Talking Politics
  • Revolution in the Lords

    This is definitely not what a revolution looks like. Nevertheless, as Barack Obama never said, change has come to the Lords.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Ever since the cash-for-amendments affair last year the Lords have been scandalised into action. The last 12 months has seen the introduction of a new code of conduct, the establishment of an independent commissioner for standards post and, now, the abolition of Lords' expenses.

    "For the House of Lords, it is positively a revolutionary pace," its avuncular leader, Lord Strathclyde, joked jovially yesterday afternoon. A low rustling sound filled the chamber, like leaves wafted by an autumn breeze. Peers were laughing softly to themselves.

    It was a brief moment of humour in a serious-minded session. A very grave matter of state was being discussed: the announcement by the government that it was supporting Lord Wakefield's proposal to introduce a flat £350 daily allowance for attendance in the upper chamber.

    This, as Lord Strathclyde pointed out

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  • Clegg and Capello – both leading losers?

    The Liberal Democrats' current jitters go much further than their concerns about the emergency Budget. The coalition may be less than two months old, but the cracks are already starting to widen.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Lib Dem supporters should be feeling as miserable as England fans. After all, for Fabio Capello and Nick Clegg's teams a very promising build-up didn't quite translate into results when it mattered.

    In the critical moments when the time came for action, both managers' star players didn't turn up. Wayne Rooney should have been forced to resign. David Laws was.

    At least England now get the chance to rebuild and rethink, scratching their heads as they assess a generation of failure.

    The Lib Dems are used to generations of failure, but don't have any such respite. They are in government. England's players will be subject to days, perhaps weeks, of media anguish. The Lib Dems can look forward to five more years of constant undermining, carping criticism.

    It might look as if the

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  • The abortion argument is over

    The pro-choice lobby has already won the debate on abortion, so why do we keep talking about it?
     
    By Ian Dunt
     
    What is it that makes us enjoy debating abortion so much? I honestly can't think of a more tedious political debate to have. Every time a news item on it comes on my heart sinks. It's like having to debate which Godfather film is better: Two or Three. No-one would ever bother with that, so why do we insist on carrying on with a stale debate in which we have already reached the appropriate conclusion? Today's report into the inability of foetuses younger than 24 weeks to feel pain, the first of its kind, corresponds with all the other data we have about the unborn child. It's time to start thinking about putting this debate to bed.
     
    For the record, the argument is plain on a number of levels.
     
    Logic: Society is the process of settling competing freedoms among members. For instance, the smoker wishes to smoke inside the restaurant, the non-smoker does not want to breathe his smoke.

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  • Harman won today's PMQs, but you wouldn't know it.

    By Ian Dunt

    On paper it wouldn't look so good. Twice David Cameron found himself in a dark corner and ducked the question. One Labour MP asked about his poverty claims in the Budget. It was well-aimed, and Cameron didn't answer it. Harriet Harman, whose mechanical delivery is going down badly with sketch writers, had him on the ropes at least once. It looks like families on less than £30K - ie, not exactly rolling in cash - are going to lose tax credits. That's not what was being said before the election.

    But PMQs is theatre, not academia. Cameron has the perfect tone for his job. During the election campaign, it seemed as if we had exaggerated his political gifts. The Tory campaign was so poor, so utterly uninspiring, that it seemed as if his career was wilting before our very eyes. But in power he's a different beast. He clearly loves the job and his response to the Bloody Sunday report, his speech in Afghanistan and his PMQs

    Read More »from Masterly Cameron escapes his own weaknesses
  • Clegg needs to ride the storm

    The pressure on the Lib Dems is considerable, but Clegg is playing the long game.

    By Ian Dunt

    The hatred towards Clegg is magnificent. His deputy PMQs raised more anger than the Budget. Labour MPs despise him. His every word is greeted by a wall of abuse from the opposition benches. And you don't exactly get a sense of love from the Tories behind him either.

    The fact that Harriet Harman dedicated most of her response to the Budget to attacking his party speaks volumes. It was pretty colourful stuff. "How could [the Lib Dems] let the Tories so exploit them?" she asked. "Can't they see they are just a fig leaf? The Lib Dem leaders have sacrificed everything they ever stood for to ride in ministerial cars."

    The political motive is obvious. Lib-Con divisions are easily the most vulnerable aspect of the government. But the angry response to the Lib Dems' presence on the government benches, especially during as divisive a Budget as yesterday's, is also entirely genuine. Labour and the Lib

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  • Pallid Osborne’s horror Budget

    The nation's politics descended into bitterness as queasy, uneasy MPs listened to George Osborne's emergency Budget.

    By Alex Stevenson

    The chancellor must have dreamed of this moment ever since he first became shadow chancellor five long years ago. Little did he realise then he would be slashing rather than tinkering. "It pays for the past and it plans for the future," he said at the start, before his voice descended into a quavering croak.

    We were not subjected to the fevered, delirious Osborne who confronted his party with such grisly determination at last year's autumn conference. Instead this was the parliamentary Osborne, the assured performer brought up on confident oratory. He looked pale and, perhaps deep inside, a little uncertain. If anything that only drove him to sneer all the more. "We have paid the debts of a failed past," he hissed.

    This was one of the best-delivered Budget speeches for years, after first Gordon Brown and then Alistair Darling developed the art of

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  • Emergency Budget: What to expect

    The sums

    Alex Stevenson

    At the heart of the fairness problem is value-added tax. Bookmaker William Hill has odds of 1/7 that it will be going up and just 4/1 that it will remain at its current 17.5%, reflecting the widespread expectation it could be increased to 20%. That would only make the average iPod £3 more expensive, but it could have a significant impact on the poorest paid. It's an indirect tax which means it affects lower earners more. It's also likely to affect retailers, who will be forced to pass most of the extra cost on to their customers by boosting prices.

    The VAT hike can't be taken by itself, however. Central to the coalition government's taxation plans will be the inclusion of the increase in the income tax threshold, which will rise to £10,000. This measure, giving people more money in their pockets, could see them going out to the shops to spend it. It will help middle-income as well as lower-paid earners, undermining the coalition's arguments elsewhere about

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  • Diffident and abashed, Danny Alexander looked like a six-foot schoolboy who has forgotten his homework as he faced the despatch box for the first time.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Britain's new chief secretary to the Treasury is a talented and clever individual. He was thought to be well-deserving of the Scottish secretary post, but the nation's eyebrows were raised when he was elevated to chief secretary. His quavering manner as he stood up in the Commons will not have put off his critics.

    After the easy bit - most human beings reach the required intellect to deliver a Commons statement by their seventh or eighth birthday - came a challenging to-and-fro of quickfire questions from jittery MPs.

    Tom Watson suggested the move had brought the Trident nuclear deterrent into question. Had this not been mentioned because Alexander "doesn't know what he's doing or because he's ashamed?"

    Derek Twigg demanded to see the letters of direction demonstrating these spending projects. "Aha!" yelled the

    Read More »from Dazed and bewildered by some Labour has-beens
  • Cameron's firm but polite tone in Brussels - married with Nick Clegg's multiculturalism - shows Britain can be eurosceptic but still in love with Europe.

    By Ian Dunt

    I rather dislike being positive, it always seems faintly American and unpatriotic. But the coalition government has many commendable qualities, and a couple more emerge each week, so it gets harder to fight it off.

    For those of us of a particular disposition - international in outlook but against the European project - coalition government trips to Europe are like every Christmas coming at once. They look exactly like what we want to see - polite, amiable and, most importantly, firm.

    Nick Clegg's presence reassures European leaders. His multicultural background and ability to speak several languages shows Europe that we are not a nation of little Englanders, but that modern Britain's driving force, its dynamism, lies in the meshing of cultures and background which takes place on our streets everyday.

    Only the most dull

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  • Bloody Sunday truth is as good as it gets

    One word has been used continuously by the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday: innocent.

    By Matthew West

    Finally, after a 13-year inquiry costing £195 million, those families have been totally and utterly vindicated.

    There are still many people who do not fully understand the conflict in Northern Ireland, which has always been disingenuously referred to as the 'Troubles'.

    But then that's the trouble with the 'Troubles' - successive Westminster and Stormont governments did fail to take them seriously. Between 1920 and 1969 successive governments failed to listen to the plight of Catholics in Northern Ireland whose lives were, at the time, not incomparable to the lives of the majority of Palestinians living in the West Bank today. That's why, if you looked carefully at the crowd gathered outside the Guildhall in Derry today, you would have seen a few Palestinian flags being carried by some awaiting the verdict of the Saville Inquiry.

    It might seem unbelievable to many people today

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