Talking Politics
  • The war on the motorist is over. That was the message last week from George Osborne as he announced plans to spend billions more on building roads across the country.

    His announcement was quickly followed by an interview with Labour’s new shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher in which he promised that drivers would no longer be “demonised” by his party.

    "I want to be a ­transport secretary not a train-spotter and there have been too many ­train-spotters in the job," he told the Mirror.

    But where is the evidence that motorists have been demonised in favour of public transport users as Dugher suggests?

    Because if you look at this analysis by the RAC Foundation we see a rather different picture.

    Far from being under siege, motorists have actually seen their costs frozen and cut in real terms over the past ten years.

    While some motoring costs have increased, the cost of purchasing a car has gone down massively, while the government has announced successive cuts to planned fuel duty

    Read More »from The 'war on the motorist' is a myth
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    Last Friday a judge ruled the government’s ‘prisoner book ban’ is unlawful. We’ve been through the judgement so you don’t have to.

    Mr Justice Collins, in delivering the judgement that rules that the restrictions on prisoners’ access to books are unlawful, reserves special criticism for the justice secretary.

    He notes that Grayling said on March 29th that prisoners were able to order books from Amazon using their prison earnings or money sent in by relatives.

    "This I am bound to say was somewhat misleading," the judge states, "since it seemed to indicate that money sent in could be used with no constraints. In reality, that is not so since a prisoner cannot spend more than his or her weekly limit, however much is sent in by relatives or friends". Under the ‘basic’ tier, that is just £4 a week. Even under the top ‘enhanced’ tier it amounts to just £25.50.

    The claimant referred to comments by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg that a ban on sending books to prisoners “would be ridiculous”

    Read More »from Prisoner book ban judgement: Grayling's views found to be 'absurd' and 'strange'
  • By Graham Stuart MP

    Tony Blair famously told the Labour party they were best when they were boldest. What he didn’t say is that New Labour often only got to be bold in England thanks to the votes of Scottish MPs. Take two of their most controversial reforms: the introduction of foundation hospitals in 2003 and of university tuition fees in 2004. These had profound consequences for the NHS and young people. Crucially, Labour was only able to pass this legislation because of the votes of Scottish MPs. If the votes had been restricted to English MPs, the government would have been defeated.

    It is 37 years this month since Labour MP Tam Dalyell first posed the West Lothian question, asking how it could be fair that MPs from Scotland should be able to vote on matters that only affect England.  As parliament grappled with proposals for Scottish devolution, he gave the example of a Scottish MP voting on matters affecting Blackburn in Lancashire but that didn’t affect Blackburn in West

    Read More »from It's time to let English MPs speak for England
  • By Natalie Bennett

    As I write, newspapers up and down the land will be crunching the numbers, looking at their case studies of ‘the couple with two kids’, ‘the 40-something businesswoman’, ‘the student’, working out what the autumn statement will mean for their individual circumstances.

    Yet already, quite a lot is clear. There are some nuggets in here for the wealthy or the relatively wealthy: to benefit from a tax-free inheritance of ISAs requires that there is a significant ISA to pass on – a distant dream when so many households struggle to meet their basic needs and can’t imagine the possibility of saving.

    Reductions in stamp duty will be of use to those buying  homes – yet there were no measures at all for renters, struggling with out-of-control private landlords and the crushing unavailability of council homes. And there was nothing to deal with the poor quality of our housing stock, which sees millions suffering with poorly insulated, hard-to-heat homes.

    The continued freezing

    Read More »from Only the well-off benefit from Osborne's tinkering
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    Four years ago George Osborne dreamed his 2014 autumn statement would be a moment of euphoric triumph. The reality is a living nightmare - and one the chancellor is trying to cover up.

    No wonder they were yelling so loudly. This is the issue on which the Conservatives hope to win the election. They want the virtuousness of their economic credibility to crowd out any other gripes about immigration, or the NHS, or anything else the country wants to talk about. It’s why No 10 has cleared the decks before this week. Nothing is supposed to get in the way of Osborne’s message.

    It is an autumn statement built on dust. In a nation still groping around for any evidence of a meaningful recovery, the man in charge of the nation’s finances has tried as hard as he can to suggest everything is alright.

    But nothing is alright. It is falling to pieces. The forecasts, the hopes, the optimism of the Office of Budget Responsibility have been proved just as false as the Treasury officials they replaced.

    Read More »from George Osborne's autumn statement is a sham
  • Generally speaking, the Liberal Democrats get a hard time of things. Journalists and the public like to view politics as a black and white battle of convictions, when in truth it is necessarily a process of compromise between individuals and interests.

    Shrieking betrayal at the smallest concession isn’t just childish, it’s also undemocratic. Compromise is the mechanism we use to muddle through in a free society.


    Much of what has been written about the Lib Dems over recent years has been unfair. None of Nick Clegg’s armchair critics would have been able to make a better decision after the election in 2010. Of all the difficult options available to him, he made the least damaging one. In power, the Lib Dems have fought off plenty of really grotesque Tory policies and modified others.

    You can’t win an election on negative counterfactuals - no-one votes for what might have been if you hadn’t been around. But they had these battles nonetheless, to little public recognition. Plenty of Lib

    Read More »from The night the Lib Dems gave up their last remaining principles
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    The government believes that tarmac is popular. So popular in fact that George Osborne now plans to spend £15 billion of our money on it by the end of the decade.

    Both the Tories and the Lib Dems are desperate today to take credit for Osborne’s new spending spree, with Labour’s only criticism being that he should have lavished even more on the black stuff even sooner.

    “If ministers were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed motorists,” Labour’s Michael Dugher said this morning.

    After all what’s £15 billion on new roads, when the government could be spending £20 billion or £30 billion instead?

    Yet amid the frenzy, nobody seems to have asked the obvious question. Rather than ask whether even more money should be spent on our roads, shouldn’t we all be asking whether it should be spent at all?

    Because the truth is that road-building remains one of the worst investments any

    Read More »from George Osborne's £15 billion road to nowhere
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    By Nicholas Lavender

    No-one is perfect. No government is perfect, no local authority is perfect and no other public body is perfect.  To err is human.

    Yet governments, local authorities and other public bodies take decisions which affect people’s lives.  And yet inevitably, since they are human, some decisions will be wrong and devastating for the people affected by them. 

    So there needs to be a mechanism for correcting public bodies’ mistakes.  And there is.  It is called judicial review.  Judicial review is the process people use to challenge unlawful decisions by those in power.  It can, for instance, stop imprisonment without charge, prevent care homes and schools from being closed or moved without good reason, and halt wrongly-granted planning permission.

    On Monday MPs will be asked to constrain judicial review and make it harder for their constituents to challenge unlawful action by Government, local authorities and other public bodies.  I hope they will resist the invitation.


    Read More »from MPs must stop the government passing a law to protect itself against scrutiny
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    Parliament has a problem: no-one understands what it actually does. There is no bigger or more pressing reason for dramatic reform.

    Even well-educated, generally informed people utter regrettably unfortunate phrases like “the chamber of the Commons – that’s where the government meets, right?” In fact research for the Audit of Political Engagement from the Hansard Society found 63% of people think parliament and government are the same thing.

    "The problem is there’s a deep misunderstanding in the country that parliament and the government are the same," says Graham Allen, chair of the political and constitutional reform committee.

    It’s been this way for decades – even centuries – but just five years ago there was a very real sense that things might, just might, be about to change.

    After the scandal

    In 2009 the then leader of the opposition made a bold pledge: to support a change to the status quo.

    "If we’re serious about redistributing power from the powerful to the powerless, it’s time

    Read More »from Us and them: Our feeble parliament is hurting our politics
  • There is precious little information about how the main political parties plan to meet their deficit reduction targets after the election. While we’re debating what a photo of a white van means, somewhere in the backroom of Tory HQ they are formulating plans to fundamentally reshape the state. Quite possibly, they are doing the same thing at Labour HQ. Everything is in darkness, except for the traumatic scale of the cuts.

    A report today by the Resolution Foundation outlines the scale of what is coming and the democratic failure of refusing to share these plans with the electorate. As the group’s chief economist, Matthew Whitaker, said:

    "Meeting the fiscal targets set out by the main political parties could mean a redrawing of the boundaries of the state due to swingeing cuts, significant new taxes, or a slower path of deficit reduction and more debt – or a mix of all three. Yet no party has really made clear which it’s going to be.

    "The gap between the scale of consolidation implicit

    Read More »from Something wicked this way comes: The mystery of deficit reduction after 2015


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