Talking Politics
  • By Keith Porteous Wood

    While religious leaders are as entitled as anyone else to express their views about the Assisted Dying Bill - about to be debated in Parliament - there is no doubt the media give the opinions of “faith leaders” disproportionate prominence.

    This week a motley crew of them signed a letter opposing the Bill which featured in practically every major media outlet.

    For some reason these religious leaders tend to be treated as possessing a moral acuity denied to the rest of us. As a result I fear many will have subconsciously imagined the letter carried an extra authority simply because it carried the imprimatur of some archbishop, imam or rabbi.

    Despite acknowledging significant dissent from former Archbishop George Carey, the letter gave the impression it broadly echoed the views held by the faithful the signatories purport to lead. But does it?

    In reality a poll by YouGov found that only 18% of the public who identified as belonging to a religion opposed “the legalisation

    Read More »from Assisted Dying Bill: Church has no right to deny their flock dignity in death
  • Is the trans inquiry just a fig leaf?

    By Jane Fae

    Ground-breaking stuff? Or a fig leaf designed to head-off pressure for real change?

    As one of its first projects in the new parliament, the women and equalities committee is inquiring formally into the issue of equality for trans folk. Today they’ve been taking oral evidence.

    But why? Why now? And why bother? Surely trans people have arrived. Not just all the froth, from Vanity Fair to Loose Women, about Kellie Maloney and Caitlyn Jenner.  Surely we’ve reached the famous ‘transgender tipping point’, announced so confidently to the world from the front cover of Time magazine last year by trans actress Laverne Cox. Surely the women’s committee has better things to do with its time.

    The first and most obvious reason is that, for all the positive headlines, progress on the trans front has been patchy and piecemeal stuff. For every heart-warming story of trans acceptance on the part of the public, there are behind-the-scenes stories of discrimination, harassment and abuse. We’re not

    Read More »from Is the trans inquiry just a fig leaf?
  • There’s a rumour going round that any Syrian child brought to the UK under the refugee programme announced by David Cameron yesterday will be deported when they turn 18.

    It’s the product of Paddy Ashdown, former Lib Dem leader, who yesterday tweeted: “Minister in the Lords just confirmed refugee orphans and children brought in under Cameron’s scheme will be deported at age 18.”

    He made similar statements on the Today programme this morning, saying the government position had changed overnight. He wasn’t quite right the first time and he certainly wasn’t right the second time, but he’s raising something important which we rarely talk about: how Britain treats young refugees when they turn 18.

    First, what did he get wrong? Well, they won’t necessarily be deported at 18 and it’s unhelpful to suggest otherwise. Secondly, there was no change of position overnight.

    During the Lords debate, Lord Wallace asked:

    “When we hear about the fact that we will give priority to vulnerable children including

    Read More »from The deportation game: What happens when refugees turn 18?
  • By Steve Moore

    Over the past few years campaigners for drug reform in the UK have drawn some meagre encouragement from the emergence of post-prohibition policies in a few US states, as well as Uruguay and Portugal.

    All were heralded as long overdue progressive alternatives to the approach adopted by successive British governments. But until now it has been easy for ministers and officials to dismiss US innovations as a product of libertarianism at odds with our culture. And anyway, when was the last time a UK policy was implemented because it worked in Montevideo, Lisbon or Anchorage?

    But in recent weeks a more significant development has emerged in the Republic of Ireland. It’s harder to ignore and could even get some attention from a somnolent Labour party. I got my first glimpse of it during an event in Dublin last Friday led by Labour minster for justice Aodhán O'Ríordáin.

    If a candidate of O'Ríordáin’s calibre was standing in the UK Labour party leadership race, Jeremy Corbyn might

    Read More »from The man who made Ireland fall in love with drug law reform
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    David Cameron’s announcement in the Commons yesterday that the UK will accept up to 20,000 Syrian refugees seems impressive. It puts us behind France and Germany but is a much bigger number than expected.

    But when you scratch the surface, it starts to fall apart.

    Cameron’s promise is for 20,000 people over the course of this parliament. That means we’re taking at most 4,000 a year. That must surely be considered the absolute minimum the government could have promised given the scale of the crisis.

    The refugees will almost certainly be taken under the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme (VPR), which was designed to funnel people considered vulnerable by the UNCHR’s Gateway programme through a British mechanism. The use of VPR, rather than the UNHCR programme, means the UK can restrict the refugees to Syrian nationals.

    But why should we? Reports coming in yesterday detail how boats full of Eritrean women and children are being intercepted in the Med. Why shouldn’t they be entitled to help?

    Read More »from Why we should be suspicious of Cameron's Syrian refugee announcement
  • There has been lots of talk in recent days about a ‘late surge’ for Yvette Cooper, with some in Westminster even predicting she will pull off a surprise victory at the eleventh hour.

    Of course this is technically possible. Cooper has had a good few weeks, while Corbyn has run into some real trouble. This year’s general election should also make us all wary of following the consensus about what will happen in upcoming elections.

    But if Cooper is about to shock the nation, it would fly in the face of all the available evidence.

    On every measure, from the polling, to the CLP nominations, to campaign canvassing returns, to the sheer numbers of supporters Corbyn is turning out at his campaign events, he is well ahead.

    Now it’s true that the race could be much closer than it appears on all these measures, in which case there could be a reasonable chance that Cooper could win on second preferences. However, I have yet to find anybody outside of Cooper’s own supporters who believes it is that

    Read More »from No, Yvette Cooper is not about to win the Labour leadership
  • The sabre rattling in the tabloid press has begun with a vengeance. Years in which they showed no interest in Syria shifted over the summer to fear-mongering over ‘migrant swarms’. That then flipped into about 48 hours of humane concern about refugees in the wake of the Aylan Kurdi photo. It was a strange and uncomfortable position for right-wing tabloids to find themselves in, so they quickly tried to pivot out of it and today they are in full-on war-mongering mode.

    The Sun has been particularly deranged. Months ago it published a piece by Katie Hopkins in which she fantasised about gunning down refugee boats. It was the product of a mentally and emotionally unstable woman which should never have been published. It came very close to inciting violence against refugees. Tellingly, the tweet promoting it was quietly deleted after the Aylan Kurdi photo started to spread.

    Over the months which followed, the newspaper published the usual gutter hatred for migrants and refugees which it

    Read More »from Even supporters of Syrian intervention should be wary of sabre-rattling in the press
  • By Stephen Hale

    Dear Prime Minister,

    Thanks for taking the time to read my memo last Friday. I know you’ve had a lot of advice on this since then.

    I said then that the national mood was changing, that the scale of the crisis demanded a different approach, and that you would be seen as lacking in compassion unless your government changed course. This has been proved correct. Public horror over the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi, who died seeking safety alongside his mother and older brother, has reached a crescendo over the past 48 hours, with several hundred thousand people calling for the UK to do more to help refugees.

    Your suggestion on Wednesday that taking more refugees was not even part of the solution led to passionate calls for a change in your position from every corner including some of your own MPs.

    So thank you for changing course. I know from your words this morning that you now recognise Britain must act on our moral responsibility and welcome thousands more refugees.

    It’s been

    Read More »from Dear David Cameron: Now turn your words into action on refugees
  • By David Torrance

    For the past eight years or so opinion polls have been remarkably kind to the SNP. The most recent shows support for both the party and its core aim of independence running at more than 50%, popularity unprecedented for an administration now more than eight years old.

    Yesterday’s STV poll was yet more good news for the SNP: 48% said the party had the best policies on health, 49% on education, and 40% on crime and anti-social behaviour. Party leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, enjoys a net approval rating of 48% compared to minus 40% for David Cameron north of the border.

    Pundits keep saying the nationalists will peak, but the summit keeps on getting higher.

    As a consequence of this apparently endless honeymoon, only recently has Scotland’s new natural party of government endured any real detailed scrutiny of its actual record. As a result there remains a sizeable gap between SNP rhetoric and reality.

    So what of its record: one, according to Ms Sturgeon

    Read More »from The SNP's record in government has escaped scrutiny for too long
  • By Maeve McClenaghan


    Yesterday a heartbreaking photograph emerged of a Syrian toddler washed up of the beaches of Turkey, drowned as his family desperately tried to reach the shores of Greece and the safety of Europe. The image of the young child’s lifeless body shocked and revolted the world in equal measure - but behind the photo lies an equally horrifying story about the way authorities have been treating asylum seekers, and in particular, children. It is a story that stretches all the way to the borders of the UK and beyond.

    Over the past year I have been researching the struggle faced by unaccompanied asylum-seeking children that arrive in the UK looking for protection. I interviewed dozens of experts, social workers, lawyers and asylum-seeking teenagers and found that far from being welcomed to safety, vulnerable children face an overwhelming number of obstacles. Rather than receiving sanctuary, children are routinely disbelieved about their age and locked up in detention centres

    Read More »from How the UK government fails and disowns traumatised child refugees


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