Talking Politics
  • David Cameron has taken to treating Ed Miliband with a sort of pitiable contempt. The Speaker had more of an impact than the man supposed to be giving him a hard time.

    It had started out so promisingly. In their first bouts Cameron versus Miliband seemed an evenly matched contest. The Labour leader appeared capable of genuinely winding Cameron up. The PM is at his worst when he is made to appear posh; Miliband was getting quite good at bringing out Cameron's innate uppityness.

    Since then, alas, the dynamic has changed. Miliband has become increasingly placid. He lacks bite. Yesterday, he barely managed to open his mouth.

    Part of the problem may be his penchant for short questions. These are presumably supposed to show him as a direct sort of guy. But the bleating tone he employs — that sort of rebuking regretfulness usually deployed by teachers at a moment's notice — makes it seem less impressive. "We read in the papers" that Cameron has scrapped sentencing discounts, he began. "Has

    Read More »from What teenage girls and David Cameron have in common
  • The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is the bad boy that came in from the cold. Under recent president Andreas Whittam Smith, it had the sense to change with the times and reconfigure its mission statement into something socially useful rather than paternal. It was a small liberal revolution. The Board was now there to make sure films were appropriate for their intended age group but not to decide what a grown adult could see.

    Torture porn, however, has forced it to go back to its bad old ways. Yesterday, it effectively banned a horror movie which would otherwise have probably gone unheard of: Human Centipede II (Full Sequence).

    It was doing so well. Gone were the days when Rebel Without a Cause was cut for encouraging teenage rebellion or Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, a wonderful, lovingly-made piece of nonsense which can now be found in the comedy section of Love Film, was seized from a number of shops, forcing their owners to plead guilty to supply of an obscene article.

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  • The PM's attempts to distract us from his NHS concessions were staggering. Pointing the other way and shouting "look!" would have been more effective.

    A strange image struck me as I listened to David Cameron in full retreat on the coalition's NHS reforms — that of the view from a rocket ship as it jettisons one of its used-up lower stages on leaving the Earth's atmosphere. From black, the vast section of the spaceship falls away below. As it does so, the enormity of the distance between it and the ground is revealed. It's a hell of a long way.

    There were significant, real concessions on offer today. The 18-week waiting time target will be kept; hospital doctors and nurses will be involved in commissioning, rather than just GPs; and regulator Monitor will no longer be solely focused on promoting competition. There they were, desperately jettisoned by the prime minister. Those watching the process couldn't help noticing that these concessions were small-scale, really. Given how sweeping

    Read More »from Cameron on the run over his ‘precious’ NHS
  • Livid in the staffroom

    Teachers, normally placid and well-behaved creatures, are ready to strike to protect their pensions.

    Brows in the staffroom have never been so furrowed. Nothing riles teachers like a threat to their pensions. "It's one of the few things that really get people stirred up," one deputy headteacher admits. She says the mood is "livid".

    In local meetings, National Union of Teachers (NUT) members are claiming a cover-up. They think the government is covering up the real reason for the proposed increase in pension contributions, from 6.4% to 9.5%. Ministers claim a "black hole" exists in teachers' pensions; union leaders challenge them to come up with the specific proof. "I think it's the one thing they would strike over," the deputy warns.

    Staffrooms up and down the country are on the warpath. Balloting is taking place now among members of the NUT and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). The latter's decision to ballot is particularly surprising; the last time it did so for a

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  • As Amnesty International celebrated its 50th anniversary, the opponents of human rights were busy trying to emasculate it. Amnesty faces a challenge more powerful and pervasive than any despot: the libel against human rights. It's a PR triumph, if you're into that sort of thing. This phrase, which has enjoyed universal goodwill since the Second World War, is coming to represent something negative.

    The latest chapter in the mission comes in the form of a Daily Mail-generated row on a prisoner who was granted the right to father a child from behind bars via artificial insemination, costing the taxpayer something around £2,000. As usual, it's worth trying to establish the facts of the case before leaping to judgement.

    Much anger has been directed at Ken Clarke who, as justice secretary, would presumably have authorised it. Jack Straw, who treated tabloids like scary monsters under the bed, always turned down this sort of request when he was in the job. It looks like Ken did too, given

    Read More »from Fatherhood for prisoners? Just another human rights libel
  • Many councils in 'no overall control' are turning out to be Labour-run administrations — in what could turn out to be a gamble for Ed Miliband's party.

    Part of the reason that the surprising result of last year's general election didn't raise many activists' eyebrows was that grassroots politicos are perfectly accustomed to coalitions. Of the local authorities which were contested in 2011, 55 ended up with no party having an overall majority. As the initial impact of the results settled in, we weren't able to assess who would finally end up in charge.

    It's taken a while, but we can now. Unlike in parliament, where a government stands or falls by 'confidence motions' and votes on the Budget, council administrations are much more vulnerable. "Numbers usually mean everything," Andy Sawford of the Local Government Information Unit thinktank explains. Those making these calculations have to take into account whether or not they can pass a budget, major decisions, etc, etc. Talks with

    Read More »from Hungry Labour prepared to gamble in hung town halls
  • I want my MPs to make law, not love. Even thinking about the latter is enough to induce panic attacks.

    I am a quivering, shuddering wreck. Why? Because, like many thousands of other people in the last few days, I have visited, a horrific new website that allows us to vote for politicians based on their bodies, not their lawmaking abilities.

    It's an interesting question, 'why?', isn't it? Voting for MPs based on their sexiness is like picking footballers based on their ability to pontificate on formal logic, or choosing a plumber based on how well-dressed they are. I want my MPs to make law, not love. They are in parliament for their brains, not any other parts of the anatomy. The Commons is not a place for reproduction. Although if it was, at least those green benches are quite soft.

    Wait a minute. Perhaps there is something to this. Part of being a politician is popularity, and sex appeal can surely go a long way towards helping with this. Charm, a suave approach, an

    Read More »from Sexy MPs? I’m recoiling with horror
  • Even the prime minister and his deputy aren't safe from lip-reading journalists. Do politicians need to raise their game?

    It was a tantalising question. What were David Cameron and Nick Clegg talking about, as they sat and waited for Barack Obama in Westminster Hall last Wednesday? The camera repeatedly cut to the pair chit-chatting about this and that. It was thoroughly intriguing.

    Now, thanks to the services of a lipreader enlisted by the Mail on Sunday newspaper, we have something of an idea. Rather than making small talk, they were actually discussing one of the biggest headaches facing the government: the NHS. "Most people want to change it," Cameron pointed out. "Well what you mean is," Clegg replied, "you want to change it!"

    The transcript of their conversation is a little veiled, but it appears they hinted at the future of health secretary Andrew Lansley. For political hacks, this is fascinating stuff. It gives us another insight into the tensions at the heart of the coalition

    Read More »from Political lipreading is just the tip of the iceberg
  • The tensions between Barack Obama's poetry and prose reveal the dilemmas at the heart of the future of the west — and the world.

    It isn't often that former prime ministers, the Cabinet and the entirety of Britain's lawmakers are kept waiting while one man tours the Palace of Westminster. But for most of those present, Barack Obama was worth the wait. His address in Westminster Hall, the oldest part of parliament and the first time it had been graced by an American president's speech, went down a storm.

    He pushed all the right buttons, going far beyond the prediction of one US commentator that he would 'make nice' over the special relationship. Obama cited deep historical roots, ties centuries older than that little spat over "tea and taxes". He quoted Winston Churchill. He directly compared the beaches of Normandy with the Balkans and, latterly, Benghazi.

    Obama's emphasis on the "struggles of slaves and immigrants, women and ethnic minorities, former colonies and persecuted religions",

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  • Obama in the flesh

    The first thing you notice is how long winded he is. About five minutes into Barack Obama's first answer, I started wondering why he was still talking. You can see why the religious right in the US think he's a Communist. The man could out-talk Chavez or Fidel.

    The trouble with real life, I've always found, is that you can't cut to another scene. This was the first time I'd ever seen the American President in the flesh. I was quite upset by the fact that we couldn't cut away. Actually, due to the restrictive rules in place at the press conference, we couldn't even check our phones, which had to be switched off. We were also barred from standing up, apart from when asking a question. On the roofs of Lancaster House, police snipers scanned the horizon. I'm generally much more prone to following rules when snipers are involved.

    Two media organisations from each country were given a question, the rest of us were just meat in the room, or rather, cotton in the breeze, given that the Foreign

    Read More »from Obama in the flesh


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