Talking Politics
  • Britain's fevered post-riot mood is creating a rush for justice which does no-one any good.

    Our response to the riots is like a dog chasing after its own tail: a lot of mad, frenetic yelping, that just ends up going around in circles with no meaningful positive effect whatsoever.

    Reduced to its bare essentials, this was all very predictable. If you were to ask someone a few months ago what would happen if, hypothetically, mass disorder was to break out - and succeeded in persuading them that it wasn't anything to do with spending cuts - they would have predicted the political fallout we've seen this week with ease.

    The prime minister reverts to his party's authoritarian instincts on law and order, embracing harsh sentences for all those involved. The Liberal Democrats, after a bit of hand-wringing, begin to speak out against these steps, but don't have much impact. That's about where we are now, isn't it? No surprises, just yet.

    Anger has certainly shaped public debate about how to

    Read More »from Red mist of retribution is clouding our judgement
  • Don’t let the police off the hook

    Criticise the police and many people close their ears. You can see why. British police probably are, ultimately, the best in the world. In the same way that we return home from holiday full of appreciation for the BBC, Brits in Europe and America quickly come to appreciate the moderation and humility of our police force.

    This did not occur because the British are somehow innately superior. It happened because we hound the police. We criticise them, we regulate them and we monitor them. The police are the most dangerous thing in the world. They are the mechanism the state uses to interfere with what you do. They are to be tolerated, not loved. It's by vigilance, not praise, that we keep them decent.

    Our reaction to the riots has been understandably draconian and with that a newfound respect for the Met has developed. The Met leadership can be a canny political operator when it wants to be and that pro-police sentiment - in parliament, the press and among the public - is starting to

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  • The two speeches yesterday morning not only signalled the end of the cross-party truce over the riots; they also laid out dramatically different political approaches to last week's disorder.

    With the violence now died down, David Cameron's speech mostly consisted of arguing that pre-existing government policy would undo the causes of the disorder. In other areas, however, the prime minister signalled a distinct turning to the right, suggesting that the uneasy truce between Conservatives and Lib Dems on social issues may be at an end.

    Meanwhile, Ed Miliband made a distinct break from the Conservatives' approach, offering a robust left-wing alternative to Cameron's agenda while maintaining a tough-on-the-causes-of-crime sentiment which he hopes will keep him on the right side of the tabloids.

    Cameron's fight-back speech

    "Let's be clear. These riots were not about race… these riots were not about government cuts… and these riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people

    Read More »from Cameron and Miliband’s riot speeches: Reading between the lines
  • Recalled MPs tried their best to suppress the urge to make party political points. They almost succeeded.

    It's mid-August. At this time of year the Commons chamber is usually full of hordes of schoolchildren on tours of parliament. Not much of a difference from when MPs are around, you might say. For most of the time, that didn't apply today.

    It wasn't a rabble of partisan politicians, keen to heckle and barrack each other, who assembled this lunchtime. Instead, the Commons was at its best once again as politicians confronted the riots of recent days.

    The prime minister began with a statement. It contained many "today I can announce" beginnings of sentences, the kind which litter party conference speeches and often precede something we've heard before. Today, steps to help businesses and families hit by the riots looked like they would make a real difference.

    Cameron repeated his "fightback" rhetoric from yesterday. Ed Miliband stood up and agreed with almost everything he said. Yet

    Read More »from Recalled MPs couldn’t suppress the politics urge
  • Cameron has handled the riots well

    It would have been easy to over-react and Labour probably would have.

    On Monday there were plenty of voices calling for a curfew, rubber bullets, water cannons, live rounds and, finally, the army. It was a level of disorder we'd frankly never seen before. It looked almost apocalyptic. The speed of events, their geographical distance, the ferocity of the violence and the depth of the depravity shook all of us. Many people became understandably over-excited.

    Historical counterfactuals are a thankless task, but Labour would probably have overreacted. The party is so wary of being vulnerable on law and order that the temptation would have been to give in to those demanding extreme sanction. After all, David Blunkett, who now pretends to be a harmless old man, once tried to send the army in to quell a minor prison riot. Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were both so panicked by the tabloids they would have been more scared of appearing soft than they were of tearing up constitutional arrangements

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  • No politics today

    It's nearly one in the morning. A moment ago the newsreader breathlessly reported that a police station was set on fire in Birmingham. In a minute or two, a new development will overtake that in another part of the country or another part of London. It is chaos, the most genuine chaos we've ever seen here.

    A moment ago, returning home from a walk around my area to report on what had happened, the true human effect of it hit me. As I walked past another man, dressed in nothing more off-putting than jeans and a T-shirt, we both glanced up at each other, suspicious and defensive. That glance is what it's cost us so far. It's increased the space between us.

    London can be a cold, difficult city, and its inhabitants, like the British in general, are not particularly vocal about their love for it. We do not treat London as the Americans, say, treat New York. But everyone I know is fiercely proud of this city. Everyone who is from London - and you're from London whenever you choose to be —

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  • Photo: 2011 Getty Images

    We can expect politicians of all parties to avoid the real reasons behind the weekend's violence in London.

    You might think politicians' strangely sluggish response to the rioting was because half of them are on holiday. In fact, their motivation is more problematic than that.

    MPs began by being condemnatory, articulating the average families' breakfast table opinions on the national stage. The youths engaged in the looting and vandalism were doing so purely out of opportunism. They're criminals, pure and simple.

    Of course they are. But simply stating so deflects attention from the bigger issues which are now in play, whether those in power like it or not. This violence isn't happening in a vacuum.

    A big part of politicians' sluggish response is that they're scared. Scared that by trying to explain the violence, they risk being seen as attempting to excuse it.

    Some awkward, heavy-handed attempts have already been made. Chris Williamson, the Labour backbencher for Derby North,

    Read More »from Britain might be broken, after all
  • New Labour's police funding brought about real results in cutting crime, but public perceptions didn't improve. In a time of spending cuts and upheaval, it's going to be very difficult for the coalition to do better.

    It's not much to ask. The public tell politicians that they're worried about crime in their neighbourhood. The politicians put pressure on the police to do something about it. Crime levels fall. The politicians, having done their job, get re-elected. Simple, really.

    Only, as figures released last week from the Office for National Statistics show, it isn't quite like that. Between 2008/09 and 2009/10, the British Crime Survey recorded a drop in the estimated number of crimes from 10.4 million to 9.5 million. An impressive reduction, by any standards.

    How frustrating, then, that during the same period two-thirds of people in England and Wales thought crime had risen at the national level. The New Labour government, in power at the time, didn't get the public sympathy - and

    Read More »from Narrowing the crime perception gap
  • Whether debating the death penalty or pushing the phone-hacking scandal forwards, it looks like MPs are finally getting their act together.

    Two years ago parliament's reputation was in a ropy state. The full extent of the expenses scandal revealed a culture of complacent back-slapping which shocked the country. Politicians' reputations, already pretty ropy, slumped to new lows. They had let us down, and they knew it.

    The first step was making the problem go away - something politicians are always especially adept at. Despite the terrible teething problems the new system has endured, its draconian restrictions have at least stopped the rot of negative stories. Journalists in parliament groan when the latest batch of expenses claims are published, knowing they won't find anything much to write home about. Expenses is, finally, a non-story.

    MPs went further than just fixing their allowances culture, however. They realised they needed to do much, much more to re-engage with ordinary

    Read More »from Is parliament’s expenses rehabilitation complete?
  • For over a decade, the record companies have fought a rearguard defence against their inevitable decline. Thankfully, it's a lost cause. They will not be missed.

    Vince Cable announced today that certain parts of the old Labour government's disreputable Digital Economy Act will be delayed while others will be scrapped altogether. Even so, record companies will be pleased. Things in general seem to be moving their way. They've been blindsided. Legislative or regulatory change is a cul-de-sac. Technological and cultural change is the defining factor and that is most certainly not going their way.

    This is a period of transition. We are going from a top-down entertainment culture to a grassroots one.

    There are exceptions, most notably film, whose production costs are so high that the studios have a way to go yet before they become redundant, if they ever do. It's just economics, basic Marxism really — the means of production is your first port of call when trying to explain a political or

    Read More »from It’s time to finish off the record companies

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