Archive for January, 2013

Cameron’s EU policy is not about getting the best deal for Britain – it’s about keeping his own party quiet

24/01/2013, 11:00:15 AM

by Mark Stockwell

When we think of the great speeches in recent history, one perhaps stands out above all others: Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in March 1963. Nearly fifty years later, Barack Obama consciously channelled the spirit of that magnificent, spine-tingling oration in Monday’s inaugural address. It is, if you like, the gold standard by which major speeches are measured.

In his big set-piece on Europe on Wednesday, David Cameron seems instead to have sought inspiration from the man after whom MLK was named – the 16th-century German monk, Martin Luther, whose ideas and writings provided the theological underpinning of the Reformation.

Cameron must surely have had Luther in mind when he talked of Europe having “experience of heretics who turned out to have a point.” It is an allusion he must have hoped would not be lost on the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, herself the daughter of a Lutheran pastor. Judging from her response to the speech, indicating that she was open to negotiating “a fair compromise”, these hopes have not been entirely in vain.

Quite how this reference was greeted in some of the other chancelleries of Europe – in staunchly Catholic Italy, Spain, France or Poland, for example – is another matter. Other European leaders have been rather less complimentary in their responses, with the French in particular indulging in the sort of wryly-amused sneering in which they can legitimately claim to be world leaders.

Presumably Cameron feels this is relatively unimportant: the EU’s centre of gravity has shifted emphatically to Berlin as the eurozone crisis has unfolded. The prime minister no doubt believes it is primarily there, rather than Paris or Brussels, that the fate of his renegotiation strategy will be decided.


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On a day of political ineptitude, Cameron was forced into his mistake; Ed had a choice

24/01/2013, 07:05:30 AM

by Peter Watt

I am a pro-European.  I believe that the EU is basically a force for good in the world and that the single market is good for Britain.  I believe that there are some issues that can clearly only be dealt with internationally like climate change, human trafficking, food safety or terrorism.  I believe that British citizens are better protected by much of the social legislation emanating from Brussels.

But I also believe that the EU desperately needs reform in areas like its agricultural and fisheries policy and I do think that there has probably been a bit too much undermining of our national sovereignty.  On the last point by the way, I am quite prepared to accept that this may well be emotional rather than rational!

I also think that the advent of the euro and the continued expansion of membership, means that there already is a two or three or even a four speed Europe.  I don’t believe that Britain should or will ever join the euro but I hope against hope that the euro survives.  And I suspect that the steps taken to secure the future of the euro will continue to radical force changes in the relationships between members of the EU and between those inside and outside of the eurozone.

And I strongly believe that most people don’t give a flying fig about any of this.  The central issue of the day is clearly the economy and jobs.  We all know that David Cameron was forced to make his speech yesterday by the euro-obsessives in his party; it is a sign of his relative weakness.  But voters may not care all that much about the EU but increasingly many voters are disillusioned with political parties that they think are out of touch, unresponsive to their needs and self-interested.  They feel this about the town hall as much as MPs and their expenses.  And they certainly feel it about Europe, the EU/EEC/common market/the French/the Germans/the Greeks.  So David Cameron may well have been forced into this position of an in/out referendum by 2017 against his wishes, but in doing so he potentially taps into a rich vein of anti-politics sentiment.


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Time for policy in the pub with Maria Eagle

23/01/2013, 08:14:56 PM

Will you be in or around Bristol tomorrow evening? Yes? Well, good news. There will be some policy in the pub, Bristol style, with Maria Eagle, shadow secretary of state for transport. The fun happens this Thursday 24th January at the Hen and Chicken (upstairs from 6.30-8.30pm) on North street, Bedminster.

For those that haven’t been to one of these Pragmatic Radicalism events before, it’s a quick fire format with 90 seconds for speakers to present a policy idea, 2 minutes for questions and answers and then a vote at the end on the best policy. The topics up for discussion will be transport, communities, tackling poverty and social exclusion.

There will be pizza, prizes and drinks all thanks to the good people at ASLEF and TSSA.

So come on down, set the world to rights, and failing that, have a pint and slice of pizza.

See you in the pub.

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Today, Ed Miliband was damaged by Cameron’s speech, but the pain is coming for the Tories

23/01/2013, 05:50:40 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Judgement is a precious commodity. If a politician is seen to have it, they receive the benefit of the doubt from the media and colleagues alike. Their moves are viewed as part of a grand strategy, their competence taken on trust.

When they are seen to lose it, everything is questioned, loose threads are pulled and more often than not, much unravels.

Today, both Ed Miliband and David Cameron demonstrated desperately bad judgement. Both will pay a price. The immediate damage is to the Labour leader’s position, but over the coming months Cameron will be the one who suffers most.

For Ed Miliband, it is now a matter of when not if. When will he do a U-turn and commit Labour to an in/out referendum? The three options he has available leave him little choice.

Inside the leader’s inner circle there might have been some that still believed Labour’s current position of neither backing nor ruling out an in/out referendum was sustainable, but reality will be dawning. Witness Miliband’s own reaction in the heat of PMQs today when he seemed to rule out a referendum, only for Douglas Alexander and John Denham to walk back the commitment within hours.

Having no line to take is no way to run a party. Labour politicians trying to defend this position will be mercilessly skewered.

Alternately, permanently ruling out a referendum, as Miliband looked to have done, has the merit of certainty, but brings the certainty of unpopularity. Refusing to let the public have a say on such a contentious issue hardly locates Labour on the side of the people.

Which leaves supporting an in/out referendum as the only viable option.

Back in October I argued for a Labour commitment to a referendum to make the political weather and cast Cameron as weak when he was forced follow suit. Now Miliband will follow Cameron and will be the one to look weak.


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Actually, Ed Miliband does support an EU referendum

23/01/2013, 04:41:36 PM

by Stuart Ingham

We have seen plenty of panic that the Labour leadership have backed themselves into a corner on the issue of an EU referendum and will have to wiggle out of their opposition before the 2015 election. The panic is based on the idea that we can’t possible go into an election promising the public no say on the EU when our rivals are doing so.

This line of argument has been repeated by the full spectrum of Labour commentators from Dan Hodges to Owen Jones. It is clearly the trap that David Cameron hopes he has placed Ed Miliband in. Its power to unite disparate voices is remarkable.  It is especially remarkable as it appears to completely miss a rather pertinent point- Labour doesn’t need to sign up to an in/out referendum to give the British people a voice in European affairs. There is, after all, almost certainly going to be a Labour supported referendum anyway.

How can I say so with such certainty?

1) In January 2011 the coalition passed a “referendum lock” that triggers a referendum if any treaty change is made within the EU that alters British powers and competencies. (This was his previous attempt to hold the fruitcakes at bay)

2) Ed Miliband supports the “referendum lock” meaning that there is no danger of it being reversed

3) The only reason David Cameron thinks he can renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU is there is going to be a coming treaty change to increase Euro-area integration.

We have a Labour supported law guaranteeing a referendum in the event of a treaty change and a debate that is only happening in the anticipation of a treaty change. Labour are committed to a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU- the only difference between Labour and the Torys is we think a “no” vote should be an instruction to politicians to renegotiate better terms and not to leave the EU. We are not laying our flag on the wrong side in a battle between democrats and technocrats; or populists and defenders of the wisdom of the elite. We remain supporters of representative democracy with recourse to plebiscite in matters of constitutional importance.

When we discuss how the decisions made in the past few days will play out in the election, we should be calm and remember that the Labour party will be promising an EU referendum.

Stuart Ingham is a member of the Labour party

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A renegotiation and referendum for what – a “line to take?”

23/01/2013, 01:29:10 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So was it really worth the wait? There’s been less speculation about the second coming than there has about David Cameron’s Europe speech over the last month.

To be fair it was carefully crafted and fluently delivered. And half of it could have been said by any mainstream Labour or Lib Dem politician. Yes, the EU needs reform and must focus on competitiveness and address the democratic deficit. Amen to that. shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander was quick to point out as much on his tour around the broadcast studios this morning, calling, specifically for reform of the common agricultural policy and EU budget.

And three quarters of Cameron’s speech could have been delivered by Iain Duncan-Smith, Michael Howard or William Hague. There was not much new, with heavy emphasis on John Major’s call, two decades ago, for “variable geometry” in reshaping the EU.  So a trip down memory lane and a restatement of that peculiarly Toryish view of Europe with the promise of a renegotiation and referendum bolted on?


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Could someone please be sensible about a Lib Lab coalition?

23/01/2013, 07:00:12 AM

by Ian Stewart

Thank you Andrew Rawnsley. No, really – this was exactly the right time to bring up the possibility of Nick Clegg clinging to office by whatever means necessary after 2015.

Of course, Andrew was simply doing what he is paid for – writing speculative fiction that tantalises Observer readers every Sunday. After all, with Len Mcluskey giving one of the most important speeches from any trade union leader in ages, it was obviously a slow week in politics. Oh, and Cameron running away (again) on Europe, those nasty cuts to all those skiving strivers in the NHS, the armed forces; the firefighters’ warning of a looming crisis in our emergency services, yes, nothing to worry the world of high politics.

Now predictably the reaction to Rawnsleys’ article on Sunday has fallen into two camps – those who are trenchantly against any co-operation, and those who, for all sorts of reasons, favour some kind of Lib-Lab alliance. I can find no coherent reason to join the latter camp, yet I also reject the former.

The situation as I understand it is this: Ed and Nick are no longer throwing dung at each other. Outside of Westminster, the Lib Dems still covet the ambition to replace Labour as the main contender to the Tories, and, in differing areas, act accordingly. Most true blue Tories still detest the orange bookers, and blame government failure on them, rather than on Osborne’s economic incompetence.


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How serious are the threats to David Cameron?

22/01/2013, 03:25:24 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last weekend, the Sunday Times ran a fairly extraordinary piece speculating that the pin-striped vultures of the Tory backbenches were eyeing up David Cameron’s carcass:

“For the first time, discussions about ousting Cameron before 2015 appear to be spreading beyond the so-called “usual suspects” – a hardcore of about 20 backbenchers who are hostile to his leadership.”

Europe and gay marriage are cited as concerns. There is also talk of a “rebel reserve” of “about 55” who would write to the backbench 1922 committee chairman, Graham Brady, demanding Cameron quits if the polls look so desperate that a change of leader becomes “urgent.”

Of course it’s not unusual for prime ministers to develop a cabal of detractors. On the way up, most senior politicians rub enough people up the wrong way to do that; but to learn that Cameron now has a nucleus of twenty hostiles against him, with dozens of “conditional enemies” is still significant.

Most obviously it seems Cameron simply isn’t conservative enough for many of his party’s faith and flag crowd. While Europe remains a celice truer Conservatives choose to punish themselves with, it is Cameron’s personal advocacy of gay marriage which is said to be the focal point for much of the current grumbling; percolating up from his party’s grassroots and through to his MPs. To them, he is a typical metro-liberal wet.

On the other hand though, Cameron is a son of privilege who doesn’t really gel with those earthier, cash-toting arriviste Tories either, the ones who had to buy their own furniture. Remember when Michael Howard said he was a grammar school boy who would take no lessons from public school-educated Tony Blair? It’s not a boast many on the Tory frontbench could make now. Nevertheless representing smart, hard-working people who have made their own money is an important part of the post-war Conservative identity.


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Whip’s notebook: We are witnessing the death throes of the Cameron modernisation project

22/01/2013, 07:00:26 AM

by Jon Ashworth

I was a junior bag carrier in the in the dog days of the last Labour government. I remember too well the attempted coups; the sacked ministers seeking vengeance and the general air of resignation. My heart sank every time another MP in a marginal seat announced their retirement. Many of these MPs had been in the political frontline for 20 years plus and were no doubt genuine in wanting to move on but it inevitably of course contributed to a general sense we were in decline.

But this was a party which by 2010 had been in power for 13 long difficult years. Our Tory opponents were on their fourth leader and sixth shadow chancellor while the Lib Dems were on their fourth Leader too. By 2007 the Tory Party was spending huge amount of energy mimicking Labour election winning tactics in an effort to box off their deep seated weaknesses. So in a nod to Gordon Brown’s commitment in 1997 to match Ken Clarke’s overall spending levels, Osborne and Cameron made a similar pledge declaring support for every penny piece of Labour spending – not something they like to be reminded of now of course.

Fast forward to 2013 we are just over two and half years into David Cameron’s government. The Sunday Times this weekend informed us that an increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls.

Meanwhile Labour MPs are enjoying the increasingly colourful outbursts from sacked ex-minister Tim Loughton who last week said of his former boss Michel Gove that,

“most officials have never met the secretary of state other than when he’ll troop out a few chosen people for the new year party, Mr Grace-like, tell us ‘you’ve all done very well’ then disappear. That’s no way to run an important department. It is terribly anachronistic, terribly bureaucratic, terribly formal.”


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Heard of Alexis Soyer? For anyone worried about foodbank Britain, he’s the type of celeb chef we actually need

21/01/2013, 07:00:57 AM

by Ian Stewart

So the annual blow-out is over, and those who invested heavily in the usual orgy of food and booze that dominates the end of December are now hoping to stick to their new year’s resolutions.

In the la-la land of TV commissioning, amongst assorted cop shows, property porn and reality dross, the food programme seemingly has no equal. After all, it is a catch-all subject isn’t it? We all have to eat, and thus food can be used in almost any situation, and the genre can be whisked, diced, stirred and folded to fit almost any situation. If you enjoy seething, duplicitous competition – and lets face it, I do – then Come Dine With Me fits the bill. If your tastes are more towards middle-England and Midsomer Murders, then the Great British Bake-Off will have you in its thrall.

Then we have the TV chefs and food writers – really quite a varied category, as some do actually seem to want you learn something practical (Delia, Nigel, Jamie), whilst others are simply selling an impossible dream (step forward Nigella and Heston). Not to mention various restaurant owners and chefs with cookware and an image to sell – Raymond, Aldo, Gordon, James and others to spare. Of course there is the big daddy of them all… Masterchef.  Re-jigged into a competition where hopeful amateurs may, if very lucky, parlay victory on telly into an actual restaurant, possibly even a chain with the right backing.

Weekly, when in season, John Torode and Greg Wallace torture innocent people wearing white jackets for our entertainment. Greg Wallace… the man fascinates me to a slightly unhealthy degree. Having started his media career on Radio Four’s exciting “Veg Talk”, the sometime onion seller now earns a living by repeating whatever John Torode says, but in a different order. “I like your food” becomes “your food – I like”, and the inanity-meter goes into overdrive – “that is a serious plate of food” or “your flavours are your strength,” (disturbing, if you think about it too much!).

In an age where food prices are almost constantly rising across the world and when many children will go to school with nothing in their bellies, a plate of food can indeed be serious. Yet you will find no reference to food as sustenance in most food programming – Jamie’s campaigns and the odd cooking on a budget series excepted. Nope, it is all about ‘food porn’ and the aspiration, apparently, to own a Dualit toaster, and cook on an Aga. To find out the reality of food in modern Britain, you would do much better to listen to the odd snippet on the news.

So, when kids fall asleep by mid-morning, when that charming euphemism of malnutrition, “food poverty”, is on the rise, the foodie celebs are next to useless. It hasn’t always been this way – there have been great chefs, great showmen, who actually affected ordinary lives for the better.

Step forward Alexis Benoist Soyer – cook to princes, dukes and assorted mid-Victorian useless mouths at the Reform club, the kitchens of which he also designed, introducing refrigeration, adjustable heat stoves, and cooking with gas.


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