Sunday, 31 October 2010

Why David Cameron is not (quite) the least electorally successful Tory PM ever

It is odd to think of David Cameron as the most electorally unsuccessful Tory prime minister in history.

So writes Spectator editor Fraser Nelson in his Observer review of Michael Ashcroft's 'Minority Report', Nick Boles' Coalitionist tract and the Cowley/Kavanagh study of the 2010 General Election.

The claim strikes me as somewhat exaggerated. Cameroon loyalists might find it helpful to have the evidence as to why David Cameron can not quite claim his party's wooden spoon, though he might stake a reasonable claim to it if we restrict the search to the period after the Great War (on which the House of Commons Library has a useful summary of the post-1918 trends. (PDF).

But I think Arthur Balfour must surely claim the prize for the least successful Tory prime minister ever, succeeding his more electorally successful uncle Lord Salisbury mid-term in 1902 before splitting the government and party over tariff reform, and resigning as PM at the end of 1905 (in the hope of splitting his Liberal opponents too) before being trounced in the Liberal landslide of 1906.

In terms of vote share, the Tory performance in 2010 was their fifth worst in the 25 general elections since (near) universal suffrage in 1918.

Cameron got his 36% from opposition. Of the four worse results, only John Major's 31% in 1997 was achieved by a Prime Minister, though Major did previously achieve a majority in very difficult circumstances in 1992, while Cameron failed to do so in extremely auspicious context in 2010. Cameron's supporters might claim that he would need to perform very badly now to be ranked below Major on the electoral record, but he would also rank behind on election victories if he can not win a future majority.

Ted Heath had been out of office only six months when achieving a very similar share (35.7%) in the second 1974 election to that which Cameron achieved this Spring. Heath did win a surprise majority victory in 1970 against a Labour government with a considerably larger majority than the government held in 2010.

The two least successful Tory Prime Ministers of the 20th century - in terms of their political failure in their own terms - do not figure here as competitors for the electoral wooden spoon with David Cameron. Anthony Eden won a snap landslide in 1955, before his short premiership collapsed over Suez, and Macmillan was able to turn that disaster into a third election victory.

And Neville Chamberlain is the only 20th century Prime Minister who neither won nor lost a general election, succeeding in 1937 and leaving after the collapse of his policy in 1940, without ever troubling the electorate, though he might bear some responsibility for the Tory landslide defeat in 1945. (He could have won a big victory had he heeded calls to cash in on his post-Munich popularity with a snap election in 1938, but his party may be glad he did not.

[* UPDATE: This post should also have mentioned Sir Alec Douglas-Home, narrowly defeated by Harold Wilson in his only General Election in 1964, winning 303 seats out of only 630 and with 43.3% of the vote).

To date, David Cameron is the only other post-1918 Tory PM to have not won himself a Commons majority [*]. But he has time yet to take himself out of the relegation zone.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Might the control orders u-turn be reversed after all?

The "New Politics" have changed all the rules of the political u-turn. In place of Maggie's defiant refusenik rhetoric, and Tony Blair's pride in his inability to ever back out of a corner, the Coalition certainly is for turning, and often, from Cameron as well as Clegg standing on his head over public spending cuts, to child benefit, university fees and so much else.

In remarking that "the road to Westminster is covered in the skid marks of political parties changing direction" Vince Cable seemed to enshrine the handbrake turn as the characteristic manouvere of this government.

Might the daredevil stunt drivers of the Coalition to attempt their most spectacular road manouvere yet? Witness the bid to both belatedly and yet pre-emptively reverse the next policy u-turn before the decision has been announced, creating an outside chance that the government might even spin full circle to surprise everybody by doing what it said it was going to before the election.

On that most secret topic - the use of control orders in anti-terrorism policy - the Coalition government's intentions have been an open secret in Whitehall for several weeks. Both Coalition parties promised to scrap control orders in opposition, yet have been telegraphing their intention to keep them - with regrets - as a least bad option. Indeed, the Coalition government is believed to have introduced two new control orders since taking office.

There has now been a hitch, or a hold-up at the least. The review of counter-terror powers was expected in the fortnight after the CSR - and ahead of Theresa May's first major counter-terrorism speech next week. Today's Guardian reports that the review is now being held back until at least mid-December, and suggests that the delay in part reflects a reopening of the internal debate over the control orders u-turn.

The Guardian also links this to the small stirring of pre-emptive LibDem dissent earlier this week. Credit to Tom Brake MP, backbench co-chair of the Lib Dem home affairs parliamentary party committee, in a letter to David Cameron co-signed by LibDem peers Baroness Sally Hamwee and Lord Martin Thomas, for going public with the challenge to what had been promoted as the likely compromise: that recommending a reduction in detention without trial - probably back to 14 days (maybe involving some additional provisions for longer periods, or perhaps not) would provide cover for both parties to undertake a control orders u-turn (effectively allowing indefinite house arrest without charge or trial in these cases).

Brake et al wrote to Cameron:

"We have been delighted by the coalition government's commitment to reclaiming our civil liberties. You will appreciate of course that the continuance of control orders is quite inconsistent with the thrust of those assurances. In principle, as we argued many times during the administration of the last government, control orders should be scrapped."

The Guardian suggests that the unexpected delay in the review reflects scepticism within the government too, with ministers including Justice Secretary Ken Clarke unconvinced about whether control orders are useful after all.

As Brake argues, the issue is an important test for LibDems and Conservatives who made a great deal of civil liberties when in opposition. The letter-writing trio do not yet amount to the most numerous or high-powered of many voices who have been vocal advocates on this issue in the past; there remains a Westminster sense that most LibDem and liberal Tory backbench MPs and peers are being quietly encouraged to keep their heads down. Another exception is Tory backbencher Dominic Raab argued this week that control orders could be ditched, by phasing them out in two years.

This delay now provides an important opportunity for Parliamentary as well as civic advocacy on the issue. Those on the government benches who do speak up for their parties' policies may also now find common cause with Labour voices seeking to rebalance the party's approach to liberty. Former home office minister Tony McNulty's recent Times commentary (£) strengthened a significant shift in the centre of gravity within the Labour party debate. (McNulty, like Raab, doubts the utility of control orders, and what is gained for derogating from the ECHR to keep using these in a handful of cases).

The pressure group Liberty sets out its critique - and alternatives - in its campaign resources on the issue.

Despite the intriguing delay in the government's decision, the balance of the odds are still against the Coalition parties deciding that the scrapping of control orders is one pre-election pledge that they should keep.

(New terror headlines may have an impact too, though LibDemVoice rightly points out today, this would undermine most of what the Coalition parties said in the past. That a genuine terrorist threat persists has never been seriously contested; that must be the starting point for scrutiny about the efficacy as well as the principles behind anti-terrorism policies and strategies).

So you turn if you want to, as Mrs Thatcher once said. And yet, if they could make it all the way around 360 degrees before Christmas, the Coalition could yet claim to be not for turning on this one after all.

The big society and the time squeeze

Ed Miliband's speech [full text] to the Scottish Labour conference yesterday contained an interesting passage arguing that the good society/big society depends on a political economy which understands time pressures if it is to be more than rhetoric.

Let me tell you also what we understand: the good society depends on the fair economy.

If you are holding down two jobs, working fourteen hour days, worrying about childcare, anxious about elderly relatives, how can you find the time for anything else?

That's why we need an economy which lifts people out of poverty and supports not just a minimum wage but a decent living wage.

Until we address the conditions that mean that people's lives are dominated by long hours, then the big society will always remain a fiction.

For many people, that would be a significant reality check to the otherwise laudable exhortation to arms and civic engagement at the end of David Cameron's party conference speech this Autumn.

So that great project in your community – go and lead it. The waste in government – go and find it. The new school in your neighbourhood – go and demand it.

The beat meeting on your street – sign up.

The neighbourhood group – join up. That business you always dreamed of – start up.

Michelle Harrison of the Henley Centre looked at 'the inequalities of everyday life' for Fabian Review back in 2006, setting out data showing how the value placed on time can easily be underestimated in public and political debate.

Which of these resources is most valuable to you in everyday life?

Time 41% most; 5% least
Energy 27% most; 4% least
Money 11% most; 18% least
Informaton 9% most; 33% least
Space 5% most; 47% least
Michelle Harrison, Henley Centre, Fabian Review, Spring 2006

I would be interested to hear if anybody knows of more recent data on whether attitudes towards time have shifted since.

Yet the distribution of time has probably been a less prominent social issue since the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession. Some would anticipate that quality of life concerns - sometimes referred to as "post-materialist" issues - would take a backseat to more bread and butter economic concerns.

Yet it is likely to be more complicated than that. With living standards are stagnant or falling for many people - for example with wage freezes or increases less than inflation, and rising costs of childcare, utility bills and transport - then the option to trade-off money and time may disappear and become more difficult, quite probably across the income spectrum. So time pressure could become more acute for people, particularly if exacerbated by increased economic stress.

Harrison wrote that the increased social salience of time pressure over the last two decades was often misunderstood, suggesting that it was a "peculiarly inclusive social trend".

By the start of the 1990s, the phenomenon of time squeeze had emerged. While the Sunday papers caricatured time squeeze as the height of yuppiedom, it was actually a peculiarly inclusive social trend. Certainly, high-powered executives exemplified the long-hours culture, but so did a typical single mother holding down three part-time jobs, juggling the school run and the family shop around them.

What Henley Centre research showed was emerging inequalities in the ability to manage this social shift. Whilst the wealthier (social class AB) were increasingly willing to spend money to save themselves time, the poorest (social class DE) could not ...

Women are more likely than men to feel stressed; they are more likely to feel exhausted at the end of the day (particularly if they are mothers). They are uniquely short of energy, which for them is in far shorter supply on a day to day basis than either time or money. (Conversely, they are less willing than men to feel they can spend money to buy themselves time).

The economic, social and technological contexts have shifted again in several different ways, but time pressures may well often be front-of-mind for many in the 'squeezed middle'.

Addressing these through politics is difficult: we experience the issues of juggling work, family and other demands as pressures which we have to navigate and negotiate individually - with partners and family and employers - and so may well tend to be sceptical about the possibility of generating collective societal shifts which could make a real difference to these individual choices (though some issues - such as help with childcare provision and costs - can cut through this).

So tangible ideas which link and address the economic and time pressures for the squeezed middle could well resonate for Ed Miliband ... if anybody has got the time to listen.

Friday, 29 October 2010

New poll: more than half of renters cannot absorb a housing benefit cut

More than half of people renting – 49 per cent in private rented housing and 66 per cent in social housing – would face financial difficulties if their income fell, such as through a cut in housing benefit, according to a YouGov poll commissioned by the TUC and the Fabian Society published today (Friday). The polling forms part of a forthcoming Fabian research project for the TUC addressing the links between housing and employment policy.

While the government is cutting housing benefit and mortgage support, more than half the population want to see greater support from government for renters and mortgage payers who get into difficulties with housing costs or who face losing their home.

The figures show that the government’s housing benefit cuts will not easily be absorbed by renters, nor be popular with voters.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “It is no wonder the housing benefit cuts are causing such difficulties for the government, even within their own parties.

“Ministers want us to believe that housing benefit is going to what they would call work-shy scroungers, yet in reality only one claimant in eight is unemployed. The rest are mainly low-income working households, pensioners or the disabled.

“Then they tell us that people can absorb a cut in their housing benefit. This poll shows that most cannot. One in three renters already says that the stress of keeping up their rent payments has hit their performance at work.

“Thousands of people will have to uproot and move out of homes where they may have lived for years and have settled lives. Children will have to move schools. Lone parents carefully juggling work and child-care will lose support networks and have to give up work.”

YouGov found that 31 per cent of private renters and 44 per cent of social renters said that their income is normally about the same as spending; but if their income was to fall by say, 10 per cent, that it would cause real difficulty. Of those surveyed, 18 per cent of private renters and 22 per cent of social renters said that they were already worried because their income was less than their expenditure.

The survey revealed that 39 per cent of private renters and 31 per cent of social renters reported that the stress of maintaining their rent payments has affected their performance at work.

When asked “Taking into account current pressures on public spending, to what extent do you agree that government should provide a stronger ‘safety-net’”, 56 per cent agreed with more support for renters and 60 per cent with more support for homeowners “who face difficulties with their housing costs or face repossession”.

* Poll details: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,967 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 24-25 October 2010. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Full
poll results including a breakdown by voting intention are available at

Thursday, 28 October 2010

So, will Barclays carry out its threat to leave UK? (Or the "exodus" that never quite happens)

City AM reports that Barclays weighs up costs of quitting UK

Time is running out to halt exodus
"The ball is in George Osborne’s court; he needs to drop his anti-City rhetoric and taxes before it is too late", opines editor Allister Heath, though he does balance the reporting and commentary by pointing to the many "barriers to exiting" which make it unlikely to happen.

The story may be widely reported - as threats to go often are.

But you might have missed the reports of these threats being carried out?

It it time that analysts quoted in these "exodus" stories and media outlets reporting them offer a full disclosure of what (with hindsight) they now think of any earlier predictions they have made in the last two years?

Previously on 'Should I stay or should I go'?

'Accountants warn of 50p tax exodus' FT 19.9.09

'Tax rise may spark entrepreneurial exodus' FT 5.12.09

...but will they really all leave? Telegraph 20.11.09

Threatening to leave Britain and actually going - leaving behind friends and family, selling homes, uprooting children - are two very different things ... Surrendering one's residence in Britain really does mean leaving these shores. The Revenue has cracked down on those claiming technical non-residency, examining the overall nature of their links with Britain. You may stay away for all but 90 days a year but that may not be enough if your wife and children are still living in the UK.

(Depending on what you think of them, of course).

'Banking exodus fears over 50p tax exodus overdone', FT 17.5.10

"Senior bankers in London are still typically earning twice as much after tax as those in Geneva and Zurich"

UK levy not taxing for banks, 23 June 2010

Banking sector “can count itself lucky” at modest bank levy of £2.5 billion, reports Wall Street Journal.
Bank shares rose on news of a smaller levy than anticipated. The UK levy is 0.04% compared to 0.15% in the US. One analyst says any tax under £5 billion will be considered a "rounding error".

Banker exodus fails to hit City, FT 15.10.10

"From practical concerns over infrastructure and regulation to quality of life issues, executives are proving “stickier” than many feared"

Last year, Tullett became one of the first organisations publicly to offer to help relocate teams of staff looking to move out of the UK, largely to fend off poaching raids by non-UK firms. While that offer remains open, this week it emerged that it has yet to be taken up by a single team.


Another bonus tax or some other levy on pay could prompt a much bigger number of defections. But for now, the fears of an exodus of bankers have yet to materialise.

Comprehensive spending review

Chancellor George Osborne says his aim is "to extract the maximum sustainable tax revenues from financial services".But he has heeded the exit threats. The Guardian reports that analysts believe he is now likely to reduce the levy from 0.04% so it does not raise more than £2.5 billion.

Because of Treasury miscalculations and back-of-the-envelope policymaking at the party conference, Osborne (who thought he was raising £1 billion rather than £2.5 billion) has somewhat accidentally now proposed to raise more in cuts to child benefit than from the bank levy.

Osborne will no doubt be talking tough again during the bonus round. How can he not, given what he has said in the past?

When it comes to the Government and the banks, surely the public are entitled to ask why the Government talk tough and make promises, but then fail to deliver. As we wait to see bonus payments over the coming months, we will remember the Prime Minister's promise that the era of the big bonus is over.
- George Osborne to the House of Commons, 26th November 2009

But his bark is so much worse than his bite.

And so it looks like the banking lobby's assertive advocacy may (just) have been effective enough to keep them here after all.

For now ...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cameron's lack of (electoral) self-confidence

To the unfamiliar anti-Fabian surroundings of the Institute of Economic Affairs last night for the launch of "The British General Election of 2010" by Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley, the latest in the unparalleled series formerly known as the Nuffield election studies.

I've blogged for the New Statesman about the "election inquest" launch panel, in particular the election guessing game played by the Cameron inner circle on election morning - "Cameron's team sat round Steve Hilton's kitchen table in Oxfordshire and made their predictions; most were for the Conservatives being the largest party but without a majority".

Neither Cameron nor Osborne thought the Tories had done enough to win outright - and Andrew Cooper of Populus last night said that Cameron was primarily worried about whether he had secured the 300 seats which would probably get him into Number 10. Is it true that Osborne was closest to the real result? Our challenge now to the insider commentators and bloggers of the right is to compile - six months on - the league table of that predictions guessing game. Perhaps Tim Montgomerie (whose ConservativeHome post-election inquest is taken very seriously in the book), Daniel Finkelstein, Benedict Brogan, Iain Dale or James Forsyth might prove best placed to flesh out the betting, and reveal whether anybody in the top Tory team did think they had done enough to win a majority

The book also reveals that the persistent "perception that they would, in a crunch, stick up for rich and privileged people" kept David Cameron awake at night. Coalition was therefore grasped as an opportunity to push forward a brand decontamination strategy which stalled a couple of years in.

That is another reason why the "fairness" debate over the regressive budget and CSR could have important long-term consequences.

Even on a magpie-like skim-read over the last week, it's clear that the book could keep this blog in copy for weeks. It is clearly the only thing the political anorak in your life could want for Christmas. (I should declare some bias in favour of the book, having been involved in publishing the 1997 edition, about which I've blogged previously, but it is a view pretty universally acknowledged among the political classes).

Why southern discomfort is different this time around

The 2010 election saw Labour in sharp retreat in the south of England, winning only 10 southern seats outside London, reviving the "southern discomfort" debates of the early 1990s about the essential role of political success in the south for a Labour majority. In this guest post, Patrick Diamond, coauthor of the recent Southern Discomfort Again pamphlet, warns that the answers will not be the same as they were in the 1990s, and will require Labour to develop a new political economy.


At the core of Southern Discomfort Again - the report I recently co-authored with the Labour peer and biographer Giles Radice (full text available online) - is the argument that any party seeking to recover from electoral defeat has to develop a coherent analysis of why it lost, and what ought to be done to put it right. If Labour is to escape the impotence of opposition, it will need to frame a compelling political strategy that can enable it to win next time. That has to mean addressing the crippling political weakness that the party faces in the South of England.

This latest study, carried out in conjunction with Policy Network and You Gov, is the sequel to the Southern Discomfort series undertaken by the Fabian Society in the early 1990s. (Available online at the LSE Fabian archive: tracts 555 and 568). Then as now, Labour achieved an appalling result in much of the South and the Midlands, threatening its status as a national party. Both reports were based on in-depth qualitative and quantitative research with 'floating voters' in southern marginals, a technique pioneered by the polling expert, Deborah Mattinson.

At the same time, the strategic inferences drawn from the research diverged starkly. In the 1992 election, voters saw Labour as a class-based party rooted in the past, which had little to offer aspirant families such as their own. They wanted change after thirteen years of Conservative rule, but feared that a Labour Government would mismanage the economy, raise their taxes, and put the country in the grip of trade union power. As a result, Labour suffered its fourth consecutive election defeat. 

Today, many of the strategic weaknesses that afflicted Labour in the early 1990s have been eliminated. Clause Four has been re-written. Memories of the Winter of Discontent and trade union extremism have been banished from popular memory. Few voters now reject Labour as a matter of course, and the party is no longer regarded as unfit for office. Labour has every reason to be cautiously optimistic about the future, but it can ill-afford to be complacent about the depth of the ideological and strategic challenge the party now faces. The ‘one more heave mentality’ will not be enough to secure victory next time.

In 2010, insecurity has replaced aspiration as the dominant concern of wavering Labour voters. This means that Labour will not recover electorally simply by reviving the core New Labour assumptions of the 1990s, nor retreating to the comfort zone of Blair and Brown’s modernisation agenda. 

At the heart of the Blair-Brown model were two core premises of political economy. The first was that economic growth in the British economy was only amenable to supply-side intervention in infrastructure and human capital. The role of government was to set the optimal framework conditions through macro-economic fine-tuning, leaving globalised markets to deliver higher aggregate output and productivity. This left the UK economy dangerously unbalanced, heavily skewed towards financial services.

The second assumption was that governments should ensure that the rising tide of growth 'would lift all boats' in Robert Kennedy's phrase. The purpose of fiscal and social policy was to narrow inequalities between the bottom and median deciles of the income distribution. As a result, relative poverty rates fell during the New Labour years, but lower and middle income Britain was increasingly left behind due to soaring, run-away inequality at the top. 

The consequence of these discretionary policy choices, combined with globalisation and technological change, was that by the early 2000s, Britain's middle income earners were increasingly squeezed. As the TUC's influential 'Unfair to Middling' (2009) report by Stewart Lansley revealed, three factors placed lower and middle income earners in the slow lane of economic prosperity:

A sustained wage squeeze has meant that average earnings are now rising more slowly than productivity. The share of national income going into wages has declined sharply, from 65 per cent in 1973 to 53 per cent today.

The earnings pool is increasingly concentrated at the top, compounding the squeeze in average wages.

The employment opportunities that are available to those on lower and middle earnings are also in decline.

As the report makes clear:

"The wage squeeze is only part of the story behind the slipping in the relative standards of middle Britain and the nation's changing social shape. The impact of falling average wages has been compounded by another apparently systemic economic trend - the increasing concentration of earnings among the highest paid". 

At the root of greater insecurity is the higher level of income inequality and income volatility.

As Robert Skidelsky, biographer of Keynes, has noted: 

"Keynes argued that excessively unequal income distribution greatly increases the danger of financial instability, leading to economic collapse. He favoured policies of income redistribution to increase what he called 'the marginal propensity to consume'. Instead we have allowed median incomes to stagnate and wealth to pile up in the hands of a financial oligarchy, with growth increasingly reliant on financial speculation and over-borrowing (Skidelsky, 2009). 

The structural context of greater risk, financial instability and pervasive insecurity in the UK is acutely relevant to Labour's strategy for electoral recovery in the South and the Midlands. The key group of wavering voters are on middle incomes of £20-35,000 per annum, far from conventionally affluent. They have seen modest improvements in living standards since 1997, but in recent years pay rises have failed to keep pace with inflation, household incomes are more unstable than at any time in the last forty years, and job insecurity is widespread with increased polarisation and hollowing out in the labour market as the result of technological change, migration and temporary agency working.

At the same time, middle income families have been forced to absorb greater responsibility over the last thirty years - from higher education funding to pensions and social care - as collective provision has gradually been withdrawn. 

This 'great risk shift' in Jacob Hacker's phrase will not be reversed overnight, but the strategy of 'rebalancing' our economy is crucial, as well as re-imagining the collectivist institutions that protect people from risk and ensure a fairer distribution of opportunities. Rebalancing has to mean making the UK economy less dependent on debt; making institutions more resilient in the face of global shocks; reducing the vulnerability to poverty of those in work and increasing incentives to find employment; most of all, it means reversing the pattern of declining wage share by putting the UK economy on a high-wage, high-skill trajectory.

That requires a pro-active industrial strategy, in which governments are prepared to shape and restructure markets in the public interest, investing strategically in sectors from energy and low carbon to new hi-tech industries that will help to spur innovation-led growth. On skills, Labour has to accept that supply-side interventions will do not overcome market failure, and that sectoral skills’ strategies are required in which employers contribute fairly to the long-term cost of retraining, as part of a new deal with business.

Developing a new British economic model will be fundamental to Labour's electoral success across the country, reviving Britain’s industries and services after the global financial crisis. But it should also enable the party to regain a crucial foothold in the battleground seats of the South and Midlands, on which victory next time will depend.

Patrick Diamond is Senior Research Fellow at Policy Network and Nuffield College, Oxford.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Express malfunction in good news shocker: normal service to be resumed shortly

The world of middle market tabloid news was thrown into turmoil tonight.

Something seems to have gone badly wrong at the Daily Express.

Richard Desmond's paper had seemed to be in the finest of form. Its distinctive coverage of the Comprehensive Spending Review fallout suggested the Express was limbering up impressively for an assault on its own Guinness Book of Records' best for the number of times it could run the same front-page story in a week.

Take Tuesday's ...

We give away most cash in Europe

And Saturday's ...

Every family in Britain will have to pay £2,000

And Thursday's ...

If Britain is so broke

Perhaps the next in the series will be along on Thursday.

But does Wednesday's front-page really capture the spirit of engagement with modernity that we have all come to expect from the newspaper?

Statin wonder drugs help to save millions.

Surely shome mishtake?


Newsrooms: Do you ever find yourself short of an idea for a splash? Why not seek inspiration with this Google images collection of Express classics.

Disability benefit reforms fail the liberal test

'The worst thing that can happen to one in the relations between man and man', said Rousseau, 'is to find onself living at the mercy of another.'

According to some philosophers, freedom is centrally about not living at the mercy of another.
It is about not being subject to another's power to intervene in one's life at their discretion. Freedom is, in this sense, independence - the power to refuse dependency on others and their uncertain goodwill.

Liberalism in Britain has historically seen it as a core objective of the welfare state to help secure independence in this sense.

Yet two reforms to disability benefits announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review last week fail this liberal test and fail it badly.

Two key benefits for the disabled are Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which is intended as an income replacement benefit for those out of work due to disability; and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which is intended to help with the extra living expenses of disability (e.g., having to buy equipment to help with mobility).

ESA was introduced by Labour as part of its reforms to incapacity benefit. It involves a Work Capability Assessment which is now widely regarded as grossly insensitive to the needs of people with disabilities and health problems. The assessment regime is under review. Given the Coalition's clear intention to make big savings on the welfare budget, including from disability benefits, one might wonder whether significant change is likely. We'll see. You never know.

Meantime, as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review, the Coalition has announced two changes to the above benefits.

First, for those on contributory ESA judged to be work-capable, the benefit will henceforth be means-tested after one year. So if you are on ESA, and you are judged work-capable, as the large majority of disabled people now are, then you will lose the benefit after a year if you have any significant savings or a partner with enough earnings.

Second, the Coalition has announced that it will cut the mobility component of DLA for those in residential care.

Both reforms clearly fail the liberal test of protecting freedom as independence.

The DLA reform, which has provoked moving testimony from disabled blogger BendyGirl, takes away the resources that the disabled in residential care need to have independent mobility - to be able to do things like go to the shops without relying entirely on the good will of others to make this possible. It really does put the disabled people affected entirely 'at the mercy' of carers for getting around.

The ESA reform, too, undermines independence. It does this, for example, by forcing disabled individuals who can't find a job to rely even more on their partner for financial support. What's wrong with that? Well, if one accepts that financial dependency on an individual gives power to that individual, power over those who are dependent on them, there is a lot that's wrong about that. The reform once again directly creates the kind of vulnerability that, on a liberal view, is hostile to freedom.

I can see one kind of Liberal Democrat response coming. Yes, its bad. We disagree with it. But this is a Coalition. We have to put up with all kinds of things we disagree with.

Maybe so. But there is a need to be honest about just how deep the contradiction with liberal principle is - an honesty that is unlikely to be forthcoming if one follows Nick Clegg's attempt to redefine the liberal value of independence in terms of the Thatcherite value of 'self-reliance'.

And in the case of the DLA reform, which saves very little money, I suspect I am not alone in being struck by just how little has been gained in return for the repudiation of liberal principle.

Health, wealth and happiness

A new Fabian report published today says that in order to make progress on tackling stubborn health inequalities, the Government must bring the battle to the heart of its work programme.

Building on Sir Michael Marmot's report published earlier this year, and drawing on evidence that health inequalities are a function of wider wage and wealth inequality, authors Howard Stoate - a GP and former Labour MP for Dartford - and Bryan Jones show in 'Work, the Grand Cure' how a "renewed focus on job quality across the whole of the employment spectrum could help us make a significant dent in health inequalities in this country".

They say that even in austere times, a creative government could harness the long term social and economic benefits of a happier and healthier workforce. They offer the coalition a series of policy recommendations, including:

* A well-enforced employment strategy led by a single agency that encompasses everything from paid holiday entitlement and statutory sick pay to the pay and conditions of part-time agency workers relative to those of permanent full-time employees. Such an agency would have more teeth and more impact than the hotchpotch of agencies and strategies that we have now.

* A new ‘National Employment Rights and Innovation Office’, capable both of tackling recalcitrant employers and also of providing a comprehensive package of support and encouragement to firms that have been slow to adopt the latest statutory requirements and best practice ideas.

* A free public transport ‘happy hour’ for instance every Monday between 10 and 11am on all local and commuter bus, train, tube and tram services.

* A body that could provide employee-owned enterprises with advice and practical support. This new body should also offer grants, preferential loans or subsidies to help pay for the financial and legal support required when an employee group tries to bid for their company.

* A package of fiscal incentives to employers who are prepared to release a fixed percentage of employees from each rung of their pay scale for a specified period of voluntary work each year. As well as appealing to employers that have previously given little thought to volunteering, it would help to strengthen existing volunteering schemes that employers have already brought in.

* A new coalition Green Paper on commuting and the extended economy setting out the long-term economic, social, environmental and health-related benefits that would flow from a cut in commuting.

* Fiscal incentives or grants aimed at encouraging employers to allow more of their staff to work from home at least one day a week on a regular basis.

* Compel every employer to release details of the total salary and benefit package that every post in their organisation attracts. The information should be freely available on their websites and should also be fed into a central, publicly provided, database that anyone can access.

* A ‘good work’ accreditation that measures an employers’ commitment to enhancing employees’ control over their work, to stamping out monotony within the workplace, and to involving all employees in an organisation’s decision-making process.

Read more about the pamphlet and how to get hold of it on the Fabian website here, and let us know your thoughts about its conclusions and recommendations.

Monday, 25 October 2010

How the pupil premium disappeared

The pupil premium is a good idea. This blog raised two cheers for Nick Clegg's flagship policy, pending the missing funding details.

The pledge was to protect the schools budget in real terms, and find "additional" money for the premium, with it being made very clear 10 days ago that this was "additional" from outside the DFES budget.

Unfortunately, the pledge that the funding would be "additional" to the DFES budget got lost between a major speech on the Friday before last and Wednesday's Comprehensive Spending Review. Some people are in denial about this and some aren't.

Compare and contrast.

Clegg secures £7 billion pupil premium as addition to schools budget, The Guardian, Saturday 16th October.

Today Clegg repeatedly described the funds for his fairness premium as "additional" – making clear he wants the money to come mostly from outside the education department rather than merely outside the schools budget by cutting "non-essential" education projects such as youth clubsand after-school activities, as had been suggested.

A senior No 10 aide said: "The money for this will come from outside the education budget. We're not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall."

As Allegra Stratton reported, Clegg cleared this use of additional with Osborne - and with Cameron's blessing - but it came as news to those further down in the Treasury process. Clegg had insisted that he had to make the speech on the final Friday (before the details were settled) as the last possible "good news" moment before all of the attention turned to the cuts announcement. Clegg clearly expected Osborne's clearance for the public commitment to entail a commitment to honour it.

Alas, not. Take Michael Gove admits pupil premium is not new money as today's Guardian reports the Education Secretary's comments at the weekend.

"At the moment we're consulting on how the people premium, which is the additional money, the additional £2.5bn that we've made available for the poorest students, will be allocated, and it depends precisely on whether or not we allow the people premium to go to slightly more children, or we target it very narrowly on the very poorest. Depending on that, you can then make a calculation about which schools will find that they're actually losing funding, and which schools will find that they're gaining funding."

He later insisted that though "quite a bit" of the £2.5bn will come from the welfare reforms announced last week: "Some of it comes from within the Department for Education budget, yes." He insisted that the schools budget safeguarded and that the savings would come from elsewhere in the DfE's £67.3bn, which also funds children's services and support for families and older teenagers.

And contrast that with the supremely creative accounting of former LibDem Chief Secretary David Laws.

On the account of friends and insiders, the Sunday Telegraph credits Laws with having assisted by "negotiating" the settlement as part of his application for a return to the Cabinet.

A friend of Mr Laws said last night: "David Cameron wants him back, Nick Clegg wants him back and I am certain David himself would like to return. Everything is in place but they need to get the inquiry out of the way first."

It has also emerged that Mr Laws played a key "behind the scenes" role in planning last week's Spending Review (SR) – particularly in negotiating a settlement for education which saw the schools budget effectively ring-fenced and protected from cuts.

Laws explains how he did it in today's Guardian - Why I'm proud of the pupil premium, an opinion page commentary to supplement the news report of Gove's remarks, admitting that he hadn't.

Writes Laws.

Some people have tried to make mischief by claiming that the pupil premium is not additional money. This is nonsense. Without the pupil premium, I suspect that the budget for schools would have been based on a per pupil cash freeze for the period up to 2015. That would have meant a real cut in schools funding over the next few years. Instead, schools funding will rise by 0.1% (above inflation) each year until 2015 – that is a major achievement when the budgets of some departments are being cut by as much as a third. This is also a real-terms guarantee which the last Labour government was not able to make ... It would, however, be a terrible mistake to think that the main purpose of the pupil premium is to protect schools from cuts.

This is ludicrous. Laws claims that the pupil premium is additional money by hypothesising that there would have been a 9% real terms schools budget cut without it (despite the separate pledge to protect the schools budget), and then claims that the schools budget is pretty much exactly the same (a smidgeon higher) in real terms, in order to support an argument that the purpose of the premium is not to protect schools from cuts, at the same time as arguing that this is precisely what it has done.

Yet Laws' sleight of hand doesn't stop there. (Even the great Osborno might learn a conjuring trick or two here).

But schools funding is down in real terms, overall, since the 0.1% real terms increase applies only to current spending, with schools capital spending down by as much as 60%.

And per-pupil funding will certainly fall since the increase in projected pupil numbers is much greater than the "real terms" current spending increase anyway, as Public Finance sets out drawing on the IFS analysis.

However, Luke Sibieta, an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told PF that when inflation is factored in, spending per pupil will decrease by 2.25% over the Spending Review period.

‘Ignoring the pupil premium and inflation completely, Osborne does increase schools spending enough to meet the increase in pupil numbers,’ he said. ‘In other words, before the pupil premium the government just about maintains spending per pupil in cash terms.’ However, when inflation is factored in, this represents real-terms cuts of 10% over the four-year period, he said.

‘But the pupil premium then limits the real-terms cut in spending per pupil to about 2.25%,’


Finally, the proposal to weight a pupil premium so it will be worth two and a half times as much for the school of a free schools meal pupil in affluent Wokingham as in deprived Tower Hamlets will restrict its ability to target disadvantage, leaving its impact on inequality unclear.

The government appears to have overestimated the extent to which the considerable curent funding for educational disadvantage on an area-based basis impacts on the less well-off in affluent areas. Hence the IFS proposal.

“Attaching the same pupil premium to all disadvantaged pupils regardless of where they live would not only be simpler, it would also be more consistent with the Government’s stated objectives.”

Laws writes that he would like the pupil premium to rise to £5 billion a year in the next Parliament. Again, a laudable goal. But his current methods would suggest there is little or no barrier to achieving that overnight, by simply moving the furniture around again, albeit with a very limited impact on disadvantaged students.

But the pupil premium remains a very good idea, and a principle which ought not to be undermined by the apparent failure to implement it. What we should now be looking for is ways to genuinely fund it. We'll report back with a propsal on that one: your ideas welcome too.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Castaway Clegg's revealing choices

The idea of leaving Nick Clegg on a desert island will doubtless polarise political and public opinion. Warning: this post contains spoilers for those hoping to listen to Radio 4's Desert Island Discs at 11.15am this morning - since the BBC has rather unsportingly provided a media preview.

Most media coverage highlights the deputy PM's wish to stash away some cigarattes, but his choices might also tell us more than he realises about the deputy PM's political project.

Clegg's book choice The Leopard is a fine choice. One hopes that Clegg intends this to show that he understands the underlying motivations of David Cameron's progressive Conservative project, since the novel is a subtle study of the importance to conservatism of having to adapt to progress if it is to secure its foundational goal: that things should change as little as possible.

"If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change", as Tancredi, the Prince's ambitious young nephew, says in the novel's most famous line.

The Prince, who is instinctively extremely worried about his nephew's embrace of and involvement in Garibaldi's Italian nationalist movement as a threat to aristocratic status, comes to understand that he is in fact far more minded to preserve the privilege and power of the traditional elite than he had realised, and has indeed developed a more effective strategy to do so.

Clegg may have had to u-turn on tuition fees, but perhaps choosing Shakira's Waka Waka keeps him down with the kids. The official World Cup 2010 soundtrack was first released the day after the General Election, and was in the charts through the World Cup after Shakira performed it (along with 'She Wolf' and 'Hips Don't Lie') at the opening ceremony. So it would seem to have provided Clegg's personal soundtrack - his Coalition Anthem, so to speak- for that heady first month of Coalition power last summer.

The lyric is pretty profound stuff too.

The pressure is on
You feel it
But you've got it all
Believe it

An even more personal choice is Prince's The Cross.

Its not quite John Lennon's The Ballad of John and Yoko - "The Way Things are Going/They're Gonna Crucify Me" - but there is clearly a theme there. However, the Prince lyric is more optimistic.

So a closer reading suggests a (slightly messianic) message to worried Liberal Democrats that their leader can turn around their opinion poll ratings.

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry, he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos 2 the left of us
Flowers 2 the right
There'll be bread 4 all of us
If we can just bear the cross

The reason he didn't choose Purple Rain instead is that Clegg's credentials as a Prince fan are truly impressive, as he told the Telegraph's Mick Brown in a campaign interview.

“I wasn’t what you’d call a groupie, but I did actually spend a whole year – 1990 I think – in Minneapolis, following him around while on a fellowship at the University of Minnesota. He comes from there. He used to try out new songs in bars and clubs, and I would go wherever I’d heard he he was going to be.

“Once I spent all night drinking in a bar waiting for him before eventually giving up and going home. And of course then I heard he’d turned up at 1 or 2 am and played the best gig anyone had seen.

“I think he’s gone slightly off the boil now. But at his height – and when I was that age – he was very clever, very funky and different. I don’t listen to him much any more. It was my Prince phase.”

Interesting stuff from the political artist formerly known as on the centre-left!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Will a control orders u-turn complete a triple whammy for the LibDem left?

James Forsyth of the Spectator rightly spots the non-barking dog significance of the loyalty of the LibDem left in not criticising the comprehensive spending review on fairness grounds, quoting a Simon Hughes press release endorsing necessary cuts as being "as fair as possible", which is striking given that on the social housing issue where Hughes sensibly chose to make a stand, he would appear to have been most comprehensively routed.

Forsyth notes that the LibDem leadership is confident it can secure sufficient Parliamentary support to reverse the party's totemic position on university tuition fees (for a moderately modified Browne review package), and has now navigated past the big moment of the spending review - and the perhaps somewhat unavoidable but surely undeniable fact that it is sharply regressive. (For constructive dissent, you need to look beyond Parliament to the Social Liberal Forum's politely assertive statement arguing the case for change from within, honestly acknowledging that the CSR is regressive and that the benefit changes can not easily be said to meet the tests set by the party conference).

And the LibDem liberal-left wing may now face a triple whammy in the next week or so, as another highly symbolic red line may well be crossed.

This is perhaps not ideal timing for the party leadership to be considering a u-turn on another totemic LibDem policy - the scrapping of control orders - which are an important symbol for many in the party of their commitment to civil liberties and human rights.

The LibDem manifesto pledged to "scrap control orders, which can use secret evidence to place people under house arrest" on the grounds that "We believe that the best way to combat terrorism is to prosecute terrorists, not give away hard-won British freedoms."

No date has been publicly given. But the government will shortly receive and publish the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism review on security and anti-terrorism policies. It is difficult to imagine that Nick Clegg does not already know what it will contain. There has already been informed press speculation that the review is set to recommend retaining control orders - in which case the key question will be whether Liberal Democrat ministers will support this. (The Conservatives also pledged to scrap control orders, but have never seemed particularly averse to retaining them).

The most obvious smoke signal that the Coalition are preparing to make the case for control orders is that the Coalition is believed to have already made two new applications for Control Orders since taking office in May.


It is very fair to say that Labour's record in power on these issues was often poor, too often giving too little weight and priority to civil liberties when dealing with some genuinely difficult dilemmas in forming counter-terrorism policies. (The LibDems argued this cogently, though if their ministers are now planning a u-turn may give them more sympathy for some of the trade-offs involved). That is acknowledged by Ed Miliband and new shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, though again this leaves open the issue of how to formulate the content of an effective and liberal new policy.

That case was made by an unusual suspect in an interesting, somewhat surprising piece by Tony McNulty, the ex-Home Office Minister who has a reputation as something of a New Labour 'hard hat' on these issues in Friday's Times (in a piece which would have generated rather more attention were it not for a combination of the CSR and the Times paywall).

The headline Labour got a lot wrong on terror, I admit gives the gist. (full piece (£))

I was Counter-Terrorism Minister in the previous Government. We got a lot right, but we made mistakes. Some policies simply did not protect the public; others failed to strike the right balance between public safety and liberty. An important part of Labour’s renewal in Opposition will be to get its counter-terrorism policy right.

First, Labour should reaffirm its commitment to the Human Rights Act; we will not defeat terrorism by reneging on this law. Upholding human rights may sometimes be terribly inconvenient in the fight against terrorists, but it is the price of democracy ...

Control orders have never been a satisfactory solution for detaining foreign nationals who cannot be deported. They were always a clumsy tool and successive legal judgments have further limited their scope. Although the coalition parties opposed them in Opposition, two control orders have almost certainly been imposed by them already since they gained power.

The current approach of using control orders for the most serious causes is no longer a sensible option. It means constant court challenges and the validity of orders being struck down by judges. The Government could use its derogation powers from Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 and carry on using control orders in all cases; but that would represent an admission that this country could not protect its citizens without moving away from the European Convention on Human Rights. This would be a propaganda prize for our enemies.

The brave and responsible option — and a big departure from Labour’s position in power — would be to scrap them. This would require, however, real guarantees that the security services and the police have the resources and manpower to keep terror suspects under surveillance.

McNulty also says that, five years on from 2005, that 28 days detention without trial is too long. The government has renewed this for 6 months while conducting its review.

But the past two years in which no one has been detained for more than 14 days give us a new opportunity to rebalance civil liberties and public protection. It’s not soft on terrorism to revert to the 14-day limit for pre-charge detention.

So there would seem to be a pretty good chance of a reversion to 14 day detention powers proceeding by all-party consensus (though the government might propose a limited series of exemptions for 28 days). Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan personally made a careful and cogent case for Labour supporting the government on this, if they were to present evidence for 14 days being sufficient, at the Fabian fringe meeting on the Sunday of Labour conference, before taking up his current role after this month's shadow cabinet elections.

On control orders, it now seems possible that a Labour party seeking to reconnect with liberalism and liberties may now collide with the Liberal Democrats u-turning on the same road in the opposite direction, a manouvere made more difficult to execute given how vocal the Liberal Democrats have always been on this issue.

Here are two fairly characteristic Chris Huhne press releases, both still helpfully available from

Labour’s discredited control orders must be scrapped says Huhne
(Mon, 18 Jan 2010)

“It is an affront to British justice," said the Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary.

Commenting on today’s High Court ruling that quashed control orders on two terror suspects and opened the way for them to claim compensation, Chris Huhne said:

“Today’s ruling must sound the death knell for Labour’s discredited control orders regime.

“It is an affront to British justice and the freedom people have fought and died for to place people under de facto house arrest without even telling them why.

“It now seems this fiasco is going to cost thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

“Control orders should be scrapped before any more time and money is wasted.”

And a challenge to Tory hypocrisy in claiming to be against control orders but not voting to scrap them.

Tories challenged to end control orders hypocrisy says Huhne
Fri, 26 Feb 2010

Ahead of the debate in the House of Commons on the renewal of the use of control orders for another year, Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne has written to the Conservatives to ask them if they will be voting against this renewal in the debate.

Chris Huhne said:

“We should not be the sort of country where ministers put people under house arrest without them even knowing the accusations against them. Control orders are pure Kafka and must end.

“Control orders are a constant reproach to Labour’s liberal credentials. The Conservatives have promised to vote with us against them but have repeatedly bottled out of doing so.

“Their line seems to be ‘Lord, make me liberal but not yet’.”

On control orders, a strong case remains that the Chris Huhne position (if perhaps too stridently absolutist in tone) was quite right in substance, and that this should be viewed as a core test of liberal principles, integrity and the values of British justice and democracy, and in October as well as in April. Moreover, the practical utility of control orders is also in doubt, a point on which Huhne and McNulty appeared to converge.

We can expect that case to be made very strongly by Liberty and other campaigning groups, should both the Tories and LibDems now both change their minds on this issue.

There is an arguable defence of a 'with regrets' position in favour of control orders as a last resort, on the grounds that holding responsibility for issues of security, terrorism and protecting citizens involves genuinely difficult issues in a small number of cases. That used to be Labour's position and the Conservatives are moving towards it.

However, that defence is not easily be open to anybody who has vocally challenged the integrity of anybody who took a different approach to the issue. It is more difficult to see how LibDems can credibly begin to make the case for nuance and complex trade-offs in an imperfect world without at least offering an acknowledgement of their own history of arguing the case solely as one of moral absolutes, to the extent of challenging any opposing view as authoritarian, self-serving and dishonest. (This point was made in a pro-LibDem piece by The Guardian's Julian Glover, in which he argued that criticism of the LibDems joining the government is far too vitriolic, rejecting the very idea that politics must involve compromise, yet noting that this mirroed "how the LibDems never presented themselves as deal-makers. Instead, they presented themselves as tellers of fantastical truths").

Perhaps - for Chris Huhne himself and other LibDems who have argued similarly - control orders will really prove a "red line" which can not be traded off or crossed.

Anybody who sincerely thought what he said was true would have to genuinely call 'No Pasaran' on this one. And perhaps he and his colleagues will. Let's wait and see.

If not, that may well be a further - and perhaps final - proof of the Forsyth thesis that the coalition looks set to remain remarkably robust, whatever cherished policies the LibDems have to ditch to remain within it.

Tuition fees are going, the parties are together on the Osborne economic strategy, nuclear power is (reluctantly) accepted in the coalition agreement, and the party pre-prepared on the ground that losing the AV referendum would not be cause to sulk off and take their ball home.

If control orders in the field of civil liberties are not a red line for the LibDem leadership or their backbench MPs either, the it would seem extremely likely that the Coalition can reach the end of a five-year term without ever finding one.

Would David Cameron have won this week's General Election?

Andrew Grice's column in today's Independent offers the chance (following Stuart White on the CSR) for another thought experiment from a parallel universe.

Grice writes:

Last Thursday was ringed in my diary with the words "general election?" I pencilled it in when the May election resulted in a hung parliament and there seemed every chance that a minority Conservative government would soldier on until David Cameron asked for a proper mandate and a second election.

There is a very interesting discussion of this in the excellent and indispensable 'The British General Election of 2010', the new 'Nuffield' election study, now authored by Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley (of Liverpool and Nottingham!).

As Kavanagh and Cowley write in their 'Five Days in May' chapter:

Post-formation, there was also a claim that the outcome was somehow inevitable, that there was - to use a phrase beloved of Mrs Thatcher - no alternative. Yet there were several alternatives.

Several figures around Cameron - though excluded from the negotiating team and his thinking - certainly favoured another approach. One option was to negotiate only on the basis of a confidence and supply arrangement and to refuse any requests for coalition. Others favoured an even riskier strategy - which was to imitate Harold Wilson's behaviour in 1974 and let the other parties take the lead ...

When negotiations between Labour and the LibDems failed, as they were sure they would, Cameron's authority would have been enhanced. He could then govern as a minority PM, calling and winning another election within a year or two or negotiate an agreement with the LibDems from a position of strength, knowing that Nick Clegg no longer had any alternative home. Ceding the initiative to Labour in this way would have been a high risk strategy, especially for Cameron personally (if Brown and Clegg did manage to patch together a deal, even one that only lasted for six months or so, that could have been the end of the Cameron leadership) and anyway there was no guarantee of winning another quickly held election. In both 1910 and 1974, the last two elections to see two elections in one year, the results barely shifted at the second contest. Moreover, as John Curtice shows [Nuffield appendix], the political geography of the UK has changed in recent years, producing fewer marginal seats so making a victorious second election even less likely.

The LibDems also had choices, though they were not easy ones. ...

They are right. Nobody knows what would have happened.

But that is quite a significant challenge to the conventional wisdom about this scenario.

And the assumption of an easy Tory victory in a second election is often the foundational reason why most Liberal Democrats who are not instinctive enthusiasts for this Coalition (such as Simon Hughes) believe that their party did make the best of a series of difficult options in May 2010. These Liberal Democrats have a very arguable case - but it can not be nearly as open and shut as they think.

The conundrum is this. If the outcome would have been as the LibDems think, why wasn't there much stronger pressure on David Cameron from within his own party to hold out against a Coalition (instead of immediately making that easily his preferred outcome) and so take the prize of single party rule? The primary answer is that this outcome would have been very far from certain. (One alternative hypothesis is that Cameron and his party's interests diverge: that if most Conservatives would prefer a majority government to a Coalition, Cameron would not if the majority is small, because he would substantively prefer to make concessions to Nick Clegg to not have to make them to some on his own backbenches. According to taste, this can be taken as proof of Cameron's centrism, or alternatively as an indicator that Clegg's instincts mean he converges with Cameron on the centre-right, and so is not likely to make red lines of concessions which Cameron can not comfortably make).

In truth, there are many more uncertainties in several directions in any "second General Election of 2010" election scenario. Here are a few of them:

1. The route by which the Conservatives would have established a minority government is not straightforward. Securing a minority government would have required a substantive negotiation with the Liberal Democrats, who would need to be ready to vote 'no confidence' were Gordon Brown to test the confidence of the Commons, before at least abstaining to let the Tories in. It is a plausible hypothesis that the negotiating position of the LibDems vis-a-vis the Conservatives is as strong (or stronger) in policy terms - for example, over the budget and spending review, in particular - with the significant exception of having any enforceable guarantee on futue election timing. (That suggests it might be plausible to note a possible trade-off here between policy influence and party interests).

2. David Miliband would probably be the Labour party leader, since the party would have had to hold a leadership election on the shortest possible timetable. It is probable (though not certain) that Ed Miliband would have contested the leadership, but his chances would have been weakened without a longer campaign. The advantages for David Cameron of seeking a mandate in power have to be weighed against the loss of the brooding Scot Gordon Brown as an opponent, though Labour would have ceded an "experience" argument at the same time. (If David Miliband were leader, there could well be a good party unity case for him having as Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls or Yvette Cooper!).

3. The prevailing assumption is that Cameron would win a "crisis mandate". But there would also have been limits to ramping up this argument. This would have proved at odds with Cameron's "reassurance" strategy which he felt was absolutely crucial to dealing with his party's (unresolved) brand decontamination issues. The electoral challenge, second time around, was not to deepen the conviction of the need for a Tory government among the 36% he had won - and so who were convinced by the Tory and press argument on this in May 2010 - but to persuade a significant number of voters who went LibDem or stuck with Labour in the election we had. So the Prime Minister would have been arguing about an urgent crisis and yet continuing (for electoral reasons) to say he saw no need for frontline service cuts (as he did on the final weekend in May 2010).

Yet David Cameron would face vulnerabilities within his own party and from his right, where the post-May debate has focused on the weaknesses of Cameron's strategy and the uselessness of the Big Society as a public argument. So there would have been a very clear probationary sense of "last chance saloon" over a second election, though he would have used the imminence of a future election to try to manage this, while key the Murdoch and Dacre papers would be caught between instincts to double up cheerleading to win the second time and challenging the leader to shift his advocacy their way.

The Coalition has both reinforced Cameron's centrist public position and largely insulated David Cameron from some very significant party management issues. One political challenge might have particularly been how to maintain a lid on manouvering about what would happen in the event of a second hung Parliament, since any flashpoint which saw these spill out into significant public divisions - potentially reinforcing the "same old Tories" message which Cameron's team think potentially "toxic" - is not clear.

4. The Liberal Democrats would risk being squeezed, as a second election would have been tougher for Nick Clegg after the deflation of Cleggmania, and the dangers of instability of a hung Parliament might well be perceived as being borne out.

It is not easy to see how the LibDems would have fought the second election, perhaps focusing mainly on defending the seats they held. This explains why the Liberal Democrats - as the Nuffield account goes on to set out - appear to have first decided that a coalition with one of the parties was preferable to supply and confidence, before confirming their choice of which party that would be in the circumstances.

The LibDems might also have seen their policy platform raided. David Cameron could have attacked them for irresponsibility and over immigration, while nicking their pupil premium and tax threshold policies so as to appeal to their voters (though he would have become more resolute against electoral reform). A Labour Miliband would have had a similar electoral interest in pursuing some symbolic and practical shifts - especially on political reform, and on civil liberties - to appeal to LibDem votes. The LibDems would have complained bitterly about this, though it is also a route to influence (as, for example, Labour's constitutional reforms from 1997-2001 and the gradual rise of environmental issues show).

Amn attractive option which the LibDems would almost certainly seize would be to appeal more strongly to specific strong voter segments - perhaps especially ramping up the pro-student rhetoric on their clear pledge to reject all tuition fees, being able to exploit here their wilingness to campaign vociferously on a promise which neither of the other parties felt they could ever responsibly match.

5. A broadly similar result to that of May 2010 would have made alternative Coalition options much more viable.

Despite the possibility of a LibDem squeeze, the electorate could easily decide not to have a hung Parliament, if there remained significant doubts about the dangers of giving the Conservatives a clear mandate among voters who did not vote Tory in May 2010. The probability of this outcome tends to be underestimated: the current electoral geography (and incumbency advantages) make any big shift within months very difficult.

I suspect David Cameron could well have had the most seats and votes, but perhaps with a narrower lead over Labour than the 7% he won in May 2010, and no majority in the House of Commons. Politically, it would not have been Gordon Brown who had been rejected, but David Cameron whose call for a mandate had been rebuffed (rather as with Edward Heath in the first 1974 contest). If the Labour and LibDem seats total were higher, there would certainly be most likely to be a Lab-Lib coalition. The stability of any government - minority or Coalition - without a formal majority would be stronger given that a third election would not have been a plausible option.

But let us take one more imaginative leap. If there was an alternative government, the politics would become very difficult as soon as we get out of the exciting topsy-turvy week of coalition discussions this weekend and over the week ahead. Were they successful in negotiating an agreement this time, then the key political challenge for Prime Minister Mr Miliband, his deputy Nick Clegg, Chancellor Ed Balls and Chief Secretary Vince Cable would quickly become how to work out how to make a persuasive public case for different and smaller yet significant cuts in public spending to reduce the budget deficit.

Right fears Coalition is losing the "fairness" argument; public agrees!

59% of people believe the CSR cuts are unfair because they hit the poor hardest, while 36% disagree. This includes 34% of people who voted Tory in May and 59% of those who voted LibDem in May. Only 30% believe the Chancellor's claim that the better off will bear the heaviest burden, while 64% disagree with that.

ComRes polling for Saturday's Independent 36% of voters think the LibDems should pull out of the Coalition because of the scale of the cuts (while 51% think they should stay in). This falls to 26% of LibDem voters at the election, and 27% of Conservative supporters, but is a stronger sentiment among younger voters.

The poll is causing some alarm at ConservativeHome, urgently promoting a backlash against the Institute for Fiscal Studies since Mr Clegg appears badly in need of reinforcements on that front.

So ConHome founder Tim Montgomerie is offering a fightback briefing - with his 20 progressive policy reasons to "forget" the IFS

We do so appreciate ConHome's appreciation of the left-wing blogs - with Next Left, Left Foot Forward and the Staggers singled out for apparently being at our "ruthless best" (most kind) in our "borg-like" propagandist dissemination of (err) thorough, authoritative and politically neutral IFS public policy analysis whose tediously reality-based factualness disrupts such a lovely Cameron-Clegg "narrative" about what they would like to be the case.

Montgomerie (no stranger to ruthless online advocacy) was especially impressed by Clegg's unfortunate claim that it would all look much better if the analysis was about public services, as well as tax and benefits. The Deputy PM couldn't be more wrong about that.

The very purpose of Tim Montgomerie's little list of pro-Coalition talking points is to reinforce and exemplify the Cameron-Clegg call for narrative selectivity. As Clegg said "I would ask people to have a little bit of perspective: if you look at some of the announcements we made yesterday, and add that to some of the announcements we made in the budget, I think the picture is a little bit more balanced than people are saying".

Whereas, if you look at all of the fiscal changes in the budget, and add them to all of the spending changes, you find out that Clegg and Osborne simply overclaimed. Montgomerie's own claim that "a large number of that list of twenty aren't even part of IFS calculations" is over-egging it too. Most of them are.

Still, if Tim Montgomerie wants to provide a list of 20 things that are fairer than fair, and Mr Isaby wants to recommend their borg-like repetition across the right, then it must surely fall to us to find out whether they stand up any better.

So here goes.

Do ConservativeHome's 20 claims for Coalition fairness stand up?

1. Benefits Reform and 2. Help into work

As the IFS analysis shows, Many of the changes in the CSR and budget have increased marginal tax rates and incentives to work, contradicting the government's policy area.

In principle, the government's universal credit is a good idea, though everything depends on the details, on which nothing substantial has been released. Several contradictory policy decisions have been announced: this week's IFS analysis show that the government's new council tax benefit changes entirely contradict the universal credit principles, and will make it more difficult for people to understand whether they would be better off working. There is also some policy dissonance with the (botched) child benefit changes: the Prime Minister and DWP Secretary have publicly contradicted each other over whether child benefit will be rolled into universal credit, or not.

3. Less tax for low income workers
- This is in the IFS tax and benefit changes. Indeed, the headline policy of raising the tax threshold to £10,000 contributes significantly to Coalition regressivity.
- As the IFS June budget analysis shows, most of the gains from raising the tax threshold goes to double-income households in the top half of the income distribution. The Spectator suggests the Tories should sell these tax cuts on that basis, by ditching the LibDem pretence that they are focused on the poor. (Investing in the universal credit instead of this headline tax cuts policy would be more progressive).

4. Protection for lower-paid public sector workers
Montgomerie is correct that the 1.7 million lowest paid public sector workers will not face the two year pay freeze which75% of public sector workers face, meaning a real terms pay cut. (However, everybody "protected" is still likely to face a real terms pay cut, albeit mitigated, since the flat rate increase of £250 amounts to 1.25% for somebody on £20,000, or 1.67% for a worker on £15,000, while inflation expectations are over 3%). In addition, public sector workers will also be asked to make higher pension contributions, further reducing their take-home pay.

The government projects that 1 in 10 public sector jobs will be lost during this Parliament, while the CIPD suggesting this 495,000 lost jobs figure is a "best case scenario", so many of those "protected" will also be vulnerable to losing their job.

5. More generous state pension.
- The initial changes are in the IFS tax and benefit changes. George Osborne attacked Labour for being miserly on pensions. That's daft when, because of Labour's sustained redistribution, pensioners are at a lower risk of poverty than other adults for the first time in British history. Osborne complained about the rising welfare bill, conjuring up images of unpopular benefits (unemployment benefit) which fell, and ignoring the fact that these were largely increases for pensioners and families with children.

6. Continuation of winter fuel allowance
- This is reflected in the IFS tax and benefit analysis.

- It also forms part of the rising welfare bill which Osborne attacked. The decision to protect pensioner benefits is unpopular on the right, but reflects David Cameron's election pledges under pressure. Both the IFS and TUC analyses shows that these choices explain why childless pensioner couples do much better in the spending review cuts than families with children or the disabled, who lose out heavily.

7. Protection of NHS spending
- This is reflected in the TUC Fabian/Landman spending analysis. The IFS points out that the marginal real terms increase will not keep pace with demographic pressures, even before the costs of the major NHS reorganisation come out of the same budget.

The IFS said the NHS was getting a real terms increase of 0.1% but referred to a piece of work they had done with the King's Fund which called for the NHS to get a 1% rise if it is to keep pace with an ageing population and the rising cost of drugs – the coalition's stated aim.

8. Taxes on the wealthier
- These are included in the IFS tax and benefit analysis.
- The Conservative Party has pledged to reverse these by the end of the Parliament, though doing so would lose the one 'progressive' claim which stands up: that, by keeping Alastair Darling's tax proposals at the top, the top 2% are contributing more (while the distribution across over 90% of the income spectrum is regressive). ConservativeHome wants the higher rate on earnings over £150k reversed, to help the "striving classes" in the 'squeezed middle'!

9. Schools budget protected against inflation
- The better than average schools settlement is reflected the TUC Fabian/Landman spending analysis.
- However, the IFS analysis shows that the real terms spending per pupil will fall, contradicting the government's claim to the contrary, because the 0.1% real terms increase is smaller than the increase in the number of students, and because funding for new academies comes out of the same resources.

10. Better schools for all.
- The Coalition's new academies are considerably less focused on disadvantage than current/Labour academies, which means that any comparative shift in resources to these schools will work against the pupil premium, rather than reinforcing it.
- The evidence from Sweden suggests free schools failed to improve standards, and that the policy there increased social segregation.
- The Department of Education is privately projecting the loss of 40,000 teaching jobs.

11. More pre-school education
- This is a good policy. However, the TUC has been almost alone in highlighting the very sharp CSR reductions in support for childcare through tax credits, with cuts of up to £30 a week for some working families on modest incomes: this is one of the less noticed and tougher benefit cuts, and among the changes to have negative work incentives.

12. Pupil premium
"As part of a £7bn package schools will receive additional funds to offer targeted help to every pupil eligible for Free School Meals"
- The IFS analysis suggests this is not true. As Martin Kettle noted, the promise of "additional funds" (from outside the DFES budget) appears to have disappeared since Friday.

A week ago, Nick Clegg made a speech previewing the progressive content of the spending review and highlighting the pupil premium's importance in an enhanced schools budget. The briefing about the speech was quite explicit: I have it in my notebook. This was new money, over and above the budget for existing programmes. It had been placed in the review because ministers knew they needed to show real progressive grit and put a genuine Lib Dem stamp on what would inevitably be a grim general contraction. Now, as a result of the IFS analysis, that claim appears to have been false.

13. 75,000 more apprenticeships
- A good policy, continuing and building on policy of previous government, though this will cost only one quarter of the £1 billion cut from adult training. The CSR committment to creating 75,000 apprenticeships in four years includes the 50,000 announced earlier in the year, while the Conservatives promised 100,000 at the election. Business groups are among those concerned this welcome move is not enough to counter the impact of public sector job losses.

14. Higher earning graduates to pay more
- The detail to be announced; it will also involve most graduates paying more than at present, and the proposal to have no fee cap at all is likely to be challenged both within and outside the Coalition on "fairness" grounds.

15. Controlled immigration
- Contentious. The means of implementing a temporary cap (ahead of a longer-term arrangement) have been criticised by the Business Secretary and the CBI for being clumsy and potentially economically damaging.

16.Freezing council tax and licence fee
- The Council Tax freeze is voluntary but incentivised. This may seem a slightly strange policy for a government committed to localism. Council budgets are being cut very heavily. These moves may help household budgets, though there are several other areas (increased bus and rail costs; increased childcare costs) which will increase household costs.

17. Big society bank: new funding for innovative community groups.
- The proposal to use dormant bank accounts builds on the policy if the last government. Whether and how far this involves real new money remains to be seen. Funding for community groups is be cut very sharply overall. ACEVO predicts the £470m of new funding will be dwarfed by up to £4.7 billion in lost income.

19. World leader in global poverty
- Yes, the government should be congratulated here. The commitment to excepting the 0.7% aid target from austerity cuts shows just how much the Labour governments from 1997-2010 transformed the cross-party political debate on development aid. It would be too soon to say that the political or public argument has been won. Tim Montgomerie's readers hate this policy.

20. Better aid targetting
- The detail remains to be seen. Development charities are concerned that too great a shift towards post-conflict nations may see DFID lose its core global poverty focus.


Of course, what the right too easily forgets is that the distributional fairness test is not (only) a preoccupation of leftist pointy-heads.

The main reason it has such headline prominence is that this is the central "progressive austerity" promise made by Cameron, Clegg and Osborne themselves.

The regressive graphs had less impact the day after the Thatcher-Lawson 1988 budget - because that government had been quite open about its "let our people grow tall" promotion of inequality, publicly rejecting the idea that any real poverty still existed in Britain.