Talking Politics
  • Reefer madness is upon us again, with media reports on a new cannabis study suggesting that a couple of puffs on a joint will inevitably lead young people to psychosis.

    While it’s true that the study shows skunk to be dangerous, it also found milder forms of cannabis, like hash, to be completely harmless. These findings do not disprove the case for drug law reform: they make it.

    The study, by Robin Murray and Marta di Forti from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, and published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry, took data from 410 patients who’d suffered a first episode of psychosis and 370 people in a control group, all in south London. The headline finding has been enthusiastically reported by the mainstream press. “Super strong cannabis responsible for quarter of new psychosis cases,” the Telegraph said. “Scientists show cannabis TRIPLES psychosis risk,” the Mail said, adding that “groundbreaking research blames ‘skunk’ for 1 in 4 of all new

    Read More »from What the media reports on the new cannabis study don't tell you
  • Another win for Farage

    A little trouble over Geneva bank accounts at HSBC made Nigel Farage the clear winner in this week’s prime minister’s questions.

    Labour supporters might complain at this, on the basis that even when Ed Miliband sweeps the floor he doesn’t get the credit. Miliband is certainly in need of a triumph after his recent dismal failures. And he looked unusually chipper after his six questions on political donors who held Swiss bank accounts with HSBC, fidgeting between heckles and giggles. If this is what he’s like when he does well at PMQs, he may need physically restraining if he wins the general election.

    The problem with Miliband’s line of attack was that, while the Conservatives come out worse, Labour is not squeaky clean. Cameron usually resorts to bullying his way out of trouble. Today he tried to drag Miliband down with him. It was like that scene in the Lord Of The Rings when Gandalf gets pulled down into the abyss by a large red beast. Only in this version Frodo Farage looks on,

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  • If the last few years taught us anything, it’s that child abuse thrives in institutions where they can’t speak out, are unwilling to do so, or won’t be believed when they do.

    To a certain extent, it is inevitable. Children are resistant to talking about what is happening right now. Very often, they distrust all adults, and don’t differentiate between a social worker and a prison officer. In scandal after scandal, they report abuse years after it has taken place.

    But that means authorities must be more imaginative about how to respond. We can encourage children to speak out, and minimise the likelihood of abuse in the first place, by investigating the reality of sex behind bars and following the evidence. That is not happening.

    Independent investigators are barred from entering prisons. The Ministry of Justice has made it all-but impossible for journalists or researchers to get into jails. The Guardian recently spent eight months seeking permission for one reporter to go into a one

    Read More »from Could children in prisons be the next abuse scandal?
  • After a series of relentless attacks from big business leaders last week, two news stories have demonstrated exactly why Labour have put themselves on the right side of public opinion.

    First up is the news that Britain’s biggest bank HSBC, helped cheat the Treasury out of millions of pounds of tax while Conservative peer and former trade minister Stephen Green was at the helm.

    Documents leaked to the BBC show the bank helped widespread evasion and offered deals to help tax dodgers stay ahead of the law.

    The company now faces investigations in several countries. The news follows earlier revelations that HSBC’s subsidiaries also helped launder money for drug cartels, terrorists and pariah states.

    In many ways the news is unsurprising. Public trust in banks and other large corporations collapsed following the last financial crisis. This is reflected in a new poll out today which finds that 78% of the public believe big business prioritise profit over ethics.

    The poll by Comres also found that

    Read More »from Big business is making Ed Miliband's case for him
  • The knives are out for the Green party

    By Molly Scott Cato MEP

    In spite of Ofcom’s suggestion that the Green party is not a major party there have been many subtle indications that we are now to be treated as just that. The first big clue came when David Cameron managed to utter the words ‘Green party’ in the Commons after years of pretending we didn’t exist.

    Now we even have our own celebrity sponsor in the form of Vivienne Westwood. But perhaps the most obvious sign is that our policies are finally coming in for scrutiny. I say scrutiny, though that is perhaps too generous a word; attack is probably more apt, but that is what a grown-up party ought to expect.

    The policy that has come under the most pressure is that of the citizen’s income. First we had Andrew Neil on BBC Sunday Politics interviewing Green party leader, Natalie Bennett. Neil acknowledged on Twitter afterwards that he had interrupted Natalie rather a lot as she tried to explain this emancipatory policy. Behaving like a grown-up politician herself, she refused

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  • Ed Miliband’s hopes of becoming prime minister of a majority Labour government are dead.

    Their demise was confirmed this morning when Lord Ashcroft released details of hisfirst batch of Scottish constituency polls.

    They reveal a truly stunning SNP surge since the end of the referendum campaign. Seats which previously would have been seen as untouchable now look like easy gains for the SNP.

    Even in Labour’s stronghold seats like Glasgow North West the party is set for disaster, with the SNP set to go from just 15% of the vote to 44%. In Motherwell and Wishaw, the party’s 43% majority over the SNP is set to be turned into an 11% deficit.

    If repeated across Scotland, the SNP would take all but a handful of Labour seats, with several Labour heavyweights including Douglas Alexander out of a job. Labour’s half century dominance of Scottish politics is now over. Ed Miliband’s hopes of governing alone are shot.

    It will be tempting for Labour to blame the collapse on the Scottish referendum result

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  • By John Baron MP

    All options regarding ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (Evel) are sadly a step closer to weakening the Union. None address the financial complexities that bind the Union, and none will prove to be a lasting solution. But the marginal advantage of William Hague’s preferred approach is that, whilst allowing MPs from England, or England and Wales, a veto, it avoids creating two classes of MP by allowing all to vote in the first and final stages of a bill’s progress.

    This is important when considering options for the future. The present choices are fudges resulting from a poorly-fought ‘No’ campaign and a hasty reaction to the result. No one party owns the British constitution. So time is required to engineer a buy-in from across the political spectrum to any new settlement – otherwise, it will lack credibility and not prove lasting.

    We need time to recognise that the concept of Evel is in fact legislatively incoherent. It will be difficult to construct election manifestos or

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  • Terrorism is the hook which everyone can hang their coat on. Whenever there is a terror attack, the usual suspects come out the woodwork to suggest it confirms whatever they already held to be true – be it multiculturalism, or Islamic fascism, or the need for a snoopers’ charter.

    So it came as no surprise when Police Federation boss Steve White popped up on the airwaves over the weekend saying terrorism means all front-line police officers should get a Taser. He did not provide any evidence for how the electro-shock guns would help officers deal with specific terror threats. He did not need to. Terrorism, like paedophilia, is the ultimate bogey man. Merely mentioning its name is evidence enough.

    Except the evidence shows that the last thing we need is a nationwide roll-out of Tasers. The electric shock guns are already spreading across UK police forces at an extraordinary rate. Police in England and Wales used them on over 10,000 occasions in 2013, a 27% increase on the previous year. In

    Read More »from Police say they need tasers to combat terror – but where's the evidence?
  • The conventional wisdom is that the only electorally successful immigration policy is a hardline one. Ed Miliband has bent over backwards to find a position which reassures critical voters without compromising his progressive principles, but when it comes to Labour’s election leaflets they might as well have been written by Tory backbenchers.

    So party strategists might like to take a look at new research by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at the University of Manchester and the Migrants’ Rights Network. It shows foreign-born voters could prove decisive in several seats at the election if they turn out in sufficient numbers.

    The migrant share of the electorate is twice as large as the majority of the incumbent in at least 70 seats, including several key outer London and Midlands marginal seats.

    As Ruth Grove-White, co-author of the report, said:

    "The electoral voice of migrants themselves has been largely overlooked. This new data shows just how important it is to speak to this

    Read More »from Migrant voters could help swing the election result
  • Labour all but ruled out forming a coalition with the SNP today, in a dramatic move which suggests Britain could be heading for a minority government.

    Asked whether he would consider a coalition with Nicola Sturgeon’s party, shadow chancellor Ed Balls replied: “No”.

    "I don’t think anybody is suggesting a deal with the SNP at all. We’re fighting hard for a majority," he told Sky News.

    Asked whether he thinks a minority government would be more likely, he told LBC that the public would be unlikely to accept another coalition.

    "Back in 2010… the idea of a coalition was popular and the idea of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems was popular. Five years on, the idea of a coalition is very unpopular and the idea of Nick Clegg is even more unpopular," he added.

    Current opinion polls suggest that neither the Conservatives nor Labour are likely to be able to form an outright majority, with some polls suggesting a coalition of at least three parties would be necessary.

    Given the difficulties this would

    Read More »from Minority rule: Labour all but rules out coalition government

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