Talking Politics
  • By Charlotte Vere

    Women are the new political football.

    The ubiquitous Harriet Harman paraded around Labour party conference dressed in the Empress' new clothes of righteous and radical feminism and continued to push the message that the coalition government is anti-women.

    Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat minister for equalities, clumsily entered the debate at her party's conference, by blaming the ills of the world on men. And no doubt the Conservatives will soon join in with pledges for x% of female Cabinet ministers or y% of female MPs.

    But why is it that Harman and her sister-in-crime Yvette Cooper, shadow minister for women, feel emboldened enough to push their pro-women, anti-men agenda with so little opposition? Harman has been trying to promote her brand of radical feminism for years, with very little success in the Blair/Brown era. Now, under the poor leadership of Ed Miliband she sees an open goal.

    Both Harman and Cooper see an opportunity to position women, whether

    Read More »from Radical feminism makes a lurch for power
  • When Amanda Knox left her jail cell, she forced people to do a lot of soul searching. From the cynicism of the tabloid press to the inadequacies of the Italian justice system, there was a lot to talk about. But it was capital punishment proponents who should really be given pause for thought. Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty and the facts have conspired to make the argument water-tight.

    Even in the UK, where the reintroduction of the death penalty is unthinkable, we need to grab the oppourtunity it offers us. This summer, the right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes tried to start up an e-petition to reintroduce capital punishment. That attempt spectacularly backfired, killing the myth there is a massive groundswell of support for the practise among voters. Government e-petitions require 100,000 signatures to be debated in the Commons. All of us, including opponents, assumed it would be a shoo-in. Actually, Fawkes' effort barely made it past the 20,000 mark. The debate around the

    Read More »from After Amanda Knox, the capital punishment debate is over
  • Fox survival relies on perception, not facts

    With all the bad economic news that's dominated the headlines in the past few weeks it's actually quite refreshing to see something different, so we should be pleased the Liam Fox scandal is all over the front pages this morning.

    In many ways there's nothing the British public enjoy more than a good political scandal, especially if it involves a high ranking politician. This one seems to have it all; allegations of cronyism, jet-setting trips abroad, meetings with foreign leaders and the all-important security angle. All it lacks is a sexual element to make it the perfect newspaper splash.

    The general rule for politicians in the modern era is that if a scandal remains on the front pages for more than seven days then the figure in question has to go. As a result party leaders are now much more ruthless than they used to be when dealing with such issues. If you look back at the Profumo scandal of the 1960s, that dominated the headlines for months, fatally undermining Macmillan's

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  • The natural party of government appears to have its swagger back.

    You might expect, in a conference as spectacularly stage-managed as the Conservatives' annual gathering, that the leader's speech would directly reflect the themes emerging from the week. That was definitely the case this year in Manchester. But the overall impression would not have been the one originally intended.

    The key to this gathering came at the end of a section in David Cameron's closing speech about education. The prime minister was delighted that discipline was being imposed in classrooms once again. A half-smile slowly spread across his face as he said, as self-satisfied as he was relieved: "The Conservatives are back in government."

    That's been the spirit of Manchester '11. The natural party of government is beginning to feel like it's back where it belongs.

    "The party's fairly upbeat," says Chris from London. It got a "very good result" in May's local elections, especially for a governing party. And the AV

    Read More »from Manchester 2011: What the Conservatives are thinking
  • It sounded right-wing, so the Tory party fell about in adoration of their leader. Didn't they notice his speech was all about retaking the centre?

    They queue for hours, they shuffle in, they are talked at. They applaud, dazzled by the bright lights and the stage-managed rhetoric. Then they leave. This, it seems, is modern politics.

    "It's a bit like Stalin lecturing the party congress, isn't it?" one elderly gent waiting outside the conference hall observed cheerily. He'd been a Conservative for years, but this was his first time at party conference. He wasn't impressed. Like many others I'd spoken to in Manchester this week, he was fed up that his party's autumn conference is so carefully choreographed it has all the political value of a Regency quadrille.

    Not wanting to see anyone downcast, I tried to cheer him up by pointing out he was about to attend the only part of conference when choreographing will always be acceptable: the leader's speech. This great occasion is the spinners'

    Read More »from Centre-ground Cameron’s theatre of deception
  • Boris' ability to make people laugh is a formidable, if unusual, political weapon. The way he wields it in next year's mayoral election will be a critical test.

    Another Tory conference, another triumph for Boris. He is the darling of the Conservatives and the secret gnawing frustration of the prime minister. But how high can his unique approach to politics take him? Is he inherently limited by his scattergun patter? Or can he, as some are beginning to wonder, go all the way?

    Boris' comic capital ranks so high he is funny whether he means it or not. Sometimes it means he can do no wrong. A 'rally for Boris' held last night on the conference fringe in Manchester summed this up. Despite having been kept queuing for ages, the audience refused to become irritated when he failed to appear after an introductory video. When the introductory video was played, desperately, a second time, they just laughed. And when the flustered mayor finally made a rather ridiculous entrance halfway through the

    Read More »from Boris’ jokes face a serious test in 2012
  • Another year, another stormy weather cliché. Can't politicians come up with anything more original than that?

    The sun is shining in the unseasonably warm north-west. Politics is taking it easy. You'd have thought, judging by the laughing, happy smiles on the faces of Conservative delegates, that all is well with the world.

    How very different to the bleak picture painted by the chancellor in his speech this lunchtime. Not for the first time he opted for the nautical theme, presenting himself as the gruff skipper of the Good Ship Economy riding out the tempest. "Together we will ride out the storm," he said. At least twice more he referred to the "storm". When, as thesaurus enthusiasts will appreciate, he could equally have referred to squalls, gales, hurricanes, typhoons or even blizzards.

    Osborne's audience did not seem cowed by the grave situation he outlined. They laughed heartily whenever the chancellor mocked his shadow Ed Balls, and - astonishingly - the Conservative communities

    Read More »from Stormy weather for Cap’n Osborne
  • If the coalition government falls prematurely, so received wisdom goes, it will be because the junior party's left-leaning grassroots revolt against their broadly centre-right deputy prime minister. That this is a truth universally acknowledged has proved hugely beneficial to the Lib Dems. In the coalition dynamic, where every political decision is weighed up in terms of policy wins for this party or that one, keeping the lefties happy has been paramount in the minds of the coalition's leaders. May's local elections catastrophe for Nick Clegg and co, and the electoral reform defeat which went with it, only served to reinforce this trend.

    This has left the politicians on the Tory right feeling somewhat marginalised. They are, to put it bluntly, frustrated. As the party faithful gather in Manchester to assess their progress over the last 12 months, the Conservative party will take stock. Not all of it is entirely happy.

    The party's backbenches and grassroots are feeling somewhat bruised

    Read More »from The struggle for the Tory soul
  • What politicians can learn from Joey Barton

    By Phil Scullion

    Joey Barton is keen to start talking politics. Rather than dismissing his views, politicians would do well to learn from his open approach.

    His eloquent views have attracted over 570,000 followers on Twitter. His main subject? Politics. That's right - politics. Accountability, education and the big society. These are not topics you expect to be raised by a footballer.

    To hear these opinions from such an unlikely source is incredibly refreshing. But beyond that inherently superficial response there is also a serious point about political engagement and audience.

    Barton has over five times as many Twitter followers as Labour leader Ed Miliband.

    It is certainly an odd world we live in where the views of a decent but not extraordinary footballer such as Barton are more interesting to people than those of a potential prime minister.

    Social media is not everything, but it does represent a large audience which a comparatively minor celebrity such as Barton has got down to a

    Read More »from What politicians can learn from Joey Barton
  • Yesterday's 'new bargain' has given Ed Miliband a heading for his blank sheet of paper. But the details still need to be filled in.

    "It's all about tone," one of Ed Miliband's chief spinners told me after one of the Labour leader's more successful prime minister's questions. "The actual words don't matter."

    That approach explains a lot about Miliband's style. He has refused to be rushed into a grand narrative, let alone policies, during his first 12 months in the job. Partly this is because he is the first leader of the opposition to know that he will be spending a full five years in the job. The resulting mental attitude has been: what's the rush?

    Unfortunately for Miliband, there are problems with this approach. It makes him seem sluggish, dull and unconvincing as a politician. Only during the riots did he seem animated, spurred on by the urgency of the crisis. Yesterday's poll by ComRes suggests the riots were not enough to rescue his first year in the job. Just one in four people

    Read More »from Slowcoach Miliband is playing the long game

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