Talking Politics
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    By Alastair Sloan

    David Cameron’s decision this week to allow Parliament a vote on extending air strikes from Iraq into Syria was not a reaction to the Paris attacks, though the timing may feel that way. No, the real reason for Cameron’s passion for military action dates back to his failed bid to intervene against Assad in 2013. Back then UK’s standing in the international community dropped dramatically after Cameron’s unprecedented and mortifying defeat, which collapsed international will to act against Assad early on in the revolution. His excuse was that he had been backstabbed by his political opponents acting outside the national interest, but international allies have been suspicious of his abilities ever since.

    This collapse in confidence hasn’t spelled Britain’s fall from the top table however. The rise of the Islamic State last year presented a clear opportunity for Cameron to prove that the UK could still step up in times of need. Yet when the US-led Coalition was formed in

    Read More »from Cameron's Syrian war fever is really about wounded pride
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    The decision to bomb Syria is despairingly complicated, but sometimes the most simple points need to be made. The first is that there is already a war in Syria.

    This should not need saying. At the start of this year, the UN estimated that nearly a quarter of million people had died. But evidently it does, given that many are debating the extension of British air strikes to Syria as if it was a unilateral act of aggression.

    Iraq is such a dominant element in the thinking of many people on the left that they seem unable to disentangle the specifics of what is happening in Syria now from the specifics of what was happening in Iraq then. Iraq was an unprovoked war of aggression against a brutal regime which posed no danger to the West. It was morally, strategically and politically insane. Its supporters – despite their weak ‘planning for the peace’ excuses – are not just responsible for the tragedy which unfolded in Iraq, but also for the creation of Isis and the difficulties we now have in

    Read More »from Does the anti-war left realise war already started?
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    By Cat Hobbs

    Last week Osborne delivered the spending review. He spoke in parliament for an hour and a half. In all that time he barely mentioned assets. But when you dig down into the spending review documents, assets are mentioned a lot. And it’s all about disposing of them.

    Although he didn’t draw attention to it, Osborne’s plans to run a surplus this year rely on his decision to sell off our assets. As the Office for Budget Responsibility puts it: “As in July, asset sales make the difference between debt rising and falling as a share of GDP in 2015-16.”

    But selling off profitable assets doesn’t actually reduce indebtedness. Carl Emmerson, deputy director at the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS)  has said that selling assets “does reduce cash debt but you’re not really improving the indebtedness of the country”. TheOffice of Budget Responsibility (OBR) itself says: “Financial asset sales typically bring forward cash that would otherwise have been received in future revenues, in the

    Read More »from Hidden away in the spending review - a plan to sell off Britain's assets
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    By Rudolf Eliott Lockhart

    This week the High Court ruled in favour of three parents and their children who challenged the government over the exclusion of non-religious worldviews from the school curriculum as a result of the new Religious Studies GCSE.

    The Religious Education Council (REC) has naturally followed the legal proceedings extremely closely, and we have been clear that we fully support the court’s ruling. Our efforts have always focused on the need to ensure the subject is as comprehensive, intellectually challenging, and as socially beneficial as possible, and we look forward to working with the Department for Education, as well as schools and teachers, to bring in the changes the ruling entails.

    For now though, I want to be very clear about why we support the judgement. With good religious education (RE) children can become skilled inter-cultural navigators, better able to understand and relate to their future neighbours, friends, work colleagues and fellow citizens. This

    Read More »from Legal victory will stop the censorship of non-religious views in schools
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    By Natalie Bennett

    George Osborne has been chancellor for five and a half years now, so the pattern for spending reviews and budgets is becoming familiar. We get warnings of massive cuts, then on the day some of those don’t come and the news is about the services and spending saved.

    Let’s not fall into the trap of believing this old three card trick.

    This time we already knew one of the reversals was coming – the change in plans for tax credit cuts was forced on the chancellor by that unlikely champion of the poor the House of Lords. But he managed to produce surprise on Twitter by abandoning these altogether.

    This will only slow the cuts to family budgets which are coming anyway, under government plans to switch all households on benefits over to universal credits. That means government savings rising to £3 billion a year by the end of the parliament – or in other words cuts of £3 billion to household budgets. That’s of course if the government manages to make the universal credit

    Read More »from Osborne's spending review shows this is an extremist government
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    If by some freakish series of accidents you found yourself watching George Osborne deliver the spending review yesterday, you could have been forgiven for thinking that Britain has never had it so good. The chancellor seemed relaxed, even jubilant. Almost everything he said involved spending. The bad old days of austerity and Greek-style chaos were over. Once again, sunshine ruled the day.

    Which is odd, because he was actually unveiling a plan to slash public spending. The cuts are so severe, in fact, that by 2020 departmental budgets will be at 50% of where they were when the Tories entered power in 2010. The cuts will be worth £12.2 billion a year by 2019/20. Oh and there’ll be £28.5 billion in tax increases too.

    Partly, this is just how things are done. The chancellor gets up, announces all the good bits, then journalists go and read the small print of the document and see what’s really going on. But Osborne also has tricks which are uniquely his own.

    One: Ring-fence political risks


    Read More »from Spending review 2015: Osborne's tricks – and how to spot them
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    By Sisters Uncut

    There is little the chancellor could announce in his autumn statement which would make up for the devastating impact that Tory austerity measures have had on domestic violence services. Anything short of a complete reinstatement of all the funding that has been lost would a token gesture from a government whose cuts have put women’s lives at risk.

    Ironically, today is also the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a UN initiative to emphasise how female-focused violence continues to be a global pandemic.

    The ways in which our current government is failing women who suffer from domestic violence is something we should outrage us all. Since the Conservatives came into power in 2010, 32 specialist refuges for survivors of domestic violence have closed. According to Women’s Aid, 31% of women referred to refuges were turned away due to lack of space. During one week alone in 2014, 369 women were turned away from outreach services because of a lack of

    Read More »from Behind the formalities of the spending review, Osborne is putting women's lives at risk
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    By Abi Wilkinson

    Denying fascists public speaking opportunities has been a strategy of the anti-fascist movement since the early 1930s. When the term ‘no-platforming’ was first used on university campuses in the early 1970s, it was almost exclusively in this context. But over the past few years, students’ union officers have begun using the tactic against a wider range of speakers as part of attempts to create a 'safe space’ on campus.

    It’s argued that offering a platform to certain people – often feminists believed to be 'trans-exclusionary’ or 'sex work exclusionary’ – would be neglecting their duty to protect the welfare of marginalised students. Critics contend that union officers are abusing their power to unacceptably stifle freedom of speech.

    Back in the 1970s, it made some sense to understand no-platforming on campus as a freedom of speech issue. True, it wasn’t legal censorship, but denying someone access to an audience could have almost the same effect if other means of

    Read More »from Safe spaces don't limit free speech – they give it to the marginalised
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    This is what improvement looks like in Britain’s crumbling young offenders’ estate: young boys not leaving their cells for 23 hours a day for fear of violence, widespread hunger and regular solitary confinement. Improvement is apparently a very low bar.

    “Violence appears to be a fact of daily life in Feltham prison, and putting children into solitary confinement appears to be the management tool deployed in an attempt to contain it,” Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, says.

    “We know about a 17-year-old who was segregated for eight days, being let out of his cell for only 30 minutes a day. He told our staff he didn’t know why he was being held in solitary and he was sinking into depression.

    "We know about another 17-year-old locked in his cell with no contact with any other children, and with no idea of what he had to do to get back to a normal regime.

    "Yet another 17-year-old [has been] locked in his cell for two weeks and only allowed out for 30 minutes

    Read More »from Even when Britain's youth prisons improve, they fail
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    By Niki Adams

    When sex workers from nine different countries get together, there’s always going to be a buzz. But invite them to the houses of parliament and ask them to tell politicians what needs to be done and it’ll turn into a roar. Nearly 200 people poured into a parliamentary committee room earlier this month for a sex work symposium, well exceeding its capacity and forcing a crowd to wait outside while a one-in-one-out door policy was put in operation.

    We’ve been given a significant boost by the elevation of John McDonnell to the Labour front bench. McDonnell, a dedicated and principled politician with a strong concern about sex workers safety, welcomed the event and expressed his hope that his parliamentary colleagues would listen to the evidence.

    Anyone who took his advice and heard the array of speakers and vast amount of evidence would have been struck by how compelling the case for decriminalisation is. Take Catherine Healy. She’s a founding member and coordinator of the New

    Read More »from Want to know how to make sex work safe? Ask sex workers


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