Talking Politics
  • Truth is, Douglas Carswell didn't seem that interested in Europe. When he announced his defection to Ukip yesterday, the Clacton MP seemed far more concerned with the structure of internal party democracy.  He expressed it rather well:

    "All three of the older parties seem the same. They've swathes of safe seats. They're run by those who became MPs by working in the offices of MPs. They use pollsters to tell them what to tell us. Politics to them is about politicians like them. It's a game of spin and positioning. First under Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown, now David Cameron, it's all about the priorities of whichever tiny clique happens to be sitting on the sofa in Downing Street. Different clique, same sofa. Few are animated by principle or passion. Those that are soon get shuffled out of the way. Many are just in it for themselves. They seek every great office, yet believe in so little."

    Carswell singled out the marvellous Tory MP Sarah Wollaston as a case study. Wollaston was chosen

    Read More »from Ukip is full of racists and lunatics – but Carswell did us all a favour by defecting
  • By Charles Maclean

    From here in Argyll, where I grew up and have lived most of my life, the road to September the18th looks decidedly rocky.

    For some time now, Scotland has been suffering from a sort of ideological occupation. There is nothing identifiably Scottish which the nationalists haven't claimed as their own and harnessed to their cause. Opposing arguments in support  of the  union are routinely dismissed as being  negative, faint-hearted, 'talking Scotland down', or scaremongering – the SNP's retort  to any question it cannot or will not answer.

    What scares me, what should scare us all in Scotland, is the government-approved spirit of  intolerance that would silence every voice which speaks out against the delusion of independence. In the divisive form of chauvinistic thinking that now permeates our national life, even the most loyal, patriotic Scot who ventures an opinion which doesn't flatter  the separatist agenda may be branded a traitor; guilty of what might be termed,

    Read More »from Salmond’s nationalism is as ugly as all the others
  • Britain has always had an uncomfortable relationship with sex education.

    Teaching children about the timeless act of adults doing it to each other has always been sensitive. Even grown-ups struggle to avoid descending into juvenile ribaldry whenever sex is mentioned, so how are actual juveniles supposed to cope?

    Professional teachers help, of course, but the sight of a middle-aged adult desperately trying to slip an excessively-lubricated condom on to a banana can only achieve so much.

    Sex education - which at my school made it briefly fashionable for enlightened year sevens to use 'penis!' as a witty insult - remains fraught with awkwardness.

    Here's how the British have coped with it over the last 100 years, in ten messy steps.

    1920s-50s: Hygiene, plants and gonorrhoea

    Children have been learning about sex for years, but after the First World War the British still hadn't decided it was necessary to actually put the topic in the classroom. Instead girls were provided with instructions

    Read More »from British sex education: A messy history in ten awkward steps

  • Last night's debate on Scottish independence was an unedifying spectacle. For whole sections Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond were allowed to talk over one another, in a spiteful exchange during which little could be understood, let alone contemplated.

    It was a failure of chairmanship, with the hands-off approach deployed by presenter Glenn Campbell leading to a frustrating debate in which neither men was really able to express himself properly. The section in which the men could question one another was basically a write-off. You could barely make out a word. They might as well have filmed two men in the back of a pub.

    More concerningly for Better Together, it was also a failure of the Darling approach to the campaign. The unionist case was made with the same qualities which Darling represents: workmanlike point-scoring and cautious warnings of uncertainty.

    Darling is very accomplished at asking difficult questions about what will happen in the future, such as currency and oil

    Read More »from Shoddy Scottish independence debate shows Darling is a one-trick pony
  • In the last two weeks, three damning reports have been published by the chief inspector of prisons. Doncaster is failing, Hindley is failing, Isis is failing. The litany of disasters is seemingly endless: children found hanging in their cells, prisoners attacked with make-shift weapons, stuffed in a cell together, locked in 23-hours a day, staff numbers slashed, funding cut, ever more inmates being crammed into a creaking system which is coming apart at the seams.

    The prison estate is very good at preventing prisoners, or former prisoners, from talking to journalists. But the reports which do come in mention unreported protests by inmates after being locked up all day, small-scale riots and a fundamental breakdown of trust between inmates and guards.

    I'm told that one prison has started transporting sex offenders to other facilities. Sex offenders are usually the first victim of prison disorder. Their removal often indicates that authorities are losing confidence in their ability to

    Read More »from Grayling’s paranoid attack on charities shows he’s losing the plot
  • By Peter Reynolds

    The last British politician to have the courage to follow the evidence on drugs policy and introduce radical reform was Margaret Thatcher.  Now Norman Baker isn't normally in the same category as Thatcher but they have both demonstrated courage in the face of opposition from their colleagues and widespread bigotry and ignorance in parliament and Whitehall.

    Tory cabinet members in 1986 must have been spluttering into their claret and very large whiskies when they heard Margaret was insisting on introducing clean needle exchange for injecting drug users. She was absolutely right to do so and her action saved thousands of lives. Many other countries followed her lead and it slowed the spread of HIV dramatically.

    Of course, Margaret Thatcher was that very rare thing amongst leading politicians - a scientist.  She knew the value of evidence and that even when it was pointing in an uncomfortable direction, that was the right way to go.

    Norman Baker's call this week follows

    Read More »from We’re on the verge of victory in the fight for medicinal cannabis
  • At night, the shouting starts. When the lights go out at Hindley, the young offenders institute, you can hear the intimidating shout-outs, the insults and threats from other boys kept there. Staff have tried to stop it, but they've failed.

    The shouting is part of an atmosphere of violence and fear which permeates the institution.  On average, there is one fight or assault every day. There were 251 reports of bullying and 167 incidents of self-harm in six months.

    In January 2012, Jake Hardy, a 17-year-old at Hindley, was found hanging in his cell. He was one of 16 children to die in custody since 2000. The inquest into his death detailed a dozen failures by the state which contributed to his death.

    While the inquest was taking place, the inspector of prisons was conducting an unannounced inspection. The report, released today, documents some improvements but it paints a stark picture of an institution which is failing young people and a custodial operation which is unfit for vulnerable

    Read More »from Assault, suicide and neglect: The reality of children behind bars
  • One day, two more failures of privatisation in the prison system. Yesterday, the prison inspector's report on Doncaster prison, which is run by Serco under a 'payment by results' system, found levels of violence were four times above the norm. Then A4e announced it was scrapping its contract to provide education in London prisons. Both provide telling examples of how the profit motive fails to provide effective services in criminal justice.

    It's difficult to know exactly what has gone wrong because so much information is kept away from prying eyes. And that doesn't just apply to the press or the public. Even ministers are not entitled to scrutinise private provision of public services. Justice minister Simon Hughes admitted last month he couldn't visit women's rehabilitation centres because to visit one and not all of them would open up the Ministry of Justice to judicial review after the work is contracted out.

    So what do we know? We know the prison service management's assessment

    Read More »from Grayling’s privatisation system comes apart at the seams
  • They arrive before dawn or after the sun goes down. The office workers do not see them. The nurses and patients and professors barely notice them. But every day they go to work, in corporate headquarters, universities and hospitals, and they clean.

    They are some of the most vulnerable workers in the country. They are overwhelmingly from overseas, often ignorant of their rights, frequently paid under the minimum wage and treated dismissively by those they come in contact with.

    It is an industry with an annual turnover of £8 billion and nearly half a million employees. But today's report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) - The Invisible Workforce: Outsourcing and Employment in the Cleaning Sector - shows pay and conditions are more akin to Victorian London than a modern economy.

    It's not just employers who treat them this way. Cleaners often report being treated as the lowest of the low by the other workers they come in contact with.

    One Jamaican woman employed by a

    Read More »from The invisible army: How they treat the worker who cleans your desk
  • "Recall is not on the cards." With those six words the prime minister's spokesperson yesterday dismissed the sizeable chunk of MPs who think the Commons should debate the crisis in Iraq. Why, exactly, should No 10 get to decide this?

    The case for recalling parliament is a strong one, best articulated by Enfield's Conservative MPs David Burrowes and Nick De Bois. Their joint letter to David Cameron argues:

    "What we are witnessing in Iraq is truly shocking and requires a co-ordinated international response. The horrific persecution of minority groups in the region impose both a moral obligation and a duty to our constituents to reconvene so that the escalating crisis can be properly debated with a view to the government being able to seek guidance from and support of the House for policies aimed at ending the killing. It is vital that the House of Commons debate an appropriate response to this emergency."

    Two factors, they believe, "demand the urgent attention of parliamentarians": the

    Read More »from The battle for recall: Downing Street clamps down on push for Iraq debate

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