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Polling WHY A HAPPINESS INDEX CAN MAKE YOU MISERABLE Andrew Hawkins charts the rise and fall of the prime minister’s least credible measure of social wellbeing
Of all the policies associated with David Cameron, one of the most meaningless and dangerous has gone largely ignored. If ever there was the modern equivalent of a Cones Hotline, Citizens Charter and Millennium Dome all wrapped up in a single package, the Happiness Index is it. Most people probably regard it as inevitable that governments spend taxpayers’ money on a certain number of useless measures and hope no harm will come because of them. But this particular measure, at a cost of £2m per year, could provide the green light for all manner of ro en initiatives under the excuse that ‘this is for your own good’.
David Cameron has long been interested in ‘happiness’ as a driver of public policy. Back in 2005, as opposition education spokesman, Cameron spoke of happiness as the “fourth dimension” in education policy-making, on top of the more traditional benefits education delivers, like social mobility, social cohesion and economic competitiveness. This, presumably, explains why academics are such happy souls.
The Conservatives liked talking about ‘general wellbeing’ back in the early days of Cameron’s leadership when he was trying to detoxify the Tory brand. Then, last autumn, somewhat out of the blue, the prime minister announced the launch of the first oﬃcial Happiness Index, due for publication in April 2012.
Why is a happiness measure meaningless? First, it is not linked to factors that the government can do much about. In designing the ITV News Cuts Index, we wanted to explore how the economic slowdown and spending cuts would aﬀect the way people felt about their lives. As the chart at the bo om of the page shows, as the country plunged into economic depression, people’s happiness levels changed barely a jot.
So, while we can measure variables such as economic optimism, there is no obvious short-term link between those measures and how happy people feel. Although there do appear to be consistent linkages between reported happiness and other key measures, it is unclear whether these are coincidental or causative. It is also doub ul that government can, or would, wish to do anything concrete to promote some of those linked variables.
There are numerous examples of conclusions drawn about human happiness where policy implications would be stupid, dangerous or politically impossible. For example, a 2002 University of Pennsylvania study concluded that materialism is “toxic” for happiness. Yet the prevailing assumption behind Cameron’s project is that happiness and wealth are
Personal finances worsening
Pessimistic over job security
More worried over state of economy
Sep 2010 Oct Nov Dec Jan 2011 Feb Mar
8 | June 2011 | Total Politics
Rather ambitiously, the government has suggested that its National Wellbeing project will help people as they make deci-
somehow linked. What will happen if the government’s own study findings contradict that assumption? Will the government start encouraging us to hug each other more and trade less?
sions like where to live. A Downing Street source said at its launch: “If you want to know, ‘Should I live in Exeter rather than London?’ ‘What will it do to my quality of life?’ you need a large enough sample size. If you have a big sample, and have more than one a year, then people can make proper analysis on what to do with their life.” Yet who, in reality, makes their location decision based on such statistics? Perhaps such people will also take into account another recent study, which found that people who live in the places considered happiest are more likely to take their own lives!
It was feared that the Happiness Index would sim
Academic studies consistently make links between happiness and variables like being married and religious belief. While government policy can create a benign environment that encourages marriage or allows religious belief to flourish, ultimately it cannot stand, Canutelike, in the way of social change. Where governments try to stamp on religious belief or force people into particular family structures, they almost always fail. As the Chinese government is discovering, the best way to ensure a flourishing underground church is to persecute it.
While we can measure variables such as economic optimism, there is no obvious short-term link between those measures and how happy people feel ply highlight a nation’s misery in the wake of the economic recession. That is unlikely, but far more disturbing is that it could fulfil the prime minister’s ambition of becoming a policy tool, that governments would justify a course of legislative action on the basis that their algorithm tells them that we will all be happier as a result.
Other policy conclusions could be more sinister. Studies into happiness o en show either no link, or a negative one, with having children. Others show a positive link with rather random activities like Sco ish country dancing. None merits or deserves government intervention, thank you very much.
Encouragingly, the Oﬃce for National Statistics website ‘Measuring National Well-Being’ suggests that the most likely outcome will be more anodyne. It lists priceless suggestions from the public, such as happiness is “having friends that never say ‘I told you so’ but give you a hug, crack open a bo le of wine and make you smile again”. Do we really need to spend £2m of public money to tell us that? ■ u Andrew Hawkins is chairman of ComRes
JOYCE WATSON AM TELLS US ABOUT A SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP DESIGNED TO GET YOUNG PEOPLE AND SMALL BUSINESSES WORKING TOGETHER
MARK FERGUSON CHAMPIONS ENGAGING THE PUBLIC DIRECTLY RATHER THAN PROBLEM-SOLVING VIA COMMITTEE
Political meetings are dull, aren’t they? I’m not talking about conferences, or rallies, or even the worthy roundtables that think tanks are always advertising. I’m talking about the kind of political meeting that takes place in a cold and damp community centre on a weekday evening.
Such meetings exist to create a veneer of party democracy. We sit in silence as councillors explain to us the important business of planning regulations and recent council meetings. We hear MPs report back on that fascinating adjournment debate they organised. We sit through the crucial but unfathomable report about recent campaigning activity.
Many of us have tolerated such meetings – a few may even enjoy them – but on the whole they are irredeemably dull, attended only by those who feel duty bound to turn up, or those whose personal lives revolve around party politics. In both cases, neither is the kind of person who could be accurately described as either ordinary or average.
Every political party needs a democratic decision-making structure, but sometimes that can mean bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy.
Most political activists would be better served heading out and speaking to some of the ordinary people on whose behalf they so often claim to speak.
Imagine what might be achieved if just a fraction of the hours spent pouring over minutes of meetings was, instead, spent engaging with our communities, learning about their genuine hopes and concerns. It would be more worthwhile than setting up straw men issues that do not exist or need to be addressed.
We might even end up with a political class that was back in touch with the people. Wouldn’t that be a little more worthwhile than having meetings for meetings’ sake? u Mark Ferguson is the editor of LabourList.org
Total Politics | June 2011 | 9
Total Politics | June 2011 | 9
HM Prison service
Too sofT on crime?
following the ministry of Justice’s controversial criminal justice reforms, James silver examines the ramifications of favouring community orders over custodial sentences for repeat offenders
For nearly two decades, Steve was a oneman crime wave. A serial shoplifter and burglar, he notched up 157 convictions to feed a remorseless drug habit. He sits beside me in the corner of a Liverpool café, a slightlybuilt, softly-spoken man with a pinched, thin face.
“I was shoplifting, robbing cars, doing burglaries,” he says. “I never really spent much time out of jail. A typical week was pretty chaotic, to be honest. You’d just go out and you’d steal. Then you’d sell what you’d got. You’d go and buy drugs. You’d take drugs. Then you’d go out and repeat it all over again.”
Steve’s criminal days may be behind him – he’s now off drugs and out of trouble – but until recently he epitomised the kind of low-level repeat offender who pinballs between courtrooms and prison or probation, to the streets and back again.
To the fury of many grassroots Conservatives and others across the political spectrum who believe in Michael Howard’s mantra that “prison works”, justice secretary Ken Clarke is setting out to slash Britain’s record high prison population of more than 85,000 (which has more than doubled since 1993) by replacing short-term sentences – of the sort Steve found himself on, all too frequently – with ‘community orders’, wherever possible. These are community-based punishments, which include at least one of 12 requirements, ranging from unpaid work and curfews to drug rehab or supervision by a probation officer.
As part of a cost-cutting drive that will see the Ministry of Justice’s £9bn annual budget reduced by £2bn, there will be 3,000 fewer prison places
34 | June 2011 | Total Politics
by 2014-15. The reduction will be achieved in part, Clarke hopes, by a “rehabilitation revolution”. The MoJ green paper, published last December, argued that high rates of reoffending by those on short sentences (61 per cent of those locked up for less than 12 months reoffended within a year in 2008) can be cut by “developing better community provision aimed at halting persistent, low level offending”.
Justice minister Crispin Blunt told TotalPolitics that while Michael Howard, as home secretary, successfully turned the tide on crime by locking up 66,000 people, the rehabilitation element to the justice system has been woefully lacking ever since. “What we have at the moment is a system that is stuffed full of prisoners living in overcrowded conditions, which is not very good at rehabilitating them while they’re in expensive custody. That’s the part of the equation we’re addressing. We’ve got to make sure that, for those people who are on a cycle of crime, we break the cycle.”
But with about a quarter of community orders breached, what is the evidence that even ‘beefed up’, supervised community sentencing will help do so?
one rain-soaked afternoon, I met the affable, silver-bearded Liverpool magistrate John Thornhill, chairman of the Magistrate’s Association of England and Wales. Thornhill has news for the justice secretary and his team: he and his fellow magistrates are already handing out community orders wherever possible. But he estimates that more than 80 per cent of the offenders he sends to jail are jailed for breaching or reoffending while serving community sentences (or after failing to complete them in the past).
“A number of the offenders that we send to prison are those who have been given community orders, but have failed to comply two, three or four times, so we end up in a position where we have no choice as magistrates but to send them to custody,” he says. Thornhill would like to see tougher community orders for repeat offenders like Steve. “We’re ready to use them,” he tells me. “Then we’ll see how effective they are.”
There is some evidence that properly resourced, intensive or “tough” – as Thornhill puts it – community orders can be successful, and Liverpool has one such scheme. A 20-minute drive east of the city centre lies Old Swan, home to North Liverpool Probation Service. It’s one of six areas around England and Wales currently running a pilot project known as an Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC). The scheme (introduced in 2008) provides offenders, who would otherwise face a short prison term, with a 12-month community sentence that combines a number of requirements. These include up to 100 hours of unpaid work, a curfew for 12 hours per day for the first four months, and three hours a week of mentoring.
Previous community orders – and, indeed, a jail term – had failed to stop Lynsey committing a catalogue of crimes fuelled by her binge drinking. She was sentenced to an IAC order for her third offence of drink-driving. She says that on the other orders she’d served she only had to “go in every three or four weeks” to meet her probation officer, a box-ticking exercise essentially.
“On the IAC, I had to do something new every day for the first few months,” she says. “It kept me on the straight and narrow. I cut down on my alcohol.”
Why did this work for her while previous community schemes didn’t? “The threat of jail. I know that if I mess this up, I’ll be in prison.”
But while IACs are the Rolls-Royce of community orders, and have notable successes, even projects like these have their limitations. For one thing, dependent alcohol and drug users – more extreme versions of Lynsey, who are responsible for a large proportion of everyday crime – cannot take part for health and safety reasons. “We don’t expect them to comply [with an IAC] and we don’t set people up to fail,” IAC probation officer Nicola Pennington explains.
For another, these pilot schemes came to a halt at the end of March and now face an uncertain future. An MOJ spokesperson says: “We are currently evaluating the pilots to look at ways to mainstream IACs within existing resources, and linking them to existing schemes.”
Even so, the overwhelming majority of offenders don’t get anywhere near an IAC at present. At his solicitor’s office, a short walk from Dale Street Magistrates’ Court, I meet Phil, another repeat offender. Over 17 years, much of it spent behind bars, he built up a rap sheet encompassing theft, burglary, robbery, drug dealing and fraud.
Addicted to cocaine and cannabis, Phil, a pale-looking man fizzing with nervous energy, explains that most so-called ‘hardened criminals’ view community orders as little more than a minor
A drop in the prison population must follow a drop in crime. To do otherwise is taking a risk with public safety irritation. “I took no notice of community sentences at first,” he says. “I’d turn up, just give my name and that’s it. I made it known through my body language that I didn’t want to know. I was breached on several occasions, and put back in prison.”
Now reformed, he adds that many offenders won’t turn up for community-based work orders, such as street-cleaning, because they don’t want to be heckled by all their friends. Phil fared little better in drug rehab than he had with probation, partly because he had no intention of coming off drugs at that stage. “If you don’t want to [come off ], you’re not going to. You’d rather be out there on drugs than sitting around a table.”
In his office, close to Liverpool docks, Kieran Fielding, a criminal lawyer with 20 years on the clock, knows all about men like Phil and Steve. Their files pass across his desk countless times. Fielding describes a criminal justice system fraying at the edges, and not least Merseyside’s Probation Service, which, from his vantage point, is under considerable strain. And that’s before the looming cuts and burgeoning caseloads.
“I think it’s at capacity now,” he says. “When a court needs a report, which would have been prepared on the same day, it now takes two or three days. Everything is at breaking-point. Merseyside is rumoured to be losing 85 positions in the Probation Service. It’s difficult to see how they can cope with the work they’ve got, let alone more.” Fielding’s picture is borne out nationally, too. Freed criminals, supposedly under strict supervision by the police and Probation Service, were charged with almost 200 serious offences last year, including rape and murder.
Harry Fletcher of probation union Napo believes that contact time between probation and offenders can already be as little as 15 minutes a week. But the combination of cuts to the service and the increased caseloads implicit in the rehabilitation revolution
Total Politics | June 2011 | 35
IAIN DAle IN CONVERSATION...
Chris rennard is not a name familiar with many outside the Westminster village. But he is probably the most formidable and feared political campaigner of the last 20 years. It was he who invented the concept of “pavement politics”. It was he who masterminded countless liberal Democrat by-election victories. And it was he who warned me against standing in North Norfolk in 2003. If I had taken his advice, I might never have gone down to such a terrible defeat two years later! I caught up with him shortly after the local elections in May...
ID: It was an awful day for the Lib Dems on Thursday. Was it ever going to be anything different? CR: Some people in the Lib Dems were aware last May that these local elections in coalition with the Conservatives were going to be difficult. I’m not sure they realised quite how difficult. I certainly realised, as the election approached, that it was going to be very difficult for many people I’d worked with over many years. Far from losing 1,000 seats, the Conservatives actually increased the number of councils they controlled and the number of councillors. That, in the South of England, must have been at the Lib Dems’ expense.
Certainly, the Conservatives didn’t lose in the big Northern urban areas because they’ve already lost everything they could possibly lose in recent years. We lost there to Labour. Yes, we were losing to the Conservatives in the South but not by and large, and not heavily where we had Lib Dem MPs. Our losses were much more modest where we had Lib Dem MPs. There’s been a lot of talk of the Lib Dems being used as a human shield. Is there any truth in that? I looked years ago at the pattern of coalitions in much of Western Europe. It was clear there was a general tendency in coalitions for the senior party to get credit for what was good and the junior partner to get the blame for what was bad. I spoke to several of our sister parties in Europe who had just this experience but were able to learn from it and not repeat their mistakes and demonstrate their independence and come back strongly thereafter. What do you think about key Lib Dem spokesmen wearing their consciences on their sleeves? Simon Hughes has done it. Vince Cable has done it. Norman Lamb did it when he resigned but Nick Clegg wouldn’t accept it. I’m not surprised Nick Clegg wouldn’t accept it because Norman is a good person and was a good health spokesman. We’ve seen people wearing their conscience on their sleeve in previous governments. In Lady Thatcher’s era they were called on the ‘wets’ and they were dismissed one by one. In John Major’s era you had people with differences of opinion actually expressing them and, certainly, during 13 years of Labour government nobody thought the Blairites and the Brownites were always united. I’d actually say the coalition is more coherent in many ways than the Blairite and Brownite party was for that period. I think the Conservative Party would say, ‘Absolutely, you shouldn’t have a minority dictating to the majority.’ But that seems to be what some Liberal Democrats are seeking to do here. The Conservatives, sometimes, think it’s unreasonable that a party that got 23 per cent of the vote should be telling a party that got 36 per cent of the vote what it thinks on a number of issues. We’ve had
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D e a n
B el c h e r
Regulars Letters 4 Diary 6 Jo Coburn of the Daily Politics Polling 8 The happiness index is a sad excuse Blogger writes 9 The idea 10 Dan Hamilton on intercept evidence Data 11 Debate 12 Should we repeal the Human Rights Act? Point of order 13 Adam Afriyie MP Events 14 Ministerial profile 16 Grant Shapps MP MP of the month 18 John Woodcock MP
Total Campaigns Creating a landslide 20 Should we care that the No to AV campaign was negative? George Pascoe-Watson on... 21 Cameron’s understanding of foreign affairs and personal relations with world leaders Campaign doctor 22 Winning ways 24 Paul Richards on the importance of having a strong campaign team
Size doesn’t matter 32 Do the plans to redraw constituency boundaries really address the bias in the electoral system? Too soft on crime? 34 Following the controversial criminal justice reforms, we examine the impact of favouring community orders for repeat offenders
Cover Story Lynne Featherstone page 48
Ben Duckworth talks to the equalities minister in the Home Office about enjoying life as a Liberal Democrat in government and her frustration at not always getting her own way
FeaturesEuropeanadventures 27 David Lidington on Britain’s presence in the EU Putting the House in order 29 The new intake of peers raising the bar on mischief-making
Why Gove is progressing 38 Education has started moving on its ambitious reforms but there are challenges remaining Labour’s empty space 40 The policy review has been going for eight months, and the blank sheet of paper has yet to be filled In conversation with Chris Rennard 44 Iain Dale meets the Liberal Democrat peer, one of the most formidable and successful political campaigners of the last 20 years
Total History The Gordon Riots 54 Marika Sherwood traces the origins of the 18th century uprising Where are they now? 56 The history of one object 57 Memorabilia 57 George Freeman MP They were also MPs 58 William Blackstone
Total Life Book reviews 60 Rob Wilson MP and Frank Field MP Brought to book 61 Chris Kelly MP My old book 61 Simon Burns MP The Wye of it all 62 This year’s Hay Festival highlights Researchers’ stories 63 Hinterland 64 Andrew Miller MP on photography Top 10 funny political films 65 Lunch with... 66 Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Total Politics | June 2011 | 3