Talking Politics
  • By Ben Keegan

    As an English teacher working in a Chinese university, I took the opportunity of the UK election to introduce my students to a little something called democracy. They didn’t relish this as much as you may think. Many of them have been successfully conditioned into believing that one-party government is the best way. However, they did enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the British system, as all of them will be travelling overseas to work or study, many of them to the UK. I have three cohorts of students: university foundation course students destined to join British universities; local government workers being sent to study in British universities; and Chinese professors planning to go overseas, mostly to America, as visiting scholars.

    Socioeconomically these groups are quite divergent. The university students are largely from wealthy families who can afford to pay the high fees that British universities charge overseas students. Conversely, many of the university

    Read More »from The UK election was so unfair it put my Chinese students off democracy
  • The outpouring of sadness for Charles Kennedy is partly a result of his young age and the suddenness of the death. Partly it is also a reflection of how rare it is for modern politicians to have the charisma and the lightness of touch which promotes genuine, heartfelt sadness at their passing. Kennedy spoke like a human. He was kind-hearted, seemingly unencumbered by instinctive party political spite, and quick to smile.

    But it might be worth spending a moment considering another attribute he had, which politicians and political commentators have shown little ability to emulate over the last few months: he was usually right.

    Being right is a somewhat undervalued quality in Westminster. Politicians succeed on the basis of being loyal and not making mistakes in front of TV cameras. Whether they happen to be right about something is frankly irrelevant. Political commentators can afford to be wrong all the time and no-one holds them to account over it. You’ll frequently see them the day

    Read More »from Charles Kennedy was right about almost everything
  • A few days after the draft psychoactive substances bill was published, its full ramifications are still becoming clear. It is one of the weirdest pieces of law ever proposed by a British government. And at a stroke, it seems to criminalise the majority of households in the UK.

    I’ve written the following using accepted common definitions of the phrases involved, a close reading of the key passages of the draft bill and a little bit of logic. Anyone who can see how these items aren’t criminalised using a strict reading of the bill is very welcome to let me know. We’re all in uncharted legislative water here.

    The psychoactive substances bill bans the production or supply of any psychoactive substance unless it is granted a specific exception, such as tobacco, alcohol, medicine, food or drink.

    According to the bill, a psychoactive substance is something which “is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it”. It defines ‘psychoactive’ as something which, “by

    Read More »from Things you own which the legal highs bill is going to make illegal
  • Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall came under fire over the weekend for comments about white working class children.

    The outrage followed a speech by Kendall in which she claimed that more needed to be done to help children “particularly from white working class communities” to get on.

    These comments were widely attacked as somehow being a dog-whistle to Ukip voters. But were they?

    I guess it’s possible. It’s always tempting to ascribe the worst possible motives to politicians, especially those currently seeking higher office. However, I think it seems unlikely in this case. For one thing Kendall is reportedly the most pro-immigration of all the Labour leadership contenders.

    She also made the comments during a speech about education. It therefore seems far more likely that Kendall was actually referring to a very real, but little discussed problem - the underperformance of white working class (WWC) children in the UK.

    Labour leader contender Liz Kendall speaks at De Montfort University, where she made a pitch for party votesLabour leader contender Liz Kendall speaks at De Montfort University, where she made a pitch for party votes

    Multiple studies have raised concerns that white children in

    Read More »from It's not racist to want to help white working class kids
  • It’s easy to get lost in the technicalities of the government’s new anti-union legislation. Is it right that union ballots should require 50% turnouts before authorising a strike? Is it fair for members to have to opt-in to union political funds rather than opt-out?

    By forcing us to stare at the ripples in front of us, we miss the tidal wave behind us. We miss the fact that what the Conservative government are really trying to do is kill off the trade union movement altogether.

    Most of the coverage of the government’s new Trade Unions Bill has focused on the opt-in rule as a threat to Labour’s funding. But really this is not about damaging Labour. It is about damaging the basic ability of working and middle class people to campaign for good pay and employment rights.

    Because the new opt-in rules will not just affect unions’ ability to fund the Labour party. They will affect their ability to fund any kind of political activity whatsoever. It will hamper any future campaigns for a living

    Read More »from The end of the trade union movement
  • George Galloway yesterday announced that he plans to stand for London mayor. It’s worth saying from the outset that he has almost no chance of actually being elected. He has only just been booted out of his parliamentary seat in the general election and the last time he stood in London he came a poor third behind both the Labour and Tory candidates.

    He is a shameful opportunist with very little obvious support outside of a small area of East London. In order for him to be elected it would take a collective act of mass hysteria not seen since the Great Fire of London. It is simply not going to happen.

    However, it would be wrong to dismiss him entirely as a joke candidate. Galloway for all his many weaknesses, remains a skilled campaigner. His surprise victory in Bradford West shocked everyone but Galloway himself.

    More importantly the London mayoralty has always been a personality contest and although Galloway’s personality is not to everyone’s taste, he remains a skilled orator and a big

    Read More »from George Galloway for London mayor? Labour shouldn't dismiss it as a joke
  • Even by the standards of modern legislation, the psychoactive substances bill is startlingly inane. It seems to ban any substance which can cause a mental or emotional reaction. As must be obvious, that’s almost everything in the world. Did this taste remind you of your mother’s cooking? It’s a psychoactive substance. Did it bring you a moment of happiness? It’s a psychoactive substance. The government is about to ban almost everything.

    This is not, to be fair, the legislation. This is just the advert. But the description of the bill in the Queen’s Speech is troubling enough.

    “The Bill would make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances; that is, any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence would be seven years’ imprisonment.”

    Note the line “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive

    Read More »from The government just banned everything
  • The government today unveiled proposals which will make it all but impossible for many workers to ever again legally protect their pay and conditions by going on strike.

    Under these plans there will be a new minimum threshold of 50% on strike ballots, plus a new time limit on any action following a ballot. Taken individually, the measures may seem reasonable to some. But they come on top of huge amounts of existing regulation which already make the UK one of the least worker-friendly countries in Europe.

    As things stand, in order to launch a strike, trade unions must navigate multiple pieces of legislation minutely governing the balloting process.

    These heavy restrictions mean that previous widely supported strikes have already been banned by the courts, despite receiving majority support from union members on a high turnout.

    In 2010, a strike by British Airways cabin crew was backed by 92.5% of workers on an 80% turnout. Yet the courts ruled it illegal anyway because a number of workers

    Read More »from Tory anti-strike laws are just their first attack on workers' rights
  • By Stephen Barber

    The choice of Nuneaton to host the first of the Labour leadership hustings is quite deliberate. This quiet Midlands town unwittingly came to symbolise the strategic failure of Ed Miliband’s party when in the early hours of Friday 8th May it became clear that not only had Labour failed to win this marginal seat but the incumbent, Conservative Marcus Jones, actually increased his majority.  For the Labour hierarchy, winning ‘seats like this’ is clearly what they need to do if they are to once again hold national office.  But the real question is: why on earth didn’t Labour win Nuneaton?

    I have a particular view on this because it is a town I know well.  I was born and brought up there.

    Early media analysis has centred on this word 'aspiration’. It is the idea that Labour failed to appeal to the ambitions of 'ordinary voters’. The argument reflects on how successful Tony Blair had been in 1997 at attracting the sort of supporters who wanted to buy their own home, enjoy

    Read More »from If Labour wants to win again it must learn from what happened in Nuneaton
  • Liz Kendall’s endorsement by Chuka Umunna and his entire leadership team confirms her as a serious contender in the race to be next Labour leader.

    Umunna’s backing means that Kendall is now almost certain to make it to the final shortlist of candidates alongside Burnham and Cooper.

    It follows a Labourlist survey putting her in a strong second place in the race and suggests that momentum is building behind her as the preferred candidate of the right of the party.

    However, these endorsements also highlight her big weakness: the narrowness of her support. None of thebig names to back her so far have been in any way surprising. The vast majority are closely associated with the ‘Blairite’ or Progress wing of the party. By contrast Andy Burnham, who is currently being mischaracterised as a left-wing union placeman, has received several surprising endorsements, most notably from Lord Falconer and current rising star Dan Jarvis.

    Her campaign has also been entirely focused on issues that excite

    Read More »from Liz Kendall will lose unless she leaves her comfort zone

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