Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jan Vertonghen interviewed by David Hytner

Jan Vertonghen interviewed by David Hytner in the Observer early in March.

"...we are in a strong team and we are getting stronger..."

"...we get the respect... teams are not happy when they have to face us..."

"...we put ourselves under pressure because we deserve to be up there and have the qualities..."

"I can be quite fiery... I was worse when I was younger but even now... I sometimes want to scream, I can be very angry..."

The portrait by Andy Hall shows him wary-eyed, as if mistrusting the interviewer (the distillation of his comments reveal someone supremely confident, which is at variance with the doubting expression in the photograph). Ridiculous watch.  The face unlined and showing a glowing sort of perfection, as if it had been airbrushed.

Nick Cohen in today's Observer

Perceptive article by Nick Cohen in today's Observer warning about the implications of big business (in this case Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook) getting involved in politics.

Since Harold Wilson made his "white heat of technological progress" speech in 1963 United Kingdom governments have faced the quandary:  how to ensure that the ordinary people are not dispossessed due to changes (technological, social, even windfall in the shape of oil) that they have no direct control over.

Socialists would argue that the way to do this is to tax big corporations and distribute the taxation revenues to the people.  I have a lot of sympathy with this argument in theory and I think ultimately it is the only practical way to ensure equity.  But this is a long-term aim (thirty years plus) - in the short term the socialists cannot be trusted with finances (they either bungle things; or they corruptly channel money in the direction of their supporters; or they blow it all on invading overseas countries etc).

Conservatives argue that ensuring the widest possible ownership of shares in big corporations will ensure that dividends (and ultimate control of corporations) are shared out democratically.  In the short to medium term there is no practical alternative to this (which is why I am a Conservative).  But it is messy, and disadvantaged people do not tend to own shares, and systems of corporate governance are appalling.

What we cannot, must not, allow is the kind of scenario that Mark Zuckerberg is advocating ("trust me, I am the cool Mark Zuckerberg, I will make wise decisions on your behalf").

That way leads to a syndicalist state, and no-one wants that.

Easter Sunday

I was trying to think of an image that would illustrate Easter Sunday, and I remembered the east window of Christ the Saviour church in Ealing which I looked at earlier this month.

Bomb damage during the Second World War destroyed all the original stained glass, and this window was put in about 1952.

It is by Hugh Easton, who is in my opinion one of the greatest modern stained glass designers.

You can see more of his work at the RAF Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Have just been outside with the dogs.

The Easter moon is huge, Naples yellow in colour, very close to the Earth.

The air is freezing.

I am hardly ever bored, which is good - the past week at work


Two weeks until the Institute EGM and mini-conference.  Huge amounts still to do.  As soon as e-mail's pinged into my In Box I got rid of them (at this stage I cannot afford to let things drift).

Alec Nussbaum is at the Institute everyday now, taking a personal interest in the EGM preparations.  In a funny sort of way he is quite a likeable person.  Not as irrational as our Director Vijay Singh.

At last (AT LAST!) the websites were launched - an innocuous public site anyone can access and a restricted site for members.  Immediately there were problems with log-ins, but I had anticipated this.  To get the Members' Forum going I arranged for some discussions to be posted.

Because I am so busy I am hardly ever bored, which is good.


Clash between Alec Nussbaum and Office Manager Gladys Y (she was at her most obnoxious and intransigent). 

I signed off the Resource Pack proofs so I can now be sure they will be ready for the conference - this was another "at last" moment.  Going through all the publications that need to be ready for the EGM, they are all on course.  And looking through my flow charts I think that everything I am responsible for is going to happen as scheduled.


The telephone rang and it was Ken C telling me he would be at the EGM.  I have known him for over ten years, and never once did he reveal he was a member of the Institute.  It makes me wonder whether I will know anyone else at the conference.

Gary from the Reading Room asked me to sponsor him in a charity 5-a-side.

Lois Cooper's things all gone from her office, presumably returned to her family.  All that remains is a group picture of all staff with Lois in the centre.  Otherwise it is as if she had never been at the Institute.

Gladys Y becoming very belligerent over the work her team has to do for the EGM - luckily I am just an observer in all this and can leave it to Marcia Walsh (Deputy Director) to deal with.


Arriving at the office at 9am, I was informed that Alec Nussbaum had called a general meeting at 2pm to discuss the EGM and conference in detail, and that we would all stay in the building until every detail had been signed off.  This gave me five hours to get all my areas of responsibility ready, but actually I did not need five hours - it was all done.  Going into the meeting I was prepared for criticisms (it is Vijay Singh's nature to be critical and fault-finding) but the plans were gone through positively and we were all finished by 4pm.

Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks

Article in today's Guardian in which Alan Travis and Shiv Malik report on comments made by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner Nils Muiznieks (the headline says he is an EU official, which confuses me as I thought the Council of Europe was separate from the European Union):

The article is much what you might expect.

European politicians seem to say to the United Kingdom more fool you for having a welfare state that attracts people.

Note particularly this section:

This is basically repeating the lie "British people are too lazy to do these jobs".

The locals have not "deserted" the jobs - they cannot take the jobs because the wages have plummeted.

Recently I have been reading The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. 

It contains a devastating expose of the "too lazy to do the jobs" argument.

What we are experiencing in Europe at the present time is what America experienced in the 1930s when the dustbowl Okies were streaming into California undercutting wages and being undercut in turn.

It took the stimulus of a world war before that economic mess corrected itself.

Grapes of Wrath is a very great book.  I had to read it slowly because there was so much that I wanted to take in.  The Okies would have been better off staying at home and organising themselves to oppose the tyranny of the banks (by foreclosing on mortgages the banks drove the dustbowl farmers off the land and turned them into the sort of destitute migrants Nils Muiznieks approves of).

Pompeii by Bastille (directed by Jesse John Jenkins)

The video for Pompeii by Bastille (directed by Jesse John Jenkins) is essentially a horror story in which Daniel Smith flees (or rather attempts to flee) from a contagion that reduces young people to a state of blank-eyed vacuity.

As a horror story it is perhaps fitting that the opening sequence shows Dan Smith perched atop a colossal piece of dehumanising modernist-brutalist architecture - the city is Los Angeles, but it could be Coventry, or Stevenage, or the Atlantic Wall.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

Today is (of course) Good Friday.

Ritual food for the day includes hot cross buns (which need to be hot, eating them cold is not the same).

Big sky

Beautiful clouds at six o'clock this evening.

Gold-tinged dark grey (full of rain?) they rolled across the big sky.
Nussbaumtalk:  "It's true that all elections are won in the centre.  But what people don't realise is that it is perfectly possible to move the centre ever more to the right, so long as you do it stealthily.  Not so possible to move it back to the left."
Perhaps David Cameron should say publicly that an attack on the United States will be regarded as an attack on the United Kingdom.

I know these things are accepted as a matter of course, but I think it might be best to publicly say so.

The North Koreans are none too bright.

Thursday, March 28, 2013


In all the screeds and screeds of commentary that has been written about David Miliband in the last twenty-four hours the most shocking thing to emerge is that he was responsible for ordering the destruction of the library at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Bibliocide is possibly the most toxic of all political legacies.

At least we have some ammunition now when the left try to peddle the lie that "the Tories" want to destroy libraries.

Is it solely a matter of self-identification?

Lee Jasper (Co-Chair of BARAC & National Black Members Officer for Respect Party UK)  draws attention to an article by former Independent editor Professor Ian Hargreaves "NUJ in ethnic diversity warning for UK journalism"

When Lee Jasper talks about people being "black" and "white" what definition is he using?

Is it solely a matter of self-identification?

We know the bureaucratic nightmare the South African governments 1948 to 1994 engendered when trying to define who was black and who was white.  Despite all their efforts they were unable to come up with a scientific basis to race analysis.  Ultimately it became an entirely arbitrary assessment, farcical but also tragic, and supported by a system of pass books and kafkaesque "race" procedures.

Therefore perhaps Lee Jasper could enlighten us.  Who are the black people and who are the white people he talks about?  Unless that question can be answered the whole theory of race equality and multiculturalism must collapse under its own contradictions.

One of the most exciting statements I have read all week

This is one of the most exciting statements I have read all week.

Given the level of investment Rupert Murdoch has made in china presumably he knows what he is talking about.

I am optimistic - I think China will change the world in a positive way.

A gloss on Zoe Williams and the article "Tories want to relegate those on benefits to a world outside money"

There is so much that concerns me about the Zoe Williams article in today’s Guardian that the only way I can make sense of it is to gloss the piece paragraph by paragraph. This is intended as a gloss commentary, not as a textual unpicking (and still less a satirical devaluing). The Zoe Williams paragraphs are in black and my gloss is in blue.

Back in January, a report came out arguing for benefits to be loaded on to a prepaid card rather than paid in cash. "It opens up the potential," the thinktank Demos concluded, "to exercise some control over how benefits are spent." Indeed it does: the MP Alec Shelbrooke, who might be the least pleasant Tory you've never heard of, had already put forward this idea, of finding some way to ensure that benefits couldn't be spent on "non-essential, desirable or damaging (Nedd) items".

Originally all working people paid compulsory National Insurance which gave them entitled benefits when they were in need. For various reasons, mostly to do with short-termism and the cowardice of governments, National Insurance as an insurance system was allowed to lapse and benefits were funded by general taxation. Labour were instrumental in this, but Conservative governments of the post-war pre-Thatcher period also acquiesced. However as soon as you move from National Insurance to state handouts you are changing the nature of the relationship between the state and the individual. State handouts became based on an ever-shifting idea of “need” which introduced the process of state value judgments about who is in need and who is not. Benefits were given to people in need who had not paid National Insurance – which allowed the theoretical possibility that more money could be paid out by the state than was paid in by taxation.

Not sure why Zoe Williams feels the need to abuse Alec Shelbrooke, but in my opinion people who become abusive are conceding that they cannot base their argument on rationality (perhaps Zoe Williams is just expressing her anger, but she should be reminded of Margaret Thatcher’s maxim: coolness is strength).

Demos's report, sponsored by Mastercard, came out strongly in favour of benefits-by-preloaded-card. "Whatever the future of prepaid cards, it's clear that they enable more creative and innovative thinking regarding how people relate to local and national government and public services," it said. Creative, they say. When you can no longer pay for a pint or buy your kid some crayons, this is meant to make you more innovative in how you relate.

Here Zoe Williams needs to take ownership of her lefty political culture and heritage - Demos is a left-wing think tank associated with many Labour luminaries such as former minister James Purnell. They are of course interested (as all lefties are) in social engineering. What might be reprehensible is that Conservatives have also adopted this social engineering model, but what else can the Tories do given the current family unfriendly state of society?

Nuclear families in difficulties do indeed need to be “reformed” (in a neo-Victorian values sense) but the best way to do this is to strengthen the wider family context and (Zoe Williams will hate this) strengthen the institution of marriage (especially in the tax system). Make divorce more difficult where couples have children. Whenever a child is born out of wedlock create an automatic legal relationship (not a marriage, not even a civil partnership, but some form of legal acknowledgement of responsibility). Give rights to the extended family - grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins will have much more effect on bad parents than state social workers or Demos-inspired initiatives. Give grandparents statutory rights to see their grandchildren. Give divorced fathers more rights to see their children.

At the time, it seemed like such obvious nonsense, such blatant, corporate-sponsored poor-bashing that I didn't wonder how near it would get to an actual policy. Shelbrooke was a bit-player in that classic Tory stunt of sending out the village idiot to punch some room on the right, so that the mainstream could shuffle closer to Ukip.

Does she really think UKIP are important here? UKIP are an anti-intellectual reaction (to all parties), not a long-term solution. No true Conservative is going to find UKIP satisfying – the philosophical basis is too slight and the policies too close to old-fashioned Labour.

Less than two months later, the idea resurfaces as real life; the social fund, which gives out crisis loans, normally of around £50, is to be scrapped. The money's going to councils, but not ringfenced. Most local authorities are going to deliver it by voucher, on a prepaid card – you can only spend it on food, and in some areas, only in certain shops. One council's voucher is only redeemable in Asda, which is handy if you live near an Asda. There are councils that are cutting out the middleman – commerce – and giving the money straight to a foodbank charity.

In a sense we are returning to the idea of parish relief – a regression from the Victorian idea of state provision for the poor (the whole of Bevan’s welfare state is arguably just an ultra-sophisticated version of the Workhouse with social workers as the modern-day Beadles). Under the new system local people will be able to choose, through the councils they elect, what help they want to give to their less well-off neighbours - which is admittedly an unknown quantity. Who knows how generous they will be? On balance I think people will be very generous, especially when they will know (broadly) the people they are helping. At the moment the state just takes the money and says “trust us, we are politicians, we will spend it wisely on your behalf” (and then they spend it on pet communities who are most likely to vote for them). If Labour had not been so greedy and corrupt in politicising welfare spending this devolution down to local councils would not have been necessary.

For the sake of this pitiful amount of money – on average, councils had around 7,000 claims a year – a fundamental principle has been upturned. Your government still upholds your right, as a citizen, not to starve (well, generally speaking – there is one council planning to peg even the crisis loan to "behaviour"); it no longer upholds your right to public money. Indeed, the figures at stake here are so small, and the principle so fundamental, that I won't be surprised at all when we discover that, due to outsourcing and administrative error, it winds up costing more than it did before. Money isn't the point; cruelty is the point.

“Right to public money”? Did she really write this phrase? Here in a few words you see all the economic illiteracy of the left.

Replacing cash with vouchers has a number of damaging effects. First, it's infantilising. Crisis loans delivered this way take on the shape of pocket money or charity. Second, it's stigmatising, as asylum seekers on the Azure card often point out – people don't want strangers to be able to make judgements about what they're buying, and whether they should be buying it. People want privacy in their financial transactions. Call them crazy. Third, it erodes the idea that the public purse is something we all created together and, in a crisis, are entitled to draw on it. Yes, I'm talking about a culture of entitlement – culture is a culture of entitlement. Modern civilisation is built upon pooling resources and being entitled to a share in them.

Zoe Williams is right to point to the issue of infantilisation, as this is exactly the insidious effect welfare has on the institution of the family. And state handouts, without the principle of National Insurance ARE charity – what else can they be? The public purse is not “something we all created together” – it was created by taxpayers and only by taxpayers, and all the real wealth in those taxes was created by taxpayers in the private sector (taxation of public sector workers is just an accounting manoeuvre).

“Modern civilisation is built upon pooling resources” is a completely flawed analysis – modern civilisation in western Europe is built upon the legally-protected concept of private property in all its forms (insurance is built upon pooling resources, but National Insurance is what Labour eroded in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s when they called themselves “the natural party of government”).

Fourth, and to my mind most important – though all of these effects are vitally important – something very significant happens when you expel people from the sphere of money. In the moment of exchange, everyone is equal; you don't have to prove that you're worthy of that purchase, your status is bestowed by the fact that you can pay for it, and you are worth as much in that moment as anybody else who can pay for it. There's a fillip of power in the process; it's why people who like shopping like shopping, and it is especially important when – for some reason that is probably financial – you spend a lot of the time feeling powerless. Give people a voucher instead, and they are not equal. Asda may be getting the same amount of money for the same amount of food, but charity and condescension have crept into the transaction – or maybe pity. But nobody wants their groceries served with pity.

Here Zoe Williams is (unwittingly perhaps) pointing to a fundamental problem of the human condition. Under Maslow’s hierarchy of needs people crave self-actualisation. Without it their lives become meaningless. In our materialist culture the mechanism we are offered to achieve self-actualisation is primarily through shopping (“one more pair of Blahnik shoes, one more holiday in Barbados, one more ticket for the Rolling Stones at Glastonbury and my life will be complete, I can finally be the person I want to be!”). The trick is that you can never achieve self-actualisation through shopping and so for people on benefits the mirage of self-actualisation through shopping is a cruel hoax (it is a cruel hoax for everyone, but for low-income people it is especially cruel). Therefore it is sensible to guide low-income families to spend their money on security, food, housing etc rather than the unattainable state of self-actualisation.

Note: the government that works out how to deliver self-actualisation to the people is going to be onto a winner. David Cameron’s Big Society, delivered properly, might do this; and the universalism of the post-war full-employment welfare state came close (until the politicians mucked it up). Personally I think High Anglicanism has a lot to recommend it (the sensory rituals, the selfless universal love, the sense of living for others) but obviously this is a minority view.

The right wing is obsessed with the poor being able to afford to smoke and drink, and nowhere is their hostility clearer than when you get them on the subject of the Sky+ package. But I've wasted enough of my life arguing about this fanciful portrait, the family on jobseeker's allowance who can afford a satellite package, which then rivets them to the telly, leaving them unable to apply for any of the plentiful jobs available.

Smoking, drinking, Sky Sports etc are all means of escapism. Should we allow low-income families the means of escaping, for a short while, from the psychological chains of poverty? Or is it better that they live continuously in the “real world”? It’s a moral decision and one that the state should not be making. However now that benefits are paid as state handouts it is impossible for the state to avoid making moral judgements (the electorate insists on it). That is why we need to return to a system of benefits funded by contributions, not general taxation.

It's straightforward – with benefits as low as they are and food and fuel prices as high, anyone who could afford to smoke and drink would be starving. You just have to look at Sky's audience share to see that almost nobody is watching it, underclass or otherwise.

Is nobody watching Sky Sports?

I see those pragmatic arguments now as a Maginot line, and food stamps marched in over the undefended territory of human dignity. When you relegate people to a world outside money, you create a true underclass: a group of people whose privacy and autonomy are worth less than everyone else's, who are stateless in a world made of shops.

Perhaps Zoe Williams was on a deadline and had to rush this final paragraph as it seems very weak. The Second World War reference is irrelevant and (if I may say so) self-indulgent. The idea of a stateless underclass is also irrelevant unless the reference is to asylum seekers.   Reading between the lines I think what Zoe Williams is arguing for in her article is full-blooded socialism - nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange and the ushering in of a society where each according to their means helps each according to their needs (via the medium of the state and presumably with a gulag to take care of the anti-social elements who will inevitably try to sabotage the common good).  If this is the case why does she not come out and say so?  Why all this mealy-mouthed discussion of a system she so obviously disapproves of?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Labour candidate for South Shields

It goes without saying that Owen Jones should stand as Labour candidate for South Shields.

He already has 90,000 followers on Twitter - if only 1% of those turned up to canvass it would be a very formidable electoral machine.

There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to...

And although he might be dismissed as a "digital Bennite" imagine the angst among the Labour high command if they chose a less inspirational candidate and subsequently lose the seat to UKIP.

And although Owen Jones has repeatedly said he is not interested in the trappings of Westminster, how can he justify himself to his inner socialist if he flunks this chance to give a voice to the voiceless, to the dispossessed, to the people dismissed as "chavs" and similar epithets (dismissed even by individuals in the ranks of the Labour party itself).

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bruges Group meeting on 23rd April

In the interests of pan-conservative co-operation I commend the Bruges Group meeting on 23rd April which will look at the issue of immigration.

Guest speakers include Sir Andrew Green from Migration Watch, so instead of the usual uninformed hyperbole this will be a sober and realistic assessment of the situation.

It is on a Thursday so I am not absolutely certain I can attend, but if you see me there come up and say hello.

Buffer overflow

I'm afraid I cannot see the words "buffer overflow" without thinking of one of those early-evening receptions at Conference and a room full to bursting with elderly rotund men with military moustaches drinking gin and tonics and everyone so cramped that several groups of old buffers are spilling out into the corridor.

A classic hard-left reaction

This exchange on David Waring's Twitter page caught my eye:

Nick Dancer is a student, and like most students is feeling his way in social media forums and trying to engage with others (in this case political activists).  Foolish you might say, but harmless and innocent.  He is also, at this moment in his life, a UKIP supporter - again foolish (in my opinion) but again harmless and innocent (another few months he will be trying out the Socialist Workers and a few months after that renouncing all political activity and telling people he is a citizen of the world and a vegetarian Buddhist).

Independent journalist Owen Jones responds in a good-natured way to Nick Dancer's gauche remarks.

David Waring, (Write for The Guardian, New Statesman and others. Co-editor of New Left Project) intervenes and tells Owen Jones "Starve this troll".

Appalling bad manners, but no worse than many other Twitter comments (and in any case the New Left will regard manners as a bourgeois affectation).

But I think it is more than just bad manners.

Instead of simply saying "ignore him and he will go away" David Waring chooses to dehumanise the student as a "troll" (a form of monster) and then use the emotive word "starve".

Perhaps I am reading too much into this (I am often accused of over-analysing things).

But is this not a classic hard-left reaction?

The enemies of the left must be dehumanised and starved.

It happened in Russia in the 1920s, it happened in China in the 1950s, it is happening in North Korea today.

That is why socialists like David Waring must never get into positions of power.

But there is a postscript...

Checking Nick Dancer's Twitter site I see that Owen Jones has indeed taken David Waring's advice and blocked the student.

Owen Jones has disappointed me - I thought he was better than this.

And what is the svengali-like influence that David Waring is able to exert over Owen Jones?

If David Waring told him to jump in the Thames would he go and do so?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Former minister Barbara Roche was being disingenuous

This evening on Newsnight former minister Barbara Roche was being disingenuous by claiming "all the studies show" that the economic benefits of immigration are positive.

Equalities legislation requires that organisations in receipt of public money must positively promote the benefits of "diversity".

Therefore all academics working for institutions in receipt of public money self-censor their work and produce studies that show immigration as positive.

If they did not do so their institutions would be admonished and the academics in question would be decapitated (metaphorically speaking).

So guess what!

All the studies show that the economic benefits of immigration are positive.

Ken Loach has called his new movement "Left Unity"

What's this?

Another broad-based leftist front to oppose the Tories?

Another front, on top of The People's Assembly?

The left seems to be atomising before our very eyes.

Without a trace of irony Ken Loach has called his new movement "Left Unity".

Which of these two fronts represents authentic socialism?

If the denunciations, forced self-criticisms and flaming Twitter-based show trials get out of hand presumably safe havens will have to be set up?


I'm always intrigued when this blog gets visitors from Africa (the audience stats, imperfect as they are, give a country figure).

Earlier today I noticed a flurry of pageviews from Nigeria.

What can be interesting people in Nigeria?

To me Nigeria means:  oil, second biggest army in sub-Saharan Africa, Ken Saro-Wiwa.

On impulse I rang down to the Reading Room and asked for anything they had on Nigeria.  After a little while Matthew brought up an autobiography King George's Keys by Sir Robert Stanley.  No idea what his connection is/was to the Institute - perhaps he had no connection and the book found its way to us as part of the papers of someone else.

Anyway I have it on my desk and will read it a few pages a day.

They need to tell the world

One has to commend food retailer Iceland for the integrity of their products.

I was amazed to read that their own-brand food has no additives, no MSG, no GM ingredients, no mechanically recovered meat, no trans fats, no horsemeat etc.

And yet all their advertising seems to focus on how cheap the products are.

I would guess that they do the marketing in-house (and get it right) but give the ad campaigns to an advertising agency who are full of idiots.

These are ethical products.

They need to tell the world about them.

Not hide them away in an A5 three-colour text-and-logo flyer.

A welfare state neutralises the risk of migration

Disingenuous "straw man" article in the New Statesman.

The issue is not so much benefit tourism now, although this is significant - empirical evidence tells you it is a problem for instance every one of my local GP surgeries are packed with eastern Europeans; the public library used to have exhausted migrant field workers sleeping in every available armchair while waiting for transport to their lodgings (until the staff removed the armchairs and now the migrants sleep at the tables with picture books held in their insensible hands); every professional abortion carried out on a citizen of the Irish Republic for the last 50 years has been by means of benefit tourism to the United Kingdom etc etc).

The issue is much more complicated than George Eaton is admitting.

The British welfare state, although we tend to take it for granted, is a magnet for people all around the world not just because migrants intend to arrive here and immediately start claiming benefits (although a significant number are doing this).  The fact that we have a free NHS and a welfare state neutralises the risk of migration for the individuals and families planning to migrate.  If you are a poor family in Bulgaria and Romania planning to better your life chances through migration there is always a fear that things might not work out.  The jobs and housing might not be available.  The parents might fall seriously ill.  The savings might run out before they can establish themselves.

Therefore although the jobs market might be better in Germany, or the cultural match might be better in Spain, the United Kingdom has the considerable prize of risk-free migration because of the safety-net provision of the welfare state.

When one considers the situation outside the EU (and two thirds of immigration is from outside the EU according to figures from the reputable think tank Migration Watch) the attraction is magnified many times over as no-one in the United Kingdom would allow people to die in the street or babies to suffer from diphtheria or lepers forced to live rough in untouchable colonies (whereas all these things happen, and far worse things, in most of the countries of the developing world).

For destitute people in the poorest societies in the world the dream is:  if I can only get to the United Kingdom the nightmare of poverty will end.

Therefore the message from politicians needs to be clear that no migrants will be able to claim any benefits or other welfare (including free healthcare and free education) in the United Kingdom for at least five years (and possibly ten years would be a better disincentive).

Otherwise the welfare state has to go.

The left needs to wake up and realise that they cannot have universal welfare provision and completely unrestricted immigration.

Even their mickey mouse economics should be able to work that out. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The grey walls

Bitterly cold day, but by the afternoon the snow had mostly gone (it was never much more than a sprinkling).

I went to look at the site of a great country house pulled down in the 1950s and replaced with council housing (so that the utilitarian brick boxes are in the middle of beautiful parkland, unrecognisable ruined temples and an veritable arboretum of venerable rare trees).

The 18th century gate lodges still remain either side of the entrance drive and were listed recently.

The grey walls you can see in the picture have also been listed (by mistake - they were only put up in 1992).

The People's Assembly

Article in the Independent on Sunday about the launch of "The People's Assembly":

Did the founders of this organisation seek any advice on branding before rushing into operation?

"The People's Assembly" is classic Blairite branding, along with "The People's Party" (Blair 2nd October 1996) and "The People's Princess" (Blair 31st August 1997).

And once the word association starts one is tempted to add The People's War In Iraq, The People's Maxed-Out Credit Card and The People's Economic Fiasco.

I'm afraid The People's Assembly is dead in the water with a name like that.


According to Labour activist Matthew Reilly one of the MPs involved in The People's Assembly (Katy Clark MP) is being booed by the Occupy Movement which is supposed to be one of the constituent groups making up The People's Assembly.

Is the Left eating itself? 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I worked hard without making much progress - the past week at work


The first person I saw when I arrived at the office this morning was assistant Librarian Gary, a vicious bruise on his face making him look menacing, although in reality he fell off his bike last week when drunk.

A general-circulation e-mail from Head Librarian Stan W telling everyone that he is leaving in two weeks' time.  This surprised many people, especially as Gary and Matthew do not have the skills to keep the Reading Room going on their own (they are not really librarians but just Stan's assistants).  Presumably Stan thinks that the EGM vote next month will go in favour of the merger with Head Office.

Throughout the day I worked hard without making much progress.  There is such a huge amount of preparation that needs to be done for the EGM and because of the sensitivity we have to do it all in-house.  The only way I can cope is to make enormous lists of things - lists that just get longer and longer with hardly anything getting ticked off (plus Director Vijay Singh has an irritating habit of saying "Wouldn't it be a good idea at the EGM if we just..." and adding ten or twenty more items to my lists).

So all of the day I was rushing while at the same time feeling fed-up.


A visit to Head Office in London for more liaison about the EGM.  Sometimes I wonder how much people at Head Office really know about the Institute.  Most of them think we are just a research organisation.

Panic at the station when I realised I had lost one of my credit cards and had to arrange for it to be cancelled.

First meeting at Head Office was to discuss the new Institute websites - all the usual backbiting was in evidence. 

Then to Carol Reynolds to discuss her Consultancy offering for the EGM - she goes on and on, endlessly talking.

Finally a meeting with Alec Nussbaum.  There is always the sense that he is going to become angry, his sarcasm (which is his normal style of expression) tipping over into rage.  He knew I was not telling him everything, and he knew I knew.


Always I seem to be rushing.  All the morning I spent drafting publications for next month, and I was conscious that some of the arguments were a bit thin and not supported by much in the way of evidence.  I have become ruthless at culling e-mails as soon as they appear.

Lunchtime I went to the QD store where my credit card was returned to me.

A planning meeting in the afternoon to discuss the EGM - I had to avoid several sideswipes from Vijay Singh, and thanks to my lists I was able to demonstrate that most things were under control.


Ridiculous amount of time spent sourcing photographs for posters to adorn the Resource Centre at the EGM.

Liaison with Media Relations at Head Office.  They were very unhelpful.  I told myself to keep calm, bide my time, and seek to retaliate discreetly.

Abi Reed (Surveys Manager) offered to take over the website work which is a huge relief.


Vijay Singh not in today, so things were quiet.

I did a transfer of the website work to Abi Reed, although I am still due to write a lot of the copy for the web pages.

And on impulse I booked the afternoon as holiday and went home early.

Mr Shariatmadari does not seem to know much

Above:  David Shariatmadari (Deputy editor on The Guardian's comment pages and Comment is free) discussing the Daily Mail's serialisation of David Goodhart's book

Mr Shariatmadari does not seem to know much about economics otherwise he would know that Japan rose from a bombed-out year zero in 1945 to challenge America in the 1980s as the world's greatest economic nation.  Despite subsequent setbacks Japan still remains in the top league of world economies and is likely to stay there despite the rise of the BRIC countries.  And yet Japan is exactly the "closed off nation state" (with almost no immigration) Mr Shariatmadari jeers at.

Japan was able to initiate the post-1945 economic miracle and sustain that drive through subsequent decades because the Japanese population had a national cohesiveness that expressed itself in a national will to achieve economic success.

Also, Mr Shariatmadari does not seem to know much about economic history otherwise he would know that the world's first industrial revolution occurred in the United Kingdom in the 18th century in what was effectively a monocultural population.

By all means promote the idea of unrestricted immigration Mr Shariatmadari, but please do not use falsehoods to support your argument.


Interesting article in the Financial Times yesterday on the housing market:

Over ten years home ownership fell by 5% - the buy-to-let sector expanding by the same amount.

However I disagree with Jim Pickard and Ed Hammond that this represents a "reversal of the Thatcherite dream".

The Thatcherite dream (if I can use such a crude and imprecise description) was for a property-owning democracy.  The buy-to-let sector is not made up of "fat cat" landlords owning huge portfolios of properties - these people are relatively rare.  Most buy-to-let consists of one or two properties and is owned by over-50s (and the surge in buy-to-lets was a direct correlation to Gordon Brown's tax raid on private pensions and changes to pension rules - does Labour need to apologise for this I wonder?).  

Thus buy-to-let represents an extension of the property-owning democracy, not a contraction.

But in any case Jim Pickard and Ed Hammond are over-egging their pudding.  5% over ten years is not really significant especially when factors such as population growth and the decline of social housing are taken into consideration.  If anything, one is surprised that buy-to-let is not more popular given the security it offers.

The left goes on and on about buy-to-let.  Screeds and screeds of left-wing drivel are written about how benefits claimants in receipt of housing benefit are pumping taxpayers' money into the hands of rapacious landlords.  As we can see from the Financial Times statistics this is not true - the buy-to-let sector has only expanded by 5% over ten years, and the vast majority of those rentals will have mortgage clauses (if they are bought on mortgages) precluding tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

Dateline London earlier today

Alex Deane, wearing a tie, appeared on Dateline London earlier today.

A continuing sign of the rise of social media - its counsels are now heard in the forums of the media establishment.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Falling by HAIM

Falling by HAIM is amazingly good, and I'm listening to it all the time.

The video is fabulous.  Directed by Tabitha Denholm it has a mysterious 1970s feel to it, as if Pickettywitch had wandered onto the set of Picnic at Hanging Rock.  But probably they are not wearing enough brown to be authentically '70s.

Now is the time for Turkey to step forward

With Cyprus in such dire straits at the moment you would think that now is the time for Turkey to step forward with a generous, no-strings-attached zero-interest financial loan.

Are the politicians in Ankara big enough to do this?

Are the politicians in Cyprus big enough to accept it?

Characters invented by Baron Munchausen

Labour caused the current economic downturn by irresponsible and catastrophic rates of public spending.

Various individuals on the left (for instance the Independent writer Owen Jones) try to wriggle out of this responsibility by saying that Conservatives would have matched Labour's spending plans, and refer to news items such as:

This is of course a dishonest argument.

Before the establishment of the Office of Budget Responsibility the Treasury economic statistics released for public consumption were concocted by the government and arbitrarily adjusted ("sexed up" is the expression Labour use) to support whatever argument the Blair-Brown government wanted to make.

Had anyone been able to see the true state of the books and the real condition of the economy then no-one would have been mad enough to go along with the Labour spending spree (on borrowed money do not forget).

So yes, the Conservatives went along with the Labour spending plan based on the information Labour supplied.

Just as many people went along with the Labour war in Iraq based on the information Labour supplied.

The mistake was in believing anything that Labour ever said.

This is why they must never get in again.

They are a party of liars.

Looking back it seems as if the Blair-Brown administration (which included Ed Miliband and Ed Balls) was composed of characters invented by Baron Munchausen. 

Another defamation

What evidence does Zoe Williams have that David Starkey is a racist?

Or is this just another defamation in the style of the McAlpine fabrications?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

David Starkey is on This Week, which should be worth watching.

Whales are killed in the most disgusting way imaginable

As soon as you start to look at the relationship between the International Whaling Commission and the commercial whaling industry you see that the IWC is compromised to the point of corruption.

The body that is supposed to be protecting the whales is collaborating in their destruction (on the grounds that eviscerated whale remains are important for "research").

Whales are killed in the most disgusting way imaginable

This must stop.

These are the countries that still allow whaling (under various euphemisms):

Faroe Islands
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
South Korea
United States

Cri de coeur from Denis Skinner MP

Note picture amended to remove offensive imagery.

Rather endearing cri de coeur from Denis Skinner MP, wanting a return to nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange

It must be very distressing to old-style members of the Labour party to see the Ken Loach film Spirit of '45 and to realise that post-Blair all their socialist idealism has turned to ashes in their mouth (they, greedily reaching to take of the Fruit, chew dust and bitter ashes to quote Milton).

And in all sincerity I would not deny the old-style socialists their Clause 4 socialism.

I want the Labour party to be socialist and the Conservative party to be Tory (High Tory - the higher the better).

Only from the deepest valley can we appreciate the highest mountain.

True Thatcherism can only be validated from the experience of true socialism (and true socialism is not so bad if limited to a couple of years - certainly it's better than Blairite mush).

Note - the valley/mountain imagery came from Ronald Reagan in 1976, as I am sure you will have spotted (apologies for all the quotations today, the Cranmer anniversary has affected me).

Today is the Feast Day of Thomas Cranmer

Thank you Vicky Beeching (Research Fellow, Writer & Broadcaster on Technology, Religion & Feminism) for reminding me today is the Feast Day of Thomas Cranmer.

I wonder how many other writers would have Cranmer's courage in burning the hand that had written a falsehood ("Fire being now put to him, he stretched out his right hand, and thrust it into the flame, and held it there a good space, before the fire came to any other part of his body; where his hand was seen of every man sensibly burning, crying with a loud voice, 'This hand hath offended.' ").

I have left the Petridis tweet on as it adds a profane accent to the sacred anniversary.

A Barber boom is better than no boom

Very happy with the budget, although it has been pointed out to me that there is a whiff of the Barber boom about it.

But a Barber boom is better than no boom?

Abolishing boom and bust, as we know, didn't work.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Family breakdown is leading to personal lifetime failure

Interesting article in the New York Times looking at data that suggests that the relative increase in wages for women is not because women are doing better than men per se (due to harder work, better education, higher motivation etc), it is because men brought up in single-parent households are failing to compete economically.

Obviously America is not the United Kingdom.

But if family breakdown is leading to personal lifetime failure it is a serious issue that must be addressed.

How does British Future define these people?

Sundar Katwala, Director of British Future, debating with an extremist earlier today (you might argue that Sundar Katwala is also an extremist but on a different part of the spectrum).

However he does raise an interesting point about black and Asian British people born in the United Kingdom.

How is Sundar Katwala defining these people?

That a definition must exist is obvious, since equalities legislation, diversity awareness training, the Census etc all refer to white, black and Asian British people.

So how does British Future define these people?

Is it done by visual appearance?  Some kind of biological analysis?  Self-definition?

These are people born in the United Kingdom, so we cannot define them by legal documents such as birth certificates.

It is not an idle question.

A considerable amount of social policy has been constructed on the basis of black and Asian British people having specific requirements.  A great deal of money has been expended.  A huge volume of angst has been generated.

So who, exactly, are these people?

What agency is deciding who qualifies and who does not?

Splits on the left barely even register

Splits on the right are screaming headline news and yet splits on the left barely even register:

A sign perhaps of the irrelevancy of the Labour Party that no-one is much bothered whether they can get their act together or not.

Which in turn may be a sign that society has already factored out the possibility of a Labour administration - it is not credible whatever the polls may indicate.

A PPS resigned, former minister broke the whip, an ex-Chief whip rebelled twice...

And no-one in the outside world took the slightest bit of notice.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I was struck by the disdainful arrogance of these Prada mannequins looking down contemptuously at the passing shoppers.

Prada clothes are supposed to give women power.

The brand was most influential in the 1990s, but is still culturally significant (if Mozart operas are costumed in Armani, one can imagine the Ring Cycle in Prada).

Sonia Purnell's provocative book


I was puzzled at first by the Sonia Purnell "biography" of Boris Johnson Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition. 

Why should someone with so little sympathy with her subject bother to write 464 pages, allocating a largish chunk of her life to do so? 

But this "Tweet" by Jonathan Prynn (Consumer Business Editor of the Evening Standard) pinged in my mind, and made me wonder whether Sonia Purnell's provocative book is a rip-off of Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

The secret of originality is concealing all sources (as they say).

The establishment replicates itself

The debate about post-Leveson implementation (regulation of the press) can be viewed as a classic "who will watch the watchers" issue (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? - Juvenal).

The post-Leveson proposals have generated a tremendous amount of debate.

The Establishment has reacted to Leveson by setting up an institution created by Royal Charter - this is an interesting case study on how the establishment replicates itself, and mutates to respond to changes in the environment.

Personally I would have favoured direct public elections to membership of the regulatory body voted on by the people (and to all those who say you can't have elections to everything my reply is yes you can).

Bonnie Greer

I was slightly incredulous when I read this article by Bonnie Greer for the Huffington post:  Why 'Race' Is Fiction

Has she only now realised what most educated people (even myself, educated at a sub-standard "comp") have always known?

However it would have been helpful if Bonnie Greer had acknowledged in her article the left's tactic of using "race" to shut down debate on illegitimate social change (illegitimate in a democracy meaning any policy that does not have democratic consent).  Anyone who tries to talk about immigration is called a racist.  Bonnie Greer has been complicit in doing this in the past.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Quote from John Maynard Keynes:

If the Treasury were to fill up old bottles with bank notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coalmines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on the well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig up the notes again... then there need be no more unemployment, and, with the help of the repurcussions, the real income of the community, and its capital welath also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.

Fellow traveller

Is there any conversation on the left that does not eventually lead to Independent journalist Owen Jones being denounced as a fellow traveller?

Although it is reassuring that the left continues to fight itself to a standstill, it is a sobering thought that in other times and other places this sort of accusation might lead to you suddenly being demoted to a desk clerk, or sentenced to internal exile, or even to your "disappearance".

I saw these trolleys at the station and immediately thought of Owen Jones carrying around the "baggage" his leftie colleagues so ferociously disapprove of.  At least while they are fighting each other they are leaving the rest of us alone.  Can you imagine the horror of a genuine socialist revolution? (makes you quite grateful for Ed Miliband really).

Ealing Town Hall

Here is the fabulous Ealing Town Hall, which I looked round recently.  Designed by Charles Jones.  Civic gothic with ragstone walls and Bath stone.  No-one looking at this building can mistake the serious way in which local councillors approached government of the borough (by the people and for the people, with local intelligence guiding the local policies).

During the Victorian period gothic emerged as the national (and moral) style of architecture, and was adopted with enthusiasm by local government.

Look at the dynamism of this staircase with arches, horizontals, verticals and diagonals all composed into a masterful composition.  Note the way the eye is simultaneously led downwards to the left and upwards to the marble urn.  Charles Jones planned this staircase to look good from every conceivable angle.

The Victoria Hall - a huge space but because of the design it has retained a human scale.  Hammerbeam roof, rose window, mysterious curtained arches.  Why is this building only listed Grade 2?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lancashire "bottom muffins"

Impulse purchase of Lancashire "bottom muffins" (the risque name was pointed out to me later).

Artisan bakery products, local recipes, sold through the Co-Op.

This is how the foodchain should be working.

Kings Cross

Architectural model of the proposed new "square" to be created in front of Kings Cross station.

Kings Cross is the plainest of the great London termini (apart of course from Euston, which is hideous).

Kings Cross is approved of by modernists because it is functional (as Jonathan Meades has observed, architects in the post-war period have come to regard their profession as a branch of civil engineering rather than the arts).

Do we really need another windswept central London piazza?  The United Kingdom is not Italy with hot sun and al fresco dining.  You can tell this square has been envisaged by the same establishment intelligentsia who told us that 24-hour drinking would lead to the development of a continental cafe culture.

Personally I would have put back the terrace of Victorian shops across the front of Kings Cross - and yes, I like pastiche ("life is a joke, useless and full of vanity, and only private illusions keep one sane" but perhaps I am in a cynical mood this evening).

St Patrick's Day

Why, at the age of forty-two, is Salma Yaqoob only now bothering to find our about the culture of the United Kingdom?

Did she pass through forty-two previous St Patrick's Day celebrations entirely incurious as to their origin and cultural significance?

This is according to the Guardian "the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life".

Not a very good advertisement for the effectiveness of multi-culturalism that such a "prominent" BME person could be so ignorant of her Irish neighbours (there are more people of Irish descent in the United Kingdom than in the whole of the Irish republic).

Presumably she is equally ignorant about St David's Day, St Andrew's Day and St George's Day.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Appear friendly and helpful but agree to nothing - the past week at work


The offices were full of people today because of various planning meetings - planning Director Vijay Singh's contribution to Saturday's event; the official planning of the Institute's EGM next month; the unofficial planning of the EGM.

Mostly I managed to keep out of these meetings.

Aggressive e-mails from Anne Boswell-Urquart in Alec Nussbaum's office but I swatted them away (Alec Nussbaum had come up to the Institute to attend the planning meetings, so I was able to talk to him personally and neutralise A B-U). 

Mary McF from Head Office arrived to give a presentation to the official EGM planning meeting.  She waited by my desk until the time for her slot arrived.  I advised her that she should start by praising the Institute members and this she duly did ("I felt on edge all through her presentation in case she said the wrong thing" Vijay Singh told me later).

Callum Smith and myself went over our campaigns presentation which was reasonably received.

 Alec Nussbaum remarked that we would be hard pressed to fit everything into an afternoon.  At that point Vijay Singh told him the EGM was going to be a mini-conference over two days.  He seemed mildly surprised at this, not at all the explosion we had been fearing.

Then someone from Fund Raising at Head Office and a long discussion on how we should all work togther to raise money.


New accounts employee Jackie G has been given a temporary desk opposite me.  Very overweight, bright ginger hair, unsuitable glasses.  She talks non-stop, mostly about herself and her former life in South Africa.

The morning taken up by the management meeting.  We each had to say how we are achieving our annual objectives.  I had plenty to say, and there were no hostile questions.  Stan D and Tim Watts gave very pedestrian reports.  Callum Smith just clowned his way through, although several of his campaigns have fallen flat.  Lunch was brought in - sandwiches, orange juice, small cakes.

I was out of the meeting by 2pm.

John Johnson left today, and thank goodness Jackie G has moved into his desk - her talking and the noise she made was a serious distraction.


The computers down most of the day, which meant almost nothing got done.

During the morning I read through various campaign plans.

Then I took a long lunch.

Then I sat in the Reading Room reading an unpublished memoir (typed on an old-fashioned typewriter, the chapters held together with Treasury tags).

Assistant Librarian Gary had marks and swellings on his head and neck - he had gone to John Johnson's leaving drinks last night, had got very drunk, and riding home on his bike had hit a crash barrier.


The day of Lois Cooper's funeral so I wore a black silk tie.

As soon as I got to the office I was involved in a flap over a press release - luckily I could prove that Media Relations at Head Office was responsible.

Mid afternoon most of the office staff drove out to the village church where the funeral service was held.  Also there was the former Director of the Institute - I had heard so many stories about her that she seemed an almost mythological character.  The service was traditional (we sang Bread of Heaven).

Then we all drove to the crematorium and a much shorter service.


Up at 5am and a rush to get to London by 9am for an early meeting at Head Office with Media Relations (Mary McF and Kathy W).  They have a technique of holding review meetings then issuing e-mails copied to all and sundry detailing all the reasons why they cannot do any work because they are supposedly waiting for me to do something.  Wise to this, immediately after today's meeting I borrowed a computer in Publications and wrote my own minutes, copied to all and sundry, making clear what work they had taken responsibility for.

Then a meeting with Phillippa in Publications to discuss ways in which the Institute and Head Office can work together.  Obviously Alec Nussbaum is expecting the merger to go ahead after the EGM next month.  So this was one of those meetings when I had to appear friendly and helpful but agree to nothing.

In the afternoon I went to the hotel where Vijay Singh is staying and we talked over the strategy for tomorrow.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The bedroom tax was a Labour idea

Very intrigued that the principle of a "bedroom tax" was first introduced by Labour in the Local Housing Allowance rules for tenants in privately owned accommodation - all that has happened recently is that this Labour initiative has been extended to social housing tenants.

Polly Toynbee, Chuka Umuna, Billy Hayes (CWU) et al have kept that very quiet.

All along the bedroom tax was a Labour idea.

The Pan-STARRS comet

The Pan-STARRS comet is supposed to be visible in the sky just after sunset all this week.

Driving home on Tuesday I stopped my car just as the sun was setting (in a huge ball of orange) and looked for the celestial visitor.

But I could not see anything.

Presumably the comet was veiled by the violet stratocumulus vesperalis clouds.

The wands of wild grass, golden in the fading light, were waved by a cold breeze.

The black earth stretched off towards the horizon.

The comet, on it's twenty-five thousand year orbit, missed our rendezvous.

Housing for the "working class"

Early evening visit to look at the exterior of Goldington Buildings, some of the earliest social housing in north London (built 1902).  A carved inscription proclaims that this is housing for the "working class" - presumably this needed stating as the quality of the architecture is equal to the contemporary mansion blocks going up in London for sale to middle class professionals.  The architect was Keith Downes Young who also designed the impressive Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The bedroom tax

There is currently a lot of ill-thought blather from the left on the topic of the so-called "bedroom tax" or spare room subsidy.

Dr Eoin Clarke (blogger at Green Benches and founder of the think tank Labour Left) is typical of the agitators trying to spin the argument that the "bedroom tax" is "another poll tax".

However in their eagerness to condemn Coalition policy these lefties are revealing a number of contradictions in Labour's attitude towards social housing.

Council housing was originally envisaged to provide housing for working class families. 

Here we see Independent columnist and Labour activist Owen Jones talking about the origins of council housing ("village" communities reproducing Mrs Gaskell's Cranford even in the form of the Watling Estate in north London).

He castigates "Thatcher's ideological war on council housing".

But is it not a fact that the council housing of Nye Bevan's vision is no longer fit for purpose? - in which case a rationalisation of the stock is long overdue.

Originally the bulk of social housing was intended for families, typically two parents and two children.  Therefore three-bedroom council house properties were the norm.  There was some provision of one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties, but these did not really address the needs of society at that time.

Sixty years later the nature of society has changed.  And changed one has to say due to liberal social pressures - divorce is easy and commonplace; the percentage of single parents is increasing rapidly; "alternative" lifestyles are now unexceptional etc.  The result is that the social housing envisaged by Nye Bevan no longer matches the current and increasingly atomised structure of society.

There are two ways forward.

Either reconfigure society back the way it used to be - promote the idea of marriage by recognising it in the tax system; tighten the divorce laws (especially where couples have young children); encourage extended family life with different generations living together etc.

Or accept that with the liberal atomisation of society must come a realistic realignment of social housing provision in which the old three-bedroom family-style council houses are sold off (validating Margaret Thatcher's policy!) and are replaced with single unit accommodation (but please not in modernist barracks of the kind favoured by Rowan Moore).

The left cannot have it both ways.  Either social housing must reflect society or society must reflect social housing.  Therefore the bedroom tax (I am not afraid to use the expression, it is quite accurate) is the sensible way forward. 

However the policy should be modified to allow tenants with spare bedrooms a choice.  Either pay the supplement for extra bedrooms or release spare bedrooms back to the local housing department for reallocation to single households on the housing waiting list.  This would have to be done with sensitivity, and might mean a bit more work for housing departments, but we cannot go on living in a society with socially-liberal lifestyles and paying for a socially-conservative public housing stock.