Clegg on Brown's mini-manifesto: "a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes"

by Stephen Tall on June 30, 2009

Gordon Brown yesterday set out his policy plans for the next year, with headline proposals including:

  • 110,000 affordable homes by 2011;
  • changes to council house allocation rules which may give more preference to local residents
  • under-25s out of work for a year must accept a job or training or face benefit cuts
  • new guarantees on hospital treatment and school tuition;
  • communities to have say on police priorities and siting of CCTV.
  • Here’s the Hansard transcript of how Nick Clegg responded for the Lib Dems:

    Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives have just perfected their fake debate on public spending, yet both are treating voters as if they are children, too young to know the truth. This morning, the Government have reneged on their promise to hold a comprehensive spending review before the next election, and the Conservatives are not going to decide on their cuts until the day after it. Neither is willing to come clean on the difficult long-term savings we will need to make to balance the nation’s books. It is like a big hoax—they trade insults and numbers, but hide the truth.

    There are some announcements—or, rather, re-announcements—that I welcome, not least the ongoing consultation to give local authorities control over housing rents and revenues, the proposals for an elected House of Lords and the commitment to give all young people under 25 a guaranteed job or training place. As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail. This is the 11th announcement on housing since September. The Government’s consultation on housing revenue has been grinding on since January, yet 1.8 million people are still waiting for a decent home.

    We have been debating reform of the House of Lords—the other place—for more than a century, so now is the time for action, not simply more proposals. The Prime Minister is still silent on some of the wider more radical political reforms we need to clean up British politics once and for all. The hopes of young people to avoid the scrapheap of long-term unemployment must not be dashed in practice once again.

    In the drum roll of advance media leaks, we were promised a vision of the future from the Government based on decentralisation and personal entitlements. I welcome any recognition from a party and a Government of arch centralisers that they have got it wrong and that the levers of Whitehall do not provide all the answers. Yet many of the so-called personal entitlements are, on closer inspection, just the recycled versions of the old targets. Suddenly, the target to receive an operation within 18 weeks of seeing a GP is called an entitlement. Last week, the Prime Minister called the cuts an investment; this week, he is calling a target an entitlement, so can he tell us exactly what is the difference?

    When one scratches beneath the rhetoric, the long screwdriver of Whitehall is still in place, because the Prime Minister, the great godfather of big government still cannot really let go. Even as we speak, his Government are giving his Education Secretary—where is he? He is not here—153 new powers in the Apprenticeship, Skills and Learning Bill, including the power to hand-pick children’s school books. Is that what he calls “giving power away”? If the Prime Minister really wanted to make sure investment followed individuals, he would have announced a school funding premium tied directly to the most disadvantaged pupils so that they can get the personalised support and tuition that they need on their terms.

    Given the likelihood that many of the Prime Minister’s proposals will not make it off the pages of the Government’s press release and are unlikely to work in practice, does he agree with a senior Government official quoted in today’s Financial Times who admitted that this Government have

    “a fixation on producing endless policy documents—a total lack of interest in delivery”?

    All in all, the Prime Minister’s statement was a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes—a ministerial cut-and-paste job scraped together by a Government without a unifying vision and a Prime Minister running out of steam.

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    One of the ironies of yesterday’s housing proposals is that a few decades ago the Lib Dems controlled Tower Hamlets Council. By and large they were elected by the white working classes and developed a housing policy that put residents first. In the run upto a by-election on the Isle of Dogs (which the BNP won) Labour went flat out to paint the Lib Dems as racist.Led by Jack Straw they made the housing policy into a major issue and some Lib Dems ended up being expelled from the party. Memory may play tricks but I seem to think that very same housing policy was pretty much the same as that proposed yesterday. Brian Wright

    by Brian Wright on June 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm. Reply #

    Clegg on resonable form yesterday but why is he allowing Lord Rennard to run the Norwich by – election campaign. A key issue in the campaign is Ian Gibson’s overclaiming of expenses and given Rennard’s own expense abuse this could badly damage the party. Rennard has now been reported to the House of Lords Privileges committee and asked to explain how and why he has claimed over £40,000 in expenses for what is in reality his main residence which he owned before even becoming peer.

    by Mike on June 30, 2009 at 4:23 pm. Reply #

    The Liberal and then LibDem control of LB Tower Hamlets was from 1986 to 1994.

    It was not just in the run-up to the Millwall by-election that Labour made accusations of racism at Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats. Throughout the 8 years when they were the opposition, Labour’s tactic in Tower Hamlets was to find any way in which anything the authority did could be portrayed as “racist”.

    The housing policy did not go as far as the one now proposed by Gordon Brown. All it did was include being the son or daughter of an existing resident as one of the many factors used in council house allocation. It was not a necessary factor to receive an allocation nor the major one. There are clear social benefits in this, since it makes it easier for adult children to care for elderly parents and fit grandparents to care for grandchildren, thus reducing much expensive state intervention to do these things when generations are split apart. Yet simply including it as one need factor amongst many was portrayed by Labour consistently and again and again as “racist”. When it was attacked in this way, it was generally done so in a manner which falsely suggested it meant only sons and daughters of local residents would receive council housing allocations.

    In fact during this time there was very large scale immigration from Bangladesh centred very closely on this one small borough. This was due to changes in immigration law and other social factors which encouraged Bangladeshis living in Britain but with families back in Bangladesh to bring them here. This placed enormous stress on the social housing situation in Tower Hamlets, which up till then had remained more white than other inner London boroughs. Much of it was dealt with by letting under the Homeless Persons Act, turning what was meant to be a safety net to catch those ineligible through other reasons into the main factor for allocations, and thus meaning those who weren’t able to claim an allocation under that Act – principally adults living in cramped accommodation with their parents – were just never going to get an allocation. Other boroughs experienced this later as the right-to-buy shrunk the supply of council housing, but Tower Hamlets was one of the first where the expectation that when one came of age there would be a council flat allocated for you was taken away in this manner.

    It was hard for middle class people from outside the area to understand how devastating this was to existing council tenants in Tower Hamlets – despite Michael Young’s “Family and Kinship in East London” which detailed the close nature and importance of extended families amongst the white working class in Tower Hamlets being a classic work in the field of sociology.

    The “sons and daughters” allocation policy of the Liberal Democrat administration was an attempt to balance factors, but really quite small, almost tokenistic. But the emphasis on this tokenistic action in Liberal campaigning was seen by Labour as a token of more general racist motivations.

    Tower Hamlets Liberals did not help themselves by a somewhat arrogant attitude towards their critics. They had a tendency to take pride in being misunderstood by middle class lefties from elsewhere and made little attempt to defend themselves against the accusation. “Who in Tower Hamlets reads the Guardian?” was a line they might take when it was suggested that perhaps they ought to reply to some of the biased criticism that was appearing in places like that, prompted by a concerted Labour Party campaign to throw mud. They were also hit by being something of an embarrassment to the national party leadership during the Liberal/SDP alliance days – I have written “Liberal” deliberately as that is what they were, and here we were in the borough where the founding document of the SDP was signed with the SDP claiming it could get Labour voters which the “sleepy” “Celtic fringe” Liberal Party never could, and there was an enthusiastic Liberal Party branch showing just how wrong the SDP leaders were, working away right under their feet.

    Some of the campaign material put out by Tower Hamlets Liberals went a bit further than I would have been comfortable with when I worked in a white working class council estate. Mind you, I walked out of participating in our Bromley and Chislehurst Parliamentary by-election because I felt similar about the stuff we were putting out there, so I’m sensitive to these things. This material was what got people in the Tower Hamlets branch accused of “pandering to racism”. I think they were badly treated, the national party’s desire seemed to be more to make a show of “see – we’re dealing with these racists” rather than really looking at the pressures they were under, and I think the wrong people were hit. My recollection is that they weren’t expelled from the party, however, they were cautioned and resigned in disgust after that.

    by Matthew Huntbach on June 30, 2009 at 4:37 pm. Reply #

    “under-25s out of work for a year must accept a job or training or face benefit cuts”

    This is the kind of absolute rubbish that should be opposed.

    The evidence piles up as to how worthless so much of this “training” is in terms of getting people into work, providing them with useful skills or doing anything beyond appeasing the Daily Fail.

    Moreover, those who don’t want to be there will by definition be the worst trainees & the worst employees. Why should they waste the time & effort of those poor souls who want to get something worthwhile?

    We must accept that some will not find paid employment for a long time. The solution is to allow & encourage large-scale volunteering along the lines of working at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau or other agencies or working on local conservation projects or some such. It keeps people active & with up to date CVs. Obviously it isn’t as good as having a job, but we are in a recession after all & the jobs aren’t there.

    Coercion & government control are the things which prevent these schemes from working. There are restrictions on benefit claimants doing voluntary work etc. which should be done away with. The rationale is that it gets in the way of the job search.

    But for an unskilled youth on the estate I live on to be thrown in to just be expected to get a job is ludicrous, & those who already train volunteers will do a much better job than the government or the various profiteers the government pays.

    I was at one stage on Jobseeker’s Allowance & volunteered at a CAB. It was quite a formative experience & one I’d recommend to anyone who has time & wants an education & some entry-level position that really develops a person so that the hitherto unqualified can become qualified.

    by asquith on June 30, 2009 at 5:19 pm. Reply #

    I also do a bit of work with the National Trust which I’d recommend to those who are good with their hands & can handle outdoor work.

    by asquith on June 30, 2009 at 5:21 pm. Reply #

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