Talking Politics
  • Britain almost ceased to be six months ago. Both its main political parties are now proposing spending cuts so severe they threaten to fundamentally change what we think of as the state.

    These seem big, even existential issues for a country to face. And yet the election campaign is composed of tiny, soap opera-like tittle-tattle. Yesterday’s inane Tory poster, showing Ed Miliband in the pocket of Alex Salmond, typified it. Conservatives believe they’ve found a red line and are trying to push Miliband over it by making everything about a possible SNP pact.

    Labour believes it has found a red line over David Cameron’s refusal to do the TV debates and has spent the last week publicising it as much as possible. Where coverage is not about these twin issues, it is designed to seduce the core vote: on economic issues for the Tories, on the NHS for Labour.

    This is a big, historic moment in British history, but future students will not be much bothered by the reaction of MPs or political parties.

    Read More »from The British public deserves a better election than this
  • If current trends continue, the Conservative party are set to lose their last remaining Scottish MP.

    Lord Ashcroft’s latest polls suggests the party are within just one point of losing to the SNP in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale.

    It would be a sad demise for a party which was once the dominant electoral force in Scotland. Yet far from trying to rebuild the ruins of his party north of the border, David Cameron instead seems intent on torching the last few broken remains.

    Speaking to a group of activists over the weekend, the prime minister outlined what he believes is the greatest threat facing the country.

    "If you thought the worst outcome in this election is a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, think again," he told a group of Tory activists.

    "You could end up with a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, propped up by Alex Salmond and the Scottish National Party.

    Pausing to allow his activists to boo, he went on.

    "You cannot let the people who want to break up our country into

    Read More »from David Cameron is now the greatest threat to the Union
  • Why would a leader regarded by both his supporters and his detractors as prime ministerial try to avoid TV debates?

    Political leaders usually spend election campaigns fighting on their strengths. For the Conservatives, they have very clear poll leads on the economy and their leader. So why would No.10 be so wary of an event which should play firmly into their hands?

    Actually, Cameron’s de-facto refusal to take part in the TV debates is part of a pattern of avoiding scrutiny. As prime minister he instantly scrapped the monthly Downing Street press conferences Gordon Brown used to hold – events at which, for all his faults, Brown did not leave until everyone in the room had a chance to ask a question.

    When Cameron is forced to take questions after a speech, he limits them to three or four at most - and those only from broadcasters and perhaps one print journalist. He almost never subjects himself to tough, searching media interviews. His preference is always for light-touch TV appearances.

    Read More »from Cameron won't debate because he has no record to defend
  • Gordon Brown’s call for a nationalisation of North Sea oil has left the industry cold - but then energy firms aren’t the former prime minister’s target audience, are they?

    "It’s all about the oil, isn’t it?" one committed nationalist told me on the shores of the Forth last September. "It’ll be around for years to come. Just think what we could do with the money."

    It was a surreal situation - the harbourmaster of a tiny port in north-east Scotland talking about the benefits North Sea oil could bring to his nation, if only they had control of it. Out in the estuary a distant oil rig could be seen on the horizon. Despite the fact that North Sea oil is set to fall to just 1.3 million barrels a day in 2018 from a peak of 4.3 million barrels in 1999, this harbourmaster was completely confident a Scottish government could turn it around.

    He would have been bitterly disappointed by the referendum result. The No campaign’s victory was achieved in part because of Brown’s last-gasp interventions.

    Read More »from Gordon Brown's North Sea oil promise offers Scottish Labour a flicker of hope
  • David Cameron will today announce plans to extend the government’s “starter home” policy to 200,000 new discounted homes.

    The policy appears superficially attractive. New homes will be offered at a 20% discount, saving the average first-time buyer £43,000. However, this significant saving comes at a much wider cost.

    In return for offering the discount, developers no longer have to pay for the new infrastructure to support this new housing, including schools, hospitals, roads and flood defences. This infrastructure still needs to be paid for of course, it’s just that developers are no longer the ones paying for it.

    Developers will also be stripped of the need to sign section 106 agreements. These agreements oblige developers to either provide new affordable homes, school places or other contributions to the local area.

    Again, these new services will still need to be paid for, it’s just that developers will no longer be the ones paying for them. So instead of landowners and developers paying

    Read More »from Help for Landowners: Tory housing policy is a handout to developers
  • Immigrants aren't taking your job

    One of the things about immigration which makes it so politically explosive is the way it plays on the fears of right and left. For the right, it signifies a dilution of indigenous British culture. For the left, it threatens to dampen worker’s wages and living standards by allowing foreigners to compete for jobs. Many in the Labour party and beyond look at youth unemployment levels and fear immigrants are at least partly responsible.

    Except it isn’t true. New research from the London School of Economics (LSE)found immigration does not keep down wages or lead to an increase in unemployment. They don’t even disproportionately take new jobs. In short, the economic effects we presumed of immigration appear to be false.

    Researchers collected data from British counties, comparing their unemployment rate for UK workers with changes in their immigration share. There was no correlation.

    Of course, the fact there was no average effect might just have been masking changes in the low wage market,

    Read More »from Immigrants aren't taking your job
  • Malcom Rifkind’s decision to step down as MP for Kensington and chair of the intelligence and security committee (ISC) allows two jobs to be filled by people who might actually do them.

    Since video emerged on Sunday night of Rifkind trying to secure employment with a made-up Chinese firm, it has been clear he is not committed to the people in his constituency.

    "You’d be surprised how much free time I have," he said. "I spend a lot of time reading, I spend a lot of time walking."

    Many political commentators – politicians and journalists – have since sought to justify these comments. It is indecent of them to do so. Kensington may have a reputation for wealth and luxury, but that is only half its story. In a way which is typical of London, nestled in around the enclaves of money there are significant and above-average levels of deprivation.

    The wards of Norland, Colville and Golbourne each include at least one ‘lower super output area’ in the 20% most deprived in the country. Golbourne is

    Read More »from Rifkind steps down: Now Kensington deserves an MP and Britain deserves a security watchdog
  • Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifikind must be feeling pretty sore this morning.

    The two former ministers’ faces have been splashed across the front page of theTelegraph, after they were caught on camera speaking to undercover reporters posing as lobbyists. Both men were keen to emphasise their ability to open doors at the top of government and both men were apparently willing to accept money to do so.

    Since the news broke, Straw has reportedly suspended himself from the Labour party while Rifkind is facing calls to stand down as the chair of the intelligence and security committee. But while it’s perfectly understandable that they should be stretched out on the rack for this, it’s far less clear that they have done anything other than the parliamentary norm.

    As Rifkind himself explained to the Today programme this morning, there are countless other MPs who have accepted similar paid advisory roles with foreign companies. In order to discover this, you don’t need to hire a crack team of

    Read More »from Cash for access: Rifkind and Straw's actions are the norm in parliament
  • Talk of a major Ukip “revolution” at the general election look to have been seriously overblown.

    New constituency polling released by Lord Ashcroft yesterday reveals that Ukip is running behind in four key target seats currently held by the Conservatives.

    Most worrying for the party, a poll of Boston and Skegness - where Ukip won their largest majority in last year’s council elections - suggests they have now been pushed back into second place. The seat has previously been described as Ukip’s best chance of gaining a seat at the next general election.

    Ukip are on course to pick up just 35% of the vote in the seat, behind the Tories on 38%. Three other polls in Castle Point, North East Cambridgeshire and South Basildon and East Thurrock, also find the party running behind.

    All is not lost for Nigel Farage. The margins in three of the four seats are small and Ashcroft has found that voters in the seats were up to twice as likely to have received campaign literature from the purples as they

    Read More »from Talk of a Ukip revolution now looks overblown
  • On the face of it the latest Scottish polling contains some good news for the Labour party. According to a Survation poll for the Daily Record out today, the SNP’s lead is gradually shrinking.

    Two months ago, the SNP had a whopping lead of 24% over Labour. Today’s poll cuts that lead down to just 17%.

    However, the fact that Labour are taking comfort from being ‘just’ 17 points behind the SNP says all you need to know about the deep trouble the party are in north of the border. In any other circumstance, a poll showing that Labour are due to lose more than half of their Scottish MPs would cause outright panic in the party. That it is now causing mild relief, shows the scale of the difficulties Labour face to avoid total wipeout in Scotland.

    While the changes in percentage terms may appear small, they can make a big difference in terms of seats. Analysis by polling expert John Curtice suggests that if Labour can get the SNP’s lead down to just 10%, then they would hold on to around 20 of

    Read More »from Labour are creeping slowly towards disaster in Scotland

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