Talking Politics
  • The government's NHS reforms are in critical condition. After today's roasting from an in-form Ed Miliband, surely even the spin doctors can't save them now.

    It has been a few weeks since Ed Miliband chose to concentrate his entire ration of questions on a single topic. Maybe this was the reason it felt like David Cameron was on the receiving end of a barrage of never-ending, unrelenting bombardment. Every question saw Miliband push the prime minister further and further into his corner. This is one-way traffic: it was, for once, a triumph for the leader of the opposition.

    Football analogies are usually a sign a politician is feeling desperate. So, when Cameron complained that "even when he moves the goalposts he can't put it in the back of the net", we knew he was feeling a little off his game. "The person who's missing the goals," Miliband shot back, "is the prime minister." Ed Miliband has given us numerous demonstrations of his curious ability to miss open goals, but he did not

    Read More »from PMQs: Nowhere to hide for Cameron over his NHS reforms disaster
  • By Peter Slowe

    Both Britain and Argentina have had serious doubts at various times about their respective claims to the Falkland Islands. The islands were probably first sighted by a British sailor, 'Captain Davis', in 1592. In 1600, they were certainly seen by the Dutch. They were claimed by the French in 1764 but were transferred to Spain in 1767 for £24,000. The British meanwhile had claimed the islands for themselves in 1765. Spanish protests were made in London and this seems to have been the earliest precursor to the dispute over the islands' sovereignty.

    Everybody abandoned the islands in 1773. In 1829 a Spanish Argentine settlement was established in West Falkland and four years later this was followed by a British settlement in East Falkland. No one had or claimed to have a legal right to the islands as a whole, but the (by now independent) Argentine settlement was abandoned in 1867 to be replaced by a British settlement a year later.

    Argentina and Britain both feel they have

    Read More »from The UK must hand the Falklands back to Argentina
  • The best way to keep something secret is to do it in plain sight. Right in front of our faces, an organisation more powerful than any European state is being built and no-one is talking about it. Its function is to turn European democracies into free market test beds. It will be online in July.

    David Cameron's return from Brussels last week saw the media focus on his phantom veto and the mood of his backbenchers. The precise room in which the British prime minister chooses to be powerless was the subject of intense interest. But despite the avalanche of coverage of the eurozone crisis and the frantic political efforts to correct it, little mention was given to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

    This innocuous sounding organisation was put firmly in place last Monday with the timetable for its creation being shortened from the end of the year to mid-summer. The lack of coverage it has received is inversely proportional to the threat it poses to European democracy and left-wing

    Read More »from The conspiracy against European democracy
  • Photo: AFP/Getty ImagesChris Huhne has suffered a setback - but could this merely be the latest step in an improbable path to the Liberal Democrat leadership?

    Think about it. It's dawn on May 8th, 2015.  Nick Clegg emerges from the steps of the party headquarters in Great George Street to a flurry of snapping cameras. Faced with a drop in his party's support to the high teens, and an overall collapse in the number of MPs to around 30, he has no choice but to resign. Five years in power isn't bad going for a Lib Dem leader, after all. Now the party has to find its successor. Who are the likely candidates?

    It's not unreasonable, in this scenario, to include Chris Huhne among them. There are a number of caveats to this suggestion - but their cumulative effect doesn't mean this unlikely prospect should be instantly ruled out.

    The personal embarrassment surrounding the speeding points case is undeniably damaging. But by 2015 a couple of years will have passed since its resolution. And in any case, of all the

    Read More »from Chris Huhne could still be the Lib Dems’ next leader
  • Reading David Miliband's Statesman article is a dreary, depressing way to start your day. Like the perfume of an old girlfriend you never liked very much, it takes you straight back to the New Labour years, with potential leadership rivals firing off vague missives and the press dutifully trying to decode them.

    On the face of it, David's article is a response to a Roy Hattersley piece which, near as I can tell, was published five months ago. Quite why it would be published now is anyone's guess. He does the current Labour leader the service of mentioning him, unlike his Gordon Brown intervention, where the only real criticism of government policy was the calculated absence of the prime minister's name.

    Politically, it is monumentally uninteresting, parroting the Blairite formula of "notions of merit, reward and responsibility" and a politics which "mobilises people, whether as patients or parents or employees or citizens, to make choices". Its tedium is in direct contrast to the

    Read More »from David’s intervention makes Ed Miliband look good
  • Betrayed by their hero, Cameron's eurosceptics are quickly returning to their bitter, angry roots.

    The last time David Cameron updated the Commons on his return from Brussels he was treated like a hero. The acclaim appeared to have no limits; the prodigal son, had he seen this display of lionising, must have felt like a big disappointment upon his own return. What a difference a follow-up summit makes. Yesterday the Tory eurosceptics edged away from the PM, collectively wrinkling their noses as if he had made a bad smell.

    Labour had anticipated this, and so had lined up a stratagem of its own to increase the discomfort. The opposition's jibes began even before Ed Miliband stood up to respond to Cameron's statement. When the prime minister told MPs that he had "vetoed that treaty" they exploded with laughter.

    The comedy threshold is always lower in parliament, of course, but this was nowhere near funny in the normal sense of amusement that you or I might understand. No, this was

    Read More »from Eurosceptics treated Cameron like a foul smell
  • There are many myths still perpetuated about the bank bailouts, one of the most pernicious of which is that it was limited to certain institutions. While only RBS and Lloyds had to be partly taken over, the bailout was a systemic one. It saved the banking sector as a whole.

    HSBC has conducted itself with considerable swagger since the crisis, loudly reminding everyone of how cautious it is. Barclays made great play of its reluctance to accept state help, going cap-in-hand to the Middle East instead.

    Both banks would have melted without the bailout. This was a mass transfer of funds from British taxpayers to the banking sector. Only the most superficial assessment would limit its moral or economic consequences to banks which directly took the money. If they had folded, all the others would have folded too.

    RBS chief executive Stephen Hester's decision to forsake his £963,000 bonus — basically a doubling of his salary — came a day after chairman Philip Hampton gave up £1.4 million in a

    Read More »from If Hester’s bonus was immoral, so are all the others
  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    With the row over Stephen Hester's pay now over, it's clear David Cameron and the coalition are either unwilling or unable to act on the issue of bonuses. This is potentially a real stumbling block for them, and attempts to blame the previous Labour administration don't seem to be gaining traction. Vince Cable last week announced their plans to restrain executive compensation, and that effectively added up to them hoping that people would do the right thing. At the risk of sounding cynical, appealing to people's better nature when it comes to money hasn't always worked out.

    If Hester had decided to take his bonus, he would - deservingly or not - have become the new face of banker's greed, displacing Fred the Shred. Some in the media have argued that we seem to have ended up with a new financial elite who grew up watching Wall Street, and saw 'greed is good' less as a cautionary morality tale then as a personal blueprint for their future behaviour. I think a wider

    Read More »from It’s not about morality – bonuses simply don’t work
  • Mark HarperIt is, perhaps, the hardest reform of them all. Can Mark Harper succeed where so many before him have failed?

    The Conservative constitutional reform minister is in an unusual position: he is the right-hand-man to deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Twenty months into the job, Harper is upbeat about coalition relations when I interview him in his Westminster office. The arrangement "works very well", he insists. After all, they managed to survive the acrimony which surrounded the tone of the electoral reform referendum campaign. Harper doesn't pretend that this wasn't a tough period. "If you can work through a quite contentious issue like that, I think you can do it through anything."

    His job is far from easy. The Lib Dems are inherently keener on the constitutional reform agenda, so persuading Tories is often harder work. "We work together very hard with our respective parties," Harper says. I suspect he has to work much harder than Clegg.

    It's Harper's job to win over the many Tories

    Read More »from Interview: The perils of Lords reform
  • David Cameron has assumed the role of leader of the opposition in addition to his duties as prime minister. PMQs now consists of him slapping himself in the face with his own baffling policies and then quickly gathering his wits to defend them. It's like a one-man theatre performance in the Benny Hill tradition, and by that I mean: unseemly, unfunny and harking back to a dark period of British history.

    Some people are already chalking this up as an Ed Miliband win, itself a grotesque perversion of the concept of 'win'. In reality, Ed mumbled some lines about economic growth and the NHS bill and then Dave stood up and beat himself to death with them.

    When Labour left office growth was around two per cent. Today it is contracting at a rate of 0.2%. Ed's attempt to highlight this small fact came down to a set of pre-scripted questions, which Dave rightly pointed out bore no relation to his answers. He didn't even manage to concisely link the downturn to the austerity programme for the

    Read More »from Cameron is the new leader of the opposition

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