Democracy Watch Archive


Dec 14

Leaders consider whether to seek a federal Europe
The Times

FROM MARTIN FLETCHER, EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT
EUROPE'S leaders will engage today in the opening round of a two-year battle to determine whether the European Union will become a "United States of Europe" or remain a looser alliance of independent nations. At a summit at the royal palace of Laeken outside Brussels, Tony Blair and his EU counterparts will wrestle over the guidelines and chairmanship of a special convention charged with drawing up recommendations on institutional reforms so the prime ministers and presidents can reach final decisions before 2004.
(See below)
Dec 14

Blair's Maastricht The Laeken agenda is 'more Europe, not less'
The Times


British governments have long ago mastered the art of rendering European Union summits palatable to British voters. The technique is to distort the picture by focusing attention in advance on arguments which either are not arguments at all or are ones where Britain is in the majority. Having presented these as insurmountably difficult, the outcome can then be depicted as a hard-won triumph. So it was at Nice a year ago. Yet that summit stored up unacknowledged trouble on an EU defence force and on the deeply troubling EU Charter of Fundamental Rights - which is likely, contrary to explicit assurances from Downing Street at the time, to become the legally binding basis of a European constitution - while neglecting vital decisions on EU reform. So it is with this weekend's summit at Laeken.
The laying of false trails has been made exceptionally easy by the Belgian presidency. The summit will set up a Convention to consider the future balance of powers in an enlarged EU. The draft "Laeken declaration" Belgium has circulated sets guidelines for this body with frankly federalist ambitions. Its suggestions include electing the President of the Commission and creating pan-EU political parties and "a European political area", complete with an EU constitution.
The line from the Government is that Laeken will be the site of a battle royal in which Britain, France and others will struggle to overcome Belgium and its ally Germany. Gerhard Schrvder has indeed demanded a federalist outcome that will transform the Commission into the strong executive arm of a government of Europe and transfer control of the EU budget from the Council of Ministers to the European Parliament.
Before the Convention even meets, Britain looks set already to have assented at Laeken to massively important additions to the powers that EU institutions exercise over British lives. The threat revealed on September 11, instead of strengthening transatlantic bonds, has been treated, in the German Chancellor's words, as justification for "not less but more Europe". From Laeken will flow a stream of new EU institutions governing maritime safety, food safety, air traffic, a future police college and the EU judicial co-operation agency, Eurojust. Belgium has suggested yet more, covering railway safety, migration and data security.
The Government cannot dismiss these as mere footnotes; they add to the power, which voters already believe to be excessive, of Brussels to intrude in matters best decided at national level. This further drive to integration is not what the British people have been led people to expect. Moreover the two most dangerous innovations, in defence and home affairs, are largely inspired by Britain.
The EU defence force is to be declared "operational" at Laeken regardless of its nugatory military capability. However much its supporters may deny it, this is a challenge to the pre-eminence of Nato. If Mr Blair cannot or will not reverse decisions on the EU force structure taken at Nice, he should withdraw from Britain's massive commitments to this venture before serious damage, political and strategic, is done.
He should perform an even sharper policy change on the European arrest warrant. This is an assault on the freedoms guaranteed by English common law that would, without the requirement of anything more than proof of identity, automatically turn a citizen of this country over to face trial in any EU country that issued an arrest warrant.
This warrant is not about terrorism, as David Blunkett has claimed. It long predates September 11; it is not to come into force until 2004; and it covers a range of offences, including "fiscal crimes" and xenophobia - as these are interpreted by the state issuing the warrant.
This is a Trojan horse for the EU's Corpus juris, a criminal code transcending domestic law, overseen by a European public prosecutor in a single EU "judicial space". Its scope and impact, according to the EU Home Affairs Commissioner Antsnio Vitorino, will be as powerful as that of the single market - crossing the EU's "final frontier" to political union. Britain's embrace of it will be even more fateful for this country's traditional freedoms than the Maastricht treaty; there, John Major at least secured the opt-out from the euro.
Dec 14

MPs to pay price of Filkin fiasco

BY TOM BALDWIN, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR MPS face losing their historic right to police their own affairs in the wake of allegations that efforts to root out political sleaze have been sabotaged by the Westminster establishment. The Committee on Standards in Public Life yesterday announced that it would begin an inquiry into how MPs are regulated which will include examining whether a criminal code and court action should be used to enforce parliamentary rules. ................Sir Nigel (Wicks) said that he hoped to visit parliaments in other Commonwealth countries where standards are imposed by "legal statute and can be tested in the courts". Proposals to adopt such a system would be regarded by many MPs as a threat to Parliament's independence. Other measures his inquiry will consider include whether the appointment of the commissioner should be taken out of the hands of Parliament.

Running riot
Telegraph
The Peter Simple column

A REPORT on this summer's riots in the North has set off another uproar among politicians and opinion formers and even, I dare say, among the common people immediately involved. Now the loudest official cry is for "integration". Only through integration, we are told, can the "problem" of "race" be solved. But suppose the majority of people, though friendly to strangers, do not want to be integrated by official decree? The so-called problem of race is really part of the problem of being human. "Racism", a term which has been conveniently imbued with Nazi evil, is no more than a natural, universal and probably ineradicable instinct for preferring the accustomed to the unfamiliar. Can any amount of pseudo-moralistic, guilt-inducing bullying abolish that most harmless instinct? Can even the mighty apparatus of the race-relations industry "solve" that bogus "problem"? Can laws and brainwashing make everyone an indistinguishable subject of that planned New World Order in which all races, all nations, tribes, neighbours and families will have been abolished? What misery, death and destruction will accompany the effort to realise that unattainable end? Out of the present uproar, if we keep our heads, one good thing may come. The all-party censorship that for 50 years has prevented any open and honest discussion of the consequences of mass immigration may loosen its grip at last.
Dec 14

Reforms must end fear of MPs wishing to speak out
Telegraph

By Rachel Sylvester
'THE greatest test of courage I can conceive," wrote William Hazlitt, "is to speak the truth in the House of Commons."..........
Too many politicians seem even more reluctant to say what they think than they were in Hazlitt's day. MPs coin cliches and pronounce party platitudes with more concern for their own careers than their constituents. They ask questions designed to create a platform for ministers to show off rather than to get an answer - yesterday one Labour MP simply urged Tony Blair to take the credit for the success of the Harry Potter film. Some are rather lazy. "I do absolutely nothing," one backbencher boasted, glass of wine in hand, at one of the many Westminster Christmas parties this week. "There have always been lots of MPs like that, that's the great thing about belonging to an ancient institution." Others are just not very good. The Commons debates on the anti-terrorism legislation have been noticeably far less intellectually rigorous than the Lords discussions. Ministers in the Upper Chamber admit that they are often terrified to stand up to face detailed questions from six former Home Secretaries and 16 retired law lords. Peers may be unelected and undemocratic but at least they say what they think, partly because they have nothing to lose by doing so. MPs are much more nervous. There are many bright young things in the Commons, but they are reluctant to put their heads above the parapet in case they, and their chances of promotion, are shot down. It is left to the "mavericks" like Paul Marsden to raise questions when it should be possible for clever loyalists to seek to improve legislation too.
Despite its enormous majority, the Labour Party is still absurdly paranoid about "dissent", which is, after all, just another name for "debate". Even debate is rather suspect in the Government's mind, as Gordon Brown's handling of the National Health Service issue showed. The Conservatives accuse Labour of "control freakery" but they are no better: several shadow cabinet ministers were amazed, and furious, to be told that they could not have a free vote on the recent backbench Bill which proposed legalising homosexual marriages.
It is no wonder that so many people have stopped voting. These electors are not apathetic, they are fed up with politicians. A poll by the Hansard Society found this week that although many young people are politically active a quarter of even this group stayed at home on June 7.
Those who do vote are delighted to be offered a non-mainstream alternative. In London, they chose Ken Livingstone as mayor, in Wyre Forest, they elected a local doctor, Richard Taylor. It is the "anti-politicians" such as Mo Mowlam or Kenneth Clarke who gain more popular support than the clones. ...................
Dec 13

France Cautions U.S. Over Sept. 11 Defendant
Washington Post

PARIS, Dec. 12 -- France said today it would object if the death penalty is sought for Zacarias Moussaoui, the French national of Moroccan descent held in the United States on conspiracy charges involving the Sept. 11 attacks. The stance could complicate future U.S. efforts to put terrorism suspects arrested in Europe on trial in the United States. ..................... Moussaoui was indicted by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on Tuesday on charges that he was part of a conspiracy by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden's network to crash jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. France has limited legal influence in the case because Moussaoui, 33, was arrested in Minnesota. But how he is treated in the new anti-terrorism environment could determine whether France and other European countries now holding suspects cooperate in extraditing them to the United States.
France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium and Spain are holding people allegedly linked to the al Qaeda network of bin Laden or suspected of involvement in other terrorist plots against European targets or American targets in Europe.
The 15 European Union countries have all abolished the death penalty and generally view the use of it in the United States as "barbaric." Similarly, the White House decree on using closed-door military tribunals for foreign terrorism suspects is widely seen in Europe as draconian. Those transatlantic differences highlight a long-existing values gap that could complicate U.S. efforts to form a united global law enforcement front in efforts against terrorism.
Dec 13

Fridge disposal fears as ministers dither
The Scotsman

Jim Gilchrist (jgilchrist@scotsman.com)
CONCERN is growing among local authorities, retailers and environmentalists that the government is ill-prepared for stringent new European legislation covering the disposal of old fridges and freezers .
....... £6 million was hastily set aside last week by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help English councils to store redundant fridges until the end of March,...... From 1 January, European Union regulations require all ozone-depleting substances to be recovered from refrigeration appliances before they are scrapped. Until now, only the CFC gases within the coolant had to be removed for recycling or safe destruction. ...... .......... earlier this month, retailers were incensed when a DEFRA spokeswoman suggested to BBC Online: "It might be best if you don't buy your new fridge just yet and wait until this problem has been sorted out". At the root of the problem is the fact that there is still no plant in Britain which can safely process the insulation CFCs, as required from the beginning of January. Meanwhile, some suppliers are stopping the "take-back" schemes they formerly operated when selling new appliances. .............. Asked whether the executive would advise people not to buy fridges in the meantime, the spokesman replied: "Consumers should carry on with their plans to replace fridges and freezers ... The only matter they need to be aware of is that they might have to arrange a special uplift with their local authority. "Consumers should ask whether the retailer will uplift their old fridge when placing their order."
Dec 13

Curb on residents' right to oppose plans
The Times

BY EDWARD WELSH, LOCAL GOVERNMENT CORRESPONDENT
THE Government is expected today to propose limiting the ability of residents to object to housebuilding and industrial developments in their neighbourhoods. Stephen Byers, Secretary for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, is likely to recommend that officers rather than elected councillors should decide the fate of most planning applications. Householders would then be unable to express their objections to developments at planning committees, or even lobby councillors to make their opinions known.
The proposal forms part of a package of measures to streamline the planning process in the biggest reform of the system for 50 years.
A consultation paper is also expected to reduce the powers of county councils to defy pressure from the Government and developers to build houses in the countryside. The Government is also likely to suggest next week that Parliament, not public inquiries, make decisions about major infrastructure projects such as ports, airports and motorways. .....
Dec 12

New laws will turn EU into a superpower, says Prodi By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
ROMANO PRODI, the president of the European Commission, wants Brussels to take far-reaching new powers over government spending, foreign policy, defence and police to try to transform the European Union into a global superpower.
Romano Prodi: called for sweeping changes in defence and internal security In a speech in Bruges yesterday, Mr Prodi said the commission was planning to tighten its grip over the tax and spending policy of Britain and other member states. Controls imposed by the union's growth and stability pact did not go far enough to safeguard the euro for the long term, he said.
Mr Prodi proposed "a model budget policy" as the next stage towards economic union. He did not give details, but said the policy would be backed by a binding code of conduct to ensure each country stuck to budget rules "fully consistent with the economic policy of the euro area".
Mr Prodi described the new instrument as a "mechanism for managing the economy", a clear indication that the plans go far beyond anything existing in union law.
He said it would serve as fiscal a counterpart to the European Central Bank, which has sole control over monetary policy in the euro zone. Commission officials said yesterday the mechanism would apply to all union states, whether or not they were members of the euro. Critics said the proposal was an attempt to strip governments of control over their budgets. Theresa Villiers, MEP, the Conservative economics spokesman, said: "This is the next step towards the creation of an economic government. As we always suspected, it shows that the euro is just a stepping stone towards a harmonised tax and spending policy."
Mr Prodi called for sweeping changes in defence and internal security, saying the terrorist attacks on September 11 had changed the political landscape and made it imperative to accelerate the pace of European integration. In a move certain to meet stiff resistance from London and Paris, he called for "the entire foreign and security policy of the union" to be brought under EU control, saying that "piecemeal" diplomacy was preventing the union from playing its full role in the world.......
Dec 10

Labour defector hits out at control freakery
The Scotsman

Alison Hardie Political Correspondent
PAUL Marsden, the rebel Labour MP, yesterday defected to the Liberal Democrats in a move he claimed would strike a blow against Tony Blair's "obsession with control freakery". The left-winger quit his Labour membership after 18 years amid claims the party's whips had "physically assaulted" him to stop his criticism of the government's handling of the war against terrorism. Mr Marsden, who was first elected an MP during Labour's 1997 general election landslide victory, claimed "Labour thugs" had subjected him to "physical and verbal assaults" in a Commons bar.
He described his decision to abandon Labour yesterday as "a tough decision". However, Mr Marsden added: "Like more and more people in the country I have lost confidence in the Labour government. "I've had enough of their obsession with control freakery and spin instead of policies which will really improve people's lives."
Mr Marsden had been due yesterday to attend a meeting with Hilary Armstrong, Labour's chief whip, to discuss allegations he had made against several MPs in which he accused them of attempting to "bully him into silence".
But instead of meeting her, Mr Marsden released a statement which said: "I want to belong to a party which encourages debate and practises genuine internal democracy. Tony Blair is behaving in an increasingly arrogant and presidential manner. His party believes in threats and intimidation to crush internal dissent."
Dec 11

Huge numbers of 'recreational sky users', from pilots of light aircraft and hang-gliders to hot air balloonists and even sky divers, will be very angry
Booker's Notebook: Sunday Telegraph

when they learn that, in seven years time, they will each have to carry what is known as a 'Mode S transponder', complete with its own power supply. At present these 'squawk boxes', which cost £6000, need only be used by commercial aircraft flying under instruments, to keep in touch by radar with air traffic control. But in 2008 their use will become mandatory for all 'aerial vehicles', including sky divers.

What has this in common with the biggest reform of our local government in history, under which Britain is to have 12 regional governments, county councils will be abolished and most cities will follow London in having a directly-elected mayor? The answer is that the initiative for both these schemes is coming from shadowy, undemocratic Europe-wide bodies which are not part of the European Union, although the EU is only too happy to endorse their efforts. .......
Similarly the real motor for the reform which is dividing Britain between 12 regional governments, it turns out, is not the EU but something called the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE), part of the Council of Europe covering 41 countries. In 1994 this body commissioned a European Charter of Regional Self-Government, published in 1997. Even though this document, requiring all member states to set up regional governments, has still to be ratified, our present Government has already been working to its blueprint, by dividing the UK into 12 self-governing regions. Four, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London, already have their own elected governments, with the eight English regions to follow.
***********
At a family funeral the other day I had three conversations with people unaware of my professional concerns. The first was the former head-teacher of a local primary school, who said he had recently taken early retirement. "For the first 30 years" he said, "I loved teaching. But in recent years the job has become nothing but red tape and diktats from central government. It just became impossible to teach. Getting out was the best thing I ever did".

My next exchange was with a Gloucestershire couple who said their 23-year old daughter was coming to the end of her nursing training at their county hospital. "Sadly she is not going to continue", they said. "So much of her job is taken up with red tape and paperwork she feels it no longer seems to have any connection with the reasons why she wanted to be a nurse".

My third conversation was about a 20-year old cousin who, when I last met him, was looking forward to a career in the police. "Oh no" I was told, "his sister's fiancee is a chief inspector and warned him 'whatever you do, don't become a policeman. These days it's nothing but bureaucracy and red tape. The last thing you can do is police work'".

Politicians argue about how many more billions they want to spend on education, the health service and crime. But isn't it odd how they never seem to address what, to the rest of us has so obviously become the chief reason why all three state industries are in such a tragic, wasteful mess? If the Tories really want to make an impact on these issues, the very first thing on which they should focus attention is why so many people with vocations to teach, nurse or uphold law and order no longer want to.

.........
Dec 11

Blunkett's bill will end up with his besieged police force
Guardian

There is a worrying inconsistency in the home secretary's policies

Peter Preston
....... Last week was about shaking up the police (yet again). "Detection and conviction rates are appallingly low," says our home secretary. Here, then, comes the bog standard New Labour brace-up kit: league tables, targets, central pressure. There'll also be (the familiar stick) a purge on sickness days, early retirement, general inefficiencies - plus the equally familiar carrot of increased recruitment numbers and "volunteer" sort-of-cops to walk our streets. Mr Blunkett is very keen on the outward and visible show of foot leather pounding pavements. It's what he thinks the public wants.
......... This week Blunkett will try once more to get the Lords to keel over on anti-terrorism - on internment without judicial review, incitement to religious hatred, on the headline debates we all understand. He's hanging tough, too, on a debate we've barely come to terms with.
Police and MI5 access to bank statements, health records, private files in private places? That is only the beginning. The Home Office wants to sit astride the digital revolution. It wants internet service providers to keep (not junk) the records of every log on, every site visited, every email sent or received - and to produce them on demand. In parallel with that will go records of every mobile phone call you make, identifying (in the third generation) where you were and when to within a radius of 10 yards. And all this isn't limited to combating terrorism itself. No, it affects anything "that might be relevant to a criminal inquiry". The Lords compromise - a form of words about inquiries "directly or indirectly relevant to national security" - doesn't suffice.
Let's pause over that. If the police reckon your medical file or the details of the web sites you visit and the phone calls you make might be useful, then they get them. If they want to track when you came home or went out, then burglar alarm records will tell them. Credit cards chronicle every shopping trip. They can even find out when you turned on your washing machine - thanks to the handy computer inside. We are never alone. We are always under surveillance.
The inevitable price of fighting terrorism? Not quite. Hi-tech terrorists have their sophisticated "stealth techniques" that none of these powers can counter. Low-tech terrorists can merely log on once in an internet cafe or pinch a mobile phone then chuck it away. Such trawls, for the most part, will be routine business. And here comes the link between last week and this. I listened the other day to an intelligent and transparently honest senior cop in one of Britain's bigger police forces talking about cyber crime. Such crime grows almost exponentially year by year. The FBI reckons it presently nets between $600m and $1.5 trillion (including terrorist money laundering). The big banks are scratching their heads over a fourfold increase. How are Blunkett's boys in blue equipped for the fight? Hum, said my honest informant. We're almost ground zero. He was only allowed to send emails himself 18 months ago. He only got on the net in the office six months back. ...... Orwell? More Orwell meets the Keystone cops. Why are those who advise the home secretary so keen to throw anything that "might" be relevant to a criminal inquiry into this stew? Well, they would be, wouldn't they? Never opt for a limited power when a generalised one is so much comfier. .......
The little matter of who will enforce it, and how, remains utterly mystic. (Yes, there is a small central hi-tech coordinating unit established this year - but it's still recruiting.) Yet off we go, trying to blast the Lords into submission. No wonder the government's own information commissioner, Elizabeth France, is alarmed. No wonder she thinks this bit of the bill indefensibly broad, lacking all "proportionality", an affront to the European convention on human rights, a mockery of "data protection". But how many wake-up calls do we need? We used to talk about freedom of information, until Mr Blair deferred it till 2005. For the moment, we ought to be talking something far simpler: just freedom.
Dec 10

ALLAN BROWN'S DIARY Counted out
Scotland on Sunday

AFTER Henry ( Macleish), several other MPs are having difficulty explaining their financial arrangements to the Westminster fees office. But, fear not, Iain MacWhirter of the Herald rode into the breach on Wednesday with a broad-shouldered column on the matter. "It's not for me to name names," he wrote "but I have it on very good authority that there are current and former MPs who received their full office expenses and never had an office at all." Crumbs, lords-a-lawkey and all that. I don't know much about these matters, obviously, but what use is a journalist who demurs from naming names? Isn't that the actual point of us loathsome specimens? I'd better go and check. In the meantime, I shall be withholding the location of Lord Lucan, the secret of Atlantis and the solution to the Theory of Unified Fields, just to be on the safe side. ...
Dec 9

Commons watchdog to name guilty men
Sunday Times

DAVID LEPPARD
AN MPs' watchdog is preparing to expose government ministers, senior politicians and aides who she alleges intimidated witnesses, withheld evidence and even told lies in an attempt to subvert her inquiries. Elizabeth Filkin, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, is ready to present a dossier of evidence that will detail how her inquiries into at least three ministers were undermined. Last week she announced her intention not to serve a second term, claiming her role in scrutinising MPs had been devalued.
She is said to be most concerned about the tactics used during her inquiry into John Reid, the Northern Ireland secretary, where one whistleblowing witness claimed the cabinet minister threatened his prospects of advancement in the party.
Peter Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland secretary, and Keith Vaz, the former Foreign Office minister, are also understood to be key targets of her criticism. Filkin is ready to present her evidence to the committee on standards in public life, chaired by Sir Nigel Wicks. Sarah Tyerman, the committee's secretary, said Filkin would be called if, as expected, the committee decided to go ahead with its inquiry this week.
Tyerman said that "in order to draw general lessons" about how witnesses could in future be protected, the committee would examine cases where witnesses had been the subject of pressure and interference by anyone involved in suborning the parliamentary process. According to Filkin's supporters, Reid tried to interfere in her inquiry into allegations that he used Commons' allowances to pay his son. Reid, then Scottish secretary, contacted one witness, Alex Rowley, then general secretary of the Scottish Labour party. In one conversation, Reid is said to have told Rowley, who was hoping to be selected as a Labour MP, that he would have to be endorsed by Labour's national executive committee if he wanted to achieve his ambition........
Dec 9

Lords for liberty
Telegraph

(Filed: 08/12/2001) IN spite of all Tony Blair's efforts to emasculate it, the House of Lords is doing its job. On Thursday night, peers of all parties defeated the Government on no fewer than seven measures in its Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill.
At lunchtime yesterday, the Home Secretary described those votes as acts of "silliness" and "deliberate sabotage". A few hours later, however, he had begun to take account of what the Upper House was telling him.
David Blunkett was quite wrong to claim that an attempt had been made to sabotage the Bill, simply for the sake of embarrassing the Labour Party. On the contrary, the Opposition was - and remains - as anxious as the Government to strengthen the law against terrorism, and to do so as quickly as possible. It has deliberately chosen not to quibble with some clauses in the Bill that in normal circumstances would have been given far more critical scrutiny. Instead, it is concentrating on opposing only those parts of the Bill that have nothing whatever to do with terrorism.
These are the clauses that the Government was seeking to sneak through Parliament under cover of the present emergency, with the aim of increasing the powers of the state at the expense of Parliament and the freedom of the individual. If the Bill had confined itself to attacking terrorism, then nobody would have objected to it. But instead the Government sought, with only a few minutes set aside for debate, to introduce a whole range of illiberal measures that had no connection with the events of September 11. Worst of all, it sought to introduce a Europe-wide criminal justice system by secondary legislation, which would have allowed people to be arrested in Britain for things done abroad that are perfectly legal here. The Bill would also have allowed foreign authorities to lay down penalties for crimes committed on British soil. ......
Dec 8

Labour rebel vents his rage against Blair
The Times

BY PHILIP WEBSTER
Mr Marsden said: "I am incensed that Hilary Armstrong and her lackeys have now said that they are not investigating my allegations of being physically and verbally abused. They are investigating me for sending out a press release. "I find it utterly contemptible and deeply worrying. If I was in a workplace situation making allegations of bullying and I was blamed for it, as the victim, most people would say the employers were utterly appalling. That is precisely what's going on here. "This dangerous new Labour clique feel they can stamp out all dissent and can drive out anybody who dares to have a different opinion from the God-like Prime Minister. It just shows what a lousy leader he has become."
Dec 8

Blunkett modifies terror Bill for Lords
The Times

BY PHILIP WEBSTER,
DAVID BLUNKETT granted concessions on his antiterrorism Bill last night after invoking the threat of a terrorist attack on Britain in his battle with the Lords. The Home Secretary put forward compromises on controversial proposals that would allow European home affairs laws to be forced through Parliament without proper debate, and over the new offence of incitement to religious hatred. Mr Blunkett announced the amendments last night in an attempt to head off further defeats in the Lords on Monday, although he has little hope of avoiding a confrontation with peers over the rest of the Bill later next week. The Home Secretary, indignant at the Lords defeats, accused the Conservatives of deliberately wrecking the legislation and said that it was time for the House of Lords to stop its resistance to the Bill. Downing Street and Mr Blunkett suggested that the peers were being naive. ............. Under the Bill, the Attorney-General has to authorise prosecutions for religious incitement. Mr Blunkett is now promising that the Attorney-General would have to issue written guidance about the circumstances in which he would allow prosecution. Officials said that the aim of the amendment was to prevent expressions of belief falling within the scope of the Bill, as Sir Brian has argued. The amendment would also avoid the prosecution of people quoting from religious texts. All the defeats that have so far been inflicted by peers will be considered by the Commons on Wednesday. They will be reversed and sent back to the Lords. The Commons will then be kept sitting for as long as it takes in order that Royal Assent is granted at the end of next week. European anti-terrorist laws will then come before the Commons the following Wednesday, the day the House rises for Christmas.
Dec 8

Beware the new form of McCarthyism in the West
Independent leading article

The key to the success of the next phase of the campaign against terrorism is the now-forgotten concept of "patient justice" expounded by President George Bush in his address to the joint houses of Congress on 20 September. Unless the members of the coalition against terrorism adhere to this principle, the terrorists will have gained.
Although the uncertainty over the whereabouts of Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden has rendered the question temporarily theoretical, the issue of how they and their associates will be tried ought to be decided quickly. It is important that it should not be seen as a purely US affair, but one endorsed by the international community.
What matters most, however, is that the mode of trial is both fair and seen to be fair by the widest possible range of opinion across the world - and the cavalier way in which the Bush administration has treated the principles of civil liberty on which the US was founded sets a depressing precedent.
The plan to bring in military courts to try and sentence alleged terrorists in secret would be intolerable even to American public opinion at its most McCarthyite, except that it applies only to those who are not US nationals. Such judicial xenophobia ought to be abhorrent to any civilised nation. This is no "naive" concern for civil liberties, as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, dismissed similar criticisms of his own - less offensive but still unacceptable - anti-terrorism measures.
There are two practical objections to the panic measures proposed by the US and British governments. One is that they will not work. Reducing the burden of proof will not convict more terrorists; it will only produce more miscarriages of justice.
The other is that it will give insecure democracies scope to define the right to a fair trial, just as the rhetoric of the "war against terrorism" has given licence to authoritarian rulers the world over to define their own dissidents as terrorists. Thus Robert Mugabe, Vladimir Putin and, above all, Ariel Sharon have excuses for their own repression.
A new form of oppressive McCarthyism is sweeping not just America but the whole world. It is not "naove" to point out the real and present danger from this phenomenon.
Dec 7

Shirley Williams today on the Terrorism Bill
Today Programme

is well worth listening to as she calmly and sanely reminds the interviewer that to use an expression like "the unelected house" is a nonsense when one considers how the Whips behave in the Commons. If there were a free vote, if elected MPs were actually permitted to vote according to their consciences, such a distinction would be more valid. Hear her on Radio 4's Today Programme.
Dec 7

Peers vote to restrict anti-terror legislation
Independent

Anti-terror Bill By Ben Russell, Political Correspondent
David Blunkett was heading for a full-scale constitutional clash with the Lords as peers inflicted seven heavy defeats on his emergency anti-terror legislation.
Clauses in the Home Secretary's Bill tumbled as Conservatives and Liberal Democrats united to pass five amendments restricting new police powers allowing access to bank, tax, communications and other records. The Government was then beaten in a further two votes over plans to detain terror suspects without trial. Further defeats are expected when peers continue their debate on the Bill next week. ..... Robin Cook, the Leader of the Commons, said MPs would sit round the clock during a rare "suspended sitting" on Thursday until the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill received Royal Assent. The series of defeats began when an Opposition attempt to limit new powers to force disclosure of personal financial and tax information was backed by 227 votes to 145, a majority of 82. A second and third related amendment were also passed. Peers inflicted a fourth defeat to restrict new rules on retention of communications data, passing an amendment by 228 votes to 133. An attempt to curb the Home Secretary's power to amend the code of practice on communications data was carried by 209 votes to 134. An amendment allowing the judicial review of any decision to detain suspected terrorists entering the country without trial was passed by 191 votes to 117. The move had been strongly opposed by ministers.
Finally, peers voted by 181 votes to 110, to defeat the Government's plans to opt out from the Convention on Human Rights over the detention of terrorist suspects.
Mr Blunkett gave little sign of making concessions despite the defeats. He said: "This Bill is a proportionate and necessary response to the tragic events of 11 September, including the scope of the powers we propose. Terrorists are not just involved in terrorism; they are also involved in many other types of crime to fund and facilitate their activities. By tackling these crimes, we can tackle terrorism."
The scene is set for a parliamentary battle over the fate of the Bill. Mr Cook said ministers were determined to get it on to the statute books by next week, when MPs will be asked to approve a statutory instrument implementing new European anti-terror measures.
....... Opposition peers expect to put further limits on the legislation next week with amendments that will introduce a series of "sunset clauses" to force the Government to renew powers in the Bill and stop ministers introducing European anti-terrorism measures without debate. Controversial clauses outlawing incitement to religious hatred are also under threat.
During yesterday's debate Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, urged ministers to "rethink the excessive powers that it is taking, in effect, to eavesdrop on everyone's e-mails, even where there is no suspicion of terrorism". The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace of Saltaire said: "This is not only an anti-terrorism Bill, but a convenient vehicle for a number of other things."

Dec 8

Marsden faces questions from local Labour party
Telegraph

By Andy McSmith, Chief Political Correspondent
PAUL MARSDEN, the rebel Labour MP who accused government whips of behaving like "thugs", has been summoned to meet officers of his local Labour Party. Government business managers are hoping that Mr Marsden will defect soon to the Liberal Democrats to spare them from expelling him from the party, because they say they do not want him to pose as a "martyr". They are hoping that his constituency party in Shrewsbury will tell him that he has no prospect of being selected as their candidate again.
Dec 7 SEE ALSO

Frank Johnson's Commons Sketch

: ERIC FORTH, shadow leader of the Commons, raised the disturbing case of little Paul Marsden, 33, the Labour MP viciously bullied by a gang led by two Government Whips. Paul was going home from work at 3am via the Strangers' Bar in the Commons. He insists he was minding his own business and was no threat to anyone. Suddenly, the gang set upon him. ......


Dec 7 AND ALSO

Letter in the Telegraph

SIR - I disagree entirely with Paul Marsden's views on Afghanistan (report, Dec 6) - but I wish there were more MPs like him - in all parties. From: Tim Wells, Swindon, Wilts

Dishonourable
Telegraph

Date: 7 December 2001
SIR - No wonder most politicians are treated with such contempt and the value of both Houses of Parliament is so debased in the popular mind when they treat their Parliamentary Commissioner so disgracefully.
Unless voters can see that MPs and peers are prepared to be scrutinised by an independent individual, how can they expect us to consider the title "honourable" to be other than a colossal misnomer, and the occupation of a Member of Parliament to be other than a career of last resort?
From: Rabbi Charles Middleburgh, Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, Stratford upon Avon
Dec 7

Nantygwyddon is Labour's biggest scandal in the Rhondda, says MEP
News Wales

Following the release of the official report of the investigation into the Nantygwyddon Landfill site, Jill Evans MEP has called it Labour's biggest scandal ever in the Rhondda.
Jill Evans, who lives just below Nantygwyddon tip and has been a prominent campaigner against the landfill site, said: "This report catalogues Labour's deceit, mismanagement and disregard for the people when in power and is Labour's biggest scandal in Rhondda history. Their actions have endangered the health of local people and the environment. Despite years of protest against the tip, Labour alleged that there was nothing wrong and would not take the complaints seriously. After all this time we have confirmation that we were right about the serious problems at this site.
"There are major questions left unanswered, such as how a tip received European funding as a project which would boost tourism and industrial development, where the documents relating to the grants have gone and where the money was actually spent. These are issues I raised with the European Commission two months ago and which they are investigating at the moment. Not surprisingly, the people who know the answers refused to appear at the investigation. .....there is a million tons of dangerous waste sitting on the top of that mountain which cannot be left to continue polluting our communities. This is a huge problem and one which must be addressed urgently.
posted Dec 7

Anti-terror defeats for government
BBC

The government has suffered a series of defeats in the House of Lords over its proposed anti-terrorism legislation. In the latest pair of defeats, peers voted for amendments changing key aspects of the government's controversial proposal to detain terrorist suspects without trial. Again the Lords has found a commonsense way forward - balancing the need for anti-terrorist powers with respect for civil liberties
Tory Lords leader In five earlier votes on Thursday peers backed moves to restrict police powers, involving the disclosure of personal financial information, to the pursuit of terrorists and defence of national security rather than criminal activity as wanted by the government. The defeats mean a parliamentary clash looms next week when the bill goes to the Commons - where the government intends to try and overturn the defeats - and then returns to the Lords. Ministers hoped to see the proposals, which are the UK's legislative response to the 11 September attacks, on the statute book by Christmas but that target is now at risk. A spokesman for Home Secretary David Blunkett said after the defeats: "We feel that the unelected Tory peers are disembowelling vital parts of the bill and completely undermining our fight against terrorism." He said the distinction peers tried to make between terrorism and crime was "false".
But Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes told BBC News Online "The House of Lords votes are clear and persuasive majorities from many quarters of the House which the government will ignore at its peril. "We said we could deliver majorities to defeat the government on several key areas of this bill, we also said that we could take on and reduce the risk of terrorism without losing key civil liberties if the government accepted a bill reduced of its unacceptable elements." He warned the government would "have its backs against the wall" if it only introduced "fig leaf concessions" next week. The idea that those who are 'just criminals' are not connected to terrorism is a misnomer
Tory and Liberal Democrat peers joined forces to argue that measures to force authorities such as Customs and Excise or the Inland Revenue to reveal personal information to police were cast far too widely - and could be used by the police in minor criminal cases. Home Office Minister Lord Rooker, who is steering the bill through the Lords, warned them their proposed changes "taken together, as a group if passed will wreck the bill". He said it was not always obvious when a piece of information related to terrorist activity, and pointed out that terrorists were often involved in criminal activities such as drug, cigarette and people smuggling.
The law as drafted by the government would help the authorities detect that kind of activity, he said. "The idea that those who are 'just criminals' are not connected to terrorism is a misnomer. Therefore we need facilities to look at all the pieces of the jigsaw." But Conservative peers' leader Lord Strathclyde insisted: "Contrary to the impression given by the government, these amendments do not affect any of the central purposes of the bill. "They leave the government with exceptional new powers to fight terrorism, which everyone wants."
However, they would deny the state the right, which many feared, to commandeer private and personal information on the merest suspicion of a criminal offence unrelated to terrorism, he said. Lib Dem Lord Phillips of Sudbury said their proposed raft of changes to the bill "goes to the core of our objections" to it. He warned of widespread fears that the extension of existing powers over disclosure of information to police and other security agencies by public bodies "is not confined to protection of national security". Both main opposition parties say they do not want the bill as a whole to fail but they do want changes to key parts.
Dec 6

Peers unite in bid to force changes to anti-terror bill
Guardian

Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers yesterday announced joint plans to gut the government's emergency anti-terrorism bill by inflicting six large scale defeats on the government, starting today. The strategy has been agreed between the two frontbenches over the past week - but plans for an unprecedented joint press conference were blocked by Tory officials. The stage now looks set for a confrontation between peers and MPs that could shape constitutional relations between the two houses for the rest of the parliament. If the government does suffer a string of defeats today, and again early next week, the home secretary, David Blunkett, plans to ask MPs to reject the amendments with the aim that the bill should complete all its stages by next Thursday. The opposition parties, using a rare parliamentary ploy, kept the Commons sitting until just before 2am yesterday to block the government's timetable. Opposition peers plan to defeat the government today on two central planks of the bill. The first set of joint amendments will limit the part of the bill relating to disclosure of personal financial and tax information, applying it only to people genuinely suspected of terrorism. The bill currently allows for as many as 60 public authorities to disclose information to police that might be relevant to an unlimited range of criminal investigations in Britain or abroad. The information, disclosable at the earliest stage of an investigation, includes the timing and destination of emails and phone calls, but not the content. The Liberal Democrat Lord Phillips has claimed that the bill extended these disclosure rights even to private prosecutions. The director of the civil rights pressure group Liberty, John Wadham, said yesterday that the sweeping new disclosure powers should at least be shelved until the government published a long-delayed Cabinet Office review of government data sharing and privacy. The bill, he said, completely pre-empted the review. The parliamentary joint human rights committee yesterday joined the criticism, saying: "There remains a significant risk that disclosures will violate the right to respect for private life under article eight of the European convention, because of the range of offences covered, and the lack of statutory criteria to guide decisions." The information commissioner, Elizabeth France, has also said that the bill's powers requiring retention of data may breach the Human Rights Act. Peers are also expected to vote today to restore a right to judicial review over the new Home Office powers to detain or deport anyone suspected of assisting terrorist groups.
The joint human rights committee warned that the bill allowed for someone to be detained indefinitely, even if there was new evidence that reasonable grounds for detention no longer existed.
The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Lord McNally, insisted that peers were within their democratic rights to block those parts of the bill that had nothing to do with terrorism, or infringed basic freedoms. "This House [of Lords], with its powers of scrutiny and delay, was created by parliament two years ago with certain powers," he said. "Even David Blunkett signed up to those powers." On Monday next week, the Tories and Liberal Democrats also plan to throw out clauses introducing an offence of incitement to religious hatred. They will also impose strict new "sunset clauses" requiring the detention powers to be renewed through full fresh legislation within a year. Mr Blunkett has offered to resubmit the bill once every five years.
On Tuesday, peers will demand that any anti-terror legislation coming from the EU and submitted after next March cannot be passed by means of secondary legislation, but must be subject to full debate.
Dec 6

Questioning need for anti-terror law
The Times letters

FROM MR PETER WILLDRIDGE
Sir, The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Bill proposes fundamental losses to our freedoms in this country, such as habeas corpus (letters, December 3, etc), and is justified by the threat from international terrorists who could launch chemical biological, radiological or nuclear attacks on our civil population. However, strangely enough, at the same time ministers are reassuring the public that there is no credible threat. The Prime Minister at Question Time in Parliament on November 28 dismissed any increase in the terrorist threat to our nuclear reprocessing convoys. At the same time, there is no public warning or guidance on government websites on what to do in the event of such terrorist attacks.
There is either a significant threat or there is not. If there is then the Anti- Terrorism Bill is justified and the sooner it is in the better. If there is not then the Bill is not needed and our ancient and hard-earned liberties should remain.
Yours faithfully,
PETER WILLDRIDGE (County Emergency Planning Officer), Buckinghamshire County Council, Walton Street, Aylesbury HP20 2RT. pwilldridge@buckscc.gov.uk

From Mr Alex Murray
Sir, I am an active Officiant for the British Humanist Association. I have been subject to verbal attack for my beliefs, although, thankfully, such occurrences are rare.
Common sense suggests that, if religious discrimination becomes illegal then so should discrimination against those who do not adhere to any religion. However, were this to be incorporated into the proposed legislation then I, for one, would be offended by being afforded protection from any law that, in essence, cast Humanism as a religion.
Two options seem possible. First, a separate, parallel Bill could be moved to protect the non-religious. Second, this nonsensical proposal could be scrapped.
Yours faithfully, ALEX MURRAY, Nut Tree Hall, Plaxtol, Kent TN15 0RG. December 4.

MPs should value a truly independent watchdog
Independent


Filkin: MPs and Speaker forced me out The letter submitted by Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, informing the Speaker of the Commons that she does not wish to re-apply for her job confirms our very worst fears about the state of the office she held.
For what is clear from Ms Filkin's frank remarks to the Speaker, Michael Martin, is that she has hardly been allowed to get on with the job that the public wants her to do, and that some powerful elements within the political establishment have gone out of their way to prematurely end her term of office. She has, shrewdly, jumped before she was pushed, but this affair reflects extremely badly on Parliament. For an institution that has sunk so low in public esteem and that has been routinely ignored by ministers, most recently in Stephen Byers's failure to turn up to a debate on his department on Monday, it is a very shortsighted move.
Let us recall the reason why the post was invented in the first place. It was because of the sleazy ways of a too-sizeable minority of MPs that became so apparent during the fag-end of the Major government. Brown envelopes, cash for questions, former ministers committing perjury and being jailed, we have lived through the gruesome awfulness of their impropriety and dishonesty. Any MP should look back at those days, and more recent episodes of graft, and wince. Then they should consider the value that Parliament could derive from the public's faith in a highly visible and independent figure to keep watch on those who rule us.
As Ms Filkin rightly pointed out to Mr Martin, in her job "the first key component is independence". Her accusations that pressure has been applied directly on her by members, "some holding high office", and indirectly "by unchecked whispering campaigns and hostile press briefings... by named civil servants" have the ring of truth about them. We have only to look at the Vaz case to know that Ms Filkin's determination to investigate those in high opposition office was only matched by their reluctance to answer her reasonable enquiries and the Commons' reluctance to apply appropriate punishments.
Perhaps this is to be naive in the ways of the political world. Perhaps Ms Filkin did not possess, in the words of the former speaker Betty Boothroyd, enough "political acumen". But the capacity to be shocked by the venality of politicians is a rather attractive feature in a Commissioner for Standards. We fear her successor will not live up to her reputation.
Dec 6

MPs really want a defender of privileges, not standards
Guardian

The Filkin case shows the Commons can't be trusted to regulate itself Hugo Young
Thursday December 6, 2001
The Guardian
Here is the new case against Elizabeth Filkin. It turns out to be a lawyer's case, rather than the political attack, orchestrated by Speakers Boothroyd and Martin among others, that it has looked like since she started her job as the parliamentary commissioner for standards. The legal detail is now being exploited by MPs, to their great discredit. It's the basis of their defence for constructively dismissing her. It should be heard, out of interest and fairness: but also because it shows so clearly why the system, which she has tried to grace and they have conspired to defile, has no future. They will dispose of her, but simultaneously ensure that the self-regulation of parliament should soon be at an end. The case against her is that she did not know her place. She did not behave like a servant of the Commons, which was her only proper role. She is nothing more than a committee clerk, it was explained to me yesterday by one of her employers. She owes her entire existence to the committee on standards and privileges, and was never meant to be the independent figure of the kind that she, and we, had assumed was the intention. She wasn't supposed to be the invigilator of MPs, merely their investigator, whose findings were to be left unrevealed, pending the judgment of other MPs.
The blame for this misunderstanding - the pitiful belief that these sleazy times demanded an overseer free to speak and judge - lies, it is said, with the committee for whom she worked. They did not rein her in. They didn't make clear that, as with other clerks, silence was the rule until they, the MPs, had spoken. Every word she wanted to say, and the identity of every complaint she decided to investigate, should have been released to the public only via the voice of a committee member, preferably the chairman.
Even had she remained locked in clerkly silence, this rule would have been hard to follow. The first client to reach her was hardly obscure. Peter Mandelson and his housing problems were never going to remain blocked from view, just to satisfy clerical punctilio. Other complaints, some significant and some less so, also concerned important people, Tory as well as Labour. They were news, which plenty of politicians had an interest in revealing. Often Ms Filkin acquitted the accused. But the news getting out, they thought, was enough to tar them. It only got out, they say, because she rose above her station. She did not remain in the background. And the committee she dealt with, then chaired by the veteran Labour man Robert Sheldon, failed to make clear to her, or us, that she was not meant to be an independent person. So here we come to the legal detail. One might have thought that, with the committee under a new and less encrusted chairman, the Tory, Sir George Young, Ms Filkin might have been ready to discuss adopting a somewhat more consensual role, more amenable to the chair, without surrendering the essence of her work. The lawyers, however, said this could not be done without formally rewriting her contract of employment, something that in turn could not be accomplished - for reasons no non-lawyer yesterday was able to explain, but several were happy to rely on - without requiring her to reapply for her own job. Hence the insulting request that she should do so. Hence her refusal, and constructive dismissal. Hence this stark confession that her successor, now we're instructed in the ordinances of the House, must understand that he or she can never aspire to be more than a humble clerk. .......

This saga, in fact, is a commentary on the hypocrisy of the powers that be, which means New Labour powers. The government could have saved Ms Filkin, if it had been so minded. Margaret Beckett and Robin Cook, successive leaders of the House, could have chosen to see her as a beacon acting on behalf of the anti-sleaze campaigns that featured in the 1997 election, and dismissed as pettifogging the contractual pretext that has dressed up her departure. They could have defined her, for all the discomfort she might bring, as a heroine of the new age. Instead they have helped make her its victim. Mr Blair's pretence that ministers had no role in the matter was nauseating to behold.
There's apparently no shortage of candidates to succeed her. More than 50 names have come forward, some of them, I'm told, distinguished. The Speaker, whose curmudgeonly abruptness yesterday revealed a man who believes he never has a question to answer, is confident that by February one of them will be unveiled as a defender of parliamentary standards, credible to the public and congenial to MPs. It seems likely that a tame retired civil servant is already in the frame.
I think, however, that the system is bust. This office-holder will now always be seen as the defender of privileges not standards. Lord Nolan, who invented the Filkin job, thought it would be, under the committee, genuinely independent. So did we. But the Commons broke its side of the deal. It now makes clear that the commissioner is the servant not the master of MPs who do not propose to sacrifice a trace of control over their accountability. The public will not buy this. The only answer is an outside regulator who is not accountable to those he or she inspects. This may be a sad commentary on the nature of public trust. But it's an exact one, the truth of which Elizabeth Filkin's persecutors have done a great deal to validate.
h.young@guardian.co.uk

Rebel MP accuses Labour Whips of Commons assault
Telegraph

By Andy McSmith, Chief Political Correspondent
(Filed: 06/12/2001)
A REBEL Labour MP called on Tony Blair yesterday to rein in the "attack dogs" and "thugs" operating as Government Whips who, he claimed, had verbally and physically assaulted him in the Commons.
Paul Marsden, one of the most persistent Labour critics of the war in Afghanistan, claims to have been surrounded by Whips and ex-Whips during a tense procedural row in the House. He named five Labour MPs, including two Whips, who allegedly abused or assaulted him. In a letter to the Prime Minister, he said: "I am appalled at the behaviour of your Whips that have attempted to again silence me.
"If no action is taken in investigating the incidents, I take it that you endorse physical and verbal threats to Labour backbenchers. It is yet another sad day for democracy and a clear indication that your thugs hold Parliament in contempt." Mr Marsden also released a statement headed "Labour thugs attack MP", criticising the "Stalinist tendencies and desperate methods" of New Labour. He alleged that "Blair and his control freaks are out of control". His relations with the Labour heirarchy are now so bad that Whips suspect that he is on the point of defecting to the Liberal Democrats. A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said yesterday: "It's probably true to say that his politics are closer to ours than to his own party's." Mr Marsden says that he intends to remain in the Labour Party, but has threatened to complain to the police if there is further "intimidation".......
Dec 6 SEE ALSO

Marsden fights back against party machine
Telegraph

(Filed: 06/12/2001) Andy McSmith on the MP who claims he was attacked by Labour colleagues
ONE of the many theories being circulated in the Commons about Paul Marsden, rebel Labour MP, by the Government's increasingly exasperated business managers is that he is stark, staring mad. He knows this is being said about him, just as he knows about the rumours that he is thinking of jumping ship and becoming a Liberal Democrat. He believes that it is all part of the political campaign to silence a persistent dissenter.
One of the reasons he annoys Government Whips may be that he looks like the sort of person who can easily be pushed around. He has a quiet, inoffensive manner that quite belies his streak of stubborn determination and the intemperate language with which he attacks the "thugs" in the Whips' Office.
His seat, Shrewsbury and Atcham, is one which Labour cannot seriously have expected to win in the 1997 election. The sitting Tory MP had a majority of almost 11,000, and it must have been love of the Labour Party rather than personal ambition that made Mr Marsden decide to stand as Labour candidate in such a hopeless prospect.
He was the son of a Labour councillor, and worked locally as a quality control manager. To almost everyone's astonishment, and possibly his own, he scraped into Parliament with a majority of 1,670.
During his first few years as an MP, he worked loyally on the back benches, showing a special interest in agriculture - an area of Government policy which most Labour MPs prefer to ignore.
His first public act of rebellion came during the fuel protests a year ago, when he warned the Government that the price of petrol was too high. This was hardly a surprising stand, given how rural his constituency is. More seriously, Mr Marsden became embroiled in a local feud which spilled over into Labour's headquarters at Millbank. There was an attempt in his local party to deselect him as candidate.
At first, he seemed inclined to quit, but later came back fighting and successfully held on to his job despite what appeared to be the determined efforts of full-time party staff to lever him out. He was then re-elected to Parliament with a healthy majority of 3,579.
The experience left him convinced that the party machine was out to get him, and almost from the day he returned to the Commons Mr Marsen appeared to be in the mood to rebel. The war in Afghanistan, and the accompanying anti-terrorist legislation, has given him his first cause on which to take on the Government. There are likely to be many more.
Dec 6

Blair 'deal' to become European president
Telegraph

By Rachel Sylvester
TONY BLAIR is being urged by other European leaders, including Gerhard Schrvder and Jacques Chirac, to stand down as Prime Minister before the general election to become President of the European Commission.
The German Chancellor and the French President are said to have reached an "understanding" with Mr Blair that the job will be his if he successfully takes Britain into the European single currency.
The Prime Minister has given them the impression that he would be keen to take over from Romano Prodi, who stands down in January 2005.
If he agreed to the move, he would have to leave No 10 in the autumn of 2004, clearing the way for Gordon Brown to make a pitch for the Labour leadership. He would also have to call a referendum on the single currency next year.......
Dec 6