Talking Politics
  • It often ends up a childish, squabbling mess. But I wouldn't change PMQs for the world.

    There are two observations which every first-time visitor to prime minister's questions always makes. These are: "It's much smaller in here than you'd think, isn't it?" And: "It's much louder in here than you'd think, isn't it?"

    No coincidence, really. The Commons chamber is a small, confined space. It feels even more crowded when there are 500 or so politicians, a species given to voicing their opinion, doing so at volume all at once. Those who can't squeeze on to the benches crouch on the steps, or gather behind the Speaker's chair, or opposite him at the bar of the House. They've all come for the same thing - political theatre, at its rawest.

    Pity the poor warm-up acts who answer questions in the 30 minutes before the main event gets underway. Usually it's the minister for Scotland, or Wales, or the international development secretary, who has to try and make his voice heard over the growing

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  • Charm, sex and politics

    Scrubbing up well helps in politics - but it's no substitute for a political brain.

    This feature begins with a rather troubling claim: that there are a lot of "sexually active" people on the parliamentary premises. Actually, This is actually quite a well-known fact in the Palace of Westminster. It became so much of a problem, so the story goes, that the roof terrace - once frequented by excessively amorous researchers - has been closed to plebeian access.

    "There does seem to be an atmosphere in this strange place - possibly inevitably, because there's a large number of sexually active people who are present here," explains Paul Flynn, the veteran Labour MP. The problem is so grave, he believes, that it poses genuine perils for politicians' marriages.

    "Inevitably there will be dangers of couplings that might well be fruitful or beneficial, but others that might be potentially dangerous.

    "I do cautiously suggest people have to be aware of the dangers of the disruption to family life. If

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  • By Ed Hammond

    Let's not pretend the Liam Fox lobbying scandal is an isolated aberration. As long as politicians have power, there'll be people seeking to co-opt that power for their own ends.

    Every so often in Britain, a political scandal breaks which centres on the murky world of high-level policy-making — and, in particular, access to government ministers.

    The same questions are always asked: should we try to reduce the influence on policy of lobbyists? If so, how should we do so? Will an increase in transparency — in the form of a register of lobbyists — make any difference?

    Lobbyists aren't a universally nefarious presence, a collection of shadowy figures who stalk around the corridors of Westminster. Charities lobby, to speak up for people who might not otherwise have a voice. The crux probably lies in the way that we in Britain approach evidence-based policy-making.

    In an ideal world policy would be made purely on the basis of evidence, with options being weighed up

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  • From the expenses scandal to the Werritty scandal, there is but one concern that I have just discovered: some apologies are bigger than others.

    After a prime minister's questions dominated by Liam Fox, and a statement from the leader of the House all about Liam Fox, it came as something of a surprise to see the man himself bustling quietly into the Commons chamber. The ex-defence secretary, whose 17 unbroken years on the frontline of politics came to an end on Friday, looked a little lost as he took his seat on the backbenches. The view must look very different from the back row. What was he thinking? That after a week of turmoil, this could be the end of his career?

    Some people manage to look scruffy even when wearing a suit, but not Liam Fox. He was as polished and buttoned-up as he could be. His suit shimmered. He sat bolt upright. But he didn't have time to get comfortable, if that was possible for someone in his position. Barely a minute or two after entering, the Speaker was

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  • Eyewitness: Occupy London

    "This place says you're all free to use their toilets," the man with the loudspeaker shouts, coming out of a sandwich shop and addressing the crowds around St Paul's Cathedral. "Seriously, they don't mind if you're a customer or not. Do what you need to do in there. Have a shower. Do a poo."

    The smattering of laughter has no impact on an organiser, who emerges from the crowd to urge him to leave the area. Anyone threatening the peace of the camp or its relationship with its neighbours shouldn't be there, he insists.

    If that sounds oddly civilised for an anti-capitalist demo, then you should see the waste disposal centre, with separate bins for bottles, paper and rubbish. Or the kitchen, running entirely on donated supplies and volunteer cooks. Or the media centre, with running generators, work spaces and an embryonic video editing suite. The men and women in London's financial district aren't protesting. They're laying down roots.

    "We've got church blessing," Giles tells me. He points

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  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    This weekend has seen the anti-capitalism protests of Wall Street spread across the globe; sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. In London protestors attempted to set up camp outside the London Stock Exchange, but after that was blocked by the police decided to create a make-shift village outside St Paul's Cathedral. Many of them were carrying banners proclaiming them to be the 99%, a clear reference to the massively disproportionate division of wealth in modern society.

    I was in two minds about all of this. While I disprove of public disorder and the potential for violence it creates I think it's good that young people are taking an active interest in politics and peaceful civil disobedience. As Churchill once said, 'If you're not a liberal when you're young you haven't got a heart' (it should be noted that he also added that if you're not Conservative when old you haven't got a brain).

    However even taking this into account I don't think the protestors are actually

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  • By Stewart Lansley

    At the depth of the downturn in October 2009, St Paul's Cathedral hosted a spirited debate on the growing income gap. One of the speakers, Brian Griffiths, the vice-chair of Goldman Sachs and a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher, defended higher inequality "as the way to achieve greater prosperity for all".

    That the accumulation of large fortunes fuels wealth creation and boosts growth is a creed that remains embedded in mainstream economic thinking. So is it true? The answer is no. The wealth gap has soared, but without the promised pay-off of wider economic progress.

    On all measures bar inflation, the post-1980 era of rising inequality has a much poorer record than the egalitarian post-war decades. Growth and productivity rises have been lower, unemployment rates much higher, financial crises more frequent and more damaging.

    The post-1980 experiment has delivered an economy that is both much more polarised and much more fragile. So what does this tell us about

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  • We're told the Germans resent having their taxes go towards the Greek crisis. They are right to. But their quarrel is not with the Greeks. It is with the financial sector.

    You don't hear much about the Greek people nowadays. There's lots of talk of irresponsible spending, with stereotypes of a lazy sun-washed culture compared to the famed German Protestant work ethic. We know the process - the troika inspections and parliamentary votes — but we learn nothing of the people.

    So here's what's happening. Suicide rates are up. The birth rate is down. A subclass is emerging based on the growing ranks of the homeless. Psychiatric patients wander the streets, ejected from institutions which can't afford to keep them. The number of drug addicts is up. Many pensioners are reported to be surviving on rejected produce from vegetable markets.

    Another 30,000 public sector workers were recently put on reduced pay — a waiting room for contract termination. Half a million have had their pensions cut.

    Read More »from In the name of Greece, tax the banks
  • By Charlotte Vere

    Women are the new political football.

    The ubiquitous Harriet Harman paraded around Labour party conference dressed in the Empress' new clothes of righteous and radical feminism and continued to push the message that the coalition government is anti-women.

    Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat minister for equalities, clumsily entered the debate at her party's conference, by blaming the ills of the world on men. And no doubt the Conservatives will soon join in with pledges for x% of female Cabinet ministers or y% of female MPs.

    But why is it that Harman and her sister-in-crime Yvette Cooper, shadow minister for women, feel emboldened enough to push their pro-women, anti-men agenda with so little opposition? Harman has been trying to promote her brand of radical feminism for years, with very little success in the Blair/Brown era. Now, under the poor leadership of Ed Miliband she sees an open goal.

    Both Harman and Cooper see an opportunity to position women, whether

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  • When Amanda Knox left her jail cell, she forced people to do a lot of soul searching. From the cynicism of the tabloid press to the inadequacies of the Italian justice system, there was a lot to talk about. But it was capital punishment proponents who should really be given pause for thought. Today is World Day Against the Death Penalty and the facts have conspired to make the argument water-tight.

    Even in the UK, where the reintroduction of the death penalty is unthinkable, we need to grab the oppourtunity it offers us. This summer, the right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes tried to start up an e-petition to reintroduce capital punishment. That attempt spectacularly backfired, killing the myth there is a massive groundswell of support for the practise among voters. Government e-petitions require 100,000 signatures to be debated in the Commons. All of us, including opponents, assumed it would be a shoo-in. Actually, Fawkes' effort barely made it past the 20,000 mark. The debate around the

    Read More »from After Amanda Knox, the capital punishment debate is over


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