Tuesday, February 23, 2010



Crowdsourcing is a distributed problem-solving and production model. Problems are broadcast to an unknown group of solvers in the form of an open call for solutions. Users—also known as the crowd—typically form into online communities, and the crowd submits solutions. The crowd also sorts through the solutions, finding the best ones. These best solutions are then owned by the entity that broadcast the problem in the first place—the crowdsourcer—and the winning individuals in the crowd are sometimes rewarded.


Clownsourcing is a method of processing information in order to promote foolishness and manipulate people into bad choices. Unlike the traditional method, in which propaganda is produced by hacks utilizing a certain measure of cleverness and guile, clownsourced information is fashioned to maximise message efficiency out of the very stupidity it is meant to produce.

In clownsourcing a message, the right’s email briefings and action alerts will geyser out allegations and counter-allegations, as they do, and the blogs will roar and fulminate, and the radio and TV talkers will pick it up, such that a mass of online wingnuts will be attracted by the base flattery offered by the message, as per the right’s spite- and self-pity-based messaging system, and will repeat it back and forth in an ecstasy of self-drama, competing to fill in context and details and to create the most emotionally stimulating presentation.

Other diagnostic signs of clownsourcing are an embedded sense that the right or one of its surrogate identities (‘parents,’ ‘the military,’ ‘Americans,’ etc.) is under some kind of unfair assault, but that a blow for victory has been struck; allegations that someone or something ‘equals bad’ (e.g. that Barack Obama ‘is a communist’) absent any evidence of wrongdoing; and reports of controversies ‘erupting’ that involve any of the right’s usual idées fixes where the conflict is purely symbolic — i.e., where the disputed point ‘makes it seem’ or ’sends a message’ — and the solution is obscure or ever-receding (e.g., ‘making a stand against foreign extremism,’ ‘healing the rifts of the turbulent ’60s’).

See also here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The "profoundly depressing" Times

There was a good example of the open contempt which the media have for ordinary people and for democracy in the Times recently. Mourning the "profoundly depressing", "colossal loss" of James Purnell standing down from Parliament, their leader included a spoof recruitment advert:

"Wanted: a highly intelligent, experienced person to kick his heels for at least five years. Travelling to and fro from some of the most inconvenient places in the country, you will have the opportunity to work seven days a week. On Sundays you will be able to enjoy attending civic events. We promise to select your immediate boss from among your worst enemies. In return we will pay you less than half of what you might earn elsewhere. You will have to shoulder your own expenses. We are seeking a candidate willing to endure repeated insults from customers."

Representing 80,000 people is "kicking your heels", anywhere outside of London is just one of those "inconvenient places", civic events are something to be mocked, earning three times the national average salary is something to complain about, and constituents are "customers". This is a window into the minds of a sneering, out of touch, hard to reach elite.

Thanks to journalists and Tories for the fake concern about what a devastating blow Purnell's departure from parliament is for the centre left, but somehow I think we will cope. What Purnell realised, even though his fans haven't, is that their approach doesn't work.

Labour has tested absolutely to destruction the idea of oligarchic politics, that all that matters is winning over the media and other opinion-formers in London, pandering to what newspaper editors think is the "political centre", and drawing ideas from a few thousand politically engaged people in think tanks, pressure groups and suchlike, all from very similar social backgrounds, while making sure to use marketing techniques to win over more customers than the next leading brand.

Purnell has spent all his working life in or about Westminster and mastered this approach, which was why the media love him. However, his limited life experience helps to explain why he was an extremely ineffective government minister, who came up with ideas such as charging interest of up to 27% on crisis loans for the very poorest people.

This week, he is learning about a whole new approach to doing politics, called broad-based community organising. Rather than trying to win over the approval of a few well-connected insiders, he will learn that social change comes from organising ordinary people, and that the best policies are those that are developed by people meeting together in all those "inconvenient places", and, indeed, at civic events, and talking about what the main problems that they, their friends and their families are facing and what needs to be done.

It's just a shame that Purnell sees this as an alternative to being an MP. I think that the principles behind broad-based community organising are ones which every Labour MP should know about, and building these relationships is the number one task for the centre left over the next few years.

The Times argues that "in politics, individuals matter. Time and again, political parties have been changed for the better by clear-sighted individuals who seize the helm. Mr Purnell represented one of the best hopes that this might happen on the Centre Left."

But the future of centre left politics is not going to come from a "clear-sighted" great leader, anointed by the media, who can lead us to the promised centre ground and market his political brand successfully to the customers. It is going to come from a new generation of leaders, from all those inconvenient parts of the country, whose power comes from the support and active involvement of all those millions of people who our lords and masters sneer at and despise.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Shameless and clueless

The class warriors over at Conservative Home have got a new website called mylabourposter, which has pictures of people such as immigrants, burglars, foreigners, the BBC etc. and the caption 'I've not voted Labour before, but' and then reasons why these people like Labour. One of the posters is Frank Gallagher from Shameless, saying "I've never voted Labour before, but I can see the benefits".

One nice thing about these posters is that some of them have an explanation beneath them to explain the joke to anyone who finds the humour a bit too subtle. For the benefits one, their "fact" is "Labour's over-complex welfare system means there has been more benefit fraud and less incentive to work".


When Labour came to power, £1.7bn/year was lost in benefit fraud. In 2008, less than half that amount was lost in fraud, 0.6% of expenditure.

When Labour came to power, more than 700,000 workers paid 70% or more marginal tax rates, meaning there was little incentive to work. Indeed, some workers actually had marginal tax rates of more than 100%. After the 2008 budget, 200,000 workers pay 70% or more marginal tax rates.

It's bad enough that conservatives think their readers are too dim to get their jokes unless they explain them. It's even worse that their explanation is actually wrong.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How are lone parents being affected by the recession?

Quick quiz time.

In the first half of 2009, the number of working-age people in workless households in April-June 2009 was 4.8 million, up 500,000 on a year earlier, according to figures from the Labour Force Survey, and the number of children in workless households rose by 170,000 to 1.9 million.

How much do you think employment amongst lone parents decreased over this time by?


It's a trick question.

In fact, employment amongst lone parents increased in the first half of 2009. For working-age people, the employment rate for lone parents was 56.7 per cent, up 0.4 percentage points from the previous year. This continues the increasing trend since comparable estimates are available in 1997, when it stood at 44.6 per cent.

So not only have more single mums and single dads been getting jobs in the middle of the worst recession since the Second World War, but employment amongst lone parents has increased by 12.1% since the Tories lost power in 1997. That's more than 700,000 extra lone parents who are working.

There has been an interesting policy experiment over the last thirty years. Under the Tories, lone parents were told that they ought to get married, treated as a problem, had their benefits cut, services which they relied on underfunded, and were even the subject of songs at Tory Party conference about how they were scroungers.

Under Labour, there were special employment programmes to help them get work, higher benefits for all families, regardless of whether or not they were headed by a married couple, an unmarried couple or a lone parent, and the provision of childcare was massively expanded through Sure Start centres and a whole range of other initiatives.

Beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt, even during an economic crisis, the latter approach has proved to be more successful in terms of increasing employment opportunities.

It's worth remembering this when people say there is no difference between Labour and the Tories. What's tragic is that even despite all the evidence, the Tories are still talking about the importance of marriage, about cutting services which lone parent families rely on, and their allies in the press still denounce lone parents as scroungers and agitate for benefits to be cut.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What's the problem with teenage parents?

It is funny that the Tories put out a policy document claiming that the conception rate among under-18 girls in the 10 most disadvantaged areas was 54%, when the real figure was 54 per 1,000.

It is interesting to contrast the ignorance of the Tories with a new book which has just come out about teenage pregnancy, summarising the latest research on the subject. The authors set out the conventional view of teenage parents, that mothers are ignorant and irresponsible, fathers are feckless, that teenage parenthood is a negative experience for the mothers themselves, their children and for society as a whole, and that the whole thing is a moral, social and economic problem. They then go on to say:

"There is a severe problem with this ‘public’, axiomatic, view of teenage parenting, however—the evidence does not support it. As the chapters in this book show, there is little evidence that lack of knowledge ‘causes’ pregnancy, or that increased knowledge prevents it. Teenage birth rates are much lower than in the 1960s and 1970s, and overall are continuing to decline, while few teenage mothers are under sixteen. Age at which pregnancy occurs seems to have little effect on future social outcomes (like employment and income in later life), or on current levels of disadvantage for either parents or their children. Many young mothers and fathers themselves express positive attitudes to parenthood, and mothers usually describe how motherhood makes them feel stronger, more competent, more connected, and more responsible. Many fathers seek to remain connected to their children, and provide for their new family. For many young mothers and fathers parenting seems to provide the impetus to change direction, or build on existing resources, so as to take up education, training and employment. Teenage parenting may be more of an opportunity than a catastrophe."

You can read the introduction here or get the book here I've picked out a few of the research findings which challenge the conventional wisdom:

The birth rate per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in 2007 was lower than that in 1956. It is currently at about half the peak level, which was in 1971.

"There is little support for the assumption that teenage parents are particularly ignorant about sex, contraception and parenting, that low levels of knowledge ‘cause’ teenage pregnancy, or that increased knowledge reduces pregnancy (Arai, 2003a, b, Graham and McDermott 2005)."

"It is hard to find young mothers who become pregnant due to ignorance about sex and contraception (Phoenix, 1991, Wellings and Kane 1999, Churchill et al. 2000). Similarly, a meta-analysis of preventative strategies focusing on sex education, and improved access to advice and contraceptive services, concluded that this did not reduce unintended pregnancies among young women aged between 11-18 (DiCenso et al. 2002)."

"The values and priorities expressed by young mothers do not fit comfortably within the model
presented in the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy (TPS), nor with many of the values assumed in, or explicitly asserted by, the TPS...one study of teenage mothers living in Kent, showed how they made moral and thoughtful decisions about contraception, proceeding with their pregnancy, and engagement with health and welfare services. Rather than suffering ‘broken’ family circumstances, teenage parents were often embedded in networks of support, and were optimistic that parenthood would shift them onto a positive life trajectory."

"Social research which took account of selection effects (rather than just comparing teenage parents to the wider population) began in the USA, and found that the social outcome effects of mother’s age at birth were very small, or as Saul Hoffman (1998, 237) put it in his systematic review of the US research ‘often essentially zero’. Indeed, by their mid/late twenties teenage mothers in the USA did better than miscarrying teenagers with regard to employment
and income and this meant, ironically, that government spending would have increased if they had not become young mothers (Geronimus, 1997)."

"Research using the Milennium Cohort Study found that teenage motherhood is really a symptom of a disadvantaged life course rather than the cause of it. It also found that those children with teenage mothers are indeed born into families experiencing multiple disadvantages. However, it is not the mother’s age at first birth which is the main driver of these disadvantages— rather it is the prior disadvantages experienced by the young mothers during their own childhoods. Again, this finding substantiates earlier research. The final set of statistical analyses takes comparison into a new area, and show that having a teenage mother does not significantly affect the chances of a pre-school child experiencing poor health, and makes little difference to how children score on cognitive tests."

"This statistical research tradition shows that—in these outcome terms—teenage childbearing in itself can be seen as only a minor social problem. It is not the teenage bit which is particularly
important in these terms, but rather it is social and economic disadvantage which produce poor outcomes."

"What these qualitative studies find is that many mothers express positive attitudes to motherhood, and describe how motherhood has made them feel stronger, more competent, more connected to family and society, and more responsible. Resilience in the face of constraints and stigma, based on a belief in the moral worth of being a mother, is one overriding theme. For some, this has given the impetus to change direction, or build on existing resources, so as to take up education, training and employment. There has been less research on young fathers, but what there has been tends to contradict the ‘feckless’ assumption. Like teenage mothers, most of the fathers are already socially disadvantaged, and it does not appear that fathering will in itself make this any worse. But, also like teen mothers, most express positive feelings about the child
and want to be good fathers. Most contributed maintenance in some way, and many were actively involved in childcare (this varies by age, with the youngest least likely to be involved.) And, like teenage mothers, there is some evidence that successful fathering could be a positive turning point in young men’s lives (see Duncan 2007 for review). In fact it was an invisibility to professionals, as well as housing problems, which often excluded them from the parenting they
desired. Again, like teen mothers, young fathers may be less of a social threat, more of a social possibility."

"Teenage parents saw themselves unexceptionally as ‘just a mother or a father’ like any other. They were motivated to achieve well in education and employment so as to provide a stable future for their children, while at the same time they lived in communities where family and parenting was placed centrally as a form of local inclusion and social participation."

They conclude that:

"On the basis of the evidence presented in this book, we suggest there needs to be a refocus on the value of parenthood in itself, both socially and for individuals. For teenage parents, this might focus on the positive experience of becoming a mother and father, and on young parents’ own resilience and strengths. Education and employment for young parents should be recognised as a components of parenting (which would also include ‘full-time’ mothering at home), rather than as a return to individualised rational economic planning where children are seen as an obstacle. Policy may also be better directed at improving employment for young people as a whole in declining labour markets, and regenerating disadvantaged neighbourhoods, rather than targeting teenage parenting in itself. Teenage parenting might then be approached as a way through and out of disadvantage, given its positive potential, rather than a confirmation of it. It could be seen as more opportunity than catastrophe. Certainly stigmatising policies directed at the assumed ignorance and inadequacy of teenagers will be inappropriate."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Tory stories: the tale of Robin Hood

This is the first in an occasional series, in which traditional English tales are retold by Tories. Today, the tale of Robin Hood:

"Back in the Middle Ages, there were a heroic group of sturdy Englishmen called the Barons. The Barons were responsible for making sure that the lazy peasants were kept in order and did their work. This was tremendously hard work as even though there was no welfare state to create a dependency culture amongst the poor, the Barons always needed to make sure that the common folk grew enough crops and produced enough wealth to allow the Royal Family to hold banquets, go on crusades and perform other such duties.

There was no inheritance tax in these golden days, so over time the Barons managed to pass on their hard earned wealth to their children. By the days of Good King John, a successful Baron earned more than one hundred times the average wage of a working man.

But in these days, an evil socialist called Robin Hood and his band of LGBT Diversity Outreach Workers caused no end of strife. For a time, Robin Hood became a hero of the common and sadly deluded people, because he stole from the Barons and gave their money to the poor. Robin Hood said that it was more important that every child be able to go to school, and every family able to eat one meal every day rather than starve, even if it meant the Barons could not hold a feast for their friends every night.

But in fact, Robin Hood was an enemy of the poor. By taking money away from the Barons, he forced them to introduce new charges on the peasantry. So it was not the Barons who paid for Robin Hood's socialist thievery, but the ordinary men and women of England. For it was the duty of the Barons to maximise their profits, and contrary to all natural laws that any man should impede them in this.

Like all socialists, Robin Hood may have had good intentions, but an attack on the richest amongst us is an attack on us all. We should remember this tale now, and resist calls to do unto the bankers what Robin Hood did to the Barons."

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Vote demon sheep for climate change

One criticism sometimes made against lefties is that their ideas are nice in theory, but they just don't understand how the world works. For example, before Christmas, Alex Massie (the Spectator's pet moderate) took George Monbiot to task for not understanding how American politics works and what would be needed to pass a climate change bill:

Massie wrote: "As a smart, centrist Democratic pal put it to me:

If Europeans want climate change passed they should hope for the elections of Carly Fiorna in California and Charlie Crist in Florida.

Electing Fiorina in California would remove the most caustic, politically tone deaf, unpopular, and insane Chairwoman of the Environment committee and replace her with a moderate Republican. You would automatically get a bipartisan bill, and maybe create enough votes to actually ratify an international treaty. Maybe the Guardian should have its readers send letters to Californians. It might not have worked in Ohio for 2004, but... Get rid of Barbara Boxer (and elect Crist in Florida) there is a clear path to 60 votes."

Massie is a journalist who has covered American politics for several years, and has contacts amongst political insiders in the Democratic Party. So much more realistic and knowledgable than the likes of George Monbiot. So let's find out more about this Carly Fiorina, who would be the key to the US Senate taking action on climate change:

She is the former CEO of Hewlett Packard, who was sacked in 2005 after shares declined by 60% while she was in charge.

She is the "pro-business" candidate whose former employer has donated the maximum amount possible to her opponent.

Before she decided that she wanted to become a Senator, she didn't usually vote in elections.

And her latest move in her stuttering election campaign was to release an attack ad on her opponent for the Republican nomination to appeal to right-wingers by branding him as a 'FCINO' (Fiscal Conservative in Name Only). It was described by one newspaper as "the most bizarre and counter-productive such missive ever produced". It depicts her opponent as a glowing-eyed, demonic wolf in sheep’s clothing. Words like “purity” and “piety” flash scarily on screen, while a demon sheep falls from a Greek pedestal. Representative Campbell’s tax record is mentioned, and then the demon sheep reappears. You can watch the whole thing here


Just to recap, this is the woman who Alex Massie's "smart, centrist" Democrat friend thinks that Europeans ought to pin their hopes on for action on climate change. Someone who is, by the standards of the Republican Party, unusually incompetent, uninterested in democracy and lacking in political judgement. This is much more wrong as a piece of political analysis than anything that George Monbiot has ever come up with.

The problem that these centrist Democrats have is that they would much rather work with reasonable, moderate Republicans than with the leftie activists in their own party who they despise, and then their moderate Republican friends go and release adverts about demon sheep taxing people.

Welcome to Libertopia

Wondering what "savage cuts" in public spending would actually mean in practice? Ask the residents of Colorado Springs:

"More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops — dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter.

Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that.

Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need."

"A budget crisis caused by the recession left Colorado's second-largest city with a $28-million shortfall in its $212-million general budget. Residents -- largely conservative, anti-tax and suspicious of their elected leaders -- resoundingly voted against a proposal to triple property taxes and keep the city humming. Mayor Lionel Rivera said the city has no choice but to cut fundamental services.

Monday, February 08, 2010

The myth of the carpetbagger

Recently, Labour Party members in Liverpool Wavertree chose Luciana Berger, a 28 year old Londoner who works as Director of Labour Friends of Israel, as their candidate for the next general election. This has led to criticisms that the Labour Party "parachutes" loyalists from London into safe seats.

Or as Neil put it, "the selection will only increase the sense that Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office...Perhaps the defeat of Ms Berger would send a symbolic – but important – message from Liverpool to London that the days of carpetbagging must end if Labour is to re-establish itself with what was once its heartlands."

Now the specific example is poorly chosen - Liverpool Wavertree is a marginal constituency, the number one target of the Lib Dems in the area. But the wider point deserves a fact check - is it actually true that Labour's traditional heartlands are suffering from the "rise of the carpetbaggers"?

To find out, I looked at the excellent UK Polling Report website of all the Labour seats where the current MP is standing down, they've selected a candidate, and the majority is more than 20% (i.e. which Labour are still very likely to win even if the Tories win the election overall). Guess how many were London-based New Labour loyalists with no connection to the area?

Of these twenty four seats, ten picked someone who was a current or former local councillor in the area, i.e. not a carpetbagger by definition.

Of the other thirteen, six grew up and went to school in the constituency where they are standing (not carpetbaggers); one was born in Hexham and is standing in Newcastle (not a carpetbagger); one works as a trade union official in Sunderland (not a carpetbagger). And one is a councillor in Warrington whose husband works for the outgoing MP (not a carpetbagger).

So that leaves five people who did not have local connections to their seat before they were selected. Stephen Twigg has revitalised the Liverpool West Derby Labour Party since the local party deselected Bob Wareing; Rachel Reeves is always mentioned as one of Labour's rising stars; Lisa Nandy is an expert in issues which affect refugee and migrant children; Yasmin Qureshi is an anti-war leftie who will be the UK's first female Muslim MP. None of them got selected as a result of a stitch-up by the party centrally.

And possibly the star of an extremely talented group is Kate Green, the former Director of the Child Poverty Action Group and now parliamentary candidate for Stretford and Urmston. Kate has spent her life campaigning for social justice, and Britain would be a better place if the government had listened more to her over the past few years and less to businessmen like Lord Freud, who is now the Tory "expert" on welfare.

When you actually look at who is getting selected in Labour's safe seats, it becomes clear that it is just silly to argue that "Labour regards the role of MP as some glorified graduate trainee programme, and sees constituencies as regional call centres, expected to dilligently enact the faxed dictats from central office".

I'm sure that the evidence won't kill off this myth, just as people go on about "sheep-like" MPs when in fact they are the most rebellious ever. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who the Labour Party selects in its safe seats were either born and grew up there, and/or had already served in the area as local councillors. Those that weren't are as likely to be leftie critics of key government policies as loyalists, and all achieved success on their own merits, rather than as a result of London stitch-ups.

Do as I say, not as I do

August 2009: Tory Leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield, calls for the government to give his council the power to set rates and eligbility criteria for benefits for unemployed people, because "the benefits system provides a viable alternative lifestyle for too many of our residents".

January 2010: Tory shadow minister Philip Hammond confirms that his party are in discussions with local councils about experimenting with Hanningfield's proposal.

February 2010: Hanningfield resigns as leader of Essex County Council after being charged with "dishonestly" submitting claims "for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled".

Between 2001 and 2009, Hanningfield claimed £99,970 in 'overnight subsistence' and £49,955 for meals and 'incidental' travel from the House of Lords, as well as £59,110 in just one year from Essex County Council, and £62,000 on a 'fact-finding' business-class trip to the US.


I fully concede that Hanningfield is an expert in how state handouts can end up funding a viable, indeed lavish, alternative lifestyle. I can't help but wonder, though, whether the Tories might want to reconsider whether they do actually want to experiment with ideas on reforming the benefits system which came from someone who has been charged under the Theft Act.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Satire would be superfluous

"Steve Hilton, though, remains the third most important man in the party behind Cameron and Osborne...Those who are close to him are phenomenally loyal, praising him as invigorating and inspirational. But his ideas are often so concentrated that they need to be diluted. For a while, Hilton argued that Cameron’s first Queen’s Speech should contain no bills, to show that the Tories did not think legislation was the answer to the country’s problems."

I'm not making this up.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Tories and Lib Dems: if parents get jobs, schools lose money

I've just noticed that both the Tories and the Lib Dems plan that if a parent of a school age child gets a job, their child's school will lose thousands of pounds in funding.

It's the consequence of the so-called "pupil premium", which allocates extra funding to schools for each disadvantaged child which attends the school. The Tories are vague about how much the premium will be, whereas the Lib Dems have put a figure of £3,000 per pupil. Unless they are planning to set up another multi billion pound IT database to track the incomes of every parent (and what could possibly go wrong with that?), qualification for the premium will presumably be based on eligibility for free school meals.

Hence under the Lib Dem plans, if seven parents get jobs, their children's school loses the equivalent of an entire salary for a newly qualified teacher. I am sure this isn't what they intended, but I am struggling to see how this is going to help tackle educational inequality or improve schools.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Social Democracy for beginners

For months, the right wing newspapers have been inventing horror stories about what the consequences of what they call 'Harriet Harman's equalities bill' will be. None, however, have managed to come up with as ludicrous a suggestion as that of Polly Toynbee.

She wrote today in the Guardian that she thinks that providing free personal care for elderly people might contravene the government's Equalities bill, which expects public bodies to consider the effect of their policies on inequality.

Presumably, by the same logic, the NHS, schools, child benefit, free bus passes and every other popular and effective public service which reduces inequality should be changed so they are free only for the poorest, with everyone else having to pay.

With friends like this...

This kind of imbecility is merely an extreme example of a set of beliefs which are widely held amongst the political elite, which can be summarised thus:

Providing high quality public services to everyone is "unaffordable", particularly at the present time. The only way to get middle income people to pay more taxes is through stealth, such as local councils massively increasing charges on everything from meals on wheels to parking permits, tuition fees, social care insurance and so on. And the way to help the poorest is through targeted services which they have to show that they are eligible for, and introducing markets into public services.

There are endless examples of how this system offends against most people's sense of fairness, often delivers poor quality services and misses out people who need help. We spend billions on helping people to understand the vastly complex systems that we've put in place, and still people die because they can't get the help they are entitled to. Public money which is meant to help unemployed people get jobs instead helps a small number of people live in mansions.

At the moment, the middle class gets taxed once to pay for a whole range of services and payments which they don't benefit from, and then has to pay astronomical costs for care for their loved ones. Meanwhile, up to a third of people on lower incomes can't or won't jump through the hoops to get the help they need, and often end up with lower quality services provided by poorly trained workers who themselves don't earn a decent wage. It is this which is "unaffordable" and unfair.

But we've already got an alternative which we know works much better. Seventy years ago, the problems with healthcare were similar to those which we have today in terms of social care and childcare. Back in 1948 when the NHS was set up, very few elderly people needed years of care after they retired, just as most women stayed at home to look after their children. But times change, and we need to modernise the welfare state to meet people's needs.

Just as the NHS makes sure that everyone contributes through the tax system and gets free healthcare when they need it, so elderly people should receive high quality social care provided by well trained care workers earning a decent wage, and parents should be able to get the childcare they need to be able to go and work.

Means testing essential services in order to keep taxes down just means that public money gets wasted on everything from processing complex eligibility forms to "take up" campaigns, while civil servants think up new ways to introduce stealth charges which hit the middle classes harder than the rich, instead of raising progressive taxes. The idea that means tested services for the poor plus high care costs for everyone else is the more affordable option is as ludicrous as the idea that new equalities legislation would make high quality universal public services illegal.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Why women don't vote Tory

Speak Your BranesConservative Home reports on the latest opinion poll, which shows Conservatives leading amongst men, but Labour ahead with women voters.

Some grassroots Conservatives responded to make the excellent point that these results demonstrate that the Tories need to spend more time talking about how much they hate foreigners, e.g. the EU and immigrants.

Others urged that the Conservatives hold their nerve in these difficult times:

"well thank goodness I had a port before I read those numbers.

But I think the Conservative vote will be out there on election day and Labours will be collecting benefit or in some pub. I am not worrying, But Cameron has to seal the deal and talk about other policy areas, I think that will be a vote winner, giving power to people and being more pro-small business."

Best of all were those who chose to speculate about why it was that women were more likely to support Labour:

"It's hard not to be sexist when trying to explain that result, but whilst not saying all who belong to a specified gender act in a certain way, you can generalise from observations.

I guess it may be that women are more likely to see the best in people and so not think of the reasoning behind the labour lies and corruption (which they don't see as that either) but also are less interested in the details so don't see the smart plans from the tory benches (look what happens when too much policy detail enters a womans brain: http://ua.am/8nKM)
not that they are given much airtime as it's all cameron-centric.

I would say that it could be that it's too Cameron-centric, but then that would suggest they are chosing brown over him, and I can't see anyone doing that."

and n.b. that's him trying not to be sexist. You should heard him down the golf club after a couple of ports with his friend who thinks that all Labour voters are on benefits.