Talking Politics
  • Photo: 2011 Getty Images

    We can expect politicians of all parties to avoid the real reasons behind the weekend's violence in London.

    You might think politicians' strangely sluggish response to the rioting was because half of them are on holiday. In fact, their motivation is more problematic than that.

    MPs began by being condemnatory, articulating the average families' breakfast table opinions on the national stage. The youths engaged in the looting and vandalism were doing so purely out of opportunism. They're criminals, pure and simple.

    Of course they are. But simply stating so deflects attention from the bigger issues which are now in play, whether those in power like it or not. This violence isn't happening in a vacuum.

    A big part of politicians' sluggish response is that they're scared. Scared that by trying to explain the violence, they risk being seen as attempting to excuse it.

    Some awkward, heavy-handed attempts have already been made. Chris Williamson, the Labour backbencher for Derby North,

    Read More »from Britain might be broken, after all
  • New Labour's police funding brought about real results in cutting crime, but public perceptions didn't improve. In a time of spending cuts and upheaval, it's going to be very difficult for the coalition to do better.

    It's not much to ask. The public tell politicians that they're worried about crime in their neighbourhood. The politicians put pressure on the police to do something about it. Crime levels fall. The politicians, having done their job, get re-elected. Simple, really.

    Only, as figures released last week from the Office for National Statistics show, it isn't quite like that. Between 2008/09 and 2009/10, the British Crime Survey recorded a drop in the estimated number of crimes from 10.4 million to 9.5 million. An impressive reduction, by any standards.

    How frustrating, then, that during the same period two-thirds of people in England and Wales thought crime had risen at the national level. The New Labour government, in power at the time, didn't get the public sympathy - and

    Read More »from Narrowing the crime perception gap
  • Whether debating the death penalty or pushing the phone-hacking scandal forwards, it looks like MPs are finally getting their act together.

    Two years ago parliament's reputation was in a ropy state. The full extent of the expenses scandal revealed a culture of complacent back-slapping which shocked the country. Politicians' reputations, already pretty ropy, slumped to new lows. They had let us down, and they knew it.

    The first step was making the problem go away - something politicians are always especially adept at. Despite the terrible teething problems the new system has endured, its draconian restrictions have at least stopped the rot of negative stories. Journalists in parliament groan when the latest batch of expenses claims are published, knowing they won't find anything much to write home about. Expenses is, finally, a non-story.

    MPs went further than just fixing their allowances culture, however. They realised they needed to do much, much more to re-engage with ordinary

    Read More »from Is parliament’s expenses rehabilitation complete?
  • For over a decade, the record companies have fought a rearguard defence against their inevitable decline. Thankfully, it's a lost cause. They will not be missed.

    Vince Cable announced today that certain parts of the old Labour government's disreputable Digital Economy Act will be delayed while others will be scrapped altogether. Even so, record companies will be pleased. Things in general seem to be moving their way. They've been blindsided. Legislative or regulatory change is a cul-de-sac. Technological and cultural change is the defining factor and that is most certainly not going their way.

    This is a period of transition. We are going from a top-down entertainment culture to a grassroots one.

    There are exceptions, most notably film, whose production costs are so high that the studios have a way to go yet before they become redundant, if they ever do. It's just economics, basic Marxism really — the means of production is your first port of call when trying to explain a political or

    Read More »from It’s time to finish off the record companies
  • Properly funded, the 'big society' could change Britain. Without it, David Cameron's big idea is going to be dismissed before it even gets off the ground.

    You can't blame those who refuse to take the 'big society' seriously.

    The problem is the spending cuts. Many ordinary people are struggling to accept that this great idea has popped up just as the government begins conducting one of the most brutally uncompromising programmes of deficit reduction seen in modern western history.

    "Hang on a minute, lads," says David 'Michael Caine' Cameron. "I've got a great idea." We can get ordinary people to do public service work for us, he suggests. That might save a bob or two.

    It's going to be incredibly hard to change the minds of those who think this idea is a political smokescreen for cuts - and not a very effective one, at that.

    But maybe, just maybe, the 'big society' idea is big enough to transcend the austerity drive. The PM might complain that he's been dealt a tough hand by the

    Read More »from Without cash, the ‘big society’ is doomed
  • There are some arguments which are more challenging than others. The capital punishment argument is particularly unsatisfying because it is so easy to refute.

    Right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes has managed to drag the issue into the silly-season spotlight via the government's new e-petition system, which guarantees a debate in the Commons if you can get 100,000 signatures.

    I meither support capital punishment nor have much regard for the arguments of those who do, but this seems a healthy and rewarding endeavour. Most people in this country do support executions but it remains a non-issue in Westminster. It seems entirely right that the petition should get the requisite signatures and trigger a Commons debate. Quite where it would go from there, given our international treaty obligations and membership of the European Union, is pretty obvious: nowhere. The rash of Tory backbenchers who have lent their support, including Philip Davies, Priti Patel, Andrew Turner and David Nuttall, will do

    Read More »from How to defeat the argument for capital punishment in 30 seconds
  • Shaking up Britain's electoral map was a Tory idea. It was the price they demanded, this time last year, for allowing their junior coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, a referendum on the alternative vote.

    Twelve months later, and the Lib Dems have lost the referendum. They are as unpopular as ever. But the legislation has been passed. The Conservatives are left laughing. For the number of MPs will fall from 650 to 600 in 2015, helping their cause.

    At least, it's supposed to. The Commons must approve the changes which will eventually be put forward by the Boundary Commission in full by October 2013 at the latest. This is the key vote which, a Tory party elections analyst has said, is the greatest single risk to the coalition making it through its full five years.

    Imagine you're a Tory MP - perhaps used to being returned with a comfortably-sized majority election after election. All of a sudden, you receive a phone call from someone at CCHQ. They're terribly sorry, they explain,

    Read More »from Boundary changes are a big threat to the coalition
  • Interior, day: a hospital ward in the Royal National Throat, Nose and ear hospital. The leader of the opposition is in bed, surrounded by a gaggle of supporters. He opens his eyes. Amid an atmosphere of fevered anticipation, he speaks.

    ED MILIBAND: 'As by nose job imbroved by terror-bull boice?

    (instant consternation. Ed Balls tears large chunks out of his hair. Mrs Miliband bursts into tears. The spirit of Gordon Brown's political career falls off its chair)

    SPIN DOCTOR 1: Blair in heaven! It didn't work!

    SPIN DOCTOR 2: Ach! We'll never win in 2015 now! (exit all bar Miliband, gnashing their collective teeth)

    ED MILIBAND (to himself): I bidn't think id was thad bad.


    This, it should be noted, is a work of fiction. But it's based on an event which happened yesterday, when the man all right-thinking left-wingers hope will be Britain's next prime minister had a nose job.

    The problem, as the Labour spinners explained, was his snoring. A deviated septum has caused him to suffer

    Read More »from One nose job later, Ed’s still Milibunged-up
  • Getty Images

    Britain is struggling to get its way in the debate over Libya's future - but that isn't stopping it trying to do all it can to oust Muammar Gaddafi.

    The UK is having a tough time of it in Libya. Gaddafi, who was supposed to have folded months ago, remains as defiant as ever. The UK has committed itself to an open-ended conflict which has already seen RAF jets fly 17,000 sorties over Libyan airspace. If progress isn't made by the time parliament returns in September, the government could find itself in political hot water from frustrated MPs.

    "Time is on our side," Hague insisted at the Foreign Office this morning. It's far from clear - especially when you take into account recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan - that he's right.

    Maybe this was what prompted the decision to expel Gaddafi's remaining diplomats. It looks, on the face of it, like a strong, decisive move. Actually, it reflects Britain's deteriorating fortunes in the debate over the future of Libya.

    It's the shift in

    Read More »from Britain is running out of cards to play against Gaddafi
  • No-one wants to see the uncertain, fragile recovery we've got right now - apart, perhaps, from those who want the coalition to stick together.

    It's the issue that will decide the next general election.

    David Cameron will never be able to go it alone with an overall Conservative majority after 2015 if he cannot demonstrate the ultimate success of his chancellor George Osborne's rapacious, uncompromising deficit reduction agenda.

    Nick Clegg will not even have a chance of remaining his party's leader if he does not win the public's support for the coalition. The Liberal Democrats have the demeanour of a party fleeing from a savage electorate who find themselves cornered at the end of a dark alleyway. Only an economic recovery gives them even the slightest chance of an escape from electoral catastrophe.

    It's why today's growth figures, which saw gross domestic product increase by a measly 0.2% in the three months from April to July, will be a source of private dismay for both leaders -

    Read More »from No growth now? No problem, as long as prosperity returns by polling day


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