Talking Politics
  • It’s time to act on Libya

    Britain, France and other willing EU nations should immediately declare a no-fly zone in Libya and enforce it with the support of Egyptian arms.

    By Edward McMillan-Scott MEP

    The only part of the EU which meets in public is the European parliament. The heads of its other two key bodies - the Council, representing the 27 member states and the Commission, the bureaucracy with attitude which runs the show - answered a special session in Brussels on Tuesday as the crisis in North Africa deepened and the new French foreign minister Alain Juppe described the EU as 'impotent'.

    Britain, France and other willing EU nations should immediately declare a no-fly zone in Libya and enforce it with the support of Egyptian arms. William Hague, Juppe's British counterpart, told MPs earlier this week that any military intervention in the country would need a "clear, legal base and widespread international support" as a motion for a no-fly zone was tabled with France and Lebanon before the UN security

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  • A flawed attempt to save journalism

    The government's long-awaited libel bill is full of welcome ideas but it isn't enough to safeguard the future of journalism.

    Britain's libel law is in dire need of reform, a fact well understood by all three main parties at the election. The case of Dr Simon Singh against the British Chiropractic Association, which did more than any other to prompt demands for reform, saw the science writer give up work for two years and spend £100,000 before the court could decide if his words were fact or opinion. Scientists and health experts began to talk of libel as a public health issue, with major multinationals and well-funded alternative medicine bodies attacking anyone who raised questions about their products.

    Meanwhile, America passed a law effectively ruling out British libel judgements from having any effect across the Atlantic. With so many claimants coming to the UK for their cases simply because they had a greater chance of winning, US lawmakers thought it was time to defend their

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  • Ed Miliband's focus on the cost of living gives him greater political room to manoeuvre while discrediting Conservative attacks.

    Ed Miliband's much-belittled leadership of the Labour party tends to enjoy its best moments in relative obscurity. But quietly, the leader of the opposition is developing a smart, effective critique of the government's performance.

    Today's press conference saw Miliband make good use of his previous efforts to establish a theme on the 'cost of living'. This little-commented on change in Labour's rhetoric is potentially highly effective. It accomplishes three things: It taps into a strong and widespread public sentiment, it offers considerable room for political manoeuvre and it works to counter government attacks on Labour.

    The increasing cost of living stirs up public emotion more than public sector cuts do. Everyone suffers from inflation rising at twice the rate of pay. It's the strongest emotional connection most voters have to our economic predicament.

    Read More »from Miliband’s ‘cost of living’ tactic pays off
  • This is how we save our pubs

    We are losing the pubs at the heart of many of our communities because of their unfair 'ties' to big pub companies.

    By Martin Horwood MP

    We're losing the traditional British pub at the rate of about 40 a week, thousands a year. The alarm bells have been ringing for years now. The time has come to act.

    This week I introduced a ten minute rule bill into the Commons that would attack the problem. Ten minute rule bills don't often make it onto the statute book - the last was an act in 2002 which forced taxis to accept guide dogs - but this is an unusually long parliamentary session and the bill has wide cross-party backing so I'm not without hope. Especially when the Campaign for Real Ale, the Fair Pint Campaign and the Federation of Small Businesses are standing by to mobilise support in the country.

    My Cheltenham predecessor Nigel Jones told the Lords quite rightly in 2008: "A pub does not just sell beer. It is a social centre, providing meals and snacks, raising money for local

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  • Too often we kow-tow to the WTO on animal welfare standards for fear that all we will do is export our industry to countries with lower welfare standards.

    By George Eustice MP

    How we treat sentient animals raised in captivity for food matters. The importance that we place on the welfare of other species on the planet is a measure of how civilised our society is. Animals feel pain and fear, they have maternal instincts. Anyone who has ever had a dog knows that they can also feel emotions such as loneliness and jealousy.

    It is also an area where legislators should be prepared to act. The truth is that the public care deeply about the welfare of animals. But the paradox is that, in modern sophisticated societies, people are separated and divorced from both farming practices and the slaughter of the animals they consume.

    There is a danger that the human conscience of consumers is dissipated by the simple fact that, for the majority of people, farming and slaughter processes are frankly out

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  • Britain's power and influence has not shrunk as a result of defence spending cuts, four senior government ministers have insisted. Really?

    The Commons' defence select committee spent yesterday afternoon grilling the men who, with the exception of the prime minister, are uppermost in maintaining Britain's place on the world stage.

    The task is not an easy one. Last year's strategic defence and security review (SDSR) outlined defence spending cuts of eight per cent in real terms. The decision to stick with the Trident nuclear deterrent placed even greater pressure on the budget for military spending. One of two future aircraft carriers is to be mothballed, while overall personnel numbers will fall by 17,000. The Harrier jump jet has been withdrawn from service. Britain's future ability to deploy an expeditionary force outside Europe has been reduced by between a third and a quarter.

    Making its assessment of the impact these cuts would have on Britain's place in the world, the annual

    Read More »from Britain’s diminished place in the world
  • David Cameron saw attack as the best form of defending William Hague in a PMQs crackling with tension over the fate of two foreign secretaries.

    Backbenchers were in a jittery, fidgety mood. This usually means they're feeling vulnerable, like a banker blustering about the bottom line while trying to cover up his enormous, bulging bonus. Today, somehow, it felt different. It's possible they're feeling worked up.

    This happens frequently to politicians, so we at have come to recognise the signs. The background level of chatter in the Commons was much higher than usual. Only Lib Dem coalition grump Bob Russell seemed placid, doing his utmost to catch up on his beauty sleep despite the din around him. He was the exception: the chattering felt distracted and gossipy even before Ed Miliband stood up.

    Unlike last week's drudgery, which made all present feel like their bones were slowly dissolving through tedium, the Labour leader fulfilled his promise of bashing the prime

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Cameron stands by his man
  • Prince Andrew has many faults. But people shouldn't lose their jobs because of a bad taste in friends.

    He's not an easy man to defend, really. That entitled air, the remnants of grating comments and irritations he leaves in his wake, his overly-lavish trips to plug British business: Prince Andrew is not really the guy you want to go out on a limb for.

    There are real complaints to be made against the UK's business envoy. The avalanche of Wikileaks revelations last year contained a little nugget - basically ignored at the time - about his reaction to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) investigation into BAE systems, which was accused of trying to bribe its way into securing an arms deal with the Saudi government. Tony Blair disgracefully cancelled the investigation - just another example of his feverish commitment to human rights and democracy.

    Prince Andrew, meanwhile, demanded a special briefing from the SFO and accused it of "idiocy", all in front of a US diplomat. Not only

    Read More »from The strange and unconvincing case against Prince Andrew
  • David Cameron strenuously avoided talking about the Liberal Democrats in his first spring conference speech as prime minister.

    It's been nearly ten months since Cameron first entered Downing Street as the PM. But rather than viewing the scene with triumph, many Conservative activists found relief was their primary emotion. The Tories were only in power thanks to the Liberal Democrats. So, by their conference in Birmingham last autumn, the mood had shifted to one of caution. What did coalition government actually mean, in practice?

    Cameron was reassuring then, arguing that the decisions being taken on the deficit and elsewhere were for the good of Britain. Skip ahead to March 2011, and the picture has changed again.

    Neither Clegg nor the name of his party were mentioned once by the prime minister yesterday. The word 'liberal' featured exactly zero times. So, incredibly, did the word 'coalition'. Instead Tory activists were treated to a list of the government's achievements, all from the

    Read More »from Don’t mention the coalition
  • Local politics is undeniably similar to the Westminster dynamic in Britain's second city.

    The Conservatives don't have an overall majority, so they combine with the third-placed Liberal Democrats to keep Labour out of power. They're forced to vote through devastating public spending cuts worth about a quarter of their revenue. The opposition, while kicking up a big fuss, don't seem to have many practical alternatives on offer. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

    Yet this isn't the national government. It's the state of play on Birmingham city council, where £212 million of spending cuts - resulting in an expected 2,500 expected job cuts - were approved by the Tories and their unhappy Lib Dem allies on Tuesday.

    The dynamics are strikingly similar. Which is why it's going to be so interesting to see what happens in Birmingham when a third of the council's 120 seats go up for election on May 5th this year.

    At present the Conservatives hold 45 seats. Labour are on 41 and the Lib Dems on 31, with

    Read More »from Birmingham’s embattled Con-Lib coalition


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