Talking Politics
  • Change is coming to the Lords. While others are losing their heads, the prospect doesn't faze Helene Hayman.

    The Palace of Westminster is like a hotel - some rooms are better than others. The lowliest of MPs settle for a back room somewhere in its intricate corridors. The hacks, myself included, work in shared offices close to the Commons' press gallery. Ministers have grander offices; the more senior the post, the more impressive the office.

    The Lord Speaker has a staggering office, all wooden panels and graceful oil paintings. It is like being in - well, a Palace. It's easy to get blasé about working in parliament, but, as I sit down to interview her, the extraordinary grandeur is impossible not to notice. Hundreds of years of history have ensured the person responsible for sitting on the woolsack in parliament's upper House - the equivalent role to Speaker John Bercow in the Commons - gets one of the best offices in the place.

    Yet that's not quite right, is it? The

    Read More »from Can the Lords keep their head when change comes?
  • If the prime minister really cared about segregation he'd stamp on tabloid lies.

    Read the speech, they say. Whenever there's a row, you're commonly advised to check that the comments haven't been taken out of context. But sometimes that mystifies the political reality. Most political speeches are not delivered to the audience but to the media. They are designed to be quoted out of context.

    David Cameron's speech on immigration was much more balanced than its detractors or supporters will admit. But that was not the point. The point was for the media to lead with 'Cameron promises end to mass immigration'.

    It was a cynical move to prevent Tory voters flocking to Ukip during the local elections. As Vince Cable concluded, it serves to enflame tempers rather than settle them. Cameron would have us think otherwise. He believes that these speeches are needed to quell support for the BNP.

    Tackling the BNP

    Labour used to say the same thing, but reiterating the BNP's arguments

    Read More »from The folly and cynicsm of Cameron’s immigration speech
  • Wait a minute. When the business secretary says the prime minister is "inflating extremism", you know something very odd is going on.

    We all know the context, of course, which is that this isn't just any government. This is a coalition. And, even though the great work of running the country must go on, there are elections in the offing.

    Let's just savour those outspoken Cable comments once again. "Talk of mass immigration risks inflaming the extremism to which he and I are both strongly opposed," Cable said this morning, in response to the text of a David Cameron speech on immigration. The PM is underlining his commitment to reduce immigration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. The language he is using to do so is soft and cuddly: "I believe the role of politicians is to cut through the extremes of this debate and approach the subject sensibly and reasonably." But the bold Tory approach has prompted fears about the moves hitting the economic

    Read More »from Immigration is a convenient coalition punchbag
  • The struggle between government and opposition doesn't feel like the main event when it comes to the battle for the NHS. Are Labour playing this one right?

    You might expect the leader of the opposition to hold a press conference on the NHS on the same day that the Royal College of Nursing conference passes a no confidence motion against health secretary Andrew Lansley. But it was hard, watching Ed Miliband make the case against the government, to avoid the impression that this wasn't the main event at all. "We cannot simply allow this debate to be conducted between the prime minister and his deputy," Miliband told journalists at Labour's party headquarters. Hence, we assume, the painfully well-timed press conference.

    Everyone knows the real conflict is taking place within the coalition government's many committees, as the Liberal Democrats dig their heels in against the reforms. That's the case across the full scope of British politics, but the problem is especially

    Read More »from Labour’s awkward opposition to the NHS reform
  • Politicians are keen on getting people to cheer up, so maybe they should take some of their own advice.

    The Lib Dems are a rather miserable bunch at the moment. They shouldn't be. They're back in government for the first time in decades, shaping policies when for so long they were a party of meaningless, impotent protest. That's all changed. So why aren't they more chirpy?

    Take a private letter to the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, from the party's leader in Liverpool, as a prime example of this grumpiness. He's fed up of "defending the indefensible" and fears the Lib Dems will "disappear into the annals of history". In what will probably prove to be very accurate, he fears "the boil is about to come to a head and burst (probably on election night)". Can anything save Clegg, and his parliamentary colleagues from the mess they've got themselves into? With quandaries like this to ponder, it's no wonder morale is a little low.

    Take heed, Lib Dems. Help may be at hand. All afternoon, a

    Read More »from How to cheer up our gloomy politicians
  • Real feminism respects women's autonomy. It does not force them to reveal their face.

    When it comes to feminism, Muslim women and prostitutes have a lot in common. They stand on either extreme of the feminine ideal and are subsequently punished for it by a society which thinks it knows what's best for them.

    It first struck me when Harriet Harman, then the equalities minister, brought forward proposals on sex workers. As I customarily do when this issue comes up, I phoned my contact at the International Union of Sex Workers. The union is run by sex workers and it's a good port of call if you want to find out what the impact of a policy will be on the actual women on the street.

    It's more than Harman did. The union was not invited to consultation on the proposals. Neither was any other sex worker or their representatives. Harman, a professed feminist, evidently did not consider them worthy of conversation. It's unthinkable for any other segment of society for a law to be

    Read More »from Banning the veil shows contempt for women
  • After 'bigotgate', many of us became reluctant to point out that prejudice still plays a part in the immigration debate.

    Today, the immigration cap was put into place. After years of promotion and planning, a policy that was once considered barmy and counter-productive has become official government policy. There are no howls of derision, because the only lobby with any weight campaigning for immigration is the business lobby, whose support most of us can do without.

    But there should be howls of derision. There is a simple and plain truth about Britain today: it needs immigration. We have a rapidly aging population. The number of people aged over 65 has risen steadily over the last 25 years, as the population aged under 16 decreases. By 2034, 23% of the population will be over 65 compared to 18% under 16.

    That's a big problem, because we'll have fewer people working and paying taxes to support people who are unable to work and pay taxes. To make things worse, the fastest

    Read More »from Never be ashamed of immigrant Britain
  • A best man's role is to tell jokes at the expense of the groom. Miliband hasn't chosen one, but it's not too late to ask the prime minister.

    The usual to-and-fro of PMQs was disrupted somewhat by the announcement this morning that Miliband his partner, Justine Thornton, are to marry in a couple of months' time. This sort of thing is difficult to avoid when it comes to PMQs. So both prepared their own marriage-related jokes.

    It was a little odd, therefore, that these had to be inserted rather awkwardly into the standard parliamentary format. David Cameron courteously passed on his own congratulations, wishing them "a long and happy life together". After a brief interval in which he talked about "regime forces harassing civilian vessels trying to get into Misrata" - a drastic change of subject from a cosy quiet upcoming wedding in Nottingham, I'm sure you'll agree - Miliband said it was "a day I'm very much looking forward to".

    The Labour leader is supposed to be good at speeches, but

    Read More »from Cameron applies to be Miliband’s best man
  • Ed Miliband gambled on the tolerance of the British public and it paid off. If he shows the same courage in politics, he could win the election.

    He was commendably indifferent.

    Since becoming leader, Ed Miliband has faced persistent questions about his marital status. He has children with his partner, the shy and charming Justine Thornton, and the two lived together, unmarried, in north London. They were a perfectly normal British couple.

    The press, most of whose journalists live in a different, imaginary Britain, completely blew its top. The mid-market tabloids squeezed out some laughably puritanical editorials. So-called right wing 'libertarian' bloggers demanded he make a decent woman out of her. One BBC interviewer chose to use a full five minutes of his interview with the leader of the opposition by constantly asking about his missus.

    Miliband, for his part, took a gamble. He gambled that the British public didn't care, that this was old hat, that the country had moved on. And he

    Read More »from Ed Miliband should treat politics like his sex life
  • The home secretary's knee-jerk authoritarianism has no bearing to what happened at the anti-cuts protest.

    It's been undeniably fun to watch Theresa May contort herself into a series of unpredictable political positions over the last year. Like some horrible political puppet show, she has been entirely unconvincing when alluding to legislation on gay marriage or proclaiming a new age of civil liberties. Each time, she sounds like a child's toy emitting pre-programmed phrases.

    But after each violent protest she relaxes, lets her shoulders drop, and acts naturally. Saturday's demonstration was ruined by "mindless thugs", she told the Commons yesterday afternoon. The government will look into using the "pre-emptive banning orders" which have been so successful in the case of football hooligans. It will see what powers it could give police to stop protestors covering their face with masks or balaclavas at protests. She wouldn't even rule out the suggestion of dawn raids and snatch squads.

    Read More »from Theresa May’s response to protest violence shows her liberalism is skin deep

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