Wonga and the Administration of Justice Act 1970

Wonga has apologized for sending letters demanding repayment under the cover of made-up solicitor names.

Prima facie, Wonga’s acts would seem to be an infringement under Section 40, paras 1 (c) and (d) of the Administration of Justice Act 1970:

(1) A person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under a contract, he—

(a) harasses the other with demands for payment which, in respect of their frequency or the manner or occasion of making any such demand, or of any threat or publicity by which any demand is accompanied, are calculated to subject him or members of his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation;

(b) falsely represents, in relation to the money claimed, that criminal proceedings lie for failure to pay it;

(c) falsely represents himself to be authorised in some official capacity to claim or enforce payment; or

(d) utters a document falsely represented by him to have some official character or purporting to have some official character which he knows it has not

The fine for such an offence is minimal, but a criminal record for the person or persons who authorised these activities would perhaps not go amiss.

I hope someone with more clout than me might take this up, but I’ll do the necessary with the police if need be.

Categories: General Politics

Did Jacek Rostowski reveal the deal?

According to a sweary leaked tape Jacek Rostowski, ex-finance minister for Poland, said:

 No Polish government could agree to Cameron’s renegotiation proposals except in return for a mountain of gold.

The whole thing is being seen simply an attack on Cameron’s judgment, but I think this might just evidence that, behind the scenes, one or more of the EU accession and/or southern states might be be prepared to strike a deal of the type I’ve set out previously:

I can’t help feeling there’s a much bigger deal to be done with other states which would actually stop migrants from the southern and accession states from coming here, if that’s what people really, really want.  Here it is:

In return for the UK and other Northern European countries getting to stop people from further away places coming over here, taking our jobs or whatever, the further away places get to put some stops on things that the Northern European keep on selling to them, so that the further away places stay poor.  In time, the further away places would be less poor, and less of their people would want to come to UK to take our jobs.

In technical terms, that would mean a temporary trade off of restrictions on freedom of movement of people for restrictions on freedom of movement of capital and goods, until an agreed point of current account convergence and/or of GDP per head were reached via a process of artificial devaluation and import substitution  – or, if you want to conceive of it thus, the creation of a massive virtual European Structural Fund aimed at the fastest possible reduction in structural disparities between all 27 EU states (and joiners).

That would be Rostowski’s mountain of gold, although there might also be a real Structural Fund deal to be done.

As I’ve made clear, none of this requires treaty change, as it’s all allowed under articles 30, 32 and 45.  It could be done quite quickly if the political will were there, and the price was right.

Now Rostowski is not in government anymore, but it might just be he knows something Cameron doesn’t.

Which isn’t hard.



Categories: General Politics

Educational achievement and the benefits of being an immigrant

Last week, Adam said that the key reason that children in  London’s schools have done much better than the rest of the country in the last 10-15 is mostly down to the “difference  [in] the quality of the schools”.

Today, in the light of a new IFS/IoE research report on this same matter, Stephen refines this position, arguing that the differential between the cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other areas is principally down improvements in primary schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s:

The most common explanations cited are the successes of London Challenge…..Teach First….. and the academies programme…. Also high on the list are immigration….higher per pupil funding…..and greater competition among schools (owing to London’s urban density and easy transport links).

The report painstakingly works through all these explanations and a handful of others. What it finds is that, though many of those explanations are contributory factors, they are not the main driver of why London’s schools have improved so much, so fast.

The single biggest explanation of the ‘London effect’ is… what happened in its primary schools more than a decade ago. In essence, London’s primary schools, particularly in English, achieved great success between 1999 and 2003, which – years later – fed through into improved GCSE results.

I’m not convinced.  The Stephen main thrust of Stephen’s post is less an examination of what the biggest drivers are, more an analysis of how “the correlation is not causation” rule in social science can be ignored in the face of political imperative, but I do wonder if he’s committing the same kind of error himself.

My own reading of the report suggests that the jury is still very much out on this new account of causation:

We cannot completely dismiss other potential explanations, however, such as increasing levels of school competition or unobservable changes in pupil cognitive ability or teacher quality over time. The increasing proportion of non-white pupils and those with English as an additional language may also explain part of this phenomenon. Ongoing work by Simon Burgess examines the role of these factors in more detail. More research is needed to understand whether the National Literacy and Numeracy Programmes were indeed an important source of London’s improvement p.35)

And my own partly informed hunch is that it is these (hitherto) “unobservable changes in pupil cognitive ability” that will turn out to be very important, and the cause of this heightened cognition level will be, as the report suggests it might be – immigration.  I’ll certainly be looking out for Simon’s new research.   In particular I’ll be interested to see whether there’s evidence that these purported changes in cognitive ability are actually causing the higher primary school achievements in the first place (as opposed, say, to better literacy strategies).

This hunch has two sources:  a) quite a few years of close involvement with primary and secondary education; b) some reading of the wider relevant literature about culture, cognition and achievement.

As a link governor in a secondary school for almost exclusively white working class children, one thing that has really struck me is when English teachers tell me about the main obstacle to getting  children writing creatively.  The main obstacle, they tell me, is that some children simply don’t have any experience to write about.  They live on their estate, they go to school, and they go back to their estate.

Some 15 year olds in my school have never been on holiday, never seen the sea, never done anything exciting.*  How on earth can we expect them to write interesting essays about the world around them, when that world is grey and monotonous?

Compare this to the experiences of a child who arrived in  the UK just three or four years ago, who is now both bilingual and bi-cultural, participating in the life of a school where the majority of the children have all had a rich set of experiences (though some if them may well have been traumatic), and whose current material circumstances may be poor but whose prospects just feel richer.   Is it any great surprise that these children do better, and especially in English.

This is borne out by the empirical research too.  I’ve written before of how children who have to translate for their parents actually do better at school, and reflect with pride on their status as bridge of cultures.  I’ve also written of how. at wider economic level, how it is the very meltingness of the melting pot of an immigrant city which drives economic growth and well-being.    There’s also evidence, utilizing the Bourdieu concept of habitus  as a theoretical (but heuristic) frame, that migrants’ social and cultural capital go beyond the social scale imagined on their behalf by others, in a way which may well contribute to children’s achievements, but in a way which indeed has indeed remained largely “unobservable” to date.

It’s great that the research into what actually helps children learning is now seriously underway, alongside an apparently growing consensus that the factors are many.  If my hunch does turn out to be correct, one thing I’d like to see under the (silly) fiscal-neutral plans is for the extra cash schools are given for each child with English as an Addtional Language (EAL) to be shifted towards investment in giving experiences to children who won’t otherwise get them.  To a significant extent, this will be about investment in schools like mine, where the concept of a school trip-of-a-lifetime to China or South America, now commonplace in middle-class areas, doesn’t simply seem like a pipe dream.**

In time, too, I look forward to seeing how evidence that immigration is good for us all, in ways we hadn’t spotted earlier, might be used to push the case for a more sensible immigration policy.  However, given what Stephen rightly says about political imperatives and confirmation bias, I don’t expect much movement on that soon, at least from the top (it might be different if people in small towns start demanding more immigrants to help boost their schools).


* Separately, I was astonished, in the days I helped run our local music festival, how many 15 year olds, coming three miles out into the countryside from Skelmersdale, were staying in a tent (£9.99 from Aldi) for the very first time, and for how many this was their first trip to the countryside.

** Such trips are designed for 15/16 year olds, and I recognise that the best value per educational buck may come from opening up lifetime experiences to younger children e.g. on what we used to call outward bound courses.

Categories: General Politics

The second TCF poetry competition is announced

To mark the early release from Whitehall of poet-economist Giles Wilkes, the Though Cowards Flinch board has decided to run its second poetry competition.  This follows on the highly successful inaugural competition of 2010, held prior to Wilkes’ unfortunate incarceration, and won by Tom Freeman’s masterpiece An Ode to Quantitative Easing.

QE was indeed the subject matter this time, but poetry competitions must stay relevant, and for the 2014 competition submissions must be on one of two themes:

a)  The problems with getting through the fog of political necessity with sound economic policy;

b) The extent to which the notion of public service reform has become synonymous with public sector cuts rather than way of delivering better stuff for people, and why (tip: see a) above)

As an example, Giles has kindly donated a sample of the kind of thing we’d like to see:


The SpAD to the BisSec Vince Cable

Having found out he just wasn’t able

To make anyone see

We need more NGDP

Departed the Cabinet Table


Rules for the competition:

1) Submission deadline when we feel like it but probably at the end of the world cup so people who don’t give a monkey’s about football have something else to do.

2) Any verse form allowed, apart from sonnets.  we fucking hate sonnets at TCF.

3) Submissions can be made in the comments here or at another blog with a link to here and a note on the submitting blog, saying:

Though Cowards Flinch is essential reading for people who want to get to the bottom of: a)  The problems with getting through the fog of political necessity with sound economic policy; b) The extent to which the notion of public service reform has become synonymous with public sector cuts rather than way of delivering better stuff for people, and why (tip: see a) above).

The main bloke there, Paul, should be paid quite a lot of money by a wealthy organisation or individual to allow him to focus full-time on writing with such acumen and attention to detail.


To be supplied by organisation or individual at 3) above, and worth quite a lot.

Categories: General Politics

Why the throat?

June 20, 2014 1 comment

I try not to join in twitterstorms, but the one about Michael Fabricant MP’s threat to punch a woman in the throat does bring with it an interesting question.

Why the throat?  Why not the more common concept of a punch to the face or the nose?

Domestic violence-focused literature more than hints at a possible reason: this study finds that 68% in the  ( fairly small) sample of women who suffered domestic violence have suffered from strangulation, and here’s one showing that violent death by strangulation is 6 times more likely for women than men.

The Fabricant tweet may reflect less sudden rage, and more a desire to subjugate, control and make defenceless, and be specific to women.  That’s what makes the tweet more disturbing.

Now, I’m not suggesting that Fabricant is someone prone to violence against women, and of course punching is not strangling..   But I am suggesting that, as part of his making amends as best as he can, he might want to explore why he wanted to go for the throat, and make that exploration public.  That might be a useful service.




Categories: Gender Politics, Law

IPPR report gets a C+

When it comes to today’s IPPR Condition of Britain report, most of the focus in the media and on social media has understandably been on the three big policy announcement from Miliband at the launch, and of those three the most controversial one has been the proposal to create a youth allowance, backed by investment in Further Education and a Future Jobs fund-style programme, at the expense of Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18-21 year olds.  For what it’s worth, I think the plans have some merit, but can only be properly assessed when we know a)  how much the youth allowance might  be;  b) what level of discretion and autonomy the newly empowered personal advisers will have.  I will come back to this, not least as I think Chris is wrong to pre-define it as managerialism rebooted, when there is still so much to play for when it comes to implementation.

But here I want to focus on the most interesting bit of the report, chapter 10 on ‘Crime and Exclusion’.

The first thing to say that this is a very bad title chapter, as it suggests that people who are excluded from the mainstream tend to be criminals.  In fact, some are, but most aren’t; they just live excluded lives.  The chapter is at is because it focuses a lot on how to develop the Coalition’s Troubled Families programme into a new Troubled Lives programme, but fails to notice that only of the four current criteria by which Troubled Families are to do with crime (the others are to do with education, work and other “costs to the public purse”).  Very poor.

But this unfortunate kowtowing to Coalition prejudice aside, there are interesting proposals.  This is the key one:

Local authorities already control some of the budgets that could contribute to a Troubled Lives programme: drug and alcohol treatment services, for instance, together with the homelessness prevention grant.91 We argue that councils should be given five-year allocations for these budgets in the next spending review. This would give them the confidence, and the financial incentives, to invest upfront in innovative  support and services to help people turn their lives around. if successful, this would enable councils to realise savings in later years that could then be reinvested in effective interventions.

This specific proposal reflects a wider one made earlier in the report:

[I]f, in the next parliament, there is to be a serious redistribution of powers and resources, it must be driven through the spending review, so that all departments and ministers are bound into it. For local areas themselves, five-year budgets, spanning the whole of the next parliament, would give local leaders and citizens more freedom to plan and invest upfront in projects and services that are likely to reduce needs or generate future savings (p51-52).

The report is unclear on the precise mechanics for this kind of upfront investment, and I am not sure that IPPR yet know how exactly, let us say, a 30%, 25%, 25%, 10%, 10% prevention-focused spend profile over a five year period can be accounted for on local authority and central government books.

Will local authorities simply be asked to use reserves, with an explicit or implicit bail out promise from the centre if the (evidence-based) relational prevention work does not realise the profiled savings?  Will there be some kind of accrual mechanism, whereby the centre accrues notional savings back onto its own national accounts (or allows local authorities to defer payment on business rates).  How will these plans be integrated with the NHS/social care integration also being planned?

Until we get the detail, we won’t know to what extent all this can actually be delivered, and the difficulty in working it all out may be why Miliband preferred to focus on three areas where there is more detail.  Understandable maybe, but not great for PR.

Nevertheless, I remain encouraged, though not as encouraged as earlier in the week.  It provides some evidence that Labour really is thinking through public service reform which produces good (preventative) public service outcomes first, and less downstream spend as a happy consequence.

The other day Rick, in responding to my earlier post on public sector reform,  said:

No, my worry about Paul’s piece is that he seems to be saying Labour’s reform programme will remove the need for tax increases and/or cuts to public services. The redesign of the state will achieve more with less – or maybe the same with less. This, of course, is just what the Coalition has been claiming for the past four years. If you can just make the public sector more efficient, then no-one needs to worry about service cuts or tax rises.

Now clearly I’ve explained myself badly*, if he thinks I was just on about efficiencies, rather than on about preventative investments reducing the need for spending on problem-solving for good (as in our detailed submission in my specialist area about how investment in locality-based family support and a return to proper  social work will create massive downstream savings on picking up pieces by courts and children’s homes).

I hope this post, and the bit of the IPPR report I refer to, clarifies what I’m on about, although I appreciate Rick won’t buy the idea that the level of savings that can be made by prevention-focused reforms can come anywhere near the overall budget reduction he says is needed. Nor can I know for sure – and I’ve nowhere suggested that such savings can match the overall ‘gap’ he projects.  Of course, if I ran IPPR (or even worked for it), I’d use its resources to find out quite quickly (and yes, that is a hint).

Of course, everything above is written in terms of the need to balance the budget.   I fundamentally dispute that on the basis that it’s a total crock of shit, but I’m working on that premise for now because it allows thinking on relational, preventative public services to proceed (and arguably for that thinking to be prioritised).

Overall, then, I give the IPPR report a C+. It can’t get an A because it fails to deal with the fundamentals of the need or not for a balanced budget so is for ever intellectually restricted. it doesn’t make a B because it makes unwarranted assumptions about ‘troubled’ families, but it pushes above a C because at least in outline it provides a roadmap for proper social investment.


* I think my main error was to be elliptic about the difference between efficiency and reforms that mean services end up simply not being needed.  I should have challenged Giles’ sarcastic deifintion of what he sees as the main obstacle to honest policy making more explicitly.

Categories: General Politics

The EU-USA free trade agreement leak and the threat to the NHS

The leak from the #ttip EU-USA Free Trade Agreement Talks is interesting, as far as the destruction of the NHS is concerned.

This (at p.23 of the pdf file) is the end of May position of the EU negotiation team:

The EU reserves the right to maintain any measure with regard to the provision of all health services which receive public funding or state support  in any form, and are therefore not considered to be privately funded (CPC 931, except for CPC 9312 Medical and Dental Services and part of 93191 relating to Midwifery Services and Services provided by Nurses, Psychotherapeutic and Para-medical services).

The numbering is that of the UN statistical division, and CPC931 is the overall Human Health Services classification, within which medical & dental and midwifery, nursing & the other services fit.

So it looks like that the current EU negotiation position is, by NOT “reserving the right” over these services, to open them to competitive tendering in a way which far outstrips the current Health and Social Care Act 2012 “any qualified provider” provisions.

It looks like the fears may be well-placed.







Categories: Law

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 121 other followers