Mansion Tax: a self-indulgence to make a point, not fix a problem

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Nik Darlington 11.10am

In the 1920s and 1930s the sociologist Elton Mayo conducted a series of experiments to test the productivity of workers at the Hawthorne Works in Chicago. Later in the 1950s, Henry Landsberger interpreted the data to show how people change their behaviour when being studied closely. It is a crucially inherent human bias, called the ‘Hawthorne Effect’ after the location of its first monitoring.

Translate it to the public realm today and it can go some way to explaining why figures of public attention and certain significance embrace a stance on an issue purely for political effect. A psychological underpinning for ‘triangulation’ tactics, perhaps, to wrong-foot opponents; or simply self-indulgence, in the knowledge that one’s every utterance is being watched and measured by others.

Something like a mansion tax is such an indulgence. The only problems it solves are those embedded in its proponents’ own thinking.

True, there is a concerning malfunctioning of the free market in property in Britain. We live on a small archipelago, which as much as it might surprise cultural apologists is actually a very popular archipelago. Demand for scarce land and property is great, compounded by our little archipelago containing some of the most ravishing sylvan scenery known to man.

It is correct for any good Tory to question the proper functioning of free markets. Perhaps the most invidious Tory fallacy of recent decades has been the conflation of capitalism with free market libertarianism.

Yet let’s not chuck the proverbial cherub out with the bath water. Penalising the owners of expensive homes is not the proper way to correct property market imbalances. The unintended consequences of an arbitrary tax ceiling are well-explained by Toby Young here.

Furthermore, while it is true that the London property market is a bit berserk in parts, many marketplaces have their relatively crazy quirks. Should we whack a super tax on the salaries of footballers at Manchester United, because they collectively outweigh the wages of all players plying their trade in the lower leagues of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland? Actually, if anyone has proper stats on that, do let us know.

But of course not, that would be daft. What’s more, while we ought by default to dislike the coarse linguistics of ‘mansion tax’, who is the arbiter? This country house is a bit mansion-like; this dearer two-bed flat isn’t. The ‘problem’ of high property prices is not confined to London either. Even the good burghers of provincial towns like Cheltenham could fall prey to the punishments that shall befall ‘unearned’ wealth (again, who is the arbiter of whether wealth is ‘earned’?).

The the fact that good ‘working people’ might one day want to work so hard that the fruits of their labour reap a £2 million property is of no concern to proponents of a mansion tax; albeit such a purchase would most likely be weighed down by several years of mortgage debt and the onus to work on and on to pay it off. Moreover, the fact that someone, somewhere, is being hammered at approximately £80,000 a pop for owning an expensive home is little consolation to the person on an annual salary of one-quarter that figure (if you can identify a consolation, please say it).

The mansion tax’s introduction would be a policy of momentary significance and soon forgotten - relegated into the midst of myriad other taxes and conveniently forgotten by a succession of politicians drawn to the windfall begotten by negligent fiscal drag.

Ultimately, if the sole intention of a mansion tax is to send a message - and I cannot discern a practical fiscal rationale - it is philosophical navel gazing, not pragmatic policymaking. In other words, the type of approach followed by socialists supped on grand ideas and structural-theoretical solutions. Merely meaningless gesture politics.

Yet people can do funny things when they know other people are watching.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

The Conservative Party must connect with ordinary working people

Francis Davis 2.00 pm

Recently, in the Conservative Party, there have been a slew of speeches, pamphlets and exhortations arguing to extend the ‘modernising’ project if the party is to stay in power.  Yet among the least noticed developments in Conservative circles , but the most clocked among Labour’s team, was a break from the vitriol of ‘strivers’ versus ‘shirkers’ as Greg Clark set out to advance the cause of ‘ordinary people’ . In one fell swoop the Treasury and regional Cities Minister seemed to have framed a paradigm which may lay the seeds of a response to ‘one nation’ Labour and its patriotic cast of mind.

Worklessness, Clark argued, was complex and not just a sign of sloth.  More to the point plenty of families want to work hard, keep their kids safe, have a holiday and cover off their pension. To do that they will work conscientiously but still long for ‘a life’. You can get the picture: ‘ordinary’ families want to minimise economic insecurity but this does not mean they all want to give their every moment over to chasing the dreams of a ‘Dragon’s Den’, or the exhaustion of a life underpinned by breathtaking overtime.  A practical family car will do them rather a Merc; a fortnight in a hotel in the Canaries rather than a month in a holiday home in France; access to good doctors for when their gran’ is ill; the support of a flexible welfare system when an Uncle is laid off by that local company where until his redundancy consultation came he thought what he did really mattered to his boss.  The ‘ordinary’ do some volunteering and an increasing number are carers. Moreover, one could infer, ‘ordinary’ people think that politicians who have only worked in the City, think tanks or London, and never in the public sector or a small firm, are ‘weird’.  And such voters will play a defining role in the general election’s English marginal seats.

The trouble for the current Conservative party is that it is the least prepared of the major parties to reach out to this crucial core of the largest part of the United Kingdom. Whilst ‘modernisation’ has produced many pamphlets, its narratives are still dominated by two clusters of reflection rooted in geographical cultures that unconvincingly reflect English aspirations. These are the ‘Glasgow’ modernisers with their centralising instincts, and social conservatism, and the ‘Notting Hill’ modernisers with their metropolitan and commodifying ethics.  The result is that the experience of ‘the ordinary’ gets mis-translated into the less compassionate, more marketising, more moralising, more white models of the ‘modernisers to date’, who in turn think they are cleverly ready for modernisation 2.0. Consequently, the urge to institutional renewal and local community revival on the part of the English Conservative party in the country is all but exhausted.

 For example, Conservative HQ’s ‘mutuals’ unit arrived then closed as quickly as a passing storm. Its outreach to black and ethnic minority families has never taken off. There is no lively network of Conservatives in the public sector, or nurses, or mums.  It does not celebrate its Northern councillors as national champions outside the Local Government Association nor require those in the South to spend time out of their own areas.  And the party seems to think that the odd week in Bosnia or Bangladesh for its candidates passes as civic credibility when ‘ordinary’ voters have to fit in school governorships, neighbours’ needs, and supporting children’s soccer teams around everything else.

By contrast Miliband’s Labour has been running pilots which give its canvassers a brief to have doorstep conversations rather than merely voter registration drives.  In some seats it has signed up a thousand new allies by linking parents concerned about teenage drinking and supermarket pricing. It is turning its local staff into ‘community organisers’ to reach out to every walk of life and then targeting the training of committed activists to complement such new approaches. This and its engagement with ethnic minorities is measured by the moment rather than by luck. While Blair once transformed his constituency party in Sedgefield, Ed Miliband is seeking to go further by listening nationally from the bottom up.

If there is to be a revived Conservative modernisation then it needs to be equally zealous and break into English pathways of life for which ‘Glasgow’ and ‘Notting Hill’ are ill suited as guides.  It will need to learn more on Honda’s shop floor in Swindon and from those defending river habitats in Cumbria than fixed assumptions from elsewhere. It will need to know the people in Birmingham Central Mosque, the Dean of Liverpool’s Cathedral, the parents of Chester rich and poor and middle managers in Newcastle better than Surrey and Oxfordshire.  And for its advisors and civil servants, it will reach for the universities of Warwick and Southampton, Durham and Bristol, Nottingham and Leeds as much as London, Oxford and Cambridge. It should have the confidence to point to public innovations where mainland Europeans do better than ourselves. Above all it will need the skills to ‘hear’ that ordinary people are suspicious of all the political houses because ordinary people are focused on building up their own house in which they and their families can have enough, be safe, and enjoy the odd piece of luck.  Not a castle, not a penthouse, not an excuse not to work but an ‘ordinary’ English life with all the shocks that employers, ill health, family pressures, thinking that London is like England, and bureaucrats can put in its path.

Greg Clark has found the language from which a new English Conservative modernisation might emerge. Others must now take up that baton rather than stridently restate much that may have been misunderstood and misapplied.  After all, a party at ease with the ‘one nation’ label at a time of social complexity, and serious about modernising around the life of the whole country rather than itself, ought rightly to be proud of ‘the ordinary’.

Francis Davis is a Fellow at Res Publica and Visiting Fellow in Civic Innovation at Portsmouth University Business School.

Do the Left have a better claim to the tenets of Western culture than the Right?

Alexander Pannett 8.40am 

For the modern Western human we often appear to hurtle through our combustious, modern lives, inoculated from niggling doubts of banality through the adulation of mass entertainment.

In such a precociously unsettling realm do concepts of higher culture still find meaning.

Can we still be cultivated to appreciate so-called higher values when post-modernism appears to ground down all sensibilities to an osmosis of the lowest common denominator.

What role does art, music, literature and comedy play these days to develop enlightenment notions of civilisation. Is culture merely a mutable plaything of socio-economic matrices or an educational vehicle of tradition and accumulated wisdom.

These were the queries that were bandied around at a debate I attended yesterday between respective darlings of the Left and Right; Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton.

Despite coming from opposing political opinions, both thinkers appeared to agree that the maintenance of critique was vital for a defined sense of culture.

For Eagleton, critique, that was un-molested and un-hindered by the vagaries of late capitalism, was both progressive and historical in its development of a shared sense of society.

For Scruton, critique allowed individuals to understand and affirm their interaction with their community and derive values from their surroundings.

For these academic luminaries, the importance of questioning was deemed to be the bedrock of Western culture. Its perceived entropy in modern society was lamented as a disastrous set-back for both the progressive ambitions of the Left and the traditional values of the Right.

However, both thinkers had missed the fundamental shift in the ownership of culture that has arisen from the revolution of the digital age.

The internet has allowed all sections of society to have instant access to multiple truths. Questioning is no longer a laborious exercise reserved for the upper echelons of an academic or social elite but a freedom available to all at the click of a button.

Critique is therefore no longer framed by socialist or privileged hierarchy but by a liberalisation that has both cheapened and expanded its horizons. For many today, the subtle complexities of Big Brother say more about the human condition than any reading of Montaigne.

Facebook, World of Warcraft or Wikipedia have done more to develop a sense of community and values amongst today’s youth than any previous forms of high culture, such as Mozart or Pinter. As for an establishment of abstract critique, it is well documented that social media, powered by the internet, lay behind the emancipatory success of the Arab Spring.

The access to instant information has ensured that a plurality of critique is now a fecund product of the masses rather than a dictate from above. Once intractable value-systems have been split open and new depths of the human imagination probed as humans have re-framed their social imperatives. Culture has become both proletarian and metaphorically polyglot in its usurpation of the elite’s previous monopoly of critique.

Where once Right and Left polemically held sway along socio-economic lines, now all culture is both ontologically possible and impossible. Humans become Elf heroes in mystical virtual lands, whilst others gain cult followings due to ironic self-publicity on Youtube.

In such a world, previous concepts of culture are redundant. Fears that critique has been lost due to perceived postmodern nihilism are deeply unfounded.

As humans have retreated from the material certainties that once shackled them, they have found new virtual domains to explore and question both themselves and the prevailing social truths they left behind.

Far from a retreat from culture, the isle is full of noises.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

Why Owen Jones is right. The working classes are demonised… By his class

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 2.00pm

The West has many words for them. The American “limosuine liberal”, the German “salonkommunist”, the French “gauche caviar”, the Italian “Radical chic”, the Danish “kysbanesocialist”, and the Swedish “Rodvinsvanster”.

The rich English language has even more; from “Hampstead hippies” to the “chattering classes”, from “Bollinger Bolsheviks” to the “Islington massive”. Most famously of all perhaps is “Champagne Socialist” a term with its roots planted firmly in Herzen, who wrote of the poor “dying of cold and hunger… while you and I in our rooms… are chatting about socialism over pastry and champagne”.

The debate on how, why and when this happened is for another place and another time. Suffice it to say that it revolves around the “Frankfurt School’s” success in the post-war period in capturing the commanding heights, the citadels of culture and academia instead of politics and revolutions, and shaping society’s values. 

I would dispute the fact Socialism ever had a working-class core in the first place however. The French Revolution had its engine rooms in salons full of the well-to-do, not on the backstreets with sans-culottes. The Marxist Revolution was fathered by academics and industrialists, not workers. Its dogmas have only gained traction amongst the working classes when it has been in the interests of the bourgeois to persuade, bribe or coerce them from above. The ratio of roots-up working-class socialist movements compared to top-down equivalents has always been pitifully lopsided. 

Marxism’s two major constituencies are nihilists and idealists. Indeed, though you might find pessimistic and optimistic working men, nihilism and idealism are forms of distortion only the indulgence of an education can afford. And education, in spite of all efforts, remains the key definitive quality that forms the border marches of working and middle class identities. A fact poignantly illustrated by David Starkey in an intimate interview he gave for the Guardian in which he revealed that the typical working class parents’ mindset was enshrined in the phrase “you educate ‘em, you lose ‘em”. 

Parents have lost them nonetheless. Lost them to an education system that is experimenting with socialist concepts the bourgeoisie framed and are now toying with. If “lions led by donkeys” was a popular leftist motif for the behaviour of generals in the first world war, it is one that would accurately describe our education system today in which all the historically conservative foibles of the working-classes have been stamped into the dirt. Its patriotism patronised as racist, its royalism denigrated as quaint, its love of cohesive community decried as tribalistic, its liberality denounced as animalism, and its respect for authority scoffed at as infantile.

Owen Jones, a man loudly ashamed of his bourgeois background, made a name for himself last year by informing us of a process involving the “demonisation of the working classes”. A brave book by any standards for a man who belongs to the class who seem to have done precisely that. 

The solution to this sad tale lies in the conservative party embracing a One Nation Toryism best embodied by men such as Iain Duncan Smith, who, instead of aping the worst aspects of the metropolitan left which takes the underclass vote as a given for its want of proper alternatives, actually takes our compatriots’ concerns seriously. This would be both the morally right thing to do and a politically astute decision, staying on message, detoxifying the brand, whilst gaining a whole new constituency.

People desire, at the very least, shades of fidelity between thought and action, ideals and deeds. But the piquant notes tucked away in these neatly coined phrases reveal more than just frustration with inconsistency. The nugget of injustice the terms are swiping at is the fact the middle-classes, loaded with bourgeois sensibilities, are perceived to have hijacked a theory that claimed the working-classes and history had each found redemption in the other.

Inverse snobbery has undermined social mobility

Alexander Pannett 11.20am 

Yesterday, Michael Gove announced that “progressive” teaching had eroded social mobility in the UK.

This coincides with Nick Clegg’s claiming that income inequality does not determine social mobility and redistributive policies will not be a panacea for creating a more equal society.

At a time when a West End play, Posh, again raises the spotlight on the privileged, it seems that the eternal British fascination with class is as healthy as ever.

Class, privilege, equality, fairness. The lexicon is familiar to us all but conjures up a multitude of differing emotional responses.

I cannot help but feel that the concepts behind these words are rather empty. Their “truth” is less of what they rationally can be determined to refer to and more of their use as tools in pursuing a policy of subjugation and intimidation against any individuals or cultures that certain people feel entitled to misunderstand.

Whenever an individual is accused of being “posh”, has the accuser really sat down and analysed that person’s life to determine whether he or she has indeed had a life of comfort? Have they impartially evaluated whether all their achievements have been handed to that person on a “silver spoon”, without any effort on their part? Of course they haven’t.

When an individual is accused of being “posh” or “privileged”, they are having their identity removed from them. They are being categorised not by their own consciousness but by another’s subjective interpretation of the world. Such behavior is bigotry in the most cowardly fashion.

I do not know you so I shall label you. And in labeling, I shall bind your individuality to my language.  As this language is deemed “progressive”, it is therefore acceptable - even commendable in certain circles. As Rorty said, truth is what people let you get away with. And the truth here is that once an individual has been labeled “privileged” they can be abused at will and their achievements mocked and ignored as if they had been attained fraudulently.

Take David Cameron as a good example. He is now widely acclaimed to be the most privileged Prime Minister in recent decades. He has been accused of a “born to rule” attitude and “chillaxed” approach.

What utter nonsense. David Cameron is a member of the elite because he was bright enough to get a First from Oxford. From there he worked hard to attain the top job in the country, while facing vociferous competition. While in power he encounters the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, simultaneously attempting to manage the first coalition government in modern politics and the most ambitious reform programme in decades.

On top of this, Mr Cameron has had to endure the deaths of his son and father. And yet we begrudge him having some time off at the weekend to “relax” with his young family as everyone else does because he is “posh” and must suffer? How depressing our capricious society has become.

Such socially acceptable bigotry is particularly harmful in that it distracts genuinely progressive instincts from the real causes of social immobility in our country. Foremost amongst these causes is the lack of opportunity available to many due to inadequate education.

This brings me back to Michael Gove’s criticism of “progressive” education. Interestingly, Mr Gove does not call for a return to selective grammar schools, which I know having been to a grammar school myself, do determine an individual’s ability at far too young an age. Instead Mr Gove lambasts the equality-driven approach to teaching that has reduced standards since the 1960s. This has resulted in a two-tier system where the privately educated flourish while everyone else must bury their attributes.

In a globalised world, there is nothing progressive about consigning British students to mediocrity and blaming capitalism when British companies unsurprisingly look abroad for the skills they cannot find at home.

If we are genuinely going to improve social mobility, we should hold our tongue before we criticise another person’s perceived status and concentrate instead on seizing our opportunities. Opportunities that our education system is freed to provide to us and at a standard that we aspire and are encouraged to attain.

Instead of being seduced by the objective “posh” and “privilege”, we should subjectivise “success” and “elite”. Such personal ambition rather than resignation in an external social structure is what is truly progressive for the socially and economically disadvantaged.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannet

The return of the Big Society is a positive sign for positive politics

Nik Darlington 11.12am

The Big Society has had its detractors, to put not too fine a point on it. Some have critiqued it intelligently; most have demonstrated laziness and inverted snobbery, led by a metropolitan elite to whom truly non-dependent communities are an alien concept.

Few champion the Big Society as strongly as those most involved in what it represents; and few individuals are so passionately weighed in behind it as the Tory MP for Penrith and the Borders, Rory Stewart.

In March last year, Rory wrote on these pages about how the ideas underpinning the Big Society - such as independence, communitarian spirit, responsibility, hard work - are transforming his patch of Cumbria, in areas such as affordable housing and super-fast broadband.

"The constant force behind all this - quite independent of government policy - is found in the communities themselves. It is they - not individuals, or businesses, or government, or even the voluntary sector (although these things are themselves important) - which constitute the Big Society. And these communities are defined by curiosity, ambition and a stubborn determination to succeed."

Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the £600 million Big Society Capital fund, partly financed by money from dormant bank accounts, partly by Britain’s biggest banks, and aimed at boosting social enterprise. It is a theme we have covered heavily here at Egremont, particularly by Alexander Pannett here, here and, with me, here.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said:

"Big Society Capital is going to encourage charities and social enterprise to prove their business models - and then replicate them… [then] seek investment for expansion into the wider region and into the country.

This is a self-sustaining, independent market that’s going to help build the Big Society.”

As far as Mr Cameron’s pet project goes, the sun has got its hat on, and the Big Society’s got its capital letters back. It is a positive sign for positive politics.

And Rory Stewart builds on the ideas he introduced last year in an opinion piece for the Telegraph this morning, describing the “trench warfare” that has built the Big Society in Cumbria. It is a heart-warming read, and here are some choice extracts:

"The problem I found, when I became an MP in 2010, was not that communities did not work - they had always been working. It was that they were being prevented from doing much more. I found this in a dozen things, which might seem small from London, but which were key to rural lives: in communications, energy, housing, tourism (our largest earner), and broadband, which can hold the key to the success of rural health, education, and thousands of small businesses.

"We finally solved our problems when, instead of going completely independent, we made government and business work with our communities.

"None of this was easy… But we’ve succeeded - and not just in showing how the fastest broadband in Europe can go to the most remote valleys in Britain.

"The Big Society is not a fund, or a law - it’s an attitude, a way for government, firms and charities to use communities’ energy. It’s not something you can show on a PowerPoint presentation. But if you want to see how it works, come to Cumbria."

One Nation Conservatism is the best vehicle for reaching out to all parts of society

Samuel Kasumu 7.12am

Following the recent series of articles entitled ‘The Origins of Race Policy’ and the much critiqued piece that I wrote for ConservativeHome, time has come for me to articulate my own personal discourse on the matter of race and political representation. This is the first time I’ve officially disclosed my political views (though recently it has clearly become less of secret), as I have previously held positions where it would have been inappropriate to do so.

These roles varied from my time as vice-president of my students union in 2007; up to being the chief executive of a social enterprise representing thousands of members; and subsequently running the largest ever debate tour of its kind in the UK where I chaired a number of debates and heard thousands of people all over the country.

Those experiences, along with my political education through the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and through studying a Master’s in Ethnicity, Migration & Policy, have led me to the following conclusion: government is undoubtedly the most powerful institution in our natural world.

Government is what ensures resources are allocated effectively in order to fulfil good outcomes for humanity. It is also the main mechanism for protecting many of its stakeholders from various evils. Even within the most unconventional and evil of governments in certain nations there remains an element of order that could not exist without having any institution at all.

Government is essential, and politics is therefore the science that underpins it.

The challenge that all countries still face is this: what role should any government playin in ensuring all people are treated equally?

It is something that people across history have fought for and even given their life for. Today in Britain ‘equality’ is a term that has evolved to represent a variety of groups that are marginalised in various ways including ethnic communities, women, those from lower socio economic backgrounds, and people with disabilities. It can also incorporate themes such as sexuality.

Our mission should be to give a voice to those people who are marginalised in society. The hope is to see a balanced representation of people within power structures, particularly within the political classes. I believe that genuine equality can only ever come to pass when people from all backgrounds feel as if they can actively participate within our many power structures, including within government. The only way that this can truly be manifested is through the actualisation of a political system that is truly representative of the population that it presides over.

This is not simply a call for more Members of Parliament from non-traditional backgrounds, but a call for more people involved in politics at every level. There must be more people running for council seats, more members of local associations, more influential policy makers, and more political commentators from diverse backgrounds. Politics may be spotlighted on Parliament; but Parliament is far from being the place where the story starts or ends.

In May 2008, I decided to join the Conservative party. This wasn’t to say that I agreed with everything the party stood for; in fact it was probably quite the opposite. The Conservatives had huge potential to craft a new message about equality, something in many past instances it had failed to do. My personal work belongs within the Conservative party, however I will continue to mentor and support young people regardless of their politics.

I have never directly experienced any form discrimination or prejudice within the Conservative party, though I agree that the party can suffer from a crisis of image.

While I have had the privilege of engaging with some of the most fascinating people at various levels, I recognise that there remains some resistance to change. Some feel that by identifying any form of marginalisation we risk being counterproductive. Others feel that any call for equality would equal some form of attack on meritocracy. My reply to those people would simply be that meritocracy has actually always been a myth in many senses of the term. If you start any race with a head start how could you justify the outcome being fare? And if no one gives you the tools you need to run effectively where is the meritocracy?

My final thought is quite straightforward: no political party should have a monopoly over any type(s) of voter. Not only does this encourage complacency, but it also hinders innovation. It can also mean that when one Party is not in power certain areas of policy remain sidelined.

Solidarity should therefore be along policy lines at best, rather than simply party political allegiances. This continues to be the case for a variety of voters in Britain, and I believe that the message of One Nation Conservatism is the vehicle that can be best used to demonstrate that Conservatives can be a credible option for many people in the future. It is in this centre ground where elections are won.

I am still quite young, and no doubt as I learn more my thoughts will evolve. But for now my hope is that one day, like my hero Martin Luther King Jnr, I will be able to look back and say that I have served my generation, I have ensured progress, and I have fought a good fight.

Samuel is an award social entrepreneur and political commentator. He has previously been highlighted as a Future Leader by Powerful Media, and is the first ever GBA Young Star of Enterprise (CBI/ Real Business Magazine)

Follow Samuel on Twitter @samuelkasumu

“Out of the Ashes”: David Lammy’s Post-Riot Manifesto

Giles Marshall 9.30am

The last time there were riots in Tottenham, the local MP’s response was to crow that the “police got a bloody good hiding”.  He may have been chiming in with the views of many of his constituents, but in the aftermath of riots that encompassed the brutal murder of a police constable it was never going to be a response that scored highly on the constructive engagement scale. 

This time, the local MP, who was a boy growing up near the Broadwater Farm estate in 1985, raced back from his holiday as soon as he heard of tension in Tottenham following the shooting of Mark Duggan, spent hours and days in constructive engagement with the local community and the police, and has now published a book of his reflections on the state of urban Britain.  But then, David Lammy has always been a very different character from his predecessor. 

The former Higher Education minister hasn’t necessarily been one of New Labour’s more impressive spokesmen, but in his post-riots book “Out of the Ashes” he seems to have discovered a political voice that might just be the making of him.  No-one can doubt Lammy’s credentials in reflecting on the lessons of Tottenham in 2011.  Brought up in the area he now represents, a boy in a single parent (his mother) family from the age of 12, and a black student in a private white-dominated school for much of his secondary schooling, Lammy has personal credentials aplenty in casting his eye over the inner urban landscape that exploded so suddenly last summer.  He also understands how government works, and has a close knowledge of the mechanics of the New Labour project under both Blair and Brown. 

Yet his is no ‘angry voice’ and it is certainly not an apologia for New Labour.  It is a very personal, dignified and thought provoking reflection that offers plenty of food for thought when it comes to devising policies to regenerate a Britain whose broken state Lammy firmly recognises.  It is a virtue of his book that it does not represent some dully partisan approach but instead seeks to find practical ideas in community projects which have already been tried and tested.  Lammy may write as a Labour MP, but there is much here that One Nation Tories could readily identify with. 

Not that there isn’t anger in “Out of the Ashes”.  Go to the book’s last chapter, “Banks and Bureaucrats”, and you’ll find an eloquent and condemning account of the powerlessness of the modest citizens left homeless by the riots, and treated mercilessly by the banks.  As Lammy recounts the wretched behaviour of banks whose own irresponsibility caused them to be bailed out to the tune of billions of taxpayers’ pounds, you can almost hear the levels of indignation rising and you start to ask why every representative doesn’t regard the contemptuous treatment of his constituents with similar outrage. 

Even here, Lammy soon morphs into the would-be fixer, examining how bureaucracy might just work in his constituents’ defence.  This is his virtue.  Unlike socialists of yore, the current MP for Tottenham sees people in small community terms, to be helped and engaged with by similarly community-based ideas but backed by the power of the state.  The key is that the state comes second, not first. 

Some of Lammy’s themes will chime with even the most vigorous social conservative.  He has no truck with the liberal notion that fathers in families don’t matter.  After all, he grew up without one for a significant period of his childhood, and hasn’t put on rose-tinted spectacles to view the experience subsequently.  He wants strong male role models in deprived urban areas who are not vacuous celebrities or weapon toting gangsters.  He believes every sinew should be strained to keep fathers, especially separated ones, involved in the child rearing process. 

On criminality, he believes in punishment, but once punishment has been made he wants effective rehabilitation and offers an interesting – if rather uncosted – form of ‘social impact credits’ to pay for it.  This is where the Lammy medicine veers away from the world view of many Tories – he knows his proposals will cost money, and is happy to advocate this.  After all, he is not planning to cut the state.  Not when it has so much to do. 

Lammy’s Britain is broken because too few jobs are around to give people the necessary self-worth, and because poverty is surrounded by plenty, and because the voiceless see the influence wielded by the small community of the well connected.  He takes examples that look like the Big Society in action on a small scale, but believes that they need proper state support to become full blown solutions. 

He writes with authority and integrity because, whatever else you think of him, he knows his constituency intimately and has been there when a promising young man has been gunned down by a gang emptied of the last signs of human morality, or when a young offender has been failed by the would-be system of rehabilitation.  When a politician writes with this level of sincerity, knowledge and commitment, he deserves a hearing.  From all parties.