Talking Politics
  • 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
  • By Gareth Davies

    Last week New York congressman Michael Grimm took exception to a reporter who brought up his campaign funds during a television interview. He proceeded to threaten to throw him off a balcony and "break" him in half "like a boy".

    Mr Grimm has since apologised to NY1's Michael Scotto, although he doubted he was the first member of congress to "tell off a reporter".

    I also received an apology from a politician recently. A councillor called me on my mobile, a month after saying we were "finished" due to a piece which included unflattering figures relating to one of his policies. He stopped short of threatening to launch me off the public gallery at Croydon town hall, but he swore, threatened to take me to the Press Complaints Commission and then tried to lodge a formal complaint with my editor.

    After a few weeks of silent treatment he responded to an email asking for a comment on a different story. He gave me a quote and said he was sorry for losing his cool,
    Read More »from The abysmal behaviour of councillors tarnishes local politics
  • On Thursday, the immigration minister was informed that his cleaner was an undocumented immigrant.

    By yesterday afternoon he had resigned. Downing Street and the press like swift resignations. Thus far, the incident has been treated either as an ironic, it-could-have-come-from-The-Thick-Of-It joke or as a commendable example of Samurai-like honour.

    Neither response is useful. In fact, Mark Harper's departure sets a dangerous precedent which ushers in a poisonous and authoritarian political climate.

    Admittedly, it can be tempting to laugh. Harper's resignation is a meat-and-potatoes example of political hypocrisy, especially given his plans to force landlords, driving licence authorities, banks and GPs to turn into de-facto immigration officers.

    But the predominant narrative has been the more sombre one. Most political commentators and fellow MPs have adopted a grave expression and spoken of an honourable man brought low by human error.

    Even his Labour shadow, David Hanson, had kind

    Read More »from The immigraton minister’s resignation puts us in dangerous moral territory
  • Please protect me from smoking in cars

    By Liam Pape

    I've always been passionate about trying to protect young people from tobacco and the dangerous effect that second-hand smoke has on us.

    In 2011 I was lucky enough to go with the British Lung Foundation to Downing Street and hand in a petition on smoking in cars with children. I think that was the moment that I really felt like my voice mattered and so I continue to fight for my rights and those of other children.

    Over the last few years people have been rigorously informed, through advertising campaigns and petitions, about the harm of smoke. But smoking is an addiction – that is a fact.

    My father smoked since he was a teenager and stopped only last year. Thankfully, he never smoked when I was in the car with him but not everyone is as considerate.

    Young people dislike the taste and smell of cigarette fumes. Friends who've been in cars full of smoke complain it makes them feel sick, often giving them a headache and they can taste and smell smoke on themselves for the rest

    Read More »from Please protect me from smoking in cars
  • The prime minister can't open his mouth on the Scottish referendum without strengthening the nationalist cause. He's a walking advert for independence.

    "I love this country," David Cameron declared at the Olympic Park in an emotional speech today. "And I will fight with everything I have to keep this country together."

    The prime minister's enthusiasm is laudable. His problem, regrettably, is that his ability to contribute to the 'no' campaign is rather embarrassingly limited – as the deeply hostile reaction to his speech from angry nationalists is demonstrating.

    Cameron's speech is controversial for three reasons.

    Firstly, it happened in London. He didn't even bothered to venture north of the border! Yet this is the whole point: he's trying to talk to the rest of the UK about Scotland, not talk to Scotland about the rest of the UK. The PM wants to encourage everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to talk more about how marvellous they think Scotland is.

    Second, the speech took

    Read More »from Whenever Cameron talks about Scottish independence, the ‘no’ campaign winces
  • MPs have come to despise 38 Degrees for clogging up their inboxes with emails from constituents. They need to get used to it - because this model of campaigning-by-email-bombardment isn't going away.

    For an organisation only set up in 2009, 38 Degrees has notched up its fair share of victories. It forced the coalition government's first big U-turn, on the forests sell-off. It called for more free school meals – and Nick Clegg duly announced they were being rolled out for all infants. It raised enough cash to pay for the judicial review which successfully challenged health secretary Jeremy Hunt's plans to shut down key services at Lewisham hospital.

    "It's not often you can say 'I took the government to court and won', but that's what thousands of 38 Degrees members could say last year," its executive director David Babbs tells me. We're seated at a meeting table in the middle of the 38 Degrees office in central London. From here, the small team of around 15 staff coordinate the

    Read More »from Meet British politics’ spammer-in-chief
  • By Roger Mortimore

    For more than a decade now, whenever Ipsos Mori conducts a poll of voting intentions, we published two sets of figures: which party everybody who expresses an opinion says they would support if there were a general election tomorrow, and which parties those people who are certain they would vote would support.

    Once, when election turnouts were much higher, we could be pretty sure that almost everybody who knew which party they preferred would get to the polling station to vote for them, and the figures based on everybody's answers were an accurate political indicator. Today that is no longer the case, and we use the 'certain to vote' measurement as our headline statement of voting intentions.

    Over the years, one effect of relying on the 'certain to vote' figures has usually been that our polls have shown Conservative support at a higher level, and Labour support at a lower level, than would have been the case if we had used the unfiltered figures. Nothing surprising

    Read More »from Another reason why Labour might win the next general election
  • By Baroness Howe of Idlicote

    David Cameron has done a great deal to put online safety on the political agenda but there are some big problems with the self-regulatory approach that he has adopted. I highlighted them this week through an amendment to the children and families bill.

    First, self regulation does not cover all the market. Between five and ten per cent of the market, which amounts to over one million homes and hundreds of thousands of children, is left without default filters. Indeed one internet service provider, Andrews and Arnold, has flatly refused to introduce default filters. Its home page proudly proclaims its commitment to "unfiltered internet access for all". If we are to provide proper protection for all children we need a legislative approach to cover 100% of the market.

    Second, if default filters are to be effective they must be complemented with robust age verification so one can be sure that those disabling adult content filters are 18 years or over.


    Read More »from Ofcom should be given control of internet filters


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