Talking Politics
  • Everyone is trying to seduce everyone else.

    Labour wants to tempt the Lib Dems into backing their demand for the risk register to be published by playing on the party's commitment to freedom of information during an afternoon debate later today. Cameron wants to tempt Miliband into talking about it before then.

    There was a twinkle in the prime minister's eye as he entered the chamber. That twinkle, it turned out, was a Labour briefing document reminding MPs that Andy Burnham — once health secretary, now shadow heath secretary — had kept a risk report on the NHS secret himself not so long ago.

    The prime minister was desperate to let it out, like a little girl with a horrid secret, but Miliband was unmoved. "What a failure of leadership" it was to avoid the subject, he told the Labour leader. He's such a flirt. "As we're being kept here to vote at seven on the publication of the risk registers, why don't you ask a question about that?" he added.

    Then: "Are you going to ask a question

    Read More »from Miliband and Cameron even after score-all draw
  • There's nothing less traditionally British than a traditional Brit. Anyone who even uses the phrase — myself excluded, of course, and only for the duration of this piece — is making a mockery of our national qualities.

    The great traditional British value is this: Do what you like as long as you don't stop what I'm doing. It is the value of John Stuart Mill, of Winston Churchill, of Joe Strummer. Those who demand a Christian country of Christian values are traitors to British culture.

    Eric Pickles is one of them. He wants everyone to be the same: Christian, speaking English, praying to the same God. His community cohesion agenda, tellingly briefed to the Express and the Mail today, demands the rights of English-speaking Christians take precedence over all other groups.

    It follows David Cameron's insistence on the role of religion in British society and SayeedaWarsi's attack on 'militant secularism' last week. Just this weekend, Pickles said he would use legislation to undo a court order

    Read More »from Eric Pickles’ treacherous attack on British values
  • People want to know why they can't raise their children in the kind of place they were raised.

    By Nicola Hughes

    In the run up to the chancellors next budget, politicians are fighting to position themselves on the side of 'the squeezed middle'. So far debates have centred on reducing fuel costs and taking low earners out of income tax, but all parties will be missing a trick if they neglect housing policy.

    As recent figures from the English Housing Survey show, homeownership is continuing to decline and doesn't look likely to stop in the next few years. Policy makers should be looking hard at how other parts of the housing system can help meet the needs and aspirations of families squeezed by high living costs and stagnant incomes. More and more people are finding their housing is unaffordable or that their housing choices are constrained, with negative impacts on their lives.

    Recent reports have highlighted a whole generation of young people who feel 'stuck' in private rented

    Read More »from We can’t help the squeezed middle unless we talk about housing
  • By Terry Sanderson

    I'm sure Baroness Warsi's speech to the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Rome yesterday was very well-received by its audience. She promised to support the Pope in his desire to return Christianity to the centre of public life in Britain.

    It also seemed to chime with the mood of the media — which was fizzing with fury at the modest high court judgment ruling that it was not legal to include prayer on a council agenda — because it is not council business.

    Under extreme bombardment from the press, we at the National Secular Society were preparing to barricade the doors - until we noticed a sudden and unprecedented upsurge in membership applications.

    Something very strange was happening. The media was almost unanimous in its disapproval of the ruling. Strangely the Sunday Times alone gave unequivocal support to it — and in an editorial even suggested it should be extended to cover prayers in parliament.

    Another strange phenomenon is the disparity between what

    Read More »from Our pious politicians are out of step with the people
  • There is more uniting our two countries than dividing them.

    By Patricio Pouchulu

    Since my time as a post-graduate student at UCL in London, I've never met a single Brit who considered the Falklands a final obstacle between our countries.

    The same thing applies to Argentina. I remember informal talks about this issue at different universities in London; over the years I enjoyed exquisite pints of British ale in pubs discussing the subject - even on the back seat of an old Routemaster 12 bus when crossing Westminster Bridge after midnight.

    The links between our countries are still strong. I have visited parliament. The reception was friendly. I was told that once the South Atlantic problem was solved, we shall share a brilliant future together. My English friends who visit Buenos Aires fall in love with the city. Is it just a combination of good weather, great bookstores, elegant architecture and malbec? I believe something more complex attracts us.

    Around 1920, the trade between UK and

    Read More »from Despite the Falklands, Argentina and Britain can still be friends
  • The fading spirit of the Arab Spring

    The first outside politician to reach post-Mubarak Egypt gives his appraisal of the revolution, one year on.

    By Edward McMillan-Scott

    I was fortunate to get to Cairo the day after Hosni Mubarak fell, almost one year ago today. I was the first outside politician to greet the leaders of the revolution as Egypt exulted in a new dawn. I have been back to the region six times since then, encouraging reformists, but each time discovering that the spirit of the Arab Spring is fading.

    True, the junta has overseen the first free and fair elections to the parliament. These resulted in some 70% of the MPs representing the Muslim Brotherhood or the more ultra-orthodox Salafist tendency.

    How these MPs, housed in their Victorian buildings where colonial Britain tried to encourage Westminster-style politics, will respond to the spirit of nearby Tahrir Square is not yet clear. There have been demonstrations already by young reformists outside the parliament, which is now protected — symbolically - by

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  • Baroness Warsi is right. Secularists are becoming more militant. Prayers at council meetings, religious speeches from politicians, bishops in the Lords — we want them all gone. We'd like to be more reasonable about it, but religious people, unfortunately, can't be trusted.

    They've been given several opportunities to behave responsibly and they keep dropping the ball. Most secularists welcome religious participation in the debate as equal partners — much like we welcome Conservatives (big and small c) socialists, feminists and the like. Everyone's welcome. The Archbishop of Canterbury is undeniable perceptive, reasoned and civilised. John Sentamu also provides a reasoned and valuable voice. There are many others. Even on issues such as gay marriage, where their views are incomprehensible and barbaric, they serve a useful function in giving voice to a large minority of traditionalist voices in the country.

    But give them an inch and they'll take a mile. Warsi demonstrates as much in her

    Read More »from The faithful can’t be trusted in politics
  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    This week the diplomatic back and forth over the Falkland Islands seemed to hit a new low, with both sides accusing the other of duplicity.

    There is no doubt that these arguments have largely been prompted by the 30 year anniversary of the Falklands War. For Britain it conjured up the illusion of long lost imperial greatness, and in the case of Argentina it was a humiliating defeat. As the great American historian Shelby Foote once commented, 'it's the fights we lose that really stay with us'. However it could equally be argued that both sides are also motivated by 'banal' nationalism and a desire to control the resources in the area.

    What really irritates me though isn't so much the on-going sabre rattling, but the hypocrisy on both sides. When David Cameron talks about the right to national self-determination it sounds rather hollow considering our behaviour throughout the years. A good example would be the Chagos Islands, where Britain evicted the majority of

    Read More »from Britain and Argentina are as hypocritical as each other
  • Suarez, Evra and immigrant Britain

    Mainstream British culture - and by that I mean the white working and middle-classes - has taken roughly 50 years to deal with its racism. From Enoch Powell to Stephen Lawrence, it has taken a deep look inside itself and come to some respectable conclusions. It hasn't all been plain sailing - and we're not done yet - but in general outright racism has been hammered down to a minimal level. For this, we must thank media interest, the social pariah status of racists and a curiously egalitarian element to the British personality.

    Similar forces do not always act in immigrant communities. Within and between immigrant groups, racism is a day-to-day event. Luis Suarez's use of the word 'negro' was, he said, an acceptable term in Latin American communities. There's some truth to that. It's even used between lovers, in a manner which sounds odd to western ears. But in a combative situation, it is perfectly capable of being an offensive racist term.

    In fact, the use of the term 'negrito' to

    Read More »from Suarez, Evra and immigrant Britain
  • Why bonuses don’t work

    They're falling one by one. First RBS, now National Rail. This year's bonus season could finally be the moment the tide turns against these incentives, at least where public ownership is a factor. Labour's opposition day debate wants to limit them to just "genuinely exceptional performance". But even that is too much.

    Bonuses should be scrapped for all but the simplest mechanical tasks. This is not for moral or political reasons but purely financial ones. They do not work. Bankers and City lobbyists tell you they must reward highly-talented individuals or else they will flee the company. The argument is self-serving, but more importantly, it is demonstrably false.

    In 2005, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston published a study by economists at MIT. Researchers had collected a group of students and offered them cash rewards of around $50-$60 for completing a set of tasks, which ranged from memorising strings of digits to throwing balls at a wall. There were three levels of reward

    Read More »from Why bonuses don’t work

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