Talking Politics
  • The statistics speak for themselves, Labour MP Gavin Shuker says. Just one in four people aged between 18 and 24 vote, compared to three in four of those over 60. Young people are switched off from politics - and they're paying the price for it. "Engagement is a great thing to do, and it's the right thing to do, but there is a self-interest," Shuker insists. "The more young people come out and vote, the better chance I can secure for them while they're growing up in their communities."

    We're sitting in Shuker's constituency office in the centre of Luton, a place not renowned for the active involvement of its youth in community politics. I've spent the afternoon visiting three groups of young people helping out local charities, brought together by Shuker in a very unusual kind of summer school. He's performed a "Bateman twist" on them - they've learned a bit about the dark arts of politics, yes, but are spending most of their time helping out the community. "They come hoping to learn

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  • Getty Images

    Britain has a long history of blunt, bullying diplomacy. The Assange standoff at the Ecuadorian embassy suggests that things haven't changed much since a century or more ago, when our preferred method of resolving a diplomatic dispute was to send in a gunboat or two.

    Just south of Knightsbridge tube station in central London, close to the Albert Hall, a Harrod's and in the midst of some of Britain's most expensive real estate, there nestles a small slice of South America. Like every other embassy, flat 3B in Hans Crescent, London is not legally a part of Britain. Here the government of Ecuador is sovereign.

    For the past 57 days it has also been the sanctuary of Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder wanted by the Swedish government for questioning over alleged sexual offences. Britain has committed to extraditing the 41-year-old, but - because of the inviolable embassy principle - has not been able to touch him.

    Now that may be about to change. Halfway across the world, in the

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  • It's been a bit weird. Over the last two weeks, Britain was marvellously, uncharacteristically joyful. We were like a dad dancing at a wedding, who suddenly realises he's really good at it. No, that never happens. And this should never have happened either. For two weeks this country was distinctly un-ironic, un-snide, un-sarcastic. It was jubilant and euphoric and had a distinct sense of belonging and unity which few of us had seen before. It was weird. But it was very nice.

    As we try to assess the how's and why's of a magical fortnight, it's worth paying particular attention to the role of profit and the private sector.

    These forces are supposedly the key to a more modern, vibrant and happy country. But the Olympics offered a demonstration of an alternative idea.

    The parable of profit's failure began before the Games, when G4S admitted it could not complete its contract for security. G4S is one of those companies merrily charging over the odds for services government used to do

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  • The asylum system creaks under austerity

    By Dave Garrat

    Just before the Olympic flame was lit in Stratford, a South Sudanese runner walked into Bridewell police station in Leeds and invoked his human right to claim asylum.

    It is not uncommon to see athletes competing at the highest level in major international sporting events seeking protection from the risk of violence or persecution that they would face if they returned to their country of origin. The Sydney 2000 Olympics saw 35 applications for political asylum in Australia. At the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, 20 members of the Sierra Leone team 'defected' from their camp before the end of the competition.  UK immigration officials have gone so far as to suggest that up to two per cent of athletes, team officials and supporters may seek sanctuary in the UK during and after the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    The UK, along with 144 other signatories to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention - which defines who is a refugee, their rights and responsibilities, and

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  • By Nick Branch

    Adrian Beecroft is a venture capitalist and donor to the Conservative party who was charged by the coalition government with conducting a review into the state of UK employment law. The Beecroft report into employment law was drafted in August and September 2011 and was part published by the Daily Telegraph last October, before its full publication in May 2012.

    Amid the current financial crisis, the government has targeted deregulation as a key force to drive economic recovery. The exact logic is unclear but is perhaps best summed up in the preamble to the Beecroft report, which describes how making it easier to dismiss underperforming employees will result in higher employment rates because jobs will be taken by more competent individuals.

    The contents of the report have shocked many, not least for their scope in removing large portions of existing employment law, which protects many employees from rogue employment practices.

    What are the Beecroft reforms?

    The key parts

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  • By Alex Dymock

    An openly gay barrister, magistrate and alderman for the City of London has today been acquitted of possessing five images of 'extreme pornography' and one purportedly indecent image.  The jury at Kingston Crown Court returned a not-guilty verdict on all counts, clarifying the extent of what remains a confused and confusing piece of legislation.

    The case of Simon Walsh raises new and important questions about the legal status of possessing images of consenting adults engaging in kinky sex acts, even if the acts themselves are legal to practice.  This landmark case also indicates you could be prosecuted for images found in your email that you neither requested nor opened. As kinky sex becomes ever more normalised, particularly in light of the huge commercial success of E.L. James's erotic trilogy, Fifty Shades of Grey, and the media storm around the novels, it seems a good time to reconsider whether sexual acts mentioned in the novel are publicly considered extreme or

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  • A bloody by-election battle

    Can David Cameron survive the by-election triggered by the departure of Louise Mensch?

    Labour didn't waste any time Monday morning. Just hours after Louise Mensch announced she would step down as an MP, the party's prospective candidate for Corby and East Northamptonshire fired off a press release.

    "Louise Mensch was obviously struggling to balance being an MP with her family and business commitments. I respect her for the honest way she talked about this and her decision to step down," Andy Sawford wrote. "Labour is now looking forward to the campaign ahead. During the by-election we will focus on the two wasted years of Tory policies that have taken the country back into recession and left Corby suffering job losses in both the public and private sector."

    The opposition's eagerness reflects the value of the seat. Corby is a bell-weather constituency, with a mixed social composition, which could greatly strengthen Ed Miliband's claim to be on the road to Downing Street.

    The former

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  • Yesterday Nick Clegg confirmed Lords reform was dead — and pledged not to support the Tories' goal of boundary reviews in revenge. Here are six things we learned from his explosive statement
    1) A Tory majority is now very unlikely

    Clegg's announcement he would whip his MPs into voting against the boundaries review means it will almost certainly not pass. With Liberal Democrats and Labour united in opposing the motion, it will not secure a Commons majority.

    The Tories were relying on their increased seats from the review — probably about 20 of them. Now they will need a lead of at least seven points to win an outright majority. Most polls currently put them at least ten points behind Labour.

    Politics is unpredictable and Ed Miliband could easily have a highly embarrassing episode at the election - like Neil Kinnock's 'we're alright' - which changes his fortune. But as things stand, David Cameron looks unlikely to increase his share of the vote to the extent demanded by the current

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  • In one evening Mo Farah did more for multiculturalism in this country than the rest of us do in a lifetime.

    He did it with mental commitment and a glorious display of the potential of the human body. But more than anything he did at a press conference last night when some bright-spark journalist asked him if he would have preferred to win the medal for Somalia, a country he left under asylum when he was eight.

    "Look mate, this is my country," he replied. "This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I'm proud."

    The Daily Mail's pre-Games campaign focus on 'plastic Brits' — a dangerous and unpleasant phrase —seems like a bad dream now, an echo of a harsher, nastier time. Farah is a testament to the millions who came to this country - sometimes looking for work, sometimes escaping danger - and continue to believe in it despite the daily torrent of resentment churned out by tabloids and pub-bores.

    Just before Farah

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  • By Tim Woodhouse

    Ye Shiwen's performance to win gold in the Olympic 400 Medley was incredible. It was sport at its finest. Unpredictable, awe-inspiring and record breaking.

    A few hours later it emerged that it was even more remarkable than first thought, as people realised that she had completed the last 50 metres in a faster time than Ryan Lochte had in the men's event the evening before.

    It was at that point the questions started to be asked. Who was she? Where had she come from? 'She swam faster than a man…she must be on drugs' seemed to be the most commonly held assumption. The American swim coach John Leonard called it "disturbing" and "suspicious".

    Interestingly, 15-year-old Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, who won the Women's 100 metres breaststroke the next day, didn't face similar accusations despite again coming from relatively nowhere, smashing her personal best and snatching gold away from much more experienced athletes. Does the fact that she trains in Plymouth as part of a

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