Talking Politics
  • Here's five horribly cringeworthy political errors made in 2013...

    5 - George 'Munchies' Osborne

    The chancellor regards Twitter as a vehicle to demonstrate he is human rather than a cutting merciless cyborg Treasury monster. So a late-night picture of him chomping on a burger should have been just the trick. What could be more endearing than this?

    The problem, it emerged, was that the burger in question was not a Maccie Ds, or even a Burger King. It was a Byron Burger which cost an eye-watering £9.75. Twitter judged this to be evidence that the chancellor is himself 'posh', and certainly not a man of the people.

    "I was working late on a speech and I had a hamburger and the world is now talking about it," he moaned the following morning. When communities secretary Eric Pickles responded with a picture of himself eating a salad, Osborne would have surely realised the joke was on him.

    4 - David 'Pass' Cameron

    Like Cameron's 'mission accomplished' gaffe (which didn't make the top ten,

    Read More »from Top five political gaffes of 2013
  • This was, in truth, a poor year for political scandals. Perhaps we've been spoiled in previous years by the behemoths of phone-hacking and expenses - and these continued to rumble on into 2013. But there were no big scalps this year, no ministerial resignations and little by way of actual results. Instead the main theme is of unresolved, unknowable question-marks: in Labour's internal dynamics, in the structures which govern the shadowy digital world of spying online, in sub judice cases where we just don't know the answers yet. This was a year of previous scandals having a last hurrah and the arrival of fresh scandals not yet answered. It leaves a distinctly unpleasant taste in the mouth.

    (Last year's position in brackets)

    10 (5) Plebgate

    Andrew Mitchell's demise was a 2012 story, true - but the steady unravelling of the case against him has been a constant undercurrent of 2013. The scandal is not now about what a posh Tory Cabinet minister said, but the extent to which police

    Read More »from Top ten political scandals of 2013
  • Kneejerk anti-immigration rhetoric is ruling the day - and it's a very ugly kind of politics made even worse by the coalition's spending cuts agenda.

    They sound like completely separate news stories. On the one hand, deficit reduction leads to spending cuts, leading to a new, more miserable kind of Britain. On the other, a right-wing government fighting a right-wing threat from Ukip on immigration.

    The two stories have been carried on by their separate momentums this month. The autumn statement distracted us all from the fact the cuts are still, believe it or not, yet to bite, by focusing on GDP numbers that mean nothing to ordinary people.

    Last week, David Cameron brought forward the date after which new immigrants would have to wait three months before claiming benefits to January 1st 2014.

    That is a politically important date, because it's the first day on which restrictions on arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria are lifted. Expect the word 'floodgates' to be used in right-wing

    Read More »from Immigration battering won’t stop – even though it makes no sense
  • By Jane Fae

    When it comes to blocking and filtering, the government and David Cameron in particular have demonstrated both ignorance of the internet, and a truly irresponsible attitude to policing it. The time has surely come to re-inject some balance into the debate.

    Blocking and filtering has finally arrived and while the sky may not exactly have fallen in, many of the drawbacks warned of by those of us who actually know a thing or two about the internet, are also now all too apparent. As the BBC reported recently, there is over-blocking and there is under-blocking.

    Both of which surely will be dismissed by various government spokespeople such as Clare Perry MP as "teething problems".  This would be fair enough, were it not for three quite embarrassing truths.

    First as mentioned above nothing in what is now happening is unpredictable or unexpected.  As has been argued over the last year or so, the government’s response to a perceived problem has been to demand that UK
    Read More »from Three embarrassing truths about Cameron’s porn filter
  • A tweak in the approach to regulating legal highs could provide a glimmer of hope for campaigners demanding a more liberal approach to Britain's drug laws.

    Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker announced the launch of a review into legal highs last week, as the government tries to get a handle on an industry which can alter the chemical compositions of substances faster than it can pass legislation banning them.

    And smuggled in there – left unspoken – there was a potentially revolutionary development.

    Baker will be taking evidence from several countries' approaches, including the US, where broad families of synthetic drugs are outlawed, and Ireland, where there is a general law banning dangerous psychoactive substances.

    But he is particularly interested in the system used in New Zealand, where anyone producing a drug for recreational use is required to obtain a licence, that puts the onus on the manufacturer to prove the substance's safety.

    It's a subtle shift,
    Read More »from Smuggled into the legal highs review: A glimmer of hope for liberals
  • The sinking of Boris Island

    By Adam Bienkov

    Boris Johnson has spent the best part of six years and millions of pounds of public money in promoting a new hub airport in the Thames Estuary.

    He has chaired committees, toured the globe and even captained a ship from Tower Bridge to Kent to visit the proposed sites.

    With a few clicks of his keyboard, Sir Howard Davies yesterday ruled all of that work null and void.

    Johnson's first choice of a purpose-built island airport in the Estuary does not even get a mention in the airports commission's report. His second choice of an airport on the Isle of Grain has also failed to make the shortlist.

    Even expansion at Stansted, which Johnson wanted put under the microscope for £3 million of taxpayers' money, has been ruled out by Davies.

    Unlike most victims of ritual humiliation, Johnson was at least offered some consolation by Davies. Put under pressure by the government to avoid a full on confrontation with the mayor, Davies inserted a couple of paragraphs
    Read More »from The sinking of Boris Island
  • By Adam Bienkov

    When the immigration restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian workers are dropped on January 1st, almost nothing will happen.

    Legions of Romanian beggars will not descend on your high street, Bulgarian hordes will not occupy your local job centre and your local children's playground will not be turned into a temporary encampment for swan-eating immigrants.

    There will almost certainly be a significant rise in people coming in from these two countries. But there is no reason to believe this rise will be any greater than that seen from any of the previous EU countries allowed these rights to work in the UK.

    The rise will be concentrated in urban areas well-used to successive waves of immigration and before long these new immigrants will be successfully absorbed into the UK. The net result will be a slight extra strain on public services, balanced out by a slight but much-needed boost to Britain's economy.

    And yet, if you've been listening to warnings coming out the
    Read More »from May’s cynical attempt to create division will lead to racist attacks on our streets
  • By Isabella Sankey

    Our prime minister is right. There are those in our midst determined to undermine the best of our democracy. They seek to eliminate the rights and freedoms of ordinary people in the name of misguided ideology. They wear away at our justice system and the rule of law. And they use rhetoric to spread myths and divide communities.

    Unfortunately, occasionally all-too-prominent among these people is our prime minister himself. It's hard to take his latest vow to safeguard our precious democracy and values too seriously, given that he's presided over devastating attacks to our justice system, the rule of law and our human rights protections.

    Undoubtedly, there are horribly warped world-views hiding on the fringes of society that give serious cause for concern. The horrific murders of Drummer Lee Rigby – a young soldier killed in Woolwich - and Mohammed Saleem – a grandfather stabbed in the back on his way home from prayers – highlight the urgency and importance of

    Read More »from Gagging extremism will only drive it underground
  • By Carl Miller

    Today, 500 writers have added their name to an open letter to the United Nations. In it, some of the most influential authors in the world demand an end to the 'mass surveillance' exposed by the revelations made by Edward Snowden. The letter calls on the UN to create an international bill of digital rights, and for states and corporations to sign and respect this convention.

    So what's the matter with digital rights? The letter does something very dangerous: when it states things like "all humans have the right to remain unobserved and unmolested", and demands the right for people to determine "what extent their personal data may be legally collected, stored and processed", it confuses and elides mass surveillance (indiscriminate, disproportionate, bad) with just surveillance overall.

    I'm not a fan of the current surveillance system we have in place. Long before the Snowden revelations I argued (alongside, incidentally, a former director of GCHQ) that the system of laws

    Read More »from Let’s have a reality check: The government needs to spy on people’s emails
  • By Tim Farron

    For almost six months The Guardian and other media outlets have been steadily working to inform us of the scale and reach of the digital surveillance programs operated by the 'FiveEyes' intelligence community (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, USA).

    Every email, every tweet, every photo. Your entire digital footprint. All instantly accessible at the click of a button, without recourse to a higher authority. This pervasive surveillance of our entire digital lives has been allowed to take place without prior knowledge, debate or consent.

    The power of these tools cannot help but aid those who work to protect our country. The intelligence community argues that these extensive powers are required to keep us safe, that they are only used to prevent terrorist atrocities. I find it difficult to be re-assured by their statements.

    Karl Popper wrote that "only freedom can make security more secure". I want the security services to be able to read the emails of suspect terrorists

    Read More »from Only a fool could trust in the ‘oversight’ provided by the intelligence committee


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