Your essential Easter weekend reader — my personal pick of the week’s must-reads

Papers - Some rights reserved by NS MewsflashIt’s Sunday afternoon, so here are a baker’s dozen of thought-provoking articles to stimulate your thinking juices, culled from all those I’ve linked to this past fortnight. You can follow me on Delicious here.

Even Britain has now abandoned austerity – Anatole Kaletsky highlights the abandonment of Plan A: “While Osborne repeated his mantra that “you can’t cure a crisis caused by debt with more debt,” he will now do exactly this by creating a British equivalent of government-guaranteed Fannie Mae mortgages to offer what the U.S. would describe as “sub-prime loans.””

Why do people talk nonsense in public – Mark Forsyth pleads with politicians to quit the cliches: “The result of all this, and it is an important result, is that politics ceases to mean anything. It has become the flight safety instructions telling you that your life-jackets are located next to your tax credits.”

Should Britain let go of London? – Stephanie Flanders ponders the Catch-22 that the capital both subsidises the rest of the UK and also holds it back. Her (eminently liberal) conclusion: “I couldn’t help thinking that it’s not London that the rest of the country has a problem with – it’s the UK’s over-centralised system of government.”

The Prime Minister is prone to sounding the alarm on immigration when his political fortunes are waning – Tim Bale highlights how David Cameron jerks his knee on immigration whenever his poll ratings dip, asking: “will the short-term gain be worth the long-term damage that Cameron’s speech (and Nick Clegg’s depressing effort just a few days before it) will do – not just to rational public policy-making and honest engagement with the public’s heartfelt (if occasionally misplaced) concerns, but also to the Tories’ own electoral and governmental ambitions?”

Busting that “Europeans love renting” myth – Kate Allen reveals the shift (and how we compare with our neighbours): “Britain has higher levels of renting than many European countries – and renting has been booming in recent years.”

Budget 2013: Five ways to fix our national joke – Tim Harford highlights five key poliicies the Lib Dems should take a long, hard look at, and a final one George Osborne should reflect on long and hard: “He should abolish the twice-yearly circus of Budget and Autumn Statement, and start thinking as seriously about his long-term strategy for tax as he thinks about his long-term strategy for re-election.”

How To Pronounce It – U and non-U – Mark Mason looks sideways at a long-forgotten book that tried to teach us how to speak propah: “‘Gone’, we’re told, should rhyme with ‘born’, NOT with ‘on’. ‘Lather’ must be pronounced to rhyme with ‘gather’, and NOT with ‘father’.”

Immigration: if only politicians would lead, not follow – James Kirkup yearns for leaders who’ll make the argument they believe in, not the one they think voters want to hear: “Mr Cameron seems happy to join Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in the political pack that now runs yapping after Nigel Farage, apparently content to let Ukip set the course for Britain’s debate over immigration.”

The pleasures and perils of the open-plan office – William Kremer on one of the C.20th’s most malign inventions: “A 2009 review article published in the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management found that 90% of studies looking at open-plan offices linked them to health problems such as stress and high blood pressure.”

Abandon hope all ye who enter this immigration debate – Sam Bowman spells it out: “immigrants bring new skills to the country, allow for more specialization, tend to be more entrepreneurial than average, pay more in to the welfare state than they take out, and make things cheaper by doing the jobs that Britons won’t.”

Liberal Hero of the Week #33: Bishop of Dudley, David Walker – find out what I think was heroic about the Bishop in my CentreForum series.

In political fiction the EU is either non-existent or portrayed as corrupt and dystopian – Steven Fielding looks at the EU’s fictional depiction, concluding: “The imagined EU that emerges from such fictions is bureaucratic, corrupt and/or tyrannical and does not suggest that many Britons are ready to embrace federalism any time soon. This will of course not be news to our political leaders, but it does indicate the depth of mistrust the EU arouses, when Britons can be bothered to think about it.”

The Newspaper of Tomorrow: 11 Predictions from Yesteryear – Matt Novak looks back at how the newspaper has been re-imagined over the past century: “The role of the newspaper in any given community has always been in flux. And the form that the newspaper of the future would take has often been uncertain.”

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Paul in Twickenham 1st Apr '13 - 12:12am

    Kaletsky is someone I seldom agree with but on this occasion he is exactly right: he says that the government’s mortgage guarantee can be criticized for “financial imprudence, or inflating house prices or unfairly subsidizing borrowers”. Let me add a further comment: it is a blatant attempt to inflate house prices in order to create a short-lived but electorally advantageous sense of wealth in the Conservative’s core electorate.

    This nonsense will create a sub-prime style house price bubble that will explode quite spectacularly – and the chancellor must surely know this, as everyone else from across the political and economic spectrum clearly does.

    It is profoundly embarrassing that Liberal Democrat MPs have walked through the lobby to support this lunacy and in my opinion voting for it eliminates the last shreds of economic credibility that the party had left over from Vince Cable’s halcyon days in 2007 to 2010.

  • Andrew Duffield 1st Apr '13 - 7:53am

    Couldn’t agree more Paul.

    The Centre for Economics and Business Research has just released a report saying that house prices will pass their pre-recession peak next year and go on to hit a record high, with the average home increasing by £50,000 over the next 5 years – mainly thanks to the £130 billion lending scheme in last month’s Budget.

    It’s worse than embarrassing. It’s economically incompetent and socially disastrous. Politically, of course, it fits perfectly with short-term pandering to home-owning electors who think rising house prices make them better off.


  • in agreement with other comments on the economics. Not going to comment on the “how things should be pronounced” article since that was a BLATANT “I haven’t posted anything that’s annoyed Jennie for a couple of weeks; this should do the trick” piece :p

  • Bill le Breton 1st Apr '13 - 12:54pm

    Stephen, thanks for the pointer to Kaletsky.

    First of all it is good to see that more and more ‘experts’ are understanding that the budget contained a significant turning point in monetary policy, predicted on the 7th March here

    It is tragic that we did not argue for this be included in last year’s budget as I argued for here: and it is because we have been responsible for three years of unnecessary and detrimentally tight monetary policy that the Quad has looked for further stimulus from the housing sector. A stitch in time, urged again here would have avoid this.

    The adoption of a Bernanke/Evans type dual mandate being used by the FED in the US may still prove insufficient to raise nominal income sufficiently in the UK and the guidance offered four months ago to the Bank of Canada – Further Enhancing Guidance May Require a Change in Framework here – hints that the new Governor of the Bank of England will want further change to the mandate given by the Quad to the Monetary Policy Committee.

    So, why aren’t we campaigning for it now

    The second housing initiative does not come into effect until this time next year and is dependent on the economic situation existing then. Going full out at Gambon Corner/monetary easing would make that second option redundant.

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