Talking Politics
  • The government’s drug experts could not be described as radical libertarians. They are a conservative bunch, assessing drug harms and usually reaching a decision which recommends maintaining or adopting a prohibitionist stance against various narcotics. But even they have now become too liberal for the Home Office.

    One of the least-noticed aspects of the new psychoactive substances bill is that it effectively scraps the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). For years this relatively timid body has been a thorn in the government’s side. Its former boss, David Nutt, had to resign when he pointed out various statistical truths about the minimal risk of ecstasy to the then-home secretary, Alan Johnson. It recently advised the government not to ban the relatively harmless drug khat, which it ignored. It then recommended that it refrain from banning the even more harmless drug nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. It ignored this too.

    It is now clear that the council’s days are

    Read More »from The government is silencing its own drug experts
  • David Cameron wants you to look at the causes of terrorism, but not too closely.

    His speech on extremism and terrorism today suggests the Muslim community is “quietly condoning” anti-Western ideology and that this is behind the rise in British Muslims travelling to fight and die for Isis in Syria.

    This is how Cameron operates, in case after case. It is not quite his fault. It is the fault of conservatism. When your primary analysis is that things should stay roughly as they are, you are liable to come up with highly superficial assessments of why they might have gone wrong.

    The key section of Cameron’s speech – which was briefed to journalists overnight – is worth quoting in full. It is rather clunky, I’m afraid, but revealing.

    “The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview? I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist

    Read More »from We are all victims of Cameron's complacency on terrorism
  • Last night confirmed what everyone already thought: Labour is in serious trouble. Any Tory tuning in will have been immensely comforted by the spectacle of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall in Labour’s first leadership hustings.

    None of the candidates are particularly inspiring. None offered a political assessment of the country or the party which was in any way original or revealing. Two of them - Burnham and Cooper - seemed to have no political assessments to offer at all. The remaining two were playing old tunes, Corbyn from 80s, Kendall from the 90s.

    Kendall’s politics happen to be the most misguided of all the candidates. She wants to embrace the right in a way which does not correspond to the evidence of electoral demand but instead follows the prescriptions of right-wing newspapers. Such a move would give up on Scotland, worsen the party’s performance in its heartland and try to fight the Tories in a battlefield of their choosing, where they are

    Read More »from Labour hustings verdict: The candidates are awful, but Kendall is probably the least awful
  • Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords

    By Peter Reynolds

    Yesterday, Baroness Molly Meacher asked a question about cannabis in the House of Lords. The question was whether cannabis could be re-scheduled out of schedule one - which determines that it has no medicinal value - to schedule two or three, which would allow doctors to prescribe it and researchers to use it more easily in studies and clinical trials.

    The government behaved exactly as expected.  The most generous interpretation is that its spokesman, Lord Bates, was misinformed. His first response to Lady Meacher’s question was to parrot the Home Office’s usual line on cannabis about it being a harmful drug etc etc.

    A video of the eight minute debate is available here.  A full transcript is here.

    This, of course, is nothing to do with medicinal use.  Most medicines are far more harmful than cannabis and any potential harms are traded off against therapeutic benefit.  The government’s standard and dishonest line is to answer questions on medicinal use with wildly

    Read More »from Fight for medicinal cannabis reaches the Lords
  • By Marissa Begonia

    For a month, I couldn’t make-up my mind if my charity would celebrate International Domestic Workers Day.  Justice 4 Domestic Workers was still reeling from our defeat over the modern slavery bill. Some felt we had nothing to celebrate. We  had campaigned and lobbied MPs and the Lords tirelessly, asking them to give foreign domestic workers in the UK the right to change their employer and thereby escape abuse. We dreamed up publicity stunts – cleaning the pavements of Whitehall, or delivering ‘No To Slavery’ postcards to No10. We are a small charity, run entirely by current foreign domestic workers living in the UK, and we use our only day off each week to organise, campaign, and protect each other.

    It was a 'ping pong’ bill, bouncing between the Lords and the Commons. At the last moment, we convinced members of the House of Lords to include a clause removing the disastrous “tied visa”, a regime introduced by the government in April 2012 which prevented domestic

    Read More »from Modern day slavery - how domestic workers are left at the mercy of their employer
  • There are some political speeches which are so brazenly hypocritical you have to presume they’re doing it on purpose. David Cameron’s Magna Carta speech today is firmly in that category. In a short statement, the prime minister will reel off accomplishments which he himself has done his best to destroy during his time in government. It is a quite staggering moment of insincerity.

    “Eight hundred years ago, on this day, King John put his seal to a document that would change the world,” the prime minister starts. “We talk about the ‘law of the land’ and this is the very land where that law – and the rights that flow from it – took root.”

    He then lists what the law of the land entails:

    “The limits of executive power, guaranteed access to justice, the belief that there should be something called the rule of law, that there shouldn’t be imprisonment without trial. Magna Carta introduced the idea that we should write these things down and live by them. That might sound like a small thing to us

    Read More »from Cameron has betrayed every principle he mentions in his Magna Carta speech
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    A despairing assessment has conquered Labour since the general election. Roughly speaking, it goes like this: a left wing proposition was put to the country and failed, revealing the fundamentally conservative mentality of the British electorate. But even if the party darts to the centre-right, which it must, it will still not be able to win in 2020. With Scotland lost (you’ll notice this assessment implicitly gives up on ever winning it back) and the Tories set to launch a self-serving boundary review, the party will need a 12.5% lead over the Tories to win. The new leader will only be able to lay the foundation of a win in 2025.

    It is a song of despair, based on nothing but pessimism and failure of imagination. The truth is that even with a systemic advantage, the Tories are beatable. They won just 36.9% of the vote. They are about to enter into a two-year civil war over Europe. They have a majority of 12, which will be chipped away at by by-elections and made torturous by a

    Read More »from Labour can win in 2020 – but it has to pause this leadership contest
  • For a long time the role of the independent reviewer of terror legislation was almost a contradiction in terms. Lord Carlile seemed to support everything the authoritarian New Labour government did without hesitation or criticism. He was virtually indistinguishable from a junior Home Office minister.

    That’s no longer the case. Today’s report on the state’s investigatory powers by David Anderson shows he is a very different beast. He ploughs a middle-of-the-road course, for which the title ‘independent reviewer’ seems an appropriate description.

    His new report published today will outrage Ed Snowden-types. There is no proposal there to roll back the inordinate and extensive powers of the state to intrude into our private lives. But it will upset the government even more, because Anderson basically states there is a weak case for the powers envisaged by the snoopers’ charter and proposes a test for them which the government will find difficulty to satisfy. So Snowden types will be

    Read More »from Tories face tough snoopers' charter battle as independent reviewer finally lives up to his name
  • One of the least edifying rhetorical tools used by politicians is the anonymous voter. These faceless puppets are used to deliver whatever message the politician really wants to put across, but daren’t say themselves. They are not really people, but caricatures. They are no more representative of the diversity of the British public than the cast of a BBC3 sitcom. Their only real purpose is to distance a politician from whatever unpalatable point they’re trying to make.

    There was a particularly unpleasant example of this during yesterday’s Labour leadership hustings in Dublin. Speaking about the need to win back voters from Ukip, Andy Burnhamtold a story about a man who claimed he felt isolated at work, because none of his colleagues spoke English.

    The man told Burnham (and we’ll have to take his word for this) that he sits on his own during his lunch breaks because not a single one of his colleagues is able to speak the language.

    The man allegedly told him: “When you’re at work and you

    Read More »from Labour can’t win by aping Ukip
  • By Catherine Bearder MEP

    This was the day the European parliament was supposed to give its position on negotiations over a controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP. However, due todivisions between MEPs over the controversial investor dispute mechanism, the vote has now been delayed. As calls grow to scrap the trade deal entirely, I believe we need to look at how to iron out its flaws without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    A trade deal with the US has the potential to bring major benefits to the UK economy. Currently the US is the biggest export destination for UK small businesses, with over half of all small exporting firms doing business there. But barriers to trade between the EU and the US, such as tariffs or different standards and regulations, can make it difficult for small companies to expand their businesses across the Atlantic.

    Take Penny Seume, a textile designer based in Bristol. Due to slightly different flammability regulations in the EU and US, she currently

    Read More »from We can still save TTIP – but we have to get rid of these secret corporate courts

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