Talking Politics
  • David Cameron's "spirit of humility" line is likely to undermine Britain's prestige overseas. But, as the immigration cap controversy shows, the real risk stems from deepening division within the Cabinet.

    There are currently six government ministers in India, courting one of the world's largest emerging economies with all their might.

    The prime minister is joined by his chancellor, foreign secretary and business secretary, amongst others, while over 50 senior British business figures are present to do their bit.

    Even Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes have come along for the ride. Clearly, this is an important trip.

    Yet the delegation has already raised some fundamental questions about the new government's approach to foreign policy. In an article in the Hindu newspaper today, Cameron says Britain approaches India with a "spirit of humility". It's obviously an attempt to offset the centuries of imperial domination which are now played up as 'shared heritage'. Ah, those were the days.

    Read More »from Immigration row shows world notices actions, not words
  • David Cameron is just as obsessed with the machinations of the British tabloids and broadcasters as New Labour ever was. He's just better at it.

    By Samuel Dale

    Documenting Cameron's rise to the summit of British politics is so straightforward that it becomes, paradoxically, almost unconventional. As the first politician to rise from Tory central office to prime minister, Cameron has been at the heart of British politics since he left university. He learned his trade working on the 1992 election campaign and as political advisor to the chancellor Norman Lamont and home secretary Michael Howard. This was no ordinary introduction to political life. This was the gold-plated fast-track to the very top.

    The relationship between politicians and the media is the big theme of author Nicholas Jones' new book, Campaign 2010. And it is clear that Cameron is an expert media handler, whether it is speaking without notes for party conference speeches or wooing the News Corporation press. He really

    Read More »from Politics, the media and a very clever prime minister
  • We should all be shocked by the revelations contained in the tens of thousands of intelligence reports from Afghanistan released today. But their political impact is unlikely to be as damaging as it initially seems.

    By Alex Stevenson

    There's no doubt the 91,000-plus records released by the Wikileaks website today are deeply troubling. They shine a light on the parts of the war with the Taliban our leaders don't want us to see. Some parts have been redacted in the public interest. Regardless, the remainder will have a damaging effect on the war effort.

    Firstly, Britain's relations with Pakistan have been undermined. The documents suggest Pakistani authorities knew about a plot to assassinate Afghan president Hamid Karzai - but did nothing about it. More western observers will now start to ask the question: is Pakistan really as reliable an ally as the west thinks it is?

    Then comes the ongoing agony about the behaviour of our soldiers. Patriotic fervour, whipped up by the tabloids, is

    Read More »from Analysis: Do the Afghan leaks change anything?
  • Labour must repent for civil liberties

    The coalition is weak. Unless Labour quickly addresses its authoritarian tendencies, we could soon be back in the bad old days.

    By Ian Dunt

    The term 'progressive' is a pernicious and treacherous thing. It is not a belief system. It doesn't denote a series of beliefs or policies. It is a sentiment, a vague allusion. It translates as 'leftish'. Its political usefulness lies in this absence of meaning, allowing right-wingers to attract moderates without actually committing to any specific proposals.

    But whatever progressive is, it isn't locking up innocent children because their parents are illegal immigrants. It isn't about writing articles in the Daily Mail promoting the incarceration of our young people in overcrowded jails to satisfy the inexplicable needs of the gutter press. It isn't defending stop-and-search, which has been shown over and over again to be used disproportionately against ethnic minorities. That is the situation Labour now finds itself in.

    On the very same day that

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  • Britain's new rulers are finding much solace in the strictures of coalition government. But there is danger, as well as safety, in the backroom dealings which now govern us all.

    Ten weeks have passed since Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander sat in the Cabinet Office, thrashing out the first details of the agreement which would establish Britain's first coalition government since the Second World War. Last night the two men sat next to each other at a Policy Exchange discussion, still friends.

    It's as if none of the troubles of this period had ever happened. The horrified Lib Dems reeling as they voted through a "slightly progressive" VAT hike. The dismayed Conservatives watching Ken Clarke abandon faith in prisons altogether. Both sides gritting their teeth as they prepare to fight on separate sides in a battle for electoral reform.

    "I've been cohabiting with Danny for a while now and it's a very pleasurable experience," Letwin says pleasantly. Alexander blushes modestly. "It's based

    Read More »from Why the backroom leaders love the coalition
  • Cameron is trying to start a new chapter in Anglo-US relations. But can he conquer Obama's indifference, or the British public's distrust of America?

    By Ian Dunt

    Tony Blair always used to remind his aides that a 'Love Actually' moment, as he put it, would only present good headlines for a week, while its damaging effects would last much longer. Adopting a critical approach to the US might be satisfying to British pride, but it would harm British interests - or so he believed.

    There are two truths in that statement. The first reveals the British need for a strong American alliance so it can maintain its international influence. The second concerns British resentment of the 'special relationship'.

    While British warmth towards America was never as simple or as easy as many commentators now pretend, its real turning point came during the Iraq war. It was then that many Britons concluded that if influence involved sending their children to fight in a war most people considered illegal and

    Read More »from Analysis: State of the ‘special relationship’
  • Time to protect the privileged?

    Does the unelected House of Lords still deserve its privileged position in British politics?

    By Rebecca Burns

    Following the government's announcement that change is on its way, business in the House of Lords is rather existential at the moment. The Lords has been forced to establish exactly why it exists.

    So the chamber has been transformed into a therapist's office, full of red leather couches for self-interrogation rather than legislation. Our peers must ask themselves why they are entitled, over and above all others, to place their bottoms in those seats.

    Like the privileged echelons of any hierarchy, the upper House has been threatened with reform on a relatively regular basis. The slow rise of the Commons from around the 13th century began the power drain that, 700 years later, led to the loss of the parliamentary primacy of the Lords. A fit of republicanism in 1649 saw Cromwell abolish the Lords outright for eleven years.

    A further insult was inflicted on the Lords by the Labour

    Read More »from Time to protect the privileged?
  • The London Mayor is developing a reputation for authoritarianism and inaction. The Parliament Square eviction is his most disgraceful move so far.

    By Ian Dunt

    Quick. Think of something Boris Johnson has achieved as London Mayor. Strange, isn't it? Nothing comes to mind. Under the pressure of my own challenge, I have emerged with three policies: the ban on drinking on public transport, the failure to put up screens for the World Cup and the eviction of demonstrators in Parliament Square.

    Each of these actions reveals a political attitude which can best be described as paternal, although in truth it is pure authoritarianism. It's an approach quite at odds with the libertarian spirit Boris' one-man PR machine implies. The bumbling mayor has always used this charming persona of his to accomplish political goals.

    As anyone who watches TV knows, he comes across as smart, ditsy, amiable, entertaining, good natured and liberal. Indeed, some of those liberal impressions appear to be genuine,

    Read More »from Boris disgraces himself with protest evictions
  • Constitutional reforms, it turns out, are much easier to defend than emergency Budgets.

    By Alex Stevenson

    While George Osborne was sweating before the Commons' Treasury committee, Nick Clegg was enjoying a much easier ride in front of the political and constitutional reform committee.

    The deputy prime minister, by way of a warm-up for his 'away day' crisis talks with Liberal Democrat malcontents later, had deigned to pop in to the Commons to receive a light grilling. In the end he was barely toasted, establishing the upper hand by congratulating the select committee members for their election.

    He was patronising to Tristram Hunt, the most swashbuckling historian to have ever graced a library, when it came to the 1832 Great Reform Act. Hunt wanted to know whether Clegg's reforms were purely "utilitarian" or whether they need "some more poetry".

    "Any reform programme can do with a bit more poetry," Clegg said condescendingly. "It is a mixture of idealism and pragmatism." Like most

    Read More »from Clegg as patronising as Osborne was defensive
  • The sense of separation has been growing for some considerable time. MPs are now rarely representative of anyone or anything but their own political class.

    By Ted Cantle

    I used the idea of 'parallel lives' in the Cantle report to government in 2001 on the race riots in the north of England to illustrate how different communities from the same area had entirely separate social and cultural lives. I do not think it is stretching a point too far to apply this to the 'Westminster bubble' and to the parliamentarians who spend most of their days closeted with their own kind, surrounded by advisors, media commentators and lobbyists.

    The reason for the expenses 'scam' - made possible through the support of the whole House in order to find a surreptitious way of boosting pay - was not so much a loss of a moral compass, as some MPs claimed, but rather the complete loss of connection with the electorate. Contempt of the public of course goes deeper. Gordon Brown's 'bigoted woman' gaffe showed

    Read More »from What expenses and race riots have in common

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