Talking Politics
  • By Alastair Sloan

    The growing row over British security services’ possible involvement in the CIA torture programme is starting to fill a few column inches. Slowly but surely, parliamentarians are feeling the pressure to investigate it fully.

    What’s surprising is that it’s this story which has put the security services in the papers. It’s a speck on the horizon compared to what MI6 are alleged to have been up to in 2014. There have been several scandals which have barely been explored by the British media. It raises the question - are our spooks’ transgressions only newsworthy when editors can’t help but cover them?

    Al Jazeera’s investigative unit broadcastan extraordinary investigation last week speaking to several Kenyan policemen involved in an extra-judicial killing programme that has seen hundreds of Muslim leaders executed in the streets, without trial. MI6 is allegedly providing intelligence leads, training and funding, according to documents acquired by Al Jazeera. One officer,

    Read More »from The allegations against MI6 are serious – so why aren't they front page news?
  • If election fever really is upon us - and Ed Miliband’s speech on immigration and Cameron’s on the economy suggests it is - then it’s unsurprising the press is swapping judgement for partisanship.

    The Telegraph has been handed an internal Labour document on how to counter the Ukip threat. Most media outlets decided to lead with the line that candidates “move the conversation on” once it reaches immigration. The leak of the document is timed to maximise the damage to Miliband, coming just as he unveils the party’s second election pledge on immigration.

    It sounds bad. It sounds like the kind of thing people suspect Labour candidates want to do on the doorstep when immigration is raised. But if you actually read the passage in question it contains nothing a sensible person would not have suggested when tasked with advising the party’s candidates on the election trail.

    This is what the document says:

    "Immigration is a complex issue, on which the Labour party has a series of

    Read More »from The attack on Labour's Ukip leaflet is cynical nonsense
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    So this is what happens when ultra-liberal pro-porn protesters demonstrate against censorship by sitting on each others’ faces.

    It was, without doubt, one of the oddest political protests ever. There was something about this combination of outlandish sexuality with free speech rhetoric that was utterly unpredictable. The mind boggled. Reading on, you should be warned, is only going to make the mind-boggling worse.

    The moment of truth came after the speeches when, in planners’ excited minds, a man from the Guinness Book of World Records would stand with a clipboard counting the unprecedented hundreds of couples engaged in face-sitting. The reality was slightly more hesitant. “Who wants to donate their face?” one girl asked near me. “I’ll donate my face,” a young-looking chap said meekly from the throng nearby. Both looked pleased. They were complete strangers but, somehow, circumstances had collided to create a situation where he was about to lie down on the ground and be sat on by her.

    Read More »from Porn protest: It's politics, but not as we know it
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    By Laura Janes

    The high court did not need to do anything fancy to find that restricting books for prisoners is unlawful.

    Nine months of campaigning by the Howard League, together with English PEN and numerous authors, culminated in a fine legal judgment last Friday.  The case was brought by fearless public law lawyer, Sam Genen, with barristers Annabel Lee, Victoria Butler-Cole and Jenny Richards.

    Mr Justice Collins was asked to rule on whether the restriction on books to prisoners was lawful.  He was provided with a web of complex legal arguments based on human rights and the Equality Act 2010.  In the end, he decided the restriction was unlawful quite simply because the policy’s effect was contrary to what the justice secretary said he intended. 

    Our law, built up case by case over time, says that a policy will be unlawful if its effect is contrary to the expressed intention and objectives that it was supposed to promote.

    In the case of books for prisoners, the secretary of state

    Read More »from Judicial review stopped the prison book ban – but it could soon be lost forever
  • The war on the motorist is over. That was the message last week from George Osborne as he announced plans to spend billions more on building roads across the country.

    His announcement was quickly followed by an interview with Labour’s new shadow transport secretary Michael Dugher in which he promised that drivers would no longer be “demonised” by his party.

    "I want to be a ­transport secretary not a train-spotter and there have been too many ­train-spotters in the job," he told the Mirror.

    But where is the evidence that motorists have been demonised in favour of public transport users as Dugher suggests?

    Because if you look at this analysis by the RAC Foundation we see a rather different picture.

    Far from being under siege, motorists have actually seen their costs frozen and cut in real terms over the past ten years.

    While some motoring costs have increased, the cost of purchasing a car has gone down massively, while the government has announced successive cuts to planned fuel duty

    Read More »from The 'war on the motorist' is a myth
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    Last Friday a judge ruled the government’s ‘prisoner book ban’ is unlawful. We’ve been through the judgement so you don’t have to.

    Mr Justice Collins, in delivering the judgement that rules that the restrictions on prisoners’ access to books are unlawful, reserves special criticism for the justice secretary.

    He notes that Grayling said on March 29th that prisoners were able to order books from Amazon using their prison earnings or money sent in by relatives.

    "This I am bound to say was somewhat misleading," the judge states, "since it seemed to indicate that money sent in could be used with no constraints. In reality, that is not so since a prisoner cannot spend more than his or her weekly limit, however much is sent in by relatives or friends". Under the ‘basic’ tier, that is just £4 a week. Even under the top ‘enhanced’ tier it amounts to just £25.50.

    The claimant referred to comments by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg that a ban on sending books to prisoners “would be ridiculous”

    Read More »from Prisoner book ban judgement: Grayling's views found to be 'absurd' and 'strange'
  • By Graham Stuart MP

    Tony Blair famously told the Labour party they were best when they were boldest. What he didn’t say is that New Labour often only got to be bold in England thanks to the votes of Scottish MPs. Take two of their most controversial reforms: the introduction of foundation hospitals in 2003 and of university tuition fees in 2004. These had profound consequences for the NHS and young people. Crucially, Labour was only able to pass this legislation because of the votes of Scottish MPs. If the votes had been restricted to English MPs, the government would have been defeated.

    It is 37 years this month since Labour MP Tam Dalyell first posed the West Lothian question, asking how it could be fair that MPs from Scotland should be able to vote on matters that only affect England.  As parliament grappled with proposals for Scottish devolution, he gave the example of a Scottish MP voting on matters affecting Blackburn in Lancashire but that didn’t affect Blackburn in West

    Read More »from It's time to let English MPs speak for England
  • By Natalie Bennett

    As I write, newspapers up and down the land will be crunching the numbers, looking at their case studies of ‘the couple with two kids’, ‘the 40-something businesswoman’, ‘the student’, working out what the autumn statement will mean for their individual circumstances.

    Yet already, quite a lot is clear. There are some nuggets in here for the wealthy or the relatively wealthy: to benefit from a tax-free inheritance of ISAs requires that there is a significant ISA to pass on – a distant dream when so many households struggle to meet their basic needs and can’t imagine the possibility of saving.

    Reductions in stamp duty will be of use to those buying  homes – yet there were no measures at all for renters, struggling with out-of-control private landlords and the crushing unavailability of council homes. And there was nothing to deal with the poor quality of our housing stock, which sees millions suffering with poorly insulated, hard-to-heat homes.

    The continued freezing

    Read More »from Only the well-off benefit from Osborne's tinkering
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    Four years ago George Osborne dreamed his 2014 autumn statement would be a moment of euphoric triumph. The reality is a living nightmare - and one the chancellor is trying to cover up.

    No wonder they were yelling so loudly. This is the issue on which the Conservatives hope to win the election. They want the virtuousness of their economic credibility to crowd out any other gripes about immigration, or the NHS, or anything else the country wants to talk about. It’s why No 10 has cleared the decks before this week. Nothing is supposed to get in the way of Osborne’s message.

    It is an autumn statement built on dust. In a nation still groping around for any evidence of a meaningful recovery, the man in charge of the nation’s finances has tried as hard as he can to suggest everything is alright.

    But nothing is alright. It is falling to pieces. The forecasts, the hopes, the optimism of the Office of Budget Responsibility have been proved just as false as the Treasury officials they replaced.

    Read More »from George Osborne's autumn statement is a sham
  • Generally speaking, the Liberal Democrats get a hard time of things. Journalists and the public like to view politics as a black and white battle of convictions, when in truth it is necessarily a process of compromise between individuals and interests.

    Shrieking betrayal at the smallest concession isn’t just childish, it’s also undemocratic. Compromise is the mechanism we use to muddle through in a free society.

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    Much of what has been written about the Lib Dems over recent years has been unfair. None of Nick Clegg’s armchair critics would have been able to make a better decision after the election in 2010. Of all the difficult options available to him, he made the least damaging one. In power, the Lib Dems have fought off plenty of really grotesque Tory policies and modified others.

    You can’t win an election on negative counterfactuals - no-one votes for what might have been if you hadn’t been around. But they had these battles nonetheless, to little public recognition. Plenty of Lib

    Read More »from The night the Lib Dems gave up their last remaining principles

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