Talking Politics
  • Revealing Iain Duncan Smith’s enthusiasm for putting obese benefit claimants on a liquid diet says a lot about the motivation of the man running the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

    To your average Tory, giving benefit scroungers a shove in the right direction is never the wrong thing to do. IDS thinks obese benefit claimants could do with a very big shove indeed.

    Suggesting they might want to consider a liquid diet is an idea which is as uncompromising as it is divisive. Some voters I’ve spoken to about it think it’s exactly what obese ‘scroungers’ need (none of them were obese themselves). Others have reacted with horror that Duncan Smith could even contemplate such a course of action. Either way, his motives are revealing.

    Read More »from Liquid diets: Iain Duncan Smith targets obese benefit claimants
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    The latest proposals for tackling smoking are out and, as always, they mimic the authoritarian response in the US.

    The London Health Commission, set up by Boris Johnson last year under ex-Labour health minister Lord Darzi, has called on the mayor to make bylaws banning smoking in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square and exert influence over the royal parks, where he appoints the board, to also ban smoking in their spaces. The clear hope is that London’s 32 local councils would then follow his lead and ban smoking in their parks.

    Will the mayor play ball? Johnson always prides himself on his instinctive libertarianism, but it’s skin deep. His first act as mayor was to ban drinking on public transport. Only weeks ago he was calling for the presumption of innocence to be overturned in certain criminal trials. This week he U-turned on years of pro-immigration rhetoric to call for restrictions of European freedom of movement. He jumps whichever way the wind is already blowing. He said of

    Read More »from Park smoking ban shows how tragically anti-smoking movement lost its way
  • What exactly is David Axelrod doing for Labour?

    By Richard Heller

    Last spring Labour secured the services of David Axelrod, Barack Obama’s election strategist, for an undisclosed six-figure sum. This was hailed as a dramatic political coup, trumping the Tories’ earlier capture of Axelrod’s rival, Jim Messina. Labour’s press release described his signing as the culmination of months of effort by the party’s campaign co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, who proclaimed that he had “the skills, the strengths and the values needed to make a huge contribution in the year ahead”. He added: “This announcement is great news for Labour – and seriously bad news for the Conservatives.”

    John Prescott’s son  David was so excited by the appointment that he compared it to a Real Madrid player signing for Hull City, thus managing to insult simultaneously his party and his father’s football team.

    A few moaning minnies wondered how much value the Labour party would get from him. Some of us queried Axelrod’s alleged status as Obama’s mastermind. While

    Read More »from What exactly is David Axelrod doing for Labour?
  • 'Give us more pay,' the NHS workers strike today is supposedly going, 'or the patients get it'. But the truth is that the conduct of these compassionate, caring workers couldn't be more different.

    It’s an odd sort of tension. Usually, brinksmanship is the basic idea of any industrial action. A walkout, in order to secure its full effect, is about the withdrawal of a critical service in order to give those in charge a serious jolt. The very people who we turn to for help when we are most vulnerable are supposed to fold up their arms and shake their heads. They must deliver a stark rebuff to the politicians and civil servants, who have refused to implement a one per cent pay rise recommended by an independent board. What this strike is supposed to show is that they can’t just go on relying on these people indefinitely.

    Today’s four-hour strike is a

    Read More »from NHS strike: A walkout by people who care about you
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    Douglas Carswell presents an existential threat - not just to the Tory party, but also to Ukip itself.

    His victory speech after winning the Clacton by-election last night was a leadership speech in all but name. And not just any leader’s speech. It was a direct challenge to Nigel Farage’s political values.

    It’s worth quoting at length:

    "To my new party I offer these thoughts. Humility when we win, modesty when we are proved right. If we speak with passion let it always be tempered by compassion.

    "We must be a party for all Britain and all Britons, first and second generation as much as every other. Our strength must lie in our breadth. If we stay true to that there is nothing we cannot achieve.

    "The governing can no longer presume to know what is right for the governed. Crony corporatism is not the free market. Cosy cartel politics is not meaningful democracy. Change is coming with the realising that things can be better. It is an honour to be a small part of that this evening."


    Read More »from Clacton is won: Now prepare for the Ukip civil war
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    Nick Clegg is not a prostitute for power, as his detractors claim. Nor is he stupid, as they sometimes imply. But he has a very small idea of what politics is. His speech today aimed to disprove the easy populism of Nigel Farage or Alex Salmond. But he revealed his own failings much more powerfully than those of his opponents.

    The opening did a better job of surveying the political landscape than either of the other two main party leaders had done. Forces of separation and difference had overcome Britain, he said. People were being told to blame the English, or immigrants, or people on benefits. They were being given easy scapegoats for their anger.

    Clegg’s solution was dispiriting. “Politicians of every party,” he said, “have fed this growing cynicism by exaggerating and overstating what governments can do.”

    It was a very revealing statement. It was reminiscent of his performance against Nigel Farage, when he seemed content with European politics staying roughly as it was for the next

    Read More »from Clegg's speech defended the very establishment he claims to despise
  • Nick Clegg’s survival mission starts here. His pitch wa not about values or policies, but about the value of coalition: a concept as tarnished as it is associated with the deputy PM.

    This was what his aides call a “combative and passionate speech”. It wasn’t as personal as last year. It didn’t try to be anything other than what it was: a pitch for five more years in power.

    The flagship policy on mental health, announced overnight, is all very well. It is a popular policy, one the party can get behind, and the Lib Dems win points for getting there first. But this morning - both in the alcohol-addled small hours and during their hungover-addled breakfasts - activists were wondering whether it was really distinctive enough to win back support.

    For the Liberal Democrats need more than just attractive policies. They know they have stretched the basic rules of the relationship between politician and voter beyond breaking point. An apology was never going to be enough to fix the damage caused

    Read More »from Clegg's survival mission starts here
  • People wonder why Liberal Democrats retain the will to live. Year after year their remaining members trudge to party conference, this time in the misty far-away lands of Glasgow, and continue a journey that surely leads to electoral oblivion. How can a party on eight per cent of the vote, with an election in less than a year, keep its head?

    When we look back on our darkest moments, we often wonder how we got through them. The answer is that humans are a uniquely optimistic species. We all think we’re going to win the lottery, but none of us think we’re going to get cancer. In trying circumstances, we find a glimmer of hope and focus on that. Aspiration is the defence of the soul. For the Liberal Democrats, that great hope is provided by the Conservative party.

    Amid all the jubilation over the Conservative conference last week, commentators and politicians neglected to mention the effect of right-wing Tory economic policy on Lib Dem-Conservative marginals. When people say things like

    Read More »from Osborne has done the Lib Dems' work for them
  • The Liberal Democrats meet in Glasgow with polls showing their support at almost imperceptible levels

    One YouGov poll on the eve of conference found a pitiful six per cent of voters still willing to back the party.

    If that was repeated in May next year, the party would face an almost total wipeout, losing all but a dozen seats across the country.

    But while the headline figures look absolutely dreadful, Nick Clegg’s party remains relatively chipper. So why is this?

    Well if you look beyond the national figures, the Lib Dems have a much better chance of hanging on in 2015 than you might expect.

    Recent polling of Liberal Democrat marginals found that while the party faces losing dozens of seats to Labour, they could hold on to a surprising number of seats against the Conservatives.

    The polling by Lord Ashcroft found that despite the dreadful national figures, the party is actually running level with the Conservatives in most of the marginal seats that David Cameron needs to win a majority

    Read More »from Liberal Democrats pin their survival hopes on 'beating up on the Tories'
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    Chris Grayling has been caught out by the high court once again, this time for trying to protect insurance companies from people who have a couple of years to live.

    Tomorrow he will try to scrap legal protections available to British citizens from the European Convention of Human Rights.

    It is a damning charge sheet. What we are witnessing is a full scale assault against the rights of citizens and an attempt to bolster the powers of the state and private companies. And it is being conducted by the lord chancellor himself.

    These were the victims he picked: mesothelioma sufferers. People who inhaled asbestos, usually through work. It is a horrible disease. From the point of diagnosis you usually have two years to live. That is why the House of Lords exempted them from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo).

    This legislation forced people winning compensation to pay up to 25% of it in costs. It’s supposedly intended to address those personal injury claims you

    Read More »from The lord chancellor is dismantling the rule of law


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