Talking Politics
  • Today Cameron turned the mockery treatment on Nadine Dorries, his latest political foe. There is nothing more dangerous in politics than descending into a figure of fun.

    As every politician knows, the biggest enemies are always those found in your own party. So it's no surprise that the big contest in this lunchtime's prime minister's questions was between Cameron and the Tory backbencher who had called her party leader "gutless" at the weekend.

    This was Nadine Dorries, perhaps the most effective right-wing troublemaker ever to emerge from the rolling fields of Mid-Bedfordshire, who is very experienced when it comes to winding up the PM. He has been interfering in her abortion amendment, which MPs are spending the afternoon debating. It tackles the question of who provides counselling for pregnant women considering an abortion - an ethical issue which MPs are allowed to vote on with their consciences, free of a party line this way or the other. Dorries was fed up that Cameron had made

    Read More »from Ouch! Cameron’s devastating slapdown must have hurt
  • Spare us these self-serving political memoirs

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Two things tend to happen when ministers leave government. The first is signing themselves up for a host of lucrative directorships; the second is a mad dash to get books about their time in office into print.

    Last week saw a variety of revelations appearing in the media drawn from Alistair Darling's forthcoming memoirs about the handling of the financial crisis and his relationship with former prime minister Gordon Brown. In fact so many extracts and snippets have appeared in the papers you've got to wonder why the Sunday Times shelled out so much money to buy itself exclusive rights. Most people will have read the juicy stuff already. It's not even if the story Darling has to tell is that original, most of the disclosures are actually quite banal.

    It turns out there were a lot of disagreements about the best way to deal with the credit crunch and Gordon Brown had a very bad temper and didn't get on with many of his colleagues. Well I don't know about you but I'm

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  • Political leaders rarely get clean-cut victories as straightforward as Libya. It went on just long enough for people to get the jitters, but ended in the decisive triumph of the rebels just in time for parliament's return this afternoon. David Cameron stuck to the rebels' guns throughout, firm and unwavering, the very model of a modern minor war leader. This was his opportunity to take the credit.

    Yet something was not quite right. The Commons did not have the air of fevered anticipation it did when recalled in the depths of summer last month. This afternoon the Labour benches were half-empty, as though half of them had forgotten that this is the first day back at school. There were even some bare patches on the Conservative benches. Only ten Liberal Democrats were seated when the prime minister began speaking. Charles Kennedy, who in his heyday led his party in their vote-winning opposition to the war in Iraq, looked like adding to their number. After briefly peering up into the

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  • The principle advocate of a Lib-Lab coalition has ended up helping the present government do its job better.

    Andrew Adonis, who masterminded Tony Blair's academies reforms before becoming transport secretary, wrote an article the day after the general election predicting a Conservative-Liberal Democrat tie-up would prove the "Fox-North coalition", resembling one of the shortest-lived in English history. "Let's be clear," he says frankly, "I was wrong about that." The coalition surprised him, as much as anyone else, with its cohesiveness.

    Lord Adonis spent those frantic days after May 5th 2010 straining every sinew to try and persuade the Lib Dems to work with Labour, not the Tories, in government. His efforts proved unsuccessful, of course. Two months later he became director of the Institute for Government, a relatively new thinktank which focuses on the subtle arts of Whitehall.

    Now, one year later, the former Cabinet minister spends his time trying to improve the way the coalition

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  • If you really care about the independence of the advice offered to women considering an abortion - and by really care I mean not use it as an excuse to propagandise them - there's a very simple way to do it. You just make the existing guidance binding.

    The plan produced by backbenchers Nadine Dorries and Frank Field and backed, in a watered-down form, by the Department of Health achieves quite the opposite. It opens the door to anti-abortion campaigners so they can make an already traumatic event even harder.

    The Dorries/Field amendment to the health and social care bill, due to be debated on Monday if Speaker John Bercow gives it the nod, would strip abortion providers such as BPAS and Marie Stopes of their duty to offer women considering an abortion counselling. Instead, the duty would be handed to 'independent agencies' recognised by the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. The government, in a bid to buy Dorries off, proposed a consultation on plans for GPs to

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  • By Edward Higginbottom

    It's time to stop leaving the English at the bottom of the funding pile.

    Some MPs representing English constituencies have just woken up to the fact that we do not live in a truly United Kingdom where all its citizens are treated equitably.  Those in England are firmly at the bottom when it comes to funding.

    On average, the British government spends some £1,600 extra on every man, woman and child living in Scotland than they do on those in England, per year, every year.

    And those self-same MPs have also just noticed that the gap is getting wider. What did they expect? Under the budgetary cuts imposed by the current government the overall reduction was something like 15% but those imposed on the grants to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were only around 7.5%. It doesn't take much of a financial brain to work out that those in England have had to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the so-called "shared pain".

    This invidious situation has been created in

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  • The summer recess has normally been a time for politicians to relax and recharge, to lick their wounds and recover. It's also an opportunity for the leaders and their followers to plot their strategies for the year ahead in advance of the party conferences. This weekend's Sunday papers contained a report suggesting that the Labour party's new plan is to try to paint David Cameron as an old fashioned 'typical' Conservative leader, and that all his talk of compassion and the 'big society' was just a PR exercise.

    I have my doubts about this as a strategy, mainly because I suspect a lot of the British public will react with, 'tell us something we don't know'. Decontaminating the Tory brand was an important factor in Cameron winning support at the last election but today the public are primarily concerned with the state of the economy. What the Labour party needs to be doing is looking at themselves and asking why people should vote for them again.

    Ed Miliband has had a rocky few months as

    Read More »from Opportunities and pitfalls for all three party leaders
  • By Toby Perkins MP

    Pursuing issues in opposition that subsequently prove considerably trickier to resolve in government is an occupational hazard of becoming a new prime minister.

    David Cameron has been hoisted on his own opportunistic petard numerous times already. From promises to retain EMA to freezing VAT and from promising more prison places to NHS re-organisations he has many debits on the tally sheet. However it may be that his craven U-turn on the issue of the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir tells us most about Cameron the man.

    Whilst a relatively obscure issue, Cameron the opposition leader went big on his claim that the Islamist group should be banned. In Gordon Brown's very first prime minister's questions, he was both insistent on the banning of the organisation and incredulous at claims that it might be problematic, arguing: "The prime minister said that we need evidence about Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation says that Jews should be killed wherever they are found. What more

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  • What can Iraq teach us about Libya?

    As Libya approaches a new dawn we must appreciate that some things will go wrong, but there is an advisory role for foreign powers to fulfil.

    By Gerard Russell

    Lessons have clearly been learned from Iraq for post-Gaddafi Libya. They will have been passed on, not least, by the British envoy to the Libyan rebels - John Jenkins, who was ambassador in Baghdad before going to Benghazi. The National Transition Council's blueprint for preserving order in a post-Gaddafi Tripoli appears designed precisely to stave off the kind of anarchy that prevailed in Baghdad in 2003. Though it has not so far succeeded, that is not for want of thought and planning.

    This, of course, is the danger of all lessons learned after an event: simply knowing what went wrong last time does not mean that it can be done the next time around. Events happen rapidly and chaotically, and the parties involved are not necessarily going to stick to any plan that has been given them.

    We can be sure, in short, that other things

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  • Who are the Libya rebels?

    Mustafa Abdul Jalil took to the stage yesterday to give the international press some information about his force's remarkably successful advance on Tripoli. With a backdrop of pre-Gaddafi Libyan flags and a small army of translators to hand, he seemed every inch the future leader in waiting. But his insistence that Colonel Gaddafi's sons were under arrest will have come back to haunt him last night, after a confident Saif al-Islam pulled up to a hotel full of journalists and took them on a tour of Gaddafi-controlled Tripoli.

    With that incident calling the reliability of the National Transitional Council (NTC) into question and continued criticism of its haphazard military strategy, many observers are starting to ask searching questions of the body ready to take over from Gaddafi. Who exactly are the rebels and what do they want?

    The need for a new body to provide a political face to the fighting in Libya derived from the total lack of civil society in the country. After 41 years of

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