Talking Politics
  • In a time of cuts and "unprecedented" efficiency savings, questions about money are never far away for Andrew Lansley's groundbreaking reforms of the NHS.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Today marks the culmination of six years' work as shadow health secretary for Lansley. He is finally implementing many of the ideas which have underpinned much of his rhetoric during that time - scrapping targets, increasing choice, "liberating the NHS from the old command-and-control regime".

    Lansley could never have anticipated the wider environment within which those reforms would take place. Yes, the Department of Health is spared the budget cuts of other departments. But there are still up to £20 billion of cuts scheduled for the next four years. There is much pain to come.

    "The reality is there is no more money," the white paper says. "Difficult local decisions" will be required. Net cuts in terms of total staff are "inevitable" in the next five years. There will be "significant disruption".

    At the same time,

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  • The great bank levy escape?

    Don't mention the levy, the bankers are whispering. They might have got away with it.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Three weeks have passed since George Osborne's emergency Budget turned grim foreboding into bitter reality. The chancellor announced to an uneasy Commons his plans to slash departmental budgets by at least a quarter.

    Now Whitehall is busy with 40% cutting contingency plans and the summer fever of a comprehensive spending review.

    But while the rest of the nation reels at the sheer extent of the austerity agenda, the City's great financial institutions are quietly breathing a sigh of relief.

    Bankers knew they had to pay a price for their misdemeanours - the sheer greed of the financial system was, after all, what got us into this mess in the first place.

    "I think it's an outrage," Nick Clegg told politics.co.uk before the general election, "a complete economic and moral outrage the way the greed of the bankers of the City of London has basically held a gun to the head of the rest of

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  • The OBR mask is crumbling

    Sir Alan Budd's departure sheds light on the fake independence of the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR).

    By Craig Berry

    It emerged this week the OBR head has left after only three months in his post. The government claims Budd was only ever a short-term appointment - but if so, why is there no successor in place?

    Admittedly, Budd is 73 years old, and his CV suggests he is far more suited to an advisory role rather than actually managing a government agency. Yet there is more than a whiff of spin in the government's response.

    What is equally likely, if not more so, is that Budd has finally realised that the OBR's independence is little more than a political gimmick.

    As I argued in a previous politics.co.uk piece, the creation of the OBR didn't represent a commitment to independent forecasting with government economic and fiscal policy. Rather it was an attempt by George Osborne to create his own Bank-of-England-independence moment (straight from the Gordon Brown playbook), while

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  • Numbering high on the list of Sights We Thought We'd Never See, John Prescott's entry into the Lords was a surprising affair in more ways than one.

    By Alex Stevenson

    How utterly improbable. A few years ago we would have placed rather long odds on this happy occasion. Surely it was less likely than the party political funding dispute being resolved, or the number of women MPs outnumbering the number of men, or Sir Menzies Campbell taking up tap-dancing.

    All that "flunkery and titles", as Two Jabs once famously put it, was not for him. He told the Mail two years ago that he was utterly uninterested in being "sidelined" by being shunted into the upper House.

    And yet the 72-year-old, apparently under pressure from his wife Pauline, has finally relented. He is now a peer of the realm, Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull, and in A1 position to enjoy "all the rights, privileges, pre-eminences" and the like which being a baron confers. The mind boggles.

    Pauline was looking delightful prior to

    Read More »from Post-pugnacious Prescott embraces the flunkery
  • Will the terror inquiry be a whitewash?

    David Cameron's decision to launch an inquiry on the allegations about British collusion in torture seems open, but there are problems under the surface.

    By Ian Dunt

    David Cameron's statement to the Commons on possible British collusion in the torture of terrorist suspects was another perfectly delivered example of why the prime minister excels at these tasks. But delve beneath the surface and problems start to emerge.

    The inquiry

    The inquiry is to be chaired by Sir Peter Gibson. Anti-torture activists are extremely concerned about his role, given he continues to act as intelligence services commissioner and has done since 2006. Given that he has already been responsible for security services scrutiny for several years, most do not expect him to take an altogether different stance on the matters now before him. Sir Peter is also able to define the terms of reference for the inquiry in combinations with relevant ministers. The broad sweep of the inquiry was still much more generous than

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  • Who benefits from Clegg’s reforms?

    Clegg's announcement of a raft of constitutional reforms prompted angry outbursts in the Commons. But who benefits, and will anything really change?

    By Ian Dunt

    Jack Straw's rage was palpable as he responded to Nick Clegg's statement on constitutional reform in the Commons yesterday. Despite having put a referendum on AV in its manifesto, Labour was opposing the vast majority of what was contained in the package. Why?

    Constituency sizes: Straw reserved special disdain for the proposal to equalise the size of constituencies. The number of MPs will be reduced from 650 to 600 and each seat will have roughly 75,000 electors. Special exemptions were made for the Orkney and Shetland and Western Isles constituencies, which have roughly a third of the number of constituents of most seats, but not for the Isle of Wight. The reason Labour MPs are so incandescent with rage at this proposal is that they are the main losers. The party had retained a distinct electoral advantage for several decades

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  • The desecration of the welfare state is the price we must pay for the return of civil liberties.

    By Ian Dunt

    The new 'You Freedom' website, where the public is encouraged to suggest how to improve the country, has three options: 'restoring civil liberties', 'repealing unnecessary laws' and 'cutting business and third sector regulation'.

    The association between civil liberties and business regulation is a false one. Freedom for the individual is quite different to freedom for an organisation, such as a company or a government - both entities which can easily extinguish individual freedom unless their powers are severely restricted.

    But the coalition is desperate to present a coherent policy agenda, and the word freedom works particularly well. By associating the Lib Dems' concern with civil liberties and the Tories' desire to cut back on business regulation, Cameron and Clegg can secure a narrative. And to the two former-PR men, a narrative is worth its weight in gold.

    Unfortunately,

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  • Solving the 2010 election riddle

    The general election results baffled us all. Now, after the dust has settled, its winners are trying to work out exactly why the electorate proved so fickle.

    By Alex Stevenson

    It's 22:00 BST on May 5th. The team is braced for 19 hours of political ecstasy - this is, after all, the climax of years of build-up. Yet there's a strange opening. The exit polls put the Lib Dems falling back to just 61 seats, turning the story of the campaign - the Nick Clegg-driven surge in the polls - to dust. Surely, we asked ourselves, they've got it wrong this time?

    In fact this apparently loopy poll was spot on. The Lib Dems got four less than expected, taking four seats; the Conservatives two more than forecast, on 307; while Labour held three more seats than predicted, taking 258. The pundits' scorn, including that of
    politics.co.uk, appeared to have been very much misplaced.

    In the days after the final results were in and Britain's first hung parliament since the Second World War was confirmed the

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  • Sex, peers and parliamentary reform

    Many of them are thoroughly odd, but the Lords still make for great entertainment.

    By Rebecca Burns

    The House of Lords is a funny old place. It has no final say in British legislation. Its leader sits on a giant sack of wool. The average age of a House of Lords peer is just shy of 70 - they have almost double the time to get to the voting lobbies as their sprightly Commons colleagues. Bearing all this in mind, total abolition of the Lords as we know it is currently under discussion. No one can really work out what to do with the damn thing. It is, a peer might say, in a bit of a pickle.

    Yesterday afternoon, the Conservative peer Lord Inglewood innocently and flawlessly showcased the Lords' unique qualities. Responding to proposals to make parliament family-friendly by bringing in normal working hours (rather than the current late sitting times) the peer worried that members of the Commons and Lords would be threatened by "the temptations of the stews of Soho".

    Lord Inglewood's comment

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  • No answer for the chuntering peaceniks

    "We were very concerned this morning," Harriet began in a low voice. Was she about to reveal the Family Harman had run out of Bran Flakes?

    By Alex Stevenson

    After several weeks of being remorselessly ridiculed, Labour's previously abject deputy leader finally managed to raise her game against David Cameron in this week's prime minister's questions.

    Thanks to a Treasury document leaked to the Guardian, predicting 1.3 million of public and private sector job cuts over the course of the next five years, Harman had a stick with which to poke the PM far longer and spikier than anything before.

    It turned out all was well on the breakfast cereal front. Instead, jobs were on the Harman brain.

    "The honourable lady should know..." Cameron began in response. Trigger-happy opposition backbenchers' obfuscator-detecting senses, perhaps a little over-developed, buzzed with alarm. They would make very poor players of Just A Minute. "Answer!" they yelled, outraged that the prime minister had not

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