Talking Politics
  • Italy is no longer a democracy. It is a frontier outpost in the gradual takeover of governments by the financial markets. When technocrat Mario Monti was installed and filled the government with unelected administrators, it was not just a defeat for democracy, it was a victory for the banks.

    Monti is Goldman Sachs' man. He was lifted out of academia by Berlusconi in 1995 to work at the Europe Commission, first in internal markets and then on competition. The bank spotted him and made him international adviser.

    Something similar happened in Ireland, where Peter Sutherland, attorney general in the 1980s and former EU competition commissioner, became non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International and a non-executive director of Royal Bank of Scotland, until, you know, it collapsed, and we had to share the pain — but not, it goes without saying, his salary.

    Mario Draghi, who recently became president of the European Central Bank, is a former Goldman Sachs man, as is Antonio Borges,

    Read More »from Cameron’s historic failure over Europe
  • Ed Miliband was heading for a clear-cut victory on the subject of this week's EU summit when he decided — inexplicably - to sit down. Worse: by the time he stood up, he strived to inject some much-needed unity into the Tory ranks just as he was in a place to exploit their divisions.

    Cameron entered the Commons chamber with the grave face of a leader who knows the most hostile questions will be coming from behind him. Eurosceptic backbenchers feel a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pull back from Europe is being squandered and their principles will, impressively, overrule party political advantage. It was prime cuts of red meat for a leader of the opposition.

    Miliband began by deploying his standard cold-hearted sarcasm, asking politely which powers Cameron intended to repatriate from Brussels — a promise he offered his backbenchers a few months ago, just before 81 of them turned their noses up at him. The PM contorted himself into a series of improbable positions, bumbling his way

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Miliband fumbles a major victory
  • Taxing meat could make us thinner

    By Yvonne Bishop-Weston

    It's no secret that the UK's girth is expanding day by day. In fact, British health officials recently announced that we need to cut five billion calories from our collective daily diet in order to slow the current obesity crisis. Left unchecked, obesity-related health problems could cost the NHS £10 billion a year by 2050.

    The government has made some attempts to slim down our country by asking the food and beverage industries to reduce the amount of salt and fat in their products, requiring calorie contents to be posted where possible and encouraging people to exercise. But these efforts are like trying to bail out a sinking ship with a spoon.

    They need to find a way to get the message across that we need to change our diets. One suggestion for combating our growing obesity crisis would be to tax meat products and promote a healthy plant-based diet. We would do well to learn from the Danes, who recently implemented a tax on food products that are high in fat,

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  • Cerie Bullivant, an innocent man, discovered what living with a control order is actually like the hard way. He is now out to get them axed for good.

    The government doesn't need a conviction to place terror suspects under control orders. Campaigners say it's a fundamental usurpation of our civil liberties and the right to trial. One of the most vocal of their opponents is Cerie Bullivant. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because you've read about him before.

    The first time had mentioned the man now sitting opposite me was once before, in May 2007, when then home secretary John Reid had bowed to civil liberties concerns and announced a review of control orders.

    The review, as the story explained, came as "Scotland Yard took the unprecedented step of releasing the identities of three missing terror suspects under a control order". One of the three was Cerie Bullivant.

    "Despite there being insufficient evidence to charge the men with a criminal offence, they were

    Read More »from Life under a control order
  • The government offers hurt without hope

    By Richard Heller

    Some years ago I was flying in an airliner when suddenly one of its engines began to sputter and cough. Anxious passengers understandably began to carry on rather than keep calm. The captain's voice tried to assure us: "There is no cause for unnecessary alarm."

    I was reminded of this less-than-comforting message this week as George Osborne presented his autumn statement. With all his economic forecasts falling faster than autumn leaves, and no reason to imagine that either the domestic or the international economy will improve, he had to convince the House of Commons and the British people that he was still in control of the plane.

    Captain Osborne began by asking all of his passengers to look out of the window. Would they like to be in the European airliners they could see on either side of them, belching black smoke and not far from a complete power failure? That is what would happen if he tried to open the throttle. He then announced that the cabin staff would be

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  • Is Twitter just the Daily Mail for left-wingers?

    When an off-the-cuff joke from a bland TV presenter triggers mass outrage, press releases from major political parties and consultation on legal action, you know something's gone wrong.

    Jeremy Clarkson's insistence that striking public sector workers should be shot in front of their families is the standard extremist humour of people with little imagination or ingenuity.

    It barely warrants a comment, let alone a legal response.

    The mad racist ravings of fools and brutes used to be put in the same category. No longer. Earlier this week, a video emerged of a racist woman on a tram, her young child on her lap as she issued half-remembered prejudices of right-wing tabloids, with extra swearing and hatred. It was gross and unpleasant, but the response of the British transport police — to track her down and arrest her for racially aggravated public disorder — was gobsmackingly authoritarian.

    The new British love for outrage is threatening to

    Read More »from Jeremy Clarkson and the New British Outrage
  • We now know what it takes for Ed Miliband to put in a good performance at PMQs. When Britain is enduring the biggest strike in a generation, he finally ups his game.

    That wasn't immediately obvious in this week's tense, exciting prime minister's questions. This is a day when politics is affecting the lives of most people in the country: 30 trade unions have united together to challenge ministers' plans to hike the cost of public sector pensions. Surely this was an opportunity for Miliband, who earlier today said he has "great sympathy" with the strikers, to come up with the goods at the despatch box?

    After a very neat first question in which he quoted a striking schoolteacher whom Cameron had praised for not walking out earlier this year, the prime minister started extremely well. Why were they striking? Miliband had asked. Cameron, speaking slowly and clearly like an Englishman speaking English abroad, explained: "They object to the reforms we are making to public sector pensions." A

    Read More »from Miliband strikes in PMQs
  • Photo: Getty ImagesAmid all the numbers, each more depressing than the last, and amid 45 minutes of positive government steps to boost the economy, there came a key shift in the government's rhetoric. The first hint that the hunted animal is wounded, flagging, beginning to lose its pace.

    "Recession," the chancellor said, in only the second sentence of this year's autumn statement. This is not a word which government ministers use unless they absolutely have to. Which is why we should be so worried that it was used by Osborne today.

    The Commons had barely settled themselves when it happened. They might not even have grasped its significance, as the first reference (there were three) was about the recession faced by "much of Europe" rather than Britain by itself. But it mattered. It really mattered, to you and me and everyone else in the country.

    The second time Osborne mentioned a recession came after the end of his opening preamble. He pitched it as a positive: "The central forecast we publish today from

    Read More »from Brace yourselves for some more economic misery
  • It is one of the more exquisite ironies of British politics that the chancellor's solution to Britain's present misery is to adopt the approach which got us into this mess in the first place.

    Being inside No 11 must have been easy for Gordon Brown. All those billions of pounds, sloshing around inside the Treasury's swollen coffers, ready to be distributed hither and thither.

    Being inside No 11 in austerity Britain requires some more creative thinking. George Osborne's job is to come up with something for nothing - at least, something that doesn't pop up on the government's balance sheets.

    The credit easing scheme announced on Sunday does exactly this. It will help the recovery by providing £20 billion of extra lending to the engines of the recovery, Britain's small- and medium-sized enterprises, without denting the government's deficit reduction strategy one jot. This £20 billion is not the government's money, after all. It just underwrites the banks' extra lending.

    Osborne said

    Read More »from A new kind of ‘something for nothing’
  • Before you decide you're against this strike, ask yourself one simple question.

    You'll have trouble dropping off your children at school next Wednesday. If you're taken ill, you may have trouble getting an appointment in hospital. The rubbish might not be collected. The fire service might be disrupted.

    Up to two million public sector workers will be out on strike, probably the most widespread industrial action this country has seen since the winter of discontent. At first you'll be angry. Your already stressful day will have been made even more difficult by people you rely on. But before you decide you're against this strike please ask yourself one question: would you care if a banker went on a walkout?

    I'll go ahead and presume your answer was no. The very fact that this strike inconveniences you demonstrates the value of the public sector. These are the people who look after us; our children, our property and our streets. Their reward is to be libelled every day in the press for

    Read More »from Why you should support the pensions strike


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