Talking Politics
  • There is a grimly predictable ritual that takes place in British politics whereby all party leaders declare themselves in favour of improving behaviour at prime minister's questions, while doing everything they can to encourage the opposite.

    Both Ed Miliband And David Cameron publicly support toning down the weekly exchanges. Both have done next to nothing to achieve that.

    Miliband to be fair to him has at least tried to appear to be taking a new approach.

    Today in between accusing Cameron of speaking "total nonsense" and of appointing "climate change deniers", the Labour leader briefly took the time to agree with Cameron's support for taking action on climate change.

    "I agree with what he said about the importance of climate change" claimed Miliband, clearly disappointed to have got such an unconditional declaration of support from the prime minister.

    In the bizarre hyper-confrontational theatre of PMQs, any declaration of agreement is incongruous. And true to form, Cameron
    Read More »from PMQs verdict: No change of climate in the Commons
  • The ban on hunting harms animal welfare

    By Jim Barrington

    Recent parliamentary questions indicate that the issue of hunting with dogs has never really gone away. It seems that the Hunting Act, far from putting this matter to bed, has just kept fanning the flames.

    So it might be an opportune time to examine a few factors behind one of the most controversial pieces of legislation passed in recent years. The whole anti-hunting case appears to be based more on perceptions and public opinion polls, rather than hard evidence of cruelty.

    To argue that the dog, which is staggeringly helpful to humans in so many ways -
    search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, hearing dogs, dogs for the disabled, guard dogs, police dogs, drug sniffer dogs, explosive sniffer dogs, herding dogs, dogs that can detect cancer- cannot be used in wildlife management is sheer nonsense. Scenting hounds generally catching the old, weak, sick and injured quarry and importantly there is no wounding; the animal is either killed or escapes unscathed. To argue in some

    Read More »from The ban on hunting harms animal welfare
  • Imagine you introduced a government bill creating massive financial penalties for any policy which was not in the interests of corporations.
    It would be the subject of fierce debate. But do it at an EU level and no-one even notices.

    That surely is the most seductive aspect of the EU for governments and corporations: no-one cares what you get up to in Brussels.

    Right now, late-stage negotiations are taking place between the EU and the US which would make it financially calamitous for a national state to do anything against the interest of corporations.

    Hardly anyone even knows it is happening.

    When it is passed, it will be the biggest bilateral trade deal in the history of mankind - and it will barely warrant a mention outside of the business pages.

    It's called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Inside it is an innocuous-sounding provision called the 'investor-state dispute settlement'. This allows private companies to sue nation states if they feel a law lost

    Read More »from The EU-US treaty which overrules Westminster
  • By Peter Harris

    Who are the most avid supporters of immigration in Britain today?  One might point to free-marketeering business leaders, left-leaning liberals or perhaps immigrants themselves.

    Jingoistic, patriotic Britons would probably not be high up on the list.  Flag-waving Middle Englanders are more closely associated with Ukip or the Conservative right than they are any pro-immigration lobby.  Yet it is precisely people bent on bolstering British national strength in the twenty-first century who should be the most in favour of open immigration.

    Regrettably, though, while immigration has been discussed ad nauseum in recent years, the critical point that immigration is actually essential to propping up Britain's international standing has gone completely unaddressed.

    This unhappy state of affairs is in stark contrast to the debate over Britain's nuclear weapons capability.  Indeed, there is nothing quite like Britain's nuclear deterrent to inspire a vigorous debate about the

    Read More »from Anti-immigrant policies are damaging Britain on the world stage
  • There was a time, kids, when politicians thought it was a good idea to associate with pop stars.  It's a terrible story, beginning before the members of One Direction had even been born, of hubris, arrogance and catastrophe. If you ever wondered why you don't see David Cameron or Ed Miliband showing up to present awards these days… this is why.

    ACT 1: TENTATIVE EXPLORATION INTO THE WORLD OF POP

    It doesn't get any cooler, in 1985, than the BPI Awards presented by a yuckily bearded Noel Edmonds. This TV monstrosity, introducing the leader of the opposition Neil Kinnock, observes cryptically: "If he gave up his current line of work, there'd be room for him in this industry." Then on comes Kinnock, looking chirpy and dressed to the nines in a thoroughly un-left-wing dinner jacket. But he doesn't let Margaret Thatcher's government get away with it. Questioned by Edmonds on the importance of the music industry, Kinnock comments: "It may be the last British industry with vitality, I hope it

    Read More »from Labour’s Brit Awards horror: A tragedy in 3 acts
  • By Mimi Bekhechi

    The image of the ivory trade is a haunting one – lifeless elephant bodies strewn across the African savannah, their faces literally sawed off for their tusks. Many of their family members probably watched helplessly as they died, some leaving orphaned calves behind.

    Ivory often invokes images of colonial Africa, where ruthless 'big-game' hunters stalked and killed elephants for their tusks. It is, therefore, fitting that one of the leading proponents against the ivory trade recently – along with David Beckham and Jackie Chan, who, one could argue, are 'royalty' in their own rights – is the future King of England and heir to the colonial legacy, Prince William.

    The prince says that he wants to see an end to the ivory trade, which could wipe out what remains of herds of African and Asian elephants, not just for this generation but also for his son and his son's children. Publicly destroying the ivory in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace would be a good start.

    Read More »from Prince William should wake up to his double standards on animal protection
  • It will prompt scorn from Conservative colleagues in government and contempt from the voters – but Nick Clegg's flirtations with Labour are a necessary bit of politicking.

    It's essential for the Liberal Democrat leader that he opens up the possibility of a deal with the men and women who have spent the last few years rubbishing him at every opportunity.

    Believe it or not, his party have already been making substantial progress. Backroom conversations have been going on for about 12 months, now. Meaningful chit-chats in the corridors of parliament. Carefully-cultivated private talks by the big facilitators of Lib-Lab relations, most notably former transport secretary Andrew Adonis. These private overtures were the way of escaping from the deep hatred of 2010 and 2011, when Ed Miliband appealed to disgruntled left-leaning liberals to desert to the Labour party and Clegg was painted as being a closet Tory by every opposition figure you ever met. Now the behind-closed-doors rapprochement

    Read More »from Clegg is flirting with Labour – but he doesn’t really care who gets into No 10
  • I used to have a good little system for bunking off sports in school. I knew how long to wait so I could sign in, where to go to escape without being seen and how to time it to make sure my parents wouldn't be home if anyone from the school tried to call. It was relatively well constructed but, of course, it eventually fell apart.

    I learned an important lesson back then: you'll never get away with it forever. Unless you plan very carefully, you'll usually get caught out.

    Alex Salmond is currently discovering this lesson on a rather bigger stage. For years he has been making it up as he goes along. But suddenly he is being found out. Chancellor George Osborne has ruled out currency union and European Commissioner president Jose Manuel Barroso has said it would be  "extremely difficult if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

    This one-two punch, on the SNP's electoral and emotional sweet-spots, poses an existential threat for Salmond's campaign for Scottish

    Read More »from Salmond is making it up as he goes along – and now he’s been caught
  • By Adam Bienkov

    Do Cameron and Osborne really want Scotland to stay in the UK? I only ask because right now they seem to be doing everything in their power to ensure they leave.

    The prime minister's recent speech calling on English people to nag their Scottish friends into voting 'no' was spectacularly ill-judged.

    Can there be a single person north of the border who would have welcomed such a phone call? How did Cameron imagine such conversations would have played out, if indeed anyone were mad enough to make one?

    "Oh hi Philip, how's things going down in London?  How's the kids? You what? You want to talk about the fiscal union and the inherent threat to our balance of payments? You're worried about the impact of independence on North Sea oil security? I'm sorry. I'm very sorry Philip, but I've really got to go."

    Do you have Scottish friends you never want to speak to again? Why not follow Cameron's advice and give them a call right now. I guarantee you, they will never
    Read More »from Do Cameron and Osborne really want Scotland to stay in the UK?
  • By Caroline Lucas

    Across the country, homes and businesses are being devastated by the current floods, and our hearts go out to everyone whose lives are being turned upside down. I'm sure we all welcome the prime minister's promise earlier this week to "do everything he can" to help – not least because, to date, he has done precisely the opposite: slashing over 500 jobs at the Environment Agency, relaxing planning rules, and overseeing a 41% drop in spending on domestic climate change initiatives.

    So I think it's fair to question whether David Cameron's pledge to "take whatever steps are necessary" relates not only to immediate and much needed flood relief, but also to the urgently needed increase in funding for flood protection, and to a commitment to take a more active role in leading Europe's efforts to cut carbon emissions.

    My attempt to ask him precisely this at prime ministers questions yesterday did not go well.  They say the truth hurts.  Perhaps that's why my intervention was

    Read More »from Flooding: It’s time for the environment secretary to fall on his sword

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