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Christopher Booker's notebook
(Filed: 01/01/2006)

The real story of Galileo is way beyond the orbit of our media's understanding

Coverage of the launch in Kazakhstan of a satellite intended to pave the way for the EU's Galileo global positioning system again highlighted one of the media's strangest failures in 2005. Our newspapers and television simply recycled all the familiar claims about how this rival to America's GPS system will help "improve air traffic control", enable ambulances and fire engines to arrive more quickly, and give us all easier access via our mobile phones to vital information about restaurants and cinema programmes.

Yet, as any regular reader of this column will know, such propagandist trivia completely misses the point. The real story about Galileo is much more interesting, and I have only been able to cover it so fully thanks to the tireless researches of my co-author Dr Richard North, who published a learned Bruges Group paper on Galileo in 2004 and reports regularly on later developments on his blog,

As Dr North argued in a review of last week's coverage, one reason for the media's failure to report properly on Galileo has been the inability of our political opposition to grasp its immense political and military implications. Although the EU has not been exactly frank about it, evidence is freely available for those who know where to look, and this shows that the EU needs Galileo essentially for two reasons.

One is to provide it with a lavish source of new revenue. Unlike the GPS system, which is free to all users, the EU hopes through Galileo to impose charges on every aircraft using European air space, and eventually, via tolls and congestion charges, on almost every motorist using the EU's roads.

Galileo's other purpose is to provide the centrepiece for the EU's bid to create its own armed forces, independent of the US - and incidentally to boost its members' arms sales to countries such as China (which already has a fifth share in Galileo), by selling them weapons and vehicles which are Galileo-dependent.

All this raises questions which should put Galileo at the very centre of political debate. Yet the way in which it remains hidden from view means not only that the media are missing one of the most remarkable political stories of our time, but that the public are being very poorly served.

Sunderland's spectacular display of 'safe' energy

'It was like a great flaming Catherine wheel," said a Sunderland resident just before Christmas, when flames engulfed one of the six 180-foot wind turbines recently installed at a cost of £2.3 million to provide just 5 per cent of the energy needs of the Nissan car plant. After a blaze visible for miles, the fibreglass blades crashed down into a field.

It appears that the colossal confidence trick of "safe", "cheap", "environmentally friendly" wind power is finally being exposed. Plans to erect thousands more of these inefficient and expensive contraptions are arousing informed opposition throughout Britain.

Meanwhile, new figures show that Denmark, which derives 20 per cent of its power from wind - the highest percentage in Europe - not only has Europe's highest electricity bills but has also fallen short of its Kyoto and EU targets for savings on carbon emissions by a staggering 25 per cent.

The Advertising Standards Authority has just upheld a complaint against Renewable Energy Systems for exaggerating - by no less than 100 per cent - the emissions savings made by its turbines. Yet the formula used by the firm to arrive at these figures is the same used by the British Wind Energy Association and almost every other company seeking to build wind farms in Britain.

And just as the falsehoods behind the "Great Wind Scam" are being exposed, David Cameron proudly announces that he plans to erect a turbine on his roof, and recruits the charming but hopelessly naive Zac Goldsmith as a key adviser on energy. Goldsmith is as ardently a booster of wind as he is an opponent of nuclear power - without which, in a few years, we face a complete breakdown of our energy supplies.

It's already 30 miles to our 'local' policeman

Last week, when a mountain bike was stolen from an outhouse at my home in Somerset, I rang our Neighbourhood Watch. I was advised to report the theft to the police. Alas, since we lost our superb village policeman 12 years ago, the relevant "Crimestoppers" officer is now in Yeovil, 30 miles away. It turned out he was on holiday for the week.

December 23, it may be recalled, was the deadline for responses to the plan by Charles Clarke and Hazel Blears to rush through a merger of all the 43 police forces in England and Wales into 12 regional "super-forces". So unpopular has their botched plan become that not a single force met the absurdly short deadline.

If the Home Office gets its way, our local Avon and Somerset forces will be merged with four others to cover the entire "South-West Euro-region", stretching from Cornwall to the Cotswolds: an area so vast that the northern tip of Gloucestershire is nearer to Scotland than it is to Land's End.

Next time we are burgled we may find that our nearest "Crimestopper" is 80 miles away in Exeter - though our system of "neighbourhood policing" has already been so thoroughly destroyed, I doubt that "response times" could be longer than they are now.

The wrongs of Michael 'I was right' Heseltine

If it seemed odd that BBC2 should devote a whole hour to showing how Lord Heseltine likes to spend his retirement planting trees, at least this self-eulogy brought one flicker of light relief. As befitted the former minister who imposed the regulations implementing the EU's metrication directives (while denying that metrication had anything to do with "Europe"), Hezza was careful throughout the programme to give all his measurements in metric.

When filmed chatting with a tree expert, he got caught out speaking of "30 ya…" before hastily changing it to "30 metres".

Asked if he regretted resigning over Westland in 1986, he said, "No, because I was right." Since Westland was sold to an Italian firm, as he wanted, the outcome has been the removal of Britain's helicopter industry to Italy, with a loss of 700 jobs.

This was only one of a string of disasters resulting from his mishandling of our defence industry, from the £70 billion white elephant of the Eurofighter to the sale of Royal Ordnance (meaning we shall soon have to depend on our European "allies" for all the explosives used by our Armed Forces). If these decisions proved that the great tree-lover was "right", we can only wish he had more often been wrong.