Talking Politics
  • By Andy Slaughter MP

    The lord chancellor, Chris Grayling, is no friend to those of modest means seeking justice from his courts. He has cut a quarter of the legal aid budget, set court and tribunal fees at unaffordable levels, and exposed claimants to eye-watering costs bills that wealthy defendants often run up.

    Now he has judicial review in his sights, the legal mechanism by which an individual can hold the executive – whether that is a local council, government department or hospital trust  - to account.

    Judicial review is not an easy procedure. A judge must look at your case and decide if you have a runner.  You must raise the funds to fight your corner, weighing up the risks and deciding whether you – on your own or as a group – can really take on and beat the state.

    It  is particularly hard for those fighting planning consents for major developments, which can threaten to blight the lives or even destroy whole communities, where the council, developer and increasingly the

    Read More »from In Grayling’s Britain only the very rich can afford justice
  • By Adam Bienkov

    There is a killer that roams the streets taking tens of thousands of lives every year. This killer sneaks into our children's playgrounds, schools and even our homes.

    In London alone, this killer is responsible for around 4,000 deaths every year. But its deadly fingers extend well beyond the capital.

    In the West Midlands, 3,714 people died as a result of air pollution in 2010 according to Public Health England. In the North West, the number reached almost 5,000.

    In fact in every corner of the country, from Inner London to rural Wales, our reliance on motor cars and heavy industry is silently throttling us.

    The elderly and the young are most at risk, with studies showing that children's lungs are being permanently damaged by the rise in air pollutants.

    Across the UK, more than one in twenty deaths each year are now caused in part by air pollution. That's almost 30,000 people whose deaths could be avoided.

    But while politicians queue up to warn about the
    Read More »from Car pollution: The invisible killer politicians daren’t talk about
  • By Nathan Dabrowski

    To call them unlikely bedfellows would be an enormous understatement. Hard-line Conservative MPs have made a mission out of pushing for a British exit, or 'Brexit', from the European Union, threatening the very cohesion of their party. But in an especially ironic twist, the recent parliamentary skirmish over plain packaging for tobacco products could find the eurosceptics on the same side as the eurocrats.

    After what has been largely billed as a government U-turn, plain packaging is officially back on the table. The policy, based on the idea that flashy colourful pack designs are partly responsible for stubborn smoking rates in the UK, would force tobacco countries to remove any branding from their products (colours, logos, trademarks, or corporate logos). All tobacco products would henceforth be sold in standardised drab packages (a purposely 'unattractive' colour is chosen, usually black, brown or a urine-tinged yellow) with graphic images and health warnings
    Read More »from Brussels bureaucrats and Tory eurosceptics can work together to defeat plain packs
  • By Francis West

    CEOs of big business aren't trusted by the public.

    A toxic combination of executive salaries, bailouts, pricing structures that appear to hit consumers rather than profits and the Rana Plaza tragedy has taken its toll. A 2013 Ipsos MORI poll found only 34% of people questioned trusted business leaders to tell the truth.  Perhaps the clearest indictment is that trust in business leaders has been eroded to the extent that only government officials are seen as less credible, according to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer.

    So it was with no small hint of irony that MPs met last night to debate 'transparency and public trust in business'. Ranging from the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, transparency of environmental impacts and labour standards in the supply chain, the scale of the issues raised clearly demand attention from the public, private and third sectors alike.

    There are a number of tangible steps that can change behaviours and better align

    Read More »from Five ways to restore public trust in big business
  • Maria Miller's departure from the government was fully avoidable. But for years her scornful attitude has combined with some terrible decision-making to leave her no choice but to resign. Here's a breakdown of her seven biggest mistakes...

    Dodgy expenses

    Maria Miller's expenses claims were, at the very least, dodgy. She had bought a home in London in the late 1990s where she lived with her children and parents. When she became elected an MP in Basingstoke - just an hour from central London - she began renting a home in her constituency. This was subsequently declared to be her main home, allowing her to claim the London property as her second home for which she began claiming expenses. On the balance of probabilities, the commissioner found, the designation of Miller's home was wrong. MPs decided not to agree with that judgement.

    Playing the Leveson card (part one)

    When the story originally emerged, Miller's special adviser threatened the Telegraph newspaper by linking the issue to the

    Read More »from Maria Miller’s seven deadly errors
  • By Diana Johnson MP

    Just the other Saturday, amidst the best sunshine we’ve had for months, Britain saw its first lesbian, gay and bisexual husbands and wives say their marriage vows. It was a momentous, giant leap forward for equality in Britain, which politicians and activists from across the political spectrum should rightly celebrate.

    But now the confetti has settled, we must pause and reflect. Now is the time to ask ourselves what more needs to be done to truly secure LGBT equality, both in this country and across the world.

    For all our success in achieving formal equality, Britain is still a country where one quarter of all lesbian, gay and bisexual people feel the need to "act straight" when in public to avoid being attacked; where nearly 40% of trans people, in one survey, reported being sexually harassed because of their gender identity; and where a shocking 99% of all young people report regularly hearing the word "gay" used in a derogatory way in our schools.

    Tragically, for

    Read More »from We have a chance to finally stamp out gay conversion therapy
  • By Andrew Smith

    You would be hard pushed to find a country where human rights mean less than in Saudi Arabia. The country is run by a dictatorial monarch that has even been accused of keeping his four daughters under house arrest. What has happened to the princesses is shocking, but it also raises the obvious question: if this is how they treat royalty, how do they treat their opponents?

    To protest against the regime is to risk your liberty, and even your life. The risk has become even greater, with the government having recently passed a new 'terrorism' law that treats atheists and political dissidents as enemies of the state. This is far from an isolated event; government repression is widespread and systematic all across the 'kingdom'. This is why the most recent Economist Democracy Index said that it is the fifth most authoritarian government in the world.

    Despite the widespread human rights abuses, the regime is not short of international support. In the last few weeks alone it

    Read More »from The Foreign Office prefers Saudi arms deals to human rights
  • 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

    Read More »from How did Maria Miller keep her job?
  • By Caroline Lucas

    Last week, the secretary of state for justice wrote an article on the Conservative Home website to try and defend the decision to put a blanket ban on parcels being sent to prisoners, thereby preventing inmates receiving books in the post.

    His article starts with a rather shouty headline: "We have not, repeat not, banned books from prison".  It ends with a strident declaration that he's doing something "right-wing" to tackle reoffending. In the middle there are a set of contradictory positions.  It all sounds a bit like Mr Mackay from Porridge.

    The extraordinary array of different people who oppose this restriction, including Gareth Davies, former governor of Pentonville prison, Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector of prisons, Salman Rushdie, Mary Beard, Alan Bennett, Jeffrey Archer, Carol Ann Duffy, Ian McEwan (the list goes on and on), fully understand the policy.  We are asking the secretary of state and lord chancellor to reconsider the prison service instruction

    Read More »from Grayling’s book ban excuses just don’t wash
  • By Kristyan Benedict

    Last week the first Syrian refugees arrived in the UK as part of the government's commitment to help the "most vulnerable" Syrians under a resettlement scheme - a low-key but absolutely vital gesture for those affected.

    But it hardly needs to be said, the overall humanitarian situation in Syria remains calamitous.

    Over nine million people have been forced out of their homes and a staggering 3.5 million people are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, most in hard-to-reach areas. Depressingly, this last figure has increased by a million people since the beginning of the year alone.

    It almost beggars belief, but the situation is getting worse, at an accelerating rate.

    Among the very worst-off are the 220,000 Syrian civilians trapped in areas besieged by either government or opposition forces.

    There are now besieged areas all over Syria, including in Homs, Aleppo, the north-eastern city of Al-Hassaka, and - probably most infamously - in the Yarmouk district

    Read More »from The medieval punishment of Syria continues, ignored by the world


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