Talking Politics
  • The principle advocate of a Lib-Lab coalition has ended up helping the present government do its job better.

    Andrew Adonis, who masterminded Tony Blair's academies reforms before becoming transport secretary, wrote an article the day after the general election predicting a Conservative-Liberal Democrat tie-up would prove the "Fox-North coalition", resembling one of the shortest-lived in English history. "Let's be clear," he says frankly, "I was wrong about that." The coalition surprised him, as much as anyone else, with its cohesiveness.

    Lord Adonis spent those frantic days after May 5th 2010 straining every sinew to try and persuade the Lib Dems to work with Labour, not the Tories, in government. His efforts proved unsuccessful, of course. Two months later he became director of the Institute for Government, a relatively new thinktank which focuses on the subtle arts of Whitehall.

    Now, one year later, the former Cabinet minister spends his time trying to improve the way the coalition

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  • If you really care about the independence of the advice offered to women considering an abortion - and by really care I mean not use it as an excuse to propagandise them - there's a very simple way to do it. You just make the existing guidance binding.

    The plan produced by backbenchers Nadine Dorries and Frank Field and backed, in a watered-down form, by the Department of Health achieves quite the opposite. It opens the door to anti-abortion campaigners so they can make an already traumatic event even harder.

    The Dorries/Field amendment to the health and social care bill, due to be debated on Monday if Speaker John Bercow gives it the nod, would strip abortion providers such as BPAS and Marie Stopes of their duty to offer women considering an abortion counselling. Instead, the duty would be handed to 'independent agencies' recognised by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. The government, in a bid to buy Dorries off, proposed a consultation on plans for GPs to

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  • By Edward Higginbottom

    It's time to stop leaving the English at the bottom of the funding pile.

    Some MPs representing English constituencies have just woken up to the fact that we do not live in a truly United Kingdom where all its citizens are treated equitably.  Those in England are firmly at the bottom when it comes to funding.

    On average, the British government spends some £1,600 extra on every man, woman and child living in Scotland than they do on those in England, per year, every year.

    And those self-same MPs have also just noticed that the gap is getting wider. What did they expect? Under the budgetary cuts imposed by the current government the overall reduction was something like 15% but those imposed on the grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were only around 7.5%. It doesn't take much of a financial brain to work out that those in England have had to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the so-called "shared pain".

    This invidious situation has been created in

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  • The summer recess has normally been a time for politicians to relax and recharge, to lick their wounds and recover. It's also an opportunity for the leaders and their followers to plot their strategies for the year ahead in advance of the party conferences. This weekend's Sunday papers contained a report suggesting that the Labour party's new plan is to try to paint David Cameron as an old fashioned 'typical' Conservative leader, and that all his talk of compassion and the 'big society' was just a PR exercise.

    I have my doubts about this as a strategy, mainly because I suspect a lot of the British public will react with, 'tell us something we don't know'. Decontaminating the Tory brand was an important factor in Cameron winning support at the last election but today the public are primarily concerned with the state of the economy. What the Labour party needs to be doing is looking at themselves and asking why people should vote for them again.

    Ed Miliband has had a rocky few months as

    Read More »from Opportunities and pitfalls for all three party leaders
  • By Toby Perkins MP

    Pursuing issues in opposition that subsequently prove considerably trickier to resolve in government is an occupational hazard of becoming a new prime minister.

    David Cameron has been hoisted on his own opportunistic petard numerous times already. From promises to retain EMA to freezing VAT and from promising more prison places to NHS re-organisations he has many debits on the tally sheet. However it may be that his craven U-turn on the issue of the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir tells us most about Cameron the man.

    Whilst a relatively obscure issue, Cameron the opposition leader went big on his claim that the Islamist group should be banned. In Gordon Brown's very first prime minister's questions, he was both insistent on the banning of the organisation and incredulous at claims that it might be problematic, arguing: "The prime minister said that we need evidence about Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation says that Jews should be killed wherever they are found. What more

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  • What can Iraq teach us about Libya?

    As Libya approaches a new dawn we must appreciate that some things will go wrong, but there is an advisory role for foreign powers to fulfil.

    By Gerard Russell

    Lessons have clearly been learned from Iraq for post-Gaddafi Libya. They will have been passed on, not least, by the British envoy to the Libyan rebels - John Jenkins, who was ambassador in Baghdad before going to Benghazi. The National Transition Council's blueprint for preserving order in a post-Gaddafi Tripoli appears designed precisely to stave off the kind of anarchy that prevailed in Baghdad in 2003. Though it has not so far succeeded, that is not for want of thought and planning.

    This, of course, is the danger of all lessons learned after an event: simply knowing what went wrong last time does not mean that it can be done the next time around. Events happen rapidly and chaotically, and the parties involved are not necessarily going to stick to any plan that has been given them.

    We can be sure, in short, that other things

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  • Who are the Libya rebels?

    Mustafa Abdul Jalil took to the stage yesterday to give the international press some information about his force's remarkably successful advance on Tripoli. With a backdrop of pre-Gaddafi Libyan flags and a small army of translators to hand, he seemed every inch the future leader in waiting. But his insistence that Colonel Gaddafi's sons were under arrest will have come back to haunt him last night, after a confident Saif al-Islam pulled up to a hotel full of journalists and took them on a tour of Gaddafi-controlled Tripoli.

    With that incident calling the reliability of the National Transitional Council (NTC) into question and continued criticism of its haphazard military strategy, many observers are starting to ask searching questions of the body ready to take over from Gaddafi. Who exactly are the rebels and what do they want?

    The need for a new body to provide a political face to the fighting in Libya derived from the total lack of civil society in the country. After 41 years of

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  • Is Libya Cameron’s Falklands?

    Margaret Thatcher was heading for the door before the Falklands war, but after a widely supported, morally coherent and ultimately successful military campaign she was enjoying approval ratings that were through the roof. It saw her through 11 years in office.

    David Cameron's assured performance in front of Downing Street this morning, complete with fitting sunshine and an impressed press pack, suggested the current prime minister might dream of similar results given events in Libya.

    "This has not been our revolution but we can be proud we played our part," Cameron said, in a remark which defined the cautious but optimistic tone he adopted throughout the statement.

    It was sensible to do so. Gaddafi is still technically in power, although no-one seriously believes he can maintain it. More relevantly, long dictatorships often tend to be followed by ethnic, religious, tribal or political bloodshed when they eventually fall apart. Libya's complex tribal system has all the potential to

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  • Now that Tony Blair finally offered his two pennies worth, we have a full house of political leaders' views on the riots that hit England this month.

    Blair's piece on the disorder has been reported mostly in terms of how it deviates from David Cameron's thoughts, but their proscriptions are deceptively similar, in that both men treat the riots as a vindication of their existing views.

    "By the end of my time as prime minister, I concluded that the solution was specific and quite different from conventional policy," Blair writes, citing his 'respect' agenda policies and a version of early intervention programmes. "The agenda that came out of this was conceived in my last years of office, but it had to be attempted against a constant backdrop of opposition, left and right, on civil liberty grounds and on the basis we were 'stigmatising' young people. After I'd left, the agenda lost momentum."

    Plainly Blair's miracle solution to the deep-seated social and economic problems in English

    Read More »from Cowardice defines our response to the riots
  • Britain's fevered post-riot mood is creating a rush for justice which does no-one any good.

    Our response to the riots is like a dog chasing after its own tail: a lot of mad, frenetic yelping, that just ends up going around in circles with no meaningful positive effect whatsoever.

    Reduced to its bare essentials, this was all very predictable. If you were to ask someone a few months ago what would happen if, hypothetically, mass disorder was to break out - and succeeded in persuading them that it wasn't anything to do with spending cuts - they would have predicted the political fallout we've seen this week with ease.

    The prime minister reverts to his party's authoritarian instincts on law and order, embracing harsh sentences for all those involved. The Liberal Democrats, after a bit of hand-wringing, begin to speak out against these steps, but don't have much impact. That's about where we are now, isn't it? No surprises, just yet.

    Anger has certainly shaped public debate about how to

    Read More »from Red mist of retribution is clouding our judgement


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