Talking Politics
  • After 500 days in government, Liberal Democrats have even more reason to feel uncertain now than they did 12 months ago.

    By the time the party arrived in Liverpool for last year's conference, their first which most could remember as a governing party, many of the early nerves suffered during the hung parliament period had subsided. The mood could be summed up as one of cautious optimism.

    Now, after their first full year in power, the Lib Dems have a real opportunity to take stock.

    Party leader Nick Clegg is accentuating the positive. "We've been in government in Westminster for 500 days: 500 days of delivery," he says in the foreword to the conference agenda document. And in addition to making the NHS "safe from any threat of backdoor privatisation", Clegg insists his party's ministers are putting "long-held Liberal Democrat ideas into practice". The pupil premium, tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners, a green investment bank - the list goes on.

    It has not all been easy going,

    Read More »from Nervy Lib Dems gather in Birmingham
  • Beware the religious right red-herring

    By Paul Bickley

    Do we need to worry about the rise of a divisive right-wing network?

    Last week's abortion debate was the latest in a long line of issues to prompt fears that Europe and the UK are growing their own 'religious right'.

    For concerned liberal commentators, last week's attempted amendment to the health and social care bill was proof that some British politicians are "adopting the Christian-right's anti women attitudes" at the behest of a "small, vocal, venal group of Christian conservative lobbyists". The only sure safeguard is to ensure that we "keep 'faith' out of politics". Do we need to worry about the rise of a divisive right-wing network, setting itself up against hard won and cherished rights?

    That this apparently modest amendment on counselling services should give occasion for such fierce debate is surprising. But having attempted previously to lower the 24-week limit for abortions, Nadine Dorries — sponsor of the amendment — was already a persona non grata amongst

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  • George Osborne's face is always transparent. Anger, mockery and disdain are the prevalent emotions, with a sprinkling of innate superiority. Today we were given the usual tour of his inner feelings, like a beacon in the mist, until Ed Miliband decided upon a surprising and unique attack. The chancellor had "lashed himself to the mast", unable to offer solutions to an increasingly despondent economic situation because of his obsession with spending cuts, the Labour leader informed us.

    There is another reading to those words, of course, which concerns a certain dominatrix and her less-than-salubrious memories of the chancellor's misspent youth. To my mind, climbing the ranks of the Conservative party is a better example of a misspent youth than luscious and incorrigible hedonism, but we'll put that to one side for a moment. Such superficial aspects of politicians' past, alleged superficialities at that, would not interest the readers of but they are of considerable

    Read More »from PMQs: Unemployment… with a sprinkling of S&M
  • The publication of England's redrawn political map is the first step in a lengthy process of political infighting.

    Labour and the Conservatives will be going head to head, attempting to work out how effectively they can influence the process. Initially they'll be looking to come up with any viable counter-proposals which might limit the damage to their party. Then, once these have been published, they'll set about rubbishing the alternatives any other party has submitted. The scope for change is limited - but they'll do what they can.

    The Liberal Democrats face a more challenging situation. The 2010 general election map shows that most of their seats are isolated, little blobs of orange surrounded by large swathes of red or blue. So most changes will affect them adversely. They're expected to lose around ten seats as a result - a much larger proportion of their presence in parliament than the 16 or 17 the Tories will lose - or the 25 seats Labour are expected to shed.

    Dismay felt by

    Read More »from The boundary changes bunfight
  • In the days preceding the publication of Sir John Vickers' report into banking reform, the sector unleashed its PR operation. Banks would move overseas, they argued. They would be unable to lend to consumers. Many of the apocalyptic suggestions were a crude last-ditch effort to halt reform, but there are reasons to believe that even if the Vickers report does no damage, it could still fail to prevent another banking bail-out


    Sir John announced a "strong and flexible" ringfencing of banks' retail and investment functions. This would force banks, or part of banks, offering core services such as overdrafts and mortgages from engaging in risky trading in markets or derivatives, although they would obviously be able to hedge their retail risks. They would also be able to lend to large non-financial companies and would have their own capital, which would have to stay above a certain set limit.

    Reformists believe that ringfencing — one of Vince Cable's personal crusades — gives a

    Read More »from Are the banks crying wolf over reform?
  • By Linda Kaucher

    While political reporters for the most part ignore the EU, British domestic policy is actually formulated to fit not just with internal EU directives, but, importantly, with the EU's external international trade agenda.

    This broader policy affects people's lives here, particularly their employment and that of their children and grandchildren in the future. Yet information on this broader picture, the parts of EU trade policy that will affect people most, is kept from them.

    A very relevant and major feature of EU trade policy is the concession that allows transnational corporations to bring workers into the EU. In tradespeak this is called 'Mode 4'.

    The World Trade Organisation (WTO) defines four modes for cross-border trade in services: via internet (Mode 1); where the customer crosses borders e.g. tourism and the international student market (Mode 2); where a company establishes in another country (Mode 3); and by moving workers across borders (Mode 4).

    Moving workers

    Read More »from The secret immigration policy they tried to hide
  • There is only one reaction to the "grave and shameful" treatment which led to Baha Mousa's death: utter horror. Which is why, when the inquiry's report attempts to explain the background for how this should come about, it is on distinctly shaky ground.

    When does an interrogation become torture? When does treatment become cruel, degrading and inhuman? These are not black and white issues, which partly explains how the line can be crossed after many years of missed opportunities and neglect. The end result, it's clear, was horrific.

    Baha Mousa died on September 16th 2003, two days after being detained by British forces serving in Basra, southern Iraq. He was an innocent 26-year-old hotel receptionist on September 14th. Two days later his body had 93 identifiable injuries, after being subjected to 36 hours of brutality. The gory details are truly shocking.

    Let's try looking at this from the soldiers' point of view. They were engaged in the practise of 'conditioning' in a bid to extract as

    Read More »from UK military has Baha Mousa’s blood on its hands
  • Today Cameron turned the mockery treatment on Nadine Dorries, his latest political foe. There is nothing more dangerous in politics than descending into a figure of fun.

    As every politician knows, the biggest enemies are always those found in your own party. So it's no surprise that the big contest in this lunchtime's prime minister's questions was between Cameron and the Tory backbencher who had called her party leader "gutless" at the weekend.

    This was Nadine Dorries, perhaps the most effective right-wing troublemaker ever to emerge from the rolling fields of Mid-Bedfordshire, who is very experienced when it comes to winding up the PM. He has been interfering in her abortion amendment, which MPs are spending the afternoon debating. It tackles the question of who provides counselling for pregnant women considering an abortion - an ethical issue which MPs are allowed to vote on with their consciences, free of a party line this way or the other. Dorries was fed up that Cameron had made

    Read More »from Ouch! Cameron’s devastating slapdown must have hurt
  • Spare us these self-serving political memoirs

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Two things tend to happen when ministers leave government. The first is signing themselves up for a host of lucrative directorships; the second is a mad dash to get books about their time in office into print.

    Last week saw a variety of revelations appearing in the media drawn from Alistair Darling's forthcoming memoirs about the handling of the financial crisis and his relationship with former prime minister Gordon Brown. In fact so many extracts and snippets have appeared in the papers you've got to wonder why the Sunday Times shelled out so much money to buy itself exclusive rights. Most people will have read the juicy stuff already. It's not even if the story Darling has to tell is that original, most of the disclosures are actually quite banal.

    It turns out there were a lot of disagreements about the best way to deal with the credit crunch and Gordon Brown had a very bad temper and didn't get on with many of his colleagues. Well I don't know about you but I'm

    Read More »from Spare us these self-serving political memoirs
  • Political leaders rarely get clean-cut victories as straightforward as Libya. It went on just long enough for people to get the jitters, but ended in the decisive triumph of the rebels just in time for parliament's return this afternoon. David Cameron stuck to the rebels' guns throughout, firm and unwavering, the very model of a modern minor war leader. This was his opportunity to take the credit.

    Yet something was not quite right. The Commons did not have the air of fevered anticipation it did when recalled in the depths of summer last month. This afternoon the Labour benches were half-empty, as though half of them had forgotten that this is the first day back at school. There were even some bare patches on the Conservative benches. Only ten Liberal Democrats were seated when the prime minister began speaking. Charles Kennedy, who in his heyday led his party in their vote-winning opposition to the war in Iraq, looked like adding to their number. After briefly peering up into the

    Read More »from Far from a victory parade


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