A senior Tory has allegedly stated a belief commonly held amongst central party managers everywhere: that their activists are ‘swivel-eyed loons’.  ‘Loon’, of course, is ultimate derived from ‘lunar'; the traditional belief that madness was more common during full moons. If we assume that voting Conservative is a form of madness, we can check whether a full moon does in fact impact upon the Tory vote by cross-referencing it with daily polls:

Loony ToriesSource: Polling undertaken on the UTC date of a full moon since beginning of 2012 when YouGov started recording UKIP separately.

There is a small but noticeable impact on both the Conservative and UKIP voting intention, with the former impact significant at the 5% level*. This is the inverse of what people who would also be happy to dub UKIP nutters would expect, and presents a danger for Mr Cameron. The first Thursday in May 2015 is the day after a full moon. The motion of our nearest celestial partner may yet cost the Conservatives the next election.

*This relationship attenuates as the data set grows, precisely as a non-crazy person would expect. From 2010 to the present day it’s practically insignificant. One could attribute the short-term effect to science being right or Nigel Farage being a werewolf.

The State of Aid

May 29, 2011

You know, if I was in charge of a Government which anticipated an upswing in stories about the poor and disabled being hard-done by by your policies, I’d probably find some way to pre-emptively mitigate that. I’d ensure that if things did start getting worse, I’d have some previous decision people could point to, just so people might say, “That Prime Minister, you know, he’s not such a bad chap. All that dreadful stuff about the poor – at least he’s looking after the worst off in the world. I feel safe to keep voting for him in the knowledge that he’s compassionate towards the most deserving.

“After all, if people in the UK are suffering but still have access to housing, food, and healthcare, we clearly should be spending more on foreign aid to people who genuinely need it. They’re starving, homeless and without medicine.”

Coincidentally, foreign aid spending gets this sort of result much more cheaply than UK welfare spending.

EDIT: I have decided to call this political philosophy ‘One World Conservatism’.

The Guardian today put up a piece asking ‘What is Cameronism?‘, and offering up answers from a wide variety of ‘worthies’ including David Milliband, that well-known scholar of the Tory party. These answers range from the moronically vituperative (“I doubt he has a seriously ideological bone in his body”) to the slavish (“It is a belief in enterprise and aspiration”). None of them use the expression “One Nation Conservatism“, which is a pity, since it appears to be what Cameron himself thinks he believes.

This is the philosophy of Government that puts in the state in the role of a benevolent stand-offish parent; only intervening when you’ve messed up or done something particularly naughty. It is designed to counter growing divisions in society by providing everyone with the tools they need to achieve the goals they seek; it aims at unity and solidarity across class barriers. This is the root of Cameron’s concept of the Big Society: the notion that everyone in the country will share responsibility for delivering morally worthwhile goods. It stands in contrast to the emphasis on social divisions implicit in both Thatcherite and Old Labour models of thinking; where the poor are labelled as unworthy and workshy, and the rich are cast as vicious and uncaring.

Cuts in benefits should be seen in this context – they are aimed at reducing the social division caused by the existence of long-term unemployment funded by the State’s largesse, which creates a clear ‘Other’ in the minds of the middle classes. Claiming that the Tories are picking on the poor only makes sense if you believe the Tories have a clear determination to earmark particular social classes for particular opprobrium; under this philosophy, they do not.

This philosophy is, in many ways, superficially similar to liberalism, which is why the coalition has taken. However, the key contrast between it and a more classically liberal approach to government is that a liberal does not believe it is the role of the state to promote a particular type of living that’s conducive to unity across classes – witness the debate over the marriage tax rebate, for example. This implicit recourse to moralism is one of the many reasons I would never consider voting for the Conservatives.

One nation conservatism has been Cameron’s intuitive philosophy for years – his Broken Britain rhetoric referred not to e.g. sink estates themselves, but to the lack of unity and social divisions they engendered. Labour – and the Guardian – does not understand this, and are likely to continue portraying the cuts as the rich attacking the poor. The nature of these cuts will give the lie to this claim, ensuring that Labour have many years in the wilderness ahead of them.

Go and read the comments appended to this article in the Guardian. Go on, go and read them. Do you get the impression that millions of poor aspiring people are about to be pushed out onto the streets? That’s fascinating. It appears from those comments that Cameron’s plan to require every new tenancy to be review every five years will push people out onto the street, and cause a massive breakdown in social cohesion (whatever that means).

Let’s now have a look at some statistics. This report from the National Centre for Social Research demonstrates that only about 22% of the people who live in social housing and/or rent from the Council are actually working full time – the rest are retired, unemployed (3-4% of the total, for those who think social housing is essential to catch people in economic need), working part-time (13%) or economically inactive in some other way. Only 22% of current social renters are likely – at the outside – to even have the chance of losing a tenancy (Edit: Grant Shapps has confirmed that this would only apply to new tenants – so that’s 22% of new tenants, then). To do that, they’d need to get a better job. This does constitute a deterrent to social mobility, so I can only hope that IDS’s proposals will include some form of housing benefit reform to compensate for this.

Now, this report from the House of Commons Library demonstrates that the percentage of people in social housing & local authority housing has been decreasing since the 1980s. Surely this is a good thing, and evidence of social mobility. However, it also demonstrates that housing stock construction has slowed to around 150,000 per year since the 80s too. During this period, the population has increased by about 5 million. This is relatively high historically speaking, matched only during the 60s – which experienced significantly higher levels of house construction.

If supply and demand were working effectively, house building should be on the increase – rather than the decrease. This would lower house prices, and make it more affordable for people to leave social housing. It’s not. Why not?

There are multiple factors here, but perhaps the most significant is planning legislation. Since 1947, if you owned land you couldn’t simply build on it – you had to seek permission from the local authority. The reforms to this legislation by the Thatcher government in 1990 made building housing significantly more costly, and consequently raised house prices. Demand for higher-priced housing is of course lower, resulting in lower levels of construction.

More than anything else, it’s the housing market that’s causing the pressure on social housing. In order to reduce house prices, you need planning reform. The Tories are proposing planning reform – but reform that may yet make building houses more difficult. Cameron’s attempts to reduce the demand for social housing by shifting out people who can afford it is actually good thing, but it’s not the real story – the Tories need to reconsider their planning policy if we’re going to resolve the housing crisis. I look forward to the Guardian’s campaign against green belts.
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