Talking Politics
  • Subdued Cable’s Commons trudge

    Saints are not supposed to have to answer questions, so it's no surprise the beatific Vince Cable spent his first Commons session looking about as comfortable as a stuffed frog.

    By Alex Stevenson

    Vince Cable has none of the simmering joie de vivre of his predecessor. Had the Lord Mandelson been forced to sit through business questions he would no doubt have gazed imperiously across the benches, letting the little children ask their questions. Cable seemed deeply uncomfortable, like a distracted professor forced to teach instead of read.

    Part of the discomfort might have sprung from his alleged reluctance to embrace the coalition's agenda. Shunted away from the Treasury, he has given the impression his elevation to the government has coincided with the rapid onset of an unfortunately located inflammation.

    There was no spark of passion as he defended the government.

    "I don't pretend the RDAs [Labour's doomed regional development agencies] will not change," he said with resignation.

    Some

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  • Clegg’s silence drowns out Cameron

    Clegg plays a perilous balancing act. Cameron looks at ease. New MPs get into their roles.

    By Ian Dunt

    Watching Nick Clegg is not always an enthralling prospect, but it's downright inexplicable when he's not even talking. This was David Cameron's first PMQs, but for some horrible reason I spent the session watching Clegg instead.

    For the record, Cameron is very good at PMQs, as you would expect. You don't have to be comfortable in the Commons to be good at PMQs. Thatcher wasn't, and neither was Blair. But as it happens, Cameron is comfortable and good at it. He is an old Etonian, after all.

    He did not reveal any anger, but remained cool and collected throughout. He appears on top of his brief. When heckled for not giving an exact number to a question he retorted: "It's a funny old thing. I'm going to give accurate answers rather than just making them up." I rather enjoyed that.

    Responding to Harriet Harman's attack on the proposals for anonymity for rape suspects, Cameron sounded

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  • Who would go into politics now?

    Law's departure will discourage talented young professionals from a career in politics.

    By Stephen Barber

    David Laws' resignation has put into focus just why politics is so often unattractive for many of the most talented people in Britain - a reality that is all the more important given the current state of the economy.

    It is not that we lack intelligent and capable political candidates in this country but our system means that, across all parties, we achieve a cohort which represents a political class. We have professional politicians who have done nothing other that politics. They have similar backgrounds: school, Oxbridge, a stint as a parliamentary researcher or ministerial adviser, elected to Parliament and then fast tracked to the front bench - just look at the backgrounds of candidates for the Labour leadership. Laws is an exceptional politician to this extent. He has a successful career in the City behind him; he could use his talents in many other fields and certainly

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • Election aftermath: Party politics

    In the final part of a special week-long series of features, politics.co.uk 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.

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Pagination

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