Talking Politics
  • Another year, another stormy weather cliché. Can't politicians come up with anything more original than that?

    The sun is shining in the unseasonably warm north-west. Politics is taking it easy. You'd have thought, judging by the laughing, happy smiles on the faces of Conservative delegates, that all is well with the world.

    How very different to the bleak picture painted by the chancellor in his speech this lunchtime. Not for the first time he opted for the nautical theme, presenting himself as the gruff skipper of the Good Ship Economy riding out the tempest. "Together we will ride out the storm," he said. At least twice more he referred to the "storm". When, as thesaurus enthusiasts will appreciate, he could equally have referred to squalls, gales, hurricanes, typhoons or even blizzards.

    Osborne's audience did not seem cowed by the grave situation he outlined. They laughed heartily whenever the chancellor mocked his shadow Ed Balls, and - astonishingly - the Conservative communities

    Read More »from Stormy weather for Cap’n Osborne
  • If the coalition government falls prematurely, so received wisdom goes, it will be because the junior party's left-leaning grassroots revolt against their broadly centre-right deputy prime minister. That this is a truth universally acknowledged has proved hugely beneficial to the Lib Dems. In the coalition dynamic, where every political decision is weighed up in terms of policy wins for this party or that one, keeping the lefties happy has been paramount in the minds of the coalition's leaders. May's local elections catastrophe for Nick Clegg and co, and the electoral reform defeat which went with it, only served to reinforce this trend.

    This has left the politicians on the Tory right feeling somewhat marginalised. They are, to put it bluntly, frustrated. As the party faithful gather in Manchester to assess their progress over the last 12 months, the Conservative party will take stock. Not all of it is entirely happy.

    The party's backbenches and grassroots are feeling somewhat bruised

    Read More »from The struggle for the Tory soul
  • What politicians can learn from Joey Barton

    By Phil Scullion

    Joey Barton is keen to start talking politics. Rather than dismissing his views, politicians would do well to learn from his open approach.

    His eloquent views have attracted over 570,000 followers on Twitter. His main subject? Politics. That's right - politics. Accountability, education and the big society. These are not topics you expect to be raised by a footballer.

    To hear these opinions from such an unlikely source is incredibly refreshing. But beyond that inherently superficial response there is also a serious point about political engagement and audience.

    Barton has over five times as many Twitter followers as Labour leader Ed Miliband.

    It is certainly an odd world we live in where the views of a decent but not extraordinary footballer such as Barton are more interesting to people than those of a potential prime minister.

    Social media is not everything, but it does represent a large audience which a comparatively minor celebrity such as Barton has got down to a

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  • Yesterday's 'new bargain' has given Ed Miliband a heading for his blank sheet of paper. But the details still need to be filled in.

    "It's all about tone," one of Ed Miliband's chief spinners told me after one of the Labour leader's more successful prime minister's questions. "The actual words don't matter."

    That approach explains a lot about Miliband's style. He has refused to be rushed into a grand narrative, let alone policies, during his first 12 months in the job. Partly this is because he is the first leader of the opposition to know that he will be spending a full five years in the job. The resulting mental attitude has been: what's the rush?

    Unfortunately for Miliband, there are problems with this approach. It makes him seem sluggish, dull and unconvincing as a politician. Only during the riots did he seem animated, spurred on by the urgency of the crisis. Yesterday's poll by ComRes suggests the riots were not enough to rescue his first year in the job. Just one in four people

    Read More »from Slowcoach Miliband is playing the long game
  • A more proactive Miliband will help Labour

    Ed Miliband hasn't had the best year. Some of this stems from factors beyond his control, but other issues are of his own making.

    One of his biggest problems is that the Blair and Brown camps within the party are still at each other's throats, fuelled by various memoirs of ex-Cabinet ministers.

    Linked to this, the party as a whole has struggled to come to terms with its legacy with various disagreements about the best way forward. With the riots over the summer, the phone-hacking scandal and the continuing poor economic outlook Labour should be surging ahead in the polls. While they are doing better than the Conservatives this hasn't necessarily translated into confidence in the wider party.

    Put simply, there isn't that feeling of optimism there was in 1995 when even though Labour were in opposition they dominated the political agenda. At the moment momentum remains with the coalition government.

    Far too often in the past Labour has relied on the strategy of waiting for the

    Read More »from A more proactive Miliband will help Labour
  • Anyone who tells you they support the Arab Spring but not Palestine's bid for statehood is a fraud. It is an untenable position which defeats even the murky logic of foreign policy.

    Foreign policy is always a hotbed of contradiction and hypocrisy, but this is one step too far. We accepted it when William Hague praised democracy movements in the region while refusing to comment on the Saudi dictatorship. We looked the other way when David Cameron celebrated Egypt's liberation with a plane-load of arms dealers. And we restricted ourselves to a few grumbles when the government allowed the Saudis and Bahrainis to attend an arms sale in east London while singing the praises of human rights.

    Genuinely held principle and hard-headed strategy always make uneasy bedfellows. Traditionally, leftists have interpreted these discrepancies as evidence of a basic corruption in the West's foreign policy. It's an understandable assessment, but not an accurate one. What looks like hypocrisy is usually

    Read More »from Palestine vote will define Britain’s role in the Arab Spring
  • He is a politician for the TV era. But unlike many gameshow hosts whose ratings are falling, Nick Clegg still has one of the best gigs in town.

    Now that the Liberal Democrats are in government the character of their conference has changed. It is more corporate, more big business. Its fringe events are more likely to be about tax regulation than electoral reform, about helping small businesses rather than saving whales.

    Yet some things never change. This is a party that refuses to shell out the copyright payments for proper music. Its tinned, generic background music, deployed as Nick Clegg strode out to deliver his second conference speech as a Cabinet minister, helped reassure the audience that some things never change.

    For this speech Clegg, who is viewed a long way from his party's grassroots in political terms, was placed in the middle of them, his podium surrounded by supporters squinting in the bright lights. The positioning may have been because strategists wanted to prevent him

    Read More »from Clegg’s gameshow delivery was as clichéd as ever
  • Having dodged another conference vote on NHS reforms, there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel for Andrew Lansley and co.

    This spring the Liberal Democrats defeated the coalition's controversial planned NHS reforms at their party conference, sparking the unprecedented listening pause' which eventually led to over 1,000 amendments to the health and social care bill.

    Six months later, as ministers prepare for the legislation to enter the Lords, its drive towards instilling competition and a market dynamic in the NHS is once again coming under fire. But this time, the Lib Dems' response looks to have weakened - just enough.

    Activists did everything they could to secure a vote on the revised NHS reforms, which will be debated once again tomorrow. They were left frustrated after the federal policy committee decided to allow a one-hour debate without a vote, rather than a 30-minute debate with one at the end. It will not attract as many negative headlines as a result - thus

    Read More »from How much fight is left in Lib Dems over NHS reforms?
  • Vince Cable has a reputation for straight talking. It's got him into trouble once or twice in the last year. Maybe that's why so many Lib Dems turned up to hear him address the party conference in Birmingham.

    Last year he had given the capitalists something of a lashing, sending the activists into a frenzy. This year Cable was more subdued, more measured. He resembled a Biblical prophet of disaster. If the Israelites had held party conferences before having to flee Egypt, it would probably have resembled something like this.

    The beginning was subdued, dark, without much hope. In other words, a window into the souls of Lib Dems.

    "These are dangerous times," he began slowly, blinking out at his audience from above his spectacles. By line eight he was comparing the economic situation to the troubles faced by a country in wartime. I half-expected the lights to flicker ominously. Delegates listened, attentively, to the Sage's wise words of doom.

    Having established an atmosphere of

    Read More »from Vince Cable and the coalition of doom
  • After 500 days in government, Liberal Democrats have even more reason to feel uncertain now than they did 12 months ago.

    By the time the party arrived in Liverpool for last year's conference, their first which most could remember as a governing party, many of the early nerves suffered during the hung parliament period had subsided. The mood could be summed up as one of cautious optimism.

    Now, after their first full year in power, the Lib Dems have a real opportunity to take stock.

    Party leader Nick Clegg is accentuating the positive. "We've been in government in Westminster for 500 days: 500 days of delivery," he says in the foreword to the conference agenda document. And in addition to making the NHS "safe from any threat of backdoor privatisation", Clegg insists his party's ministers are putting "long-held Liberal Democrat ideas into practice". The pupil premium, tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, a green investment bank - the list goes on.

    It has not all been easy going,

    Read More »from Nervy Lib Dems gather in Birmingham

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