Talking Politics
  • The news that Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has finally decided to stand for London mayor should put the fear into the hearts of all of Labour’s current mayoral candidates.

    Goldsmith is by far the Tories’ best chance of hanging onto City Hall. He is a proven election winner who recently increased his own majority from 4,000 to 23,000 in Richmond Park.

    Compare that to Labour candidate Sadiq Khan who saw a Conservative to Labour swing in his Tooting seat of just 0.3% in last month’s general election.

    Goldsmith also has a clear cross party appeal. A strong environmentalist and campaigner for democratic reform he can appeal not just to suburban Tories but to Green party, Liberal and many Labour voters too.

    He would also be a clear break from the current mayor Boris Johnson. Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on pollution this morning, Goldsmith signalled that he would concentrate on making London a greener and more sustainable city.

    In a clear departure from Johnson, who plans to build a

    Read More »from Zac Goldsmith's mayoral bid should strike fear into Labour
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    By Anne Williams

    For a moment last March, it seemed that people armed with nothing but knowledge, determination, and a concern for the common good might actually have defeated wealth, power, privilege, & vested interests.

    Just before the end of the last parliament, and thanks in large measure to an arduous and seemingly hopeless campaign by a small band of concerned citizens, the Liberal Democrats quite bravely called a halt to the intended swift-as-lightening progress through the Commons of Lord Saatchi’s medical innovation bill.

    They had been persuaded that the bill should be subjected to greater scrutiny and debate, given the overwhelming opposition of the vast majority of medical professionals, legal experts, patient advocacy groups and respected charities,

    Fury as Lib Dems kill off Saatchi Bill” screamed the headline in the Telegraph, the bill’s de-facto media partner.  A press release regurgitated by the Press Association ensured similar coverage was duly churned out across the

    Read More »from Could a law intended to help patients actually put them in danger?
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    The Tories enjoy talking about how much power they hand to the public. David Cameron seems very pleased with himself for pledging an EU referendum and regularly attacks Labour for failing to replicate the offer. George Osborne made urban devolution his first announcement after the election, but while broad policy areas are mentioned, the concrete powers cities would recieve are still not clear.

    This morning, education secretary Nicky Morgan had an altogether different message. She plans to stop parents using the law to prevent the government converting their local schools into academies. The attack on judicial review – started by Chris Grayling in the last parliament – continues. Any school considered to be failing will be turned into an academy, with parents stripped of their right to challenge it in the courts

    She told the Today programme:

    “Parents of course have every right and should be interested in their child’s education, but there comes a point where the child’s education is being

    Read More »from Parents to be stripped of power to challenge academies
  • By Ben Keegan

    As an English teacher working in a Chinese university, I took the opportunity of the UK election to introduce my students to a little something called democracy. They didn’t relish this as much as you may think. Many of them have been successfully conditioned into believing that one-party government is the best way. However, they did enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the British system, as all of them will be travelling overseas to work or study, many of them to the UK. I have three cohorts of students: university foundation course students destined to join British universities; local government workers being sent to study in British universities; and Chinese professors planning to go overseas, mostly to America, as visiting scholars.

    Socioeconomically these groups are quite divergent. The university students are largely from wealthy families who can afford to pay the high fees that British universities charge overseas students. Conversely, many of the university

    Read More »from The UK election was so unfair it put my Chinese students off democracy
  • The outpouring of sadness for Charles Kennedy is partly a result of his young age and the suddenness of the death. Partly it is also a reflection of how rare it is for modern politicians to have the charisma and the lightness of touch which promotes genuine, heartfelt sadness at their passing. Kennedy spoke like a human. He was kind-hearted, seemingly unencumbered by instinctive party political spite, and quick to smile.

    But it might be worth spending a moment considering another attribute he had, which politicians and political commentators have shown little ability to emulate over the last few months: he was usually right.

    Being right is a somewhat undervalued quality in Westminster. Politicians succeed on the basis of being loyal and not making mistakes in front of TV cameras. Whether they happen to be right about something is frankly irrelevant. Political commentators can afford to be wrong all the time and no-one holds them to account over it. You’ll frequently see them the day

    Read More »from Charles Kennedy was right about almost everything
  • A few days after the draft psychoactive substances bill was published, its full ramifications are still becoming clear. It is one of the weirdest pieces of law ever proposed by a British government. And at a stroke, it seems to criminalise the majority of households in the UK.

    I’ve written the following using accepted common definitions of the phrases involved, a close reading of the key passages of the draft bill and a little bit of logic. Anyone who can see how these items aren’t criminalised using a strict reading of the bill is very welcome to let me know. We’re all in uncharted legislative water here.

    The psychoactive substances bill bans the production or supply of any psychoactive substance unless it is granted a specific exception, such as tobacco, alcohol, medicine, food or drink.

    According to the bill, a psychoactive substance is something which “is capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it”. It defines ‘psychoactive’ as something which, “by

    Read More »from Things you own which the legal highs bill is going to make illegal
  • Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall came under fire over the weekend for comments about white working class children.

    The outrage followed a speech by Kendall in which she claimed that more needed to be done to help children “particularly from white working class communities” to get on.

    These comments were widely attacked as somehow being a dog-whistle to Ukip voters. But were they?

    I guess it’s possible. It’s always tempting to ascribe the worst possible motives to politicians, especially those currently seeking higher office. However, I think it seems unlikely in this case. For one thing Kendall is reportedly the most pro-immigration of all the Labour leadership contenders.

    She also made the comments during a speech about education. It therefore seems far more likely that Kendall was actually referring to a very real, but little discussed problem - the underperformance of white working class (WWC) children in the UK.

    Labour leader contender Liz Kendall speaks at De Montfort University, where she made a pitch for party votesLabour leader contender Liz Kendall speaks at De Montfort University, where she made a pitch for party votes

    Multiple studies have raised concerns that white children in

    Read More »from It's not racist to want to help white working class kids
  • It’s easy to get lost in the technicalities of the government’s new anti-union legislation. Is it right that union ballots should require 50% turnouts before authorising a strike? Is it fair for members to have to opt-in to union political funds rather than opt-out?

    By forcing us to stare at the ripples in front of us, we miss the tidal wave behind us. We miss the fact that what the Conservative government are really trying to do is kill off the trade union movement altogether.

    Most of the coverage of the government’s new Trade Unions Bill has focused on the opt-in rule as a threat to Labour’s funding. But really this is not about damaging Labour. It is about damaging the basic ability of working and middle class people to campaign for good pay and employment rights.

    Because the new opt-in rules will not just affect unions’ ability to fund the Labour party. They will affect their ability to fund any kind of political activity whatsoever. It will hamper any future campaigns for a living

    Read More »from The end of the trade union movement
  • George Galloway yesterday announced that he plans to stand for London mayor. It’s worth saying from the outset that he has almost no chance of actually being elected. He has only just been booted out of his parliamentary seat in the general election and the last time he stood in London he came a poor third behind both the Labour and Tory candidates.

    He is a shameful opportunist with very little obvious support outside of a small area of East London. In order for him to be elected it would take a collective act of mass hysteria not seen since the Great Fire of London. It is simply not going to happen.

    However, it would be wrong to dismiss him entirely as a joke candidate. Galloway for all his many weaknesses, remains a skilled campaigner. His surprise victory in Bradford West shocked everyone but Galloway himself.

    More importantly the London mayoralty has always been a personality contest and although Galloway’s personality is not to everyone’s taste, he remains a skilled orator and a big

    Read More »from George Galloway for London mayor? Labour shouldn't dismiss it as a joke
  • Even by the standards of modern legislation, the psychoactive substances bill is startlingly inane. It seems to ban any substance which can cause a mental or emotional reaction. As must be obvious, that’s almost everything in the world. Did this taste remind you of your mother’s cooking? It’s a psychoactive substance. Did it bring you a moment of happiness? It’s a psychoactive substance. The government is about to ban almost everything.

    This is not, to be fair, the legislation. This is just the advert. But the description of the bill in the Queen’s Speech is troubling enough.

    “The Bill would make it an offence to produce, supply, offer to supply, possess with intent to supply, import or export psychoactive substances; that is, any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. The maximum sentence would be seven years’ imprisonment.”

    Note the line “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive

    Read More »from The government just banned everything

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