense of social care and obligations to society and the people around them. So, instead of feeling they have any sort of obligation to provide employment to the less able in this country, they leave it to “society” to deal with them, and import more able from elsewhere. And we know what Mrs Thatcher said (and she was quite right in what she really meant, she was badly misquoted out of context in this) about society. If you have a choice of employing someone from the lower quartile of general ability in this country, or the upper or second quartile of general ability from a poorer country, who do you choose?

    In the past, employers would have no choice, they would have to put some effort into developing lower level skills and good attitudes amongst less able people in this country. Now they don’t have to, they can take the easy path, and not bother, using the language “lack of skills” to justify it. But how can this be sustainable? Can you KEEP writing off low-ability people in this country and instead bringing in higher ability people from poorer countries to do low-skilled manual jobs here? Could you do this generation after generation after generation? It seems our big companies think you can, then they moan about the tax bill resulting in “society” having to deal with the lower ability natives, so they put a brass plate in Zug or wherever, claim they are just an offshoot of that brass plate which has to be paid vast amounts of money for the benefit of using its name, so sorry, they aren’t making a profit so they can’t pay the taxes – taxes are for the little people to pay.

    If you think I am saying all this just to “parrot Labour”, well you are just showing why the liberals have failed – they are out-of-touch with the concerns of real people here, and afraid to talk about so many vital issues because it isn’t “politically correct” to do so, and have no sense of national collective responsibility for the people of this country because that’s racist or illiberal or against what how business leaders tell us we should think or whatever.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '13 - 11:15am

    Joe Otten

    But I guess it just pushed people’s buttons, and the context was lost.

    Yes, as I and others have said, you have chosen to use the same language as the Tories. You chose to use language that suggested you accept their very dubious claim that they are all about liberty, and you chose to use language which suggests we Liberal Democrats should be close allies with them against a Labour Party which is written up as if it was a doctrinaire old-school socialist party, rather than one which got into a mess BECAUSE of its enthusiastic adoption of policies that were once associated with the Tories.

    We don’t need people to say “Me too” to the paeans to the free market coming from the Conservatives and most of the press, even if when you read the smallprint they are putting it in slightly different way and suggesting useful modifications to it which make it more genuinely liberal. I’ve heard what the Tories are saying, they’ve put that point and have been doping so constantly since 1979. It’s a valuable point, but simplistic to base all one’s politics on it. We are no longer in a society where it is fresh and interesting so it needs to be made to counter general social democratic assumptions.

    So, if you want to be listened to rather than written off as a Tory fellow-traveller, drop the language that makes you sound like one, and demonstrate more clearly than you have done that you are capable of critical analysis of the simplistic assumptions of free market theory.

    I don’t myself think free market theory is all wrong, indeed I think we need to be aware and accept its main ideas. That’s why I regard Hayek’s Road to serfdom as good inspirational reading. But that was written at a time when socialism was the dominant ideology and needed countering. We aren’t in such a time any more. We are in a time when free market theory is the dominant ideology, so it is the one that needs questioning, needs a critical analysis to try and work out why it has not delivered what it promised, at least not to the level it promised and certainly not to everyone.

    When arguing with people like you it feels very much like the sort of arguments I had with people who called themselves “socialists” in the 1980s which manage to convince me I was not one of them. I could see their point, but they seemed to lack critical analysis, a wider view which was capable of seeing why it did not work. They would tell you that USSR style government was not what they wanted, but their arguments as to why that which started off as the sort of socialism they wanted turned out like it did and how they were different seemed feeble and they had no real explanation of why socialism in practice never seemed to work.

  • David Allen 13th Aug '13 - 1:47pm

    Jenny Barnes,

    “it’s a case of refusing to pay the market rate for British workers.
    Now, you might argue that Global Capitalism has no liability to do anything but get the cheapest workforce it legally can, pay the least tax it legally can, disappear all it’s profits to the Cayman Islands… but I think there is a need to maintain society,…”

    Well…I agree that when a company blatantly exploits legal loopholes, we should try to shame them out of it. I’m afraid I don’t often expect that to work very well. If a manager in Company A thinks that Company B will put the out of business unless they cut their costs any way that is legal, then that manager will do that thing. Or else get sacked and replaced by someone who does.

    Bellyaching about Amazon sells newspapers. Changing the law is what’s needed to solve the problem.

  • Joe, I would like to believe you have “nuanced views” also. Looking at your post here, I would have thought you would have attempted to give some examples of where you differ from being a Clegg or Laws fellow traveller.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Aug '13 - 2:00pm

    Joe, as I keep saying, the problem comes from your choice of words “We share with the Conservatives a belief (with a different flavour, for sure) in individual liberty, and an opposition to bureaucratic management – the tick box culture beloved by Labour”.

    The natural interpretation of the first clause of this is that you accept the Conservatives’ claim that their free-market economics is the core to individual liberty. Since you link the Conservatives with belief in individual liberty, but not Labour, it suggests you reject the idea that an active state which works to reduce poverty has any connection with individual liberty. With the second clause, you connect “bureaucratic management” with Labour, which ignores the extent to which the damaging bureaucratic management of the last Labour government was not traditional socialism, but rather a continuation of the policies of the previous Conservative government. The tick-box management comes from the idea that public services should be governed using the mentality of the private sector, with league tables based on collection of figures, and obsessive working to these figures because the competition of the league tables, and fear of losing the contract to private suppliers because the target figures aren’t met dominated management. This was all part of the Conservative idea of importing private sector “know how” to public services in the belief it would improve them. Furthermore, your use of language here hides the fact that the Conservatives are CARRYING ON with this, and in fact pushing it even more deeply, and the Liberal Democrats in government are largely going along with that. The NHS reforms pushed through by this government will see more tick-box bureaucracy, not less, as will quite a few other things it is doing.

    So, your language seems to be lining the Liberal Democrats as fellow economic right-wingers with the Conservatives, and going along with their trying to paint the current Labour Party, while actually a party now far to the right of where the Labour Party used to be as if it is still a doctrinaire socialist party. It suggests you are going along with the line that politics is still about socialists being the bad enemies of freedom, and economic right-wing economics being the remedy to it.

    If you had been more even-handed in the way you had covered both parties, I would not have replied as I did.

  • Malcolm Todd 13th Aug '13 - 2:38pm

    Simon McGrath

    @Matthew Huntbach
    Your comment that you and your fellow workers in higher education are now more productive is rather worrying. Given that the ONS have found that overall public sector productivity is flat this clearly means other public sector workers are getting less productive. Any ideas on which part of the public sector they are in ?

    I guess, unlike me, you really didn’t read that document you linked to on “productivity”, just grabbed the top line that suited you; you didn’t even read my (rather rushed and late-night) attempt to précis it.
    The ONS report – for what it’s worth, which is I think almost exactly nothing – confirms Matthew’s claim that education workers did indeed become more productive between 1997 and 2010. The loss of productivity is down to areas like social care, where the definitions they use demonstrate just what a ridiculous exercise this is.
    Look, the full document’s here: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_307152.pdf . Why not read it? And perhaps take seriously its caution that comparing this with standard reports of productivity in the private sector is all a bit apples and pears?

  • Well posted Malcolm

    I read it and came to the same conclusion as you – it was clear Smon can’t have as the answer to his question is clearly answered within, although with many caveats and assumptions to make it difficult to use quantitatively.

  • jenny barnes 14th Aug '13 - 8:44am

    @david allen “Changing the law is what’s needed to solve the problem.”
    Violent agreement. Now , who is in charge of making the laws? Think, think.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Aug '13 - 11:53am

    Joe Otten

    You do not have to be a socialist to have an ideological attachment to centralised control of public services, and you certainly don’t have to be a socialist, to be a sucker for the kind of management consultant sales pitch that Blair was, that is also evident in the more dysfunctional parts of the private sector.

    Joe, I was Leader of the Opposition in what was called “New Labour’s flagship borough” during the time of the Blair government, so I saw all this directly. They were suckers for this kind of management consultant sales pitch because they had swallowed the message from the previous Conservative government and its media backers “Private sector good, public sector b-a-a-a-d”. They were suckers for poor PFI deals for the same reasons. The obsession with top-down targetting was all part of this, and yes I can assure you, they DID think of it as putting private sector ways of thinking into the public sector.

    When I tried to question this sort of thing, the answer that came back was usually a whole load of waffle, but it translated down to “there’s this magic fairy dust called ‘private sector know-how’ which you sprinkle on things and it automatically improves them”. Those who expressed scepticism about this were generally dismissed as dinosaurs who couldn’t adapt to the modern world. I only wish now that I was more confident in my thought and expressed more loudly and clearly then the concerns I had.

    I believe many of the problems our country is experiencing now go back to what was done by the Conservative governments of 1979-1997, and by Labour’s acceptance and furthering of this. However, there are many, including the leadership of our party, who won’t accept this, and are instead trying to push a message that it was all down to a residual socialist mentality in Labour. This is so wrong because it pushes the line, used now by the Conservative Party that what this country needs is even more of the failed right-wing policies. To me, this is like those who observed the failure of the USSR and other countries and suggested what was needed was even more extreme socialism.

    Yes, we are going round in circles, but you have not acknowledged my point that, intentionally or not, the language you chose to use did not give even-handed treatment to the Labour Party and the Conservatives. Instead it gave the impression that we and the Conservatives are liberal allies in some fight against the Labour Party. I don’t think our party’s democratic mechanisms have ever agreed to that line, we did NOT give permission to our party leader to use it when we accepted the parliamentary balance in May 2010 meant forming the current coalition was the right thing to do.

    I joined the Liberal Party because I felt if offered a better and more effective challenge to Conservative dominance than Labour. I did NOT join it to become an ally of the Conservatives.

  • Matthew Huntbach makes some interesting points about the attitude of some young people and the free movement of labour in the EU and employers paying low wages for non-British EU citizens rather than paying higher wages for British workers or taking on lower ability British people. This analysis means that UK employers will only take on British workers once there are less unemployed people in other EU countries willing to come to Britain.

    I am also concerned about Mark Carnie’s unemployment target of 7%. Is he really saying that once unemployment drops to 7% the economy will be overheating and will need an increase in interest rates to bring it under control? A 7% target means that 2.26 million people will still be unemployed.

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