Talking Politics
  • By Omaira Gill

    Times are strange in Greece in more ways than one. Nothing is as it should be, not even the weather. At this time of year, conditions are supposed to remain fine, sunny and dry. Instead, short stretches of hot, humid days are being punctuated with monsoon-like downpours. It’s as if not even the weather knows what it’s supposed to be doing right now.

    A worried public watches. On the streets of Athens, on the metro and buses which are free until next Monday, in cafes and in ATM queues, there is only one topic of discussion. Despite Syriza’s reassurances to the contrary, Greece’s European counterparts have made it clear that the vote on Sunday is not a yes or no to more austerity, but a yes or no to Europe and Greece’s continued membership of the eurozone.

    In spite of the showers, on Tuesday night some 20,000 people turned out in Syntagma Square to support a Yes vote, slightly more than the estimated 17,000 that turned out to support a No vote just one evening earlier in the

    Read More »from 'We have to start from zero': Greeks watch as endgame nears
  • David Cameron does a sort of meta-commentary whenever he’s on the BBC. If he’s interviewed by Andrew Marr, he spends most of his time complaining that he is not allowed to speak - seemingly unaware of the fact he needs to speak in order to express it. When he was on Radio 4 earlier this week, he told off the corporation for using an inappropriate word for Islamic State, or Isis, or Isil, or Daesh – whatever you want to call it. One hundred and twenty MPs backed him in a letter to the BBC.

    It looks like the BBC is standing its ground. A response from Lord Hall says:

    “The BBC takes a common sense view when deciding how to describe organisations, we take our cue from the organisation’s description of itself. We have recognised that used on its own the name Islamic State could suggest that such a state exists and such an interpretation is misleading. So we have caveated the name ‘Islamic State’ with words which qualify it eg 'so called Islamic State’.”

    In fact Lord Hall is overly generous.

    Read More »from What's in a name? Why the BBC is right to keep using 'Islamic State'
  • By Kamena Dorling

    Earlier this year, the Home Office removed a mentally ill mother and five-year-old child to Nigeria, despite the risk that both she and her son would end up on the streets and at risk of prostitution, child labour or trafficking. Following a legal challenge,  the Upper Tribunal gave an order that the family be brought back to Britain as the Home Office had failed to have regard to the child’s best interests as a primary consideration.

    Unfortunately this case is not exceptional when it comes to the treatment of young refugees and migrants. Indeed, a report launched today by a group of leading children’s charities, which Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC) contributed to, found vulnerable children are being put at increasing risk.

    CCLC provides legal advice to over 700 migrant children and families a year. We work with children who are in the UK because they are fleeing conflict, human rights abuses or who have already been victims of trafficking. Others were born here

    Read More »from How we impoverish children in the name of a tough immigration policy
  • One of the benefits of a change of chief executive at a corporation is that you get twelve months or so of honesty. The new guy has a built-in incentive to publicise everything which has gone wrong so he can pin the blame on the old guy. This tactic doesn’t work so well in politics because political parties suggest a degree of continuity regardless of the change of personnel. You can blame the old guy if he was from another party, but it’s harder if you both have the same membership card in your wallet.

    There are exceptions however and today was one of them. Ed Miliband had threatened to leave Cabinet over Heathrow. He would not budge on it in opposition. It would have been impossible for him to switch now to support it. Harriet Harman has none of those problems. With certain key pre-publicised conditions, the Labour party is going to support Heathrow expansion, barring a significant change of heart from a new leader.

    Today’s PMQs was a declaration of war. Harman put Cameron on notice

    Read More »from PMQS verdict: Harman wrong-foots Cameron with declaration of war on Heathrow
  • If I'm Lib Dem leader, we'll oppose fracking

    By Tim Farron

    Everywhere I go, liberals and our supporters remind me. Climate change is the biggest threat to our values, our way of life, and our very survival. We were the first party to take climate change seriously, and the first to bring forward a comprehensive plan of action to address it. It was one of the main reasons that I joined the party.

    I believe that Liberal Democrats have much to be proud of from our time in government. By making sure that ambitious targets were adopted under the fourth carbon budget, putting in place the world’s first low carbon energy market and green investment bank and nearly trebling the share of UK electricity produced from renewable sources, we set the UK on the path to a low carbon economy.

    Our work needs to continue. My big fear is that, at a crucial time for action on climate change, greener growth and environmental conservation, the Conservatives will take the country backwards. Already, they are taking away support for onshore wind, the

    Read More »from If I'm Lib Dem leader, we'll oppose fracking
  • The nanny state can't fix our obesity crisis

    By Dr Matt Capehorn

    Two months into the new government and all politicians’ eyes are on Europe, but rushing up to hit them about the head, ears and waistline is obesity, one of our biggest health epidemics.

    Obesity could cost £50 billion a year by 2050, through treatment of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer, while reducing productivity and increasing reliance on the welfare state.

    Most of the UK population are overweight, and a quarter are obese.  Shamefully, one in five children are obese by the time they leave primary school.

    The economic case is clear – treatment costs are more than saved in the long-term by reducing the consequences. But there is no comprehensive care throughout the UK – treatment is a postcode lottery.

    So how should politicians address this? First, the ‘don'ts’:


    Nanny people

    Weight management success relies on motivation.  No magic wand can make someone lose weight if they don’t want to. Simply sending people to do it won’t work

    Read More »from The nanny state can't fix our obesity crisis
  • It was nothing flashy, but Harriet Harman came out of PMQs having achieved much more than it first appeared.

    The acting Labour leader is waiting – seemingly forever – for someone to take over. She can barely hide the fact she doesn’t want to be there anymore. Harman is a very capable public speaker and politician, but she’s just not into it at the moment. She radiates exasperation, like a teenager in the back of a car on a long journey. Cameron always seems to like and admire her, so it’s all fairly respectful, if a little dull.

    He dealt with her pretty well and will be perfectly satisfied with his performance. There were certainly no knock-out blows. But Harman did pin him down on tax credits, a benefit paid to people in work but on low wages. Her party – which still seems in shock, incidentally – should be grateful to her for it. There’s potential here to carve out a political space on benefits which satisfies Labour’s soul and the public mood.

    Cameron’s speech on benefits and income

    Read More »from PMQs verdict: Harman struggles, but pins Cameron down on tax credits
  • As former justice secretary Chris Grayling used to regularly say: there is no prison crisis. It’s too early yet to know if his successor, Michael Gove, agrees. But one of the items which will undoubtable make its way across his desk this week is the report into Pentonville prison. It suggests otherwise.

    In September 2013, prison inspector Nick Hardwick warned that Pentonville was performing badly and needed to be urgently turned around. There followed several months in which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) did very little, except for deny that there was a prison crisis and berate those who suggested otherwise. In those 17 months the situation deteriorated.

    It is, beyond anything else, a question of capacity. The Victorian prison holds 1,200 adults and young adult men, including some of the most “demanding and needy” prisoners. It has an extremely high turnover, with 100 new prisoners arriving every week. There are very high levels of staff sickness and ongoing recruitment problems. The

    Read More »from Pentonville: An imaginary disaster in an imaginary prison crisis
  • After six weeks Michael Gove has emerged from studying the state of the justice system and issued his opening proclamation. He’ll have been pleased by the reception. Despite there being very little meat on the bones, it has won considerable press attention with big write-ups in the major papers.

    Partly that’s due to good timing. We’re not quite in silly season, but political news from Westminster is growing increasingly scarce and news desks are desperate to move on from Greece and the Eurozone. But the coverage dedicated to this speech is partly a testament to Gove himself. He’s known as a fighter. So even though there is more rhetoric than policy in this speech, it’s being treated as a preview of the battle with the legal industry which Gove will invariably end up in. The newspapers today are like those kids at school who would notify everyone in the playground of a fight when two boys looked like they were about to go at it. “Fight! Fight! Read all about it”

    Before the fight starts –

    Read More »from Gove decoded: Is the new justice secretary serious about fixing the justice system?
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    One of the ironies of the BBC is that it conducts its battles with government so nervously, given their comparative levels of public trust. As poll after poll shows, people don’t trust the government, but they do trust, and like, the BBC. And yet two stories from this weekend – Cameron’s might-have-been-a-joke comment that he’d close the BBC down and director general Tony Hall’s acceptance that the licence fee would only last another ten years – showed how disconnected the BBC’s confidence is from its performance.

    Nick Robinson’s odd revelation yesterday that the prime minister had said he would “close them down after the election” could have been a joke. But, as he wrote afterwards, “it doesn’t really matter… the people who did [work for the BBC] regarded it as yet another bit of pressure and a sort of sense of ‘don’t forget who’s boss here’”.

    A sense took hold among senior Tories during the election that the BBC was fighting for a Labour victory. It was an absurd charge which did more

    Read More »from BBC must have confidence in itself if it's to survive coming battle with government


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