Monday, March 26, 2012

Lon Won's Evil Liberal Masterplan

Tackling the problem of the deficit is causing much misery. And regardless of the Chancellor's apparent optimism in last week's Budget about unemployment and growth, the signs are that things are likely to get much worse before they get better.

I believe there's a liberal idea that might help.

What's grinding your gears?
The basic idea is to give local government more autonomy to decide what services it wishes to provide, what mechanisms will provide them, and what taxes will fund them. These powers would then be balanced by a right for local voters to use petitions to trigger binding local referenda.

Note: Some of what's envisaged is already possible, and a shift in power from central government to local authorities is the major theme of the Localism Act 2011. But to keep the discussion simple I'm just going to focus here on the principles rather than these details, because I think that even after the Act we might be left with a mixture of different types of localism that are inadequately accountable to citizens. Note also that I'm mostly talking about England here. Similar considerations might apply to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but drawing the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government, and the Northern Ireland Executive into this blogpost would complicate the points being made about the balance between "central" and "local" government.

More costs, more uncertainty, more chaos?

It's not a glamorous idea, and at first glance it sounds like one of those "It'll cost lots of money; the gains are uncertain; and chaos is guaranteed" type of ideas. At times it's almost as if we revel in such ideas in this country.

But actually there needn't be any costs at all: councils could choose to do just the same as they do now. Or they could make different choices about services to provide.

This might mean losing economies of scale from doing some things nationally (e.g. in relation to roads, health, income tax, or benefits); so councils would need to convince voters about the financial implications of proposals. Perhaps there might be efficiencies from cooperation between councils that want to do similar things. Or perhaps a council might choose to award a contract to a local firm in order to save jobs that would otherwise incur redundancy and unemployment costs. Or perhaps a council might take a chance on a new technology or method in a way that central government couldn't.

It might be sensible for councils to jointly fund some kind of contract advisory service, to help councils build on proven contracts. It would also be very sensible to pay for a longitudinal research study following the progress of a range of these local government innovations. But it would be up to individual councils to choose to invest in such things.

It's true that the gains are uncertain; but at a time when national economic stagnation looks like the most optimistic future for the next few years, liberalising state services encourages the opening up of new possibilities. Rather than so many of us whining about "The Government" is doing or not doing, councils could actually put new ideas to the test.

It's also true that there might be a little bit more chaos than we're used to, but surely such liberalisation is better than the monolithic control freakery that has taken root in our state since the Second World War? And liberalisation isn't all or nothing: it's possible to have a bit more localism without the country necessarily descending into some kind of Yugoslavian-style civil catastrophe.

No, the more profound objections to this proposal are not to do with costs, uncertainty or chaos. These objections appear once the rationale for the proposal is made clear.

What's good for London isn't necessarily good for the Lake District. Giving councils greater power over what they do for a locality enables them to weigh up the pros and cons of what has been done nationally, to innovate, to test, to refine, and to be judged by the voters on their success.

Pleasant land
and satanic mills
1. Empowering local engines for growth: It's clear that economic growth is needed to avoid worsening economic misery. The UK Government is focused on stopping the deficit increasing, but different parts of the country should be able to take advantage of their own particular local strengths to encourage growth. More autonomous decision-making enables this.

2. Enabling different local priorities: Councils focus on the problems that particularly matter in their area. Everybody everywhere wants to fight crime, help the sick, educate the next generation, and so on; but maybe Devon wants to put more resources into helping the elderly, Southwark into tackling knife crime. Priorities differ. More autonomy allows for more flexibility over rebalancing of resources, in the light of local knowledge about what needs attention over time. Devolution of certain powers to Wales and Scotland has been a great success, and no-one wants to return to the previous over-centralised system. Local people should be able to decide on their priorities for schools, hospitals, police, post offices and so on, within a freer national framework.

3. Taking account of different local conditions: Let's stop pretending that conditions are the same everywhere. Why should teachers in Toxteth get paid the same as teachers in Tatterford? The ability to attract staff with the appropriate skill set, the cost of living, the demands made and so on are quite different. We know that housing benefits, disability support, water costs, VAT receipts, fuel costs, and the like differ depending on local conditions; so why not put councils in charge of how to raise and allocate local resources?

Petitions don't have to be signed using quills
4. Fostering postcode democracy: Much is made of a "postcode lottery". What about postcode democracy? It is mad for Westminster and Whitehall to be trying to micro-manage great cities like Birmingham and Manchester, and counties like Kent and Yorkshire. Meanwhile, the lines of local accountability for organizations such as Academy Schools, Foundation Hospitals, Serco, Virgin, May Gurney and so on sometimes seem unclear. It should be the people's locally elected representatives who call such organizations to account in relation to local work, and there should be mechanisms for action to be taken. Simpler lines of accountability lead to better control of costs. Local referenda are also an important brake on potentially disastrous plans that councils might choose to implement between elections.

5. Winning local buy-in for developments: Planning processes are often seen as Byzantine, and weighted in favour of developers, who get multiple bites of the cherry, who only need to obtain approval once (even when circumstances change or have been misrepresented), and who can get away with tokenistic contributions to the community. More autonomy would allow councils to set conditions on developments, such as a proportion of receipts, a tax on subsequent sales, or inspections. There might be referenda to choose between (say) a wind array on the horizon, a nuclear power station on the beach, or imported energy.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Teletubby turbines
6. Tackling climate change: Following on from the previous point, climate change is a critical issue for this proposal. Obviously many kinds of concerted initiatives to deal with climate change need to take place at national and international level; but many aspects of energy generation, energy efficiency, mitigation and adaptation need considered decision-making at local level. Citizens need to be able to experience both the benefits and costs of their decisions locally, or we will continue blithely down the path towards environmental calamity.

7. Enabling innovation and piloting: Liberalising local government does not necessitate either Thatcherite union-bashing corporatism on the one hand, or profligate PC jobsworth totalitarianism on the other. Councils would be free to pursue their own preferred ways of delivering particular services, whether that's in-house, contracts with companies, or in conjunction with other organisations. Freedom to innovate is motivating. It is disgraceful that poorly thought-out legislation such as the Health and Social Care Act get imposed nationwide with proper rounds of piloting and evaluation. More autonomy allows ideas to be put to the test. Of course it's true that councils might choose to go for the monorail rather than more frequent buses; they might choose to build the casino rather than the theatre; the nuclear power station rather than the wind farm. But councils must be allowed to make mistakes, so long as there is complete transparency and accountability to local voters.

Key objections

1. Privatisation: The furore over the HSC Act suggests that "privatisation" is a powerful concern of the public. This is slightly odd as many GPs have always been self-employed on the whole, with contractual arrangements with the NHS; i.e. they're not employees of the NHS. And the recent re-opening of health service delivery to non-profit and charitable organisations is also perhaps not widely appreciated.

Not George Obsorne
Nevertheless, the arguably emotive label "privatisation" points to a number of very reasonable worries, of which the possibility of fees for previously free services is just one. Another worry is that because private companies need to make a profit, they either provide a worse service (to cut costs), or they overcharge compared with an entirely state-run service, or they make savings in relation to employees (e.g. paying them less, providing worse conditions, failing to fund training, reducing job security, cutting pensions, and so on). A third worry is that such companies are less accountable and less transparent in how they operate. Finally, some people see such companies as less caring, less generous and less honestly motivated than state-run services.

Response: These worries in relation to privatisation are legitimate. However, the right to trigger referenda should reassure citizens that they can veto the possibility of fees for previously free services, and that organisations affecting local people cannot get away with bad behaviour. Moreover, if they wish, voters can choose councils that have nothing to do with private companies at all.

2. Lack of belief in localism: As I've argued previously, localism is a hard sell for a variety of reasons, resulting in scepticism about its value and a lack of engagement by the public in local government. I've also noted that there are at least three types of localism, so the disadvantages of one type are sometimes seen as applying to others. In addition, the "postcode lottery" slogan resonates with many people: differences in practices always lead to unfairness, it is objected.
see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil

Response: The widespread lack of belief in localism is admittedly challenging. Under this proposal, the shift in powers from central government to councils means that voters have more to lose, so this should help to increase awareness of council powers and to increase the motivation to engage. But I'm not sure the perceptions of local politicians would necessarily improve.

3. It's more complicated than that: Some will say that much of what's proposed is already happening; that the Localism Act 2011 is providing the rest (including a "general power of competence" for local authorities); and anyway this proposal says nothing about how to resolve existing problems with complex relationships between councils, citizens, companies, and central government.

Response: Fine. I'd like to hear more about that. More importantly, I'd like more people thinking about whether the balance in power between central and local government is about right or whether it could be usefully adjusted.

Evil Liberal Masterplan

Autonomous localism needs a change in mind-set from "What's the Government doing about it?" to "What can we do about it?" This could be parodied as JFK-lite, or Cameron's "Big Society", or "just more" community politics. But it's actually very liberal: increasing freedom for local citizens. Of course that freedom could be used to limit the size of the state or to address social issues; to enhance civil liberties or to increase law-and-order; to get more private sector involvement or to run all services in-house; to cooperate with other councils or to compete.

So it's a liberal proposal that could be used to do things that you very much don't like. If you don't trust the voters in your area to vote against these things locally, the alternative is that you continue to rely on voters in other parts of the country to vote against such things nationally. So, I think attitudes to this proposal might very well be influenced by what you think the next UK government is likely to do and by what you think of people in your area.

  1. "Local government gears" by LonWon. [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  2. "English ceremonial counties 1998" derived by Dr Greg from work by Nilfanion.[CC BY-SA 3.0]
  3. "petition" by League of Women Voters of California. [CC BY 2.0]
  4. View to Sizewell along the beach taken from Wikipedia. [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  5. "Windfarm" by Russell Smith (rasmithuk) [CC BY 2.0]
  6. "The not so slim controller" by Lee Turner [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
  7. "See No Evil" by Tim Ellis [CC BY-NC 2.0]

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Three types of localism

Did you know that major provisions in the Localism Act 2011 are starting to come into effect this year?

If, like me, you're slightly vague on how the Localism Act 2011 changes the nature of local government, it's worth reading the Plain English Guide, browsing the website or even (good luck) read the Act itself.

This post isn't about the Localism Act. It's about what kind of thing we might want local government to be.

I think this is timely, because, given the widespread public indifference to the Act (citation needed!), I've got a strong suspicion that there's a greater disparity right now than for many years between:
(i) public perceptions of local government;
(ii) the functions and powers of local government as laid out in legislation;
(iii) the customs and practices of local government.

To be honest, though, you're probably better off talking about "what kind of thing we might want local government to be" with all those councillors who grapple with this question day-by-day. But I'm still trying to think things through; hence this post.

I'd like to distinguish three types of localism.

1. Robotic Localism

"I think you ought to know
I'm feeling very depressed"
The first type of localism occurs when local government is large and involves efficient but uncreative administration of rules and procedures laid down by central government. The details of all possible services and decisions are carefully circumscribed. The goals are always those of central government. Anything other than minor local variations in choices is illegal. The decision-making processes are also strictly defined. There's limited discretion over income and expenditure. The role of the local voter is to assess the efficiency with which local government operates. Although this "Robotic" type of local government can be as big or as small as central government decrees, "Localism" is portrayed as occurring when local government is responsible for many large, complex, and important budgets and decisions.

2. Autonomous Localism

"Greasing the wheels"
The second type of localism is very market-oriented. Companies, institutions, charities, communities, and other organizations do pretty much what they like, within broad parameters laid done by central government. Similarly, local government has a high degree of autonomy to decide on what services it wishes to provide, and the mechanisms by which it provides them. It distributes and regulates contracts for its services, funded by the taxes it decides to levy. This type of local government can be as big or as small as it wishes to be. The role of the local voter is to assess the choice of services, the mechanisms by which they are provided, and the subsequent judgements. Central government may choose to regulate particular markets in additional ways, and set minimum standards for services, contracts and taxes, but otherwise largely leaves local government alone.

3. Delegation Localism

"The first rule of management is delegation.
Don't try and do everything yourself because you can't."
The third type of localism is characterised by central government delegating as many decisions as possible, to individual industries, businesses, hospitals, schools, and so on. As in Autonomous Localism, central government may choose to regulate particular markets in additional ways, but otherwise tries to keep out of the way as much as possible. Funding of organizations by central government is decided by formulas that may take account of particular circumstances to a greater or lesser degree; but organizations are encouraged to develop new income streams to maximise their power and to set up mechanisms for accountability to stakeholders. Similarly, central government delegates to local government as much as possible - the choices of taxes to be collected, of services to be provided, and of decisions to be made - without interfering in the operations of local autonomous organizations. As in Autonomous Localism, the local voter can judge local government by assessing the choice of services, the mechanisms by which they are provided, and the subsequent judgements; but since so many services are provided by local autonomous organizations, it is the stakeholders who have the primary role. Where accountability to those stakeholders fails, it is typically central government that takes the blame, rather than local government.

By the way, if you liked the caption for the above diagram, you might like to know it's a quote from that great sage Anthea Turner (!) Perhaps you might prefer "Surround yourself with great people; delegate authority; get out of the way". That's Ronald Reagan.

Concluding remarks

I think it's clear that, in broad brush terms, England is moving away from a kind of Robotic Localism that unashamedly wanted the whole country to receive the best services currently available ("‘We have lived too long with a system good for the few but not for the majority") and so set national targets ("It is not an arrogant government that chooses priorities, it's an irresponsible government that fails to choose."). And it is now moving towards a kind of Delegation Localism ("The Big Society", "core principles for modernising public services: choice, decentralisation, diversity, fairness and accountability").

It's also fairly clear that there are problems with Delegation Localism, particularly the limitations on local accountability and the limitations on control over what local services are funded and how.

There are also obvious problems with Autonomous Localism, but it seems to me there has been a lack of public debate about what type of localism we actually want, and how the particularly limitations are to be addressed.

Question for the reader: what other types of localism should we consider?

  • "Robot" by Andy Field (Hubmedia) [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
  • "Local government gears" by LonWon. [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • "Delegation localism" by LonWon. [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Sunday, March 11, 2012

LibDems: We must do better than this

Now I know how unbearably holier-than-thou my Labour friends must have found me when I incessantly derided their support for a Labour Government that took us to war in Iraq, that threw away hard-won civil liberties, and that contributed to causing the deficit crisis by overspending and under-regulating.

But here we are, just two years into a Conservative-LibDem coalition, and already the Government has passed the counter-productive Welfare Reform Act, gambled recklessly with our inestimable universities, and failed to fertilize the green growth that would invigorate this barren economy.

Now this weekend, Liberal Democrat voting representatives have shamefully failed to stop the Health and Social Care Bill, when it was within their power to do so.

Why "shameful"?

Well, I'm not going to rehash the arguments here about why this is a bad bill. Instead I will simply point out that despite all the efforts of LibDems to fix its flaws, the Bill still lacks a mandate, it is still dreadfully unclear, and it still has no professional buy-in.

But there's a far bigger failure here.

In his first inaugural address, talking about the deficit facing the US, Ronald Reagan declared "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

He was wrong. Coming together as a country and electing a small group of people to make decisions to our collective benefit is, I think, generally better than not doing so. Where he might have a point is that in trying to do good, governments can often end up doing bad.

This isn't surprising. It's hard to get cost-benefit calculations right because even simple actions in complex societies can have unintended consequences, and because freedom, social justice and future states of affairs are so hard to quantify.

This means we as a country should be a little forgiving of governments getting things wrong. But if they fail to stick to their mandates, fail to study the research evidence, fail to engage with expert opinion, fail to commission pilots, and fail to be scrupulously transparent in their decision-making, we have every right to condemn them.

A key objection is that if governments take time to make laws, the Opposition seizes the media agenda and accuses the Government of dragging its feet, losing its way, being indecisive, etc.

Big deal. We shouldn't let the media management tail wag the legislative dog.

This is not a liberal or democratic way to make laws. LibDems must do better than this.

Doing some good

It is stupid to blame the LibDems for everything the Coalition does. The LibDems have very little power: the voters in 2010 gave them just 57 seats out of 650 seats.

So it is to the credit of the LibDems that they have managed to leverage this limited power to...
  • shift taxes from low and middle earners to the richest
  • get extra money to schools to help poorer children
  • create more new apprenticeships than Britain has ever had before
  • create the world's first Green Investment Bank
  • restore the link between pensions and earnings
  • set-up proper regulation of the banks
  • restore many of the civil liberties thrown away by Labour
  • increase social housing for the first time in 30 years
  • halt Labour's post office closures

Do you think the Conservatives would have done these things if they'd had unbridled power?

Even more shaming: why did it take a Conservative-led coalition to do these things that a Labour government should have been doing?

But is it enough?

When it comes to the next election, the voters will do their own cost-benefit calculations. They will look at the Government's success in tackling Labour's deficit, and the inevitable costs to society.

And the voters will also separate out the LibDems' role.

Sure, they will look at the good things that were possible because the LibDems were sitting on the Government benches.

But the voters will also look at the things the Conservatives were able to do because the LibDems weren't sitting on the Opposition benches: the tuition fees debacle; the stifling of green growth; the many spiteful cuts that save little money but assuage Daily Mail readers; the Welfare Reform Act 2012; and the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

Is it enough?

I don't know.

But I do know that our bad bill-making practices are not winning us the media war in any shape or form.

We must do better than this.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Why is localism such a tough sell?

OK, I jest. I'm grossly ignoring all the solid, nuanced research studying senses of community, local identity, civic pride, etc. And the research studying the conflicted nature of many people's sense of Britishness. And the research studying the complex interplay between different kinds of identity.

Aside from all the evidence then (!) my instincts are that many people tend to perceive "local politics" as more fragmented, opaque, ambiguous, tenuous, and petty than "national politics".

This is not to say that such people's local political identity is necessarily like that. For many folks, local issues are more personal, relevant and important than (for them) the remote, alienating, argy-bargy of national politics. "Local political identity" is bound up with the street, the family and friends, the job, the pub, the chippy. It's about popping in on elderly neighbours, helping out at the school, doing a sponsored marathon. It's about campaigning for or against the bypass, defending the post office and the playgroup. It's about here.

Moreover, the jokey comparison pictures above don't make any sense for people who engage with councils on policy, who write to papers, attend public meetings as a matter of course, reply to consultations, and the like. The comparisons would look very different. That's fine. I'm not talking here about these folks here.

What do the people with negative perceptions of local politics think about local politicians? My instincts (again, blithely ignoring all evidence) are...
  • People who are wary of the competence of national politicians tend to be wary of local politicians more. After all, Westminster draws its talent from the whole country; whereas the local councils are just full of busy-bodies from hereabouts. So if you think MPs are bad, what must the councillors be like?! Please remember I'm talking about common perceptions that might explain why localism is a hard sell. These are not my views. I don't believe anything of the sort about councillors! Well, most councillors anyway... ;-)
  • People who are wary of the trustworthiness of national politicians tend to be wary of local politicians just as much. After all, (goes the belief) "They're all as bad as each other".
  • People who want national politicians to get a grip in a particular policy area don't want local politicians getting in the way of that. A "postcode lottery" is a bad thing, they might say, and at least if national politicians introduce something daft, every area of the country suffers, and it's not just our particular backwater.
  • People who want national politicians to stop trying to control everything don't want local politicians interfering either. It's "political correctness" gone mad", after all, and the more "bosses" the greater the chance of stupid ideas getting imposed on us.
It would be nice to test whether many people do actually think these things. Maybe someone has.

And if all this didn't make it hard enough to sell localism as a good idea, the identities of councils themselves (at least in England) are far from uniform. The parish, the district, the borough, the town, the city, the county... Who knows what the term "region" refers to, let alone a "Regional Development Agency"? And "district": it might have a million people in it or just 35,000. And even if your particular councils turn out to be ones with clear identities, don't let's get started on the boundaries of neighbouring councils... Moreover, terms like "municipal", "borough", "civil", "principal authorities", "unitary", "metropolitan" and "non-metropolitan" do not trip off the tongues of ordinary folk: they sound like words from the 1950s, spoken by grey men in glasses with black plastic frames.

Most importantly, which council does what? Do they look after the schools and hospitals and police too? And how well are they doing? And who scrutinises them? And what's the difference between an officer and a councillor? And between a Chief Executive and a Leader and a Mayor and a Lord Mayor? And how much do they get paid? And why do they make so many stupid decisions? And who do I talk to about...? And why do you only see councillors at election time? And can you believe anything they say in their leaflets? And... And... And... And what are they after? Who are these strange people who want to be councillors anyway?

For people associated with local government, this is probably nothing new. They come across such bewilderment very often. So they have no problem understanding why localism is a tough sell. And every bright innovation from Cabinets to Unitary Authorities to Directly Elected Mayors to Directly Elected Police Commissioners is, I'm sure, a well-intentioned attempt to help deal with this bewilderment.

And I don't have a solution.

But I want to flag up this problem, because I'm going to argue in a later blogpost that right now we need localism more than ever.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Policy development: Tories need gurus, Labour needs anger, LibDems need the wisdom of crowds

It's false, of course. Most parties have their own beloved gurus, one-man* think-tanks and provocative columnists. Most parties are also revitalised at times by emotion, particularly anger at injustice. And most parties rely to at least some extent on its activists for policy ideas.

The title then is a provocation, inspired by Maria Pretzler's neat contrast between the alleged implications of the departure of Steve Hilton from Downing Street and the distinctive policy role of the Liberal Democrats' conference.

There is a little truth in it, however. The Tories seem never more energized than when there's someone around (Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Boris Johnson...) who appears to know what they're doing, even if it's not fully worked through. (I'd suggest, though that they mostly didn't quite see Steve Hilton that way.)

Meanwhile, Labour often seems floundering unless it's passionately sticking up for the downtrodden. On the other hand, Labour was very successful at winning elections thanks to the impression that Tony Blair somehow managed to project of knowing what he was doing. Conversely, the Conservatives can be revitalized by anger too, some obvious examples being the EU, excessive taxation, and "political correctness".

The LibDems however... Does the party's conference really initiate the party's key ideas? Maria rightly points out the situation is more complicated than that. Mark Pack also recently noted a sudden and unfamiliar policy vacuum. The shock of being in power and achieving so many of its manifesto proposals might be to blame. Will this weekend's conference remedy that, or will it be entirely reactive to the Welfare Reform Act and the Health and Social Care Bill? We'll see.

My main point, though, is this. However useful they may be in facilitating political processes, I would suggest that gurus, emotions or bright radical ideas should not be the main focus of policy development. Working groups, committees, reviews, monographs, academic studies, limited pilots, and the like might be unglamorous, but they are how good policy gets developed: policy that clearly identifies the problems to be addressed, carefully compares a range of proposed solutions, and puts the best ones to the test. Let's not get caught up in simplistic populism.

* As in "one-man band", rather than think-tanks that necessarily exclude women. Is there a suitable gender neutral vernacular alternative?

- Collage uses "new guru" by Bopuc (CC BY 2.0), "protestthepope 11" by David Sim (CC BY 2.0), and "The staff at Liberal Democrat HQ" by Simon Cooper (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

I've had enough of Paxman

Watching Newsnight yesterday, something snapped.

I (and others) moan endlessly on Twitter about how dumbed down Newsnight has become, and about how lazy Jeremy Paxman's interviewing has become. Rather than dwelling on the negatives, I even tried to make some positive suggestions for helping Newsnight recover.

But I've had enough. Paxman is typically aggressive, provocative and rude. Sometimes smugly and smilingly condescending. And he almost always falls back on a small repertoire of tricks, such as "How can you say that when... [Report X has said something different]?", "Oh come off it!", "Do you agree with [ally Y] when he says...?", "Which is it: Yes or no?"

It's true that there are times when this style can help cut through flannel. But it's becoming overused and all too often reduces political discussion to something only slightly more grown-up than the Jeremy Kyle Show. A more clinical, well-briefed, forensic technique can actually help bring out weaknesses or implications of arguments that interviewees hadn't even considered. Think Andrew Neil at his best.

It's not just that Paxman's interviewing style is dated: He's also a particularly poor chair of discussions involving more than a few people. He fails to hide his contempt for particular people, parties and arguments. And he often seems unable to move on from trivial or superficial matters to the substance of an issue.

It doesn't have to be like this. I recently caught Channel 4 News for the first time in a long while (I'm not often available to watch television in the early evening) and the contrast with Newsnight was huge. Considered, probing, responsive. Everything Newsnight isn't, and should be. I also think Radio 4's The World at One and The World Tonight also get the journalism spot-on (although, again, I don't catch them as much as I'd like).

But Newsnight has always been the pre-eminent current affairs programme, so it has been hard to come to terms with its decline. It still holds a sway over many in politics, but I've come to believe that the trashing of serious discussion in favour of pantomime is doing our political discourse no favours.

To bolster my resolve, here are some Paxo moments of the past few years: