Talking Politics
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    By Nicholas Lavender

    No-one is perfect. No government is perfect, no local authority is perfect and no other public body is perfect.  To err is human.

    Yet governments, local authorities and other public bodies take decisions which affect people’s lives.  And yet inevitably, since they are human, some decisions will be wrong and devastating for the people affected by them. 

    So there needs to be a mechanism for correcting public bodies’ mistakes.  And there is.  It is called judicial review.  Judicial review is the process people use to challenge unlawful decisions by those in power.  It can, for instance, stop imprisonment without charge, prevent care homes and schools from being closed or moved without good reason, and halt wrongly-granted planning permission.

    On Monday MPs will be asked to constrain judicial review and make it harder for their constituents to challenge unlawful action by Government, local authorities and other public bodies.  I hope they will resist the invitation.

    So

    Read More »from MPs must stop the government passing a law to protect itself against scrutiny
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    Parliament has a problem: no-one understands what it actually does. There is no bigger or more pressing reason for dramatic reform.

    Even well-educated, generally informed people utter regrettably unfortunate phrases like “the chamber of the Commons – that’s where the government meets, right?” In fact research for the Audit of Political Engagement from the Hansard Society found 63% of people think parliament and government are the same thing.

    "The problem is there’s a deep misunderstanding in the country that parliament and the government are the same," says Graham Allen, chair of the political and constitutional reform committee.

    It’s been this way for decades – even centuries – but just five years ago there was a very real sense that things might, just might, be about to change.

    After the scandal

    In 2009 the then leader of the opposition made a bold pledge: to support a change to the status quo.

    "If we’re serious about redistributing power from the powerful to the powerless, it’s time

    Read More »from Us and them: Our feeble parliament is hurting our politics
  • There is precious little information about how the main political parties plan to meet their deficit reduction targets after the election. While we’re debating what a photo of a white van means, somewhere in the backroom of Tory HQ they are formulating plans to fundamentally reshape the state. Quite possibly, they are doing the same thing at Labour HQ. Everything is in darkness, except for the traumatic scale of the cuts.

    A report today by the Resolution Foundation outlines the scale of what is coming and the democratic failure of refusing to share these plans with the electorate. As the group’s chief economist, Matthew Whitaker, said:

    "Meeting the fiscal targets set out by the main political parties could mean a redrawing of the boundaries of the state due to swingeing cuts, significant new taxes, or a slower path of deficit reduction and more debt – or a mix of all three. Yet no party has really made clear which it’s going to be.

    "The gap between the scale of consolidation implicit

    Read More »from Something wicked this way comes: The mystery of deficit reduction after 2015
  • Can anyone explain why migrants should be banned from receiving in-work benefits?

    Both Labour and the Tories are competing over which is best-placed to restrict tax credits from migrant workers. Both say that this will make the benefits system more ‘fair’. But will it?

    In-work benefits are by definition only paid to those people who are in work and pay tax. They are effectively a tax cut on our earned income. As Ken Clarke, pointed out over the weekend, EU migrants have to pay the same tax as people born in the UK, so why shouldn’t they receive the same tax credits as well?

    In fact, you could make the case that migrants are entitled to even greater in-work benefits than those born here. After all, the cost of educating and caring for them has already been paid out by another country’s taxpayers. Many migrants workers also return to their country of origin so will not even be reliant on state care in their retirement. They are paying into the UK state while getting relatively little

    Read More »from Migrants are just as entitled to tax credits as the rest of us
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    By Symon Hill

    Attacking working-class people in general, and the poorest in particular, has become a routine activity for many mainstream politicians and columnists in the UK – as the response to Labour MP Emily Thornberry’s ambiguous tweet shows.

    The Tories and Lib Dems have slashed public services that are most needed by those who can’t afford to go private. Labour is so scared of appearing left-wing that it’s offering no meaningful alternative. The right-wing press carry lurid stories of benefit cheats, ignoring the evidence that less than one per cent of benefit claims are fraudulent. Faced with a lack of social housing and vicious private sector rents, the party leaders fail to challenge the rhetoric that blames lack of homes on immigrants.

    It seems to be acceptable to attack working-class voters, destroy their services and remove their benefits. What appears to be unacceptable is to criticise working class people who may be nationalistic – or even post a tweet with a photo of a

    Read More »from Working class people are the victims of kneejerk prejudice
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    The problem with trying to out-nasty Ukip is that Nigel Farage’s party can always go that little bit nastier.

    Within hours of Labour announcing draconian plans to strip EU migrants of benefits yesterday, Ukip’s Rochester candidate announced they would simply deport them instead.

    Speaking at an election hustings last night, Mark Reckless suggested that in future Polish plumbers living in Rochester would only be allowed to stay for a “fixed period” before having to leave.

    “I think in the near term we’d have to have a transitional period, and I think we should probably allow people who are currently here to have a work permit at least for a fixed period,” he said.

    “Where would you stop, Mark?” Labour’s candidate Naushabah Khan asked him, apparently stunned.

    “My family are migrants, are we going to say they need to go back as well?”

    This was obviously intended as a rhetorical question, but the logical answer to Khan’s question is ‘yes’. If we accept it’s okay to deport Polish plumbers and

    Read More »from Reckless' deportation comments shows how Ukip drags debate to the far-right
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    One of the greatest confidence tricks ever pulled was to convince the public that there is an airport capacity crisis in the UK.

    Every conversation about airport expansion now starts from the assumption that it is urgently required. Every debate begins by asking where expansion should take place, not whether it should take place.

    How has this remarkable feat been achieved? How have the public been swindled into believing that our airports are full to bursting, with planes being turned away in the skies?

    Because if you look at the figures, it’s clear that we are not even close to having an aviation capacity crisis in the UK.

    Of the ten busiest airports in the country, just one (Heathrow) is technically full. The rest are massively underused. In 2012, Stansted had 47% of all its runway slots left empty, while Luton airport had 51% unused.

    Even Gatwick, which is currently fighting with Heathrow for the right to build more runways, was 12% underused.

    The aviation lobby itself admits there

    Read More »from How we've been conned into believing the UK has an airport crisis
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    By Frances Crook

    They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and I am pretty cross. I was nominated for an honorary degree at my old university and was rejected. Whatever you think about honorary degrees, it is quite heart-warming to be recognised by your peers in one way or another. I would never claim to be a great academic, but I like to think that my life’s work has promoted research and original thinking about issues of some public concern.

    So I asked a few universities how many men and how many women had been awarded honorary degrees as I had a suspicion that there might be a smidgeon of sexism lurking behind the decision. Even I was surprised at the results.

    Liverpool University has awarded 121 honorary degrees in the last ten year and 100 of them were to men.

    Cambridge University has awarded 80 honorary degrees in and 59 were to men.

    Oxford University has awarded 96 and 65 were to men.

    Birmingham University has awarded 210 and 168 were to men.

    Manchester University has

    Read More »from Why won't universities recognise successful women?
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    It probably seems like a minor miracle that anyone around Ed Miliband is still keeping their heads. But right now, the Labour leader’s team have a plan for him to get out of trouble.

    Things are, undoubtedly, rather shaky. This week’s seen a scathing article from the New Statesman’s editor, Jason Foley. Labour MPs from the north-west have asked awkward questions. And at least four of them have called on Miliband to step down.

    Awkward times for the Labour leader. But there is a way out of all this. A way, somehow, that despite everything Miliband could end up standing on the steps of Downing Street as the victor of next year’s general election.

    Such a possibility seems ridiculous to most in Westminster. They scoff at the idea because Miliband is a geeky man who appears unattractive and even unelectable to many. Unlike David Cameron, they say Miliband is not natural prime minister material.

    Clement Attlee was not natural prime minister material, either, and it’s fair to say he’s left his

    Read More »from Don't panic, Ed - it's not too late to win the election
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    By Jane Fae

    Over the last couple of years, it has become almost de rigueur in some circles to mock the idiocies of the new right, from Ukip to Britain First. This not only obscures the seriousness of the growing threat to democratic values but feeds it, confirming to ordinary people that politics is essentially elitist – and alienating those whose hearts we most need to be winning back.

    If you wish to understand where we are politically right now you could do worse than take in a musical. Catch up, if you can, on Cabaret, which in between a belting score and a poignant story of ambition, love and loss, documents the inexorable rise of Nazism in 1931 Germany.

    Centred on the KitKat Club – the cabaret of the title – it begins with a soft focus pan across the German bourgeoisie. Not a Nazi in sight - early on, the sole party member who dares disturb the clientele’s smug complacency is unceremoniously ejected. Fun is made of these upstarts.

    Yet all is not right. The club manager pays

    Read More »from Stop laughing at the hard right and start challenging their politics

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