Blog Posts by Alex Stevenson

  • Gordon Brown's North Sea oil promise offers Scottish Labour a flicker of hope

    Gordon Brown’s call for a nationalisation of North Sea oil has left the industry cold - but then energy firms aren’t the former prime minister’s target audience, are they?

    "It’s all about the oil, isn’t it?" one committed nationalist told me on the shores of the Forth last September. "It’ll be around for years to come. Just think what we could do with the money."

    It was a surreal situation - the harbourmaster of a tiny port in north-east Scotland talking about the benefits North Sea oil could bring to his nation, if only they had control of it. Out in the estuary a distant oil rig could be seen on the horizon. Despite the fact that North Sea oil is set to fall to just 1.3 million barrels a day in 2018 from a peak of 4.3 million barrels in 1999, this harbourmaster was completely confident a Scottish government could turn it around.

    He would have been bitterly disappointed by the referendum result. The No campaign’s victory was achieved in part because of Brown’s last-gasp interventions.

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  • Another win for Farage

    A little trouble over Geneva bank accounts at HSBC made Nigel Farage the clear winner in this week’s prime minister’s questions.

    Labour supporters might complain at this, on the basis that even when Ed Miliband sweeps the floor he doesn’t get the credit. Miliband is certainly in need of a triumph after his recent dismal failures. And he looked unusually chipper after his six questions on political donors who held Swiss bank accounts with HSBC, fidgeting between heckles and giggles. If this is what he’s like when he does well at PMQs, he may need physically restraining if he wins the general election.

    The problem with Miliband’s line of attack was that, while the Conservatives come out worse, Labour is not squeaky clean. Cameron usually resorts to bullying his way out of trouble. Today he tried to drag Miliband down with him. It was like that scene in the Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf gets pulled down into the abyss by a large red beast. Only in this version Frodo Farage looks on,

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  • If this is how our MPs behave, this is no time for celebrating democracy


    The establishment wants to celebrate British democracy this week - but PMQs served to remind us exactly what’s wrong with the current system.

    It was a question from Mark Reckless, the Ukip defector, which stuck out from all the others. What he said doesn’t matter much; it was the prime minister’s reply that was important. “Mr Farage said ‘we’re going to have to move to an insurance-based system of healthcare’,” David Cameron said. “That is the Ukip policy - privatise the NHS. I say never!” Here was the PM, directly attacking Nigel Farage on the floor of the Commons. It reminded us all just how little Ukip’s policies attract criticism in parliament: their lack of representation makes them virtually immune. So the sight of Cameron taking on Farage directly was an unusual one.

    Contrast this with the main exchanges, when Miliband and Cameron did what they’ve been doing for years yet again. Their argument over the economy boils down to a question of whether you think living standards are

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  • There's a gaping hole in Ed Miliband's voter registration speech


    There’s a gigantic hole in Ed Miliband’s speech on voter registration - and much of the media coverage surrounding the “scandal” of the coalition’s reforms.

    Let’s be clear - this really is a scandal. has already reported on the problems caused by the transition to individual electoral registration, which is threatening to benefit the Conservatives’ hopes of winning the general election.

    The problem is, it’s not the 2015 election which is at stake. As next to no-one has mentioned in the reporting on Miliband’s speech, it’s the 2020 election which is actually going to be affected.

    That’s because the government saw this attack coming and has already acted to try and negate it as much as possible.

    It’s doing so via a very simple step. Anyone who disappears from the register since the last canvass under the old system will be automatically carried over to the new register for 2015. Those million voters who have vanished, many of which are students, will all still be

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  • We're all to blame for child sexual exploitation


    Instead of protecting our young from the evils of sexual exploitation, we are blaming them for it. No wonder an MP’s campaign to remove the term ‘child prostitution’ from the statute book is struggling to gain traction.

    Ann Coffey is trying hard. She’s the Labour MP for Stockport whose report on child sexual exploitation, Real Voices, shone a light on the depths of the problem. Removing ‘child prostitution’ from legislation was just one of its many recommendations; she’ll be pushing for it in amendments to the serious crime bill going through parliament this winter.

    "There is no such thing as a child prostitute," she told MPs earlier this week. "Only a sexually abused or exploited child." The term ‘prostitute’ implies an element of complicity, a consensual contract between two equal parties. Coffey doesn’t like it one bit. Neither does the minister, Karen Bradley, who said in her response:

    "I want to be absolutely clear that children who are sexually exploited, whether for commercial

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  • The Tories are buying the 2015 general election - and Labour can't compete


    Labour’s masterplan to win the 2015 general election through chit-chat rather than cash is riddled with holes – and allows the Conservatives buy their way back into power.

    Ed Miliband’s campaign launch in Salford today contains a bold ambition: a call on his party’s supporters to double the number of conversations they hold with voters in the run-up to polling day on May 7th.

    Four million individual chinwags is a lot, but Labour thinks they can make a real difference. In 2010, constituencies where the party contacted 30% of voters saw an improvement in Labour’s share of the vote of over five per cent. That might not sound like much but it could be enough to take Labour over the line in the most critical marginals.

    Much of the work has already been done, too. Labour was averaging 21% of voters in the autumn and was pushing to reach an average of 25% by the new year. It has 17 weeks to get that proportion up to 30% and make the difference.

    As Douglas Alexander, Labour’s general election

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  • English votes for English laws? No chance


    Bitterly partisan and failing to display any signs of agreement, MPs’ failure to rise to the occasion on English votes for English laws shows they are beyond redemption.

    What made the response to William Hague’s statement on English devolution yesterday so depressing is that the Commons just carried on with business as usual.

    The frontbenchers exchanged barbs over the relative failures in government of the coalition and of New Labour. The backbenchers heckled about the irrelevant Barnett formula and a dozen of their own half-developed ideas. They cancelled each other out, leaving an absence of anything meaningful.

    They have also combined together to collectively break a big pledge from the prime minister.

    Speaking in the early morning of September 19th, soon after the ‘No’ result was confirmed, David Cameron promised to English voters that his government would pursue an answer to the West Lothian Question "in tandem" with the Scottish devolution timetable. It was a pledge every bit as

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  • Porn protest: It's politics, but not as we know it


    So this is what happens when ultra-liberal pro-porn protesters demonstrate against censorship by sitting on each others’ faces.

    It was, without doubt, one of the oddest political protests ever. There was something about this combination of outlandish sexuality with free speech rhetoric that was utterly unpredictable. The mind boggled. Reading on, you should be warned, is only going to make the mind-boggling worse.

    The moment of truth came after the speeches when, in planners’ excited minds, a man from the Guinness Book of World Records would stand with a clipboard counting the unprecedented hundreds of couples engaged in face-sitting. The reality was slightly more hesitant. “Who wants to donate their face?” one girl asked near me. “I’ll donate my face,” a young-looking chap said meekly from the throng nearby. Both looked pleased. They were complete strangers but, somehow, circumstances had collided to create a situation where he was about to lie down on the ground and be sat on by her.

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  • Prisoner book ban judgement: Grayling's views found to be 'absurd' and 'strange'


    Last Friday a judge ruled the government’s ‘prisoner book ban’ is unlawful. We’ve been through the judgement so you don’t have to.

    Mr Justice Collins, in delivering the judgement that rules that the restrictions on prisoners’ access to books are unlawful, reserves special criticism for the justice secretary.

    He notes that Grayling said on March 29th that prisoners were able to order books from Amazon using their prison earnings or money sent in by relatives.

    "This I am bound to say was somewhat misleading," the judge states, "since it seemed to indicate that money sent in could be used with no constraints. In reality, that is not so since a prisoner cannot spend more than his or her weekly limit, however much is sent in by relatives or friends". Under the ‘basic’ tier, that is just £4 a week. Even under the top ‘enhanced’ tier it amounts to just £25.50.

    The claimant referred to comments by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg that a ban on sending books to prisoners “would be ridiculous”

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  • George Osborne's autumn statement is a sham


    Four years ago George Osborne dreamed his 2014 autumn statement would be a moment of euphoric triumph. The reality is a living nightmare - and one the chancellor is trying to cover up.

    No wonder they were yelling so loudly. This is the issue on which the Conservatives hope to win the election. They want the virtuousness of their economic credibility to crowd out any other gripes about immigration, or the NHS, or anything else the country wants to talk about. It’s why No 10 has cleared the decks before this week. Nothing is supposed to get in the way of Osborne’s message.

    It is an autumn statement built on dust. In a nation still groping around for any evidence of a meaningful recovery, the man in charge of the nation’s finances has tried as hard as he can to suggest everything is alright.

    But nothing is alright. It is falling to pieces. The forecasts, the hopes, the optimism of the Office of Budget Responsibility have been proved just as false as the Treasury officials they replaced.

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