A one term government? PAIR research cited in The Guardian today…

Research on the politics of competence by Dr Will Jennings (PAIR) and Dr Jane Green (University of Manchester) is mentioned in an article by Polly Toynbee in The Guardian today. Toynbee expresses surprise at the unexpected prevalence of policy failures and disasters under the Coalition Government. Something few commentators would have anticipated in May 2010, but encapsulated in the ‘omnishambles’ budget of 2012, which combined PR disasters with screeching policy U-turns.

 In the Economic and Social Research Council’s annual report – Britain in 2013 – the work of Green and Jennings shows how the competence of a government trumps everything else in public opinion. The public’s cumulative view spreads across all issues, one major failure dragging everything with it. The competence ratings of all governments decline over time, but this one squanders it at break-neck speed.

Whether or not the respective partners of the Coalition can reverse their political fortunes in time for the next election is too early to tell, but it is increasingly clear that perceived competence matters.

Detonation Scrutiny: the Public Accounts Committee conclusions on UK corporation tax

By Dr Alexandra Kelso, Senior Lecturer in Politics

Something interesting has begun happening at Westminster, and if you want to know what, you need to prowl the committee corridors to find out. House of Commons select committees have not only discovered that they are in possession of some pretty sharp teeth, but have increasingly realised how to use them to devastating effect.

The Public Accounts Committee today published its report on HM Revenue & Customs, which was trailed to great effect a few weeks ago when the committee MPs took evidence from Starbucks, Amazon and Google and roundly condemned them for the low rates of corporation tax they paid. The report leads today’s news, focusing attention on the committee’s arguments about how multinationals use tax structures and legislation in order to minimise taxable income, arguments which have already prompted action. Over the weekend, Starbucks attempted to defuse this detonation by announcing it was ‘talking’ with HMRC about its tax liabilities, which was perceived as geared towards avoiding a potential/actual customer boycott. The PAC report also accuses some of its witnesses in giving ‘evasive’ evidence, a problem that select committees are now tackling head on through a strategy of naming and shaming.

The PAC – with its supremely coordinated pincer movements between Labour chair Margaret Hodge and Richard Bacon as the ranking Conservative – provides regular evidence of the ability of Commons select committees not only to expose serious public policy matters to the oxygen of publicity, but also to use their power of evidence-taking to put tremendous pressure on the narratives and accounts offered by witnesses, whoever they may be. And, as the PAC’s report today shows, in drawing difficult conclusions and adopting media-savvy strategies, select committees can detonate a bomb beneath public debate and prompt action on pressing issues, in a way that few other public forums can.

Some people still say parliament doesn’t matter, but that’s becoming an increasingly difficult argument to sustain. Select committees used to be described as toothless and pointless. No longer.