Monday, September 14, 2009

Think Tank Pushes Drugs Policy of Decriminalisation

zero_baseOf all the right-of-centre think tanks the libertarian-leaning Adam Smith Institute has always been a bit more spikey and willing to push the envelope than rival think tanks in Westminster wonk-land.

In economics the ASI was the mid-wife of Thatcher’s privatisation strategies which were exported around the world (the separate consulting arm spun-off from the institute advises foreign governments worldwide to this day). In the last decade it has (to little  avail) been putting the case for not just lower taxes, but flatter and simpler taxes.  Until now the wider libertarian social agenda was seemingly off limits and left to the various pressure groups and single-issue campaigns.

Madsen Pirie has never dodged the drugs liberalisation question in the past but the ASI has never pushed the policy until now.  Madsen Pirie told Guido he felt that the “war on drugs” approach had now been tested to destruction and that the political environment was more “convivial” to drug liberalisation.  Guido asked him “Do you mean that because we have a former self-confessed coke-head in the White House and a former stoner heading for Downing Street we might see change?” Diplomatically he replied “Well, it is fair to say, this generation of ministers will be more familiar with the issues.”

Zero Base Policy has 32 other manifesto recommendations…

UPDATE : Claudia Rubin from the Release campaign says

the last significant drug policy measure in the UK was implemented by Margaret Thatcher with the introduction of the needle exchange programme and it is fitting therefore that the ASI should be taking this view. Were he to become Prime Minister next year, David Cameron could mark 40 years of the failure of prohibition by doing something really necessary and sensible.

Phillip Oppenheim, a former Conservative Treasury minister in charge of Customs says in an interview out today that in office he tried to push government policy in a progressive direction.  There is nothing progressive about locking people up for smoking weed…

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cruddas Underwhelms

Guido has to confess to a soft-spot for Jon Cruddas. He comes across as the more thinking type of leftie – he spotted earlier than most within Labour that Cameron might have electoral appeal and a competitive ideological offering, when they were dismissing him merely as a salesman-chameleon.  He has shown a far better understanding of the Notting Hill set, possibly because he is a member. So his widely anticipated Compass speech last night was a little underwhelming.

He was good on the diagnosis of Labour’s troubles and the loss by New Labour of the social anchor of their core social base (LabourList has the full text). Policy-wise his prescription seemed as uncompelling as Gordon Brown’s own. The FT’s Jim Pickard took notes:

1 – establishment of a High Pay Commission – Yawn, symbolism of no consequence.
2 – greater tax justice, including closing tax havens and more equal distribution of income and wealth; Levelling down.  When even the Guardian uses tax havens you can bet they won’t be closed.
3 – index link benefit levels, pensions and the minimum wage to average incomes; Can taxpayers really afford higher dole and benefits with 6 million economically inactive welfare recipents and gargantuan government debt?
4 – replacing tuition fees with a graduate solidarity tax;  Whatever.
5 – a Fair Employment Clause in all public contracts; Whatever.
6 – windfall and transaction taxes and resetting capital gains tax; Sure, drive businesses,  jobs and capital overseas.
7 – a new covenant with the military, including more investment in mental healthcare, equipment, housing and support for veterans funded by scrapping plans to renew Trident and re-deploying the money saved within the Minister Of Defence budget;  Maybe.  Isn’t this LibDem policy?
8 – a Green New Deal, to include scrapping the third runway at Heathrow; Hardly going to inspire consumerist voters.
9 – remutualisation of the finance sector;  Half of it is nationalised already.
10 – a credit card bill of rights for consumers. ‘What do we want – Standardised APR definitions – When do we want ‘em? NOW!’ To the barricades comrades

If Cruddas is to be the source of inspirational ideas for the left, Guido has to say: the cupboard is bare.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Black Swan Guru Lays into Guardian

It seems to have gone unreported that Nassim Nicholas Taleb has written a scathing letter to Alan Rusbridger about the Guardian’s reporting of his public conversation with David Cameron accusing them of a lack of ethics.

Black Swan Guru v 20 WattHe rejects the charge of being a “climate-change denier” made by Lucy Mangan, and the suggestion that he thinks “climate change is not man-made” as alleged by Nicholas (20) Watts.

Taleb points out that “A minimum of homework on the part of your staff would have revealed that I am one of the authors of the recent King of Sweden’s Bonham Declaration on attitude to climate change.”

Nicholas (20) Watts is the senior political correspondent, he hasn’t had a very good silly season.  Made a monkey of over the Baltimore Mayor Hoax and accused  again of not doing his homework.  Hencke might have been slower, but he wouldn’t have screwed up twice like this…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

+++ Rose Friedman Dies +++

She died yesterday according to the annoucement on the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation website.

rose-and-milton

Our central theme in public advocacy has been the promotion of human freedom….it underlies our opposition to rent control and general wage and price controls, our support for educational choice, privatizing radio and television channels, an all-volunteer army, limitation of government spending, legalization of drugs, privatizing Social Security, free trade, and the deregulation of industry and private life to the fullest extent possible.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bell Pottinger Shall Party with the Tories After All

Like Cinderella it turns out that despite cancelling their own party, Bell Pottinger’s Peter Bingle shall go to the Tory ball. They are sponsoring Policy Exchange’s party at the Conservative conference.  Rumours of a six figure sponsorship deal turn out to be spin from rivals.  A “four-figure party” Guido is told. 

Hope there will be enough canapes to go round…

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Wonk Wanted : £100,000 Offered

The Institute of Economic Affairs has appointed headhunters at Odgers Berndtson to find a new General Director to lead the daddy of all think-tanks into the 21st Century.  The salary is £100,000, the closing date is August 28, if you want to brush off your CV.  Can’t be many wonks on that kind of money…

They say they are looking for a media-savvy, free marketeer with drive.   They should have political nous, but no party ties.  Guido has listed a few potential candidates previously.  There are also a few unemployed (and employed) journalists around who might be interested in the job.

At that rate even Guido could be tempted if it were not for the “no drinking on the premises” restriction…

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Think Tanks on the Taxpayer

The Taxpayers’ Alliance has discovered that last year £1.6 million found its way from the taxpayer to four left-of-centre think tanks; Demos, the New Economics Foundation; the Institute for Public Policy Research and the New Local Government Network.

Think tanks often have a role in thinking the unthinkable in present policy terms.  The New Economics Foundation is one of the most bananas of think tanks going. The New Economics Foundation, which was paid £601,518 in 2007-08, is responsible for the Happy Planet Index, which places Saudi Arabia and Burma above the United Kingdom and Sweden in terms of “achieving, long, happy lives without over-stretching the planet’s resources”.  This type of left-wing lunacy would not bother anyone much if it wasn’t for the fact that it us who are paying for this drivel.

Demos is the new base for James Purnell (shades of Ed Balls at the Smith Institute) it is a vaguely Blairite / New Labour.

The IPPR was set up in the mid-eighies specifically to give Labour some intellectual firepower.

The New Local Government Network was set-up (though they will vociferously deny this) to organise local government operators along more New Labour lines.

This is just not right, it is bad for the think tank’s independence at the very least.  How can they risk rocking the boat if the government is funding them?  No right-of-centre think tank as far as Guido knows gets any significant state funding.  This should be for the chop by Hammond on the first day of the new government.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Blundell Ousted from the IEA

Propeller-Head Wonk Watch: Dale is first with the news that John Blundell has been ousted from the directorship of the venerable Institute of Economic Affairs, the grand-daddy of think tanks.  To be honest whatever spin is put in the official announcement this has been in the offing for some time.  Guido made his view clear to all in wonkland last year: “Young Blood Needed at the Daddy of Think Tanks“.

The problem was that John Blundell was not only low profile, he was very expensive and was beginning to concern the trustees.  The complete lack of influence on the Conservative Party agenda on the eve of a change of government was a big disappointment. The IEA trustees very pointedly introduced a rule in April that no IEA employee could drink during business hours or at IEA events.  The IEA has also, like most think-tanks, suffered from a fall in donations post credit crunch.  Staff were recently put on a four day week.

Possible successors to Blundell who are likely to throw in their hat are said to include; Tim Evans, formerly with the Stockholm Network and now kicking his heels at the Libertarian Alliance, the IEA’s own Roger Bates and Julian Morris from the International Policy Network.   Bates and Morris have baggage which will probably rule them out of the running, both have acted too often as think-tankers-for-hire to directly push policies on behalf big agri-businesses and Big Pharma.   The IEA has always kept itself above that sort of thing, it campaigns for capitalism not big corporations.

Matthew Elliott is too happy where he is and will want to keep the pressure on the incoming government from the Taxpayers’ Alliance. His brother-in-law, City A.M.’s editor Allister Heath, is in with a strong chance.  If the IEA wants to become a policy player again he would be a good choice, with his contacts in the media and politics he understands what will get attention.  The only thing is that if (as is rumoured) Matthew d’Ancona is thinking of moving on from the Speccie, Allister might also fancy his chances there.  Other potential candidates from wonkland could include Progressive Vision’s Mark Littlewood or Shane Frith, both of whom have done work for the IEA in the past.  A lot of people would like to run the biggest think-tank budget in Westminster…

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Best Idea for MPs’ Second Homes Crisis Solution

Guido loves this idea from the Taxpayers’ Alliance on how to solve the problem of MPs’ second homes: house them in the Olympic Village after the Olympics.

There will be a legacy of 3,000 homes after the Olympics, so it would require no new capital.  The project has been nationalised already since it failed to attract outside capital, the 572 MPs outside London could be housed there at no extra cost.

As they point out, since the Olympics forms a major terrorist target the Olympic Village will already have been built with security in mind.  Housing MPs in a single location will make it easier to arrange a variety of services.

It is also constructed in an ecologically sound fashion and provides a low carbon  emissions means of transport connection to Westminster via the Jubilee line tube network that would take only 25 minutes.  If it is good enough for Olympians, it is surely good enough for our humble public servants…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cameron : My Government Will Be “Open, Online All the Time”

Dave has just finished a speech laying out some of his big ideas for the oft-promised (by him) “Post-Bureaucratic Age”.  He is advocating local control over schools, housing and policing with the right to initiate local and national referenda. More mayors; fewer quangos and open primaries for parliamentary candidates. 

All good, but has he really got the revolutionary zeal of Margaret Thatcher needed to take on the entrenched bureaucracy?

Dave is promising something easily achievable, so long as he can change the secrecy culture in public life:

“Everything about our political process published online, all the time: the expenses, the spending, the lobbying, parliamentary proceedings, the lot.”

That is doable.  Guido also wants to see every government contract published online, it is our money, we want to see where it is going.  “Commercially sensitive” is code for sellers don’t like price competition, secrecy hinders open competition driving down costs.  Publish what we pay.

Guido is even more sceptical about his plans to curb the power of the whips in parliament and the influence  of spin doctors in government.  It is not like he is without spin doctors in opposition.

He appears to be getting ideas from reading the right stuff.  In the Guardian this morning Cameron said

“the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; …  we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.”

Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell obviously influenced the writer because in theirThe Planthey said

“We need a radical shift of power …. redistribute power back, from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to town halls, from the state to the citizens. …. disperse power among communities, through localism and through referendums”.

The Planis a huge hit, an Amazon bestseller and the all-time best-selling publish-on-demand publication ever sold by Amazon.  Guido simply can’t recall a wonkish policy manifesto selling like this before.The Road to Serfdom maybe back in the forties is the only equivalent that comes to mind.  The internet is really, finally, starting to change how we do politics...

See also : Political Class Starting to Fear the Public’s Anger


Seen Elsewhere

The School That Proves Michael Gove Was Right | Toby Young
Full Jenkin/Beckett/Straw Letter to PM | Politics Home
The ‘Buckingham Bonaparte’ is Cornered | Speccie
Coalition: The Movie | Indy
Lefties Moan About Messina Working For Cameron | MSNBC
Karen Danczuk V Louise Mensch: Round 48 | Sun
Jack Straw Slams Bercow | Sky News
Putin Shuts Down Red Square McDonalds | Telegraph
Paper Trail Suggests Ashcroft Still Funding Tories | Indy
Bradford Bun Fight Coming | Speccie
Former Minister’s Join ‘Canberra Caterer’ Outcry | The Times


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Lord Glasman tells it like it is:

“The first thing is to acknowledge that Labour has been captured by a kind of aggressive public sector morality which is concerned with the individual and the collective but doesn’t understand relationships.”



Owen Jones says:

We also need Zil lanes.


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