Talking Politics
  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Every day there seemed to be a new scandal or gaffe engulfing the coalition. It's almost gotten to the point where you expect to see a sign hanging on the famous front door of 10 Downing Street proudly proclaiming how long they've gone without an accident or resignation.

    In the space of a few days we've seen yet further revelations from the Leveson Inquiry about Jeremy Hunt's views on the BskyB deal; and just today it turns out Baroness Warsi, co-chair of the Conservative party, has failed to declare all of her expenses. In both cases the mistakes are entirely of the individuals own making and are indicative of a wider problem with our political system.

    It's now clear Jeremy Hunt was broadly supportive of Rupert Murdoch's proposed takeover of BSkyB. What's more he wasn't afraid to let people know. However, when he was asked to be the impartial adjudicator in charge of the process it didn't seem to occur to anyone that this might be a problem. It's a bit like

    Read More »from Warsi and Hunt are so amateur it’s embarrassing
  • Getting inside voters' minds is not always a straightforward business, as Ben Page knows all too well.

    Ipsos Mori's chief executive understands that what the public want can often be very complicated indeed. Part of the problem is what Page has termed 'cognitive polyphasia' - the ability of the general public to want more than one thing. Border controls should be toughened up, they think, but those lengthy queues at borders are completely unacceptable. Global warming has to be tackled, it's agreed, but measures to enforce recycling are simply unacceptable.

    Then there's the basic mechanics of coming up with trustworthy numbers. Polling is grounded in science; take a random sample of "1,000 sentient beings in the universe" and you'll get a reflection of their views to plus or minus three per cent. "The problem is we never achieve a random sample," Page says. That's where the art comes in: going to find people, knowing who you're talking to, is what matters as efforts to 'weight' data

    Read More »from The subtle arts of reading public opinion
  • Facebook, national security and your privacy

    By Carl Miller

    "I come from cyberspace," Grateful Dead lyricist and cyberpioneer John Perry Barlow famously wrote 16 years ago, "the new home of Mind". In his Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace the "weary giants of flesh and steel" were warned to "leave us alone". He added: "You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather."

    This was an early shot across the bows in a struggle that has gripped the internet since its earliest days: does the internet exist within or outside of governmental control? A powerful and self-consciously revolutionary ideology has existed that has regarded the internet as a precious and fragile opportunity for humankind to evolve beyond nation-states towards post-territorial, self-governing communities; to literally re-draw the social contract. The internet today reflects these founding principles; its universal language — the TCP/IP protocol — embraces an open architecture that distrusts centralised control, allows any computer

    Read More »from Facebook, national security and your privacy
  • However much David Cameron may swat at the Balls bluebottle, he will never be able to squash the superbly annoying shadow chancellor.

    Ed Balls is not supposed to play a big part in prime minister's questions. This session is supposed to be about Cameron asking questions from Ed Miliband and other MPs, and nothing whatsoever to do with opposition frontbenchers.

    Yet such is Balls' capacity for winding up the prime minister that he has succeeded in getting a rise out of Cameron for the second time in six months.

    It is the consistency of the shadow chancellor's drip-drip approach that proves so infuriating. If someone tapped you with a pencil on the shoulder for half an hour you would probably end up punching them in the face. Balls deploys the political equivalent every PMQs.

    His excellent technique is composed of a combination of hand gestures and barbed comments which are barely audible above the throng. In this respect his tactics are not dissimilar to those frequently employed by

    Read More »from Ed ‘muttering idiot’ Balls is superbly annoying
  • A century of failure on Lords reform isn't putting off Peter Facey, the director of campaigning group Unlock Democracy.

    Yes, the coalition is putting forward a bill which, if successful, will turn the House of Lords into an 80% elected second chamber.

    Unfortunately its chances of succeeding are being assessed by some constitutional experts in very gloomy terms. Peers are vowing to fight to the bitter end. Tory backbenchers are preparing to scupper the bill in the Commons. Cross-party unity without a referendum looks elusive.

    Despite all these headwinds, Facey refuses to be downcast. "I'm an optimist," he tells me. We're sat in his office at Unlock Democracy's new headquarters. The place has a slightly scruffy feel - exactly what you'd expect for an organisation which spends its time pursuing constitutional reform. Half academic and half campaigners, this earnest bunch are looking to wrap up the unfinished business that began 101 years ago.

    Facey doesn't accept that a referendum on

    Read More »from Lords reform is a long, long game
  • By Dr Matthew Ashton

    One of the great things you can do in your first year in government is endlessly pass the buck. When things go wrong you can point your finger at the previous administration and say "it was all their fault". However these opportunities slowly ebb away as time passes. For instance, after 2001 you rarely heard Tony Blair make reference to 17 years of Tory misrule, which had almost become a mantra in his first term in office.

    Likewise whenever you see anyone from the current government being interviewed, it's only a matter of time before they trot out the excuse that, "we're having to clear up the mess that the previous lot left behind". That would be fine, as far as it goes, but this claim fails in two very important respects.

    One is that I've yet to hear anyone from the Conservative benches give a coherent explanation of what they'd have done particularly differently that would have averted the current crisis. If you look at their spending plans, as set out in the

    Read More »from The coalition can no longer blame Labour for failure
  • There was a subtle but important shift in David Cameron's political message today. For the first time, he set himself up as a war leader. It's the beginning of a new storyline, one which is connected to, but different from, the austerity message we have seen thus far.

    Making a major speech on the economy, the prime minister said: "We are living in perilous economic times. Turn on the TV news and you see the return of a crisis that never really went away: Greece on the brink, the survival of the euro in question. Faced with this, I have a clear task: to keep Britain safe. Not to take the easy course - but the right course... That is why we must resist dangerous voices calling on us to retreat... It's not an alternative policy, it's a cop-out."

    Cameron's speech was the first moment in a gradual moving of the goalposts. Soon, the function of the government will not be to improve economic performance, but merely to protect Britain from the eurozone crisis.

    This change in narrative has five

    Read More »from Cameron sees political opportunity in the eurozone crisis
  • No-one had much appetite for a fight, but they did their best to pretend.

    David Cameron was already red faced when he stood up, his hair so impeccably ordered it seemed on the verge of disciplining someone. Too much gel perhaps. For his part, Miliband has grown more comfortable with the PMQs slot. Everyday, he looks more like a party leader and less like a school prefect.

    The Labour leader started with Francois Hollande, the new French president whose relationship with Cameron will have been somewhat damaged by the prime minister's decision to throw his lot in with Sarkozy during the election.

    "It's a shame he didn't see the French president months ago," Miliband said, "but I'm sure a text message and LOL will go down very well." The reference to Rebekah Brooks' testimony about the prime minister, and his inability to distinguish between 'lots of love' and 'laughing out loud', had clearly been prepared for in Downing Street.

    "I must admit I have been overusing the mobile a bit," he

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Miliband loses his winning streak
  • Leveson shows need to limit media ownership

    Photo: Getty ImagesBy Dr Matthew Ashton

    Another week, another boatload of revelations from the Leveson Inquiry about the links between News International and the government. Ignoring the fact that everyone who appears before Leveson has terrible memories, clear evidence was presented that there seems to have been a blurring of the important distinction between friendship and business at the highest levels.

    To a certain extent the public have always believed that this country is run by a social and economic elite who exist in a exclusive circle. This will just reinforce that impression, further damaging what remains of their trust in the democratic process. The main problem for Labour is that it's very hard for them to fully capitalise on this, as for every example of one-to-one meetings with the Conservatives, there are at least two examples of the same thing happening with their own politicians.

    While no one would deny the importance of the press talking to people in government, it's clear that this

    Read More »from Leveson shows need to limit media ownership
  • Photo: Political PicturesPoliticians of every ideological flavour are united by one thing: their self-pitying sense of victimisation at the hands of the press.

    Whenever things are going wrong the tendency is to look for excuses - it's a natural reflex of every human. Unsuccessful sporting teams will often shrug off responsibility by blaming local factors. So will failing businesses. So will failing governments.

    Sometimes these reasons are legitimate. At other times they are just moaning, plain and simple. Embattled politicians usually moan.

    The two or three Labour party conferences before the last general election were classic examples of this miserabilist tendency. New Labour was on its last legs, hammered by the voters and on the brink of losing power. Rather than becoming mobilising forces to cheer up the party and motivate its grassroots, Labour's conference turned into a festival of sorrows-nursing. An atmosphere of bitter, betrayed hostility pervaded the place. They were all in it together, on the

    Read More »from Self-pitying politicians are terrible judges of the media


(1,673 Stories)