Talking Politics
  • David Laws' resignation gives him the time and space to recover and regroup. The coalition government has no such luxury.

    By Alex Stevenson

    It must continue, weakened by scandal and undermined by the loss of a key uniting figure, even as Laws rebuilds his shattered private life.

    This is not a resignation like many others.

    Under the New Labour government there was a tendency for ministers, having committed outrageous errors and been forced out of office, to return to the fold with a rapidity and smoothness which enraged critics. Laws' resignation is not like that. He had to go but he has to come back, too.

    Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg understand this. The deputy prime minister wanted him to stay on, getting through the attacks to continue his vital work in the Treasury. The PM, more pragmatic but equally desirous of Laws' contribution, simply said: "I hope that, in time, you will be able to serve again."

    Laws' political capital had rocketed in his brief spell in power. The success

    Read More »from Laws will recover, but will the coalition?
  • Cameron's pro-business speech reveals his nervousness. He has yet to work out how to pacify his backbenchers.

    By Ian Dunt

    It is the great pacification of political debate. Two weeks in and it's clear that one of the main side products of a coalition government is a drive towards the centre.

    Strangely, it is precisely this need which has forced David Cameron to make such a distinctly right wing speech. His first major speech, delivered this lunchtime in Yorkshire, was designed to reassure Tory voters and backbenchers that he is still a Conservative. There's little there to please progressives.

    Behind the speeches, the main battle goes on in the halls of Westminster, as backbenchers work out the limits of their political allegiance to a coalition which could end up satisfying no-one.

    It's like some glorious, complicated version of what Tony Blair used to do with Labour. The former PM loved picking fights with his own party. It played well in the media and helped cement in voters' minds

    Read More »from Cameron turns to the carrot after stick fails
  • By Ian Dunt

    Diane Abbott's lack of support shows how tired and conservative the Labour party has become.

    The labour leadership contest really is turning into a damp squib. After 13 years in office - the last five years of which it spent resembled an aching old man unsure of how he got into his living room - it has lost sight of why it exists.

    Labour's better-than-expected electoral performance, delivered on the back of some very clever, and some particularly nasty, local campaigns, seems to have deprived it of the impetus to redefine itself. The dark night of the soul hasn't come.

    The unprecedented numbers of new MPs hasn't helped. If this race took place in a couple of years time, many of them might have run, and many of them, it's worth mentioning, would make fine leaders. Now, however, is not the time, given they are still working out how to reach the toilets in Westminster without getting lost in its seemingly endless corridors. The young bloods are too young. The old guard are

    Read More »from Comment: Labour leadership race shows the party has run out of ideas
  • Coalition’s tax shift is an ugly merger

    By merging their tax policies, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have come up with a fiscal package which needs to be treated with extreme caution.

    By Alex Stevenson

    This is the result of a change rooted in party politics and the pursuit of power.

    Plans for the national insurance contributions bill were first published in yesterday's Queen's Speech. They are high-profile measures aimed at stopping Labour's 'jobs tax', as the Conservatives put it during the general election campaign.

    In fact - as is so often the case with tax - it's nowhere near as simple as it sounds. The coalition has fudged the issue majestically.

    The general election campaign was dominated, before the TV debates began at least, by the 'jobs tax' spectre. This was the Tories' criticism of Labour's plans to raise national insurance contributions for both employers and employees by 0.5% from 2011 onwards.

    The Conservative manifesto said the party would raise the thresholds at which both employees and

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  • If just some of today's Queen's Speech becomes law we will be living under the most radical and important government of our times.

    By Ian Dunt

    Today's Queen's Speech confirms the extent of the coalition's ambition. Its scope is impressive, but if it accomplishes just three of its objectives it will be considered one of the most radical governments of our time.

    Cutting the deficit is plainly at the front and centre of the political agenda, and it was mentioned in the first line of the speech, despite not needing a piece of legislation per se. Today taught us little we didn't already know about this process. The emergency Budget and the autumn spending review will be far more important milestones.

    The Tories have ensured, despite their generosity in other policy areas, that this takes precedence over other commitments. Plainly this needs to be sorted, although I won't lie: it sticks in the throat to see the public sector pay for the private sector's incompetence and inefficiency - the

    Read More »from Queen’s Speech: Is this the most radical government of our time?
  • By Alex Stevenson

    The new government's honeymoon was always going to be imperilled by the spending cuts now being implemented. This is just as well, as its focus is firmly away from the electorate.

    At the moment, all we have are numbers. There were a lot of them this morning: hundreds of millions of pounds being culled in departments across Whitehall as George Osborne and David Laws introduced "draconian" budget reductions.

    "Unless we send this shockwave," the chief secretary to the Treasury explained grimly, "you won't get the step-change in behaviour we expect."

    He and the chancellor are taking no chances. They are forming an Efficiency and Reform Group to extend No 11's control over the government. But there is only so much they can do to ensure the reductions do result in waste-cutting rather than service-cutting. Government departments, let alone local authorities, have a habit of doing all they can to wriggle away from the domineering Treasury.

    This unpleasant truth was reflected

    Read More »from ‘Shockwave’ cuts are a long-term gamble
  • Election aftermath: Party politics

    In the final part of a special week-long series of features, looks at what the election tells us about Britain's political parties.

    By Ian Dunt

    The general election results were predicted well in advance. We were ready for a hung parliament, even if the numbers worked out a little differently than expected. But the result, a Lib-Con coalition, still prompted amazement in Westminster. What has the election, and its aftermath, taught us about the state of party politics in modern Britain?

    The progressive coalition is not meant to be

    For the second time since 1997, the attempt to form a progressive alliance has failed. Just as Tony Blair's attempt to reach out to Paddy Ashdown fell victim to his own level of success, so the attempt of 2010 failed to rise above its historic and political limitations.

    We still don't really know what happened in that doomed official negotiation between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, except that opposition was so strong it barely got going.

    Read More »from Election aftermath: Party politics
  • Why did the polls overestimate Lib Dem support so badly, and do they deserve credit for predicting a hung parliament?

    By Ian Dunt

    Polling has a dodgy history. The dreaded subject of the 1992 election still sends shivers down pollsters' spines. The final polls were out by eight per cent that year, underestimating Tory support by four per cent, overestimating Labour support by a similar margin, and thereby failing to predict a Conservative victory.

    Even the 1997 Labour landslide is not quite as complimentary as many believe. Pollsters did not perform any better, generally overestimating the Labour lead by somewhere between six and eight per cent. But because they picked the right winner, there was no post-election night soul-searching.

    Polling is still big business, and the reliance on polls this time round was more substantial than in previous elections. The Sun ran a daily tracker poll by YouGov and several other papers were churning out opinion polls several times a week. The polls

    Read More »from Why did the polls overestimate Lib Dem support so badly?
  • Election aftermath: The public

    In the third part of a special week-long series of features, looks at what the election tells us about the public.

    By Ian Dunt

    The public is a strange beast. People make sense and say intelligible things. The public as a whole often doesn't.

    The year 2010 should have marked the end of the two-party system. The expenses scandal, a hated Labour government and an unloved Conservative opposition should have signalled a breakthrough for Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats.

    Cleggmania seemed to reflect this assumption. As soon as the public saw him its approval reached fever-pitch. Journalists, activists and academics got terribly excited. But it didn't happen. The Lib Dems increased their share of the vote marginally, but actually lost seats.

    What went wrong? The best bet is that with the economic situation as it was, voters got into the voting booth and decided it wasn't the time to try out a newbie. Clegg himself came out with the most believable interpretation of the result.

    Read More »from Election aftermath: The public
  • Election aftermath: The constitution

    Attacks against the 'unconstitutional' proposals to shift the dissolution benchmark to 55% are missing the point. The flexibility of Britain's constitution is what got us out of the hung parliament mess in the first place.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Britain has just completed one of its biggest transitions of government in decades, emerging from the turmoil of a hung parliament relatively unscathed.

    Things would be very different under a minority administration permanently dogged by uncertainty. A quick glance at the disappointed faces around the journalists of the Palace of Westminster, who had been anticipating months - if not years - of a teetering unstable government generating fantastic news stories - is illustration enough.

    Yet that is the reality that Britain would have faced if agreement on a formal coalition government had not been reached. That was only possible under the 55% proposal first tabled by the Liberal Democrats' former justice spokesman David Howarth.

    His idea was a

    Read More »from Election aftermath: The constitution


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