Friday, 28 January 2011


Which Liberal Democrat toady wrote the following, do you think?

The sense of hopelessness that clouds the poorest communities grows out of disempowerment. Of course beating crime, creating jobs, rebuilding estates can help. But this cloud of despondency can only be dispelled by allowing both local communities and individual citizens to more evenly and directly share in power. By cutting taxes for the low-paid. By making local services directly accountable to the local community. By making community courts and restorative justice the twin pincers that deter and prevent anti-social behaviour.

By allowing community-owned mutual organisations to take over the running of local services like children's centres, estates and parks.

As you may have guessed, I wouldn't have asked the question if the quotation hadn't been taken from an article by a one-time Labour minister. In  this case, it was Alan Milburn in The Independent of 7th May 2009. Some of his proposals are pure New Labour - for instance, a free choice of schools, which, in a climate of restricted public spending is in reality only a free choice for those with the sharpest elbows. However, in an earlier passage in the article he extols a traditional Liberal policy: encouraging employee share ownership and there are other parts which Liberal Democrats would not wildly disagree with.

Another sign that we may be entering a period of more grown-up politics, where agreement - especially on social policy - may be established across party boundaries came last week in the form of a parliamentary debate last week initiated by Conservative back-bencher Damian Hinds. The subject was disadvantaged children. Probably because it was one of two subjects selected for debate by the a back-bench committee under the new procedure, it was refreshingly free from the stereotyped slanging match of Prime Minister's Questions and debates on subjects chosen by the front benches. Certainly, concern was expressed about grand expectations coming to nothing if money was not available, and this criticism came largely from the opposition side, but the general tone was positive.

There was slightly more party edge to the debate which followed.  As might be expected from a motion on the subject of the finances of horse racing, most of the contributions came from members who had racecourses in their constituency, Conservatives in the main, but also including Liberal Democrats Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) and Ian Swales (Redcar). There was some chiding of the Labour front bench for not yet having a policy on the matter. However, there was general agreement that something needed to be done about the threat to the stream of funding from the Betting Levy, in view of the growing proportion of online and offshore gambling.

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