Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tories' hatred of the public sector

There is a good article by Rowan Moore in today's Observer, about Michael Gove's recent attacks on the use of 'award-winning architects' to design schools. As Moore argues:

if environment were irrelevant to learning, then Eton College, the alma mater of many of the present government, would sell its agreeable slab of Berkshire real estate and move to low-cost units in a business park in Slough

Gove's attitude reminds us that even as Cameron et al. try to change the Conservative party's image, many modern Tories just can't help their visceral dislike of the public sector. So local government ministers appear to believe that councils should only employ the least able members of any given profession. And an education minister appears to believe that state-funded schools should be identikit boxes with no attempt to design for site contraints or local context and character.

I can't imagine any Lib Dem minister rubbishing the role of architects in designing schools, as Gove has done. While we recognise that the public sector is far from perfect, has a tendency towards waste and bureaucracy and that such things need to be challenged, we believe that the public sector has an important job to do. So, while there is much we can temporarily agree on with the Tories in reducing the defict, we and they have fundamentally different ways of thinking.

Friday, March 04, 2011

So Marchlands is over, but who drowned the cat?

I have just watched the last episode of Marchlands, which unusually I managed to see the whole series of without forgetting to record it or letting so much time elapse that it was no longer available ITV's equivalent of iPlayer.

If one makes allowances for it being a ghost story, it avoided annoyingly implausible endings.

Yet I hate loose ends in plots. So who drowned the cat in the garden pond in episode 2 (or was it episode 1)? Amy, the daughter of the household was suspected, but she blamed it on her imaginary friend Alice.

As a result, Amy was thought to have a personality disorder and was referred to child psychiatrists etc. However, Alice was not imaginary, but a ghost and at the end of the final episode shown to be a benign not an evil one. And Amy's family accepted that Alice was real so their daughter was not a budding psychopath, and all was well.

But in that case who drowned the cat? My experience of moggies is that they don't just fall into ponds, but the cat killer was never exposed. Perhaps this is just paving the way for a second series.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Could Barnsley Central have had a Conservative MP?

I hope it's not too disloyal of me to say that I don't expect a Lib Dem triumph in tomorrow's Barnsley Central by-election. Despite the circumstances that triggered the election, I suspect the Labour candidate will win comfortably, indeed well.

But what would have happened if the Lib Dems had followed the advice of bien pensant Guardianistas and so forth, by opting for coalition with Labour?

The government would still have been planning cuts 'deeper and tougher' than under Margaret Thatcher [copyright A. Darling]. It would also have been planning or have already implemented significant tax rises, perhaps including the VAT increase that Labour has so strongly opposed. Led by the party that had been in power for 13 years it could hardly have evaded responsibility for the economic situation. It would have either been led by Gordon Brown whose mandate the electorate had declined to renew or by a new Labour leader who had not even been a candidate for prime minister at the general election. It would also have been widely regarded as illegitimate, a coalition of the losers to keep out the largest and most popular party. All in all there is every reason to suppose the government would be deeply unpopular and that the Conservatives would enjoy a significant opinion poll lead by now.

The coalition would lack an overall majority and have started with only a nine-seat advantage over the Conservatives. Which brings us to the by-elections. Perhaps Elwyn Watkins would have been strong-armed into dropping his legal case in Oldham East and Saddleworth, leading to much bad blood between the coalition partners. But had he persisted, there is every reason to suppose the constituency would now have a Conservative MP. The Tory candidate was in a respectable third place at the general election and would have been the only credible recipient of anti-government votes, including those of Lib Dems who felt betrayed by Clegg keeping Labour in power.

And so to Barnsley Central. It might seem far-fetched to imagine the constituency electing a Conservative MP. But a swing on the scale of previous Tory by-election successes at Crewe and Nantwich or Norwich North would have been enough. If the idea of Barnsley having a Tory MP had seemed just too implausible the Conservatives could have 'done a Tatton' on Labour in the light of Eric Illsley's conviction for expenses fraud and run a Martin Bell-style anti-sleaze candidate.

With the whip withdrawn from Dennis McShane, the coalition's advantage over the Conservatives alone would have been down to four or five seats, putting it further in hoc to SNP, Plaid and Northern Irish MPs. After less than a year in power, the government would have the smell of death about it. Dissident Labour MPs might already have blocked or sabotaged an AV referendum. The Lib Dems would have had to compromise on tuition fees and be incurring opprobrium for unpopular cuts and tax rises. The Conservatives would be optimistic about sooner or later defeating the government on a confidence vote and of a big majority at the ensuing general election, gaining large numbers of Lib Dem seats in the process. The coalition would leave power with few if any achievements to its name.

Given the result of the general election a Lib-Lab coalition was never a serious prospect even had there been much greater goodwill between the parties. It is simply a useful chimera for those on the left who want to damn the Lib Dems' supposed betrayal. But it is salutary to ponder how things would have panned out in practice.