Friday, September 30, 2011

Social housing policy: does Grant Shapps have a point?

I note that there have been some rather critical responses to the announcement that preferential treatment might be given to those with jobs when allocating social housing. But before we get too indignant, perhaps we need to consider what underpins such an idea.

Escaping the ghetto mentality

With social housing in short supply, and with the existing obligation to house those meeting set criteria, it is increasingly only those whose circumstances are most desperate who get housed. It is, as has been noted, a case of putting a roof over the heads of those most in need. The catch is that, as a result, estates of social housing become sinks for the worst social problems in our communities, places where aspiration is low, achievement lower.

Many people have concluded that restoring the social mix in these estates is key - after all, if people are conditioned by their circumstances, then introducing people with jobs into the community might provide role models to those seeking to improve their lot. However, with current policies, you can't do that, leaving such areas to spiral downwards into despair and deprivation. If building the hundreds and thousands of new social housing units that would allow an improvement in the social mix isn't viable, what do you do instead?

Creating a bridge from your parents to your own home

Finding a place to live is difficult, especially in our big cities. The cost of renting, relative to salary levels, is almost out of reach of many twenty-somethings in London. However, if they could move into social housing, this would drive rents down across the board, as the government can already cap housing benefit. But again, you'd need the sort of change of policy that is being proposed.

Challenging the rewards for fecklessness

There are a lot of people in this country, who, fairly or otherwise, believe that we devote far too many resources to those they define as scroungers, people who could work but don't, those who are perceived to be asking the State (or more appropriately, taxpayers) to support their 'lifestyle choice'. And there is no doubt that some of those on benefits are making the logical calculation that if working makes them only marginally better off, why go to the trouble?

The notion that the State should be there for, as Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, puts it, honest, hardworking, decent, tax-paying English people, is widely held. The idea that such people should pay their taxes to support a bunch of people to skive all day whilst they themselves struggle to get by is a deeply unpopular one.

And yes, there is a differentiation between 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor. We all make it, although our definitions of deserving and undeserving may vary depending upon our social consciences. So, is a homeless person with a job more deserving than one without one? Of course, the answer is, "that depends upon the circumstances" - easy in principle, less so in practice.

So, there are three reasons that might justify giving those with jobs preference in allocating social housing. Note that I'm not saying they will...
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

If a no-fly zone was what did for Gaddafi, will an economic boycott do for Assad?

As the Syrian regime continues to kill protestors, events in Libya are conspiring to make life a bit more difficult for President Assad and his government.

Syria exports about 100,000 barrels of crude oil per day, or at least, it did until European Union sanctions were imposed last month. In the scheme of things, that isn't very much, but it represents about 25% of the country's earnings denominated in foreign currencies. Virtually all of it was bought by EU-based customers, so the Syrians are looking for alternative purchasers.

And that search is made more difficult by the resumption of exports from Libya, expected next month. Oil prices are expected to fall back, making Syrian oil less attractive, especially once the costs of insurance are factored in. Indeed, given that the Transitional National Council in Tripoli have been openly admitting that they will be favouring those nations that supported their quest to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, it might be seen as risky to gamble on an open show of support for the Assad regime. And the option to retain oil pending the arrival of a customer is limited by Syria's storage capacity, which is now almost entirely utilised.

With the Syrian economy now thought to be on the verge of recession, the question is, how long can the regime continue to arm its military, and at what point does the military leadership start looking for a way out?

Meanwhile, a worrying pattern is beginning to emerge, with a number of leading Syrian academics being assassinated in Homs, a hotbed of dissent against the regime. In 2003, a similar wave of killings in Iraq, targeted at doctors, academics and scientists, led to a rush for the exit, and impoverished Iraq. Here, one suspects that the regime is trying to discourage the emergence of potential opposition leaders. The effect might well be the same though, as high profile figures decide that they are safer somewhere else.

Roll your own? Bloody tax dodger!

I'm on holiday, so I need some reading material for the bits when we're taking time out from being tourists. A good book, perhaps. But no, I'm a bureaucrat, so something educational, methinks. Indeed, what I have is highly informative, and as you certainly haven't read it, and you almost certainly won't, I feel obliged to give you some snippets...

Today, I've learned about HRT. No, not hormone replacement therapy, hand rolling tobacco. Now, I have to admit that I don't smoke, and never have done. I do rather like the smell of a good cigar, and I find pipe smoke strangely reassuring in its carcinogenic way. However, I've never given tobacco much thought. I do have friends who roll their own - you kind of expect that amongst Liberal Democrats.

What I didn't know is that it is statistically likely that those friends are ripping off the Treasury. In truth, some of them probably know if they are - if you're paying less for it than the usual price, you might logically be suspicious - but if it's being sold to you by a tobacconists, or a corner shop, you may be unduly enriching not only the retailer, but the criminals he or she purchased them from.

You see, HM Revenue & Customs reckon that illicit hand rolling tobacco supplied between 41% and 50% of the total market in 2009-10. Interestingly, that's down quite substantially over four years (the range was from 55% to 64% in 2005-06), but still represents approximately £750 million. And that's a lot of money, about 2% of the estimated tax gap. Put another way, it represents the same amount of money as that lost through incorrect self assessments by non-business taxpayers.

So, when UK Uncut talk about closing the tax gap, here's a statistic that you can quote right back at them. And then ask them what they'll do instead...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Peter Hain and his Theory of Political Cohesion

"It seems to me that the Liberal Democrats are likely to splinter at the time of the next election between if you like the Orange Book leadership, Nick Clegg and others at the top, and what I think of as the majority of Liberal Democrats."

"If that happens, then I think there is a prospect for some kind of alliance, with if you like... the genuine Liberal Democrats, together with the Greens and together possibly with other forces."

"But I think from the basis of where we are at the moment I think it is very possible we can win the next election but it is very difficult for us to win a majority and therefore we need to look to alliances well beyond our ranks in order to effectively get a majority government to stop the Tories with others, whoever they might be next time, carrying forward this very right-wing agenda."

There is no doubt that, in advance of the next General Election, Liberal Democrats are going to have to give serious thought to the questions of "what if". This will involve some discreet discussions to see where the common ground is, if any, to discover who will dance, and who won't, if the public decide not to award a clear mandate next time.

This makes the comments from Peter Hain above look interesting. Yes, those discussions are taking place, with Liam Byrne leading for Labour, but it isn't clear that Peter is hearing the same music that we are, or that it's even from the same band. Mind you, given that Ed Balls has cast himself in the Gordon Brown role pre-1997, I'm not sure which band he is listening to. It might not be his. I am, however, intrigued by the notion that he thinks that the Liberal Democrats could split, and even more intrigued by the potential thought processes that lead him to such a conclusion.

Liberal Democrats are quite a fractious bunch, by comparison with the Labour and Conservative Parties. Our open policy-making, our fixation with internal democracy, these are things that place squarely on the record where our disagreements are. In many ways, they make us stronger by sketching out the ideological boundaries beyond which we will not be dragged, by sending a message to our leaders. It also makes huge falling outs less likely.

That balance of power is a restriction, and a protection, all in one. It makes us more coherent as a campaigning force, and makes us less, not more, likely to split. Perhaps it has been too long since Peter split from the Liberal Party, and perhaps it was too easy for him to leave, because he fails to understand the loyalty that our activists retain.

And we are not alone. Our supposed intellectual schisms are as nothing compared to the Old Labour/Nu Labour split of the Blair years, and yet they hung together. You see, political parties are like families, the more time you spend with them, the more comfortable you become, making the thought of giving it up for an uncertain future rather harder.

There are those who join a party, have a look around, and realise that it isn't for them. They either go somewhere else, or they give up. There are those for whom a political party is simply a vehicle for their personal ambition - they tend to become obvious sooner rather than later. But organised mass breakaways are rare.

So, if Mr Hain is relying on a Liberal Democrat schism to allow Labour back into power, he may be forced to wait some time. A split is possible, but unlikely, and many of our social liberals don't entirely trust Labour anyway. Of course, some of their social liberals might want to find a home in the Liberal Democrats... 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Labour discover that university funding is rather harder than they wanted to admit

Unlike most of the 'Comment is Free' contributors (do you get a pitchfork and a burning torch when you submit your first comment?), I'm rather more tolerant of Ed Milliband's suggestion that they would cap tuition fees at £6,000 per annum. That is not to say that I support it particularly.

It is at least an acknowledgement that the future funding of our universities cannot rely solely on government, especially if you want to provide a world class education to as many people as might want it.

Labour's drive over thirteen years to massively increase the number of young people going to university appeared to be built on the backs of university lecturers and academic administrators, with salaries kept low, class sizes increasing and facilities stretched beyond capacity. And given that, with finite resources, you will always have rationing of some sort, something was inevitably going to give.

As one of those who was always nervous about the infamous pledge, the events following the publication of the Browne Review were akin to the slow motion unfolding of a train wreck. And yes, you can argue that Liberal Democrats did what they could to improve fairness, but the brutal fact is that if something is provided at below cost price, and then you remove the subsidy, you're not going to be popular. Being right, assuming you are, isn't the same as popular.

There are so many facets to the debate that simply talking about the cost deflects the debate away from such basic questions as "do we need 50% of our young people to have a degree?". Or, if the state is to support students, what priorities might be set? Grants for mathematicians and scientists, or reduced fees for those whom the State believe we have a need of - if you can apply that theory to immigration, you can surely apply it to education.

So, Ed is merely tinkering at the fringes. He's allowed, but I'm not convinced that the politics are that profound...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saxon beers and sausage roll

I have a funny feeling that the autumn is going to be busy, so it is nice to be on holiday for a little while. And you might guess from the title that we're back in Dresden, having enjoyed the city so much in May that we were moved to come back.

This time, we have some proper exploration in mind, given that last time, we were a bit disorganised, drifting around in a bit of a haze, and quite dismally failing to visit most of the key attractions. The guidebook has been read (mostly by Ros, I admit), plans made. And we have enough time to do it well. We have been welcomed with some decent weather too, with the forecast for sunshine until Wednesday, when we leave for the second leg of the trip.

So, stand by for tales of good beer, quite a lot of pork, and a bit of seventeenth century history, most of it pretty grim. For we are in one of the key locations for the Thirty Years War...

Half man, half shortbread?

I spent Wednesday afternoon with my mother, something that I haven't done for an awfully long time - almost certainly far too long. And no, she's perfectly well, her faculties are still in fine working order, and she's no crazier than she's ever been (in truth, she's probably one of the sanest people I know).

It was fun. We drank tea, put the world to rights (she's not a huge fan of Nick Clegg, I must note) and talked about family stuff. I got fed at regular intervals and agreed that we should do this more often - we're not a family that demonstrates its affection on its sleeve, and organising get-togethers is not something we're great at.

However, as I was getting ready to head back to Mid Suffolk, there was something unexpected to see. Some old family photographs of my maternal great grandfather and great grandmother have turned up, dating back to 1909, taken at a photographer's studio in either Keith or Dufftown. For those of you who don't know either, they are in Banffshire, between Aberdeen and Inverness, the home of some of the finest Scotch whisky to be found anywhere.

Whilst my mother was born in Keith, I had assumed that this was merely an accident of timing, as my grandparents moved the family to East Sussex within a year of her birth. And as we don't really talk about the dead, the family history has gone uncommented upon. So, the fact that my mother's grandparents were from Craigellachie indicates that I might be rather more Scots than I had thought.

And yes, there is a clan - Gordon - and a tartan, a relatively tasteful one too.

This may explain the instinctive liberalism, the somewhat conservative personal morality and my broad non-conformist streak in. Indeed, it implies that whilst I've got my father's looks, I could have my mother's philosophical outlook. Which begs the question, might liberalism be genetic?
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Friday, September 23, 2011

The new politics isn't blindly partisan. Have we really understood that?

I am, in political terms, a fairly gentle soul, as I may have noted before. I like to think generously of my opponents, as far as that is possible. It isn't always easy, but one should try. And perhaps I'm not the only person who should.

Now that we've got the hang of this 'being in government and acting responsibly' lark, perhaps we need to think about how we do politics as a party. As people who talk a good game of pluralism, we imply that collaborative, inclusive politics is a good thing. Which, of course, it is. However, we're not always good at dealing with the consequences of that stance.

It does mean that we have an obligation to listen to opposing views, to evaluate what they have to say, and to explain why we are going to do what we have agreed. After all, given the overlap between the manifestos of the various political parties, there are areas of agreements with all of them. Admittedly, you'd be amazed to find what some of them are, but they do exist. Oh yes, we may differ as to why, or how, or when, but in broad terms, that agreement is still there.

So, why do we have to talk as though politics is about us and them, about right and wrong, in the kind of black and white way that we spend so much time saying is exactly the wrong way to look at complex problems? Instead, for example, of simply exclaiming that Labour would have cut almost exactly as far and as fast, oh and, by the way, they smell, why not say that, given the state of the public finances, we would welcome any specific suggestions that they might have? If they have any good ideas, it is in the national interest to use them, giving credit accordingly. If they don't, and there are no signs yet of specifics, then it will become apparent pretty quickly. They may even up their game.

It isn't about being nice, it isn't about being wishy washy, it's about building a politics that allows people to work across party boundaries for the national or local interest. Because it's really hard to do so with people you've spent five years slagging off.

We have an opportunity to change the way politics is done in this country. Given that, as a Party that is a potential partner for either of the other major Parties, plus the Nationalists in Scotland and Wales, we could end up in government under a myriad of circumstances, developing better personal relationships might well make for better governance.

And to the public out there, they may not necessarily understand how important that is, but they will certainly appreciate the benefits.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A bureaucrat's guide to... the committee

As a bureaucrat, you might not be terribly surprised by my headline. Bureaucrat and committee go together like gin and tonic (now, there's a thought...), or the House of Lords and old people who need a warm place for a nap.

However, I am obliged to respond to my fellow parish councillor in Stansted, Essex, Daniel Brett, whose rather broad generalisation as to the value of committees reminds me that those white stilettos must be killing him (oops, that's an astonishingly broad generalisation about Essex residents, drawn from a very limited and extremely biased sample of experiences in Romford on a Friday night...). Daniel entertainingly links the rather complex mesh of committees in Gaddafi's Libya to the oppression that the people of that benighted country experienced for too long. Well, in the same way that guns don't kill people, the people bearing them do, committees aren't a menace to good governance, the people who serve on them are.

And trust me, I should know.

So, here are some things that make committees work, rather than frustrate...

1. Determine whether or not your journey is really necessary

Do you actually need this committee? This might seem like an obvious question, but there is a tendency to create committees because you can. The idea of a committee is to reduce the number of people attending to just those who add value, thus allowing consideration of issues by those who care, or can have an effect. By doing so, you combine expertise whilst reducing the number of stupid questions.

2. Preparation is everything

Written reports, circulated in advance, prevent rambling verbal updates, reduce stupid questions and, in an ideal world, allow the author to formally move the report, take the odd question (a good report includes all the relevant information, as well as the context) and focus colleagues on the decisions that need to be taken.

3. Ramblers shall be prosecuted

There is nothing more annoying than having someone who rambles on, sucking the oxygen out of the room, never sticking to the subject when the opportunity to tell a lengthy story about 'old Bert' or whoever. Get rid of them, or create a special committee to occupy all of them whilst the real work is done elsewhere.

4. Chairs aren't for sitting on, they're for moving on

How quickly do you want to get home? More importantly, how quickly does the Chair want to get home? It's amazing how quickly meetings go when there's an unavoidable deadline. And if there isn't one, fake it. People will be much more focussed if time wasted further up the agenda denies them the chance to address the things that really matter. Put the things that are important at the end of the agenda, and people will skate through the dull stuff to get to it.

So, Daniel, don't get mad, get even. And, best of all, get home early...

Your democracy is under threat - do something to save it!

I'm not one for hyperbolae normally, but the proposal to make electoral registration voluntary risks disenfranchising millions of people - women, ethnic minorities, the young - and changing the electoral landscape of this country forever.

As a member of the Management Board of 'Unlock Democracy', I am asking you to write to your MP, urging them to support the retention of mandatory registration. I admit that the idea of mandation is a tricky one - some of my more libertarian colleagues might rightly question whether or not the freedom to exclude oneself from the democratic process is a good thing - but if it is made voluntary, there will be a huge upsurge in the number of those who do not appear on the electoral register.

We already have a problem in this country with a significant number of people who avoid being on the electoral register - to avoid jury duty, or to lower their profile with the authorities for whatever reason. These people deny themselves right to take part in the decisions that affect their lives, and the idea that many more people will unintentionally be shut out weakens our democracy, and excludes diverse voices from the fora that decide our nation's future.

Many thanks!

Commitment and culture - barrier to progress, or gateway to opportunity?

Picking up where I left off last time...

The personal commitment aspect is a less tricky one.

Frankly, in a small village, the volume of work is, relative to that of a district or county councillor, derisory. And as for metropolitan or unitary councillors, our 'burden' would be barely noticeable. That isn't to say that what we do is irrelevant, more that our powers are rather few. However, like at any level, the amount you do beyond the statutory minimum is up to you.

It is, perhaps, the cultural element which offers the broadest challenge. What sort of parish council is it? Is there a sense of 'F├╝hrerprinzip', with a hierarchy of authority, or is it more collaborative? How are the tensions between those styles of governance managed, where they exist? If there is a hierarchy, does it respect the ability of councillors to deliver both their legal, and their representative obligations?

I freely admit that I struggle in this area. You might expect that I tend towards a more collectivist sense of responsibility, whilst the fact that I am (potentially) directly elected makes me personally accountable. I'm also spontaneous, to an extent which troubles the Chair, and the Parish Clerk. If something arises urgently, and there isn't a parish newsletter due (and as it is published quarterly, it is likely that it won't be), my first thought is to do something to publicise it.

Naturally, I can't do that in an official capacity, because it isn't approved by the Chair and the Parish Clerk. And now, it seems, they don't want me to do it in a personal capacity, at least, not without their approval. It is, to put it mildly, a paradox. What happens if they don't approve of it?

It is, I suppose, a question of potential effectiveness. A difference of opinion between us potentially weakens my ability to influence the decision making of the council as a whole (the validity of the argument isn't always enough), and if I believe that I have a useful role to play, then I have to take a longer view.

And whilst the cultural differences between some of us may be difficult to bridge - and in this instance, I fundamentally differ, I may have to accept that subliminating one's personality for a greater good is the best option.

Now, all I have to do is reconcile myself to that...

Total Politics Blog Awards: life is full of surprises

It's been a roller-coaster ride so far. Having been 42nd, 49th and 92nd on the list of the 100 top Liberal Democrat blogs when it was first published - we finally settled on 42nd - I had no great expectations beyond that.

So, you can imagine my surprise when, on checking the list of the top 100 Liberal Democrat bloggers, I found myself in 20th place (which does kind of make you wonder why the blog is 42nd, but who am I to argue?). That's not bad, if I say so myself. After all, there are some damned good bloggers above that - and some equally good ones further down.

This morning, however, I was looking at the councillor blogs, only to find that I write the 34th best councillor blog. Not the 34th best Liberal Democrat councillor blog, but the 34th best of any political stripe. It isn't as though I've won an election yet (well, if you count unopposed ones, I have, but...). And, apart from my ongoing philosophical struggle with the dilemmas of life on a small parish council, I don't actually do much councillor stuff - you'd be pretty desperately bored if I did, and the Chairman wouldn't like it.

And now I find that I am the 174th best political blogger which, I must confess, comes as a bit of a surprise. Clearly, given the fact that the content is not exactly exciting (harvest mice?), there can only be two explanations - I write well, or I have a lot of friends. Either is good (naturally, both would be better, but I leave that to viewer discretion).

Recognition is a good thing, on the whole, and can act as a useful spur to further activity. So, moving right along...
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The one in which I explore how effective one can be as a Parish Councillor...

There are, as at any level of government, limits upon what you, as an elected representative, can do or achieve.

There are the financial ones - what discretionary spending is available, if any, what resources you can bring to bear in terms of staff, the ability to increase income. There are personal ones - how much time you have available, how much casework you get, your level of commitment. And there are cultural ones - how empowered you are, how much information you can obtain.

At Parish Council level, the 'debate' is more philosophical in nature than elsewhere. The general lack of elections means that the motivation to work for the electorate has to come from within, rather than through any fear of defeat at the polls. The absence, for the most part, of partisan politics means that there is a risk of isolation, balanced by an enhanced sense of independence.

It is also much more personal. The staff are not faceless, he or she is all that you have. If the relationship is good, based on mutual respect, a shared sense of purpose and an understanding of each other's needs, it works very well. If, however, you are not lucky enough to have this, it is unlikely to end well. And, because you are on your own, there is a lack of support - nobody to explain why, or how, nothing to ensure that you are included. In short, there is the scope for conflict.

The financial aspects are, at this level, far less complex, but far more personal. The money I spend as part of the Parish Council is raised from my immediate neighbours. If I waste money, they know about it and, given that I can't hide behind a large, faceless bureaucracy, there is nowhere to run. And, as a fiscal conservative, I fret about spending money 'because we can'. It could be a toxic combination, if you allow it to become one.

Next time: how your commitment and the council culture can boost, or reduce, your effectiveness...

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Freedom of expression and the Parish Council...

Yesterday, I touched on the context within which small parish councils operate. Here's an example of the sort of issue that can arise...

I blog, both here and at 'The Creeting St Peter Journal', a local blog for local people', you might say. The Chairman of our Parish Council, a former army officer (I believe), is somewhat suspicious of anything that he doesn't 'get', uncomfortable with the idea of my reporting from Parish Council, and is a mite autocratic. Perhaps autocratic is a bit harsh, but he's a bit more used to command and control than I am.

Rosemary, our Parish Clerk, isn't wild about my blogging either. Her view is that all reportage of the Parish Council should come from her. What she must make of Focus leaflets doesn't bear thinking about... Upon issuing a hard copy edition of my other blog last week, I received a 'demand' that I provide her with a copy (she lives in another parish). I accept that my response was a bit prickly, as you might expect.

I chafe against the notion that, as an elected official, there is an implied sense that my responsibility to the council supersedes that to the people who would have elected me had there been an election (at least, I hope that they would have done).

When I first became a parish councillor, I came under severe pressure not to report events at Parish Council. As a newcomer to both the village and the council, it seemed easier to comply with their wishes rather than pick an unnecessary fight. However, times change and, with confidence renewed, there is a piece of me, my inner citizen journalist if you like, that feels that I should seek a better balance between competing loyalties. Facts can be interpreted to suit your argument, but there is a difference between a political report and a news one. That's perhaps why I maintain a village blog, with straight reportage, and a personal one, where I can 'vent my spleen'.

And ultimately, I'm up for re-election in 2015. In the event that I choose to run, and there's a contest, I don't want to be campaigning with my hands tied behind my back...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Learning how to manage the balance of power - Parish style

As a rookie at the grassroots level of local politics (and trust me, there is no lower level than a small parish council), it is fair to say that I have discovered a number of advantages.

Firstly, you can't kill anyone, no matter how badly you screw up. Yes, I might miss a subtle nuance on a planning application, or forget to submit my thoughts on a consultation on primary school provision, but I don't actually have any powers over such things. We could turn off our nine street lights, or let the grass on the village green grow until you could hide a rhinoceros in it, but even that is unlikely to be fatal - I've never seen a rhinoceros lurking anywhere in Creeting St Peter, let alone on the village green.

Second, you do get to learn a surprising amount about local government at higher levels. Our district and county councillors, both Conservative regrettably, report back on what they're doing (albeit badly and usually verbally), so you get a sense of who is responsible for what. Admittedly, Ros knows far more about this than they do, and I can learn more from her in five minutes than I could from my elected representatives, but it is educational, if only as a 'how not to' exercise.

There are disadvantages too. You have very few levers to pull, especially in a small village like mine. Bigger villages have village halls, subcontract tasks from higher tiers of local government, have budgets that allow them to do things. But when your precept is less than £4,000 per annum, you're not exactly fretting about anything significant.

However, there is a learning opportunity. We have a Parish Clerk, who is paid to provide us with a fixed amount of time per week. As an experienced officer at this level, she has a view as to how her work is done, and how her council operates. You will note the use of the phrase 'her council'. And that is the crux of my 'opportunity'.

You see, we disagree on something rather fundamental, i.e. who actually runs the council. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Her job is, effectively, to ensure that we fulfil our legal responsibilities, something which has become more difficult as layer after layer of legislation has been draped over this junior tier of government. In a lot of parish councils, especially the smaller ones, the level of expertise amongst councillors is low - they're there because they care about their village, not because they are fascinated by the minutiae of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. As a result, being a Parish Clerk means leading councillors by the hand, a somewhat paternalist exercise, but an often necessary one.

A parish councillor like myself - political, rather better informed than the norm, and prone to thoughts of accountability and communication - presents an unusual problem. I see democracy as participatory, an informed process, and not necessarily well suited to a paternalist approach. I'm an 'out' Liberal Democrat, operating in a sphere where overt politics is rare, and often discouraged. You can see the potential for... how might I put it... gentle disagreement?

Tomorrow - an example of where paternalism and liberalism collide... freedom of expression and the Parish Council...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A toad in the demesne

Home in Mid Suffolk again (or rather, having never left Mid Suffolk in the first place because, as I have explained, I haven't gone to Conference...), we've been catching up on a little light gardening before the nights begin to draw in. Ros has been planning one of the borders for next year, and was poking about when she was slightly surprised by this...

I presume that it is a common toad - it's a bit squat to be a frog, and we don't have any open water anywhere (given the size of our garden, I'm sure that I would have noticed). However, it is rather attractive, and I am fairly confident that one of my readers can give me a more definitive answer.

It is one of the great delights of being a country dweller that I encounter much more wildlife, at much closer quarters, than I ever did as a Londoner. Quail, pheasants, deer, hares - all of these are commonplace and part of a gentle scenery that never ceases to soothe a bureaucrat's soul.

It seems to have that effect on our visitors too. Friends come to Creeting St Peter from their busy urban lives and tend to remark afterwards how relaxing it all is, which is very nice. And now that both Ros and I have settled upon a less hurried pace of existence, we tend to get more visitors...

Lib Dem Voice Blog Awards - Spidey, you're wrong on this one...

As one of those shortlisted for one of last night's awards (best blog by a Liberal Democrat holding public office), I was somewhat disappointed to see the comments from one of Woking's finest which, I fear, smacked of bitterness. The accusation that the Awards are an opportunity for the Liberal Democrat Voice team to 'reward its friends' is a pretty serious one so, as someone who has worked with them in the past, has written for  them too, but isn't actually part of the team, perhaps I should contribute a response.

Ros's 2008 BOTY for best use of social networking
Firstly, a declaration of interest. As mentioned, I have written for Liberal Democrat Voice in the past, predominantly on issues relating to the internal bureaucracy of the Party, and mostly because I'm one of the Party's very few bloggers who specialises in such stuff. I've generally used LDV as a means to convey information or report back on events - you would be amazed at how difficult it is to do so by any other means as an elected representative. I am, technically, the bureaucracy correspondent - Mark Pack asked me to do it, I contributed three pieces and then, to be blunt, lost interest (it really is fearfully dull for the most part). I've also been guest editor for the day - I might even do it again one day, if I can be organised enough, and they'll have me.

And yet, I have never won an award. If Lisa is right, I should feel pretty hard done by. I've been blogging for six years, been shortlisted three times, once for best post and now twice for best blog by a Liberal Democrat holding public office. C'est la vie, as they say. Frankly, I'm rather surprised to have been nominated at all - I wouldn't describe myself as a blogger who sets the heather on fire, more someone who is broadly respected as a stalwart denizen of the Liberal Democrat blogosphere.

I assume that the judges, a fairly diverse crew this year as in years past, express their views and have a system that synthesises those views into a final outcome. If Stephen Tall is to be believed, and despite his occasionally shocking taste in outfits, and excessive displays of chest hair, I tend to, they actually do. And, their decision is final, no matter how personally disappointing I may find that (and I certainly wouldn't turn down an award if one came my way).

I don't attack those people who do win. Indeed, even if their blog is not to my personal taste, I like to think that I can admire the quality of the writing, or recognise the influence that they have had. It is also entirely legitimate to disagree with the decision of the judges - it is, at the end of the day, their decision and not yours or mine. But to slag off a winner in such personal terms because you don't like them very much, or you find their work boring, is the height of boorishness. It is also entirely hypocritical to slag someone off and then deny them the right to reply, only to report on your rather biased interpretation of their response.

Lisa won't like this, I suspect. She'll probably be rather rude in response. But then, people can be in cyberspace - I perhaps have a better grasp of that than most. And, to her credit, she is at least rude in person, rather than hiding behind a pseudonym. It isn't much credit though, and her behaviour is hardly pitched in such a way as to make me warm to her. It does reassure me, however, that she won't care about that one jot...

On not bring (t)here

Another advantage of not being at Conference is that I have no plans to do anything. This means that Ros and I can pretty much come and go as we please. So we have.

We voted on the Lords Reform motion, I voted for, and Liberal Democrats for Lords Reform can find out themselves how Ros voted. Ros has been tagged by various people to talk about I know not what, whilst I smile sweetly and potter gently. I'm quite good at these things, if I say so myself.

And then we had dinner, Indian, which was very nice, before heading to the East of England Reception (too hot, no chairs) and, in my case, the Lib Dem Voice Blog of the Year Awards ceremony. A glass of wine with friends, and it was time to sleep...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

"I am a liberal, but I don't believe in Evan Harris"

Having not come to Birmingham (because, of course, I am not here), I did feel that I ought not to appear in the conference hall. In particular, I was not going to get involved with any debate on whether or not to suspend standing orders so as to allow Evan Harris to attempt to overturn the results of Liberal Democrat efforts to modify the proposed NHS reforms to reflect public concerns and liberal ideals.

So, naturally, I was merely exercising my trick right shoulder and it was a simple coincidence that I was holding a delegate card with my name and photograph on it that doesn't exist, when the motion to suspend standing orders was voted on. And it was clearly a misfortune of timing that Romer Hoseason was, at that moment, counting votes against the proposal. And, I must admit, it was a happy coincidence, because I strongly believe that, if you send your people off to negotiate with a strong brief, and they come back with the best deal they can get and they are still working to do better, you can't then interfere with their efforts. Unless you are Evan Harris, of course.

Evan, and his colleagues in the Social Liberal Forum, don't understand how coalitions work, especially when you're the junior partner. Or worse still, maybe they do, but don't care. In a coalition, you fight your battles with a view to the wider pictures, giving this up to get that. It's a partnership, not a master/slave relationship. So that's why I achieved the Liberal Democrat dream of being a minority victor, being on the wrong end of a 56% to 44% vote in favour of suspending the standing orders to allow Evan's emergency motion on the NHS to be added to the emergency motions ballot. He didn't get his required two-thirds majority, so the proposal was lost.

And now, if the Social Liberal Forum really want to work with our Peers to further improve the legislation, they can come up with a decent set of amendments that can be used to gain valuable improvements for a service we all cherish. They might be surprised to find a Parliamentary Party in the Lords that knows what is good for the country, is liberal, and will work. They'll also find a disciplined, hard working team who would quite appreciate a little appreciation from time to time. Just a thought, Evan...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Unexpected bureaucrat in the conference area

I'm not sure how to put this... So, I'll make it simple.

I'm in a car, the satnav is set for B1 1HH, and I should be in Birmingham by about 9 p.m. I'm not sure if the arrangements have been made as I've been told they will be, but assuming they have, I'll see most of you in the ICC tomorrow.

And may Cthulhu have mercy upon my soul...

An intriguing hint as to how the Total Politics scoring system works...

Alright, so I've been reduced from triplicate to just the one fuzzy bureaucrat. But I was puzzled about the impact of merging these figures, so I left a message on the Total Politics blog.

And almost immediately, I got an answer by e-mail...


In answer to your question, that is in principle what should happen. The 42/49 thing was a duplication when typing the list, rather than in the spreadsheet. The score from 92 (totalling 8) was added to the one from 42, but as there was a difference of more than 8 points between 41 and 42, it didn't change the ranking.

Caroline Crampton

So, a tantalising hint as to the scores required at two different points on the Top 100, but not enough to actually indicate what the scores are for the most part. Although, if you're around 90th, you might guess how many points you scored...

I should also thank Caroline for responding so quickly - I imagine that she's pretty busy, what with Conference season coming up fast. And talking of Conference...

When ninety-four people make up a top 100...

It appears that I'm not alone in being a multiple entry in the Total Politics 'Top 100 Lib Dem Blogs' list.

The lovely, charming and cultured Stephen Glenn notes that Linda Jack is on twice, whilst the equally lovely, charming and cultured Caron Lindsay has brought to my attention the fact that Mark Cole (Ceredigion's finest), and Matthew Gibson (Solution Based Politics) are multiple entrants too.

So, six more entrants in the top 100, and utter chaos at 'Total Politics'...

Total Politics list: bureaucrat in triplicate!

My attention has been drawn to today's publication of the Total Politics 'Top 100 Lib Dem Blogs 2011', so I had a look, and discovered that 'Liberal Bureaucracy' is 42nd this year, down nine places. Not bad for someone whose blogging mojo has been a bit lacking of late.

I was curious to see who else was in, so scanned the list further, only to discover that 'The View from Creeting St Peter' is 49th. "Hang on a minute,", I thought, "that's me too!" So I added a comment to the post, noting this. 
And then I wondered, is there anyone else who has had their votes split? So I had a look and, at 94th, who do I find but 'Mark Valladares'. That would be me, I think.

So, you are reading the 42nd, 49th and 94th best Liberal Democrat bloggers in the country... at the same time, you clever multi-tasker, you.

Watch this space for an update...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Moving the goalposts: Mid Suffolk get me to help balance their books

I have, in the past, been critical of my local Conservatives and their approach towards budget cutting. In their attempt to cut the County Council's budget, they have explored new and interesting ways to transfer costs to lower tiers of government, rather than actually cut spending. And it looks as though their colleagues on Mid Suffolk District Council have done the same.

I have in my possession a copy of a letter from Mid Suffolk's Environmental Services Officer, informing us that, from 1 April 2012, we will have to make a contribution towards the costs of emptying dog and litter bins. It reads;

"With the reduction in government funding we have had to review all aspects of our service. In order to maintain a high quality reliable service a charge needs to be made to continue to provide, and possibly expand, this important function... The initial charge agreed by Environmental Policy Panel is £10 per litter bin per year and £15 per dog bin per year..."

I freely admit that it is an important service, so important that we pay for the bins ourselves. However, the administrative cost in billing Creeting St Peter Parish Council £55 per annum probably eats up much of the income and, in any event, there is no indication as to what effect this will have on the overall spend on emptying dog and litter bins. We have no choice but to find the money (more than 1% of our annual precept), so we will. I may have to put up the precept to do so, not something that fills me with joy, but I will do if it is necessary to do so.

However, I do find myself wondering if, in order to balance the budget, some of my fellow parish councillors might decide to reduce the number of dog and litter bins, rather than have to pay for them to be emptied...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Boundary Commission proposals for Suffolk: nothing (much) to see...

Well, as expected, the reduction of seats from 650 to 600 nationally makes little difference to Suffolk, with its growing population. Indeed, we actually have better representation than we did before, assuming that these are accepted. Here's a summary...
  • Bury St Edmunds - loses the Mid Suffolk wards of Badwell Ash, Gislingham and Rickinghall and Walsham, and the St Edmundsbury ward of Pakenham to West Suffolk
  • Central Suffolk and North Ipswich - no change
  • Ipswich - no change
  • South Suffolk - no change
  • Suffolk Coastal - no change
  • Waveney - no change
  • West Suffolk - gains four wards from Bury St Edmunds (see above), loses Newmarket to the new cross-border constituency of Newmarket and Ely
So, as you can see, very little change, with Ipswich and Waveney remaining pretty marginal, Bury St Edmunds  becoming slightly more attractive to the Liberal Democrats but still fairly safely Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and West Suffolk remaining safely Conservative and South Suffolk looking like the best chance for the Liberal Democrats.

It also means that there won't be much work to do regarding Local Party boundaries, which can only be a good thing...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

For those of you who've only seen a mouse on the Underground...

Never let it be said that you don't learn anything here at 'The View...'. Here in the idyllic countryside, the Suffolk Wildlife Trust are working on a project to encourage harvest mice.

Harvest mice are seriously cute. They weigh about 5 grammes (about the same amount as a 20 pence coin), and eat grass seed - even the National Farmers Union approve of them. It was thought that numbers were in serious decline, so a biodiversity study was undertaken to find out. This involved examining barn owl pellets to see what they were eating. The more evidence of harvest mice, the better (alright, this is a bit gross, but it does make sense). Happily, it turned out that there were quite a lot of the cute little creatures about.

However, the fact that they're cute is a decided advantage, and farmers are being encouraged to make provision for them, leaving grass margins around fields, allowing the vegetation around ponds and rivers to grow a bit taller, that sort of thing.

Anyway, watch the video, you'll learn something...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unlock Democracy - just don't ask me about its election rules...

I'm on my way home from a meeting of the Council of Unlock Democracy, and I'm a bit frustrated.

It was an interesting meeting, although the discussion on a UK Bill of Rights was a bit impenetrable - it's not really my field of interest. We discussed the ongoing work of the organisation, and I was reminded once again how fortunate we are to have a professional staff of such high competence. And yes, we touched on House of Lords reform (briefly).

But what irritated me was the debate on our internal elections. As you might expect, we're red hot on representation and diversity, and an excellent paper, written by James Graham, explained how we could decide upon the constituencies from which Council members are elected. As a result, we have agreed upon a recommendation to the Annual General Meeting which, I hope, will meet with the approval of those who attend. There was an attempt to separate the size of the electorate from the level of representation, which I found odd in an organisation that supports equal voting, but it fell and we could move on.

However, the next item was the election rules, and what had gone before was merely a taster. I suggested that we needed to allow candidates to campaign rather more than is currently the case, reflecting the new and emerging social media. At the moment, I am allowed a two hundred word statement to promote my candidacy. Yes, that's all. I can't blog about my candidacy, I can't use Twitter, I can't set up a Facebook group, I can't even e-mail my friends to solicit their vote or remind them to vote when ballot papers land on doormats. In short, I can't actively campaign.

In the Liberal Democrats, rules like that are being gradually expunged. They can't easily be policed, they aren't consistent with our philosophy in that they are unduly prescriptive, etc etc. You know what I think - I've said it often enough. I had assumed, however, that an organisation that supports "a new culture of informed political interest and responsibility, paving the way for increased enthusiastic public participation" would be keen to allow candidates to use alternative, cost-free means to potentially reach out to members.

I was wrong.

"Oh no, we don't want people to be able to organise. It would give those members who know a lot of people an unfair advantage.", was one argument. "We want equality for all candidates, without regard for merit.", was another. It is the hypocrisy of a ruling elite that are comfortable with the notion that whilst the rest of society are desperately in need of its guidance as to how their democratic rights should be promoted, whilst they themselves should be protected from the implications of an informed electorate.

I am intrigued by the notion that, in two hundred words, I might tell members what I've done since they elected me last, indicate what qualities I have that might convince them to re-elect me, and state what I will try to do if re-elected. It is the lowest common denominator of elected politics, the tabloidisation of democracy. Unlock Democracy? Making Democracy History, more like!

It is a pity, especially as the beliefs that Unlock Democracy stands for, and espouses publicly, are good and decent and honourable. My fellow colleagues, including the staff team, are all of these things. But on this issue, I must differ with many of them. It is an issue where the ideological fissures that divide a pluralist organisation display themselves, in that those of us who believe in equality of opportunity call for a thousand flowers to bloom, whilst those who crave equality of outcome are happy for there to be as many flowers as possible... as long as they're all grey...

And you know something, equality of outcome really doesn't work in elections...
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Europe: Conservatives are from Mars, Liberal Democrats are from Venus?

It seems as though William Hague has decided that he doesn't love Liberal Democrats any more, if his interview with The Times, published today, is to be believed. We are, he alleges, cramping the Conservatives on Europe.

As a liberal for more than a quarter of a century, one might not be surprised to find that I am less than crushed by the prospect of restraining the Eurosceptic right from its avowed intention of reducing the European Union to a free trade zone (and even then, free on terms favourable to us). Don't get me wrong, like most Liberal Democrats, I support the notion of Europe rather than the current reality, seeing the EU as something to be improved rather than necessarily expanded.

But William Hague's somewhat lazy justification for attacking the Euro does lead me to wonder why he is bothering. For example, complaining that the creation of the Eurozone without the imposition of closer tax and spending rules raises two questions. The first is, what business is it of his unless he fears that, at some point, we may have to enter the Euro ourselves (I leave readers to envisage the circumstances under which that might happen)? The second is, why would you suggest the necessity for a pooling of sovereignty that you wouldn't possibly accept yourself?

Besides, there are, and always were, rules. The problem was, and remains, can you actually punish breaches of those rules, and how do you go about doing so? Enforcing limits on the scale of budget deficits is (probably) entirely logical, but fining, say France, a wodge of Euros would merely increase their deficit. It is, if you like, the sovereign equivalent of telling a misbehaving teenager to go to their room - one shouldn't be altogether surprised when they turn around and say, "Make me!".

It was always my understanding that the creation of a single currency would lead to a gradual convergence of the economies choosing to pool sovereignty. It wasn't going to happen overnight, it wasn't going to be total - the economy is uneven across a country (north/south divide here, anybody?), let alone a continent. And to expect it to run smoothly denies the experience of history, as clever people find new and exciting ways of dropping the economy off a cliff from time to time.

But back to William Hague. I suspect that he is returning to his Eurosceptic roots, and taking an opportunity to put some clear blue water between the two elements of the Coalition. He knows that we're probably on the minority side of the pro and anti Europe debate, and that the Conservatives have little to lose amongst voters by blaming their inability to circle the wagons on us.

It is, perhaps an opportunity for us to talk about Europe for a change, to establish our credentials as a pro-European, internationalist political party, whilst addressing our concerns about democracy, transparency and sovereignty. We could, radically, talk about the pluses and minuses of our membership of the European Union. And yes, it may attract some flak, but for those who support our view, it provides a positive reason to vote for us.
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Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The fallout from Dale Farm: fear and loathing in the East

It is about sixty-five miles from Dale Farm to Creeting St Peter, but distance does not in itself provide relief. My village, like so many in mid-Suffolk, is about an hour away by fast road, surrounded by fields full of... well, not much at this time of year. And, if a large number of travellers are to be evicted from the Dale Farm site, they're going to go somewhere.

That might sound like paranoia to some, and with my liberal head on, I might agree. However, I've grown to accept that, when push comes to shove, I'm in a minority, and as a parish councillor, I'm obliged to deal with the fears of local residents. Note that I don't say pander, an important distinction.

And so, tomorrow evening, I am bound for Claydon, a large village between Creeting St Peter and Ipswich, for the quarterly meeting of the Mid Suffolk South Area Committee of the Suffolk Association of Local Councils (think of it as the Local Government Association for parish councils), where the main item on the agenda is travellers. My invitation reads;

Dale Farm Traveller Evictions: The Impact on Suffolk

As you might be aware, eviction notices have been served on families living at England's largest travellers' site. Basildon Council has given people living on 51 unauthorised pitches at Dale Farm, Essex, until the end of August to leave. More than 400 travellers currently live at the former scrap yard. This site has been developed by this particular travelling community since 2001. The travelling community at this site are concerned that they are being made homeless. This has led to Suffolk communities considering the potential impact of hundreds of travellers on the move and looking for alternative sites. Suffolk, as a neighbouring county, is one of the obvious options for the travellers at Dale Farm. 

Communities will look to local town and parish councils both to be prepared for any foreseeable eventuality and also to help resolve any issues that rise as a result of travellers moving into their area. Working with the County Council’s traveller liaison officer, Keren Wright, will be a crucial part of this process. In light of this SALC and SCC are working together to provide an opportunity for councils to discuss Dale Farm with Keren. These opportunities are being provided through sessions at the next round of area meetings. Please look at your agenda for exact details and timings as some are being held earlier than the normal area meeting start time. Support material will be provided. We would appreciate an indication of numbers prior to the event.

Naturally, I will be there to find out as much as I can about what how Mid Suffolk District Council and Suffolk County Council will deal with conflicts, and encourage efforts to collaborate amongst my neighbouring parishes, before reporting back to my community.

However, I'm braced for some fairly non-PC views on 'gypsies and pikies'... 

Flexible tenancies for social housing: the vulnerable protected?

Whenever Conservatives talk about enhanced flexibility, there is a tendency to check your pockets to make sure your safety net hasn't been stolen. It isn't that they're inherently dishonest, it's just that they aren't always aware of the importance of State provision in maintaining the dignity of the individual. And because they believe in personal responsibility, they sometimes oblige those least capable of protecting themselves to attempt to do so.

And so it was particularly satisfying to see a Conservative Minister state on the record that flexible tenancies will not wilfully destabilise communities by creating a sense of uncertainty amongst those reliant on social housing. On Monday, Baroness Hanham, under pressure from Lord Shipley confirmed that flexible tenancies would only infrequently be of a period as short as two years.

"We have made it clear - again, this draft is in the Library - that two years is to be exceptional and that the tenancy policies of social landlords and local councils will have to state what they mean by exceptional. A tenancy policy will state what the landlord sees as a possible exception for two years. That will have to be laid out so that everyone knows what it is. The expectation is that these will not be used very frequently. They will probably be used very infrequently, but there should be the right to have that flexibility. Therefore, by definition, the tenures stretch from two years rather than five, as is being proposed."

On the subject of renewal of such flexible tenancies, there was reassurance that there would be a presumption of renewal if a local authority's criteria continued to be met.

"The review already ensures that a decision by the landlord not to renew the tenancy must be fair and in line with the landlord's published tenancy policy. Should the reviewing officer decide that the decision is not in line with the landlord's policy, the landlord will need to reconsider his decision. Where a landlord seeks possession of a tenant's property despite a review concluding that he was not acting in line with his own policy, the court will refuse to grant possession, as the Bill makes clear."

There is much that is positive about the notion of flexible tenancies. But in any situation where the balance of power, and the risk are very much unevenly distributed, it is vital that the positives for all parties concerned are teased out, and the fears of vulnerable people assuaged. And as I don't doubt that campaigners for homelessness charities will be scrutinising the Localism Bill for the potential protections offered within it, it would be nice to think that the debate will be rather less alarmist than some politicians have been claiming it should be.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Localism Bill: Lord Shipley's reassurance

One of the best things about the recent influx of new Liberal Democrats was the arrival of John Shipley, former Leader of Newcastle City Council. A deep thinker about issues of local government, especially in the area of housing, he has played an invaluable role in hedging in some of the more 'blue sky' (alright, scary) thinking on the subject from the Conservative wing of the Coalition.

Yesterday, his attention was turned to the role of local councils in providing housing advice, moving amendments to the Localism Bill to oblige local councils to give proper advice to the homeless, to ensure that offers of private sector rental accommodation are reasonable for a homeless household to accept (in other words, reestablishing the current pre-legislative position), the provision of emergency accommodation so as to allow a homeless household to make other arrangements and, perhaps of most interest, exemptions from the potential two year flexible tenancies for the most vulnerable.

As is often the case, amendments are submitted in order to prod the Minister into providing clarity, through published guidance, or by statement. If the Minister indicates that he or she is minded to give some ground on the matter, the amendment is not formally moved, a gentleman's agreement, if you like, with the option to return to the point at Third Reading.

Naturally, the Labour benches, led by Lord Kennedy of Southwark, were keen to protect the current social housing obligations, and the session quickly developed into a good cop/opposition cop routine whereby one persuaded and the other supported, and much good came of it.

On the question of flexible tenancies, the Minister, Baroness Hanham confirmed that two year tenancies would be the exception rather than the norm;

"We have made it clear - again, this draft is in the Library - that two years is to be exceptional and that the tenancy policies of social landlords and local councils will have to state what they mean by exceptional. A tenancy policy will state what the landlord sees as a possible exception for two years. That will have to be laid out so that everyone knows what it is. The expectation is that these will not be used very frequently. They will probably be used very infrequently, but there should be the right to have that flexibility. Therefore, by definition, the tenures stretch from two years rather than five, as is being proposed."

Following on from the question of the minimum length of flexible tenancies, Lord Shipley tackled the question of tenancy renewal. There have been widely stated concerns that flexible tenancies will heighten insecurity amongst council and housing association tenants, and Amendment 28 was designed to create a presumption that such tenancies would be renewed unless the contrary is shown to be  in accordance with the authority's policies.

For the Government, Baroness Hanham was quick to reassure;

"The review already ensures that a decision by the landlord not to renew the tenancy must be fair and in line with the landlord's published tenancy policy. Should the reviewing officer decide that the decision is not in line with the landlord's policy, the landlord will need to reconsider his decision. Where a landlord seeks possession of a tenant's property despite a review concluding that he was not acting in line with his own policy, the court will refuse to grant possession, as the Bill makes clear." 

So, reassurance for those concerned about the introduction of flexible tenancies, courtesy of the Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords. This work isn't glamorous, it probably won't gain any votes in the short term, but it needs to be done. And you can be so much more persuasive if your part of the Government side...