By Paul Goodman
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Not so long ago, people were both more free and more orderly. For example, there were no race relations laws: you could say what you liked about ethnic minorities (as they usually weren't called then). The English always drank: "He gives your Hollander a vomit ere the next pottle can be filled". But - again by way of example - fewer illegal drugs were available, so the policing and health and social costs of substance abuse were far lower. And since there was no internet, it followed that there was no online porn. Although the churches were emptying, Christianity was woven deep into the nation's culture, like the threads on the Bayeaux Tapestry.
Today, people are less free but more disorderly, or at least more diverse. You must watch what you say about ethnic minorities or gay people. But illegal drugs, once consumed only by the elites, are available to the masses. And you can say pretty much what you like about Christians, or at least people with socially conservative views. (Though Nick Clegg thought it prudent to claim that he doesn't believe that those who oppose same-sex marriage are "bigots). Where once the presence of the Church of England floated like some universal fog, today there lumbers health and safety...or the European Union.
By Paul Goodman
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Policy Exchange's housing plan might have been written to offend vested interests...
In our Comment Section today, Alex Morton of Policy Exchange urges the creation of a Secretary of State of Housing in the coming reshuffle, so that this new Cabinet appointment can drive through radical planning reform. He also argues that the current centralised system has failed and that localism will succeed: under his scheme, set out in the think-tank's paper Cities for Growth and in previous Policy Exchange papers, planning would be taken away from local councils and given to local communities.
In short, these would vote on development proposals for their own backyards, and yes votes would bring compensation for those affected. NIMBYs would thus have an incentive to become YIMBYs - Yes-In-My-Back-Yardies. Local plans would be stripped down. Section 106 agreements would go. Quality control would be more about local material, less about high density and zero car spaces. When supported locally, building would be easier on brown field and green field sites - but there would be a green belt improvement levy to improve the parts of it that aren't built on.
There was more in ConservativeHome's newslinks this morning about Ministerial disagreements over Heathrow, which are being projected by suggestions that Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, may be moved. The report was from the Financial Times (£).
The lobby is writing less about the other big divergence of view over building and growth - namely, over housing and the green belt This is probably because are no suggestions that Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, will be moved in the reshuffle.
By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron's proposed reforms to housing benefit are partly about increasing opportunity and party about saving money.
Oh, and differentiating his party from the Liberal Democrats. Which is a reminder that it's possible that none of his plans may be effected, since we don't know what parts of them Nick Clegg's party would agree to in this Parliament, if any, and there's no guarantee of a Conservative Government in the next one.
On increasing opportunity, I think that the Prime Minister is right. Drawing housing benefit and being workless at 18 isn't a likely route to improvement and prosperity. However, I would like to see the detail (of which there may not much, given Mr Cameron's working timescale). He says that his proposals "would not apply to victims of domestic violence". What about others who can't live with their parents - for example, the 60,000 or so children in care? And if living with one's parents is our working presumption - because renting let alone buying for many younger people is unaffordable - how does this square with labour market mobility?
By Joseph Willits
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In an article for the Daily Telegraph today, Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has written of the need to be "realistic about the challenges" and problems faced by rural communities and businesses. Such challenges, she said "have been exacerbated by over a decade of neglect". She wrote about the Government's pledge to fix both the north-south divide, and equally as important, the imbalance between rural and urban areas. The Government, she said, would "stand up for those communities that have found it difficult to have their voices heard until now".
Spelman attacked Labour's legacy in rural areas, citing the examples of "five rural post offices a week closed under the previous Government" and a 12times hike in fuel duty "hitting rural communities twice as hard as urban ones".
Writing ahead of the second day of the Oxford Farming Conference, Spelman said the Government would announce 14 Rural and Farming Networks each "creating a rural hotline straight to the heart of Government":
"These networks will give rural business and community leaders a direct link to me and my team to tell us their problems so we can find ways to help. This will give rural communities a clear say on how policy is developed so our most remote towns and villages can grow stronger and thrive. Real people, with real, practical, local knowledge, will have direct access to ministers, something sorely lacking over the last decade, and for which communities have suffered as a consequence."
By Matthew Barrett
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The Dilnot Commission - chaired by economist and former IFS Director Andrew Dilnot - which looks at the funding of care for elderly people, is released today. Recommendations include raising the means-testing threshold from £23,500 to £100,000 (in assets), and capping care costs at £35,000. The government's main sentiment seems to be that the cost of the recommendations - £1.7billion a year - is politically troubling, although they think the ideas are good.
The Treasury doesn't like the sound of the cost. Health Secretary Andrew Lansley referred to (£) the Dilnot Commission as merely "the basis for engagement" on elderly care. The Telegraph's Ben Brogan raises three points: the Dilnot report is "dead on arrival", according to one Cabinet member, taxes may have to be raised to pay for the implementation of the report, and:
"the beneficiaries will be people with assets to protect, and the political minds in No10 worry that some will conclude that Dilnot is an expensive way of helping mainly Tory voters. Forget that it also means those with no assets will get their care for free. In an age of austerity, there is great nervousness about lavishing money on those who have it already, as it were. Which is why Team Dave are talking up the need for consensus and want to see what Ed Miliband will say."
So it seems the government is unlikely to proceed with the proposals, as they are, for the moment. The government therefore has two options: delay the plan until (the Treasury hopes) they are in a better position to afford nearly £2billion for elderly care. Luckily for the Dilnot Commission, the recommendations are not due to be implemented before about 2014 or 2015... which the election co-ordinating Chancellor will undoubtedly have noticed coincides with the probable date of the next election.
By Tim Montgomerie
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More than 1,500 Tory members were asked to rate Coalition policies as impressive or disappointing. the numbers below capture the result of those voting impressive minus those voting disappointed:
By Jonathan Isaby
Yesterday's Times (£) carried a powerful report on page three of the paper about a Premier League footballer's affair with a former Big Brother contestant in which the identity and a variety of details about the story had been redacted in line with injunctions granted by the courts.
Judges are basically having to weigh up competing articles of the Human Rights Act on the right to a private life and the right to freedom of expression in issuing their decisions on such matters and whilst on the local election campaign trail in Bedfordshire yesterday, David Cameron expressed his concerns about it:
“I think there is a question here about privacy and the way our system works. Judges are using the European Convention on Human Rights to deliver a sort of privacy law without Parliament saying so. I think that we do need to have a proper sit back and think: is this right, is this the right thing to happen?
“What ought to happen in a parliamentary democracy is that Parliament, which you elect and put there, should decide how much protection we want for individuals and how much freedom of the press and the rest of it. So I am a little uneasy about what is happening.”
By Jonathan Isaby
"I want us to be the first government in modern history to leave office having reduced the overall burden of regulation, rather than increasing it."
This he wrote in a letter to all ministers as he launched the Red Tape Challenge, an initiative in which the public are being invited to make the Government aware of the regulations which burden them and/or their businesses and should be abolished.
A Red Tape Challenge website has been launched, which over the coming months will be publishing all the laws and regulations affecting specific sectors every few weeks to aid readers in identifying those which are unnecessary. The first sector to get the Red Tape Challenge treatment is the Retail Sector.
This is a highly commendable initiative and I sincerely hope that it is a success - although I fear that many of the regulations people would like to dispense with are the result of EU-inspired directives which we are powerless to revoke.
Below is the video of the Prime Minister launching the Red Tape Challenge.
By Paul Goodman
Daniel Finkelstein wrote an arresting post recently in the wake of a public debate with Roger Scruton. According to Finkelstein, Scruton argued that at the heart of conservatism is love. Finkelstein regards this as true, but as an "incomplete explanation", and asks: "what produces love"? One answer - God - "satisfies some, but has been increasingly less convincing as religion has been on the wane". Another - "the ideas of evolutionary psychology" - are a source which "many Tories now seek an explanation". He writes -
"What produces love for others who do not share our genes is reciprocal altruism. We have developed the capacity to co-operate and even love others because reciprocity has proven a good evolutionary strategy."
Finkelstein continues by writing that Scruton "said publicly that he thought much of this nonsense, and to me afterwards merely that he regarded it as overdone." He concludes: "But I think reciprocal altruism an idea of front rank importance. If it is correct it suggests that Tories can develop a distinctive Conservative idea of fairness, an explanation of social cohesion, insights into how to strengthen it and a theory of when to wage and how to avoid war. Love by itself just doesn’t cut it."