Talking Politics
  • One year ago David Cameron promised business leaders he would be an unashamed "salesman". Twelve months later the pitch has worsened, but the CBI are still buying it.

    The prime minister's speech to this year's conference hosted by the Confederation of British Industry was "upbeat", according to its director-general John Cridland. An odd conclusion for an address which included words like "struggle", "fear", "very depressing" - you get the idea. This is a bleak time for Britain. Growth is stagnant and impending doom is looming on the continent. It is so bleak that Cameron was forced to resort to spotting "good signs" in the CBI's survey of confidence among business leaders - even though it showed two-thirds thinking the economic situation is going down the pan. "We need a different kind of economy," Cameron urged. One which is growing, perhaps.

    This was not the hostile audience which greeted the new PM one year ago. Then the business world was distinctly frosty, uncertain of how to

    Read More »from For once, an audience that approves of Cameron’s cuts
  • The politics of defence spending

    Faux-patriotism, national security and the military-industrial complex have conspired to give us a desperately inefficient contracting system.

    By Dr Matthew Ashton

    Last week it was reported that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has spent roughly £500 million on external consultants over the past two years to provide technical advice. It might turn out at a later date that these costs are fully justified but going on past experience I doubt it. The fact that so many of these contracts were awarded without competition is also an issue for concern as it makes it very hard to demonstrate value for money. Overall this is symptomatic of a wider problem most countries have with defence spending, with far too much money going to inefficient projects and not enough to troops on the ground.

    Of course wasteful and inefficient programmes aren't limited to the MoD; the recent fiasco over the national fire control service is testament to that. However it does seem that the Ministry of Defence has been

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  • In almost every government department, actions are being taken which give the rich greater rights than the poor. Under the guise of deficit reduction, those on low-to-middle wages are stripped of their ability to secure legal aid, robbing them of fair representation under the law. If you use a library, the local council will do its best to strip it of the pitiful funds it receives while slashing corporation tax for the book shop chain next door.

    This barren division also applies to immigration. Those with net assets of at least £1 million can enter when they like and stay for as long as they like. They are not required to meet any English language requirements — only the poor will be forced to learn a language in Cameron's Britain. We invite in the impossibly rich playboys, the jet-set from the Middle East and Latin America, who refuse to participate in British society to at least the same extent as we see in the Asian areas developing in some British cities. But it is acceptable,

    Read More »from Only the rich can fall in love in Cameron’s Britain
  • If May 2010's hung parliament negotiations were taking place in November 2011, would Nick Clegg's party think again about entering into a coalition?

    The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives were able to agree on a bold strategy of deficit reduction during the hung parliament negotiations of May 2010 because they were confident the pain and suffering of austerity would be behind them by 2015.

    Yes, it would be hard. Yes, both parties would be unpopular. But the logic went that by 2015 the recovery would be well underway - and both parties would benefit at the ballot box for having taken difficult, but ultimately courageous, decisions.

    Eighteen months later, that scenario is still a possibility come May 2015. But the odds of it coming to pass have lengthened significantly.

    Even if the recovery had been progressing as well as ministers might have hoped, we would still have seen the clashes over public sector pensions, tuition fees and cuts to public services - police, schools, the NHS -

    Read More »from Economic misery and the 2015 election
  • Profile: Mario Monti

    What can the UK expect from the incoming Italian prime minister?

    By Matthew Champion

    By Friday Mario Monti's extraordinary rise from non-politician to prime minister of the world's seventh largest economy should be complete. His ascent is in stark contrast to the fall of the man he is replacing, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's longest-serving post-war prime minister who resigned on Saturday. With Britain's hopes of a eurozone recovery based in no small part on Monti's ability to restore investor confidence in Italy, Downing Street will be taking a keen interest in the economist's fortunes.

    Obvious contrasts in personality and lifestyle between the Monti and Berlusconi have already been highlighted. Whereas Berlusconi was a flamboyant former cruise ship singer who amassed a vast construction and media empire and earned notoriety for his so-called 'bunga-bunga' parties and dalliance with attractive young women, Monti is a thoughtful Eurocrat economist with a peerless academic background and a

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  • Graeme Knowles, who later resigned from St Paul's cathedralBy Nick Spencer

    The more society becomes individualised, the more the Church of England will struggle to keep its unique message intact.

    Herbert Mason's famous photograph of the dome of St Paul's Cathedral rising defiantly from the Blitz smoke was much invoked last month. Not since the 1940s, we were repeatedly told, had the Cathedral been closed. And then it had taken the Nazis.

    The early days of the St Paul's encampment witnessed a similar fog of war envelop the cathedral. The chapter dithered in the face of an unexpected and unprecedented protest. Prominent clergy resigned. Episcopal splits allegedly appeared. And when, for a while, it appeared that the cathedral steps might provide the settling for Dale Farm: The Sequel, all cameras were at the ready. The core issues of corporate greed and material inequality were obscured in the fog of conflict and potential violence.

    It was Rowan Williams, whose clarity of vision is not always matched by clarity of prose, who saw through the mist

    Read More »from St Paul’s protest has revealed pressures at the heart of the Church
  • Blair has sold himself to a foreign power

    By Richard Heller

    It could become a pub quiz question: who was the first British prime minister to sell himself to a foreign power?

    It would be too easy to guess the answer — Tony Blair, who recently signed a multimillion pound contract to advise President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan. He has reportedly opened an office in the capital, Astana. Other than the president, no-one knows what advice Mr Blair is giving. His client does not need any advice on winning elections: grateful Kazakhs gave him over 95 per cent of their votes in their last presidential elections in April this year. His party already holds all the seats in parliament. Some media reports suggest that he is advising on financial institutions. According to other reports, he is helping the president prepare a bid for next year's Nobel Peace Prize. Again, Tony Blair seems a strange source of advice, until one remembers that the prize was once given to Henry Kissenger.

    As with other British ex-politicians, Tony Blair's paid

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  • Photo: AFP/Getty ImagesPerhaps James Murdoch is a member of the mafia after all. He's certainly not averse to whacking his opponents.

    At long last, after hours of queuing for this moment, the door to the committee room opened. In walked the lawyers, anonymous and solemn. Behind them came a smiling, well-dressed man, the right side of middle-aged, with glasses that close up looked horribly expensive. "Morning," he said cheerily to the MPs sitting around the horseshoe table in front of him. Silence. He sat down and tried again. "Good morning." Still nothing. This, it was clear, was going to be a tough gig.

    Select committee grillings are always intimidating for those giving evidence. This was especially so for James Murdoch, who tends to find members of his family get assaulted with foam pies on this sort of occasion. Today, in addition to the MPs facing Murdoch, he also faced reinforcements on his right-hand-side in the form of 'interested' MPs. These were led by Chris Bryant, who did not tire of pulling

    Read More »from Inside the committee room: Mafia Murdoch takes out the fall guy
  • Politics is mathematical. Like the Torah, each word has a numerical value. 'Immigration' gets at least ten points - usually more. 'Blunder' gets seven. 'Immigration blunder' is therefore 17 points. If you construct it appropriately, you can add the phrases 'foreign criminals' (15 points) and 'terror suspects' (25 points), as so: "The immigration blunder saw biometric data left unchecked, meaning tens of thousands of illegal immigrants - as well as terror suspects - could have been permitted entry into the UK."
    Note the way you can therefore get an immense 57 points from the row engulfing Theresa May this week. Ed Miliband duly made the choice of devoting all his questions to it.

    I doubt he'd had time to read the Metro. On its front page today, it featured the story of army veteran and his wife driven to suicide by destitution. Sick of trying to live on £57.50 and the six-mile daily walk to the soup kitchen, their bodies were found at their home in Bedworth, Warwickshire, last week.

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Miliband spanked on the easy option
  • By Dr Stephen Barber

    I am sometimes reminded of that episode of Father Ted when I see anti-capitalist protestors. At a demo, if you recall, Ted held a sign which read 'Down With This Sort of Thing', while Dougal's said, 'Careful Now'.

    The truth is that many of the critics of capitalism are clearer about what they are against than what they are for. This is understandable, perhaps, given that it is the perceived injustices which motivate behaviour. And one can say that the very existence of protestors who have been camping in the City, the fallout from the riots, and even the less dramatic disquiet across mainstream political opinion suggests that something is just not quite right.

    I address many of these themes in my latest book, which might make uncomfortable reading for some. Because the reality is that however we like to describe our views — conservative, liberal, social democrat — most of us, conscious or not, remain capitalists.

    You will not find many people admitting it or even

    Read More »from Why the St Paul’s protesters have got it wrong

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