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The election that nobody wants

December 6, 2016

 

In a year of seismic political upsets, the recent Liberal Democrat by-election victory in leafy West London changes very little on balance.  

 

Zac Goldsmith's attempt to redeem his shabby racist reputation by standing on principle over a third Heathrow runway was seen by most of his contemporaries as a piece of conceited gesture politics. The voters turned out to be of the same opinion. 

 

Those pundits who still think they have a grasp on matters will want to tell you anyway how this is a case of the constituency returning once again to the Lib Dem fold. Leader Tim Farron thinks differently and he’s probably right.

 

Nearly six months after the event, Brexit is still an on-going battle fought by people armed with ballot papers.

 

The result was bad news for Theresa May but it was eye-watering for Jeremy Corbyn. There’s little doubt that tactical voting came into play. Even so, the figures show fewer Labour supporters turned out for their candidate than there are members in the constituency

 

The party’s metro-centric majority keeps telling itself that the tories are the real enemy. Yet if a Labour MP some 250 miles further north pulled the same vainglorious stunt then it would a winning UKIP candidate who would likely emerge – and over the very same issue.

 

It’s not just distance that separates the voters of Richmond Park from electors in namesake Richmond, Yorkshire. The gulf in opinion on where the future of the UK rests in relation to Europe is too wide for any single party to span. Labour seem disinclined to even try at present.

 

For all the bravado at the Despatch Box, the prospect of a general election early next year is not universally welcomed by Conservatives either.

 

That’s because it would essentially become a re-run of the referendum with UKIP mopping up double figures in winnable seats under its newly elected leader Paul Nuttall (eight days and counting).

 

These are confused times. Although Brexit might mean ‘Brexit’ in some quarters, it means very little else – unless you're a Downing Street paparazzi with a long-lens camera. Even then, neither the government or opposition are seemingly able to come up with a coherent strategy for a range of audiences desperate to hear about the next move.

 

What makes it worse is that ordinary punters don't accept how the business of government is hideously complex, full of competing demands and constantly prone to expediencies.

 

They want it simple: Build a wall, stop immigration, keep prices down - and do it all by next weekend.

 

Normally you wouldn’t have any burgeoning political body make such outlandish promises but things are dangerously different now.

 

What will stir the pot further are the Supreme Court hearings which began yesterday into whether Parliament's consent is required before official Brexit negotiations can begin.

 

The early signs are that last month's High Court ruling that only Parliament has the authority to trigger Article 50 will be upheld. We can expect uproar.

 

It might be that the next election is one that that nobody in Westminster wants but the days of the establishment actually calling the shots look numbered.

 

 

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More or less for the Senedd?

 

Calls for more politicians may sound counter-intuitive but the fact is that Wales is under-represented at Cardiff Bay, compared to other self-governing administrations.

 

Five years ago, Welsh referendum voters decided by a 63.5% to 36.5% winning margin that the Assembly should have more powers. Since then other measures have paved the way for additional responsibilities such as taxation.

 

The prevailing official view is that current arrangements are “under-powered and over-stretched” given the scale of its law making and fiscal powers.

 

In other words, the risk is that a Welsh government without adequate scrutiny could do pretty much as it liked, given that 30 AMs cannot adequately keep track of what the other 30 are up to.

 

Devolution is not the cheap option. If you want cheap then you switch the mechanics of government back to London and reinstate the Welsh Secretary as colonial governor. Of course, that might be an attractive proposition to some people.

 

 

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Making housing more affordable

 

I was surprised to see that Swansea council is hiring house-building employees.

 

Don’t get me wrong. As an ex-housing committee chairman I’m delighted that changes in financial rules now enable councils to raise the cash to provide accommodation.

 

It’s just that the conventional approach, based on historical good practice, is that local authorities maintain roads, schools and housing - but they don’t build them.

 

The logic behind this is that the construction sector is better placed to achieve economies of scale on big money capital projects, thus keeping down overall costs, which in turn means getting more bricks for your council buck.

 

Given that the ‘Passifhaus’ – energy efficient - design envisaged for the new council homes is not exactly off-the-shelf accommodation then it’s likely that serious specialist expertise is needed.

 

There is already plenty of experience out there as to what constitutes affordable social housing. It seems odd to be re-inventing a needlessly expensive wheel.

 

 

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