Friday, 29 August 2008

The Swedish Model I: Why the Stockholm underground is so great

During the two years I lived in Sweden I lost count of the number of times ex-pat friends extolled the virtue of Swedish public transport and compared it favourably to its British counterpart.

The Stockholm underground, as every resident and visitor knows, is clean, cool, on time, and runs until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. What is more, one can get a mobile phone signal deep in the underground stations (not surprisingly, one might think).

My friends were right of course. The Stockholm underground is far superior to London’s and it is about to get even better. The reason for this, however, is probably quite the opposite of what they would have guessed. As Fraser Nelson explains:

Stockholm’s privately-run underground is about to go 24 hours, the latest
innovation from Connex (now renamed Veolia). Privatising the underground is seen
as too right wing for Britain , but not Sweden which is perhaps the most
socialistic country in the world... If London Underground ran all night, I
imagine that night time attacks on women would go down dramatically. Ken
Livingstone jacked up black cab fares in the evening so more drivers now work,
but while there are now more taxis on the street few can afford them. Every
night in London , you can see women ushered into the cars of strangers shouting
‘minicab’. If Boris could get London ’s tube running till 3am, never mind 24
hours, he’d score a great victory for street safety.

Indeed. Perhaps he’d best start by privatising the Tube.

Friday, 22 August 2008

A fantastic metaphor for the economy

Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr. may be focussing on the US Federal Reserve, but he could just as easily be talking about the UK when he writes

The current economic crisis “stems from… a Fed-driven banking system that turns
credit on and off like a monkey playing with a fire hydrant…”

What does the National Curriculum have to do with a Mao Tunic?

Jerry Kirkpatrick explains that
"The concept of [a] core curriculum is a product of education czars who think they know what is best for everyone. The government today does not run the clothing industry, but if it did, the "core curriculum" in clothing would probably be the Mao tunic. Instead, our free market in clothing performs extremely well in getting our bodies covered and it does so in a bountiful assortment of styles, colors, and prices."
If only we could have "a bountiful assortment of styles, colors, and prices" in education.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Make it Happen the musical?

Andy Mayer asked tonight whether Make it Happen had been made into a song, yet.

Apparently the answer is yes!

How can we lose?

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Watch out for the Locavores!

There's a lot of rubbish talked about food and the environment.

One current fad is to source all one's food locally so as to reduce one's "carbon footprint". The suggestion is that by reducing all those "food miles" one reduces the negative impact of shopping on the environment.

Is it true? And if so by how much?

The findings of two researchers suggest that the answer to the latter is "not much". According to Christopher L Weber and Scott H Matthews in their paper Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States,

Despite significant recent public concern and media attention to the
environmental impacts of food, few studies in the United States have
systematically compared the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated
with food production against long-distance distribution, aka "food-miles." We
find that although food is transported long distances in general (1640 km
delivery and 6760 km life-cycle supply chain on average) the GHG emissions
associated with food are dominated by the production phase, contributing 83% of
the average U.S. household's 8.1 t CO2e/yr footprint for food consumption.
Transportation as a whole represents only 11% of life-cycle GHG emissions, and
final delivery from producer to retail contributes only 4%. Different food
groups exhibit a large range in GHG-intensity; on average, red meat is around
150% more GHG-intensive than chicken or fish. Thus, we suggest that dietary
shift can be a more effective means of lowering an average household's
food-related climate footprint than "buying local." Shifting less than one day
per week's worth of calories from red meat and dairy products to chicken, fish,
eggs, or a vegetable-based diet achieves more GHG reduction than buying all
locally sourced food.
So instead of buying locally, we could just eat like Catholics and make a far larger contribution to reducing carbon emissions than by buying locally.

In fact, Weber and Matthews' findings are only half the story. The real measure should be the total environmental cost of local production verses most-efficient production. The point of trade, after all, is that is allows products to be produced where the production is most efficient. As Art Carden explains,
One of the "key elements" of economics is that trade creates wealth. Wealth is
whatever people value, but trade allows us to produce either more material goods
with the same resources or the same material goods with fewer resources. While
it does not profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul, trade increases
our ability to produce goods and services and therefore increases our range of

By producing food where it is most efficient to do so (i.e. where more foodstuff is produced per acre, per man-hour, per tonne of water, per combine harvester etc.), we actually reduce agriculture's impact upon the planet. Taking just carbon emissions for now, if 83% of food emissions result from the production of food and only 11% from transport from the farm via the factory to the shop, it is clear that improving the efficiency of production is a more effective means of reducing carbon emissions than buying food that is produced locally and less efficiently.

But why must local production be less efficient? There is no reason that it should (someone must live locally to the most efficient production, after all) but because greater efficiency equates to lower costs, the easiest way to measure the efficiency of production is to look at the price label. If it is worth importing goods from foreign countries it must be because they produce the goods more efficiently.

I realise that locavores are motivated by more than just the environment, of course. Mrs. Polemic has a whole Good Life thing going on! Carden himself notes that home-produced or locally-produced products may win on quality (though often the reason that commercially-produced food tastes so bland is the fault of Government regulation).

However, the environmental motivation for eating locally produced food is one of the main reasons many locavores advocate it, yet it may in fact be increasing carbon emissions.

So the next time you deliberately buy locally sourced produce, you can console yourself with the thought that though a Third World farmer has not enjoyed your patronage today, it doesn't matter, as his farm has probably been swallowed by the desert anyway!

Does it help the poor if you clear your own table?

A great example of how the minimum wage destroys jobs, courtesy of Art Carden at Division of Labour.

I was at a coffee shop yesterday when I noticed a sign saying "please bus
your own tables" (I paraphrase). I saw a similar sign at an ice cream place last
week; I interpret both as examples of the deadweight loss from the state's $8.00
per hour minimum wage. Someone somewhere might be willing to bus tables at
coffee shops for $7.00 per hour, but they are prevented from doing so by state

Granted, cleaning my own table at a coffee shop is at best a trivial
inconvenience, and it's something I usually try to help with anyway. However,
when you add up the number of possible mutually-beneficial trades that are ruled
out by government fiat, then you're dealing with potentially substantial
leakages from the prosperity pool.

Monday, 18 August 2008

More bone-headed nonsense from Johan Hari

I don’t usually read The Independent, and Johann Hari is one of the reasons why (though he is more a sympton than the cause). However, Free Think Blog has drawn my attention to today’s typically bone-headed article.

Mr. Hari thinks that democracy is not working properly in the UK, and makes three suggestions for how to improve and reform the system. Each is paternailstic, expensive and illiberal, and at least one is self-serving. Lets look at them in turn.

Proposal 1: Deliberation Day, would “Declare every general election a national holiday, and offer every citizen £150 to take part… in a day of debate”. Assuming an adult population of c.40 million, this could cost up to £6 billion per election not including the cost of administration. In addition, the extra day’s holiday would reduce GDP, so dealing a double-whammy in that the extra taxes would be taken from a smaller pot. Of course, not everybody would attend, so the cost would not be as high. But it is likely that those attending would be the politically active middle classes, while those not attending would be the politically inactive underclass. So one can see which way the tax pounds are flowing there!

Mr. Hari may think this worthwhile because “The national political debate would then no longer consist of10-second soundbites… We could … to a more rational discussion of the evidence. To Independent readers, this might seem unnecessary, but two-thirds of British people tell pollsters they have not had a single conversation about politics in the past two years.” Pomposity about the readers of his employer’s paper aside, it is at least as likely that the groups would be dominated by the loudest voices and the pushiest opinions, and that many would not discuss politics at all but just claim to have done so for the cheque. Nobody could check up on you, after all, unless millions of moderators were employed to report on the content of the break-out sessions (approximately 2.6 million) to be precise.

Proposal 2: Banning opinion polls during elections, is an assault upon freedom of speech. Mr. Hari may believe opinion polls undermine the political process but he cannot prove it, and in the meantime he would be limiting people's freedom to ask other people how they will vote and then publicise the results. I would prefer a Freedom Bill to his Democracy Bill: one that makes attacks on freedom of speech illegal.

Proposal 3: "a law requiring universities to add a small amount to their students' tuition fees, to pay for a daily newspaper subscription of the student's choice", is an idea so absurd that it is hard to know where to begin. Increased tuition fees would undoubtedly discourage some pupils from studying, though this may be no bad thing as it would be those who value their education least and so probably those that are going to get the least out of it. It would be a colossal waste of money, of course, as many of these compulsory papers would not get read: there are, one might note, plenty of text books and course papers that don’t get read, and these at least contribute to one’s final grade. It is also incredibly patronising and paternalistic: young adults being forced to buy newspapers by Mr. Hari and his peers, who believe that they are not well enough informed. Why not just lock them in a room with a copy of Das Kapital and have done with?

However, the ill-informed nature of today’s youth is not Mr. Hari’s real concern. This he reveals in two statements. Firstly, he notes that “being a newspaper journalist can feel like being a coal-miner in 1985.” His suggestion, therefore, in parallel to his analogues of 23 years ago, is a massive state-enforced subsidy for journalists.

But mere rent-seeking is not the limit of Mr. Hari’s concern. He also wishes to use state power to shape public discourse. If students were forced to buy newspapers, he suggests, "papers would be pressured to be more progressive, since this new student market tilts left." So he is deliberately trying to use the law and taxation (which this effectively is) to influence the media and so shape, rather than merely deepen, political debate in this country. A Ministry of Truth would not be far off.

The sad truth is that Hari is right that our democracy does not work as the idealists would hope. Some people infuriatingly refuse to take any interest; some cannot find a political party that represents their views; some are too busy with other things.

What Hari fails to realise is that the problem here is that democracy fails because it tries to achieve too much. The alienation of people from politics is in part the result of an inevitable convergence between the major political parties. But it is more to do with the fact that people are no longer enamoured of collectivist solutions to problems. They would prefer to earn money and solve problems in a market where they can find solutions tailored to their particular needs, rather than vote once every four years for a one-size-fits-all answer to their problems. Hari recognises this implicitly when he bases his first proposal on bribing people to vote, but he misses the main lesson.

I have discussed the problems with democracy before, and also discussed some proposed solutions. But the solution is to focus on a Government that does less, better, and leave as much control over their lives as possible to people. Then we don’t need Deliberation Day; we just need to make our minds up.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

My Best Bits for self-indulgent narcissism

The bloggosphere’s favourite Dr. Who fan, Alex Wilcox, has come up with an interesting idea, which is that each of us “read back through the last year on your own blog and pick out your favourite pieces you’ve written” so that these can then be considered by the judges of the Best Blog Posting category of the Lib Dem Blog Awards.

Of course, I doubt that any of my posts have a chance of winning. Even if there was a prize for the longest posting, Alex would have it sown up (this and every year). But it does allow one to take a trip down intellectual-memory lane, and indulge in a degree of narcissism indulgent by even blogging standards.

It also surprises one (well, me anyway) how long ago the last Autumn Conference was. To think that ten months ago there was a leadership contest in full flood.

A good place to start, perhaps? It certainly highlights one problem, which is that rather than a sole posting I have a series of themes. I wrote six articles on the leadership contest, of which my favourite highlighted the depressing lack of a real debate in the contest.

I also wrote two contiguous articles on how choice in education is a vital tool in providing a decent education for young people, part of a long-running theme that dates from before September 2007.

And then there were three one-off articles about significant current issues, namely our party’s illiberal and knee-jerk opposition to GM crops, a better and more liberal approach to road transport that may have especial relevance with our new transport policy paper up for discussion, and a critique of politicians self-serving approach to state funding of political parties.

I expect nothing less than ten prizes, each of which will be paid in cash to the Swiss bank account of my choice.

Or failing that, a free glass of wine while I watch Alix pick up a prize.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

PICS serves up egg for our collective faces

PICS, the Liberal Democrat central policy resource, has offered up a standard press release on the Policy Exchange report Cities Unlimited: Making Urban Regeneration Work, which has been exercising politicians and bloggers throughout the day.

The basic tennet of the argument is that Policy Exchange is "David Cameron's favourite Think Tank", set up in 2001 by Michael Gove, and that we can therefore use it to bash the Tories for abandoning the North and giving up on poor struggling towns.

It is a fundamental mistake, and one that has prompted me to (unusually) reply to PICS suggesting that they may want to re-think it.

There are two significant problems with this line of attack:
  1. David Cameron has already come out and condemned the report in very strong language, saying that the report was"complete rubbish" and that its ideas were "insane". To attack him (by association) now would be ludicrous and would open us up to accusations of opportunism, disingenuity and possible outright lying.
  2. The report is co-authored by Tim Leunig, a Liberal Democrat member and economics professor at the London School of Economics. So if parties are to be condemned by association we are as guilty as the Tories.

Irrespective of the merits of the report (and I've made my comments, and recieved abuse accordingly, elsewhere) it is a fundamentally bad idea to try to use it as a weapon to bash the Tories.

What is more, it is depressing that we would rather do so than discuss the merits of the report in its own terms. Political debate is cheapened when we look upon innovative ideas (even flawed ones) as weapons with which to bash our opponents rather than stimulating suggestions which can trigger informed debate.

This is not a Liberal Democrat problem; it's a disease that has infected the entire body politic. Nonetheless, this latest PICS offering ought to be hastily retracted.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Lying in the national interest

The BBC has expressed shock and sadness at more lying from the Chinese Olympic organisers.

This time, they have admitted that the charming little girl who awed viewers of the opening ceremony with her singing was actually miming to the voice of another, less photogenic child.

Asked why, the "show's musical director said Lin [Miaoke] was used because it was in the best interests of the country".

Well, that explains it, then!

At least, it explains the socialist/conservative mindset that pervades China and most of the rest of the world.

It is surprising how often the "National Interest" corresponds with what is easiest for a politician at any given time. One would never guess, with sober analysis, that a nation's interests were best served by caving in to foreign blackmail to stop a fraud investigation, driving the most productive sector of an economy to ruin, or demonstrably faking the greatest show on earth. If the leaders say it's good for us, it's good for us, right?

One might be forgiven for wondering if there really is a "National Interest" at all, rather than the interest of politicians who are afraid that they will be found to share culpability with an Arab defence minister, need to buy off the electorate in the short term, or have discovered that their big plan doesn't work.
I'm not one for banning things, but I wonder if the world wouldn't be a better place if we banned the use of the terms "national interest" and "public interest" and required our politicians to explain just what it is that is so wonderful about the self-serving policies that they keep enforcing on us.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Inflation hits where it hurts

Having just been to Earl’s Court to worship at the temple of hedonistic binge drinking, I am horrified to discover that inflation is really beginning to hit where it hurts.

According to CAMRA (one of the few special interest groups with which I have some sympathy), by the time the Olympics arrive a pint of beer will cost £5. By beer they mean the usually-cheaper foamy stuff such as bitter and ale, of course; the story will be worse for larger.

Indeed, “By the end of this year the cost of a pint will have risen by an inflation-busting 25 pence”, and in London they have found beer for sale at £3.70 a pint.

(Amateurs! I was in the Bunch of Grapes in Borough a couple of weeks ago and was charged £3.95!).

Of course the price has already been way above that in clubs, bars and swanky outlets, but in the traditional (and not so traditional) British pup one had hoped that reality would not bite. But with the cost of fuel, agricultural produce and potentially labour on the rise, it won’t be long before we reach the next horrendous milestone.

Do we live in an Orwellian future?

What would George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh have made of our modern society? A fascinating article in yesterday’s Times gives us some insight.

In the form of a review of a new book by David Lebedoff entitled The Same Man, Cristina Odone seeksk to answer that question.

I am always very cautious when people lay claim to Orwell. Generally seen as a figure of the “Left”, he was clearly strongly influenced by writers such as Popper and Hayek and it was not for nothing that the political ideology that reigned in Oceania was still called “English Socialism”. Yet he was certainly no respector of class or tradition and it would be absurd to suggest he was of the “Right”. It would be nice to suggest that that makes him a liberal, but that would just be claiming him for ourselves.

Perhaps the best thinkers really are the hardest to pigeon hole. What is most striking about Odone’s article is her statement of the distopia that both Orwell and Waugh most feared:
Orwell and Waugh feared the appearance of a new elite made up of the so-called
educated classes. They predicted that a New Boy Network based on test-score
merit rather than lineage would sprout, which would wield power and influence
with a still greater disregard for the “common people” than their predecessors
had shown.
Then, strikingly, she goes on to observe that

This lot would conduct themselves not in accordance to a traditional moral code.
Rather they would be regulated by the opinion of their own group, that inner
circle of, in Orwell's words, “scientists, technicians, teachers, journalists,
broadcasters, bureaucrats, professional politicians”. Members of this elite
would dread nothing more than failure to conform to one another's views and
Does that sound familiar? You only need to tell people you shop at Tesco, leave your mobile phone charger plugged in and can’t see the problem with GM food to get an idea of how this new moral conformity works. What matters is what one’s peers think matters; if you want to be a part of the new elite, you must think like the new elite.

The problem is not the individual beliefs, but the fact that they are founded not on a coherent logic but seem to emerge: like God before the, they are begotten not made.

The reason this is dangerous is two fold. Firstly, as Odone notes, this results in (or is it from?) a moral relativism that in the days or Orwell and Waugh saw intellectuals fighting over whether Stalin or Hitler were the more misunderstood, and which today sees the bookshelves of the university educated middle classes groaning under the morally-vacuous weight of Noam Chomsky.

Equally dangerously, by creating that new class with its unique moral code and intellectual arrogance, we recreate the divisions that so blighted the previous class-system. And just like that previous class, the new class beguiles outsiders with the lie that all can join in if only they come up to scratch. Sadly, like the grammar school oiks who could never actually change their ancestry, the modern outsiders cannot join in unless they can change who they really are. It is a closed shop for the right thinking.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The evil face of genetic research

Witness the evil face of cloning.

See the terrible effect it can have on human beings!

This evil must be destroyed.

Particularly the little ones!

Snipers take aim at Lib Dem head

The Lib Dem snipers were out again, yesterday, and as usual its our own generals that are receiving a withering “friendly” crossfire.

As usual the man on the roof with a mail-order hunting rifle is Lib Dem Blogger of last year James Graham, with a grumpy one-line of support from Jonathan Calder.

According to James’s Comment Is Free column, he has “been struck by how many people [he has] spoken to over the past few weeks – candidates, councillors and activists alike – who appear to be either demoralised or disenchanted with Clegg's leadership.”

One source of this disaffection appears to be the recent survey of 12 candidates conducted by Lib Dem Voice. As a statistical aside, a “survey of 12 people” is not a robust sample of any group; not one containing hundreds (PPCs) of people and certainly not one containing thousands (activists) or tens of thousands (members) of people. Indeed, if it is that first post (of a series of four) about PPC's views on which James was basing his opinion, it should be borne in mind that the subject of that particular entry was The three worst things about being a Lib Dem PPC. One might refer James to the The three best things about being a Lib Dem PPC by way of contrast.

Strangely, James himself points out that:

The polls are looking OK…. Clegg's attempt at repositioning the party by pledging tax cuts for middle and low-income earners seems to be reaping rewards... Even his "summer message" seems to have gone down quite well.
Yet this does not stop him blaming Clegg for the Lib Dems alleged misery and drift. Rather than elaborate on the above counter-evidence, he fires a couple of shots at the Lisbon Treaty policy (that was a long time ago and ranks no. 18 in the electorate’s list of things they care about) and the proposed restructuring of the party machine (which is long overdue, though the proposals strike me as rather anaemic) and so paints a picture of failing leadership. More objective evidence would suggest otherwise.

I realise that all is not well in the camp at present, and it is certainly true that there is depression and lethergy in many localities. I also agree with James about the poor state of communication between the troops and the generals, though I would ask him "Was it not always thus" (at least in the days since we all fitted in a taxi)?

As I've pointed out to Jonathan Calder, the depression among Lib Dems has more to do with the sudden and seemingly inexorable rise of the New Conservatives than with Nick's leadership.

Our problem was not that Nick took over at all, but that he took over too late. Had we done all this 18 months earlier (without the unfortunate Ming interlude) we would have reaped enormous benefits from advocating polices that chimed with the feelings of a British public sick of having their money confiscated in ever greater quantities to pay for faceless government to regulate upon ever more minute areas of their lives.

Neither were we ever likely to make that break through that Nick speaks of by continuing with this "Anti-establishment party" nonsense. Either we are a serious party of Government or we are not; if we are not, what is the point of voting for us? You can give the other main parties a much more meaningful kick by voting for UKIP, Galloway or some other extreme form of what they used to stand for.

If there is a real sense of de-motivation and depression in the party - and there is no doubt that in many quarters there is - then the cause is closer to home. Frankly, we activists need to stop sitting around moaning over our organic, Fairtrade, decaf coffees and get on with selling our party to the electorate.

Nothing creates enthusiasm like activity; and nothing breeds success like success.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Michael Gove attacks lads’ mags and steals the Pupil Premium

Earlier today I attended a speech by Michael Gove at the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR). Loosely entitled Liberty, Equality, Family? Why Conservative social policy delivers progressive ends, it was in fact a statement of the Conservative view of how policy toward the family, children and education can create a more harmonious society with more social mobility and better outcomes for the most disadvantaged.

Coverage in the press has mainly focussed on his attack on the objectification of women in “Lads Mags”, notably Nuts and Zoo. He was condemnatory, but it was interesting that he condemned without threatening action: the most he proposed was to “ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they're doing.” (IPC and EMap must be quaking in their boots!) This is a shame, because this was not the most interesting or important part of the speech, but it seems that near-naked ladies on the covers of magazines, even when they are merely the subject of Tory criticism, are more interesting to journalists than school pupils graduating without any valuable qualifications.

Gove speech was another step in the attempt by the Conservatives to paint themselves as a modern, progressive party (indeed, as the modern, progressive party). He began with a (rather tired) discussion of “Ubuntu”, a Bantu word which, broadly translated, means "I am because you are". Bill Clinton famously used it a lot (notably in his speech to the Labour Party conference) and it was consequently a bit of a buzz-word in 2006, but I surprised Gove dragged it up again in 2008. However, it provided an opportunity for him to discuss Social Capital and the role of the voluntary sector and community politics. “One of the most profound, but under-appreciated, changes that David Cameron has brought to Conservative politics is a determination to put the strengthening of relationships at the heart of policy,” he explained.

Under Labour there is really only one relationship which matters. The relationship between the individual and the state.

The Labour conception of society is a thin, and impoverished, one in which there appear to be only two primary centres of decision-making, the central state organises and the individual is expected to respond appropriately.

Individuals are assessed by the State as economic units in need of upskilling, taxing, monitoring or redeploying as appropriate - according to priorities set, and policed, centrally.

Gove went on the criticise the Government’s depletion of social capital; its closure of post offices and GP practices because of a focus upon a “narrow cost efficiency over enriching personal intimacy”; the excessive regulation that has stifled “autonomous institutions which help bind communities together”. This is all startling stuff from a Tory, and shows how far they are prepared to go to distance themselves from the Thatcher era. It was summed up in one sentence of Gove’s that must have required the most enormous amount of gall: “for Gordon Brown, there really is no such thing as society - only the individual and the State.” So now it is Brown who is the heir to the hated Thatcher (hence, perhaps, that rumoured state funeral!) and the Tories who are committed to the “cause of social justice and the drive to make opportunity more equal”.

And then, while the audience were reeling from that act of repositioning, Gove reached out and deftly plucked a key plank of Liberal Democrat policy:

There is one specific intervention, however, the central State will make which is different from now, and which goes to the heart of one aspect of David Cameron's thinking on relationships which has been under-appreciated.

We're explicitly committed to the creation of a premium to be added to the per pupil funding children from disadvantaged backgrounds receive. We want to ensure educational resources are targeted more effectively on those in need. And we want to create a dynamic by which schools are incentivised to take children from more challenging backgrounds and new providers are explicitly incentivised to locate in areas of greater disadvantage.

I’m not sure how new this is for the Conservative Party, but it is certainly very familiar to Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg made this a key platform of his leadership campaign in Autumn 2007, reiterated it in his 2008 New Year message and in June wrote an article for the Guardian all about it.

Asked (by the author) to explain how his pupil premium “differed from that which Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have been advocating for over a year”, Mr. Gove denied that it was Nick Clegg and David Laws who invented it, saying that it originated with David Willitts or Julian Le Grand. I'm not the first blogger to notice this, and David Laws and David Willitts have had this debate before, on the floor of the House. However, the fact remains that Willitts did not introduce it as policy and that Gove is bringing the Conservatives rather late to the Pupil Premium party.

What is frustrating is that it is highly likely that the Liberal Democrats will get none of what economists call “first mover advantage”. In other words, the Lib Dems will not get the credit for this policy: rather, it will be touted as a new Tory innovation with little reference to the fact that Clegg and Laws have been vocal advocates for this policy for over a year.

Gove went on to argue in favour of increased parental choice, a policy that this blog has long advocated:

We will make schools accountable to parents by allowing parents to choose the school they want for their child. We'll give every parent the right to take the money currently allocated to their child's education and then deploy it in accordance with their priorities, not the Government's.

We'll make it easier for new providers to enter the state system, reforming planning and other laws to increase choice and diversity. Parents will be empowered to
choose the school with the pedagogy, the disciplinary approach, the ethos
and the philosophy they believe in….

Again, Clegg and Laws have argued this case before. So far (and in my view, erroneously) the Lib Dems have been reticent is in including private schools within that choice and allowing parents to top up the public funding. Gove was equally vague: it remains unclear whether one can use one's (lets say it!) "voucher" to fund whatever education one feels is in one’s child’s interests, even where those providing the education might profit therefrom.

What this speech clearly reinforced was Michael Gove’s status as one of the most impressive members of the Conservative front bench. I first had a chance to hear him speak in January 2006 when he debated Vince Cable on the question of whether the Liberal Democrats or the Conservatives were the true heirs to Gladstone. Neither dealt a knock-out blow but I was impressed even then by how eloquently he spoke and how reasoned his arguments were. He has since become a regular guest on Question Time.

It is unlikely that Gove will suffer from having blatantly plagiarised Lib Dem policy. Rather, he will have demonstrated once again that in the coming electoral battle, the squeeze is going to be on, and the challenge for the Liberal Democrats is to make sure that they have a strong, distinctive voice and innovative policies. The pupil premium was to be one of those. Michael Gove may very well have shot that fox.

The hopefully-welcome return of Liberal Polemic

To (belatedly) celebrate the new version of Lib Dem Blogs, and also because I've actually got something to write about, I've decided to take Liberal Polemic out of it's Summer hibernation and post something. Consequently, I've re-opened it to access. It's just a shame that there isn't a new version of Blogger too!

For those of you (singular) who were missing the wit and wisdom (or, more accurately, the long economic monologues) therein, I must caution you that I cannot promise the daily updating that was previously my routine.

But I'll try to add something whenever I can.

In the meantime, enjoy. Or failing that, pretend.