Monday 23rd September: As Labour gathers for its party Conference in Brighton, its leaders will have two main aims: to woo the voters and show the country that the party is ready for government.
Frank Field MP, Labour’s MP for Birkenhead and a former Minister for Welfare Reform, explains that in future governments will face tougher fiscal constraints with public spending limits of c.40 per cent of GDP. If welfare is to meet people's aspiration for security, a new deal with contributors will be needed.
Mr Field proposes that his party champions a return to contributory national insurance, so contributors own their own benefit and funds are managed by new mutuals under their own elected boards on the model of the John Lewis Partnership. As Mr Field writes:
Welfare as we have known it looks like going down to defeat. Labour must use this week to begin to set out an alternative.
Successive governments have deserted the system based on the duty to contribute before the right to help was conceded. Increasingly benefits are now provided only after a test of income – method abhorred by voters.
Friday 20th September: As the Liberal Democrat conference closes, Politeia's Director, Sheila Lawlor, reflects on its leader's aim:
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, announced to his party’s conference in Glasgow, that to remain in power he is ready to change coalition partners as often as voters change their government. The party, he says, has proved its fitness for continued office by the part played in ‘fixing’ the economy. Besides, being in coalition allows it to temper the policies of the main party of government, whichever that may be. The mission he mapped out was of a future in which his party would be in perpetual coalition in order to prevent the party with the most seats from acting as it promised voters. For Mr Clegg this is the ‘centre ground’ and a truly liberal mission.
While true that no single party won enough seats to form a majority government in 2010, Mr Clegg may be whistling in the dark about coalitions being here to stay. The evidence is that a majority of British voters do not like them, and the recent AV referendum which rejected a system of alternative voting (and the coalitions to which it might lead), suggested the electorate was unlikely to change its mind: voters want to know for whom or for what they are voting - just as they want to put a party out when the time comes.
Friday 13th September: As the child experts and teachers’ unions attack government policy and an early school starting age, ministers insist early schooling helps close the attainment gap between the rich and the poor. But is that the right question? Here, Politeia’s director, Sheila Lawlor, goes behind the headlines.
Dr Lawlor writes: This week's battle is about play versus formal learning, not about where that should takes place. For both experts and government alike, the assumption is that very young children will be put in institutions- nurseries or reception classes. They differ on what the focus should be when there. Should it be on play or formal learning? The experts want more play, which they insist matters to children’s development. Government does not rule out play, but say ministers, children should, when ready, be prepared for school.
Friday 6th September: This week, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, announced changes to his plans for legal aid, following consultation with the profession. The proposals for tendering on the basis of price will be abandoned, as will the plan to cap the number of contracts for duty solicitors. However the level of cuts already announced, at 17.5 percent, will remain. Eligibility for civil legal aid will be limited for those who have not been in the UK for 12 months and legal aid for prisoners will be removed.
Will such changes now mean that the UK’s justice system will preserve the principles of a fair trial and justice for all who come before the courts?
Simon Reevell MP, himself a barrister by profession, considers that the principles behind the changes will preserve the framework of our justice system.
The Justice Secretary intends that the principle of ensuring that in the years to come there will be continued provision of lawyers for those who need them seems perfectly proper. The restructuring of the way the contracts of duty solicitors operate seems a sensible way to ensure such continuity.
It is important for smaller legal firms who operate in this sector to recognise that the organisations being awarded legal aid contracts need not be enormous. The policy is not designed simply to hand the work to the very large organisations, but to provide a guarantee of continuity that such work will continue. Indeed the proposals for a system of price-competitive tendering and for a cap on the number of contracts for duty solicitors have now been withdrawn. It seems sensible that groups of small businesses may therefore bid, provided they demonstrate a certain amount of depth in terms of business plan and available expertise.
When it comes to economic recovery, where do the problems lie– with the Bank of England or the Government?
Friday 2nd August: For Britain's economic recovery, much will depend on banks playing their part in the whole economy, and the Bank of England enabling them to do so. But how far does government policy help or hinder that? Here, David B Smith, whose Financial Regulation and the Wider Economy: Unintended Consequences appears in Politeia's new publication The Financial sector and the UK Economy: The Danger of Over Regulation, warns against 'regulatory overdrive'.
The recent attack by Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who was quoted refering to the Bank of England as the ‘capital Taliban’ in a recent Financial Times article, has attracted attention because of its colourful language. It also appears to represent a widespread sense of frustration being felt by other members of the Cabinet, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Bank of England’s regulators are undermining the wider economic recovery by their control-freak approach. This concern is one of the main themes of Politeia’s new pamphlet The Financial sector and the UK Economy: The Danger of Over Regulation, of which I am a co-author.