Talking Politics
  • It must surely be the worst collection of jokes outside of a Russell Howard gig. Bad joke after bad joke after bad joke. Flashman references after Eddie the Eagle references after Michael Winner references. It was to politics what phone sex lines are to intercourse.

    There was no wit and there was no content. There was merely the conveyor belt of rehearsed jokes and quick stabbing motions that constitute PMQs under Ed Miliband and David Cameron.

    The Labour leader's tactics are now well understood. He began with that mock innocent first question which invariably starts: "How would the prime minister rate his progress on." The sentence ends with whichever policy area is causing Cameron the most grief, from tuition fees to the forestry sell-off. Today it was the NHS, not for the first time.

    Cameron did a Gordon Brown and started reeling off an impenetrable list of governmental achievements. When he mentioned the number of doctors, Miliband got in a rare effective response. "In case the

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Cameron laughs off Clegg’s pain
  • What is it about betrayal that makes it such a potent source of drama? From cheating husbands on EastEnders, to double-crossing action movie bad guys, to the shouts of Everton fans when Wayne Rooney is on the pitch - betrayal is the stuff that stories are made of. It prompts a curious passion. It's for these entirely emotional reasons that the Liberal Democrats have become the most absurd Army of Darkness in political history and Nick Clegg is the new national bogeyman.

    Many people who are angry about spending cuts seem to have had a particularly satisfying night, constantly tweeting their delight at ever-worse Lib Dem local election results. They should ask themselves exactly what this morbid fascination with the Lib Dems has brought them. The Conservatives have actually increased the number of councils they control while the Lib Dems plunge new depths.

    Some anger is understandable. Lib Dem support for the Conservatives meant that an economic plan was implemented which not only did

    Read More »from Time to end the misguided attack on the Lib Dems
  • Photo: Electoral CommissionPhoto: Electoral CommissionHere are five intriguingly poised council chambers for your inspection, as local elections across England offer a tough test for both coalition parties.

    Local elections are famous for their individuality. This city has a "very nasty habit of going against the trend". That town "ignores the national picture". Local political history is nearly always far more important than what's going on in Westminster. And then there's the added complications of different ways of doing things — minority administrations here, coalitions there. England offers a hotch-potch patchwork of compromises and power-broking deals.

    Despite everything, some of the closest single-tier councils of all offer an interesting snapshot of the agonising decisions in Westminster which could follow today's voting.

    We've picked out five councils where the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, clinging on narrowly, are facing intense pressure — both from the rejuvenated Labour party and from each other. They're all different,

    Read More »from Local elections 2011: Five key battlegrounds
  • Bob RussellIt had been another rather dull affair.

    With the prime minister declining to tell any Labour frontbenchers to "calm down, dear", as he had done last week, the latest edition of prime minister's questions was something of a relapse into business as usual.

    It was left to a certain Lib Dem backbencher to liven things up in the last two minutes of this week's instalment. Before then, alas, we had to wade through the usual fare.

    Ed Miliband, for all his admirable qualities, continues to find the PMQs mettle hard to grasp.

    He is all substance, not style. He is all coffee, not froth. These are usually good things — but not when it comes to the Commons arena on Wednesday lunchtimes. Then, Punch and Judy politics is what is required. We all know which role Miliband is playing.

    We were able to make allowances for Gordon Brown, whose distinct lack of charm often saw him retreat to endless lists. These traits were acceptable to him. But the magician Miliband? He spent this lunchtime triumphantly

    Read More »from PMQs: Gloating Tories are already celebrating
  • Will Liberal Democrat fears become reality in this year's local elections in England?

    This is the beauty of local elections: virtually every scenario is being played out, somewhere. You thought the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are in government against Labour? Well, so they are, in Birmingham, for example. Elsewhere you can find Labour in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, or minority administrations propped up by independents, or Labour still in control after many, many years in power.

    Some criticise those who try and draw too much meaning from these results. They ask: how can they possibly add up to a coherent national picture? The key is in the swings, the changes of power, which help us build up a picture of who are the overall winners and losers on the night. It might not mean much if one Conservative council loses its outright majority and is forced to limp on as a minority government, or perhaps look for support from other council groupings. But if that

    Read More »from A tough test for the Lib Dems looms
  • The case for sceptical royalism

    When it comes to the head of state, the most important quality they can have is a lack of democratic legitimacy.

    I doubt it bothers her much, but I can't see myself getting on with the Queen.

    The thought struck me as I read journalists theorise on the likely topics of conversation at the Middletons' first luncheon with the monarch and the Duke of Edinburgh. Horse-racing seemed the most obvious example. The Queen's been into it for ages. The Middletons own a racecourse.

    I don't. I can't empathise with the Queen's interests. I doubt she has much time for eccentrics and libertarians. I doubt she can quote the entirety of Withnail and I off by heart. We live in different Englands, her and I.

    But I am a sceptical royalist. I believe in the monarchy, despite recognising the obvious logic of its opponents. Of course, it's psychologically harmful to have the lead figure in a society achieve their status not through their actions but by their birth. Of course, the royal family is

    Read More »from The case for sceptical royalism
  • It's a sad truth that, in politics as elsewhere, a positive and a negative only equal one thing.

    It's not looking good for those seeking change. Last week two polls gave the 'no' camp an enormous 16-point lead in the campaign to change Britain's voting system. The yes camp could still win, but pollsters say this needs two-thirds of Labour supporters to vote 'yes'. But coalition ministers' rhetoric is preparing the ground for the public rejecting the alternative vote. Nick Clegg may end up paying the price for the 'yes' campaign's failures.

    The idea that the "politics of the gutter" at the heart of the problem is a recent development in this campaign is far from accurate. It's been like this from the start.

    There seemed something wrong with those early press releases from the 'yes' and 'no' camps. Something spiteful, petty, inward-looking. "The Yes campaign in May's referendum has confronted the Nos over their failure to engage in an honest debate with the British public,"

    Read More »from ‘Yes’ camp is succumbing to a mean-spirited referendum campaign
  • AV is for mature thinkers only

    As Labour and the Tories continue their decline, we need a system which better reflects political thought in Britain.

    The old guard is scared. Even with most polls pointing to a win for the 'no' camp in the AV referendum, they are sweaty and unpredictable, like a frightened tiger in a cage. Tory and Labour backbenchers are slipping into incandescent rage at irregular intervals.

    The attacks are getting harsher, the arguments more vicious and misleading. If you're confused by how a technical discussion could prompt such fury, you should know that AV, in a modest but definite way, weakens the stranglehold of the main political parties on British politics.

    For years now, Labour and the Conservatives have exercised a dominance in British politics which does not match their relevance. They have their supporters, of course - the loyal armies that travel dutifully to their conferences each year. And they have their core support, the dyed-in-wool Tory and Labour families who have

    Read More »from AV is for mature thinkers only
  • Life is at its cruellest when a relative dies suddenly. How sad, then, that the system which deals with what happens next is the subject of an increasingly contentious political debate.

    These are the young people who jump into an icy pool and drown. They're the babies whose promise ends with a cot death. They're the people who run for a bus and drop dead in the street. They're the soldiers serving overseas who give up their lives for their country.

    Each is a tragedy.

    So if there's one group of people who deserve an effective, efficient system to be running smoothly, it's the bereaved families.

    Inevitably after so many years, though, the system established in the Coroners Act 1887 is becoming painfully out of date in the eyes of many campaigners.

    According to Inquest, a campaign group focusing on contentious deaths, the current system offers a postcode lottery of quality. There is no compulsory training and little accountability on offer. Some coroners offer modern,

    Read More »from How bereaved families pay the price for spending cuts
  • The leader of the opposition made the case for the alternative vote with his usual passion and vigour. Ed Miliband wasn't bad, either.

    This was always going to be an odd occasion. The atmosphere seemed rather tense as the photographers waited for the big entry, listening to a cover version of Radiohead's Climbing Up The Walls in an uncomfortably crowded room. Large red comfy chairs, that big purple 'yes' logo and a gaggle of t-shirted supporters as a human backdrop. The 'yes' event reminded one television journalist of a Jeremy Kyle set. There were to be no tear-stained real-life family melodrama on show today, however. This was not a Cabinet meeting.

    Instead we faced the bizarre prospect of the business secretary and the leader of the opposition campaigning together against the prime minister.

    This is coalition Britain, which makes anything possible. Including the sight of Ed Miliband striding in to the room closely followed by Vince Cable, the man who only last week

    Read More »from Cable and Miliband, together at last


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