Civilizing society?

Can a government change people’s minds by passing laws? Probably not, or at least, it’s not as simple as that.


In the 1960s Roy Jenkins introduced a range of new laws to build what he called “a civilized society”. These included the effective abolition of capital punishment, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and the legalisation of abortion.

These ideas seem commonplace now but this was not always the case.

image (3)

Although many people support women’s right to have an abortion in some circumstances, the idea that a woman has the right to chose whether or not to have an abortion was not supported by most people at end of the 1980s.

image (1)

Despite same sex relationships being decriminalised in the 1960s as late as 1990 most people in the UK thought same sex relationships were “always wrong”.

image (2)

Finally, a substantial majority of people continued to support the use of the death penalty well into the 1990s.


Obviously, the government can have an impact on public opinion. In fact, the decision by successive governments to create more university spaces is probably one of the main drivers behind the increasingly liberal view many now take on these issues.

Equally obviously, this is not an argument that government’s should never do unpopular things. I am certainly very grateful that Jenkins passed the laws that he did, even if they didn’t change many people’s minds. However, it does seem that, if they did change people’s minds, it took a generation to do so.

Those thinking about how we can change public opinion should perhaps bear this in mind.

Power to build 2

If the next Mayor is going to oversee a dramatic increase in the rate of housebuilding in London, they will need more than effective solutions. They will need to design an approach and strategy that brings together a coalition powerful enough to overcoming the obstacles that have so far prevented these much needed homes from being built.

That was how I ended a blog post last week on how a Labour Mayor of London could rapidly increase the rate at which new houses are built in London.

One of the ways of considering who should be in such a coalition, and how to get them on board, is to undertake a basic power analysis. To do so, we should first ask “who could most help or hinder a Mayor of  London to build new homes?”

The first organisation that springs immediately to mind is central government. On the one hand, the government gives money and powers to the Mayor, on the other hand, the government could ultimately disband the Mayor and the Greater London Authority.

This is exactly what happened when a previous Conservative Government passed the Local Government Act in 1985, disbanding the Greater London Council (GLC). Norman Tebbit famously called the GLC “Labour-dominated, high-spending and at odds with the government’s view of the world”.

We should ask ourselves the following questions about central government

  • What is that power?
  • What are their goals, demands, or vision?
  • Potential target? Who does this person listen to? Who has influence over them?

What is their power?

The government can decide on how much money the Mayor is given to build homes. They can also decide on the powers the Mayor has, for example, over planning or raising taxes.

What are their goals, demands or vision?

One of the principle aims of the government is to reduce the deficit.  A secondary, but important goal, is to increase the number and percentage of people who own their own home. Part of their vision is to build a so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ which includes giving more powers to the the combined Manchester Authorities.

Potential target?

George Osborne is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As such he is supremely influential when it comes to deciding how much money the Mayor of London will be given to build new houses. He is widely credited as the main proponent of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’. In his recent budget speech he said he is “unwavering “in his “support for home ownership”.


We now need to assess to the government’s attitude towards the agenda, shared by all Labour candidates for Mayor, of increasing the amount the number of homes being built in London. Where would we rate George Osborne on a scale from die hard support to die hard against? I would say he is somewhere in the middle.

Although he supports the idea of increasing home-ownership, he does not support the idea of affordable housing let at social rents financed by government grant. He also does not support the idea of a Labour Mayor forcing developers to build more affordable housing and probably does not support the idea of a Labour Mayor forcing Tory controlled Local Authorities to build, for example by using targets or sanctions.


What does this mean for developing a housing strategy that might actually have a realistic chance of being supported and not opposed or even vetoed by central government?

The idea that the Mayor will receive any additional money to grant finance social housing is for the birds. Similarly, the idea that the Mayor will be given powers to raise taxes or borrow more to grant finance social housing seems highly unlikely.

In fact, I would go further and suggest that a Labour Mayor who vigorously lobbied for more grant or more powers to borrow or raise taxes, would risk going the way of Ken Livingstone in the 1980s and being disbanded.

However, a strategy that was built around using part of the increased power of a devolved health budget to support the development of innovative home ownership products such as Genie might have a chance of success.


There are of course a number of other players at work in the world of London house building, including land owners, housing developers, residents who might oppose development, housing associations, town planners, local councillors, to name a few.

A proper housing strategy would analyse each of these groups in turn, in the way I have done here and assess the extent that these groups can either be overcome or brought into alliance.

A Labour Mayor of London who wants to oversee a dramatic increase in the rate of house building needs to ensure that they are supported by and not blocked by the government. Appeal to the Chancellor’s support for home ownership and devolution, rather than calling for more tax raising powers or imposing more conditions on house builders, seems like the strategy with the best chance of success.

The power to build

All the Labour candidates for Mayor of London are committed to increasing the number of homes that are built in the capital. Tessa Jowell, amongst others, has called for the creation of a new agency ‘Homes for London’ to “take the lead, building thousands of homes that Londoners can afford on the vast swathes of land that the Mayor owns”


Tessa has a number of ideas for how this agency would London get building. These include:

  • Building directly on land the mayor owns
  • Training more Londoners in construction skills and,
  • Using planning powers to require affordable home ownership is part of new developments

These ideas will be familiar to many, partly because various voices have been advocating them for a number of years. But if these ideas are so good, why haven’t they been implemented?

Perhaps one of the reasons is that we haven’t had the right leader. Certainly a number of Tessa Jowell’s backers have made great play of her ability to get things done. For example, the NewStatesman, in their endorsement of her, refer to her track record moving both Sure Start and the Olympics from the drawing board into reality.

However, there is more to getting houses built than a strong and experienced Mayor (although that would certainly be a start). Alinsky’s famous quote springs to mind:

the problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions

If the next Mayor is going to oversee a dramatic increase in the rate of housebuilding in London, they will need more than effective solutions. They will need to design an approach and strategy that brings together a coalition powerful enough to overcoming the obstacles that have so far prevented these much needed homes from being built.

Fortunately, next week’s blog post will outline exactly what such a strategy might look like. Watch this space.

Law and order responses require more than law and order

Successfully prosecuting people for committing domestic abuse requires more than a law and order style response.

I’ve written before about some other ways of reducing domestic abuse that do not rely on the police and judicial system.

However, the police and the courts need to look to these approaches if they are to successfully prosecute people who have perpetrated domestic abuse.


In recent years there has been a conscious and successful drive to prosecute more people (mostly men) for committing domestic abuse. Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 19.30.13

While the total number of successful convictions has risen, so has the number of unsuccessful convictions.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 19.30.24

The main reason for unsuccessful prosecutions is that either the victim (usually a woman) does not attend or they retract their allegations.Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 19.30.35


The reasons for this so-called ‘attrition’ are many and varied. However, one reason that comes out time and again is that victims feel disempowered and disorientated by the judicial system.

Bringing a prosecution against a partner or an ex-partner is a stressful thing to go through and the courts often don’t make this any easier.

The charity Safe Lives have done fantastic work promoting the employment of trained Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), who can advise victims and people at risk of domestic abuse, on how to stay safe.

Partly as a result of Safer Lives’ work, there is now a ‘Pan London Domestic Violence Service’ with IDVAs employed in every borough of London. In addition, there are now workers who will support victims through the court process.

The future

However, in many ways this is a classic and flawed way to solve the problem. If a system  is designed so that you need additional workers to support people through it, then there is probably something wrong with the design of the system. The same can be said of the need to employ people to advice patients on how to navigate the health and social care systems.

Too often public services are not designed with the interests of patients or victims primarily in mind. This means additional public money and private effort is spent trying to get the system to work.

As I said initially, I think eliminating domestic abuse would require more than a law and order approach. However, even to get the law and order aspect working requires resources and initiatives outside of and in addition to the police and courts.

Community Organising

What do Ed Miliband’s Labour party and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have in common?

Part of their dramatic failures was down to the limitations of embracing community organising as a strategy for winning elections and as a model for exercising power.

Much has been said about what organisational lessons Labour should learn from the 2015 defeat. For example

  • Mike Kane argued that Stella Creasy’s Sharkstoppers campaign should be a template.
  • Stella herself said that voter ID should be complemented with community organising which “has brought energy and innovation to our campaigning”. Wes Steering has said that “We need to open up our party to wider involvement to build the movement we need to win elections and change our country.”
  • Rafael Behr said that “the standard model treats members as a resource to serve the party when it should be the other way around: party as a service to its members and their neighbours.”
  • Paul Cotterill said that “All politics is local, even at constituency scale.  Just do stuff.  Throw away the Labour stickers.  Stick the Voter ID sheets in the shredder.  Come election time, if people know what you’ve been up to, they’ll vote for you.  If not, they won’t.”

There is something in all of these positions but, to varying degrees, all of them are limited by the idea that community organising offers either a method for winning elections or a credible platform for government. It does not.

You could fit what I know about Egyptian politics into a tweet. However, I was very impressed by Hazem Kandil’s argument that the Muslim Brotherhood had won over many with their ability to run community services but that operating these services did nothing to prepare them to reform a corrupt and reactionary Egyptian bureaucracy.

The same could be said of Ed Miliband’s Labour party. The skills needed to be an effective community organiser have very little to do with the traits people look for in politicians. For example, effective organisers are not visible, concentrate on developing local leaders and constantly struggle for the victory of their side. As Saul Alinsky put it

“Action comes from keeping the heat on. No politician can sit on a hot issue if you make it hot enough.”

Credible politicians have very few of these traits. They are visible, they attach themselves to successful campaigns and they position themselves as unifiers who can bring factions together for the greater good.

the skills needed to effectively organise at a community level have little or anything to do with the skills needed to govern effectively.

Similarly, the skills needed to effectively organise at a community level have little or anything to do with the skills needed to govern effectively. Running a campaign to get companies in an area to pay the living wage requires a completely different approach than designing and implementing an economic policy that will bring about full employment.

There is lots that Labour could learn from community organising, not in terms of a programme for government or a blueprint for campaign, but around public service reform. Teachers, doctors and police would all benefit by developing their listening skills, their ability to bring people together and to mobilising local civic institutions. This was an area on which Ed Miliband was curious silent.

Whoever is chosen as the next leader of the Labour party should incorporate the ideas of community organising into the area of public service reform rather than modernising the party or governing the country,

In 2014 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared

There are fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people in London and a handful of larger charities are doing the lions share of the work.

Last year alone 1 in 10 charities supporting homeless people in London disappeared. They were almost all swallowed up by larger organisations. According to the London Housing Foundation, there are now 122 charities supporting homeless people in London (down from 133 a year ago).

Of the slightly over 13,000 beds in specialist hostels in London roughly a third are now delivered by just three organisations: St Mungo’s Broadway, Look Ahead Care and Support, and YMCA (West London and South London).

Of the nearly 8,000 people who receive ‘floating support’ in London, over 80% receive that support from either SHP, One Housing or Look Ahead. If you are homeless in London and receiving floating support the chances are that you will be receiving it from someone who works for one of these three organisations.

This is not to say that large charities will deliver a better or worse quality of support to homeless people than smaller organisations. However, there is a risk that as local government budgets are cut further we will see these trends continue. There will be further consolidation within the sector, with fewer and fewer charities supporting homeless people. The larger organisations will dominate provision to an even greater extent.

This could lead to less innovation at exactly the time when the sector will need to be coming up with creative solutions to the innumerable problems faced by the growing number of homeless people in London.

An attack on mixed income communities

The Government has announced an attack on mixed income communities.

The previous coalition government certainly showed no interest in the idea of building or maintaining mixed income communities. This logic is now being pushed further and we are witnessing an all out assault.

The Government will:

  • Force local authorities to sell council housing in richer areas
  • Continue to squeeze the local housing allowance
  • Cap the total amount of benefits a household can receive at £23,000 pa

The combined impact of these policies will be that deprivation will be more concentrated in certain areas and there will be fewer mixed income communities.

This all comes at a time when academics in America are finding more and more evidence that growing up in mixed income communities is good for children in low income households.

Of course, under New Labour there were legitimate criticisms that the rhetoric of ‘mixed communities’ was far more often used to justify destroying social housing than to help poorer people to live in richer areas.

What Lawrence Katz and others are looking at is slightly different. They found that children in poor households who grow up in richer areas do better in a number of ways than children in poor households who grow up in poor areas.

every extra year of childhood spent in a low-poverty environment appears to be beneficial

This is true for different races and genders. Similarly, they found that children who moved to poorer areas, did less well as adults than those who stayed in richer areas.

This is not to say that poverty is inevitable. However, it does appear that it’s better to be poor in a mixed income neighbourhood than to be poor in a poor neighbourhood.

Housing and neighbourhood policy should aim to be part of eradicating poverty. While poverty is still a feature of our country, housing and neighbourhood policy should aim to make sure that as many poor children as possible can grow up in richer areas. The Government is failing to do this. What’s the phrase for the opposite of evidence based policy?