• It was nothing flashy, but Harriet Harman came out of PMQs having achieved much more than it first appeared.

    The acting Labour leader is waiting – seemingly forever – for someone to take over. She can barely hide the fact she doesn’t want to be there anymore. Harman is a very capable public speaker and politician, but she’s just not into it at the moment. She radiates exasperation, like a teenager in the back of a car on a long journey. Cameron always seems to like and admire her, so it’s all fairly respectful, if a little dull.

    He dealt with her pretty well and will be perfectly satisfied with his performance. There were certainly no knock-out blows. But Harman did pin him down on tax credits, a benefit paid to people in work but on low wages. Her party – which still seems in shock, incidentally – should be grateful to her for it. There’s potential here to carve out a political space on benefits which satisfies Labour’s soul and the public mood.

    Cameron’s speech on benefits and income

    Read More »from PMQs verdict: Harman struggles, but pins Cameron down on tax credits
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    In 1866 – a year before the Second Reform Act extended the vote to one in three men – there were fevered debates in Parliament about how enfranchising ordinary people could threaten the wealthy elite’s own privileged position.

    Tory statesman Lord Salisbury complained that it would encourage the working classes to pass “laws with respect to taxation and property especially favourable to them, and therefore dangerous to all other classes”.

    He was right. Given a voice, those at the bottom of the social order would want to take influence and wealth from those at the top and redistribute it throughout society.

    Or, put in the simplest possible terms, they would use their votes to help them buy the things they needed, such as pensions and healthcare, but couldn’t otherwise afford.

    Yes, that’s democracy – and someone should tell Iain Duncan Smith before he gets more angry about the idea of working class people being listened to, or “bribed”, with state support to enable them to live off their

    Read More »from IDS is right: Labour DID bribe voters. Because giving the electorate what they want is DEMOCRACY
  • As former justice secretary Chris Grayling used to regularly say: there is no prison crisis. It’s too early yet to know if his successor, Michael Gove, agrees. But one of the items which will undoubtable make its way across his desk this week is the report into Pentonville prison. It suggests otherwise.

    In September 2013, prison inspector Nick Hardwick warned that Pentonville was performing badly and needed to be urgently turned around. There followed several months in which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) did very little, except for deny that there was a prison crisis and berate those who suggested otherwise. In those 17 months the situation deteriorated.

    It is, beyond anything else, a question of capacity. The Victorian prison holds 1,200 adults and young adult men, including some of the most “demanding and needy” prisoners. It has an extremely high turnover, with 100 new prisoners arriving every week. There are very high levels of staff sickness and ongoing recruitment problems. The

    Read More »from Pentonville: An imaginary disaster in an imaginary prison crisis
  • After six weeks Michael Gove has emerged from studying the state of the justice system and issued his opening proclamation. He’ll have been pleased by the reception. Despite there being very little meat on the bones, it has won considerable press attention with big write-ups in the major papers.

    Partly that’s due to good timing. We’re not quite in silly season, but political news from Westminster is growing increasingly scarce and news desks are desperate to move on from Greece and the Eurozone. But the coverage dedicated to this speech is partly a testament to Gove himself. He’s known as a fighter. So even though there is more rhetoric than policy in this speech, it’s being treated as a preview of the battle with the legal industry which Gove will invariably end up in. The newspapers today are like those kids at school who would notify everyone in the playground of a fight when two boys looked like they were about to go at it. “Fight! Fight! Read all about it”

    Before the fight starts –

    Read More »from Gove decoded: Is the new justice secretary serious about fixing the justice system?
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    One of the ironies of the BBC is that it conducts its battles with government so nervously, given their comparative levels of public trust. As poll after poll shows, people don’t trust the government, but they do trust, and like, the BBC. And yet two stories from this weekend – Cameron’s might-have-been-a-joke comment that he’d close the BBC down and director general Tony Hall’s acceptance that the licence fee would only last another ten years – showed how disconnected the BBC’s confidence is from its performance.

    Nick Robinson’s odd revelation yesterday that the prime minister had said he would “close them down after the election” could have been a joke. But, as he wrote afterwards, “it doesn’t really matter… the people who did [work for the BBC] regarded it as yet another bit of pressure and a sort of sense of ‘don’t forget who’s boss here’”.

    A sense took hold among senior Tories during the election that the BBC was fighting for a Labour victory. It was an absurd charge which did more

    Read More »from BBC must have confidence in itself if it's to survive coming battle with government
  • The government’s drug experts could not be described as radical libertarians. They are a conservative bunch, assessing drug harms and usually reaching a decision which recommends maintaining or adopting a prohibitionist stance against various narcotics. But even they have now become too liberal for the Home Office.

    One of the least-noticed aspects of the new psychoactive substances bill is that it effectively scraps the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). For years this relatively timid body has been a thorn in the government’s side. Its former boss, David Nutt, had to resign when he pointed out various statistical truths about the minimal risk of ecstasy to the then-home secretary, Alan Johnson. It recently advised the government not to ban the relatively harmless drug khat, which it ignored. It then recommended that it refrain from banning the even more harmless drug nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. It ignored this too.

    It is now clear that the council’s days are

    Read More »from The government is silencing its own drug experts
  • David Cameron wants you to look at the causes of terrorism, but not too closely.

    His speech on extremism and terrorism today suggests the Muslim community is “quietly condoning” anti-Western ideology and that this is behind the rise in British Muslims travelling to fight and die for Isis in Syria.

    This is how Cameron operates, in case after case. It is not quite his fault. It is the fault of conservatism. When your primary analysis is that things should stay roughly as they are, you are liable to come up with highly superficial assessments of why they might have gone wrong.

    The key section of Cameron’s speech – which was briefed to journalists overnight – is worth quoting in full. It is rather clunky, I’m afraid, but revealing.

    “The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview? I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist

    Read More »from We are all victims of Cameron's complacency on terrorism
  • Last night confirmed what everyone already thought: Labour is in serious trouble. Any Tory tuning in will have been immensely comforted by the spectacle of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall in Labour’s first leadership hustings.

    None of the candidates are particularly inspiring. None offered a political assessment of the country or the party which was in any way original or revealing. Two of them - Burnham and Cooper - seemed to have no political assessments to offer at all. The remaining two were playing old tunes, Corbyn from 80s, Kendall from the 90s.

    Kendall’s politics happen to be the most misguided of all the candidates. She wants to embrace the right in a way which does not correspond to the evidence of electoral demand but instead follows the prescriptions of right-wing newspapers. Such a move would give up on Scotland, worsen the party’s performance in its heartland and try to fight the Tories in a battlefield of their choosing, where they are

    Read More »from Labour hustings verdict: The candidates are awful, but Kendall is probably the least awful
  • Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords

    By Peter Reynolds

    Yesterday, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords. The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled out of schedule one - which determines that it has no medicinal value - to schedule two or three, which would allow doctors to prescribe it and researchers to use it more easily in studies and clinical trials.

    The government behaved exactly as expected.  The most generous interpretation is that its spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher’s question was to parrot the Home Office’s usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug etc etc.

    A video of the eight minute debate is available here.  A full transcript is here.

    This, of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use.  Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit.  The government’s standard and dishonest line is to answer questions on medicinal use with wildly

    Read More »from Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords
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    “Why don’t you f*** off and die – and not in that order”: Boris Johnson’s late-night, foul-mouthed rant at a black-cab driver while cycling is no less than I’d expect.

    Not because Johnson is a Tory (though it would be an accurate mantra for his party), nor because the cabbie was aggressive (and he was) – but because the London mayor is one of a legion of wealthy cyclists who turn into rude renegades when they get on their bikes and roam the streets of the capital like wild dogs.

    I once worked with a man who, while admitting that he didn’t really need a job since his partner was a banker, cheerfully regaled how he had spat in the face of a taxi driver stopped at a traffic light that morning, having furiously ridden after him because the cabbie had “cut him up”.

    Indeed, a great many drivers in London will have witnessed at least once a biker shouting or swearing at either them or another motorist.

    Now, of course, the city’s roads are often hazardous for cyclists – you only need to glance at

    Read More »from Boris Johnson’s foul-mouthed rant is typical of London’s vile wealthy cyclists


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