Talking Politics
  • The British government's handling of the Libya situation over the weekend has transformed the political impact of the crisis.

    On Thursday David Cameron was forced to say he was "incredibly sorry" for the delay in helping British nationals stuck in Libya to get home. Foreign secretary William Hague announced a review of the Foreign Office's airport evacuation procedures.

    The opposition, initially tentative, couldn't help itself. Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander became increasingly critical, until Labour figures were openly accusing the government of incompetence by Friday night.

    If the prime minister had been forced before parliament on his return from the Middle East MPs would have made mincemeat of him. After four days of frenetic activity, the case is altered. Cameron can be much more confident as he steps up to the despatch box this afternoon.

    Over the weekend around 800 British citizens have been extricated from the violent upheavals of revolutionary Libya. The armed

    Read More »from Cameron’s great Libyan escape
  • The chiefs of the 'yes' and 'no' electoral reform campaigns make their cases to

    Last May the country struggled to decide which political party it wanted to rule Britain. This could have been disastrous for David Cameron's Conservatives. But help was at hand from the Liberal Democrats, who agreed to enter into a coalition on condition that a referendum take place on electoral reform. As a result, this May Britain will cast judgement on whether the system it used to vote last summer needs changing.

    First past the post (FPTP) will be retained if the number of 'no' votes exceeds those voting 'yes' on May 5th. Under this system the MP who gets the most votes in each of the newly redrawn 600 constituencies is the outright winner. Under the alternative vote (AV) system, it's slightly more complicated. Voters will rank their candidates in order of preference. MPs need an absolute majority before they're elected. If no candidate achieves that, the second-preference votes from

    Read More »from Drawing the AV referendum battle lines
  • Like a cross between Tintin and Napoleon, Assange sat unmoved in court as he discovered his fate.

    It's been a long time since I was in court - not since university, when one of those Iraq protests got out of hand. Less said about that the better, frankly. They're an intensely weird place, the courts. They're like an airport lounge where they escort you away to imprisonment instead of an aircraft. It's the mixture of Costa Coffee and life-changing decisions that does it, I suppose.

    Belmarsh magistrates' court quietened sharply when Assange entered. I'd never seen him in the flesh before. A mercurial and aloof figure, wearing a red tie and a preppy scarf, he comes across like some unholy combination of Tintin and Napoleon. It's hard to tell if figures like Assange are enigmatic because of the media frenzy surrounding them or if they're naturally this way. In Assange's case it's probably the latter.

    Throughout the ruling, he sat motionless, confident, leaning back on his chair. He was as

    Read More »from How Assange lost his extradition fight
  • It's like speaking to a wall of unmitigated emotion. The protesters outside Downing Street were a sea of faces, each as bitter and disturbed as the next. The veins on their necks bulged as they spoke, their voices trembling. It was the most passionate demonstration I have ever seen.

    The noise could be heard in's offices in parliament, from down Whitehall. Disciplined all-male chanting stirs a uniquely unsettling feeling. It communicates with that animal part of the brain which alerts you to danger. The packs of men worked their way down to outside Downing Street waving flags, leaving tourists and office workers curious and wary.

    The protest was split in two, with women on the right and men on the left. On the far left, the group became more mixed, with a Stop The War banner marking out the start of a more secular, traditional demo. But this was not some brow-beaten collection of women, shifted irrelevantly to one side. They stood with their heads up high, handing out

    Read More »from Eyewitness: Libyan exiles demonstrate in London
  • Ministers have talked the talk on immigration. Now it's time for them to - well, you know the cliché.

    That's the problem, isn't it? Politicians promising to clamp down on immigration is about as unoriginal as it gets.

    Especially Conservative ones. The general election campaign saw right-wing candidates gently massaging ordinary people's concerns up and down the country. Concerned voters weren't bigots. Everyone could understand the difference apart from one very unfortunate man. No, Tory candidates explained, your views reflect very real and legitimate concerns. And we're going to take action.

    Their campaign mode approach was very neatly done, extracting just the right amount of support to this thoroughly difficult issue without actually descending into an entirely reactionary or counterproductive position. Now they're in government, the Conservatives have to live up to their rhetoric. Labour experienced the immigration headache on the doorstep. The Tories dodged that bullet - but are

    Read More »from The immigration mismatch
  • The private sector is ready and willing to help strengthen the UK's fragile recovery - but it's time for the government to step up and help.

    By John Walker

    Unemployment statistics published by the Office for National Statistics last week made grim reading as it rose to almost 2.5 million in the three months to December. Within this total, youth unemployment rose to 965,000 - its highest level since 1992, meaning that one in five 16- to 24 year-olds are out of work.

    What makes these figures even more shocking is that they cover a time when more people should be taking seasonal jobs, as businesses such as shops, restaurants and hotels take on seasonal workers to cover the busy Christmas period.

    Research by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) shows that small firms are not looking to take on new staff over the coming months - just as the government has said it is looking to the private sector to drive the recovery. It is clear that, if the government is to stem the tide of

    Read More »from Businesses need a helping hand
  • The complacency of civil liberties campaigners means the only pressure the government gets is from the securocrats and tabloids.

    The trick to forcing political change is in applying the appropriate pressure.

    "More than my job's worth" - that's what you're aiming for. You need to create the kind of trouble which makes the government decide their policy isn't worth the effort. You couldn't force the government to think again on its deficit reduction plan, for instance, because there's way too much reputation to lose. But you can make it think twice on something specific - like free milk or school sports funding - because it's willing to cut its losses. The gain/loss ratio tends towards the latter. And so it was again with the forest sell-off: a unified, cross-country opposition with big media coverage against a sell-off that wouldn't earn any money. That's not a hard choice.

    The reason leftists always sense a rightward drift in British politics is simply because the pressure is there.

    Read More »from Civil liberties campaigners dig their own grave
  • One simple reason to back AV

    First-past-the-post is prejudiced against idealism. AV lets us to pursue our beliefs without wasting our vote.

    I support AV but I'm not about to get particularly excited by it. I'm not going to man the barricades. I won't leaflet or demonstrate and I won't put a twibbon on my avatar, whatever that is. If I'm perfectly honest, I'm dreading the weeks of tedious technical debate approaching me, like some monstrous argument whale.

    I support AV for one reason: because political choices are complex.

    The 'no' camp says that allowing people's secondary votes to influence a decision is somehow undemocratic. It's by far their best argument. "First past the post" one poster announces. "We all vote. The person with the most votes wins. Simple. Fair." That's a damn good poster. It's very convincing.

    Because smaller parties are thrown out the race first, their secondary choices are distributed among the remaining (presumably mainstream) parties. AV therefore opens the door to MPs being elected even

    Read More »from One simple reason to back AV
  • PMQs sketch: Timberrr!

    A slow creaking at first. Then definite movement. And eventually, finally, the government's forestry policy comes crashing down.

    The rumours of last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting have been whispering like autumn leaves through the Westminster jungle these last eight days or so. "The question is not whether they're going to U-turn," one Conservative backbencher told me excitedly, "but how they're going to do it". From little acorns big U-turns do grow. This one was a political hurricane that nearly brought the House down. MPs have received hundreds of emails on this issue, more than any other in many cases. The opposition have done their gardening job well, carefully cultivating that grassroots opposition and trying to fertilise dissent on the government's benches. You might even say they were seeking to splinter the coalition.

    So it was no surprise that Ed Miliband used three of his questions at this week's session with David Cameron on the issue. The prime minister, having initially

    Read More »from PMQs sketch: Timberrr!
  • Cat and mouse politics

    Coalition politics has more than a touch of cat and mouse about it, so it's quite right that Downing Street's latest acquisition is of a feline nature.

    Larry, as he is affectionately known, arrives as No 10's newest residence this afternoon. He's a short-haired tabby who was brought into Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in early January. Like a four-legged X Factor miracle, he has been elevated into the limelight from nowhere.

    "Larry is a great match, because he is a very sociable cat who enjoys attention and loves human contact," Battersea's head of cats Kirsty Walker said. "I've cared for thousands of cats during my time at Battersea and I can definitely see Larry holding his own at Downing Street."

    Larry was an obvious fit for the home of a Conservative prime minister: you couldn't find a sterner opponent of identity cards and their cattish equivalent. He had done so good a job of keeping his identity a secret, so firmly had he rejected the idea of microchipping or wearing a collar and

    Read More »from Cat and mouse politics


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