Talking Politics
  • By Matthew Ashton

    Politicians have to be careful about what they say and do, even at the best of times. It's even trickier when they're abroad as Mitt Romney discovered this week, to his cost. His comments about the London Olympics led to him being attacked by both David Cameron and Boris Johnson, not to mention a barrage of negative publicity back home.

    In all fairness politicians often have to visit several countries during a relatively short period of time, fitting in hundreds of events and people. Jet lag can also be an issue that makes gaffes more likely. In this case none of these really apply as Romney was on the first few days of his mini-European tour. In his defence he isn't the first politician to make a fool of himself in a foreign country and doubtless he won't be the last. Here then are some things they should all keep in mind when journeying abroad.

    1) Actually know which country you're in

    Ronald Reagan once ended an official trip to Brazil by stating, "I'd like to thank

    Read More »from Romneyshambles: Eight rules for politicians abroad
  • When Miliband met Mitt

    A Labour leader striking up an unexpectedly warm relationship with a Republican president: haven't we seen all this before?

    It's a sunny, sweaty morning in Westminster. The place is deserted now MPs and peers have flown off for their summer holidays. Well - almost deserted. In the leader of the opposition's office, an American presidential candidate is shaking hands and smiling.

    Your correspondent wasn't in the room when they entered. This delay had nothing to do with the Olympics: Ed Miliband's office is nigh on impossible to find at the best of times. And, as it happens, I wasn't late. But something extraordinary was happening. This meeting was taking place on time.

    Two burly looking men in sharp black suits, out of which emerged earpieces, muttered to themselves. Staffers peered into the room. A line of journalists, some familiar and some not, mixed in with Labour officials looked on at the unseen pair. Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander was among them, looking sage and

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  • Stable and united, that's what we were told — but the realities of this hung parliament are much more acrimonious than we've been led to believe.

    Everyone was surprised during the first year of the coalition government. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats strained every sinew to impress journalists, voters and the markets that they were a credible team. It took several months for fears about the instability of coalitions, stoked by the Tories during the 2010 campaign to counter Britain's brief bout of Cleggmania, to be put to bed. But put to bed they were.

    It was as if the hung parliament had never happened. Coalition government became the norm. More meetings and internal negotiations were needed to keep that front united, but the 'businesslike' cooperation between Tories and Lib Dems succeeded in maintaining that illusion. Where trouble spots did develop, steps were taken behind the scenes to prevent them happening again.

    Such was the overwhelming prominence of the spending cuts

    Read More »from The coalition’s great con trick
  • How much do phone-hacking charges hurt Cameron?

    By Dr Matt Ashton

    The news that Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, along with several other ex-employees of News International, are going to be charged over the phone-hacking scandal causes a variety of political problems for David Cameron. He can now use the excuse that because the cases are proceeding to trial he isn't allowed to talk about them, but this won't stop an inquisitive press from asking questions.

    Politicians are famous for disavowing those hit by scandals, and the last few months has seen a frantic rewriting of history with Brooks and Coulson's links to the Conservative party being massively downplayed. I'm sure if they could be erased from official photos without anyone noticing they would be.

    The main problem is that it yet further calls into question Cameron's judgement in terms of being so close to both of them. It's not often that close personal friends, and the former communication director of the prime minister, are charged with serious crimes, and there is no way

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  • The state of the parties this summer

    By Gideon Skinner, head of politics at Ipsos Mori

    As parliament enters its summer recess, the political scene feels very different from the start of the year. Back in January, Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck in the polls, prime minister David Cameron was still riding the crest of his European veto wave, and serious questions were being asked of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who could only manage a neutral rating even among his own supporters. Now, in Ipsos MORI's latest Political Monitor, Labour has its biggest lead since Gordon Brown's brief honeymoon in September 2007, satisfaction with the government is at its lowest ever, and 52% of voters (including around four in ten Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters) doubt the coalition will survive until 2015. So when did this happen, and why?

    As far as when, the answer seems to be clear. The period between the March budget and the May local elections does deserve to be called an "omni-shambles" for the impact it had

    Read More »from The state of the parties this summer
  • Let’s minimise Olympic politics

    By Dr Matt Ashton

    For an event that is famously supposed to be non-political, the Olympics has become mired in partisan activity over the last few decades. Despite the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) repeated pleas to keep it purely sporting, it's now the case that you're likely to find quite a few political journalists amongst the sport reporters.

    The most obvious politicisation of the games stems from people and countries using it as a platform for their political views. This isn't new of course; the Berlin Olympics of 1936 were a huge propaganda exercise, while Munich in 1972 saw terrorists hijacking the Games for their own ends. In the 1980s the Games reflected the heating up of the Cold War with the USA boycotting the Soviet Union because of Afghanistan, and then the Soviet Union boycotting the US in a tit-for-tat move. In 2008 the spectacular Beijing Olympics were China's way of announcing their entrance onto the world stage as the next global superpower.

    David Cameron

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  • The politics of Batman

    Right-wing US shock-jocks are not celebrated for their capacity for logic, but even on the lowest of expectations Rush Limbaugh's attack on The Dark Knight Rises was really weird. The conservative has decided that the villain of the piece — a drug-taking bruiser called Bane — was constructed to help Barack Obama's campaign. His name, apparently, seems awfully similar to 'Bain', the Mitt Romney venture capital firm the incumbent has been attacking in recent weeks.

    "Do you think it is accidental that the name of the really vicious fire-breathing, four-eyed whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bane?" he barked during his last show. "So this evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And there's discussion out there as to whether or not this was purposeful and whether or not it will influence voters. The audience is going to be huge. A lot of people are going to see the movie. And it's a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop-culture crowd, and they're going to

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  • By Rob McNeil

    The way immigration policy is described in the popular press, and often by politicians and political pundits, can create a sense that it is something like the dyke in the story of the little Dutch boy - a barrier that prevents the nation from being flooded.

    The 'catastrophic water metaphor' is such a mainstay of news reporting on immigration that one rarely even notices it. The nation, we read, has 'opened the floodgates' to migrants, has been hit by a 'tidal wave' of them, and is now 'swamped.' Scary stuff…

    Our politicians like to portray themselves as the architects of this dyke — pragmatic planners building new foundations and shoring-up the existing walls. But their portrayal in the press is more often as either desperate figures sticking their fingers in the ever-increasing number of holes to stem the flow, as blasé or irresponsible characters ignoring the impending disaster or even as willing participants in the destruction of the dyke itself.

    The euro crisis

    Read More »from How will the eurozone crisis affect migration to the UK?
  • G4S and the myth of an efficient private sector

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    John Ruskin once said: "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey". Now I think everyone from time to time has paid rock bottom prices for something, and received terrible service as a result. We either knew this going in, and it's an acceptable trade off, or we learn from our mistakes and vow not to repeat them.

    Governments seem to have a variation on this problem though. There have been numerous examples over the last few decades of them buying goods and services from outside companies that later turned out to be sub-standard at best. However instead of paying the minimum amount, those in power seem to have gone out of their way to throw money at them. It's a bit like a member of the public trying to spend £100 on a McDonalds cheeseburger.

    The latest case is the Olympic security scandal. Apparently G4S only discovered a few days ago

    Read More »from G4S and the myth of an efficient private sector
  • John Terry shouted 'black c***' at Anton Ferdinand on October 23rd 2011 during Chelsea's game against Queen's Park Rangers. He eventually faced criminal charges and an FA investigation, lost the captain's armband and triggered the resignation of Fabio Capello, which is probably the only good thing to have come out of it.

    He should never have gone to trial because the law used against him should not exist.

    Terry was charged with a racially aggravated contravention of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which outlaws threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

    There are many people who want the law scrapped, not least former shadow home secretary David Davis and gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, both of whom supported the recent campaign against it. The list of insane arrests under the law barely needs repeating, but it includes an Oxford student who told a

    Read More »from John Terry should never have gone to trial


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