Blog Posts by Ian Dunt

  • How did Maria Miller keep her job?

    Maria Miller has been forced to repay expenses and apologise to the Commons. Yet somehow she is still in her job.

    The perfunctory apology lasted just 31 seconds and was delivered with an unmistakeable air of resentment, despite other Tory front benchers gathering around her in solidarity.

    The papers this morning have their knives out. The Mail branded it an insult to parliament. The Telegraph suggested MPs had conspired to save her. The media response is given extra urgency by her leading role in the negotiations over press regulation.

    When the allegations about Miller were put to her special adviser, she responded by observing that her boss had been having high-level meetings with editors recently, and perhaps the journalist wanted to think carefully about his story. This barely-concealed threat raised eyebrows in Fleet Street and confirmed many journalists' suspicions about what regulation of the press would look like.

    Miller is not even considered particularly talented. Even

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  • Why has Grayling banned prisoners being sent books?

    By Frances Crook

    New rules introduced by the justice secretary ban anyone sending in books to prisoners. From now on, any man, woman or child in prison will not be able to receive a book from outside. This is part of an increasingly irrational punishment regime orchestrated by Chris Grayling that grabs headlines but restricts education or rehabilitation.

    The rules governing possessions of prisoners are arcane and not consistently applied by every prison. These new restrictions relate to a downgrading of the system of rewards and punishments, ostensibly designed to encourage prisoners to comply with prison rules.  Yet the ban on receiving books is a blanket decision, so no matter how compliant and well behaved you are, no prisoner will be allowed to receive books from the outside.

    Last November new rules were introduced so that families are no longer permitted to send in small items to prisoners. Children are not allowed to send a homemade birthday card. Prisoners with a particular

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  • Power grab: HMRC can now take money directly from your bank account

    Buried deep in the Budget document, there's a pretty significant HMRC power grab.

    If officials decide you owe them money, they now have the ability to take it directly out your bank account. No insolvency proceedings, asset freezes or debt collection agencies. Just the government taking out whatever it thinks it's owed.

    There are restrictions. The power can only be used once you've received a couple of letters and a phone call from enforcement. It only applies to people who owe over £1,000. HMRC must leave at least £5,000 in your account.

    Once they get the money they put it on hold for 14 days and you've got a chance to get in touch and set up a payment plan. If you don't, or you still refuse to pay up, they go ahead and keep it.

    All's fair in tax dodging, you might think – and indeed that will be the sentiment that George Osborne hopes will override concerns about the policy.

    But the plot thickens.

    A couple of points above the bank account section, there is another power HMRC has

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  • The socialism of humanity: A tribute to Tony Benn

    Many years ago, where Parliament Square turns into Millbank, I spotted Tony Benn. He was sat on a low wall, alone, smoking his pipe and basking in sunlight.

    I'm not usually reticent about approaching people nor nervous talking to them. But he was too big. His influence had been too great. At best, I would have garbled out a stream of gushing praise. At worst I would have been simply speechless. I chickened out.

    Benn was not lacking in people telling him how much he meant to them – moments after I failed to do so a couple of middle aged women, evidently braver than I, did precisely that. But I still regret that I didn't tell him how he taught me the best side of socialism and the appropriate manner in which to conduct politics.

    I first heard him in the back seat of my parent's car when I was in my early teens, on a radio documentary about Karl Marx. Benn said something about Marxism which I never forgot: That it was for those who could not understand why there should be people without

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  • The leak which offers a rare glimpse into secret EU-US free market talks

    Last week, German Green MEP Sven Giegold took a big risk. He leaked confidential Council of Ministers documents.

    Until now, European citizens weren't allowed access to details of how their rights are undermined by foreign corporations. EU-US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are taking place in Brussels this week, would give corporations litigation rights over national parliaments, meaning any policy which loses them money will be severely punished in the arbitration tribunals.

    That means it will be financially ruinous to get private sector providers out of the NHS or education services. It means weaker US-style consumer protections imposed in Europe. And it means campaigners will be helpless to prevent fracking.

    The proposals are the largest trade deal in human history. They are a constitutional game-changer, giving foreign companies rights over national parliaments.

    Consequently, they are clouded in mystery. The only sound you can hear

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  • Bob Crow was a testament to what trade unionists can achieve

    Many people – particularly those who commuted in London - disliked Bob Crow.

    He was an inconvenience. The strikes which beset London Underground were usually accompanied by his gruff, snarling face making demands via a TV news camera on the picket line.

    He was like a figure from another time, a cut-out of 1970's trade unionism still alive and kicking in the 21st Century. He was a part of a political consensus which was supposed to be hopelessly wrapped up in the past.

    But what Crow was really doing was extraordinarily simple. He was doing his job.

    He was representing his members. He was standing up for the workers who comprised his union.

    He fought off attempts to apply the same low-pay, hire-and-fire culture to London Underground as was being imposed elsewhere in the economy.

    "It wasn't our members who created the downturn and we will not be bullied into accepting that they should be forced to pay for an economic crisis that was cooked up by the bankers and the politicians," he said

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  • The court judgement on loving an immigrant

    Nestled away in the court of appeal today is a case which will decide whether British citizens are allowed to live with the person they love.

    Having even reached this point is, of course, a moral disaster. But this is where we are.

    Last summer Theresa May lost a crucial case concerning her requirements for UK citizens marrying someone from outside the EU.

    Under rules put in place by the home secretary, only Brits earning £18,600 can bring their loved ones to the UK. It rises to £22,400 if you have a child and an additional £2,400 for each further child. Under the system, 40% of the British working population are prevented from bringing a foreign spouse to live with them.

    I have spoken to people whose spouse earns many multiples of that amount - but it doesn't count. The current or expected spousal income is not taken into consideration. I have met people who have family members or friends willing to demonstrate to the state that they are prepared to support the couple - a system used

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  • It looks like drug reformers are about to get a foothold in policy

    If Norman Baker's comment this morning is true, we're about to enter unprecedented territory in the drug law debate.

    The liberal (with a big and a small 'l') minister is suspected of either going native at the Home Office or acting as a trojan horse for Nick Clegg's progressive views on drugs. His comments in the pages of today's Times only serve to make his role murkier.

    Baker said he was considering plans to licence shops to sell legal highs,in a bid to bring the trade under the control of regulators.

    He added:

    "We should maybe look at licensing them like sex shops with blacked-out windows and not allowing under-18s in."

    The comment won swift support from drug law reformers.

    Danny Kushlik from Transform Drug Policy Foundation said:

    "Norman Baker deserves enormous respect for broaching the issue of the legal regulation of legal highs. His clarion call for responsible government control prioritises citizens' health and safety over populist grandstanding and 'tough on
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  • The Germans did not elect Angela Merkel because of her charisma. She's not one for soaring rhetoric or dramatic oration.

    There is a sort of stillness to her, a low-key, unfussy confidence. Even in a speech about the future of Europe, which is not a small subject, she couldn't resist slipping into the nitty-gritty. The poetic abstractions of which great speeches are made are alien to her.

    They put the German chancellor in the Royal Gallery, presumably because Daniel Maclise's mural of Waterloo is there, showing the Duke of Wellington meeting Marshal Blucher, the leader of Prussian forces, and turning the tide of battle. The mural now looks faded and brown, the images of stout dead Englishman and firm military handshakes hard to decipher. Make of that what you will.

    Once the speech was over they gave Merkel a private showing of historic Acts of parliament highlighting Anglo-German cooperation, including the Act for the Naturalisation of his Serene Highness Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg

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  • The EU-US treaty which overrules Westminster

    Imagine you introduced a government bill creating massive financial penalties for any policy which was not in the interests of corporations.
    It would be the subject of fierce debate. But do it at an EU level and no-one even notices.

    That surely is the most seductive aspect of the EU for governments and corporations: no-one cares what you get up to in Brussels.

    Right now, late-stage negotiations are taking place between the EU and the US which would make it financially calamitous for a national state to do anything against the interest of corporations.

    Hardly anyone even knows it is happening.

    When it is passed, it will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in the history of mankind - and it will barely warrant a mention outside of the business pages.

    It's called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Inside it is an innocuous-sounding provision called the 'investor-state dispute settlement'. This allows private companies to sue nation states if they feel a law lost

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