Talking Politics
  • The obscenity trail, extreme sex and modern censorship.

    By Jane Fae

    You may not be aware of the Peacock case — but its impact on obscenity laws in the UK could be seismic.

    Shortly before 13:00 GMT on Friday, a jury decided that a series of actions, including 'fisting', erotic urination, and some pretty severe sado-masochistic beatings did not constitute obscenity under the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) — thereby throwing the entire edifice of that law into disarray. Already, supporters of greater freedom of expression in the erotic arena are celebrating the end of an era.

    Various bodies - not least the British Board of Film Classification — now need to digest this result. Longer term, the political prognosis for current Obscenity law is not good. Some time soon we may be starting the long trek of consultation, white paper and eventually new legislation to replace the discredited old OPA with a shiny new version. Or we might just dispense with the notion of obscenity from UK law

    Read More »from Are we seeing the death of obscenity?
  • Is it just me, or is everyone putting it on now? The Twitter outrage came from the right today. It's been a while. Usually it's the left. Perhaps they felt left out. Dianne Abbott said "white people love playing 'divide and rule'" on the social media site last night and by this morning it was Lady Chatterley's Lover all over again, with added false equivalence and heavy-handed moralising.

    I'm not the right person to have opinions on this stuff. I simply couldn't care less. I don't care when clothing companies make T-shirts that supposedly objectify women. I don't care if people make generalisations about my race or other people's race. I don't care when a female character in a TV series says all men are afraid of commitment. I don't care when Jeremy Clarkson says something repugnant. That's your special ticket right there, your free pass out of an early coronary. Just don't care until someone says something they really mean. Get the balance right between serious thought and incitement

    Read More »from The Dianne Abbott row is just noise – but it raises questions about her judgement
  • The accusation from the Labour party, reported in the Guardian, that the BBC is currently biased against them is problematic for a number of reasons. Normally when a political party accuses a news organisation or journalist of lacking impartiality, what they're really saying is 'you're not reporting us in the way we'd like'. In this case Labour seems to be arguing that the BBC is giving more coverage to coalition politicians and policies than to their own side. Now this may well be true - I've yet to see their data - but I'd maintain that measuring bias is much more complex than simply a question of quantitative content analysis.

    Anyone with a stopwatch and a pen and paper can record how much airtime a political party is given, but that rarely gives the full story. For instance, what was the context of the show they appeared on and how were they treated? What did the watching or listening viewers make of it? How the wider public interprets news stories can differ massively from the

    Read More »from The problems of measuring political bias at the BBC
  • By Richard Heller

    Dear Ed,

    You are probably sick of advice on how to lead the Labour party. But it goes with the job and remember that most of it comes to you free from people who really want you to win the next election. In that spirit, here are my suggestions for 2012.

    One, never complain about unfair media coverage. Even when that's true it makes you look like a loser. Concentrate all your energy on making news that is worth covering, and if the mainstream media continue to ignore it, bypass them — that gets easier all the time.

    Two, it may sound a small thing but make sure that your mail gets answered promptly and competently. Make all your shadow ministers do the same. That is not happening now. How can you hope to reach voters in general if you do not even communicate with the ones who actually want to hear from you? Of course letter-writers are a minority among voters, but one that is politically engaged and one which influences the attitudes of others. Ignoring them is bad

    Read More »from Some new year’s advice for Ed Miliband
  • The worst political losers of 2011

    Here's's guide to the worst losers of the year in politics:

    10 - Oliver Letwin

    The 'Gandalf' of the Tory election campaign continued to behave in an eccentric manner this year, once again creating problems of his own devising with which to derail his political career. His decision to stress the role of "discipline and fear" to public service provision prompted headlines of a particularly dangerous sort, because it played into Labour accusations that the spending cuts are motivated more by ideology than the deficit. The photos of him dumping correspondence, including constituents' letters, in a park bin were even more dangerous, because they invited accusations of bumbling incompetence, rather than political malice. The episode became a running joke with political journalists and will inevitably be raised as evidence of his 'judgement' if he finds himself in hot water again.

    9 - Chris Huhne

    The energy secretary has developed a reputation as the troublemaker in chief among

    Read More »from The worst political losers of 2011
  • Here's's guide to the biggest winners of the year in politics:

    10 - Andy Burnham

    Andy Burnham was the forgotten man of Labour's leadership election. He came fourth in the end, having failed to dispel an air of pointlessness which hovered over his campaign. But apart from Ed Balls, who arguably saved his career, Burnham was the losing candidate who used the contest to greatest effect. While David Miliband melted into the shadows and Diane Abbott failed to capitalise on her increased public profile, the former health secretary nabbed the shadow education brief, in which he excelled against the turbulent Michael Gove. A few months later he was replacing the competent John Healey, who had good reason to feel hard-done-by, in the most politically profitable role in opposition: shadow health secretary. Burnham, who had become intensely popular in the party, is now taking the fought to Andrew Lansley over NHS reform — a winnable battle in which serious political profits can be

    Read More »from The biggest political winners of 2011
  • The history books will only remember one scandal from 2011. But this year wasn't just about phone-hacking. We've had our fair share of people not doing what they're supposed to. Sometimes it cost them their jobs, sometimes they survived. Some are long gone, some are still rumbling on. Let us know whether you think we've got these in the right order...

    (Last year's position in brackets)

    10 (2) A scandalous new year hangover

    OK, so this one really was a hanger-on from last year. But former Labour minister Phil Woolas' fall from grace, the result of some rather dodgy electioneering, was what caused the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election which took place in early January. It was a complex race in a marginal seat, which ended with a surprising Labour hold for Debbie Abrahams. So much for Elwyn Watkins, the Lib Dem candidate, who didn't do nearly enough to seize his unlikely second chance in the seat. That was partly because of frustration at the coalition. But it was probably more to

    Read More »from Top ten political scandals of 2011
  • Argentina's (mostly illusionary) economic resurgence has a disappointing side-effect. It prompts regular bouts of sabre-rattling over the Falklands Islands.

    Its glamorous president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, is prone to issuing tetchy attacks on Britain, not least of all her insistence that the UK is "a crass colonial power in decline". That last point is neither entirely false nor particularly interesting, but it is about 50 years out of date.

    It's been getting worse recently. British licensed fishing boats are being intercepted by Argentina. It announced last year that boats sailing to or from the Falkland, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands would require permission to pass through Argentine water.

    Kirchner's neighbours, eager to win the approval of a country with a strong economy and a long history of cultural and political dominance in Latin America, have helped where they can. Uruguayan president Jose Mujica last week announced a ban on Falklands boats using his

    Read More »from The thuggery of Argentina’s Falklands claim
  • By John Baron MP

    As the eurozone crisis becomes increasingly desperate, it's time for the prime minister to face reality.

    All the signs of stress are there. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, is openly talking about the breakup of the eurozone. Even though Italy alone requires 300 billion euros in refinancing next year, eurozone members presently struggle to cobble together a new 200 billion euro loan to the IMF to help rescue the single currency. Several European leaders have warned of the difficulties of pushing the fiscal compact through their national parliaments. Meanwhile, the market continues to demand jaw-dropping interest rates on peripheral debt.

    The eurocrats have brought this on themselves. Their response to the eurozone crisis has been too little, too late. The umpteen summits, the various initiatives, the increased borrowing and loan agreements have failed to reassure the markets. This is because the central cause of the problem — that is, a lack of

    Read More »from Cameron must reconsider his position on saving the euro
  • From riots to phone-hacking, this has been an eventful year - and one which has on occasion provoked a big response from our readers. Here are our top ten most popular articles of 2011 on our Talking Politics blog on Yahoo!, based on reactions through Facebook and Twitter.

    10 - Reefer madness in a final frenzy by Peter Reynolds

    (290 Facebook recommends, 11 Tweets)

    "How can our cowardly political leaders find a way to save face while reversing the dreadful policy they have supported for so long?" asked Peter Reynolds, leader of the Cannabis Law Reform campaign group. His piece criticising the British press for the "lies" it spreads about cannabis just made it into our top ten.

    Reynolds wrote: "If any issue exposes the hypocrisy and dishonesty of politicians and the way that the media has an improper influence, then it is cannabis. We have to find a way to let them off the hook."

    09 - Reagan statue shows Britain is America's fiefdom by Ian Dunt

    (275 Facebook recommends, 27 Tweets)

    Read More »from Our most controversial articles of 2011


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