Talking Politics
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    Asylum seekers are a testing lab for how we treat those we don’t care about. It starts with asylum seekers and before you know it you see the same policies being applied to benefit claimants.

    Case in point: benefits cards. Iain Duncan Smith announced to the Conservative party conference this week that he’d be testing out pre-paid cards for people to receive their benefits, so they couldn’t spend it on alcohol or drugs.

    He said:

    "Conference, today I can stand here and announce to you that I am going to start testing prepaid cards onto which we will make benefit payments so that the money they receive is spent on the needs of the family, finally helping I believe to break the cycle of poverty for families on the margins. This is a change for those families that we as a Conservative government will be proud of."

    IDS does not have to look far for how the system works. It is already in place for failed asylum seekers who, for reasons outside of their control, cannot return to their own

    Read More »from How IDS' plan will starve and stigmatise people on benefits
  • Promising tax cuts - the ultimate turn-on for the Tories and vote-winner for the electorate - guaranteed this speech would be a success for David Cameron. But the prime minister had a bigger task to overcome in what could yet be his final conference speech as leader of the Conservative party.

    Cameron wandered on to the stage slowly. He had all the languor of a man taking a lap of honour, a man happy to soak up the applause for governing the country. It seemed appropriate, for there wasn’t the customary build-up in excitement to this speech. There was no real sense of anticipation. Delegates were calmly expecting something workmanlike.

    What they got was something much better. Even after nine years in the job, David Cameron is still not entirely a known quantity to the British people. He does not stand for much that is not universally acceptable. “I’m not a complicated man,” he told delegates. So, by weighting so much of his speech about the inadequacies of Ed Miliband, he had to do

    Read More »from Forbidden for so long, Cameron unveils the Tories' forbidden Viagra
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    By Paul Harris

    I’m terrified. Why? Chris Grayling has just made a rabble rousing speech at the Tory party conference, shredding the Human Rights Act, that perennial, lazy target for the Tory faithful and the tabloid press.  As they would have you believe it, the Act protects prisoners, terrorists and paedophiles. But, yet again in the short career of Mr Grayling, he’s distorting the reality of a law for cheap political gain.  He’d have you believe that it’s a product of the evil EU which subverts our sovereignty with left-leaning liberalism.

    Three facts escape him. It was born out of the ashes of the Second World War to protect Europe’s fragile democracies. It sets in stone rights such as the right to life, education and free elections. It also applies to everybody equally.   

    But Grayling has other plans. He’s happy to tear up the agreements which have made us a beacon of human rights internationally. He proposes a bill of rights, bespoke to England and Wales. Killing three political

    Read More »from Human rights law protects us against ministers like Grayling
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    The applause was as hard-edged as George Osborne’s smile. Even after all these years, he still hasn’t learned how to look convincingly happy. And the Conservatives like him all the more for it.

    Looking cheerful, the meanest-minded Tories would have to admit, is not really in the job description. It has been this chancellor’s task to preside over one of the most dramatic retrenchments of public services in the British state’s history. Grimacing, not grinning, has been Osborne’s expression of choice.

    Today was a masterclass in looking immovable. His technique of delivering his speech from behind a lectern, solid and reliable, is all part of this. So too was the unusually unsubtle autocue at the back of the hall, which David Cameron’s No 10 spin doctors took to staring at anxiously rather than focusing on their colleague in No 11. Osborne couldn’t have come across more differently from the touchy-feely, forgetting-his-lines Ed Miliband. Which, of course, is exactly as he wanted.


    Read More »from Pain, poverty and the cold, hard sound of Tory applause
  • Beware our allies against Isis


    By Andrew Smith

    With parliament being recalled, MPs are being asked whether or not the UK should join the US and others in air strikes on Iraq.

    People from all across the political spectrum have been rightfully horrified by Islamic State’s (Isis’) brutal and barbaric actions, but air strikes can only serve to make matters worse.

    Looking at the results of military action taken by the west in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya it is clear that such interventions kill civilians, destroy infrastructure and exacerbate violence. Only this month the outgoing Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said: “We don’t have peace because the Americans didn’t want peace”. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the collapse of the UK backed Libyan government, which has gone into hiding.

    The rise of Isis should be seen as one of the outcomes of the disastrous 2003 war, which killed half a million Iraqis and displaced many more.

    One of the reasons Isis is so well armed and dangerous is because of the short-termism at the heart of

    Read More »from Beware our allies against Isis
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    Ed Miliband’s mansion tax is bad policy and bad politics. It will entrench social divides, destroy mixed communities and do nothing to solve the growing housing crisis in London and the south east.

    Few voters will shed a tear over the imagined victims of Miliband’s new tax.

    Labour voters in particular will assume it exclusively affects a series of portly bankers and sinister Russian oligarchs.

    But the reality is that the tax will also hit relatively ordinary people who just happen to have lived through a deep and growing housing crisis.

    Retired pensioners who bought their homes for a tiny fraction of what they cost now, will be forced to sell up, only to be replaced by exactly the bankers and oligarchs the policy is supposed to attack.

    Relatively mixed communities will become exclusively rich ghettos and all for the sake of just £1 billion of new tax revenues a year.

    The housing crisis was not caused by homeowners in Chelsea. Two million pound town houses are not the cause of London’s

    Read More »from Miliband's mansion tax will do nothing to solve the housing crisis
  • Ed Miliband is not naturally suited to the job of being opposition leader, but his strengths are under-reported. He’s an interesting thinker - certainly the most intellectually rewarding party leader since Tony Blair. He’s good at staying calm in the face of frenzied media hostility and at keeping a fractious party together. He’s good at challenging received wisdom. And he is very good at conference speeches.

    His first speech differentiated him enough from New Labour to earn the right to be heard by Lib Dems horrified by coalition. That Lib Dem support switched and stayed, providing him with a stubborn but pivotal poll lead. His ‘predator capitalism’ speech seemed remarkably prescient months later and provided a new way of communicating discomfort over private power to the public. His announcement of an energy price freeze dominated the political agenda for months and discombobulated the Tories.

    That winning streak ended today. This was a dreadful speech. It had no consistent theme, no

    Read More »from Miliband speech verdict: The radicalism is gone, replaced by caution
  • Tony Blair is calling for “boots on the ground” in the fight against an enemy he judges to be a threat to western security in Iraq. It sounds familiar - but this time the former prime minister might have a point.

    One thing is for certain: Blair is incorrigible. He used his evidence sessions at the Iraq inquiry to call for the west to go in all guns blazing against Syria. He has consistently argued that the best way to confront radical Islam is to batter it into submission through force. Now, seven years after leaving Downing Street, he thinks he has a right to be listened to as he outlines a fresh case for sending western soldiers into the Middle East.

    "Maybe it’s worth appreciating the fact that there are lessons I have learnt from the experience of having gone through the process of taking these decisions, of having to deal with the situation in Iraq where, as I say, precisely the same type of terrorist forces we were facing in Iraq in 2006-07 is exactly what we face now in 2014."

    Read More »from Blair wants boots on the ground in Iraq - again
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    By Justine Brian

    Back when the Scottish independence referendum was announced in 2011, I never imagined I would become as forceful supporter of the union as I am today. Yet while I held a visceral reaction to the idea of Scotland breaking away – an instinctive rejection of the Balkanisation of the UK – I could sense that I was very much in the minority among those south of the border. As is now becoming clear from the hysteria gripping the Better Together campaign, that lack of understanding over the value of the union was shared by too many others charged with defending it. 

    So, over the past three years, I’ve become an accidental Unionist, finding myself asked to defend the status quo, the British state, and even the nation state itself. Having been an ardent supporter of Irish freedom not that many years ago, it is not a position which comes naturally. But here I find myself, all the same.

    One of the frustrations for people on my side of the Yes/No divide is the apparent lack of a

    Read More »from I supported Irish freedom. Now I support the union
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    For some time now, England and Wales have had a semi-decriminalisation programme for cannabis. And it has ended up criminalising more cannabis users than ever before.

    But it doesn’t criminalise all cannabis users: it primarily targets people who are young, black or Asian. It is a story of muddle-headed government initiatives, skewed police incentives, racism, drug wars and the old, old habit of treating white people more leniently than everyone else.

    In 2004, when cannabis was made Class C, cannabis warnings were introduced. These were spoken warnings given by a policeman on the street if you were caught with a small amount of weed for personal use. Five years later the drug was returned to Class B, but the cannabis warnings remained. This effectively gave the police discretion in how they treated cannabis possession. The result of this discretion was the disproportionate targeting of black and Asian youths.

    Cannabis warnings are now the first step on the ‘escalator’ system of options

    Read More »from Britain secretly decriminalised cannabis – and it's a disaster


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