Talking Politics
  • Last week, German Green MEP Sven Giegold took a big risk. He leaked confidential Council of Ministers documents.

    Until now, European citizens weren't allowed access to details of how their rights are undermined by foreign corporations. EU-US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which are taking place in Brussels this week, would give corporations litigation rights over national parliaments, meaning any policy which loses them money will be severely punished in the arbitration tribunals.

    That means it will be financially ruinous to get private sector providers out of the NHS or education services. It means weaker US-style consumer protections imposed in Europe. And it means campaigners will be helpless to prevent fracking.

    The proposals are the largest trade deal in human history. They are a constitutional game-changer, giving foreign companies rights over national parliaments.

    Consequently, they are clouded in mystery. The only sound you can hear

    Read More »from The leak which offers a rare glimpse into secret EU-US free market talks
  • Many people – particularly those who commuted in London - disliked Bob Crow.

    He was an inconvenience. The strikes which beset London Underground were usually accompanied by his gruff, snarling face making demands via a TV news camera on the picket line.

    He was like a figure from another time, a cut-out of 1970's trade unionism still alive and kicking in the 21st Century. He was a part of a political consensus which was supposed to be hopelessly wrapped up in the past.

    But what Crow was really doing was extraordinarily simple. He was doing his job.

    He was representing his members. He was standing up for the workers who comprised his union.

    He fought off attempts to apply the same low-pay, hire-and-fire culture to London Underground as was being imposed elsewhere in the economy.

    "It wasn't our members who created the downturn and we will not be bullied into accepting that they should be forced to pay for an economic crisis that was cooked up by the bankers and the politicians," he said

    Read More »from Bob Crow was a testament to what trade unionists can achieve
  • By Nick Dearden

    "More jobs, lower prices, more choice, and an additional £100 billion into the European economy".

    That's David Cameron's take on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the biggest trade deal in history, which is being negotiated in Brussels this week between US and EU representatives.

    TTIP is one of Cameron's main objectives over the next two years. He calls it a "once-in-a-generation prize" which he's "determined to seize".

    For European and American big business, TTIP is indeed a "once in a generation prize". But forget about jobs and growth. Those figures have been discredited.

    Don't get distracted by the term 'trade agreement' either, because TTIP has very little to do with 'trade' as most people understand it. Tariff barriers between the US and EU are very low already.

    What TTIP is really about is trying to get rid of other supposed 'barriers to investment' – like environmental protection, workers' rights legislation and food safety standards. It

    Read More »from Big business and the worldwide assault on democracy
  • What we really need is Call The Same Midwife

    By Belinda Phipps

    The third series of the BBC's Call the Midwife, which ends today, should be required viewing for NHS managers and health policymakers who could learn a lot before the midwives cycle off into the distance.

    In the afterglow of birth the majority of women report a good experience of UK maternity care. Other measures show too many still receive elements of substandard service. Recent research by NCT and the Women's Institute, for example, found that 88% of women had not met any of the midwives caring for them before labour.

    Having the same one or two midwives throughout pregnancy and birth is not just ideal, there is increasingly strong evidence that it brings improvements in clinical results for women and their babies. In the late 1950s this system, now known as continuity of carer, was taken as given. Resurrecting similar principles today could save money and ease many of the problems that currently exist in maternity services.

    Continuity of carer means a woman being

    Read More »from What we really need is Call The Same Midwife
  • It's always been a complicated relationship. Politicians rely on scientists to provide them with accurate advice they can use to make important decisions about the lives we all lead. But keeping politicians up to date with science, as parliament's scientific champion Andrew Miller admits, is "permanently difficult". And ministers often decide to ignore the advice they receive altogether.

    Each department has a chief scientific officer. Miller, as chair of the Commons' science and technology committee, talks to all of them. "With a few exceptions, the relationships are moving in the right direction," he says. "There have been some exceptions where the way in which scientific advice has been sought and delivered has been tantamount to saying, 'here's the answer, now give me the question'. That comes from people who don't understand how proper scientific decisions are determined."

    Politics is often to blame for the disconnect between science and policy. Take fracking, one of the most

    Read More »from Why can’t science and politics get along?
  • The Liberal Democrats' newfound mission of Ukip-bashing is a good idea in general. But attacking Nigel Farage and his party's MEPs for laziness in Strasbourg risks backfiring.

    Nick Clegg will use a speech at the Centre for European Reform thinktank today to accuse Ukip's MEPs of being "lazy". His beef is that they "refuse to roll up their sleeves and get down to work".

    "Nigel Farage and deputy leader Paul Nuttall rarely turn up to vote in the European parliament, despite being happy to take their tax-payer-funded salaries," Clegg will say.

    The evidence for this accusation is that Farage hasn't tabled an amendment on any EU legislation since July 2009. Ukip's voting and turnout records, the Lib Dems say, are worse than any other party in the European parliament.

    These criticisms would be damaging to politicians belonging to Britain's mainstream political parties. But they are unlikely to be vote-losers for Ukip's core support. "Our objective is not to spend time voting endlessly for

    Read More »from Why Ukip’s MEPs should trumpet their laziness
  • Nestled away in the court of appeal today is a case which will decide whether British citizens are allowed to live with the person they love.

    Having even reached this point is, of course, a moral disaster. But this is where we are.

    Last summer Theresa May lost a crucial case concerning her requirements for UK citizens marrying someone from outside the EU.

    Under rules put in place by the home secretary, only Brits earning £18,600 can bring their loved ones to the UK. It rises to £22,400 if you have a child and an additional £2,400 for each further child. Under the system, 40% of the British working population are prevented from bringing a foreign spouse to live with them.

    I have spoken to people whose spouse earns many multiples of that amount - but it doesn't count. The current or expected spousal income is not taken into consideration. I have met people who have family members or friends willing to demonstrate to the state that they are prepared to support the couple - a system used

    Read More »from The court judgement on loving an immigrant
  • You can tell a lot by a political party from the sort of jokes it laughs at. So, if you haven't heard the one about the xenophobic, Islamophobic UK Independence party, you're in for a treat.

    At a black-tie dinner wrapping up its spring conference, the standard of humour which had the Kippers rolling in the aisles was thoroughly depressing.

    The jokes, as reported by yesterday's Sunday Mirror, didn't target celebrities who seek the limelight, or companies which rip off the consumer, or even other politicians.

    Instead many of the minorities that live in Britain were on the receiving end.

    Comedian Paul Eastwood chanted an Islamic call to prayer, calling it a "traditional Midlands folk song".

    He suggested the Polish medal haul from the Winter Olympics included "bronze, silver, gold, lead, copper – anything they could get their hands on".

    And he mocked three Asian women at the party, telling them that they "looked a bit lost".

    Humour has its place in politics, of course it does. Any

    Read More »from Ukip’s dodgy jokes are no laughing matter
  • If Norman Baker's comment this morning is true, we're about to enter unprecedented territory in the drug law debate.

    The liberal (with a big and a small 'l') minister is suspected of either going native at the Home Office or acting as a trojan horse for Nick Clegg's progressive views on drugs. His comments in the pages of today's Times only serve to make his role murkier.

    Baker said he was considering plans to licence shops to sell legal highs,in a bid to bring the trade under the control of regulators.

    He added:

    "We should maybe look at licensing them like sex shops with blacked-out windows and not allowing under-18s in."

    The comment won swift support from drug law reformers.

    Danny Kushlik from Transform Drug Policy Foundation said:

    "Norman Baker deserves enormous respect for broaching the issue of the legal regulation of legal highs. His clarion call for responsible government control prioritises citizens' health and safety over populist grandstanding and 'tough on
    Read More »from It looks like drug reformers are about to get a foothold in policy
  • The Germans did not elect Angela Merkel because of her charisma. She's not one for soaring rhetoric or dramatic oration.

    There is a sort of stillness to her, a low-key, unfussy confidence. Even in a speech about the future of Europe, which is not a small subject, she couldn't resist slipping into the nitty-gritty. The poetic abstractions of which great speeches are made are alien to her.

    They put the German chancellor in the Royal Gallery, presumably because Daniel Maclise's mural of Waterloo is there, showing the Duke of Wellington meeting Marshal Blucher, the leader of Prussian forces, and turning the tide of battle. The mural now looks faded and brown, the images of stout dead Englishman and firm military handshakes hard to decipher. Make of that what you will.

    Once the speech was over they gave Merkel a private showing of historic Acts of parliament highlighting Anglo-German cooperation, including the Act for the Naturalisation of his Serene Highness Prince Albert of Saxe Coburg

    Read More »from Merkel speech verdict: A cut-and-paste EU defence destined to be instantly forgotten

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