Talking Politics
  • What is the deal?

    Cameron's veto of the European initiative was not really a veto. As critics have pointed out, vetoes stop the process in question. In Cameron's case, the process simply took a new form, shrugged its shoulders and carried on anyway. The form is that of an intergovernmental treaty. While there is still a lot of uncertainty around it, it is likely to impose rules on all 26 EU members — not just the 17 countries which use the euro.

    The treaty will hold members to strict new budgetary rules, including a cap of 0.5% of GDP on their annual structural deficits, a requirement for them to keep public deficits under three per cent of GDP and a rule that insists they must submit their budgets for European approval.

    While it originally appeared that just the eurozone countries would be affected by the rules, it is now likely they will be imposed on all the EU countries. Most of the non-eurozone members have plans to join the euro eventually and they want to maintain their

    Read More »from Everything you need to know about the eurozone deal in five minutes
  • European visitors to the UK are often surprised by how much British people like their countries. British popular culture still perceives the French as sophisticated, the Germans as competent and the Italians as sexy. Scandinavian countries are held up as models by the left and right in British politics, while holidaymakers sing the praises of Spain and Croatia. The combination of a small country, healthy spending power and poor weather back home power make Brits committed travellers. Most return to the UK with nothing but praise about the places they have visited.

    But continental readers taking a glance at the British newspapers must conclude something different. In the wake of David Cameron's veto of a euro rescue initiative, the tabloid press has broken out with the predictable Second World War puns equivalent to their worst excesses during international football tournaments. It does not seem as if Britain has much love for Europe.

    In truth, there are two Europes in Britain's head.

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  • Cameron’s great leap in the dark

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was either a courageous act of political bravery by Cameron to defend Britain's national interest, or a huge misstep motivated by a craven desire to appease his increasingly militant backbenchers. Looking at today's papers no-one seems to be able to quite make up their minds. Half the press are trying to present him as the second coming of Churchill while the other half are portraying him as a rabid 'little Englander'.

    The truth is that in the long term it's almost impossible to gauge the full political and economic impact of Cameron's veto. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that his actions haven't actually prevented the 26 other members of the European Union from doing what they want to do. They'll just find some way of doing roughly the same thing in a slightly different way, but without Britain.

    What's more interesting is the impact Cameron's veto will have on domestic politics, in

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  • Italy is no longer a democracy. It is a frontier outpost in the gradual takeover of governments by the financial markets. When technocrat Mario Monti was installed and filled the government with unelected administrators, it was not just a defeat for democracy, it was a victory for the banks.

    Monti is Goldman Sachs' man. He was lifted out of academia by Berlusconi in 1995 to work at the Europe Commission, first in internal markets and then on competition. The bank spotted him and made him international adviser.

    Something similar happened in Ireland, where Peter Sutherland, attorney general in the 1980s and former EU competition commissioner, became non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland, until, you know, it collapsed, and we had to share the pain — but not, it goes without saying, his salary.

    Mario Draghi, who recently became president of the European Central Bank, is a former Goldman Sachs man, as is Antonio Borges,

    Read More »from Cameron’s historic failure over Europe
  • Ed Miliband was heading for a clear-cut victory on the subject of this week's EU summit when he decided — inexplicably - to sit down. Worse: by the time he stood up, he strived to inject some much-needed unity into the Tory ranks just as he was in a place to exploit their divisions.

    Cameron entered the Commons chamber with the grave face of a leader who knows the most hostile questions will be coming from behind him. Eurosceptic backbenchers feel a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull back from Europe is being squandered and their principles will, impressively, overrule party political advantage. It was prime cuts of red meat for a leader of the opposition.

    Miliband began by deploying his standard cold-hearted sarcasm, asking politely which powers Cameron intended to repatriate from Brussels — a promise he offered his backbenchers a few months ago, just before 81 of them turned their noses up at him. The PM contorted himself into a series of improbable positions, bumbling his way

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Miliband fumbles a major victory
  • Taxing meat could make us thinner

    By Yvonne Bishop-Weston

    It's no secret that the UK's girth is expanding day by day. In fact, British health officials recently announced that we need to cut five billion calories from our collective daily diet in order to slow the current obesity crisis. Left unchecked, obesity-related health problems could cost the NHS £10 billion a year by 2050.

    The government has made some attempts to slim down our country by asking the food and beverage industries to reduce the amount of salt and fat in their products, requiring calorie contents to be posted where possible and encouraging people to exercise. But these efforts are like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a spoon.

    They need to find a way to get the message across that we need to change our diets. One suggestion for combating our growing obesity crisis would be to tax meat products and promote a healthy plant-based diet. We would do well to learn from the Danes, who recently implemented a tax on food products that are high in fat,

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  • Cerie Bullivant, an innocent man, discovered what living with a control order is actually like the hard way. He is now out to get them axed for good.

    The government doesn't need a conviction to place terror suspects under control orders. Campaigners say it's a fundamental usurpation of our civil liberties and the right to trial. One of the most vocal of their opponents is Cerie Bullivant. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because you've read about him before.

    The first time had mentioned the man now sitting opposite me was once before, in May 2007, when then home secretary John Reid had bowed to civil liberties concerns and announced a review of control orders.

    The review, as the story explained, came as "Scotland Yard took the unprecedented step of releasing the identities of three missing terror suspects under a control order". One of the three was Cerie Bullivant.

    "Despite there being insufficient evidence to charge the men with a criminal offence, they were

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  • The government offers hurt without hope

    By Richard Heller

    Some years ago I was flying in an airliner when suddenly one of its engines began to sputter and cough. Anxious passengers understandably began to carry on rather than keep calm. The captain's voice tried to assure us: "There is no cause for unnecessary alarm."

    I was reminded of this less-than-comforting message this week as George Osborne presented his autumn statement. With all his economic forecasts falling faster than autumn leaves, and no reason to imagine that either the domestic or the international economy will improve, he had to convince the House of Commons and the British people that he was still in control of the plane.

    Captain Osborne began by asking all of his passengers to look out of the window. Would they like to be in the European airliners they could see on either side of them, belching black smoke and not far from a complete power failure? That is what would happen if he tried to open the throttle. He then announced that the cabin staff would be

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  • Is Twitter just the Daily Mail for left-wingers?

    When an off-the-cuff joke from a bland TV presenter triggers mass outrage, press releases from major political parties and consultation on legal action, you know something's gone wrong.

    Jeremy Clarkson's insistence that striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families is the standard extremist humour of people with little imagination or ingenuity.

    It barely warrants a comment, let alone a legal response.

    The mad racist ravings of fools and brutes used to be put in the same category. No longer. Earlier this week, a video emerged of a racist woman on a tram, her young child on her lap as she issued half-remembered prejudices of right-wing tabloids, with extra swearing and hatred. It was gross and unpleasant, but the response of the British transport police — to track her down and arrest her for racially aggravated public disorder — was gobsmackingly authoritarian.

    The new British love for outrage is threatening to

    Read More »from Jeremy Clarkson and the New British Outrage
  • We now know what it takes for Ed Miliband to put in a good performance at PMQs. When Britain is enduring the biggest strike in a generation, he finally ups his game.

    That wasn't immediately obvious in this week's tense, exciting prime minister's questions. This is a day when politics is affecting the lives of most people in the country: 30 trade unions have united together to challenge ministers' plans to hike the cost of public sector pensions. Surely this was an opportunity for Miliband, who earlier today said he has "great sympathy" with the strikers, to come up with the goods at the despatch box?

    After a very neat first question in which he quoted a striking schoolteacher whom Cameron had praised for not walking out earlier this year, the prime minister started extremely well. Why were they striking? Miliband had asked. Cameron, speaking slowly and clearly like an Englishman speaking English abroad, explained: "They object to the reforms we are making to public sector pensions." A

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