Talking Politics
  • In a demented PR extravaganza, Huhne and Warsi join forces to kick the Labour party while it's down.

    By Ian Dunt

    As Keyser Söze might have said, the greatest PR trick the coalition ever pulled was convincing the world that Gordon Brown is responsible for the deficit.

    It's not as if the financial crisis was a minor news story buried in the back pages, where only London's chattering classes noticed it. It was a pretty big deal, all things considered. Brown did many foolish and quite vacant things, but creating the financial crisis wasn't one of the. You might even say (rightly) that he should have imposed far more regulation on the banking sector, but the Tories were hardly biting at the bit demanding it. They're not even doing it now. The current government now like to remind us that Labour also grew the deficit in the 'good times', but those were the same good times when David Cameron was signed up Labour spending plans.

    It is, quite simply, one of the most impressive and startling PR

    Read More »from Sketch: Huhne and Warsi shoot fish in a barrel
  • Keeping MPs’ emails public

    Dominic Raab's attempt to have his email removed from public view sounds trivial, but it has serious implications for internet activism.

    By Ian Dunt

    Activism takes less time nowadays. Once upon a time you had to go all-out, camping out by nuclear power stations, occupying student facilities, or perhaps just marching to Trafalgar square. Today, you set up a Facebook page.

    As any pub bore will tell you, the internet has changed everything. That goes for political activism as much as the record industry and bookshops. Emails have replaced letters, not just in personal communications or official communication, but also for political movements.

    Political organisers, be they presidential campaign strategists or grassroots pressure groups, have long noticed that their causes often have ample public backing but not enough inspiration to action. People may not agree with animal testing or the Afghanistan war, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're prepared to trudge outside in the rain to

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  • Analysis: Milk, Maggie and the media

    The free milk episode reveals some fundamental truths about the government's cutting agenda: policy matters, but what the public thinks matters most of all.

    By Alex Stevenson

    It's extraordinary that a political row nearly four decades ago has had such a powerful impact on the government in 2010. Margaret Thatcher, then education secretary, paid the price for ending free school milk for the under-sevens with her 'milk-snatcher' nickname. The enduring memory of the incident is such that a future Conservative prime minister, many years later, is prepared to nip further cutbacks to free school milk in the bud - at the price of some considerable short-term political embarrassment.

    Public health minister Anne Milton was doing what junior ministers do every day: thinking up ways of improving government on their own, very limited, patch. Most of the time this involves an utterly menial aspect of public life. A £50 million budget on free milk for the under-fives is far from a big deal.

    Some of

    Read More »from Analysis: Milk, Maggie and the media
  • Simon Hughes' stint as deputy Lib Dem leader reveals the tactic the party will use to recover its support.

    By Ian Dunt

    In my more narcissistic moments, I imagine how pleasant it must be for Simon Hughes, whose every utterance prompts over-excited headlines about the end of the government. Maybe I'm alone in wishing my comments could end governments with such ease, but I doubt it.

    The latest bout of media frenzy came when Hughes distanced himself from David Cameron's comments about social housing. "It's a prime ministerial idea, it has no more validity yet, and I think our party would need a lot of persuading that it has merit or could work and that's something clearly if he wants us to talk about we're happy to talk about," Hughes said. With so little hard political news around in the summer, journalists leapt on it with drooling headlines about government fractures, coalition splits and the impending doom of all concerned.

    But there was no silly season excuse the last time this

    Read More »from Comment: How long until we catch up with Simon Hughes?
  • Comment: The overcooked big society

    The coalition government has been dreaming up recipes for democracy: two spoonfuls of AV, a dash of participation here and a drizzle of direct management there. And the result? Cook it yourself, proclaims the government. Take power! Seize the cookbook! Make your own society! And make it a 'big society'!

    By Rebecca Burns

    David Cameron's 'big society' concept prompted complaints from both inside and outside Westminster that it was vague, incomprehensible or just plain "piffle" (as a certain mayor of London put it).

    As Conservative MP Rory Stewart explained on his blog, "Big Society isn't something you can get like a pot of money, or an officer: it's an approach". But even he admits "it's very confusing".

    A senior Tory was more candid: "The 'big society' is bollocks. It is boiled vegetables that have been cooked for three minutes too long. It tastes of nothing. What is it?"

    According to the coalition document, the goal is "to put more power and opportunity into people's hands". The

    Read More »from Comment: The overcooked big society
  • Berlusconi: A beginner’s guide

    The most colourful - and controversial - leader in Europe is facing his worst political crisis just as David Cameron lands for a visit. How does Silvio Berlusconi get away with it?

    By Ian Dunt

    Could these be the final days of Silvio Berlusconi? His opponenets would do well to contain their optimism. The thrice-elected Italian prime minister always manages to crawl back from the wreckage. The last time centre-left leader Romano Prodi beat him, in the 2006 election, Berlusconi did not even bother to call him to congratulate him. Within two years, Prodi's government had fallen apart and Berlusconi was back, in a rather typical Italian political process of vulnerable cooperation and rushed disintegration. But with his majority in the Chamber of Deputies wiped out, a sex scandal about his use of prostitutes now the subject of a corruption investigation and even his closest allies increasingly concerned about his antics, perhaps we are finally seeing the last act in the morality play that is

    Read More »from Berlusconi: A beginner’s guide
  • Pakistan will always "look both ways", whatever David Cameron says. If he had realised that fundamental truth perhaps his first major diplomatic gaffe as prime minister could have been avoided.

    By Alex Stevenson

    It must have seemed so straightforward. After all, India is the world's premium destination for voicing concerns about terrorism emanating from its post-partition rival. As head of a trade delegation seeking to establish a new special relationship, Cameron's mind was firmly focused on saying the right thing.

    So it must have seemed like there was only one option when news that Pakistan's ISI intelligence service had maintained links with the Taliban filtered through the wires. Surely this deserved the greatest condemnation. Cameron gave it: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world."

    This was short-term

    Read More »from Comment: Cameron must tone down his blunderbuss diplomacy
  • Comment: The coalition’s new puritanism

    Chris Grayling's decision to ban sex work vacancies from Job Centres shows the coalition government to be just as puritanical as Labour was.

    By Ian Dunt

    Rather unusually, Chris Grayling made a good point today. It was not his main point of course, but he must still be commended. The employment minister was busy announcing that sex industry vacancies would be banned from Job Centres when it happened. The main thrust of his argument was very tired and irritating and we shall come to it in a moment. But first we should give the man his due and note his partially successful response to the point that the ban was an instance of government moralising.

    Not so, Grayling insisted. Once new rules come in forcing those on unemployment benefit to get work, it would be quite wrong for those facing the measure to have to take a job in the sex industry. Therefore, sex industry ads had to be removed from Job Centres. One must give credit where it is due, and accept the argument. The sight of the state

    Read More »from Comment: The coalition’s new puritanism
  • All to play for on Trident

    Opponents of Britain's nuclear deterrent need to realise they are closer to achieving their goal than they have been for years.

    Until now politicians have succeeded in keeping the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent firmly on the margins of the post-election defence review. One very public Cabinet spat later and everything has changed.

    Only the Liberal Democrats were opposed to Trident during the general election campaign. Both David Cameron and Gordon Brown sought to use Nick Clegg's opposition to a like-for-like replacement against him in the televised debates. It may have worked; the peacenik Lib Dems have always been weak when it comes to defence issues. In any case, there was no reason to suppose before polling day that the Labour-Conservative consensus on Trident would hold.

    As the concerns triggered by David "junior partner" Cameron's belittling of Britain show, prestige matters in international affairs. Previous Tory and Labour leaders have stuck consistently to the logic

    Read More »from All to play for on Trident
  • Scrapping the default retirement age is being sold as a 'good thing'. Don't be fooled. The government is taking this step not because it wants to - but because it needs to.

    By Alex Stevenson

    There are, of course, huge benefits to making it easier to keep on working. Not being forced to retire on your 65th birthday means many older people have the option to continue slaving away, if they so wish. Paperwork will be cut: there will now no longer be the need for employees to keep 'right to request' working beyond retirement forms, or for employers to give a minimum six months' notice of retirement. And then there's the economy, which will be boosted by the sudden extra injection into the workforce. Britain's annual GDP could be increased by an extra £13 billion.

    "We want to give individuals greater choice and are moving swiftly to end discrimination of this kind," employment relations minister Ed Davey has said enthusiastically. This all sounds marvellous. It plays up our freedom, giving

    Read More »from Analysis: The retirement age’s false choice

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