Talking Politics
  • It was a night which may mark the beginning of the end of the coalition. As the dust settled, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were issuing explicit threats to each other on television, the prime minister was shouting at his own MPs in public and Tory rebels were being ordered to go home to avoid their furious whips.

    The heightened emotional pitch of the evening was created over the weekend, when Richard Reeves, Clegg's former strategy director, gave an interview in which he said the Liberal Democrats would not support the Tories plans for a boundary review unless they got Lords reform in return.

    There has been much talk of high principle recently, but the bare bones of the conflict come down to the fact that Conservatives need the extra seats the boundary review offers and the Lib Dems want the balance of power a proportionally elected second Chamber will give them.

    "I don't think they have helped themselves with bloodcurdling threats about withdrawing support for other constitutional

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  • Lords reform is closer than Nick Clegg thinks — provided he can jump over the series of ten-foot high hurdles that blocks his path to the finish line.

    Most academics who have been following the Lords reform story are in a gloomy mood. They see the largest coalition rebellion yet, with 91 Tory MPs revolting against the very idea of an elected second chamber. They see the politicians failing even to agree on the process by which the legislation is going to be debated. And they've learned the lessons of their history books: for a century different generations have tried, and failed, to end the unaccountable, unelected second chamber which helps make Britain's laws.

    Not much to raise their hopes of a genuine reform being achieved, then.

    But if the coalition has learned the lessons of the past, this latest attempt doesn't have go the same way as all the others. There are signs that the ministers pushing for this reform have the right approach. They're playing a long game, using the full

    Read More »from Can Lords reform still become a reality?
  • London was always built on profit. That's why it's designed so chaotically. You only have to go to the top of the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower to see a city which submits to government diktat. London never did, not even after the Great Fire. Its anarchy of alleyways and smog-filled roads and shops slid into corners is a testament to a city which only ever responded to the demands of profit.

    So the trouble with the Shard is not simply that it is a testament to greed.

    Nor is it the idea, disliked by some, that glistening new structures are positioned next to old ones. The brooding remnants of Wren's London look marvellous juxtaposed by modernity. Vital cities never fear mixing the modern with the ancient, grounding themselves in history but refusing to be trapped by it. London is, and always has been, a city of ghosts. But it has also been commendably obsessed with progress.

    The problem with the Shard is that it is ugly, insecure and grotesque.

    The 'lets build the tallest

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  • We’re suffering from scandal fatigue

    David CastorBy Dr Matthew Ashton

    Both the Conservatives and Labour struggled in their response to the banking scandal this week. The Conservatives because they're now forced to do something about it, and are the natural supporters of the finance industry, and Labour because they were instrumental in allowing it to happen in the first place.

    There have been the usual calls for an inquiry into banking culture, but it could be argued that we need a wider one into the very institutions of our society that allowed this scandal, and countless others, to happen. Part of the problem lies in the fact that these outrages occur so often, and in so many walks of life, we've become almost immune to them; a sort of scandal fatigue.

    Here are four things that are systematic of our approach to our institutions, and capitalism in general, that the public should be genuinely angry about - yet I'm willing to bet will still be happening in ten years' time.

    The first is government subsidies to the private sector when

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  • The government won’t protect my son

    By Julia O'Dwyer

    Last week the UK couldn't extradite a serial paedophile back to the US because his human rights would be breached. Yet this is exactly the kind of case that extradition laws were intended for.

    Meanwhile the home secretary can't wait to hurl my son Richard across the pond for the most heinous crime of creating a website with links to films, TV shows and documentaries. There are, of course, no human rights considerations for him. This is despite the fact that 'linking' is not considered to be copyright infringement under UK law. Richard's website did not hold or provide any copyrighted material itself.

    The US wants to extradite Richard on charges of criminal copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit copyright infringement, both charges punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment.

    Yet this is not all. Extradition is an additional punishment meted out before any trial and for some this has meant eight years in prison before even being sent to the country where

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  • Getty Images"Why are you so reluctant to tell us?" Andrew Tyrie asked Bob Diamond at the start of today's Treasury committee grilling. "I'm very suspicious," Tory Mark Garnier declared, three hours later. Nothing much emerged in the interim.

    By the end of those three hours brains in the crowded committee room had turned to a dull sludge. Politicos are not entirely au fait with the intricacies of Libor at the best of times, and after an afternoon of detailed questioning much of it became blurred and confusing. This was a triumph for Diamond, whose refusal to engage in any kind of detail simply stymied frustrated MPs.

    For a man who was supposed to be Public Enemy of the Week, Diamond looked remarkably smooth. He is very American, whether calling former minister Shruti Vedera "Shrew-dy", repeatedly declaring his love for "amazing" Barclays, or calling the MPs questioning him by their first name. None of them dared to correct him on the latter. Sometimes it got very confusing. "My first reaction was

    Read More »from Inside the committee room: Bob Diamond v MPs
  • Who wins when Diamond falls?

    David Cameron and George Osborne

    The chancellor is trying to remain undamaged by the growing Libor scandal, but he has several significant weaknesses to overcome. Firstly, he regularly called for less regulation of the financial and banking sectors while he was in opposition. So far, Tories have been able to neuter this attack with the counter-charge that Labour didn't regulate the banks enough. It is an unappetising spectacle, watching both sets of MPs attack each other for their record, but it's the only way they can make sure they don't get stuck with all the blame.

    So far, Osborne's response has been vocal but minimal. While he talks tough on bank misbehaviour, he has restricted concrete action to its bare essentials. The Vickers report will be mostly implemented and sped up. There are severe concerns about how effective it will be — specifically on the decision to build a firewall between retails and investment areas of banks, rather than separating

    Read More »from Diamond resignation: The aftershocks
  • To all intents and purposes, a referendum is already taking place. Europe is having a referendum on Britain.

    Once David Cameron vetoed the EU fiscal pact, a process of political merger began which did not include Britain. When it is over, the 'remorseless logic' of closer political union will create a core set, or perhaps an EU-wide grouping, of countries who have their budgets signed off in Brussels and Berlin.

    It won't be called the EU, just as the fiscal pact is not technically an EU treaty. But it will be the EU minus us. Those waiting for a formal EU treaty will probably be waiting a long time. That would involve at least half a dozen referenda and it will be avoided. Europe is getting on with things without the UK.

    With economic membership equivalent to political membership, it will be untenable for Britain to have anything to do with it. The ensuing treaties would mark the end of national sovereignty, but anyway the public would not accept it. The only things to consider about

    Read More »from We need an in-or-out referendum on Europe – but not yet
  • Here's David Cameron's referendum dilemma is not a simple question of 'yes' or 'no'.

    Up and down the country, those desperate for a referendum on the EU will be asking themselves: is David Cameron really going to let us have a vote on Europe?

    Even by the prime minister's standards his article in the Sunday Telegraph is a confusing one. He's not saying 'no' to a referendum, but he's certainly not saying 'yes' now. A general election might work just as well, Cameron suggests.

    A cynical response to prospects for a referendum could be forgiven. Those responding with scepticism are probably right.

    Cameron is laying the groundwork for a renegotiation with Brussels politicians. He knows he must build up the political capital to make this process worthwhile by getting some sort of mandate from the British people.

    How to get it? A referendum is one option, but — as both Cameron and William Hague have explained this morning — either an 'in' or 'out' result have real disadvantages for the UK.

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  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Normally political interviews with junior government ministers are forgotten almost the moment they're over. This doesn't look like it will be the case with Jeremy Paxman's encounter with Chloe Smith on yesterday evening's Newsnight. The fact that it's still trending on Twitter the next day should give you some idea of what a train wreck it was. Opinions on it across the social media spectrum were mixed. Most agreed that the interview was a disaster but there appeared to be some confusion with regards to who for.

    There was a surprising amount of sympathy for Smith and I don't think it's actually done her career any harm, although it might be a while before she does another interview. A huge amount of fire was directed at George Osborne for not turning up himself and using one of his junior ministers as a flak jacket. Quite quickly people were compiling lists of other times he'd avoided serious interview opportunities, while sending someone else in his place.

    Read More »from Chloe Smith, Jeremy Paxman, and the art of the political interview


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