Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The London Plan - building a playground for the elite

Today, the Mayor of London published his "London Plan", a strategic look at development in the world's greatest city (except for Bradford, of course, but we hide our light under a bushel and don't call ourselves a city any more despite being one):
It's a strategic plan which shapes how London evolves and develops. All planning decisions should follow London Plan policies, and it sets a policy framework for local plans across London.
Exciting. And there will be some good analyses of the plan from assorted consultants, lobby groups and academics over the next few months as its consultation plays out. The Mayor - as these sort of people are wont to do - is bigging up the Plan:
“I am using all of the powers at my disposal to tackle the housing crisis head on, removing ineffective constraints on homebuilders so we make the most of precious land in our capital,”
I gather the Mayor went on to talk about "tearing up" planning rules that prevent housing development (while proposing new rules to stop people opening businesses in case children might get tubby). There's going to be 650,000 new homes rammed into an already crowded city, piled up on top of railway stations, stuffed into gardens, perched on top of shopping parades. Densification is the order of the day - London, in housing terms becomes Mr Creosote. After all, even the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England - NIMBY central - think the plan is ace. CRPE tweeted:
We're pleased to see a commitment to protecting and enhancing the Green Belt from @SadiqKhan in his draft London Plan. A protected and thriving Green Belt is just as important for our cities as our countryside.
OK, so they tweeted this with an attached photograph of a view across Windermere - about as far from London as it's possible to be and stay in England - but the CPRE are clearly happy.

The thing is that this is the problem. London isn't so much overheating as burning to a cinder, at least in housing terms. Yet the Mayor smiles saying, 'we won't touch the Green Belt, heavens no, that might cost me votes'. And the result of this is what geographers, Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox call a "playground for elites":
Once exemplars of middle-class advancement, most major American cities are now typified by a “barbell economy,” divided between well-paid professionals and lower-paid service workers. As early as the 1970s, notes the Brookings Institution, middle-income neighborhoods began to shrink more dramatically in inner cities than anywhere else—and the phenomenon has continued. Today, in virtually all U.S. metro areas, the inner cores are more unequal than their corresponding suburbs, observes geographer Daniel Herz.
For London, the sort of middle income places I was brought up in (Addiscombe between Beckenham and Croydon) aren't really middle income places these days. The cramped - for a family of six large and loud people - three-bed semi we lived in would now sell for £400,000 or more, way beyond the means of the sort of people doing a middling sort of job in an insurance company like my Dad did back in the 1960s. These days, couples like my Mum and Dad aren't having families in London because they can't afford it.

What London's Mayor doesn't understand (something he shares with his left of centre mayoral colleagues in Barcelona, New York and San Francisco) is that the policies he thinks, to use a Blairite term, triangulate between the need for housing and the NIMBYs are the very policies that create the rising prices and rising rents, that make for that "barbell economy", and that make a place like London increasingly dysfunctional. Urban containment - zoning restrictions, densification, focus on what the Yanks call transit loci - is the problem not the solution. It's sustained by the fact that those childless younger people having fun in the city can't understand that their loud, brash and busy lives are a fin de siècle.
The suburbs, consigned to the dustbin of history by many urban boosters, have rebounded from the Great Recession. Demographer Jed Kolko, analyzing the most recent census numbers, suggests that most big cities’ population growth now lags their suburbs, which have accounted for over 80 percent of metropolitan expansion since 2011. Even where the urban-core renaissance has been strongest, ominous signs abound.
For London, those suburbs are no longer Grove Park, Eltham or Chiswick but Milton Keynes, Ashford, Basingstoke and Reading. And:
Nearly 80 percent of all job growth since 2010 has occurred in suburbs and exurbs (see chart, page 45). Most tech growth takes place not in the urban core, as widely suggested, but in dispersed urban environments, from Silicon Valley to Austin to Raleigh. Despite the much-ballyhooed shift in small executive headquarters to some core cities, the most rapid expansion of professional business-service employment continues to happen largely in low-density metropolitan areas...
Put simply, failing to grasp the urban containment nettle will be fine for London short to medium term - it has the advantage of being the world's top financial centre and having the UK government (sort of New York and Washington combined) - but not facing up to this problem will do just what Kotkin and Cox describe in New York, Seattle and San Francisco, create a playground for the rich elite serviced by a low paid population living in a city they can't afford.


(Stupid) Quote of the day: how novelty coffee mugs discriminate against us left-handers

It's a tough life being left handed (allow me to introduce you to scissors) - but some folk seem more traumatised than us more adjusted lefties:
Novelty coffee cups are a waste of time – the funny messages are always written on the wrong side. The cups that have a tray beneath the drinking reservoir in order to conceal biscuits favours the right-hander, meaning you cover yourself in Hobnobs whenever taking a drink of your brew. Personalised pens almost always see the bearer’s name written from the nib outwards, meaning that left-handers have to get used to seeing their names upside down.
Heavens! Yes! Those novelty mugs (not sure about the cups with a tray underneath at all - Room 101 for them definitely). And so many other things...

But. Can any of you right handed people play darts and snooker equally badly with both hands? Bet you can't! I used to play left hand versus right hand as a kid. So there.


Saturday, 25 November 2017

Taylor Swift and The Guardian: It's clickbait but reminds us of the left's nastiness

I appreciate that today's newspapers need clickbait to get enough visitors to satisfy their advertisers. And I also understand that The Guardian would never admit to this, which means I'm going to take their editorial laying into Taylor Swift at face value:
Mr Trump realised it was more effective to target a core group than attempt blanket appeal in his campaign – but Swift worked it out first. For years, she has directed her extraordinary self-promotional skills towards cultivating a dedicated and emotional army of followers, handpicking particularly loyal fans for private listening parties and, on her latest tour, allowing members of the public to buy tickets only once they have proved their allegiance through their purchasing history. Her new album, Reputation, is not available on Spotify – anyone wishing to hear it must buy it.
The reason Ms Swift has attracted the ire of the UK's leading journal of self-righteous left-wing tripe is that she has been insufficiently strident in her criticism of Donald Trump.
Her silence seems to be more wilful: a product of her inward gaze, perhaps, or her pettiness and refusal to concede to critics. Swift seems not simply a product of the age of Trump, but a musical envoy for the president’s values.
So let's look at Ms Swift's failings (as insinuated by The Guardian): having alt-right fans, too few friends who aren't "thin, white and wealthy", being good at marketing, and not releasing her new album free to air from day one. Oh, she also challenged structural racism (the lefty idea that the oppressed can't be racist) as incomprehensible.

Until I'd read this pretty egregious editorial I'd not knowingly listened to anything by Taylor Swift - unsurprisingly I'm not target market and she is (as The Guardian notice) rather good at marketing. So, prompted by the Guardian's ire, I spent an hour listening to Ms Swift's catalogue on Spotify (except for the latest release, of course, as that's not there yet). I can see the appeal - even the bit The Guardian snarks at, saying:
Swift’s songs echo Mr Trump’s obsession with petty score-settling in their repeated references to her celebrity feuds, or report in painstaking detail on her failed romantic relationships (often, there is crossover). The message is quintessentially Trumpian: everyone is out to get me – but I win anyway.
Seems to me that, celebrity references aside, Ms Taylor's music sits right with the interests of her core audience of younger women - tales of unrequited love, snarky stuff about other girls, you really love me don't you. All this is done in a slightly country, upbeat and catchy manner - nothing too hard to listen too, simple tunes and storied lyrics. And I guess it's the stuff Ms Swift likes to sing and that her marketing team knows the audience wants to hear.

And this is great, Taylor Swift seems to be a woman on top of her business. The bit that isn't so great here is that The Guardian cannot comprehend a celebrated singer not wanting to 'do politics', despite the undoubted fact that Ms Swift's fans probably don't pay a great deal of attention to that politics. What's even odder is that The Guardian takes the view that Ms Swift's silence is, in some way, an endorsement of Donald trump - presumably on the 'if you're against him, you're for him' principle. This is really rather unpleasant - going as it does from reporting on Ms Swift saying nothing to inferring that she's only a breath away from joining far right marches. It all suggests that the newly-unpleasant left simply cannot countenance an artist that refuses to join their mob and prefers to just get on with being a rich and successful performer. And god forbid that any writer, singer or actor is conservative.


Friday, 24 November 2017

Would you come and live here if we give you fifty grand?

I mean who wouldn't want to live with your family in an idyllic Swiss village - even though it lacks things that might be useful, like a school, for example:
The Swiss town of Albinen, located in the scenic canton of Valais, wants to pay people 25,000 Swiss francs (£18,900) each to move there.

The council will soon be voting on the new initiative, which aims to repopulate a community that has dwindled to just 240 residents, reports The Local.

Under the scheme, each new adult resident will be paid the fee, with an additional 10,000 Swiss francs (£7,600) per child. For a family of four, that’s more than £53,000.
So you've to build or buy a house and commit to living there for ten years but (and I do hope they've thought this through and have half-way decent broadband) if you're in a business where remote working is easy and are fed up with the hustle and bustle of the big city, why wouldn't you?

This offer masks a bigger issue with Europe's countryside and small towns - people are leaving them unless they're close enough to the city for people to be able to commute. And they're leaving because there's no work, no decent amenities and everything is more expensive. Perhaps the coming world of driverless vehicles, drone deliveries and robots will change things and make it appealing to live in a remote village, but right now it isn't and paying people to become residents is the only way to keep the population levels.


Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Yay for suburbia (and let's build more of it, fast)

I'm a suburban boy, it's in my bones - the semi-detached house with a garden, one of thousands just the same. It is, for some, the veritable definition of Malvina Reynolds' song "Little Boxes".
"And they're all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same."
As children - perhaps prompted by a father who was something of a folk music fan - we even referred to the estate at Orchard Avenue in Shirley as the 'ticky-tacky houses'. This was a world of trains to work - Reggie Perrin's soliloquy of a walk to the station from his semi in a London suburb - of buses to school, of hobbies and pastimes, sheds and allotments.

It became popular to deride suburbia - its design, its housing, its values - and to draw a negative parallel with either the racy, youthful and exciting life of the big city or else the bucolic, laid-back pleasures of the distant country. To be suburban became the acme of shallowness, a selfish existence, uncaring and dull - an insult used by historian, Simon Schama to put down polemical columnist, Rod Liddle:
‘Go back to your journalistic hackery… and turn your suburban face away from the plight of the miserable,’
Yet most of us - even Simon Schama - are the products of suburbia, living in those semi-detached houses, going to the same sort of state school and having our values set by life in these work-a-day, middle-class places. When I think of my childhood, I think of suburbia, of its space, its variety and the security it afforded us. And I know that my core values - community, neighbourliness, decency, politeness, respect - come from that suburbia.

So why is it that we have such a problematic relationship with suburbia? How did a suburban boy like Simon Schama come to use 'suburban' as an insult, as a way to dismiss someone he disagreed with and felt, in some way, beneath his attention? And when did we start the fetish of the city - the dirty, crowded, unsafe, unfriendly, child-free city? A fetish that, frankly, is something we (perhaps secretly) despise - what we hanker for is suburbia. There is no better place to raise a family - near enough to town for work and pleasure but far enough away that you can take Mr Pooter's advice about home:
"After my work in the City, I like to be at home," as he put in his Diary of a Nobody. "What's the good of a home, if you are never in it? 'Home, Sweet Home', that's my motto ... there is always something to be done: a tin-tack here, a venetian blind to put straight, a fan to nail up, or part of a carpet to nail down."
The truth is that, despite all the efforts of planners to force us into over-dense, anti-family urban cramp, we're still headed for suburbia if we get the chance:
Much of this has been driven by migration patterns. In 2016, core counties lost roughly over 300,000 net domestic migrants while outlying areas gained roughly 250,000. Increasingly, millennials seek out single-family homes; rather than the predicted glut of such homes, there’s a severe shortage. Geographer Ali Modarres notes that minorities, the primary drivers of American population growth in the new century, now live in suburbs. The immigrant-rich San Gabriel Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County and their analogues elsewhere, Modarres suggests, now represents “the quintessential urban form” for the 21st century.
This is California, famously unfriendly towards sprawl, a place with some of the world's most vicious urban containment policies, and a place with some of the world's most over-priced housing. Imagine how much better it would be if we recognised that people want to live in one of those 'ticky-tacky houses' - three bedrooms, front and back garden, garage. A place that combines comfort and affordability with room to grow.

And it makes economic sense too:
Overall, what suburbia dominates is the geography of the middle class. All but four of top 20 large counties with the highest percentage of households earning over $75,000 annually are suburban, according to research by Chapman University’s Erika Nicole Orejola. One reason: Most job growth takes place in the periphery. Even with the higher job density of downtowns, the urban core and its adjacent areas account for less than one-fifth of all jobs, and since 2010 this pattern has persisted.
It's a myth that the only places where jobs get created is in the urban core or grand cities - 80% of jobs are elsewhere and, you've guessed it, most of those jobs are in and around suburbia.

So suburbs are nicer places to live (really they are) with better amenities than either the city or the country. Suburbs are cleaner, friendlier, safer and less stressful that the city. And more accessible with better schools, healthcare and activity than the countryside. Plus people want to live in them.

Perhaps then, we should ignore all the pompous city living snobs who sneer at suburbs (often while dreaming of a nice posh pile in some village that's really an exurb) and get on with building what most folk want - more suburbs.


Monday, 20 November 2017

Quote of the day - why council housing isn't the answer

Worth remembering this:
The underlying problem has often been misdiagnosed by politicians who yearn for an uncontroversial and immediate solution. A lack of public housing is emphatically not the cause of our plight. About a fifth of all homes are owned by councils or housing associations, placing us towards the very top of the European league table. This amounts to about four times as much social housing as they have in Germany and is considerably higher than in France, Denmark or Sweden. If the quantum of state housing were the key driver of housing affordability, the UK would be one of the cheapest places to live in the western world.
We've spent the best part of four decades not building enough housing (for London and the South East it's about six homes built for every ten new households) and this is why we have a crisis. Not funding. Not state investment. Not tax incentives. Just urban containment.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Memories of what once was haunt our politics

OK this is about about Youngstown, Ohio but the same sentiment could pass for a thousand other places across the USA, Britain and Europe:
In places like Youngstown, many people still remember what life was like when employment was high, jobs paid well, workers were protected by strong unions, and industrial labor provided a source of pride – not only because it produced tangible goods but also because it was recognized as challenging, dangerous, and important. The memory of what it felt like to transform raw ore into steel pipes and to be part of the connected, prosperous community that work generated still haunts the children and grandchildren of those workers.
These memories of what once was haunt today's politics and the minds of economists. The problem is that those economists know only the dry, utilitarian core of their discipline - free trade works, economic liberalism makes the world richer. And all this is undeniable but what it reminds us is that utilitarianism and Benthamite consequentialism should not be the only drivers of what we do and how we think about the world.

I don't think we can get back to those halcyon days of factories, unions, strong men and robust communities in places like Ohio, South Yorkshire, Livorno or Roubaix - this is, if you like, the mistake of Blue Labour and Red Tory analyses. But what we should do, rather than peer in faux-concern at the poverty consequential on the loss of those days, is ask what is needed to find again the ties that bound those communities together and made them strong.

John Sanphillippo writes brilliant photo-essays about America's suburbia and, in a recent piece about Orange County, California, he started with what I think is a really important remark:
There are things that we can do as a society to work through our big structural difficulties at an institutional level. And there are other things that can be done independently at the household level by individuals. I don’t have the technical skills, political skills, social skills, credentials, patience, or desire to engage the large scale systems. To be honest, I don’t think most people do. But there are all sorts of things that ordinary people can and should do on their own that can make a huge difference on the ground at room temperature. Collectively all our separate choices create the world we inhabit.
To do this we have to break with those memories of what once was, to forget pretending large factories with their unions, job security and dominance of a community will ever return. We've also to stop seeing the answer lies with holding out a cap to national government crying "fill it with money, we're hurting" - it's not that redistribution is a bad thing but rather that it stops things getting worse it doesn't make them better. The starting point is where Sanphillippo is pointing - outside our front doors.

Right now the neoliberal elite (apologies for calling them that but it's all I've got) are in denial. They know that their world view is challenged by folk struggling in Youngstown, Oldham or Fosse De Sessevalle and they know also that the voice of far-left and far-right echoes round these communities as they search for what they lost when the steelworks, cotton mills and coal mines closed. The problem is that the populists, whether rightists like Farage, Trump or Le Pen or leftists like Mélenchon, Corbyn or Sander, don't offer anything that works - all these would-be demagogues offer is a false hope and strong words of blame.

It seems to me we've to offer people two things - hope based on empowerment and control, and the idea of aspiration. Maybe if we start with those neglected local things - the fallen walls, the crumbling highway, the kid who needs a lift (or a bike) to get to an apprenticeship, the local school looking for readers, the doctors wanting help getting folks to and from hospital, a thousand things too small to get the notice of big government but important to you little place. Forget about grand national schemes and think instead about our neighbourhoods - because it really does work:
The Knight Foundation, an American charity that supports journalism and active citizenship, ran a programme called 'Soul of the Community' that showed how there is an "important and significant correlation between how attached people feel to where they live and local GDP growth" and what "most drives people to love where they live (their attachment) is their perception of aesthetics, social offerings, and openness of a place". If people love where they live, that place will succeed - it's Sam Gamgee going round The Shire planting a grain from Galadriel's garden in every corner.

Friday, 17 November 2017

On safari with the poverty tourists

Since the Brexit vote in Britain and Trump's election in the USA, there has developed a genre of journalism that involves the writer departing from their comfortable, elite environs (London, New York, San Francisco) and venturing out into the badlands where people voted either the leave the EU or else for Donald Trump. On safari with their patronising pencils:
Hale, who is 65 and lives in San Francisco, is a career activist who got her start protesting nuclear plants and nuclear testing in the 1970s. In 2005, she was one of the founders of Third Way, a center-left think tank, and it was in that capacity that she and four colleagues had journeyed from both coasts to the town of Viroqua, Wisconsin, as part of a post-election listening tour. They had come on a well-meaning mission: to better understand their fellow Americans, whose political behavior in the last election had left them confused and distressed.
Or by the seaside smugly observing poor people struggling:
The elephants that lumbered up and down Blackpool’s beach have long gone. Britain’s political parties have stopped decamping to the town for their annual jamborees. Even the deckchairs have left: the local government sold all 6,000 of them three years ago to a company in the affluent county of Cheshire. The one thing that hasn’t disappeared is the people.
This sort of poverty tourism feeds a set of consumers eager for the latest instalment of voyeurism, the next explanation as to why these stupid people voted for Brexit or plumped for Trump. We get depressing descriptions of people's lives interspersed by showing how they're all bigoted, racist, misogynist, overweight and unhealthy. What there isn't is any attempt at all to understand why, at least not beyond glib, smug quips about "shit life syndrome" or lurid reporting on illiberal attitudes towards druggies, welfare queens and high school drop-outs.

The whole approach - whether it's a Financial Times journalist going to Blackpool, a Guardian writer venturing to Stoke, or some San Francisco researchers driving through rural Wisconsin - reeks of 19th century anthropology where intrepid researchers ventured into the dark jungle in search of lost tribes to write up in their next book - published to great acclaim and talk of how brave, how brilliant. What we don't get is any real sense of understanding as journalists turn for insight to the public sector elites that dominate many of these places - to the very people who are failing to turn them round.

It's no surprise then, that the descriptions focus on the dysfunctional lives of people who live in these places, on the drugs and alcohol, the depression and the sense of hopelessness. What's lacking from this poverty tourism is any sense of empathy, any appreciation of what having a shit life is really like. And why so many people with those shit lives are in Blackpool, Stoke and rural Wisconsin. It struck me as telling that the UK edition of J D Vance's gripping 'Hillbilly Elegy' describes it as "a great insight into Trump and Brexit" - it may be that but more importantly it's a revealing story of the struggles faced by the white working class in the deindustrialised Mid West. That Trump and Brexit were stuck on the book's front cover tells you everything you need to know about the interests and priorities of bien pensant bookshop browsers in London or New York.

What's missing is any suggestion as to what - other than familiar cries for more government cash - should be done to change shit lives into lives that are all right. We get little criticisms of government like this:
For Jonathan Portes, chief economist at the DWP between 2002 and 2008, the lack of a plan was, in retrospect, part of the problem. “There’s an argument for saying you can’t do [welfare reform] separately from having some sort of place-based economic strategy as well — and we never really had that,” he says. “Just telling them, ‘Well there’s 5,000 new jobs in London every week, and people seem to find it perfectly easy to move 600 miles from rural Romania to take one of these jobs, so why can’t you move 200 miles from Blackpool?’ — it’s true but it sort of ignores the social context.”
The truth, of course, is that we had decades of place-based economic strategies some funded through ERDF Objective One and Two, others by UK government funding (City Challenge, SRB, Estate Action - a potpourri of place-based regeneration) but, in the main, the places that were poorest in 1968 are more likely to be poor in 2018. And, while all this money helped, the economic fundamentals for places like Blackpool, Barnsley or Stoke haven't changed all that much.

When you read Vance's book, you get a little sense of the irritation many like him (hillbillies, rednecks, chavs, pikies - the white working classes of Britain and America) feel at the way they're portrayed in these poverty tourism pieces. We're given the idea that such folk are dull, listless, ignorant and essentially helpless, that only the intervention of bright, engaged, educated and empowered people from outside can resolve the problem. We're to say "there, there" and provide a big middle-class hug to all these sad, incapable poor people out there in the sticks.

Perhaps instead of that hug, we should try a little bit of understanding? Get underneath why their lives are shit? Maybe we can stop hassling them about lifestyle too and focus instead on the things that could help? But then, I've a suspicion, the journalists, academics and think-tankers believe they're done their job by pointing at Blackpool as saying "ewww, isn't it horrid" (albeit taking 5000 words to do so). After all their readers will now be armed with all they need to hold forth about the evils of capitalism, the failures of Tory welfare policies and the noble work being done by the public sector elites in these towns, people who are sacrificing the comforts of civilisation to do good work in these sad, broken places.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

People who think Twitter - with or without Russians - decided the referendum need to get out more

There is an almighty panic afoot. It seems that a vast army of trolls in fur hats with snow on their boots are ruining our democracy by doing stuff on Twitter. Yes folks, it's the Russians - even the Prime Minister was moved to say how naughty they are albeit in a wonderfully sinister way ("we know what you're doing").

Some perspective is needed here because, while it may well be the case that Russian spies sat at computers in St Petersburg are bombarding Twitter with stuff, the impact on elections ranges from pretty much zero to really not very much at all.

According to Oleksandr Talavera at Swansea University there are 150,000 accounts with "links to Russia" that Tweeted about Brexit during the campaign. Talavera is at the upper end of the spectrum of guesses about these Russian bots most other researchers give much lower figures for accounts that can be clearly linked to the folk in St Petersburg - 419 from researchers in Edinburgh, 13,493 from London University and just 54 from Oxford University.

Taking the 419, this is what they were doing:
Professor Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the University of Edinburgh, told the newspaper that at least 419 of those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times – mostly after the referendum had taken place.

Commenting on the Brexit tweets, she told The Guardian the content overall was “quite chaotic and it seems to be aimed at wider disruption. There’s not an absolutely clear thrust. We pick up a lot on refugees and immigration”.
I'm pretty sure that the same will go for the bigger numbers. For a little context, however, we should note that there were literally millions of Tweets about the referendum - the LSE, for example, looked at 7.5 million in their analysis. Those Russian tweeters represent a drop in this ocean of Tweets. Let's remember also that there are about 10 million UK Twitter accounts (this matters because they're the ones with a vote) and let's also note that 17.4 million people voted to leave - rather more than have those Twitter accounts.

Even accepting that Russia did try to interfere in - disrupt, influence - the referendum (something that probably shouldn't surprise us), the evidence presented by researchers tells us that it really didn't make much difference at all, indeed it was swamped by a vast tide of Tweets from real people about Brexit. Indeed that LSE study showed just how Brexiteers were much more engaged and active:
There is clearly a pattern in the way the referendum campaign unfolded on Twitter, with those wanting to leave communicating in greater numbers and with greater intensity. Districts with a greater share of Twitter users supporting Leave also tended to vote for leaving the EU, so that Twitter activity correlates with voting in the referendum.
We also know from that LSE blog that the same goes for Facebook, Instagram and Google search - as a senior politician (and remain voter) said to me: "Brexit voters were going to crawl over broken glass so they could vote to leave". I've been involved in politics for 40 years and have never seen ordinary voters - the sort who often don't bother - so motivated to turn up and vote. Public meetings were a thing of history in British elections, yet we held a debate in Cullingworth and filled the hall with over 250 people, most of them planning to vote leave.

This latest conspiracy theory - hot on the heels of the "it was big data" nonsense - reminds us that many of those who voted to remain are still in denial as to what the campaign outcome was down to. These inconsolable remain voters simply can't countenance that their 'business as usual' message got both barrels from an electorate that frankly didn't think that 'business as usual' was doing them any good. The result has been firstly to shout about how it was all the stupid people who did it and it's not fair, then to blame the Daily Mail followed by lots of overhyped scare stories about 'hate crime'. We then got the conspiracies - it was shadowy American billionaires, it was manipulating 'big data' and now it's the Russians.

The truth is that two-and-a-half million mostly older and working class voters who don't usually vote or vote infrequently decided on this occasion to go down to the church hall or school and stick a big firm X in the box marked "Leave the European Union". There were a pile of reasons why they did this but the main one was that the EU is a distant, unaccountable, corrupt and undemocratic institution a very long way away filled with people who have absolutely no connection with or idea about what matters in Denholme or Wyke or Scarborough. It really had absolutely nothing at all to do with Twitter, the Russians, Cambridge Analytica or whatever stupid conspiracy sobbing remainers dream up and if you think otherwise you really should get out more.


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Racism - why the progressive left's definiton is damaging

It was some time in the early 1990s when a friend, steeped in the occult law of progressive politics, explained to me that most on the "left" didn't mean what I thought they meant when they talked about racism.

You see, along with most of the populace, I'd laboured under the misunderstanding that racism was prejudice based on a persons race. So a decision, for example, to exclude someone, not employ someone or stereotype someone based on their race is pretty much all there is to racism. It seems I was wrong - or rather that there's a different meaning of racism that derives from society's structure, history and other stuff that Marxist sociologists speak about.

Under this different meaning of the word 'racism', I (as a white person) do not have to say or do anything at all that regular folk consider racist for the progressive left to consider that I am a racist. My very existence is a monument to racism - white people are racists because they are white people. And, of course, the victims of that racism - people of colour - cannot be racist even if they use language or act in a way that most folk would consider racist. Understand that you don't have to agree with this definition of racism (and I don't) for it to be significant in the way a discourse about racism is conducted.

There is, for some white people, an escape clause. You become an 'ally' of people of colour. This doesn't actually stop you being a racist because you are white but it does provide some protection as your heart is in the right place - especially if you've acknowledges the deep structural causes of racism within society (having learnt about this from listening to those Marxist sociologists).

Which brings me to Emma Dent-Coad MP and Nasreen Khan (or Naz Kahn as she was until recently).

Taking Naz Kahn first. It is clear that Naz is a person of colour (being, in this case, a Muslim of South Asian heritage) which means that, in progressive mythology, she cannot be a racist even if she says something that is racist. Moreover, Naz's crime was to be anti-Jew and there's a problem with the Jews in that progressive myth . Everyone recognises that Jews are a minority and that they were (and are) persecuted but they are mostly outside that people of colour definition because that would put them in the same category as the Palestinians who are, of course, oppressed (by Zionists who are mostly Jewish).

Ms Kahn may have overstepped the boundaries of what the progressive left will accept in terms of antisemitism - mostly by suggesting Hitler wasn't all that bad, which means the Labour Party will eventually get round to sacking her - but her opinions are simply slightly more extreme versions of those held by a significant proportion of Labour members. Anti-Zionism is acceptable (because the Palestinians are oppressed) even though opposing Zionism means opposing the existence of Israel, something central to the identity of most Jews.

Meanwhile, Emma Dent-Coad, the MP for Kensington is reported to have called a black Tory activist, Shaun Bailey, a "token ghetto boy". Normal progressive left reaction to this (and indeed that of most regular folk) would be to say "racism" because referencing the ghetto and calling a black man 'boy' definitely fits everyone's idea of racism and Ms Dent-Coad is white so, in that progressive mythology, presumed guilty of racism. Yet a black progressive left MP, Clive Lewis, chose to defend her:
I see some brothers getting upset at @emmadentcoad recent comments. Where were your howls of outrage at the Tory ‘nigger in a woodpile’ comments? Pathetic.She’s done more for black people in her constituency with #grenfell in 6months than most tories will do in their entire lives.
What you see here is that Ms Dent-Coad is being defined as an 'ally' to people of colour thereby provided cover for a deeply racist (in regular folks' understanding of what that word means) remark. You see, Ms Dent-Coad is on our (people of colour) side so therefore we can excuse her offensiveness to a black person. And this get out clause is reinforced by the victim is this case being a Conservative activist and politician. Here's Mr Lewis again:
If you think you can fight racism and be in the Tory party then I guess this conversation isn’t going to go very far I’m afraid. If anyone has any understanding of the structural reality of modern racism, you’d not come within a country mile of a Tory membership card.
In Mr Lewis's mind, Tory equates to white. What he's saying is that any black person (and the comment was in response to someone who is a person of colour) who joins the Conservative Party has given up on racism, is a sort of traitor to the cause - an Uncle Tom or a 'coconut'. And, within Mr Lewis's mindset, adhering as it does to those progressive myths about racism, this must be the case - the Tories are the party of the establishment and the establishment is white and racist.

If one thing comes of this sorry situation - with a senior Labour MP insinuating that thousands of black and minority Tory activists, including hundreds of councillors and MPs are somehow unconcerned about racism - I hope it is to confine the stupid progressive definition of racism to the dustbin of silly ideas where it belongs. We've made huge progress over the past few decades in dealing with the endemic racism within our society and, as the words of Naz Kahn and Emma Dent-Coad show, we've still a long way to go. But to say that "structural reality of modern racism" (whatever that actually means) says that Conservatives don't care about racism is to wear a set of ideological blinkers. Racism is, in the end, always about people prejudging others, often harmfully, on the basis of their race. Yes it's ingrained and embedded in society but can we not try and turn it into some sort of 'groupthink' where only those subscribing to a narrowly-defined ideological position can be called anti-racist?


Monday, 13 November 2017

The appeal of autocracy to intellectuals

Joel Kotkin is bang on the money here:
China’s ascendency appeals to many in America’s intellectual classes, and not only them, who historically have a soft spot for “enlightened” autocrats and overweening bureaucracies. In the progressive era, the lodestone was imperial Germany, in the 1930s for many the “future” was to be seen in the Soviet Union and even fascist Italy. In the 1980s, Japan emerged as the role model, followed in the late 1990s by a united Europe that seemed to many more humane and successful than the U.S.
The reality is that, for all its many flaws and failings, the US system based on liberal capitalism is more robust, responsive and successful than the Utopian "Man in Whitehall Knows Better" systems beloved of the centrist and progressive left - especially the acedemic and intellectual bits of it.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

It's not capitalism we need to defend, it's freedom

Every now and then I get asked about why I'm in politics and, once I've done the self-deprecating bit about how no other business would have me, I get to the crunch. I am involved because free speech, free markets, free trade and free enterprise need defending. The systems of government, the lobby groups, the business organisations, the voluntary sector and 'thinking people everywhere' all conspire to limit and restrict your and my freedom to act. Challenging this sad truth is essential.

And the problem isn't capitalism, it's government. This isn't to say that big business is innocent - the amounts spent by business on lobbying government for law changes, subsidy, new trade barriers and more regulation remind us that many large organisations really don't like the idea of freedom. So when Corbyn-loving students tell me capitalism is corrupting, I get their point - hardly a day passes without one or other example of a big business getting some sort of protectionist fix or some new regulation aimed at preventing market entry. We've known this for a long while - it's the central theme of Adam Smith's 'Wealth of Nations' - mercantilism, market fixing, cartels and protectionism, all those things the technocrats try to justify, prevent the growth of wealth, the opportunity for equality and the raising of people out of poverty.

I also understand how those young people are disgruntled at being 'Generation Rent', at having great fat student debt they probably won't pay off and at seeing my generation sitting snuggly on a pile of assets (but still moaning at having to use those assets to look after ourselves in our old age). But when Corbyn or other socialists try to say that these problems are some how a consequence of free markets, free trade or free enterprise, they are lying - even when they use the catch-all term of capitalism.

Housing in London is expensive because for sixty years we've run urban containment policies around the capital and for forty of those sixty years, London has generated more new jobs than it has new houses. And if you provide just six new homes for every ten new households, housing is going to get more expensive. This isn't the fault of the market, it's the fault of government for rationing the land we've got to build houses on. They call this planning and it's the basic building block of socialism - instead of having a free market, some folk in an office with a computer model decide what the price should be, how much should be made and how it should be distributed. It limits your freedom and it doesn't work.

Defending freedom is not, therefore, simply about the moral imperative of liberty but is justified for straightforward and practical reasons. Those freedoms - speech, trade, markets, enterprise - should be defended because they work, because they are the things that made us rich and, right now, are making poor people everywhere richer. The only places - North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Zimbabwe - where people are getting poorer are places where these freedoms are comprehensively rejected. Places where socialism - the planned economy - is the chosen model.

Everywhere I look freedom is under attack. Technocrats and business lobbyists saying import tariffs protect domestic business. Local councils saying limiting procurement options supports local economies. Planners saying the problem is the wrong plan not the planning itself. Farmers saying they couldn't operate without subsidy. Public health groups wanting to ban smoking in parks or to fix booze prices. Police forces calling for new powers to seemingly arrest anybody for almost anything. Housing lobbyists saying the solution is to fix rents not to build houses. Schools snatching sausage rolls from innocent children's lunchboxes. Mayors enforcing public morals by banning pretty women from advertising or drinking from the train.

And then we're told the problem is capitalism? It's not, the problem is that government - in cahoots with a bewildering lobby of charities, businesses and 'campaigners' - takes away freedoms. And we can't subdivide these freedoms - be cross about the loss of one freedom that's important to us while cheering on a ban on something we don't like. For sure some of these losses of freedom are less damaging than others but each loss - from daft rules on advertising vaping to 'Public Space Protection Orders' that make anything an official doesn't like a crime - represents a further restriction and another barrier to pleasure, enterprise or exchange.

I'm happy to defend capitalism - the idea that the rewards from business success goes to the people who put up the cash - but it's not as important as defending free markets, free trade, free enterprise and free speech. Those freedoms constrain the worst urges of business, protect us from the busybody and limit the oppressive instincts of government. We have become too glib about each new loss of freedom - even sometimes to the point of welcoming it because of the NHS or crime or community safety or, the favourite all-purpose reason, because of the children.

So let's get less hung up about whether something's owned by the people who invested, by the workforce or by the community and worry instead about those who want to take away your freedom to organise business how you want. Let's be bothered about government and business wanting to fix gas prices or food supply or where you can buy gin and lemonade. The good life we enjoy and that we'd like everyone to enjoy, was made possible by that free enterprise, by those free markets, and by that free trade. And underpinning all this is free speech - our right to speak what we see as truth, to promote our business and to challenge the assumptions and presumptions of those who govern us. Freedom matters - let's defend it.


Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Nothing new about the Russians trying to influence our politics

Like this:
Nor is Russian interference in American politics new, or for that matter vice versa. The Comintern funded “The Daily Worker” in the 1920s, and various Soviet and communist sources have funded agitation around the world for many decades. Those nefarious activities used a variety of cooperating Western suppliers, including delivery trucks, publishers, paper makers and much more, but again we don’t regard those businesses as sinister.
Or, closer to home (and to the Labour Party) there's this:
He confirmed in April that Jack Jones was a Soviet agent. ‘I was his last case officer,’ wrote Gordievsky (Daily Telegraph, 28 April), ‘meeting him for the final time in 1984 at Fulham [six years after Jones’s retirement from the T&G], together with his wife, who had been a Comintern agent since the mid-1930s. I handed out to him a small amount of cash. From 1981, I had had the pleasure of reading volumes of his files, which were kept in the British department of the KGB until 1986, when they were passed on to the archive.’
Or this:
He and the former editor of the left-wing newspaper Tribune Dick Clements, were in regular contact with the East German secret police, the Stasi, according to the security service's files.

The allegations come only 24 hours after the BBC unmasked Hull University lecturer Robin Pearson as a former Stasi agent.

Earlier in the week, it was revealed that Melita Norwood, an 87-year-old great-grandmother, and former Scotland Yard detective John Symonds had also betrayed Britain during the Cold War.

The latest revelations suggest the KGB and the Stasi saw Mr Allen and Mr Clements as "agents of influence", who could provide useful information and help promote pro-Soviet policies.
So bunging out loads of bots and inviting Nigel Farage for tea is in a long and dishonourable tradition. One that sought for decades to subvert Britain's left to the Soviet cause - a cause with so much blood on its hands it stained the flag red.


Tuesday, 7 November 2017

More on how Big Data didn't win it

Buzzfeed published an article back in February about the 'Big Data' thing and Donald Trump's campaign:
Several people who worked directly with Cambridge Analytica told BuzzFeed News that despite its sales pitch and public statements, it never provided any proof that the technique was effective or that the company had the ability to execute it on a large scale. “Anytime we ever wanted to test anything as far as psychographic was concerned, they would get very hesitant,” said one former campaign staffer. “At no point did they provide us any documentation that it would work.”
Now I suppose that, if you're a conspiracy theorist, this can be dismissed as the campaign people throwing chaff out the back of the plane but it reinforces for me the weaknesses of the Cambridge Analytica claims. The article sets out some of these claims - or at least the ones that the company has broadcast proudly - including the use of 'psychographics'.

We know (because Cambridge Analytical tell us so) that the company has a 'psychographic profile' derived either from, questionably-sourced, Facebook data or else the company's own surveys. For this to be usable it has to be translated into a system that can be applied to the whole population (or at least that population in very small units). It seems that the Cambridge Analytica CEO is saying they have such a system because he claims the company had “profiled the personality of every adult in the United States of America — 220 million people.”

The real question here isn't whether or not such a profile exists (and if it is based solely on Facebook it doesn't since over 40% of Americans aren't using Facebook and a large part of those who are are irregular or infrequent users even before privacy choices are considered) but whether it is in any way either meaningful or effective as a marketing tool. I've a feeling that it is little better than standard geodemographics built on Richard Webber's 'birds of a feather flock together' principle. The observations of people involved in the Trump campaign seem to bear this out - Cambridge Analytica's work perhaps did provide useful targeting insights but didn't then provide any useable means of directly reaching these new targets.
In marketing pitches, two GOP operatives recalled, Nix has claimed his company has access to proprietary information that includes Facebook data. One of the operatives said the data was too old to be helpful and couldn’t be updated. Others said they’d received a similar pitch, but Nix was too vague about the details for them to evaluate what the data really was. None of the campaign staffers BuzzFeed News spoke with said Cambridge Analytica’s proprietary data had played a key role in any decision-making.
There may indeed be some strategic value in extensive data analysis but it is not the salvation. Indeed, there's some suggestion that Hillary Clinton's campaign was even more driven by data analytics than Trump's campaign:
What Ada did, based on all that data, aides said, was run 400,000 simulations a day of what the race against Trump might look like. A report that was spit out would give campaign manager Robby Mook and others a detailed picture of which battleground states were most likely to tip the race in one direction or another — and guide decisions about where to spend time and deploy resources.

The use of analytics by campaigns was hardly unprecedented. But Clinton aides were convinced their work, which was far more sophisticated than anything employed by President Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, gave them a big strategic advantage over Trump.
And we know what happened here - Clinton targeted either places she was winning easily or places where chaotic information led the campaign to believe it was doing better than it was. There seems to have been a deal more art in the Trump campaign than the conspiracy theorists want, with those involved using data more cautiously than was the case for the Democrats. Just as with the EU referendum, we see people wanting to deny the failings of their own campaign by suggesting the matter was determined by devious, sinister, billionaire-funded legerdemain. This problem continues today and, if anything, is expanding as Russian bots, Macedonian fake news and manipulative 'right wing' media are added to the things blamed for the 'wrong' result.

The same message needs to go to Democrats as I sent to Remain supporters in the UK:
At some point the rump of disappointed remain voters will stop trying to find some sinister external force - Russians, American data companies, Facebook - that explains why we voted to leave and recognise that, in truth, we voted to leave because the EU is a distant, anonymous, unapproachable, corrupt and interfering undemocratic institution. That's it - all of it. And if you ask people a slightly different question, they'll tell you that London is also a distant, anonymous, unapproachable, corrupt and interfering undemocratic place too. One run by and for people with more connection to New York or Paris than Barnsley or Stoke. Perhaps those still angst-ridden by us leaving can begin to learn this?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Summing it all up....

Brilliant letter in the Financial Times - coins the acronym PLU, 'people like us' which I shall steal:

Saturday, 4 November 2017

We need a better discussion of poverty and welfare

A while back I wrote about how conservatives needed to start talking about poverty.
Two days ago an old cinema in Shipley caught fire – it’s now being demolished as an unsafe building. One tweet I saw suggested that it might have started from a tramp lighting a fire to keep warm on a cold, snowy night. It may turn out that there was some other cause but, sadly, this suggestion could very well be true. For whatever reason there are people sleeping rough on even the coldest night – and this is poverty.

Too many of us look at this and throw up our hands in despair. After all we’ve had a welfare system for over 100 years and a welfare state for nearly 70 – and still there are people who end up unable to heat their home, wondering whether they can feed their children and lacking in any hope or aspiration. So when I see people “defending” the welfare state, I want to scream and point to the terrible injustice of poverty.
In rounds terms the UK government spends about £100bn on alleviating poverty (this is just the welfare budget bit of it so the true figure is maybe a bit higher) - there really ought not to be much poverty left if this money was distributed well. The problem is partly that government really isn't very good at running things and that we design general systems lacking the responsiveness and flexibility needed to respond to the reality of poverty. But fixing that won't fix poverty.

In one respect us Conservatives have it right - the best way to eliminate poverty is for people to have a job and the opportunity for personal betterment. But, even when we move away from relative measures of poverty, there remains, at any given time, a lot of people who by any measure are in abject poverty. When Bradford Council's corporate scrutiny committee looked at this, my back-of-the-envelope estimations gave a figure of 15,000-20,000 people in the City who are genuinely wanting, really are poor. Stretch this across the nation and we get to a figure of about 2 million or so people who are in poverty.

Blessedly, for many of this 2 million, the situation is temporary, they get the benefits sorted out, maybe pay off some debt or get a job and are able to move to a more stable place, at least for the time being. But this still leaves a lot of people - I don't know how many, suspect no-one knows for sure - who are living in terrible poverty and can't get themselves out of it. And, yes, we do a fine job most of the time helping them, either through the benefits system or through the wonderful thing that is people's charity. The thing is, however, that this isn't getting to the heart of the problem, it's treating the symptoms rather than the cause.

As conservatives, people who believe in the free market society that made most people much richer than past generations, we need to resist the temptation to line up with the progressive left and say that cause is down to the system, that liberal capitalism is somehow the reason for that ex-soldier sleeping rough outside Tower Hill tube station or that single mum crying herself to sleep because she's nothing to feed the kids tomorrow. If there are a million people stuck in terrible poverty, there are an accompanying million reasons for that being so.

It seems to me that our nationalised and centrally-directed welfare system, for all that it works for most of its users, simply cannot give the time and attention to people that would allow plans to get that ex-soldier or that single mum out of their poverty. If we are to redesign a system, it needs to come with space to allow better support for such things as mental health, drug and alcohol dependence, disability and budgeting. And, yes, this means challenging spending reductions in local government and looking at how we can make ideas like the (badly named) troubled families programme work. It also means recognising that providing emergency cash, food and clothing has to be part of a system - things like food banks should be seen as part of society's response not as a reflection of failure.

It also strikes me that we need to see how the creativity of private initiative can be directed to helping these million or so folk stuck in poverty. Big government isn't innovative (probably rightly) but there are a lot of people working in and around government who could be given the opportunity and incentive. I'm struck by the degree to which charities and voluntary groups are ready to take risks, do things a bit differently, in order to help those they were formed to help. How we get more of this should be something exercising the mind of government. David Cameron's 'Big Society' was a good start that was, sadly and wrongly, castigated by people in the voluntary sector suffering from a bad case of 'not invented here syndrome'.

The elimination of poverty is not something that can be achieved by government on its own, least of all by tearing down the system of liberal capitalism most likely to deliver a long term answer. That Cameron observation that "there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same as government" should be our starting point. The task of government is to enable people who want to help to do just that, to remove the controls preventing support. At the same time government needs to start being more trusting of the people who walk in through its doors seeking help.


Friday, 3 November 2017

100 years after its birth, this can't be said too often...

From Perry de Haviland at Samizdata:

It is astonishing that in 2017, anyone can still openly call themselves a socialist in polite society and be treated with more respect than if they called themselves a fascist.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Trust me, I'm a politician...

There's a section in the Vietnam War documentary currently showing on BBC4 (watch if you can) where they're reporting on the fall out from the Pentagon Papers leak and the realisation that Kennedy and LBJ had lied through their teeth to the American people. We now know, and lots of Americans suspected at the time, that Richard Nixon lied through his teeth about Vietnam too.

There's a marine veteran speaking to camera who says something along the lines that, prior to the Pentagon Papers, people instinctively trusted the President and his advisors on matters of great importance - war, peace, life, death. Afterwards no-one trusted politicians - the assumption was that all of us lied.

It seems to me that this simple observation from a former soldier summed up the long-term political effect of Vietnam for the USA. For all the winning and losing, elections and campaigns, there is a grumbling view that underneath it all they're probably lying about something. And are prepared to lie about everything up to and including sending young men to the other side of the earth to get killed. So much of what we see played out today in US politics reflects this moment - from low turnouts in elections through endless rounds of campaigning funding reforms to the current suggestions of sinister conspiracy involving Russians, Facebook and shadowy data companies.

For us in Britain, we had to wait a while longer for this epiphany of lies. When Tony Blair stood in Parliament to argue for us to back a US invasion of Iraq, most of us believed that no Prime Minister would bend and warp the evidence - in effect lie - in order to get parliament to back a war. Yet that is what happened, we backed a war because we believed it when Blair said the threat was real, urgent and significant. There are a lot of people who, like that Vietnam veteran from 1971, had the scales fall from our eyes as we realised that, yes, our politicians were prepared to see men die on the basis of deliberate misinformation.

Our politics is better and worse for this epiphany. Better because the public are less prepared to take their leaders simply on trust when it comes to big and important decisions. Although some of the 'wanting to know' around Brexit is little more than spoiling, the public's support for wanting to know is because, frankly, they don't trust politicians not to sell us down the river.

Politics is worse, however, because decent and honest politicians aren't believed - and most politicians, despite the epiphany of lies, are decent and honest. Worse still, politics becomes even more shallow and unpleasant because the media, reflecting public distrust, treats politicians as dodgy, something to be exposed rather than as a set of folk wrestling with getting the right policies and with making the right decisions.

Every time I see Alistair Campbell on telly, in the papers or Tweeting, I want to scream that he was the warped spider sat in the centre of a web of lies - 'spin' they called it - that resulted in hundreds of dead British troops and untold thousands of dead Iraqis. All done to indulge Tony Blair's desire to be America's best buddy. There is no going back, in most folks' minds politicians will forever be liars and deceivers. Most of us aren't, lying's too much like hard work but, because of men like Kennedy, Nixon and Blair, people start with the opinion that we are. Trust me on this, I'm a politician.


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Why free trade....

There's too much technocratic mumbo jumbo about trade. Not least the dribbling nonsense that trade is something permitted by government rather than something prevented by government.

Here's the deal - it's pretty simple:
The argument for free trade is not (as some protectionists caricature it) that it creates heaven on earth; the argument is not that free trade is sufficient or even necessary for sustained and widespread economic growth; the argument is not that every instance of trade being made freer works in textbook fashion. Instead, the foundational argument for free trade is that a government’s obstruction of its citizens’ voluntary commercial transactions with foreigners denies to its citizens gains from trade no less than its obstruction of its citizens’ voluntary commercial transactions with each other. In short, the foundational case for free trade is that trade that spans across political borders improves people’s economic well-being no less than does trade that occurs domestically.
You can make all sorts of reasons why not having free trade might be justified. But you really can't argue that free trade makes folk less well off - that's a straight up lie.


In which multi-millionaire, Jamie Oliver complains about losing public funding

Yes folks, the very rich celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver is moaning about local councils withdrawing funding for his Jaimie's Ministry of Food projects in Bradford and Rotherham:
The 42-year-old chef maintains projects he set up in cities and towns, including Bradford and Rotherham, were ultimately to address Britain’s obesity crisis, improve nutrition and encourage healthy meals for the younger generation, but added they were difficult to implement because of an “erratic” approach to funding from the public sector.
Now, leaving aside whether these projects actually do any good, if Oliver is so keen to promote his particular brand of fussbucketry, why on earth doesn't he dip into his own substantial bank account to do so? Why expect the council tax payers of Bradford to cough up?

The 42-year-old chef maintains projects he set up in cities and towns, including Bradford and Rotherham, were ultimately to address Britain’s obesity crisis, improve nutrition and encourage healthy meals for the younger generation, but added they were difficult to implement because of an “erratic” approach to funding from the public sector.

Read more at: