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Rupert Butler
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The logic of "Big Society", now apparently defunct, leads (as I posted when there was a hope of an incoming Conservative government) to the reduction of enforceable rules to a condition of being only guidance or "best practice". That is how assessing @James102's reasonableness can be done reasonably - in a civil court if necessary rather than in a criminal court, better by arbitration and better still by local agreement. The new parliament of 2010 could have legislated to make all statutory legislation (with a few exceptions) advisory, thus at a stroke reasserting parliament's supremacy over the bureaucracy and reducing the burden of the state on the rest of us. Roger Scruton is right to challenge the H & S culture as he does, but many agencies other than the HSA have the power to muck up our lives for the fun and profit of the officials who run them.
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I can see the point Mr Scruton is making about non-government organisation, but surely he is not against organisation per se. He will understand that charity must be for ever very small, if organisation is to be avoided. Most charitable activity is huge and hugely organised whether it is supporting the work of government or not. One pernicious result of this fact is the well established practice of paying Charity executives really handsome salaries. This is done in the belief that the Charity accrues more income and dispenses its benevolence more efficiently than would otherwise be the case. Following Mr Scruton’s logic, I suggest that such salaries and the work that the executives do should be isolated from the formal Charity; that Charities may own trading corporations and (as owners) project their charitable purposes through them, but that they stay formally and absolutely outside of them. I would then insist on a very severe standard of giving-and-not-receiving for the members and leadership of those Charities. Ideally no expenses, no free lunches, no free travel, and no fancy hotels – any such costs to be paid from taxed income. In this climate, Charities could serve the government of the day without being suborned by the Gordon Browns of this world. At the same time, the Charity Commission can easily determine that the instigators of the Charities get only the most pure satisfaction from their generosity. Private schools, being owned by separate Charities and surrendering all their taxable income to them, could escape the baleful eye of Dame Suzi. National schools and NHS hospitals, enjoying a revenue stream of taxpayers’ money, could move with honesty into the private sector for the better management that they might find there if they and the taxpayers should know that these institutions are ultimately owned by a Charity whose only perceptible interest is the public good. There is no need to interfere with private giving, on whatever scale. Usually however collecting charity and dispensing it needs organisation. That organisation should be so structured as deliberately to separate it from government and to separate it from the residual self-indulgence of the wealthy giver.
Toggle Commented Nov 2, 2012 on Charity at ConservativeHome | Thinkers' Corner
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Small-C conservatism explains why both community and local authority might resist the tendency for town-centre shops to close. But, in provincial towns like mine, the group of shops being moved to its own “village” would not be disastrous. The priority for the town centre is that it should be a civic amenity, for which the essential features are still the church, the town hall, the war memorial and the (ideally green) space for assembly. It is market logic that causes retailers to move out of town. The first boarded-up shop in any precinct tells landlords, and all of us, that their game is up. If there should be any commercial impulse from retail towards office or other commercial uses, the LA should readily adapt to meet it. The unmentionable factor that strengthens the LA’s resistance to any change is the disproportionate tax benefit to the LA of the Universal Business Rate. This is being highlighted by the current trend of landlords to let their shops to charities at a peppercorn rent, provided they deal with the UBR, because they must pay the UBR if they cannot get anyone else to pay it. The crude fact is that, for a property of equivalent freehold value, commercial rates pay the LA six times (more or less) what the residential rates (“Council Tax”)pay. For as long as that influences its thinking, the LA prefers an empty shop to a private household. UBR seriously distorts the nation’s economy, being effectively a 50% VAT charge on commercial rents. Just by the way, it advances the decay of our high streets that Cllr Phibbs notes here.
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It is naive to keep making cases against imaginary employers when there is not enough real employment. Apart from anything else, if large firms will make micro-businesses as suggested, they may well enjoy the unintended benefit of greater productivity and a happier work-force. It remains that if the larger firms have an impulse to take this route, there must be a real attraction to entrepreneurs to create actually-new small businesses. That is where the hope of increased employment lies.
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Cllr Davis makes a smooth case, from his position in what is probably an efficient council with a productive planning department. So that his council can increase its charges, he wants us all to pay more into our own local government. The first delusion, upon which his argument depends heavily, is that planning control is a “service” and that property owners are willing clients. Planning control is government in action, enforcing the will of society on individuals and corporations. The second delusion is that, as a good principle, government should be self-funding. It is very convenient for government when this state is achieved – but it is bad government. It leads inexorably to bureaucratic bloat (evidence the FSA, for one good example). For managing a sector of society or society at large, government (meaning the tax payers) should pay. If government has trouble raising tax, maybe it is trying to do too much – in the planning environment as in many other areas. If Cllr Davis has his way, in time the price and complexity of changing the use of a building will just grow and grow. Only the wealthy corporations and individuals (in whom he is probably exclusively interested) will be able legitimately to improve their properties. The rest of us will have increasingly to live with what we have - or to develop without permission.
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With you entirely. AV was FPTP with added value, a straight improvement in the resources of democracy. With none of the political parties very interested in democracy per se, the referendum was just an unseemly squabble. It is not to the credit of our party that it clearly won. It might just be ("no sooner had, no sooner hated") that, by the time of the conference, our leadership knew this. Decimating the House of Commons and angling for taxpayer funding are equally anti-democratic. Beyond all that, we must be alert to the way in which any referendum can be curdled by a determined and well funded political campaign. As we get used to more frequent referenda, we should consider a ban on public discussion (like the rules on "sub judice") so the voters make their own minds up in peace and quiet.
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Where has this chap come from ? "Win-win for Government, and win-win for local councils" and "The risks ... lies completely with the developer". Somehow the developer is to offer his developments at a price (greatly ?) increased by a tax overhead and his own risk premium. Where is the rush of buyers and tenants to pay for this ? We need not mind if the developer lands himself with such a problem. But we all must wonder at any commentator so enthusiastic for more tax, especially the extortionate Business Rate.
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This has been an outstandingly successful hit-and-run scalp-hunt by the media, led by Cavenagh of the Sun and by the Daily Telegraph. There is a long running constitutional tussle between the media and the politicians of which this is another win for the media. The political leadership has no stomach for the fight, so it is understandable that most of the commentators here cheerfully support the winning side. There are three questions still to settle: (1) What personal benefit if any did Fox or Werrity gain from this affair ? (2) What if anything did the public, parliament or the mysterious sponsors (unless they thought they were actually buying something) lose from the affair ? (3) How long will Fox's fellow parliamentarians continue to accept the media's vicious undermining of their prime role in the nation's democracy ?
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Malcolm Dunn Fox's position untenable ? Phooey ! Tenable means capable of being held to: just watch Dr Fox hanging on while the row peters out. The first thing to say is that Dr Fox has demonstrated excellent judgement (and energy and guts) in dealing with a big part of the monstrous legacy of the last government. I would expect every politician with ambition to develop a private empire of some sort. Dr Fox has the judgement to take-or-leave the contribution of Mt Werrity. Secondly, if Werrity once passed the doorman of the MOD main building, it was because MOD security had his number and approved of his movements. If Werrity was ever a threat to the business of the MOD or to its political master, its substantial security apparatus had the job of controlling him and taking him from the scene. He was not and they did not. The senior bureaucrats of the MOD are playing a nasty double game. Thirdly, this is not about right and wrong. The innuendos are just the weapons of adversarial politics. We, his adversaries, collected Stephen Byers' scalp and I cannot for the life of me remember how. Now I am with Dr Fox in the circle of wagons, while you Injuns are whooping around it. The Labour Party are his natural adversaries. The civil service of the MOD have a guilty reason to fear him. Where do you fit into this ?
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Anyone who gets anywhere near politics understands the nature and importance of crowd behaviour. By presenting it as an objective factor in neuroscience is to risk persuading the political world that the crowd is always right. Mr Shakespeare is right to dwell on the fact that modern technology has brought the crowd nearer than before to the political leadership. He missed a chance to mention the greater importance (already great since the introduction of national newspapers) of the public media. News editors and pundits in papers and on television have the advantage of the government operatives in being able to seed the crowd with an unworthy group opinion before the politicals get a word in. He might also have mentioned the Lumpen Proletariat, not normally possessed of Mr Shakespeare’s dopamine but none the less capable of making a sociable crowd ugly . As previous commentators have indicated, Mr Shakespeare has more or less given up on the real meaning and importance of leadership. He has got used to the way modern “party leaders” use the instruments of office to defeat the crowd. Real leaders are the personalities who know better than the crowd and who, with art and conviction, get that crowd to change its mind. It was easier to be a political leader in the past, when cabals were the order of the day and further elements of leadership were essential (at successive levels below the top - instead of modern communications) to give effect to the prime minister’s wishes. A real leader makes up for the fact that the crowd is either defensive or destructive (as is well understood by the trade union leaders we are seeing on the box at present). The crowd has no use for insight, initiative, diplomacy or adaptability. Those qualities are what a leader brings to the mix - and neuroscience has no way of dealing with that part of the equation. The real leader for our times has to get ahead of the media rather than surrender to them. When prime ministers deal with large news conglomerates, it must be to outflank and dominate them not to be instructed by them. There are personalities at the top of British politics who have shown they can do this. So we wait for the real leader to govern us rather than the placeholder, while we secure those institutional checks-and-balances that even the placeholder has been tempted to neutralise.
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"The objective ... is to strengthen the power of the government relative to the backbenchers. A cynical, and undemocratic move." Dead right. The first motive might have been to show that MPs would share the pain of the expected budget cuts. However as the leader saw power coming within his grasp, all the incidental benefits for him quite outweighed any budgetary savings. Actually the savings are MPs' salaries and allowances only - perhaps a total of £3-5m. All the constituency work load remains (except that more constituents may now be neglected), all parliamentary costs will remain and of course, when parliament meets again after May 2015, the fewer MPs will agree they each deserve a bigger salary. Herbie (at 11:26), whatever party he belongs to, argues simply for a quickening march to parliamentary (or European) dictatorship. None of his arguments are relevant - the problems he highlights would be corrected by MPs doing their job properly. By cutting MPs from 650 to 600 to 400 to wherever his logic leads, he would cut the already uncertain links we have with overweening government.
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Kettle's problem is not that he finds Hislop the most effective commentator on the folly and vacuity of our politicians. It is that effective left-wing political commentary has completely dried up, with the failure of socialist government - and quite right too. Kettle finds relief and comfort in Hislop's approach, but he knows (and we know) that it has no effect on serious politicians. Of those politicians some, like Boris, can counter Hislop's barbs with matching intelligence and humour. Some lacking humour, like David Davis or John Redwood, are actually not guilty as charged. Almost all have such an over-supply of ego that only cruel satire makes it possible for us to sympathise with them.
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But what is being done about the unrealistically small proportion of teachers that is actually forced or persuaded to leave the profession on the basis of incompetence ? In almost every school there will be a teacher now known, by the other teachers, to be not up to the job. Presumably that teacher will be more clearly identified by this new standard. So what happens next ? Will the staff now agree that this teacher should leave ? Will the NUT be less determined to keep the teacher in post ? Will there be remedial training, when the teacher has some hope of getting on top of the job ? Will the head be braver at lancing the boil ? Will the employment regime operate more swiftly to deny the teacher's claim of unfair dismissal ? For the forseeable future, the answer to all these questions is No.
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Patrick Nicholls 2001 lost to the Daily Mirror? I do not see it in the numbers. The Daily Mirror is exclusively for Labour supporters - agreed ? Nicholls lost 6600 Conservative votes between 1992 and 1997, 3200 of those to Labour. In 2001 Labour lost all that gain and another 800 votes besides. Meanwhile Nicholls lost a further 1300 of his own vote, while (in a lower turnout) the LibDem gained 2000 and beat him handsomely. The figures suggest that the LibDem Richard Younger-Ross, who increased his vote in each of the elections 1992, 1997, 2001 and 2005, was simply the better man for the job than Patrick Nicholls. I just cannot believe that the Daily Mirror would ever affect the voting intentions of Devon Conservatives and I do not think it did so in 2001.
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There is much more to the argument against the HST than nimbyism. But you have to be told that the very long standing problem with the efficient use of Northolt is plain nimbyism, formally agreed between local and national governments. There is a fixed, very light, level of traffic designed to save nearby residents from undue nuisance. I suspect – you might care to check – that the agreement is for the airfield to close if the official users ever vacate it. You are right to suggest that official users reserve the permitted numbers of aircraft movements to themselves. You might even mention that the former Queen’s Flight now carries an interdepartmental price tag which makes it, to a large extent, too expensive for the royal household to use – for which, as a former RAF officer, I am personally ashamed. Northolt has a runway possibly even too close to Heathrow for safe intensive operations. However that runway is not long enough for President Obama’s winged West Wing. There is much more to the argument against the HST than nimbyism, but it is a force to be reckoned with !
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"Turkeys do not vote for Xmas". Xmas is the full term of this parliament, when Mr Cameron's back-benchers lose their seats and have to ask him very nicely to be given one quite like it. The Class of 2010 has been observed to be surprisingly Thatcherite by nature and, where its members have failed to make their mark with the leadership, is most vulnerable to a CCHQ cull for the benefit of a new A-list. There are very many old-stagers who would have had government jobs in a fully Conservative government. Many of these are certain that the existing leadership is wasting time when it should be more seriously correcting the mistakes of the Blair/Brown years. It is very important that Boris, being outside parliament, cannot expect to be the leader to replace Mr Cameron. The new boundary arrangements, with a 10% cut in MPs, only take effect if parliament runs its course. You think a parliamentary rebellion is unlikely. On the contrary: do not be surprised if the 1922 committee puts into effect a well considered plan to terminate this parliament before May 2015 and to replace the leader in the process.
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We might note how virtually all of the names mentioned are ex-parliamentarians doing what they would naturally have done on "another place". No sign of the wisdom and outside experience that should put perspective on the legislation. Perhaps some of us caught Lord Jim Knight on channel 81 last night, in the Education second reading. Snide, adversarial, smug, unconstructive - he might as well have been on the green benches. This is a warning of what we can be sure of when the party machines get their hands on a Lords electoral process. As Tim suggests, the Lords are forgetting the Revising role and starting to challenge the Commons on their own ground.
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... or, as we used to say, vouchers. If Big Society had logic, that is where school funding would be managed - in the hands of the parents. Today's topic is about free schools. All free schools require a winning hand of determined parents, extraordinary professionals and enlightened sponsors. Dr Pitfield's free school would be special enough even if it were not a Special School. For the mainstream, the Big Society has gone for Academies. The programme has already lost momentum because it depends on school governors taking extra responsibility. The ordinary school governor lacks the drive of Dr Pitfield’s determined parents. There are three possible drivers, any one of which could energise the thinking of a sluggish governing body: an ambitious head teacher, a local authority like Richmond that gives them a push and the market power of parents. The greatest of these three would be parent power – if the parent should ever get control of the resources allocated to his or her child’s education.
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I will explain if the moderator can put us in touch off line R
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The problem for serious Conservatives, especially for the hardened veterans of the parliamentary back benches, is one of strength and integrity. To be liked would be nice – and that is what kept John Major in power past 1995, even though he did not deserve it. It is astute of Paul to match Cameron with Macmillan. Like Cameron, Macmillan was not a toff, except by education and marriage, and he entered the politics of his day from the outside as a career move. He was the ultimate careerist – I question Paul’s suggestion that his climb to the top was “rescued by the war”; he would have found another way in other circumstances. In the role of prime minister his essential weakness was symbolised for everyone around him by the ever-present Bob Boothby, while his selfishness was finally demonstrated by the Night of the Long Knives. The parliamentary party bore with him as prime minister, knowing that it would have to wait ages for a proper successor to Churchill. In a search for signs of real strength in Cameron, one naturally picks up Paul’s reference to his ruthlessness. I have always suspected that it was on his advice that Howard Flight MP was defenestrated by Michael Howard, whose treatment was similar to that of Patrick Mercer. Yet the kitchen cabinet is preserved from this ruthlessness, however dodgy their parliamentary allowances claims for instance. People like Liam Fox can also be too strong to get the treatment unless, like David Davis, someone instigates their own treatment before it can be prescribed. In this way the so-called ruthlessness turns out to be just another bit of tradecraft, not an essential sign of strength. Am I the only one to regard even “his nerveless conference speech without notes” as another, successful, piece of trickery ? He does not do it for us now – his normal dependence on his speech notes makes his oratory consistently a little lame. He cannot have been unaware of the ever, ever, so much better tour-de-force by Anne Widdecombe at an earlier conference (Bournemouth ?) (1998 ?). Electrifying – but it got her nowhere. The effect of Cameron’s speech was hugely increased (certainly for viewers who never heard a lot of it) by the TV images of Alan Duncan wetting himself with glee in the back of the hall. As an ex-marketeer, Cameron does so much performance that it is hard to believe what is real. When he surrenders his kitchen, his drawing room, his children, his holidays and his decision about the tailcoat to the public gaze, we wonder what there is of a private person behind the image – and what price he will not pay to keep his job. It is when he doubts, if only for a public moment, whether to wear at a great national occasion the uniform that his school has is taught him to wear – and that only Brown and Blair might have chosen not to wear – that one starts to suspect that Cameron has actually lost his integrity. Paul tried to avoid, but one cannot fail to see, the greater similarities between Cameron and Blair than between him and Macmillan. Like Blair, Cameron will no doubt grow in office. I fear Cameron will, like Blair, leave the office having taken from it more than he put in.
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Having watched a couple of parliamentary committee meetings on TV on this subject, I was left with the impression that the review would be constrained by regional boundaries for its own convenience and that the commission would above all strive to equalise the constituency voters’ numbers. It is good news if local authority districts should be treated as building blocks, but I do not remember seeing this discussed in committee. I am sure there will be universal dismay at the changes whatever they may be. My impression is that there is no provision for meaningful appeals against the boundary decisions and indeed there is too little time before the following election for any sort of internal review. Mr Knight’s Lincolnshire exercise is interesting, but I think he should be ready for the Commission (a) to determine the number of constituencies that will be appropriate for his East Midlands region (b) to ignore his wish to reunite his ceremonial county across the regional boundary (c) to pick an arbitrary starting point – as likely to be Glossop, Brackley or Stamford as any of the other towns he has mentioned – (d) to march across the map to the other side of his region, defining constituencies as they go, and (e) to publish and go home. Every sitting Conservative MP will be at risk from this exercise – not just from new electorates but also, before that, from the whim and malice by which their leaders decide if they are even selected for the new constituencies. There is only one way for any of them to hope to keep their current seats. That would be by causing the putative 5-year term of parliament to finish before the boundary review takes effect.
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With so many lawyers in the government benches, Mr Blaney's argument should take fire in parliament at once. And yet ... they are mostly ex-lawyers and happily sheltered from the real world for a year or three. Mr Blaney might have to wait for a Conservative leadership more attuned to civil liberties than that we have now.
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There is no question that 2.45 million repeats of the thoughts of Stephen Fry have the weight of 2.45 million daily newspapers, nor that the public would pay for them at newsprint prices. On the other hand (for all I know) he might make the AV topic simple for his readers, while the newspapers combine to patronise and baffle in equal measure.
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If the voters can see past all the fundamentally dishonest No2AV propaganda, they will realise that AV gives them a better vote. Quite simply, AV is FPTP with added value. Bringing Little England into the argument is slightly desperate. If AV wins, many Conservative MPs will regret the PM's wasting time and effort that would have been better used to repair the damage done by the last government.
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At the time of writing, I consider your contribution to be the best on this thread. Mr Cakebread is well out if his depth here. I still suggest that your view can be broadened. Existing single service rivalries stifle development. Land, sea and air are not the only mediums (media); decision making should operate in a subtler context, the result both of past investments and of the technology developing at any one time. I suggest you think of downgrading the single service leadership nearer to the brigade level, beneath which regimental colonels (for instance, in the same mode) operate. Note that, as with regimental colonels, the officers concerned may carry a higher personal rank than the role requires. Rather than argue the circumstances here, I just suggest that at your 3* level, reporting to 4* Policy, should be directors of each major component of the fighting machine. So: there would be policy offices for infantry and cavalry together (including RM and RAF Regiment), for artillery, for submarines, for nuclear, for offensive air, for single service logistics, for cross service comms, for cross service intelligence, for air transport, for sea transport etc. All this might be similar to now. The difference would be that the directors would be directly selected through a recast RCDS on the basis of a winning thesis and that they would have only acting rank. They would not be the heads of their profession – they would be its most wide-awake experienced activists and they would make their contributions to an entirely joint-service discussion. I suggest that 4* Ops should be served in Northwood by as many as possible of all 1* and OF-5 commanders in post, of all three services, detached for 1-month tours to get acquainted with the set-up. From this pool and from the policy staffs, when a blow-up occurs, the brightest are drafted in with 2* acting rank (3* if Policy wing proves tiresome) for the duration. They would fill not all the desks equivalent to the policy posts, but those appropriate to the operations in train. If I were in charge, I would insist on a radically new uniform for the entire body of general-rank officers. During the resulting row, I would be able to implement my actual staff reforms unnoticed.
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