Talking Politics
  • This is how we save our pubs

    We are losing the pubs at the heart of many of our communities because of their unfair 'ties' to big pub companies.

    By Martin Horwood MP

    We're losing the traditional British pub at the rate of about 40 a week, thousands a year. The alarm bells have been ringing for years now. The time has come to act.

    This week I introduced a ten minute rule bill into the Commons that would attack the problem. Ten minute rule bills don't often make it onto the statute book - the last was an act in 2002 which forced taxis to accept guide dogs - but this is an unusually long parliamentary session and the bill has wide cross-party backing so I'm not without hope. Especially when the Campaign for Real Ale, the Fair Pint Campaign and the Federation of Small Businesses are standing by to mobilise support in the country.

    My Cheltenham predecessor Nigel Jones told the Lords quite rightly in 2008: "A pub does not just sell beer. It is a social centre, providing meals and snacks, raising money for local

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  • Too often we kow-tow to the WTO on animal welfare standards for fear that all we will do is export our industry to countries with lower welfare standards.

    By George Eustice MP

    How we treat sentient animals raised in captivity for food matters. The importance that we place on the welfare of other species on the planet is a measure of how civilised our society is. Animals feel pain and fear, they have maternal instincts. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that they can also feel emotions such as loneliness and jealousy.

    It is also an area where legislators should be prepared to act. The truth is that the public care deeply about the welfare of animals. But the paradox is that, in modern sophisticated societies, people are separated and divorced from both farming practices and the slaughter of the animals they consume.

    There is a danger that the human conscience of consumers is dissipated by the simple fact that, for the majority of people, farming and slaughter processes are frankly out

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  • Britain's power and influence has not shrunk as a result of defence spending cuts, four senior government ministers have insisted. Really?

    The Commons' defence select committee spent yesterday afternoon grilling the men who, with the exception of the prime minister, are uppermost in maintaining Britain's place on the world stage.

    The task is not an easy one. Last year's strategic defence and security review (SDSR) outlined defence spending cuts of eight per cent in real terms. The decision to stick with the Trident nuclear deterrent placed even greater pressure on the budget for military spending. One of two future aircraft carriers is to be mothballed, while overall personnel numbers will fall by 17,000. The Harrier jump jet has been withdrawn from service. Britain's future ability to deploy an expeditionary force outside Europe has been reduced by between a third and a quarter.

    Making its assessment of the impact these cuts would have on Britain's place in the world, the annual

    Read More »from Britain’s diminished place in the world
  • David Cameron saw attack as the best form of defending William Hague in a PMQs crackling with tension over the fate of two foreign secretaries.

    Backbenchers were in a jittery, fidgety mood. This usually means they're feeling vulnerable, like a banker blustering about the bottom line while trying to cover up his enormous, bulging bonus. Today, somehow, it felt different. It's possible they're feeling worked up.

    This happens frequently to politicians, so we at politics.co.uk have come to recognise the signs. The background level of chatter in the Commons was much higher than usual. Only Lib Dem coalition grump Bob Russell seemed placid, doing his utmost to catch up on his beauty sleep despite the din around him. He was the exception: the chattering felt distracted and gossipy even before Ed Miliband stood up.

    Unlike last week's drudgery, which made all present feel like their bones were slowly dissolving through tedium, the Labour leader fulfilled his promise of bashing the prime

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Cameron stands by his man
  • Prince Andrew has many faults. But people shouldn't lose their jobs because of a bad taste in friends.

    He's not an easy man to defend, really. That entitled air, the remnants of grating comments and irritations he leaves in his wake, his overly-lavish trips to plug British business: Prince Andrew is not really the guy you want to go out on a limb for.

    There are real complaints to be made against the UK's business envoy. The avalanche of Wikileaks revelations last year contained a little nugget - basically ignored at the time - about his reaction to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into BAE systems, which was accused of trying to bribe its way into securing an arms deal with the Saudi government. Tony Blair disgracefully cancelled the investigation - just another example of his feverish commitment to human rights and democracy.

    Prince Andrew, meanwhile, demanded a special briefing from the SFO and accused it of "idiocy", all in front of a US diplomat. Not only

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  • David Cameron strenuously avoided talking about the Liberal Democrats in his first spring conference speech as prime minister.

    It's been nearly ten months since Cameron first entered Downing Street as the PM. But rather than viewing the scene with triumph, many Conservative activists found relief was their primary emotion. The Tories were only in power thanks to the Liberal Democrats. So, by their conference in Birmingham last autumn, the mood had shifted to one of caution. What did coalition government actually mean, in practice?

    Cameron was reassuring then, arguing that the decisions being taken on the deficit and elsewhere were for the good of Britain. Skip ahead to March 2011, and the picture has changed again.

    Neither Clegg nor the name of his party were mentioned once by the prime minister yesterday. The word 'liberal' featured exactly zero times. So, incredibly, did the word 'coalition'. Instead Tory activists were treated to a list of the government's achievements, all from the

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  • Local politics is undeniably similar to the Westminster dynamic in Britain's second city.

    The Conservatives don't have an overall majority, so they combine with the third-placed Liberal Democrats to keep Labour out of power. They're forced to vote through devastating public spending cuts worth about a quarter of their revenue. The opposition, while kicking up a big fuss, don't seem to have many practical alternatives on offer. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

    Yet this isn't the national government. It's the state of play on Birmingham city council, where £212 million of spending cuts - resulting in an expected 2,500 expected job cuts - were approved by the Tories and their unhappy Lib Dem allies on Tuesday.

    The dynamics are strikingly similar. Which is why it's going to be so interesting to see what happens in Birmingham when a third of the council's 120 seats go up for election on May 5th this year.

    At present the Conservatives hold 45 seats. Labour are on 41 and the Lib Dems on 31, with

    Read More »from Birmingham’s embattled Con-Lib coalition
  • Murdoch, BSkyB and a minor miracle

    Jeremy Hunt was never going to win bouquets of praise over the Newscorp BSkyB merger, but he does appear to have pulled off a minor miracle.

    By Charlie Beckett

    Somehow, he has managed to satisfy both the media regulator Ofcom and Rupert Murdoch. Of course, those who fear the political and commercial consequences of a larger, more successful Newscorp - and they include many Conservatives - will accuse him of cowardice and a lack of foresight.

    But by putting Sky News into the protective custody of an independent board with a decade of funding he has actually increased its autonomy while safeguarding a vital part of journalistic plurality in the UK.

    Some of us might worry that Sky News will lose its pioneering, populist editorial vitality and its commercially-driven competitiveness in this semi-trust scenario but that's a marginal issue.

    The negotiations appear to have been much more thorough and careful than the high-speed horse-trading Mr Hunt conducted with the BBC over its licence

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  • Nick Clegg needs a proper holiday

    The deputy prime minister, world-weary and grey, looked deflated at the despatch box. Perhaps he is in need of a break - somewhere a little chilly perhaps, to restore some colour to his cheeks.

    By Hannah Brenton

    The gaffes have been mounting at Clegg's doorstep over recent weeks. First it emerged his office did not accept requests after 3pm. Then he told the Metro he "forgot" he was running the country while David Cameron toured the Middle East.

    Finally, to make matters worse, he then went on a skiing holiday as the Libyan crisis escalated. Just as he was beginning to relax, he was forced to cut his reak short and rush back to Blighty to help deal with the Libya crisis.

    Clegg appeared well aware in the Commons yesterday that these moments were going to come back and haunt him. The Liberal Democrat leader braced himself for a torrent of skiing puns - and Labour backbenchers were only too happy to oblige.

    Before the very first question there were murmurs of "Switzerland" coming from the

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  • Independent politics in Britain is in a fairly pitiable state. Westminster is dominated by the party political system and that doesn't look like changing much any time soon. One man isn't giving up, though. "Politics is a long game," Brian Ahearne says repeatedly. The first step could come in this year's local elections.

    Ahearne is director of the Independent Network (IN), an organisation providing support and encouragement for those wishing to stand as independent candidates. They're currently on a recruitment drive for candidates for the upcoming local elections in England - as well as, of course, elections to the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    Yet the state of independent politics doesn't have a clean bill of health. The 2010 general election was largely disappointing, with Richard Taylor losing his seat in Wyre Forest after two terms in the Commons. There is now just one independent MP in parliament.

    "There's a great deal of barriers at the

    Read More »from You don’t need a party to be political

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