Five of the Best

The top five pieces on the death of Ted Kennedy

The New Republic's Sean Wilentz reflects on Kennedy's political durability and tenacity:

The sadness, the squandering, the might-have-beens of his life would have crushed others, but Kennedy endured, his principles intact. Of him, it could be written, in Yeats's words, that "[b]eing Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy".

The New York Times's Sarah Wheaton discusses the complex process for electing a successor to Kennedy. In 2004 Massachusetts law was amended to prevent the state governor appointing a temporary replacement and the wait for a special election may hinder the Democrats' attempts to muster the necessary votes for health-care reform.

When Senator John Kerry, a Democrat, was running for president in 2004, the Democratic-controlled state legislature wanted to deny the governor at the time -- Mitt Romney, a Republican -- the power to name a successor if Mr Kerry won. The resulting law requires a special election within 145 to 160 days after the vacancy occurs.

The Guardian's Michael White argues that Kennedy represented the "redemptive power of American life" despite his dark side:

I remain a stubborn believer in the redemptive capacity of American public life. Health-care reform, the parallel battle over climate change, the unravelling of the Bush administration's torture policies . . . It is currently very tough, but this is also evidence of the United States's enduring ability to repair its own mistakes.

Ted Kennedy was born to privilege and screwed it up. But he went a long way towards repaying his debts.

Steve Clemons writes in the Huffington Post that Kennedy was the "last lion" of the United States Senate:

Senator Kennedy's political franchise had no rival in the legislative branch of government, and the youngest brother of the Kennedy political trio may very well have been the very best "Executive Legislator" this country has ever seen.

Over at Salon, Joan Walsh rebukes Senator Orrin Hatch for suggesting that Kennedy would have sponsored a bipartisan health-care bill:

That's completely dishonest. If Kennedy moved hearts and minds in the Senate, it would be by moving Republicans towards sanity. Since I don't believe Republicans have any interest in bipartisan compromise, a healthy Ted Kennedy would be kicking Republican asses.


George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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David Cameron’s starter homes: poor policy, but good politics

David Cameron's electoral coalition of buy-to-let retirees and dual-earner couples remains intact: for now.

The only working age demographic to do better under the Coalition was dual-earner couples – without children. They were the main beneficiaries of the threshold raise – which may “take the poorest out of tax” in theory but in practice hands a sizeable tax cut to peope earning above average. They will reap the fruits of the government’s Help to Buy ISAs. And, not having children, they were insulated from cuts to child tax credits, reductions in public services, and the rising cost of childcare. (Childcare costs now mean a couple on average income, working full-time, find that the extra earnings from both remaining in work are wiped out by the costs of care)

And they were a vital part of the Conservatives’ electoral coalition. Voters who lived in new housing estates on the edges of seats like Amber Valley and throughout the Midlands overwhelmingly backed the Conservatives.

That’s the political backdrop to David Cameron’s announcement later today to change planning to unlock new housing units – what the government dubs “Starter Homes”. The government will redefine “affordable housing”  to up to £250,000 outside of London and £450,000 and under within it, while reducing the ability of councils to insist on certain types of buildings. He’ll describe it as part of the drive to make the next ten years “the turnaround decade”: years in which people will feel more in control of their lives, more affluent, and more successful.

The end result: a proliferation of one and two bedroom flats and homes, available to the highly-paid: and to that vital component of Cameron’s coalition: the dual-earner, childless couple, particularly in the Midlands, where the housing market is not yet in a state of crisis. (And it's not bad for that other pillar of the Conservative majority: well-heeled pensioners using buy-to-let as a pension plan.)

The policy may well be junk-rated but the politics has a triple A rating: along with affluent retirees, if the Conservatives can keep those dual-earner couples in the Tory column, they will remain in office for the forseeable future.

Just one problem, really: what happens if they decide they want room for kids? Cameron’s “turnaround decade” might end up in entirely the wrong sort of turnaround for Conservative prospects.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.