Talking Politics
  • Here’s David Cameron in February, on the married couple’s tax allowance:

    “This policy is about far more than pounds and pence; it’s about valuing commitment. Families are the bedrock of our society. It’s families who raise our children, look after our old and keep our country going. And this tax change is about saying as a society, we recognise that.”

    And here’s Andy, a British man separated from his wife by income restrictions on foreign spousal visas, speaking to me about what it had done to his family:

    “What sort of a man am I, that I can’t keep my family together? She’s in limbo, my kids are in limbo, I’m in limbo. No-one can believe my wife is being prevented from being with her baby boys. China has got its faults, but in terms of family they would never come between a parent and her child.”

    The Tories’ commitment to families was never worth the paper it was written on. While they issue proud words about the vital importance of parents staying together, they tear them apart behind the

    Read More »from The truth behind the rhetoric: UK hits bottom of family-friendly league table
  • By Robert Ledger

    Despite his best efforts, the prime minister is embroiled in an in/out debate over Europe. The opposition is in disarray and in the process of electing an unknown leader, but with only a slim majority the prime minister’s outward confidence and control will be sorely tested. His party has been split for decades over Europe. Some suspect mischief-making is afoot. They believe renegotiation will be fudged and grand claims made for what are ultimately cosmetic changes.

    Sound familiar? I’m actually talking about Harold Wilson in 1975 but the comparisons with David Cameron today are uncanny. Granted we can only take them so far. The EU today is larger and more complex than the European Community in 1975 and the issues that concern voters are somewhat different. In the 1970s, politicians were more concerned that European membership led to emigration rather than immigration.[1] And the support of the media and business cannot be taken for granted, as it was in 1975.


    Read More »from Even a Cameron victory on Europe won't save him
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    By Dan Wilson Craw

    If you were to believe the government, we are living in a time of plenty, with zero inflation, low unemployment and wage rises combining to boost living standards.

    For those of us who have been struggling with squeezed household budgets for the best part of a decade it is a welcome relief to see the cost of goods and services being held down. In a competitive market-driven economy, it should be natural for suppliers to make gradually more efficient use of resources and thus allow food, clothes and other basic human needs to sell for a lower price.

    But despite this there are 11 million people who are still stuck with a rising cost of living. They spend nearly half of their income on a single item, and its price rose by 2.5% in the year to June. If they live in London,the bill went up by 3.8%.

    This huge, rapidly rising cost is, of course, rent. Despite a generation of minimal regulation, rents set by the market, and a customer base which has doubled in size, private

    Read More »from Soaring rent is creating a two-tier society
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    It’s difficult to think of a more reprehensible response to the Calais crisis than the one David Cameron has presided over since last week. He began by describing migrants as a ‘swarm’. That rhetorical sign-post led to today’s policy announcement. Landlords who fail to demand papers from asylum seeker tenants or evict them will face five-years in jail. Failed asylum seeker families will have their benefits cut, plunging their children into hunger and destitution.

    Never mind that 30% of rejected asylum claims are overturned on appeal, suggesting a third of failed asylum seekers are genuine. Never mind that they anyway only receive £36 a week - the lowest imaginable sum with which someone could live in this country. Never mind that children who have escaped violence and persecution will go without food because of this policy. We are now in the brutalisation business. And we are in it actively.

    Theresa May’s joint message with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve is that British and

    Read More »from Cameron's asylum policy turns us all into pound shop Gestapos
  • By Jenny Bourne

    The family and friends of Sandra Bland have questions. They want to know how on earth this young and healthy black woman, who was pulled over by police for a minor traffic violation in Texas on July 10th, ended up dead in a Waller County cell from asphyxiation three days later.

    The officials imply she took her own life by hanging. Her supporters say that’s not credible.There has been an outcry in the US over this suspicious death in custody - just one of the many recent deaths of African Americans in custody or on the streets at the hands of trigger-happy local police officers. According to a survey by the Guardian, 664 people have died in policecustody in the US this year, of which 174 have been black. They are four times more likely than whites to be custody death victims.

    These recent US deaths and the subsequent community protests have made the headlines in the UK, too. This is somewhat ironic since the stories of black people who die in custody here rarely make the

    Read More »from Where is the outrage over Britain's Sandra Blands?
  • You don’t have to wait for the psychoactive substances bill to become law for the absurd spectacle of its enforcement. If you want a quick preview of what happens when society truly loses its mind over drugs, pop down to Lambeth after August 17th, when they’ll be imposing a ‘public spaces protection order’ banning…. well, pretty much everything.

    People within the 'restricted area’ will not be able to “ingest, inhale, inject, smoke, possess or otherwise use"… "substances with the capacity to stimulate or depress the central nervous system” according to the order.

    As has been well documented, virtually anything can “stimulate or depress” the central nervous system, including oxygen, flowers, incense, or paint. There’s no point going on. The list is endless. They might as well have written this thing up in crayons. Except it’s possible the crayons themselves would be banned by it.

    There are exemptions for alcohol (of course) as well as “substances used for a valid and demonstrable medicinal

    Read More »from The madness begins: Lambeth bans everything in legal high crack-down
  • By Steve Moore

    Cast your mind back to November 15th 2012. A new dawn for democracy in England and Wales, was it not? Alas 85% of us had better things to do rather than take the time out to vote for a local police and crime commissioner (PCC). But 41 were duly elected anyway to provide direct local links between the public and the police.

    Hardly anyone noticed or much cared. Like so much of the ‘big society’, the innovation survived just about unscathed from its first exposure to public apathy. No wonder the then-Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude proclaimed that “transferring power out of Whitehall was like trying to pull chewing gum of your shoe”.

    Then last week Ron Hogg emerged into the light. Hogg is an avuncular Scottish teacher turned police officer, who previously made his name by heading up the police unit attached to the England World Cup supporters in 2002. He’s served as a PCC for Durham for four years. During his tenure Hogg started a dialogue with Michael Fisher (aka Ziggy

    Read More »from Police commissioners offer fresh hope for cannabis reform
  • On the morning of June 30th, they banned smoking in Melbourne prison. By afternoon, one of the worst riots in recent Australian penal history had broken out. Hundreds of inmates lit fires, broke walls and smashed windows in a 15-hour outbreak of disorder. Staff were evacuated and police units sent in. Footage from news helicopters showed prisoners wandering the grounds with their faces covered and sticks in their hands knocking down doors.

    By the next week, Western Australia’s correctional services minister, Joe Francis, decided he wouldn’t be following Victoria’s example. But in the UK, a recent court battle has seen a judge rule that there is no prison exemption from the smoking ban. Under fierce pressure from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) and other anti-smoking groups, the government is planning on a pilot scheme banning smoking in prisons in Wales and the south-west, with a view to an eventual nationwide roll-out.

    “It would be crazy,” former prisoner Stephen Gedge says. “If

    Read More »from 'It'll be hell': The view from inside prison about a smoking ban
  • One key aspect has been missing from Michael Gove’s growing commitment to a more liberal prison policy: an understanding of numbers. After a very well-received speech earlier this month in which he outlined his thinking on the subject, the new justice secretary was asked if he recognised that without reducing the number of prisoners, and therefore improving the staff-to-inmate ratio, it would be impossible to give them the attention they needed for rehabilitation.

    Gove parked it. He gave what I thought to be a certain nod-of-the-head – or at least he did not rule it out. But he refused to say that prisoner numbers needed to be reduced.

    Today, in a remarkable statement from chief prison inspector Nick Hardwick, that point was made again, this time more forcefully. It came at the end of a damning report on conditions in Wandsworth prison, which holds 1,630 adult men – 70% of its certified normal accommodation of 963. Meanwhile, there were “severe staffing shortages” – where staff were down

    Read More »from Prison inspector to Gove: You need to reduce prison numbers
  • After a very drab and lifeless Labour leadership race, the sudden surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn has at last provided some entertainment by scaring the hell out of most media commentators. A private poll reported by the Mirror this morning showed he had actually extended his lead over his rivals, with Yvette Cooper skipping over Andy Burnham to take the second spot while Liz Kendall, the only one of the candidates who has even a flicker of a chance of winning, trails in fourth.

    The idea that a left-winger could win the Labour leadership is being treated as akin to a swarm of locusts blotting out the sun. The newspapers which spent so long praising Nigel Farage’s hard-right agenda as plain-speaking, man-of-the-people political genius are now falling over themselves to warn Labour off electing someone radical on the left. Labour officials are double-checking everyone who signs up to the party as a potential ‘entryist’. The party is as terrified of democracy as it has ever been. Its

    Read More »from What Jeremy Corbyn could learn from Liz Kendall


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