Talking Politics
  • It is one of the more exquisite ironies of British politics that the chancellor's solution to Britain's present misery is to adopt the approach which got us into this mess in the first place.

    Being inside No 11 must have been easy for Gordon Brown. All those billions of pounds, sloshing around inside the Treasury's swollen coffers, ready to be distributed hither and thither.

    Being inside No 11 in austerity Britain requires some more creative thinking. George Osborne's job is to come up with something for nothing - at least, something that doesn't pop up on the government's balance sheets.

    The credit easing scheme announced on Sunday does exactly this. It will help the recovery by providing £20 billion of extra lending to the engines of the recovery, Britain's small- and medium-sized enterprises, without denting the government's deficit reduction strategy one jot. This £20 billion is not the government's money, after all. It just underwrites the banks' extra lending.

    Osborne said

    Read More »from A new kind of ‘something for nothing’
  • Before you decide you're against this strike, ask yourself one simple question.

    You'll have trouble dropping off your children at school next Wednesday. If you're taken ill, you may have trouble getting an appointment in hospital. The rubbish might not be collected. The fire service might be disrupted.

    Up to two million public sector workers will be out on strike, probably the most widespread industrial action this country has seen since the winter of discontent. At first you'll be angry. Your already stressful day will have been made even more difficult by people you rely on. But before you decide you're against this strike please ask yourself one question: would you care if a banker went on a walkout?

    I'll go ahead and presume your answer was no. The very fact that this strike inconveniences you demonstrates the value of the public sector. These are the people who look after us; our children, our property and our streets. Their reward is to be libelled every day in the press for

    Read More »from Why you should support the pensions strike
  • Reefer madness in a final frenzy

    By Peter Reynolds

    In the mid 1930s, after the end of alcohol prohibition, Harry Anslinger, former assistant commissioner at the Bureau of Prohibition, was settling into his exciting new job as head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and working on his next campaign.

    "This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with negroes, entertainers and any others," he wrote in one of Randolph Hearst's newspapers. Hearst was behind the organised campaign against cannabis hemp, then one of America's most successful crops, by timber, oil and paper interests. The strategy was to slur the plant with the racist term "marijuana", demonise it, outlaw it and wipe it out.

    Come forward about 80 years to the present day. In the US there is the White House drugs czar Gil Kerlikowske and the head of the DEA, Michelle Leonhart. In Britain we have James Brokenshire, the Home Office minister. These people are faithful in style and message to their role model Anslinger. They use arguments and

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  • One-nil to the Cameron: that's how the late Labour MP Alan Keen, who died last week and was the subject of numerous tributes during this week's session, might have put the result of this week's prime minister's questions. The former Middlesbrough scout wouldn't have given that as the result, of course. But after a session in which the prime minister dealt a real body blow to Ed Miliband, it's difficult to offer any other scoreline.

    The strike came after Miliband had suggested taxing bankers' bonuses as a way of making the rich take more of the strain. Cameron replied by saying there have already been nine uses for Labour's "bank tax". The opposition wants to spend the cash from the City on tax credits, cutting the deficit, spending on public services, the bits of the regional growth fund Miliband likes, and even turning empty shops into cultural community centres.

    The shot was lasering in on goal. What could Miliband do to stop it? "For the prime minister to be playing politics with

    Read More »from PMQs: Another Miliband own goal
  • Turkey faces a new crossroads

    By Matthew Champion

    As Turkish president Abdullah Gul begins a three-day state visit to the UK, the country traditionally at the crossroads between east and west finds itself facing an ancient dilemma once again.

    Amid the carnage of the crisis that has unfolded throughout the eurozone since early 2010, the significance of Turkey's proposed accession to the EU has largely fallen by the wayside.

    The majority-Muslim but wholly secular nation was a founder member of the Council of Europe in 1949 but was not granted official EU candidate status until 1999, while formal negotiations did not begin for a further six years. Since then, two-thirds of 35 so-called negotiating chapters remain unopened.

    Even before the eurozone crisis struck, the resolve of most member nations, led by Germany and France but typified by Austria, had hardened against Turkey. Nicolas Sarkozy currently regards enlargement as "impossible", while Angela Merkel favours a "privileged partnership" rather than full

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  • One year ago David Cameron promised business leaders he would be an unashamed "salesman". Twelve months later the pitch has worsened, but the CBI are still buying it.

    The prime minister's speech to this year's conference hosted by the Confederation of British Industry was "upbeat", according to its director-general John Cridland. An odd conclusion for an address which included words like "struggle", "fear", "very depressing" - you get the idea. This is a bleak time for Britain. Growth is stagnant and impending doom is looming on the continent. It is so bleak that Cameron was forced to resort to spotting "good signs" in the CBI's survey of confidence among business leaders - even though it showed two-thirds thinking the economic situation is going down the pan. "We need a different kind of economy," Cameron urged. One which is growing, perhaps.

    This was not the hostile audience which greeted the new PM one year ago. Then the business world was distinctly frosty, uncertain of how to

    Read More »from For once, an audience that approves of Cameron’s cuts
  • The politics of defence spending

    Faux-patriotism, national security and the military-industrial complex have conspired to give us a desperately inefficient contracting system.

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Last week it was reported that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has spent roughly £500 million on external consultants over the past two years to provide technical advice. It might turn out at a later date that these costs are fully justified but going on past experience I doubt it. The fact that so many of these contracts were awarded without competition is also an issue for concern as it makes it very hard to demonstrate value for money. Overall this is symptomatic of a wider problem most countries have with defence spending, with far too much money going to inefficient projects and not enough to troops on the ground.

    Of course wasteful and inefficient programmes aren't limited to the MoD; the recent fiasco over the national fire control service is testament to that. However it does seem that the Ministry of Defence has been

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  • In almost every government department, actions are being taken which give the rich greater rights than the poor. Under the guise of deficit reduction, those on low-to-middle wages are stripped of their ability to secure legal aid, robbing them of fair representation under the law. If you use a library, the local council will do its best to strip it of the pitiful funds it receives while slashing corporation tax for the book shop chain next door.

    This barren division also applies to immigration. Those with net assets of at least £1 million can enter when they like and stay for as long as they like. They are not required to meet any English language requirements — only the poor will be forced to learn a language in Cameron's Britain. We invite in the impossibly rich playboys, the jet-set from the Middle East and Latin America, who refuse to participate in British society to at least the same extent as we see in the Asian areas developing in some British cities. But it is acceptable,

    Read More »from Only the rich can fall in love in Cameron’s Britain
  • If May 2010's hung parliament negotiations were taking place in November 2011, would Nick Clegg's party think again about entering into a coalition?

    The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were able to agree on a bold strategy of deficit reduction during the hung parliament negotiations of May 2010 because they were confident the pain and suffering of austerity would be behind them by 2015.

    Yes, it would be hard. Yes, both parties would be unpopular. But the logic went that by 2015 the recovery would be well underway - and both parties would benefit at the ballot box for having taken difficult, but ultimately courageous, decisions.

    Eighteen months later, that scenario is still a possibility come May 2015. But the odds of it coming to pass have lengthened significantly.

    Even if the recovery had been progressing as well as ministers might have hoped, we would still have seen the clashes over public sector pensions, tuition fees and cuts to public services - police, schools, the NHS -

    Read More »from Economic misery and the 2015 election
  • Profile: Mario Monti

    What can the UK expect from the incoming Italian prime minister?

    By Matthew Champion

    By Friday Mario Monti's extraordinary rise from non-politician to prime minister of the world's seventh largest economy should be complete. His ascent is in stark contrast to the fall of the man he is replacing, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's longest-serving post-war prime minister who resigned on Saturday. With Britain's hopes of a eurozone recovery based in no small part on Monti's ability to restore investor confidence in Italy, Downing Street will be taking a keen interest in the economist's fortunes.

    Obvious contrasts in personality and lifestyle between the Monti and Berlusconi have already been highlighted. Whereas Berlusconi was a flamboyant former cruise ship singer who amassed a vast construction and media empire and earned notoriety for his so-called 'bunga-bunga' parties and dalliance with attractive young women, Monti is a thoughtful Eurocrat economist with a peerless academic background and a

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