Democracy Watch ~ Stories from the Press ~

See also: for articles monitoring the State and Civil Liberties in the UK and in Europe


June 27 2003 ~ "With no real Parliament, Britain must have a surrogate one, a media organisation like a sumo wrestler, with rolls of fat..."

"..How else to resist a regular headbutting from Downing Street? How else to stand four square against the most egocentric, least-checked government machine in the Western world?" The ever excellent Simon Jenkins in the Times today. "This week's scrap between the BBC and Tony Blair's aide, Alastair Campbell, offers rich pickings for future scholars of spin. For Mr Campbell to play poor diddums against “media lies” on any subject is laughable. Equally laughable is his charge that his critics have an obsession with Iraq's lack of weapons of mass destruction. What on earth does he expect? He built an edifice of propaganda round this subject for six months....
...The BBC's morning radio show, the Today programme, has become the parliament of the nation. It is both more thorough and more accessible than the Commons. Ministers flatter it with attendance and are put through their paces as never by MPs. Radio and television have thus become the true "official Opposition". This is a role which the British constitution has forced on broadcasters, like it or not. ...
...he is entitled to an assurance that Mr Gilligan's story was properly validated. Downing Street may abuse "single-sourced" material on Saddam's arsenals, but that does not excuse the BBC from higher standards. ...... But I still believe that the BBC should not run scared. As a news organisation it should remain big, rich and arrogant. It is a vital constitutional irritant and should be commended for making such powerful enemies. "

June 26 ~"... it will now be, in part, up to this committee of MPs to decide who is telling the truth.."

"..If they back Mr Campbell then much of the wider criticism over the government's handling of the conflict will evaporate. The government's critics will find it hugely difficult to press ahead with their case. If, however, this committee suggests they do not believe Mr Campbell's account of events the consequences will be incalculable." See the articles from the BBC today

June 22 ~ The madness of King Tony

"After the euro no-show, the botched Cabinet reshuffle and Blair's despotic displays, Westminster Editor (of the Sunday Herald) James Cusick asks if the prime minister's love of power has gone to his head......."Blair, without consultation, chose his summer reshuffle to abolish the office of the Lord Chancellor, axe both the Scottish and Welsh offices, and invent the new Constitutional Affairs Department putting his pal and former flatmate, Lord Charlie Falconer, at its head. ... none of this went to plan, cobbled together with parliamentary Elastoplast as it was -- and will now be the subject of wide ''consultation'' only after the decision has been taken ..."

June 21 ~ Mr Giscard d'Estaing also said he is in favour of a referendum which some countries will have. "It is entirely legitimate," he said.

Guardian (external link) "Valery Giscard d'Estaing... handed over a symbolic copy of his 16 months worth of work - bound in blue leather - to the 25 EU heads of government who expect to be ruled by it soon. "
See also the Guardian's Beginner's Guide to the Constitution

June 21 ~ We're not going to change the mind of those men but it's important they know more and more people are resisting their policies

Encouraging words, more and more repeated - this time from a Norwegian history student surveying the gap between anti-summit protesters and the EU leaders installed along the road. See today's Guardian : "It's just a mile but one that divides our world, our views, from the very people who are changing the EU into a new imperialist superstate," said Erik Dokken.... For several hours Dokken and thousands of other anti-globalisation activists, communists, leftists, trade unionists had marshalled themselves in the resort of Neo Marmara to take the EU leadership to task.
To combat the protesters, Greece has launched the biggest ever security operation.
Heavily armed coastguard boats dotted the bay and on the beach, in front of sets of giant steel containers, stood hundreds of heavily armed police, with more hiding behind trees and bushes up on the road."

June 21 ~ "if the al-Qaeda threat was as serious as is now implied, surely the Bill should have been raced through Parliament a year ago."

Be careful: too safe can too easily end up sorry Simon Jenkins in the Times. " What threatens the British way of life at present is not terrorism but the public response to it. The terrorist-security complex is driving forward a hyperbolic, risk-averse, "health-and-safety" culture that infuses every British home and workplace, every enterprise and relationship. It is dangerous. "

June 21 ~"It seems driven by its authoritarian instincts to press ahead with the ID scheme while lacking the political courage to say so" "

There was a certain amount of scepticism last year when the Government launched one of its beloved consultation periods for "stakeholders" to express their views on "entitlement cards", the Home Office's preferred euphemism for ID cards." (Telegraph - Free Country) "There was no surprise, then, when the consultation turned into a cod referendum, and the Home Office declared that the 2,000 people who had responded were split two to one in favour of the cards. This alleged response led to artfully spun reports of overwhelming public support for the ID scheme, which was variously presented as a fix-all solution to global terrorism and bogus asylum seekers....But the Home Office had not counted on nine enterprising young people who work in the IT sector and who, in their spare time, run an unfunded website that encourages their peers to take part in such national debates. They posted a form on their site - This was not a petition, just a mechanism for readers to participate in the consultation procedure. They were gratified that more than 5,000 people used their service, of whom 4,856 were against the scheme....the Home Office dithers, refusing to say what it intends to do. It seems driven by its authoritarian instincts to press ahead with the ID scheme while lacking the political courage to say so

June 20 ~ "The new bill, when it is brought forward in the autumn, will confer sweeping authority on ministers to do almost anything that they like in an emergency."

The Guardian examines the Civil Contingencies Bill "... the second part is potentially the greatest threat to civil liberty that any parliament is ever likely to consider. That does not necessarily mean that it should not be passed. But it does mean that there is an absolute obligation on the press and on MPs to scrutinise it with an eagle eye. The consultation period that began yesterday is short. No one who cares about civil liberty should fail to take part in it. This is far more than just a legal tidying-up exercise. "

June 19 2003 ~ Letter in The Times from Mr Tim Hammond

June 19 ~ "1.7 million people cast their vote, 89.8% demand a voice on Europe, and the biggest ever ICM poll produces the SAME result"

Front page of Daily Mail on Tuesday: Not even mentioned on BBC radio or TV as far as we know.

June 18 ~ Janet Daley in the Telegraph "I heard Jack Straw on the Today programme yesterday expressing sarcastic bemusement.."

".. at the fact that many Tory frontbenchers who are now demanding a referendum on the proposed European constitution had opposed a referendum on the Maastricht Treaty, "even though that was more radical". Does he not realise that a treaty is a treaty and a constitution is something else altogether?...."
"......Labour spokesmen are getting themselves more and more tangled up in every broadcast interview about the status of the judiciary, the nature of democracy and its relationship to justice. I heard one of them say desperately that "democracy and justice are entirely separate things". Um, no - not entirely separate, surely.
Perhaps he was confusing democracy with "populist sentiment" and justice with the particular judgments of the courts. No one has yet figured out a flawless way to make the judicial system democratically accountable without turning it into a species of tawdry political life in which district attorneys run for office (as they do in many parts of America) on their record of successful convictions...."
Her article is well worth reading in full

June 18 ~ the EU will be top-heavy with presidents, all trying to out-president each other.

David Heathcoat-Amory in today's Telegraph "No one in the convention doubts the scale of the undertaking or the huge implications for the way Europe is governed - except, apparently, the British Government, which is completely isolated in maintaining that the new constitution is just a "tidying-up exercise". In the convention, this caused bafflement and then some hilarity. Peter Hain, the government representative, belatedly declared a number of "red lines" on proposals that he wants removed, such as majority voting on foreign policy, social security harmonisation, and interference in criminal justice procedures. But if these issues are so important to the Government, how can it just be a "tidying-up exercise"?
The truth is that the European Constitution founds a new union, with a single unified structure and legal personality. The existing structure, which secures the rights of member states to make their own decisions and collective arrangements about foreign policy and criminal justice matters, will disappear. The EU will have "exclusive competence" over trade, competition rules, common commercial policy, fisheries conservation and the signing of all international agreements...."

June 18 ~" The Home Secretary is facing a confrontation with chief constables over what they fear is a backdoor attempt to create a national police force."

Telegraph (external link) "....Chiefs are most disturbed by the proposed creation of national, centrally-controlled shortlists of candidates for chief officer jobs, with the Home Secretary and his officials dictating to police authorities which officers they should consider. They are also concerned by plans for more shorter, fixed-term contracts. ACPO sources believe the constant changes in posts would lead to instability in many forces. Officers would not stay long enough to face the consequences of their decisions...."

June 18 ~ "We cannot destroy the existing world order until we have a better one with which to replace it."

Stimulating and inspiriting, George Monbiot in yesterday's Guardian (external link): "...The UN security council should be scrapped, and its powers vested in a reformulated UN general assembly. This would be democratised by means of weighted voting: nations' votes would increase according to both the size of their populations and their positions on a global democracy index. Perhaps most importantly, the people of the world would elect representatives to a global parliament, whose purpose would be to hold the other international bodies to account.
I have also suggested some cruel and unusual means by which these proposals might be implemented. Poor nations, for example, now owe so much that they own, in effect, the world's financial systems. The threat of a sudden collective default on their debts unless they get what they want would concentrate the minds of even the most obdurate global powers. "

June 17 ~ Regional Assemblies: " they are pressing on with costly and likely fruitless referendums. The three regions, and ultimately all of England, will receive a referendum on this issue when there is no desire for one - but not on the EU constitution, where one is desperately wanted."

The Telegraph leader says The Times LeaderBBC TV 'Look North' is doing a telephone poll, 'Do you want Regional Government?' 09001 800 322 calls at 10p maximum. Over 92% against at 10.30 this morning...

June 16 ~ Blair on the rack over reshuffle chaos

Benedict Brogan, Political Correspondent of the Telegraph (external link)

June 15 ~ "The British constitution is part statutory and part conventional; it allows the prime minister very wide powers, but even those powers are not unlimited. He is neither a president nor a dictator. "

William Rees Mogg in the Sunday Times: (More from the Sunday Times on the redhuffle etc)

June 15 ~ The question is not 'whether' but 'which Europe?'

Booker's Notebook " was being urged on the Tory leadership behind the scenes last week, ... to seize the initiative. Asked the question "would you leave Europe?" their reply should be "which Europe do you mean?" - since there are at least three contradictory models locked in deadly rivalry.
The response might continue along these lines: Only with such a positive, wholly "pro-European" alternative can the Tories avoid being boxed into a corner. At the moment they look like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights, as the truck marked "Constitution", with Blair in the back, thunders down to run them over...."

June 15 ~ "Were I a one-legged homosexual Afghan refugee/terrorist living on the welfare state, you and your ilk would not dare write in such a manner....

....for fear of having all the human rights lawyers in creation round your necks, but as you are speaking to an honest, hard-working and overstressed Englishman, you appear to think you can behave like all too many of the vast and ever-increasing army of totally useless, non-productive, arrogant and bloody-minded officialdom, who are now only too successfully doing more damage to this once great and free nation than was ever achieved by Adolf Hitler".
The ever-readable Booker's Notebook recounts how Geoff Bean, "a respected Yorkshire dairy farmer, last February bought a few lorryloads of builder's rubble to make repairs round his farm. He little realised that he was about to be drawn into a stand-off with officials of the Environment Agency which deserves to become a classic in the annals of the struggle between bureaucracy and the citizen."...

June 15 ~ "Derry wanted to be the last Lord Chancellor. He was furious about the whole thing," said a Cabinet colleague.

Sunday Telegraph (external link) "....The row over the independence of the judiciary will erupt again tomorrow when Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, is threatening to lead criticism of the Home Secretary's Criminal Justice Bill on the second reading in the Lords.
Last Wednesday, Mr Blunkett privately met Lord Woolf and threatened to use the Parliament Act to force the measure on to the Statute Book...."

June 15 ~ Police will run internet after terrorist attack

Our hearts sink even further when we read the words "wide-ranging powers" in conjuction with such words as "terrorist" and "protecting".As with the dubious concept of "health and safety", the nebulous threat of "terrorism" can be successfully used to justify the erosion of civil freedoms and silence the murmurs of dissent.

June 15 ~ "Once upon a time we had local government which served the community, paid for by ratepayers who could call their councillors to account at election time.

Now we have galloping inflation of up to 22 per cent in council taxes to pay more and more for less and less, from councils run by officials accountable to no one. In Bradford thousands of council taxpayers are receiving letters threatening that, unless they pay up immediately, council bailiffs are already armed with distraint warrants entitling them to enter taxpayers' homes to seize any goods they wish, to be sold at knockdown prices until any debt is paid. These letters are going out from Bradford's "department of customer services". Apparently it cannot wait to inform its "customers" that it wishes to "serve" them by stealing their furniture." Booker's Notebook today

June 12 -16 ~ If you are in favour of "Europe" therefore, the question is "Which one"?

Dr Richard North's guide to Understanding the Convention

June 12-16 ~ Europhile bias at the BBC

".... The BBC have taken 96 Million Euros from the EU Investment Bank and a condition of the taking of this loan is to "further the objectives of EU Community Policies in the Construction of the European Union...."
From a report on the conference at Canterbury Hall, University of London on May 31st "BBC BIAS: HOW CAN WE STOP IT?" by Christine Constable.
One of our most respected emailers writes today: And we have also recently been directed to the following website: - where former Soviet dissident, Vladimir Bukovsky, has joined forces with Jonathan Miller, the Sunday Times journalist campaigning for an end to the anachronistic television licence.
See also for speeches and letters on the subject of BBC "europhile" bias.
The House of Lords debated the question on March 11 2002.

June 12 ~ "The things we share freely and enjoy in common -- our culture and public knowledge, public assets, public services, public spaces, public lands --

.... Slowly, deliberately, they are becoming private assets and services, private spaces, proprietary knowledge, and trademarked culture, to be marketed for corporate profit. The vibrant body politic is becoming a mundane body economic.
This sea change in our public life is primarily the result of the efforts of 12 archconservative philanthropic foundations that set out 40 years ago to advance an ideology known as "neoliberalism," or "free market theology." These foundations -- call them the Diligent Dozen -- chose to fund not humanitarian projects but ideological programs, and they were willing to do so decade after decade, spending hundreds of millions in the effort...."
From a review of : "Silent Theft: the Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth" David Bollier's book is about America - but we have few reasons for complacency.

June 11 ~ I cannot see what is anti-European in an aversion to a supranational regime that fails to regulate its rotten apples and lacks any wider accountability.

Simon Jenkins today in the Times
"...Mr Brown's document is a masterpiece of modern politics. As critics have pointed out, its style is the nadir of the dismal science of economics. The fatuous equations and gobbledegook that could have been cut by two thirds was no more than Mr Brown jeering over the corpses of his victims. But I cannot recall any decision of British government that was the subject of so colossal a work of analysis, least of all a decision to do nothing. If only British entry to the Common Agricultural Policy in the 1970s had been approached with such rigour. If only the inanities that pour daily from the Home Office and the Education and Health Departments were so thoroughly pre-tested." (Her Majesty's Press provides a sterling service )

June 10 ~"... their lack of democratic accountability is glaring."

Extract from an article by Adam Nicolson in the Telegraph Oh, how I long to live in the new superstate (external)Having used the tired and irritating old argument that all who are unhappy about the proposed EU constitution are somehow "phobic" about European people, and held up the United States of America as "a continent in which I am freely and permanently and stimulatingly at home", Mr Nicolson's article, concludes: "...Only a European superstate, with a democratic structure and a deeply federated system of government, will be able to shake off the disenchantment with politics that the present half-redundant system engenders." This requires no comment. Does he really imagine that there can ever be democracy in a "superstate"?

June 9 ~ Blair and Campbell to 'snub Iraq weapons inquiry'

"... Michael Ancram, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said that Mr Campbell's failure to appear would destroy Mr Blair's credibility. "The only way the Prime Minister can restore trust is by holding an independent inquiry," said Mr Ancram.
"It would be quite incredible if a genuine inquiry into Downing Street's handling of intelligence material did not take evidence from Alastair Campbell, whose name is associated with every allegation, especially the 'dodgy dossier', and whose hand is evident in all suggestions of manipulation.
"If Alastair Campbell doesn't give evidence, how can the Prime Minister's word last week, that the Government would be open with these inquiries, ever be trusted again?"

June 9 ~"when one hears the Prime Minister once again parody the serious concerns of those who opposed the Iraq war, or of the Eurosceptics, in order to show that arguments they have never used are wrong, one's sympathy goes out to them, not to him. .. "

William Rees Mogg in the Times ".. It is not surprising that the public is increasingly suspicious of Tony Blair's style of advocacy. He repeatedly uses a rhetorical device which has become extremely irritating. He distorts and oversimplifies the case that is being made against him, and then knocks down the straw man he has constructed. Iain Duncan Smith and the majority of the public may be right to think this is misleading but not deliberately lying. But when one hears the Prime Minister once again parody the serious concerns of those who opposed the Iraq war, or of the Eurosceptics, in order to show that arguments they have never used are wrong, one's sympathy goes out to them, not to him. There have been periods in history when Prime Ministers were expected to be more scrupulous. This is cheap jury advocacy; it would not pass the scrutiny of a judge." (whole article)

June 8 ~ it needed the prime minister's claims about the dangers posed by Saddam's weapons to persuade wavering voices. But the consequence is a serious blow -- trust, Mr Blair's most precious political commodity, is ebbing away fast.

Sunday Times Leader (external link) "The prime minister has conceded an investigation by the intelligence and security committee but it is unlikely to bite the Downing Street hand that appoints it. The foreign affairs select committee is to launch an investigation but it too falls short of the full independent committee of inquiry needed. Margaret Thatcher had such an inquiry under Lord Franks after the Falklands war two decades ago. Mr Blair should do the same, otherwise the electorate will form the understandable opinion that he has something to hide. Last September he insisted in the House of Commons that the existence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was "not American or British propaganda". The onus is on him to prove it."

June 8 ~ "Word had gone around in the mid 90s that Hartlepool, the first of a new breed of pig, had had a strange dream the previous night and had wished to communicate it to the other animals..."

The Today Programme paraphrases George Orwell

June 8 ~ On a straight "in" or "out" choice, Iain Duncan Smith, Business for Sterling, even the Daily Mail would have to crawl shamefacedly back into Mr Blair's camp

and accept, as a result, the euro and everything else that they dislike. The only way for the Conservative Party to avoid being outflanked is to seize the initiative and put forward its own "positive" vision of Britain's relations with the EU, along the lines favoured by David Heathcoat-Amory, the Tory delegate to Giscard's convention.
By holding out the alternative of Britain continuing to trade freely with the EU but not travelling further down the road to political integration, the Tories could themselves make the running, in a way that might win overwhelming support. At the moment they seem to be reduced to such a state of jelly on "Europe" that they are just waiting to fall into Mr Blair's trap." Booker's Notebook - as readable and terrifying as ever.

June 7 ~ NHS Gagging clause could limit freedom of speech, preventing doctors from exposing waiting list fiddles..

"Consultants in the South West appear to be widely rejecting a draft contract drawn up by the Government which they say contains a dangerous "gagging clause". Hospital doctors say the clause could prevent them from exposing waiting list fiddles and limit freedom of speech. But the Department of Health has accused the British Medical Association of scaremongering...
....Nizam Mamode, joint deputy chairman of the BMA's central consultants and specialists committee, said the extra conditions amounted to an attack on civil liberties.
"This goes way beyond patient confidentiality," he said. "It would mean, for example, that all the things we've been saying recently about managers fiddling figures and employing extra staff while surveys are taking place to meet targets, would not come out." ."
More from the Western Morning News (external link)

June 6 ~ ".. the final goal of federalism which you and Hain are supposed to be stopping."

NATION ON BRINK OF LOSING IDENTITY This authoritative open letter to Mr Blair from Vice-admiral Louis Le Bailly and published in the Western Morning News must be read in full. He is, says the WMN, "better placed than most to comment on Britain's place in Europe. His wartime service, in which his ship was sunk by German bombs, and a career in international affairs and intelligence have given him an unrivalled view of world issues".

June 6 ~ NHS: James Strachan, the new chairman of the Audit Commission, has accused the Government of using "spin" and"distortion" to cover up NHS failures.

He said that too many piecemeal targets were diverting doctors' priorities away from treating patients most in need. But instead of addressing the real problems, Mr Blair has just tinkered again. The fat, drinkers and smokers may be told to sign a contract promising to behave if they want treatment.....
.... He's thrown money at schools, but he hasn't put any effort into working out why they're still being forced to sack teachers..... Since Christmas, he has made no attempt to introduce any serious domestic policy except to decide he wants the Olympics so he can invite all his high-flying foreign friends to a great party. He's not going to organise the party himself, of course - he's leaving that to his wife. He can't make his mind up about Crossrail, and he has postponed yet again any decision on GM crops. His Cabinet colleagues aren't allowed to concentrate on domestic issues,either. Instead, they've been working their way through 1,700 pages of economic analysis on the euro. Yesterday, they had to sit through a lengthy Cabinet meeting in the knowledge that Gordon Brown and Mr Blair had already decided to postpone the issue. If only Mr Blair would take transport, education and health that seriously, and leave the euro to Mr Brown and the constitution to a referendum....." Alice Thompson in the Telegraph (external link)

June 5 ~ To take part in the Daily Mail National Referendum online

complete the ballot paper on this page and click Vote. "You can vote online up until midnight on June 12 - official polling day around the country. The results will be published in the Daily Mail and on the following week and delivered to Tony Blair before the next EU summit in Thessaloniki.
For more details on the Referendum, call the Daily Mail hotline on 0870 3333 853 between 10am and 6pm. "
(You need a valid email address for your vote)

June 5 ~ Lord Ashcroft was convinced that civil servants "had been guilty of undermining democracy" by collecting dirt on him and leaking it to the media - "a very grave matter indeed".

Ashcroft seeks access to 'dirt file' that blocked his peerage (external link to the Times) by Dominic Kennedy

June 5 ~ ID cards: ".. One of the key purposes of a card in Britain would be to identify "illegal" asylum-seekers and ethnic minority communities would be particularly vulnerable.."

Part of John Wadham's letter to the Times. He is Director, of Liberty

June 4 ~"Historians should note. At the turn of the 21st century Britain was ruled by two men, a lawyer and a tabloid journalist.

The first profession does not do whole truths, the second does not do long sentences. Both suffer occupational hyperbole. Neither likes being wrong.
Now a third and nobler calling has crossed the path of Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell, that of spy. The head of Whitehall's Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), John Scarlett, was head of MI6's Moscow station and reputedly the last man in that city to wear spats. A person of some panache, he, or at least his "friends", were clearly driven beyond endurance by the antics of Messrs Blair and Campbell. ..." Simon Jenkins in today's Times.

June 4 ~ Keep ballot boxes clean

Telegraph Opinion " Yesterday's proposals for the modernisation of elections, published by the Electoral Commission, were said to be all about tackling low turnout and widening choice. Like the Electoral Commission, politicians get very upset about low turnout, but it is fair to assume that it is not something that worries the voters - otherwise, presumably, they would turn out to vote. If electors cannot be bothered to cast their ballots, that is much more likely to be a reflection on the candidates than on the democratic process as a whole. What really does matter, in any election, is the integrity of the process......
Another commission suggestion for boosting turnout - the introduction of a national electoral register - has the drawback that it could very easily become a step towards a national identity card. ...... The electoral system has its limitations, but at least it is tried, tested and, most important of all, secure. The Electoral Commission, which is a new and untried quango, should tread with care.

June 2 ~ "Authorisation of the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is decided in Brussels, on an EU-wide basis.."

today's Independent Warmwell's GM page Pro and Anti GM arguments

June 1 ~ Just Tidying Up

The Financial Times, 22 March 2002.

June 1 ~ The Fishery Limits Amendment Bill

empowers her Majesty's government to take back control of Britain's national waters and manage them in the interests of effective conservation, rather than see them looted and pillaged by other EU members. See press release

June 1 ~ what most fishermen want is temporary help that could enable them to stay in business through the crisis.

See Booker's Notebook "....The Scottish Executive has asked Brussels for permission to pay out a modest £10 million in "interim aid", but has had no reply. Similarly, there has been no reply from Mr Blair to the letters from the Cod Crusaders. For English and Welsh fishermen, our stony-faced fisheries minister, Elliott Morley, insists, there can be no money whatever. The reason for this heartless indifference is that the whole purpose of the restrictions, which have plunged Britain's fishermen into their worst-ever crisis, is to remove as many of them as possible. This will make room for the Spanish fishing fleet which, under the terms of Spain's accession treaty in 1985, was to be allowed "equal access" to UK and other northern European waters by January 1, 2003."

May 28 ~ "Downing Street denied that Mr Hain had been rebuked by the Prime Minister..."

Telegraph today See full text of the European Convention document (pdf) (opens in new window)

May 19 ~"Licences for growing genetically-modified crops in Britain may be approved despite public opposition

the Government has indicated. Environment Minister Michael Meacher said that refusing a licence for the GM crops might not be an option under European Union legislation. A public consultation exercise on GM crops is due to begin in a fortnight's time. Although trials have not come up with evidence that the crops are harmful, opinion polls suggest that fewer than 15% support GM. .." See report

May 19 ~ Peter Hain.....said that those campaigning for a vote "might as well put away their placards and stop wasting their money because we are not going to do it". "....the Conservative MP David Heathcoat-Amory, who serves on the convention, said the new constitution would change the way Britain was governed. He told The Politics Show: "Foreign policy and defence policy will be decided increasingly by Brussels, by majority voting, so we lose our national veto - that is in the draft - and by a European foreign minister who will take over most of the powers on British foreign policy. "The same is true about domestic policy. Criminal justice policy, environment, transport, social policy - all are going to be decided more in Brussels than Westminster." He said Mr Hain's comments were "particularly outrageous" given that most other member states were planning referendums."

May 19 ~ Can such words as these appear seriously in the Telegraph? Who - with even a modicum of knowledge about the war - could take them seriously?

Telegraph - Dick Morris' article Britain's future lies over the Atlantic - not the Channel "Neither America nor Britain is prepared to sit by while villains do their worst. Both nations have historically put promoting human rights ahead of making money as global priorities. The peoples on either side of the Atlantic share an affection, a warmth, and a feeling of responsibility that bind us tighter than any economic union ever can.
Britain should no longer act like a European fish swimming in the Atlantic Ocean out of its native water. The ties that bind George W Bush and Tony Blair are more than just a determination to topple Saddam Hussein. They run to a shared concept of global duty.
Has the mandate of the United Nations run its course? Is the veto of the fearful, appeasing and economically selfish French delegation as hobbling as was that of the Soviet Union in the Cold War?..."
Not laughable. Frightening.

May 18 ~ "she was accused of "ripping into" Tony Blair, when she simply and coldly condemned his presidential style.

Above all Short was derided for not having resigned sooner. The Blairites smirked in triumph, knowing that when they had earlier dissuaded her from resigning, they had promised her everything and delivered nothing...
...Short's successor as Secretary of State, Valerie Ann Amos, a Blairite look-alike for Condoleezza Rice, was raised by Blair to the peerage in 1997, and subsequently appointed Foreign Office Minister responsible for Africa, on the sole ground that he trusts her - a presidential move if ever there was one. If Blair's trustfulness is the criterion for high office we can confidently expect Carole Caplin in the Cabinet sometime soon. " Germaine Greer in the Sunday Telegraph

May 17 ~ Big Brother 'watches more of us every year'

Robert Uhlig, now "Technology Correspondent " of the Telegraph, writes "Police and government officials are demanding access to personal data on telephone calls and internet use of more than one million people every year, according to figures released yesterday. The information seized by authorities could total more than a billion items of data, Privacy International (website here), a pressure group that monitors internet and telecommunications snooping, said.
Among the information requested by Customs and Excise, the Financial Services Authority, police forces and the Radio Communications Agency were credit card numbers, telephone records and e-mail logs.
Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said the estimate was "very much on the low side", adding: "We literally halved the Home Office estimate, just to be on the safe side."
According to records, Customs & Excise made 18,940 requests for access to personal records in the first three months of 2000 and the Metropolitan Police made 127,000 requests in 2001.
Mr Davies said that under powers given in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act ( The Act can be seen here) , Government departments and the police asked to see records detailing more than 100 million phone calls.
The Government wants to extend the number of public bodies authorised to have access to data."

May 17 ~ We are with Ian Hislop on this...

One of the most riveting moments ever in "Have I got News for You" was last night's genuinely passionate - and funny - tirade by Ian Hislop against Mr Blair's refusal to hold a referendum ("because he will lose") over the European Constitution. It drew loud applause from the audience.
The situation makes for some strange bedfellows - but readers may be interested by the poll run by The Sun:

May 16 ~ "Frankly, if this Constitution goes through, we might just as well sell off Parliament to the Japanese and they can turn it into a hotel, because it won't have a job to do."

Nigel Farage of United Kindom Independence Party was on the Today Programme this morning. "We've got those 46 Articles. We know what it means. It is now clear that, if we sign up to the Constitution, the British Government will effectively be allowed to run our Secondary schools - and that's just about it!
....Look at the draft. Even areas like Justice and Home Affairs will come under the EU's competency. Public Health will come under the EU's competency. Small business, fishing, farming - every aspect of our national life will be under the direction of Brussels. .....It's absolutely clear in this Constitution that the European Union shall have the primacy of law over those vast areas of our national life. Frankly, if this Constitution goes through, we might just as well sell off Parliament to the Japanese and they can turn it into a hotel, because it won't have a job to do."

May 15 ~ The government is due to announce by 7 June whether or not it will hold a referendum on the single European currency.
"We need a referendum, even if Blair won't give us one."

Boris Johnson in the Telegraph Our freedom costs less than a Mars bar "Giscard himself has called for a referendum on the question; Alain Jupp , the former French prime minister, has said it would be unthinkable not to consult the people on a question of this magnitude. We cannot take no for ananswer.We need to shame the Prime Minister, and show him that even if he doesn't care about our liberties and constitution, we do. That is why agreat magazine (whose name I will spare you) three weeks ago launched acampaign for an independent referendum. It would take organisation. I twould take money. The Electoral Reform Society says that to canvass all 40 million electors would cost about £ 20 million. But that is only 50p per head, as I say. And it would be worth it, just to show Tony that he cannot count on our apathy. And on this issue, he will neither receive nor deserve our trust."

May 14 ~"While Clare Short has had some pertinent things to say about TB let's not forget that she is not snow white herself. Vision 2020 for instance...."

An emailer directs us to the article in today's Guardian by George Monbiot: Don't cry for Clare ".....Clare Short's approach to overseas development was more authoritarian than that of her Tory predecessor, Lynda Chalker. "Who represents the people of the world?"....
There is, in other words, no such thing as society, unrepresented by government. The people's organisations that seek to question governmental decisions - the trade unions, peasant syndicates, associations of shanty dwellers or indigenous people - are an irrelevant nuisance.... If a government, however corrupt and unrepresentative it may be, says it wants a particular kind of development, then the people are deemed to want it too...... Last year, a group of peasant farmers from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh travelled to Britain to ask the department for international development not to fund the state government's Vision 2020 programme. Its purpose was to replace small-scale farming with agro-industry. While a few very wealthy farmers, seed and chemical companies, some of them closely connected to the government, would make a great deal of money from the scheme, some 20 million people would be thrown out of work. A leaked memo from Short's own department revealed that the project suffered from "major failings", threatened the food security of the poor, and offered no plans for "providing alternative income for those displaced". A citizens' jury drawn from the social groups that the scheme is supposed to help rejected it unanimously. Yet Short ignored their concerns and instructed her department to give the state government £65m."

May 13/14 ~"...the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion."

The text of Clare Short's statement "In our first term, the problem was spin: endless announcements, exaggerations and manipulation of the media that undermined people's respect for the Government and trust in what we said. It was accompanied by a control-freak style that has created many of the problems of excessive bureaucracy and centralised targets that are undermining the success of our public sector reforms.
In the second term, the problem is the centralisation of power into the hands of the Prime Minister and an increasingly small number of advisers who make decisions in private without proper discussion. It is increasingly clear, I am afraid, that the Cabinet has become, in Bagehot's phrase, a dignified part of the constitution-joining the Privy Council. There is no real collective responsibility because there is no collective; just diktats in favour of increasingly badly thought through policy initiatives that come from on high..."

May 13 ~ Clare Short raises very serious question of the legality of the war and the presidential style of Mr Blair

She accused the Prime Minister of "ruling by diktat", sidelining the Cabinet and centralising power in his hands and those of a few advisers who made decisions in private without consultation. Telegraph (external) "She accused Mr Blair and Mr Straw of secretly negotiating a Security Council resolution that breached promises she had given to MPs that the United Nations would have a proper role in creating a legitimate interim Iraqi authority and alleged that Britain and America had ignored advice from Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, and were acting illegally in post-war Iraq in seeking to make major economic and constitutional changes. She said the coalition did not have the authority to create an interim government; only the Security Council had that legal authority..." ........ Lord Goldsmith said he was satisfied that the Government had acted in accordance with international law and would continue to do so."

12 May ~ "This is it: the moment that we have repeatedly been told would never come about. The EU is about to transform itself, de jure and de facto, into a single state."

The European Convention, which has been meeting this past year under the chairmanship of the former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, will issue its final text in June. That draft will be adopted by the EU's leaders next year, and a new polity will be born. Europe: the wolf is here Daily Telegraph editorial 12/5 2003

May 12 ~ two official speakers, both clearly in favour of "regional governance", had already taken up over half an hour spouting carefully-prepared waffle which did nothing but waste time and crowd out genuine debate

- the region "shaping its future" (how on earth does a region "shape its future"?), "a better quality of life"(for whom?), "addressing the needs of all the community" (what, ALL of them? Are you God?).....any well-known and competent speakers among the opposition (notably Neil Herron) were scrupulously ignored by the "chair", however hard they tried to gain his (its?) attention . And on the very day the Newcastle Journal had reported that the auditor backed Herron's complaint against the NEA for unlawful use of ratepayers' money.." A real person's (Gillian Swanson) account of The North East Regional Assembly: Making a Difference? meeting on May 6th.
"....Jack Cunningham said that it was not true that the European Union was behind moves towards regional government (I had only said that it was behind thousands of unnecessary regulations). He then refused to allow any further discussion of this point from the floor, although a lot of people were anxious to speak. Dissenters in the audience were not happy about this suppression of any real debate, and were gradually gaining confidence. Perhaps this was why, soon afterwards, Cunningham decided to bring the proceedings to a close nearly a quarter of an hour early...."

May 11/12 ~".. though we cannot compel people to go to church or maintain the empty churches of England, we can compel public servants to guard the beauty that they have inherited.

Ordnance Survey proposes to diminish that legacy, a priceless legacy of England: and I pray England shall have none of it." Rise up, England, and save the map churches

May 11/ 12 ~ "This Constitution," reads Article 9, "shall have primacy over the law of the Member States."

Sunday Telegraph Leader ".....the areas in which Brussels is to have competence: foreign affairs, economic policy, trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration and asylum, employment policy, industrial policy, research and development, defence, environmental protection, justice and home affairs, civil emergencies, even space exploration.
No wonder Tony Blair keeps talking about "schools'n'hospitals": under these plans, they are all he will have left..
....a friendly suggestion. If Labour will not grant a referendum, the Conservatives should organise one themselves, rather as Brian Souter did in Scotland on the question of Section 28. They should time it to coincide with the referendum in France, for nothing will so enrage British voters as the notion that the French are voting on our future. It will be expensive, to be sure. But what better way to focus people's attention on the enormity of what Labour is accepting? The tactic might even sweep them to power in time to stop the wretched thing coming into force." ."

May 11 ~ "There should be an elected House. What we don't want to see is an appointed House with no safeguards against the abuse of prime ministerial patronage."

(Lord Strathclyde talking about the news that Tony Blair is to abolish the rights of 92 remaining hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords, prompting allegations that he has reneged on pledges over reform of the Upper House.)
Telegraph(external link) "Half of the Labour Party don't want the hereditary peers replaced by New Labour's crony aristocracy, such as Lord Birt, Lord Bragg, and Lord Sainsbury, who is a donor to the Labour Party." The axeing of hereditaries would clear out 10 of the Tory front bench including Earl Howe, a shadow health spokesman and Viscount Bridgeman, a home affairs spokesman."
Warmwell, which has watched with relief and gratitude the House of Lords' attempts to slow or stop so much bad legislation from this government, feels a great sense of foreboding.

May 11 ~ There are now whole departments in Whitehall - for example, those that run trade, industry, employment law, the environment, agriculture, and fisheries - that do almost nothing but administer policies and laws decided in Brussels by men such as Prodi, Chirac and Berlusconi.

Yet one of the European Union's most brilliant achievements is the extent to which it has taken over the governing of our country without it being noticed. The Daily Mail last week devoted the whole of its front page and two more inside to a huge "shock horror" expose of the "Blueprint for Tyranny" which it claimed is being drawn up in Brussels by the convention drafting an EU constitution, reducing Britain to just a small, comparatively powerless part of a United States of Europe. It was fascinating to work out just how much of the coup d'etat that the Daily Mail was warning of has in fact already come about. Booker's Notebook which also asks why are our regulatory agencies "so fanatical in their wish to outlaw harmless herbal remedies and vitamin supplements safely used by millions of people, when they seem happy to allow the continued sale of licensed drugs made by pharmaceutical companies which kill thousands of people every year?" and tells us that John Prescott's hopes that the North-East would lead the way in fulfilling his flagship policy to set up elected assemblies for the eight English "Euro-regions" have received a highly embarrassing rebuff.

May 11 ~ "Within six months, Mr Blair plans to set his seal on the new European constitution which would strip Britain of independent control

over whole swathes of the economy, foreign policy, defence, social policy, health, energy, transport and virtually every aspect of free nationhood. Make no mistake. It would change our whole way of life. Once the deal is ratified there could be no going back either. Self-determination would be at an end. The real government of Britain would be in Brussels. Our only democratic influence would be in the European parliament, where we would occupy just 13% of the seats. Yet our Prime Minister "does not see the need" for a referendum though other European leaders show more respect for democracy. France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Holland and Denmark are all planning to put the new EU constitution to the vote...." Opinion column of the Daily Mail which has mounted a campaign to force Mr Blair to carry out a referendum on the EU constitution. To take part in the campaign:)

May 10 ~ "We've got Left and Right united in this noble cause of creating a democratic Europe answerable to its people,"

The Telegraph article today: Abolish EU says Tory
" The European Union should be abolished and replaced with a "Europe of Democracies" based on free trade rather than shared sovereignty, say opponents of the European constitution being drawn up in Brussels.
A group of members of the Convention on the Future of Europe, the body writing the constitution, plans to publish a minority report opposing most of the main proposals..."
(The Daily Mail, Britain's second leading newspaper in sales, has mounted a campaign to force Mr Blair to carry out a referendum on the EU constitution. To take part in the campaign:)

May 9 ~ "No French or US cartographer would dare eliminate the boundaries of a local commune or township as this Government is doing..."

Simon Jenkins today on the news that Ordnance Survey wishes that no significance any longer attaches to a "place of worship" or to a parish boundary.

May 9 ~ "...yesterday's newspapers brought lurid headlines reflecting the fears of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which gave warning of "social unrest" if the influx of asylum seekers was not stemmed.

So Beverley Hughes, the Home Office minister whose knee jerks reflexively in salute to the latest negative headline, was quick to change the subject. Suddenly the smart passport to guard against terrorism was put on the back burner; what was really needed, she told the committee yesterday, was a national identity card to fend off asylum seekers. "It would make a significant difference in the sense that it is the only thing really that can help us to be rigorous about illegal working," she said.
By casting the problems of asylum in terms of illegal working, Ms Hughes is pandering to the basest popular notion that "they're after our jobs", a sentiment that would not be out of place at a BNP rally in Burnley..." Free Country - Telegraph

May 6 ~ Anti-terror drive poses risk to civil liberties, says EU study

Stephen Castle in the Independent "Civil liberties across Europe are under threat from electronic surveillance, under-cover operations and tough anti-terror laws put in place after the 11 September terror attacks, an EU report by independent experts alleges. The document, which singles out the United Kingdom in several areas, criticises the rush to implement anti-terrorism legislation and argues that it might not be proportionate to the threat. Compiled by experts in all member states, the report says anti-terrorist measures can "result in interference with private life or with the secrecy of communications, due to increased possibilities of using undercover agents", restrict the rights of defendants, and lead to "exceptional forms of detention".
It also says specifically that legislation giving the British Government the right to extend arrest and detention powers over foreign nationals might be inconsistent with the UK's international obligations. ...... The report is also concerned at the imprecise definition of terrorist offences, used to justify "special methods of inquiry" resulting in a "major interference in private life". And the dossier expresses deep concern over increased collaboration with America on security issues. "There are doubts at this time as to whether the protection offered by the US is adequate." ....." the response of EU governments has been to propose measures that place the population, or sections of it, under wholesale surveillance." .......See the Independent article and also the

May 6 ~ articles in today's Telegraph about biometric recognition in travel documentation

The timely EU report by the team of independent experts (above) is rightly "concerned at the imprecise definition of terrorist offences" and right too to express "deep concern over increased collaboration with America on security issues." In through the backdoor comes more and more legislation- all in the name of security - and out of the window fly our hard won liberties. They will not return.

May 4 ~ Prescott puts paid to parish councils

Christopher Booker's Notebook "Dr John Bishop, a 78-year-old former deputy director of the Atomic Energy Authority, who has spent his 20 years of retirement in the tiny village of Brockhampton, near Hereford, is the sort of retired resident any English village might welcome. He has thrown himself into every kind of voluntary activity, from raising money for lifeboats to serving on the village hall committee. ....
Dr Bishop is no longer on the five-member council... Like thousands of other parish councillors across the country, they regarded as unnecessarily intrusive the obligation publicly to register any kind of "interest" that might theoretically influence their council duties, including all shareholdings and any gift, including a meal, worth more than £25. Dr Bishop's plight is even worse. He was recently summoned to Leominster, 20 miles away, where he was questioned for two hours by two "Ethical Standards Officers" from a body known as the Standards Board for England, on two charges of "misconduct"......(read in full) "..Nobody knows how many members of England's 10,000 town and parish councils were similarly disbarred from standing again last Thursday. The Standards Board website lists only one such councillor. But the total certainly runs into thousands. Some councils have been forced to disband altogether. So much paperwork has been generated by this new bureaucratic monster that a number of councils have had to take on paid clerks, at salaries greater than their existing budgets. The Standards Board proclaims as its motto "Confidence in Local Democracy". As they see how Mr Prescott's new body is asserting its presence, the thoughts of villagers may well stray to the writings of the late George Orwell. (Booker's Notebook in full))

April 30 ~ Police investigate door-to-door collection of postal votes

Vikram Dodd in today's Guardian "Police are investigating the collection of postal votes by Labour party activists in Leicester, including the cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt, the Guardian has learned. In signed statements of complaint, voters say the trade and industry secretary joined two councillors from a Leicester ward, who were asking voters to hand over the council election ballots last Wednesday. Politicians should not handle postal votes according to the electoral commission - although there is no law preventing them from doing so. ..." More

April 29 ~ Death of the secret ballot

"Postal voting does not revitalise interest in elections - but it does encourage electoral fraud.." George Monbiot in the Guardian today
" ......The emerging rule of British politics appears to be that the bigger the issues at stake, the smaller the choice. The Liberal Democrats' pathetic capitulation ensures that no major party in England now represents the people who may have wished to use their vote to protest against the war with Iraq. The smaller parties, in most constituencies, are locked, by first-past-the-post elections and the lack of state funding, into electoral insignificance.
The second is a question seldom asked of a British election: will it be free and fair? While British people may regard the process of choosing between almost identical candidates as unspeakably dull, we retain an affecting faith in its deportment. After all, we invented the idea, and we send election monitors all over the world to ensure that lesser beings are implementing it properly. Our complacency is beginning to look ill-founded. ...."

April 28 ~ The NHS has 210,000 managerial and clerical has only 199,000 beds.

Telegraph today on bureaucrats and the state of Britain".. some bureaucrats are now so unproductive, they can't even waste money properly.."
"...bureaucracy is one of the absurd features of 21st-century Britain. We have so many bureaucrats, nobody can count them. Bureaucracy is not so much a growth industry as a virus, stifling initiative and suffocating creativity. It has become the chosen profession of the nosy-parker and the second-rater, elevating timidity, form-filling and bossiness above enterprise and endeavour....bureaucracy is a hidden cost. The outputs of state organisations such as the NHS and the state schools are free at the point of use. We have to rely on the likes of Mr Seaton, burrowing through the Government's accounts, to find the true cost of the invisible disease....

April 23 ~ 162 Arrests at Faslane Naval Base

162 people were arrested yesterday during a blockade of Faslane naval base on the Clyde, home to Britain's Trident nuclear weapon system.
"Three of Britain's four Trident submarines are currently based at Faslane. Each of them carries 48 nuclear warheads every one of which is 8 times as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, which killed 140,000 people and destroyed a city. In the last year UK Defence Minister Geoff Hoon has three times threatened to use Trident against Iraq. Among the 500 or so present at today's blockade were Scottish party leaders John Swinney, Robin Harper and Tommy Sheridan. Among those arrested were former CND chair Bruce Kent, two Church of Scotland ministers ..." See "Trident Ploughshares" site

April 20 ~ Supposed benefits of EU

Booker's Notebook (external link)
"....Fresh from its triumphant mis-reporting of the Iraq war, the BBC last week trumpeted the signing of the treaty admitting 10 new members to the European Union as the moment when Europe was "reunited" in the name of "freedom and democracy". (This "reunion" bit is always a puzzle, since the previous times when Europe could be said to be "united" were under those champions of freedom and democracy, Napoleon and Hitler.)
Evidence is mounting, however, that this latest EU "enlargement" may turn out to be another case of "they now ring the bells but they will soon wring their hands". The Maltese, who last week confirmed their wish to join by re-electing their pro-EU Nationalist government, were subject to a massive, largely EU-funded propaganda campaign, centred on the claim that they would be receiving 30 million Maltese lira (£50 million) a year from their Brussels Big Brother. Closer study shows that, when all costs of membership are added in, including the need to employ 3,000 officials, and compensation for farmers and fishermen likely to be put out of business, Malta will end up paying out £82 million a year to get back that £50 million in supposed benefits...."

April 18 ~ new technology that is strengthening the hand of companies that want to spy on their customers.

"...The generic name for the system is RFID, which stands for radio frequency identification. RFID tags are minuscule microchips, smaller than a grain of sand, that can be sewn in to clothing or attached to almost any object. The chips respond to a radio signal by transmitting back their own unique ID code, allowing the controller of the chip to know precisely where the object is. Retailers love the technology, for it greatly assists in inventory control and security. But increasingly companies are looking ahead to more ambitious applications that will provide information about consumers long after they have left the shop." Telegraph's "Free Country" (external link)

April 15 ~ ... the oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries and real estate developers now wield tremendous influence with this (US) government.

See Bush Fighting 'Secret War' On Green Laws - Kennedy by Stephen Leahy
There is an imbalance of power when a large multinational corporation comes into a very poor country and makes behind-the-doors sweetheart deals with government officials that end up enriching a few people while impoverishing an entire nation. This is the worst face of globalisation. ...
....President Bush has a secret war against the environment. It is a stealth attack. He's now eviscerating America's environmental laws. He has 100 proposed rollbacks of environmental regulations that even if just a portion go through, by this time next year we will have no federal environmental laws..
That's not an exaggeration. These laws are being passed below the radar screen. They're being attached to large budget bills that must be passed so there's no public debate in Congress or elsewhere.
If you talk to the American people - and all the polling shows this - around 75 percent, Democrats and Republicans alike, support stronger environmental laws. Only seven percent say we need the laws weakened.
But it's those seven percent that have influence with this administration. Those are the people from the oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries and real estate developers who now wield tremendous influence with this government. President Bush is the worst environmental president in the past 100 years."

April 13 ~ 'Democracy' defies the people

Booker's Notebook
Alas, it seems that the only people who will publicly take an interest in the battle over John Prescott's bid to give elected assemblies to England's "Euro-regions" are the House of Lords and myself. This is a shame, since the struggle grows more confused by the day.
Last week Lord Waddington, a former home secretary, raised in the House the odd way that the North-West Assembly had responded to a QC's opinion given to Lancashire county council. The QC had advised that it was unlawful for ratepayers' money to be spent on a political campaign to establish an elected assembly.
The council was told in return that the Assembly had passed a resolution that "we, the North-West Assembly, declare our intention to become an elected Regional government", and that it was actively campaigning for a referendum to bring this about. In other words, we don't give a fig for any QC's opinion, and if you want to take us to law we shall be happy to spend even more ratepayers' money defending our position...."

April 13 ~".. a grave suspicion that public money from council tax payers has been used to support one side of the argument " said Lord Stoddart of Swindon

See extract from Lords Hansard (external link), April 8th

April 13 ~ "...the Government would not under any circumstances use money to favour one side over another .."

In his reply to Lord Waddington (above)

April 12/14 ~ Sir Tom Blundell, chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, condemns ministerial efforts to have an independent scientific review of GM technology as 'artificial'.

April 12 ~ " those who choose to stay outside the American cage will need to unite, however loosely, for their own protection. They will have to keep their wits about them."

Matthew Parris in today's Times ".....Yesterday the leaders of Russia, Germany and France met in St Petersburg to talk about the future. They carried with them worries about America shared by many other nations, large and small: Canada, China, New Zealand, Sweden, India, South Africa ... I could make a list that included most of the rest of the world. That meeting, and others to come, could mark the beginnings of some sense of commonality between those civilised nations that have not chosen to fly with the great eagle, and some sense of the need for collective action in clipping its wings. To call this "The US versus the Rest of the World" oversimplifies, but conveys the spirit. To put it more modestly, those nations that do not choose to take Washington's whip are going to need to coordinate their positions and keep in touch. The balance of power needs rebalancing. For want of a better term, I shall call the grouping of which Russia, Germany and France now form a putative core, the Rest of the World.
For Iraq may not be the last American adventure...."

April 8 ~"The Ministry of Defence yesterday admitted it had ignored internal rules that could have saved the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds.."

"..when it awarded the contract to refit Britain's Trident nuclear submarines to Devonport Management Limited. Giving evidence to MPs, the MoD's top civil servant Sir Kevin Tebbit ....said that the rule "must have slipped through my fingers".
Sir Kevin also admitted that the Government had been forced to abandon the prospect of legal action against DML when costs spiralled out of control because of the danger it would have "broken" the Plymouth company, threatening the vital work to keep Britain's independent nuclear deterrent afloat.
.....DML is owned by the American defence giant Halliburton
Sir Kevin's evidence came as the Commons Public Accounts Committee launched an inquiry into why the cost of building facilities at Devonport to refit the Trident fleet had risen from an original bid of £237 million to almost £1 billion. Alan Williams, the deputy chairman of the committee, said the decision to award a contract to DML that was 28 times over the limit suggested by MoD rules, had left the Government "massively exposed" to extra costs when things went wrong. ...... Anthony Pryor, executive chairman of DML, defended the handling of the project...." Western Morning News

April 8 ~".. a textbook example of bad government"

Sue Cameron in yesterday's Financial Times Advisers have corroded trust in Whitehall
Extract:"... political advisers are there generally because of who they know.
... Over the past six years it has sometimes seemed like amateur night in Whitehall as party political advisers, inexperienced in government, have put aspirations before realistic programmes and slogans before solid planning. The culture of spin has not been limited to presentation; it has infected the policymaking process itself.
The results have been apparent in the handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic - surely a textbook example of bad government - and in the government's failure to convince the public that it has the vision and the competence to reform any of the public services..... Whitehall can bungle with the best of them and often has. But at least senior officials recognise the need to think things through and to look further ahead than tomorrow morning's headlines.
.... Those who believe Tony Blair will consider sacking some of his political advisers or neutering the powers of people such as Alastair Campbell, his chief spinner, may need a reality check. ..."

April 8 ~ "The small trader in Swindon wants the same freedoms as the shopkeeper of Umm Qasr;

the schoolteacher or doctor in Basildon should be respected as much as the professionals of Basra. As the proverb implies, you can probably kill a cat by choking it with cream. We should be aware that there is more than one kind of tyranny. ..." Libby Purves today in the Times under the headline: Why should the Iraqis trust Blair if we can't?

April 8 ~ Friends of the Earth has condemned Food Standards Agency for "biased propaganda"

April 8 ~ Scottish National Heritage, who began killing the hedgehogs of Uist last night,

has also now started to claim that it has the backing of all the Scottish political parties. However, when UHR contacted their head offices this morning (April 7 ), the key political parties were astonished to learn of this claim. (See press release from Advocates for Animals, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Hessilhead Animal Rescue Centre, International Animal Rescue, the Mammals Society and St Tiggywinkles) "....comments like those made today by SNH spokesperson, George Anderson, that they are "raring to go" with the killing will dismay a very large section of the Scottish public who have no wish to be associated with this mindless slaughter of wildlife."

April 7 ~ "..the Home Secretary accused me of being a man looking for a cause. Sorry, wrong again. As long as David Blunkett is Home Secretary, I'll always have a cause. .."

Bill Morris, Secretary General of the Transport and General Workers Union wrote in yesterday's Observer. (external link)
"...The proposal last week to snatch back British passports and deport those the Home Secretary doesn't like, represents the latest installment of the continuous assaults on those who seek refuge here. ... The Home Secretary will, of course, point to the radical cleric from the Finsbury Park mosque who will have the honour of being the first to be thrown out under David's law, but do we have to get rid of the barrel for the sake of one bad apple? ........ Frankly, we cannot go around the world pushing a policy of displacement and moral subcontracting. So rather than eye up Albania or the Ukraine as anterooms for the dispossessed, we should be bringing to bear the solutions failing nations need to provide their people with a life free from fear. The West has the resources and skills to tackle the reasons people leave the communities they love to seek a better life. What is needed now is the political will. Perhaps I should not hold my breath. Perhaps I should keep my bag packed in case the knock comes at my door to reclaim my British passport if the Home Secretary decides that this article is against the national interest."

April 6 ~ "council officials had no understanding of the area and had not done their homework"

Prescott endorses plan to kill a community (Booker's Notebook)
"Prince Charles is personally following a remarkable battle being waged by a happily-integrated English and Asian community in a Lancashire mill town against its destruction by a huge council "renewal plan". This would result in the demolition of 400 terrace houses and their replacement by "yuppie" homes which none of the residents could afford.
Although last year a ministry inspector came down firmly in support of the residents, backed by an impressive phalanx of conservation bodies, including the Prince's Foundation, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, ordered the inquiry to be re-opened because the inspector had not come up with the findings that he and Pendle council wanted...... the council's claim that there was no demand for houses in the Whitefield area was comprehensively demolished by the residents and their expert witnesses, who showed that council officials had no understanding of the area and had not done their homework...."

April 6 ~ As Iain Duncan Smith tries to wriggle out of his bafflingly maladroit efforts to keep the explosive issue of "Europe" under wraps, the politics of the next 18 months could be very interesting.

Christopher Booker's Notebook today

April 5 ~ "The collusion between the High Court and the government really needs a public airing"

Janet Hughes writes today about further bizarre goings on in connection with DEFRA's demands for £17,000 costs. It was Defra's legal department that insisted, following Lord Justice Latham's ruling, that Miss Hughes must pay the ministry's costs, even though it was not against Defra she had brought her case. (See article by Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph on February 2.
"... They are now informing me that it is possible to amend the court order so that it orders me to pay Defra's costs. The court officials are lying about what they have said to me on the telephone. One official, as I believe I mentioned to you, has told me they have no record of the writ having been issued and that a copy was sent to the Court at a later date. Now he is denying saying such a thing "...." I was telephoned the other day by one of the Sheriff's Officers for Powys and Glamorgan, and his rudeness quite took me aback. He informed me of the White Paper (external link to Lord Chancellor's Dept website) , which I already knew about, and said that I would be able to see "where the government is going on this". It felt like a veiled threat that they would be able to return and force entry to our home."
The unfolding events of this strange and, as we are not alone in thinking, deplorable case can be read here.

April 4 ~ "Total neglect greeted this week's gargantuan forecast of the State of the Countryside, 2020..."

The State of the Countryside, 2020, (external link)"..from the government Countryside Agency. The report is a mess, a consultants' mish-mash of Blairite clichés, glib scenarios and top-down projections. It confuses prediction and prescription and is full of politically correct babble about social sustainability and globalisation. It reads like an undergraduate spoof of a "Middle Way" tract of the early 1990s. But at least it addresses a topic of importance. ..
...Terror of being thought pro-rich or anti-growth has neutered the supposed defenders of the countryside. The greens take money for wind turbines. Local lobbies concede planning permissions for "key-worker housing". Nobody dares defend rural beauty for its own sake. All take refuge in such weasel words as sustainable, affordable and holistic, code for "we surrender". At this rate it is goodbye countryside Britain .... ." Simon Jenkins in the Times

April 4 ~ we must all agree to "forgo some of our personal sovereignty and to combine our individualism in order to achieve a particular collective goal"

Telegraph (external link) Stephen Robinson on Blunkett in the US - ".... Sniffing the post-September 11 breeze, Mr Blunkett has presented himself to Americans as the voice of common sense against feeble folk at home who won't accept the state knows best. First he attacked "liberal and progressive" journalists in Baghdad for toeing the Iraqi line, a pointless fight to pick, given that the war seems to be going well for the allies.
Then Mr Blunkett lectured New Yorkers on the necessity of engaging in "collective governance". To achieve this happy state, he said we must all agree to "forgo some of our personal sovereignty and to combine our individualism in order to achieve a particular collective goal". He told Americans he was working to make the British courts more responsive to "consumer demands", though he didn't say if he had criminals or victims in mind as consumers of the justice system. He also articulated a new freedom "to be involved in formal politics", by which he presumably means voting.
It is perfectly harmless for Mr Blunkett to go on his travels to propound his views on individual liberty and the prerogatives of the state, but it is a bit cheeky of him to suggest to Americans that his rhetoric is matched by his action. Our preparations for a biological or chemical terrorist attack are feeble compared with those in America. Americans have a department of Homeland Security; we have security policy divided between numerous departments, including the Home Office, Defence, Transport and Health. As he ridicules our traditional freedoms, Mr Blunkett does not make us feel any more secure, collectively or individually."

April 4 ~ Mr Blunkett: reactionary, illiberal and wrong

Independent (external link)"Tony Blair's authoritarian attack dog has let himself down again. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has criticised "those who are of a progressive and liberal bent" for treating Allied and Iraqi propaganda as if they were "moral equivalents". ........... If the Home Secretary was again trying to ingratiate himself with the Daily Mail, that newspaper's man in Baghdad was not impressed. "I find it rather offensive," Ross Benson said yesterday.
He is not the only one. Most British people are media-literate enough to understand the biases on information coming from this war zone and to make their own judgements. And if an enterprising small business started to produce badges saying "Progressive and liberal", we suspect many Independent readers would wear them with pride."

April 1 ~ Sainsbury gives another £2.5m to Labour bringing his contributions to the party since 1999 to £8.5m. ......

Mark Seddon, a member of the party's national executive, said the donation was a kind of "corruption" of the political process and urged the party to return the billionaire's gift. In a statement, Lord Sainsbury said: "In our democracy political parties have to raise funds to campaign and put their policies to the electorate. "As a proud supporter of the Labour Party I am happy to be in a position where I can make a contribution to its ongoing work." However, Mr Seddon. told Radio 4's Today programme: "In any other country I think a government minister donating such vast amounts of money and effectively buying a political party would be seen for what it is, a form of corruption of the political process. . This was a criticism of the Conservatives when they were in government and increasingly people are looking in at the political parties and saying 'Why don't they have more members?'" Mr Seddon said accepting the money was "quite extraordinary" when the party was finding it difficult to get trade union funding. "It should be sent back straight away," he added.
Conservative chairman Theresa May said Lord Sainsbury's position as a minister appointed by Tony Blair and whose decisions could have commercial consequences raised real questions about the gift. ....... The Labour party has a £6m overdraft and a £4.5m mortgage on its London headquarters. (See BBC report and Independent) From April 14 2002 on warmwell

March 30 ~ Much of Britain's metal finishing business will go abroad; and once again our officials will think they have done their duty by the nation.

Christopher Booker today writes about the fate of the metal-plating industry as a result of the "gold-plating" of a EU pollution directive, when " not even the normally sheep-like MEPs could agree a common line over Iraq. Of six resolutions proposed by each of the groups in the Brussels Parliament, a publication called Press Watch "which is regularly recycled by gullible newspapers such as The Guardian" and "A recruitment advertisement for the Meat Hygiene Service, part of Sir John Krebs's Food Standards Agency, boasts that lucky applicants will become part of the team of "2,250 officials" whose job is to enforce EU hygiene regulations on Britain's "1,300 licensed meat premises"......

March 30 ~ Householders to be fined for not recycling rubbish

Telegraph(external link) "Ministers have approved plans to fine householders more than £500 a year if they do not prove that they are recycling enough of their rubbish. The proposals have been agreed after John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, has dropped his opposition to what some ministers have dubbed the "poll tax on rubbish". ....... some ministers are still wary of opposition to the plan, which comes in a week that will see householders hit by two sets of tax rises: the "double whammy" of national insurance increases and higher council taxes. The one per cent rise in NI and the freezing of allowances will take effect next week and will cost the average wage earner on an annual salary of £22,000 more than £200 extra a year. Householders, meanwhile, face average council tax bill rises of around 13 per cent, with some local authorities hiking rates by as much as 45 per cent. The increase in council taxes has led to a nationwide campaign of defiance by householders who are refusing to pay the increases and vowing to go to jail if necessary. Ministers will seek to limit the political fall-out from the rubbish tax by presenting the new levy as a discount that rewards good behaviour. ........ The proposal was first raised in a Downing Street policy paper last year but was initially shelved amid concerns at the growing burden of taxation on middle England."

March 27 ~ Police to keep DNA files of innocent

Telegraph (external link) "Police powers to retain DNA samples and fingerprints taken from innocent people are to be extended, the Home Office announced yesterday. For the first time, they will be able to test people they arrest but do not charge and keep the DNA and the prints indefinitely. The move - which will add thousands of samples each year to a growing national database - was condemned by civil liberties campaigners last night. But the Government and police said the additional power was needed to verify the identities of suspects and to ensure that wanted criminals arrested for another offence cannot evade capture. Ministers have tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill now before parliament that will mark the second significant extension of police powers in two years."

March 27 ~ Bailiffs allowed to break into homes

Telegraph (external link) Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor "Licensed enforcement agents will be authorised to break into people's homes and seize property from debtors under new Government plans announced yesterday. They will also be given powers of arrest. A White Paper from the Lord Chancellor's Department proposes improved methods of recovering civil debts and stricter controls on enforcement agents.
Under a case decided 400 years ago, an Englishman's home is "his castle and fortress". Bailiffs have been unable to gain access to homes if the householder has refused to let them in, except in very limited circumstances. But the White Paper says that "forcible entry in domestic premises will be permitted" with prior judicial authority. "We seek to establish the principle that refusing to open a door or a gate will not stop legitimate enforcement action, nor should superior technology to protect the entrance to a property prevent enforcement from taking place. "For example, currently there is little scope for entering private homes that are protected by video cameras and electronic gates."
Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, believes that "the seizure and sale of a debtor's goods to settle a judgment debt may always be necessary". But, he adds, this should be done in a reformed and regulated system. Enforcement agents will have to be licensed and those who operate without a licence will face imprisonment. Licences will allow enforcement agents to "arrest an offender or a debtor under an order of the court and to take him or her into custody". Agents will also be licensed to take possession of land and to apply for a partial "data disclosure order" to assist with enforcement. ..... a Bill might go through the Lords' fast-track procedure."

March 25 ~ Peace protesters, some Quakers, many middle-aged or older, were stopped, searched and forced to return to London on Saturday

(One of several reports of this incident can be found on the IndyMedia website) "In a most worrying development, three coaches carrying protesters from London, were turned away from the protest and escorted back to the city, with several police forces carrying out escort duties from region to region. Amongst the passengers was the 64-year old aunt of one of those killed in New York on 11 September 2001. On arrival in London a number of police vehicles were waiting at Euston.
This is yet another restriction on the right to protest at Fairford. Over the past few weeks hundreds of people have been stopped and searched in the vicinity on the base by police using powers under the 2000 Terrorism Act.
Protesters are also extremely concerned at notices fixed to the fence at Fairford stating the "the use of deadly force is authorised", and are calling for questions to be asked in the House of Commons, about who has authorised this and in what circumstances such force might be used and by whom."

March 24 ~ The National Union of Journalists in the UK has issued a news release challenging Tindle to a debate on free speech "and all those other rights which our forefathers fought to establish and which Sir Ray Tindle seeks to demolish at the stroke of a pen"

See NUJ website (external link) and English regional newspapers start war censorship ....The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom has "condemned this act of overt censorship at a time when the UK needs open debate about this controversial issue. It is an example of the invidious power that proprietors have over the content of the press. Barry White, National Officer for the CPBF comments: "Sir Ray Tindle has denied to the readers of his 130 titles access to vital information needed to understand the war".

March 23 ~ Elliot Morley, has turned Newlyn into "a police state".

Booker's Notebook "Cornish fishermen are up in arms over what seems to be a flagrant example of double standards, following draconian restrictions on cod-fishing imposed by Brussels to conserve supposedly vanishing cod stocks.
The seas around Cornwall are swarming with more cod than fishermen can remember for 30 years. Whenever a net is put down it comes up brimming with them. But so minuscule are their quotas that Cornish boats must dump hundreds of tonnes of cod dead back into the sea.
They can do nothing else because of the "reign of terror" by which the regulations are being enforced. In the words of the local fishermen's leader, Phil Trebilcock, the district's senior fisheries official, Colin George, backed by the fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, has turned Newlyn into "a police state".
Twelve boats have already had their licences suspended. When another skipper, Jonathan Turtle, suggested that a catch of £3,000-worth of cod that he and his crew could not avoid netting should be sold for Comic Relief, he was told that they must be chucked back.
What enrages the Newlyn fishermen even more, however, is the sight of a dozen French trawlers "filling their boots" with cod in the same Cornish waters and taking them back home without fear of reprisal, where they are openly advertised for sale. But no doubt Mr Morley is proud to think he and his officials are doing their bit for "conservation" by ensuring that hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of fish are being destroyed, along with the livelihoods of the Cornish fishermen."

March 23 ~ Promoting an elected assembly "would be overtly political"

"..the North-East Assembly's director, Stephen Barber, has assured Sunderland council that no ratepayers' money is being used to fund its promotion of an elected assembly. This money comes from central government. But, as Neil Herron of the North-East Against A Regional Assembly has now explained to Sunderland, last July the local government minister, Nick Raynsford, specifically ruled that government funding must not be used for this purpose. Promoting an elected assembly, Mr Raynsford wrote, "would be overtly political and is thus expressly excluded by the funding agreement". It looks like game, set and match to Mr Herron." Booker's Notebook

March 23 ~"I smelt a rat" - Pharmaceutical cover-up

From Booker's notebook this week.(Sunday Telegraph) "For several years Dr Karran sought answers - from Bayer, from the MCA and from the hospital - to what should have been simple questions, but he met only obfuscation. He even visited Germany to raise the issue before 4,000 Bayer shareholders at their annual meeting. Eventually he went to his MP, Sandra Gidley, whose experience as a pharmacist qualified her better than most to understand the problem. But, she told the Commons, her own repeated letters to Bayer and the MCA met such "a complete wall of silence" that, as she put it: "I smelt a rat."
As Mrs Gidley explained, there seems to be clear evidence of a complete failure of the system designed to protect patients. Not only were lives endangered; the false information given patients before their operations was in specific breach of their human rights. And the refusal of David Lammy, a health minister, to answer any of her questions raises another, yet wider question: why has our system now become so unaccountable that a minister cannot tell the truth to the House of Commons, even when the implications for public safety are as grave as those revealed by Dr Karran?..."

March 21 ~ If news is the first casualty of war, the first victor is government.

writes Simon Jenkins in the Times today. "It is ironic that every war fought by Britain in the past century, justly in the cause of freedom, has led directly to a curtailment of freedom in favour of state control. The history of war runs in tandem with that of higher taxes, greater regulation and more government. ..."

March 20 ~ John Prescott to use the war to end fire dispute

This headline in the Guardian was later changed to Prescott threatens to force fire deal (external link) "John Prescott told MPs today that he will introduce an emergency law allowing him to impose a pay settlement on the fire service and direct its operations. The deputy prime minister described it as "unacceptable" that 19,000 members of the armed forces had to be held back from military duties to provide emergency cover because of the continuing fire dispute.....A resolution calling for the latest offer to be rejected in the strongest possible terms was overwhelmingly passed by the delegates.
The proposed deal will now be discussed by firefighters across the country over the next fortnight. The national conference will then be held to decide whether to accept it or continue with a campaign of industrial action.
Mr Prescott's move today is clearly aimed at pre-empting that decision."
From John Prescott's statement in the House of Commons: "I am therefore giving notice today that I will introduce and publish a new two clause Fire Services Bill tomorrow. The Bill will give me the power to impose terms and conditions within the Fire Service and direct the use of Fire Service assets and facilities. I will start immediate discussions through the usual channels about how quickly we can make progress on this Bill...."

March 19 ~ Blunkett defies appeal ruling on asylum benefits

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor Telegraph (external link)
"Asylum seekers who fail to apply when they arrive in the country or soon after will continue to be denied food and shelter despite a defeat for the Government in the Court of Appeal yesterday. Three judges, led by Lord Phillips, the Master of the Rolls, upheld a High Court ruling that new benefit restrictions have "serious defects" and have been applied unfairly. But David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said the procedures had been redrawn to meet the criticism - even though he had previously indicated that to do so would make them "unworkable"...."

March 19 ~ Wiretapping Found at French, German EU Offices

(Reuters) -"Telephone tapping systems have been found at offices used by France and Germany in the building where European Union leaders are due to hold a summit from Thursday, an EU spokesman said on Wednesday. He said other delegations were also affected at the EU Council Justus Lipsius building and it was not known who was behind the espionage. ..... The French newspaper Le Figaro accused the United States of being behind the wiretapping, but Marro said: "We do not know who is behind it. I don't know who was on the other end of the line." ......"

March 19 ~ Tory peers move to block snoopers' bill

The Guardian yesterday by Patrick Wintour, chief political correspondent
"Conservative peers are considering blocking a plan to give more government agencies access to sensitive communications data. Lord Strathcylde, the Tory leader in the Lords, is prepared to obstruct government secondary legislation to stop what is seen as an infringe ment of civil liberties. The government plans that every local authority and a number of other public bodies and quangos will have access to phone, email and internet data, though not the content of these communications.
At present only the police, MI5, MI6, the government listening post GCHQ, customs and excise, and the Inland Revenue have access.
Under the plan, 24 government agencies and hundreds of local government officials are to be given powers to demand the personal details of citizens. In the main compromise put forward by the government, the organisations' access to the information will be granted only if a judicial third party, such as the interception of communications commissioner, considers that it is needed to investigate crimes.
The revised plans have been condemned by both Liberty and Privacy International. Liberty said authorities accessing this data should need a warrant from a judge, calling this the only truly independent safeguard. "

March 18 ~ Blunkett loses asylum appeal

Ananova "The Court of Appeal has rejected David Blunkett's attempt to overturn a decision threatening his new policy of denying food and shelter to late asylum applicants. David Blunkett had challenged Mr Justice Collins's controversial conclusion in six test cases that the new rules had resulted in breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. In each case, would-be refugees were refused state help while their claims were being processed because they had failed to apply for asylum at the port of entry, or as soon as reasonably practicable." (© Copyright Ananova Ltd 2003, all rights reserved)

March 17 ~ Sign of the Times - America

From yesterday's Observer (external link)"On the check-out desk at Santa Cruz public library, beside the usual signs asking people to keep quiet and to return their books on time, there is what might be called a sign of the times. 'Warning: although Santa Cruz public library makes every effort to protect your privacy, under the federal USA Patriot Act records of books you obtain from this library may be obtained by federal agents,' it reads. 'Questions about this policy should be directed to Attorney General John Ashcroft.' ...." Book Burning next?

March 17 ~ Snoopers charter - "Have your say.."

suggests Channel 4 : "Scaled-back plans to give state agencies powers to access the public's telephone, Internet and e-mail records have been revealed. The government wants feed-back on the consultation paper, the thrust of which is laid out below. Several agencies will have full access, and another batch will have limited access to information. " From the Home Office site (external link): "On 18 June 2002, in response to widespread public concern, the Home Secretary withdrew a draft Order laid before Parliament adding public authorities to the access to communications data provisions of Chapter II of Part I of Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. The Home Secretary announced that public discussion would take place before new proposals would brought before Parliament. He also called for a broader public debate about how to strike the balance between the privacy of the citizen and society's legitimate need for measures to support the investigation of crime and to protect the public.." (Text of "RIPA" - external link))

March 16 ~ Prescott's way with figures

(Booker's Notebook) "John Prescott's campaign to set up elected governments in the eight "Euro-regions" of England becomes ever more "Soviet". Mr Prescott tells us that there is "a hunger for regional government" and, as evidence, he recently assured the Commons that: "In the south-west the indications are that well over 60 per cent want to have a referendum on the issue."
Typical of the way Mr Prescott arrived at this evidence was a recent "soundings" meeting advertised in Weymouth by the South West Constitutional Convention, one of eight identical front organisations set up to campaign for elected regional governments - five of which, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, are chaired by Church of England bishops. On the appointed evening, the tiny Labour Club in Weymouth was besieged by campaigners against a regional assembly, who were initially told that only those who had signed a paper in favour of an assembly would be admitted.
When some were eventually allowed in, outnumbering the pro-assembly faction by eight to one, Tim Pearce, the convention's national organiser, ruled that only those who had already pledged support for an assembly could vote. After the motion had, not surprisingly, been won, there was discussion of the response to 550 "soundings" forms, which had been sent by the convention to those who had registered interest in a referendum.
Of these, it emerged, only 71 had been returned. Only eight recorded "strong" or "very strong" support for a referendum. The remaining 63 expressed either "weak interest" or none. Thus, even of those expressing interest, barely one per cent had been strongly in favour.
Elsewhere, the East Midlands Assembly last week voted against an elected regional government and Lancashire County Council, after reading here that district auditors were investigating claims that the North East Assembly had made unlawful use of ratepayers' money by campaigning for an assembly withdrew its funding from the assembly. "

March 14 ~ "a police state without the police"

Telegraph (external link) "the Home Office has produced no fewer than 100 initiatives, proposals and schemes of one sort or another, over the past 18 months. The problem with such hyperactivity, they argue, is that it may look impressive, but it has yet to yield many results on the ground. Yesterday, David Blunkett was again on his feet in the Commons, unveiling a new White Paper which promised to take "a stand against anti-social behaviour". .......The shadow home secretary, Oliver Letwin, remarked yesterday that Mr Blunkett is in danger of creating "a police state without the police", and he had a point. Whether the police and other authorities use their new powers, collect the fines and issue the orders, as Mr Blunkett envisages, will depend crucially on whether they have the manpower.
The danger otherwise is that they will conclude that it is all too much trouble, as they have before, and continue with business as usual. If the police cannot deploy enough beat officers to control the streets, nothing else will make much difference..."

March 12 ~ Still a charter to snoop

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. See Telegraph
"The Act has always been controversial. When the Home Office proposed extending it so that a huge range of government agencies and other public bodies, including local authorities, would be able to monitor our internet, email and telephone records with virtually no judicial control, all hell broke loose.
It was, by any standards, an outrageous plan and there was general relief when the Government conceded that it would have to be reconsidered. Or at least there was until yesterday, when the Home Office produced the results of its rethink and it turned out that version two differs very little from the original.
In essence, the same range of bodies as before will be able to get access to virtually the same range of records as before. The only difference of any significance is that before an agency or authority can find out whom we have been talking to or e-mailing, it will have to be approved by a gentleman with the Orwellian title of the Interception of Communications Commissioner..."

March 12 ~ This is a staggering situation," she said. "The minister is acting with unbelievable smugness and arrogance.

He has also called into question the committee system in the Scottish Parliament, which was always hailed as one of its great strengths.".......The Telegraph report Ministers reject report into GM food trials (external link) Ross Finnie has dismissed an investigation into GM crops by the Scottish Parliament's health committee.

March 10 ~ Harash Narang has been head-hunted by Case University in America

The Journal (external link)
"....a financial backer of Dr Narang's work, claimed he had been forced to go abroad because he cannot get laboratory time in the UK.
He said: "Harash has been blackballed in the UK because he told the public the truth.
"The establishment will try anything to stop him working here. It's a disgrace."
Noel Baldwin, of the CJD Foundation charity, said: "He has been proved right about so many things . . . that CJD can be transmitted through blood, that BSE can cause both variant and sporadic CJD and that you can test for the disease through urine samples."
Dr Narang starts work at Case University later this month. Shu Chen, one of his future colleagues, said: "He will be a great asset to our CJD research."

March 9~ Last week a powerful coalition ranging from The Women's Institute to Greenpeace and Unison wrote to the FSA board claiming its spin on GM foods was virtually indistinguishable from that of the pro-GM lobby.

See Observer article Fury over spin on GM crops
We anote the comment from DEFRA quoted in the article ..."Although an unnamed Minister has warned that a decision on GM has already been taken, this was denied by a spokesman for the Department for Food Environment and Rural Affairs.
'There will not be any growing of [GM] crops in this country until the results of the farm-scale trials have been considered,' he said."
( He might have added "Comrades" and whisked his tail.)

March 9 ~".. He sued, and that jurisprudential wizard, Mr Justice Harrison of Huddersfield County Court - upon whose noble brow may God rest a garland of frangipani, and before his feet, a brace of naked Nubian handmaidens -

- agreed with the plaintiff. He awarded him 39,408 in damages and costs. More than that: he finally put a barrier in the way of the rule of law being replaced by the rule of ease."
At last. Some good news ( Sunday Telegraph - external link) about randomly administrative fines.
"Motorists are not the only people who should rejoice at the ruling by Mr Justice Harrison that the clamping and seizure of a car parked without authorisation was "oppressive and arbitrary". Libertarians should also rejoice. For increasingly, many countries have allowed the due process of law to be replaced by the random application of administratively-convenient non-judicial fines..."

March 9 ~ Christopher Booker's Notebook

Sunday Telegraph: Read in full here. Agency soft soaps its way to a crafty conclusion - good news for small soap makers
That'll be the day - (Brussels's right to dictate how regional funding should be handed out is not just a matter of "regulations", but a central pillar of EU government, enshrined in article 160 of the treaty. It is a key part of the acquis communautaire, that ever-growing body of EU powers which, under treaty law, can never be challenged or what was Gordon Brown up to?)
'Soundings' sound suspicious - (Tony Flynn, the leader of Newcastle council, claimed that "soundings" across the region had shown "87 per cent in favour of an elected assembly"....spectacularly not true)
Cash for care homes 'diverted' - ..(maltreatment of the city's fast disappearing independent care homes, by starving them of funds at a time when council spending otherwise appears to be spiralling out of control.)

March 9 ~ North East Assembly in Council Funding Scandal

by Neil Herron "...We trust that the press and media will be aware of the gravity of what has been exposed. We trust that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister will begin a full and thorough investigation. The Electoral Commission is being kept fully informed - as misuse of public funds prior to a referendum may affect the validity of any result. "

March 8 ~ Clear as mud?

European water directive (Guardian) "The government denied that a European Union directive on water quality could force up consumers' bills by up to 10%. Junior environment minister Elliot Morley said he did not accept the figure. Challenged by Tories, he added: "At this stage it really is premature in terms of having an accurate projection in relation to costs."

March 7 ~ "Should London be struck by a terrorist attack, we are told, the Prime Minister will be removed to a secure base

outside London where he will continue to be 'visible'. Other senior ministers and their civil servants will be relocated to their own departmental headquarters at undisclosed locations throughout the country.
It would be reassuring to believe that these provisions were all part of normal planning for national emergencies. But coming from a government which responded to the foot-and-mouth outbreak by sealing off every turnip field..."The Spectator

March 7 ~ "Counties matter, because the Government is about to abolish them"

Simon Jenkins (external link) today..."...Upland England will one day be the only place safe from the Government's nightmare vision of shed parks and executive estates. The most tolerable parts will be the inland combes of Dorset and the secret dales round Bradford in Wiltshire. It will be the lost villages of the Berkshire Downs and the hidden glades of Chiltern Buckinghamshire, where the Blairs' Chequers will keep the wind turbines at bay....."

March 6 ~ "Democracy is in danger when we can't recognise ourselves in our rulers"

writes Jackie Ashley in the Guardian
"Why are they so out of touch? On Iraq, there is a gaping gulf between the views of most people and the views of the political elite. We protest, they smile and nod; but they don't really listen. Polling has consistently shown the majority of the country opposed to a war on Iraq: only around 25% would back war without much stronger evidence from Hans Blix and a second UN resolution. Yet, the government insists, if necessary, Britain will join the United States in going it alone.
...... a kind of cocoon. The shouts in the street have bounced off those walls for centuries.
..... British politicians are very susceptible to Washington thinking generally. They follow American politics. They read American speeches. They are flattered and feel at home when visiting Congress. ......
....naked power politics, explained with impressive bluntness by Jack Straw to the Commons foreign affairs committee this week. We live in a "unipolar" world, he told the MPs: you either worked with the giant superpower, and tried to keep it inside international law, or you let it rampage unchecked. Many of us would say that the British position is that we have decided to work with the superpower outside international law, and simply rampage alongside it.......
... The British public is like the French public and the German public. We are a mixed, liberal, sceptical lot, who don't take to Bush and flinch from Christian fundamentalism almost as much as from the Islamic variety. That is why there is such turmoil, such enthusiasm for mass marches and protests. We look at our ruling elite and we do not recognise ourselves in them. In any democracy, that is a dangerous moment.

March 4 ~ GM licensing gets go ahead

Scots and Welsh furious as crop trials are sidelined Paul Brown, environment correspondent The Guardian
Government plans to press ahead with licensing commercial use of genetically modified crops, before the results of trials are known and a public debate on the issue has been held, yesterday angered both the Scottish executive and the Welsh assembly.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, has decided that 18 applications to the EU for growing and importing crops such as GM maize, oil seed rape, sugar beet and cotton are unstoppable and the British government has no alternative but to process them. In the past few weeks Bayer has applied directly to Mrs Beckett to plant and market GM oil seed rape, and Monsanto has applied to import GM maize.

March 4 ~ Public meeting on the review of the Over Thirty Months Rule for cattle All welcome

The Food Standards Agency will be holding a public consultation meeting as part of its review of the Over Thirty Months (OTM) Rule. It will be held on Friday 7 March, between 10.00am - 1.00pm at the New Connaught Rooms, 61-65 Great Queen Street, London WC2B 5DA. See

March 3 ~ The law is an ass

"Entertainment has been provided in my part of the West Country by the instruction from Defra that, under EU Commission Decision 2000/68, Rosa Drohan from the Somerset village of Marksbury must pay £44 for "passports" for her two ageing donkeys, Popsy, 25, and Dillon, 11. Brussels officials have ruled that by the end of the year all horses and donkeys must join cattle in having passports, to aid disease control. Rosa wonders why her donkeys should need "passports" when their only experience of foreign travel is walking a few yards down the road to graze the village churchyard. This was why, when she saw the voluminous form she must fill in to apply for the passport asking to what "use" she puts her donkeys, she was tempted to put 'organic lawn mower'. It is unlikely that Brussels would be amused."Christopher Booker's Notebook Sunday Telegraph

Feb 27 ~ José Bové faces a 10-month prison term for destroying GM crops

The Guardian reports today:"....The appeals court in this southern city ruled Bové must serve four months in prison for destroying maize crops. That sentence will be added to a six-month sentence handed down for ripping up genetically modified rice. "By the decision the president takes, he will say very clearly if the place of union leaders is in prison ... or if, today, the combat against GM crops is a legitimate combat,'' ...."Bové's lawyer, Francois Roux, said he would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. He also suggested that Chirac should pardon Bove.
"The justice system decided that a nonviolent action done in the open was worth 10 months imprisonment. The decision from now on belongs to Jacques Chirac," Roux said. The sheep farmer, visiting the annual Agriculture Salon fair in Paris, said the ruling made the issue political, not judicial. ....."

Feb 27 ~ They're bleeding us dry to buy mountains of red tape

Boris Johnson today in the Telegraph: "......Wherever you look, there are vexatious pieces of central government legislation, which cost the council money, and which end up costing you money. Over the past two years, Oxfordshire has been forced to conduct a massive "job evaluation" of every council worker, in order to avoid being taken to industrial tribunals. The cost this year? A cool £1.9 million. Then there is the inflation-busting pay settlement of £1.7 million. The cost of the landfill tax is £300,000 and the cost of disposing of the fridge mountain is £600,000.
Then there is the £500,000 fine the council has been ordered to pay to the NHS, for "blocking beds" in the sense that the council has failed to find enough care-home places for elderly people. This fine is doubly absurd. The shortage of care-home places is caused entirely by the Government's demented Care Standards Act; and, in any case, the council was given a large sum by the Government to buy care-home beds; which it is now returning in the form of fines.
And then there is Gordon's big April fool, the £2.5 million the council will have to pay for the extra cost of NI contributions for its staff. That's right, folks: you are not only going to be stung for your own NI; you will also pay, via your council tax bill, for the NI contributions of the growing army of public sector workers.
What people don't sufficiently understand, and what I never tire of pointing out, is that regulation has a fiscal impact on everyone, as well as being a bother for those who have to comply. If you have a regulation about sheep carcasses, you need a dead sheep collector. If you have a regulation about windows, you need a window inspector; and these characters will all have their salaries and pensions and NI contributions funded out of council tax.

Feb 26 ~ The editor of the Daily Mail on (further) threats to the freedom of the press

Today's Times - "Politically inspired privacy law would destroy freedom of the press and send Britain on the slippery slope to becoming like Robert Mugabes Zimbabwe, the Editor of the Daily Mail told MPs yesterday. Paul Dacre told the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that a privacy law, replacing self-regulation of the press, would be a "law for the rich" since only the powerful could afford the legal fees required to take a case to court. He said that editors needed to take no lectures on regulating the press from MPs, when they had effectively kicked out Elizabeth Filkin...."

Feb 26 ~ The Church of England is like the Conservative Party and the BBC, overcentralised, overwrought and losing market share.

All three are institutionally "top down". Read Simon Jenkins today

Feb 23 ~ "Short of miraculous intervention by a politician who can see just how insane is the situation that these decent, desperate people are faced with

it seems a world-beating British industry is about to be wiped out, for no reason whatever...."Booker's Notebook today.

Feb 23 ~101,811 regulations imposed on us - without discussion - since we joined the European Community

Booker's Notebook today "Too many laws to tell us about

Last month Lord Stoddart of Swindon asked the Government how many regulations Brussels had issued since Britain joined the European Community in 1973. This means diktats which, unlike directives, are immediately binding. Lady Symons, the deputy leader of the Lords, gave year-by-year figures showing the total as 101,811. In answer to Lord Stoddart's request that details of these laws be made available, she said "given the volumes of regulations involved, it would incur disproportionate cost" to inform members of the British Parliament what laws have been imposed by a higher level of government.
Curiously, President Prodi in Brussels has also just come up with a figure for the amount of space these regulations occupy in the EU's official journal (again this excludes the thousands of directives which must be put into national law by means of statutory instruments). Regulations alone, he says, cover 97,000 pages. At an average of 1,000 words a page, this makes nearly 100 million words of law, all of which have to be translated into 11 languages, totalling some 1.1 billion words or 1,466 times the length of the Bible. It is not surprising the Government claims it would be too expensive even to supply a list of these laws. But we still have to obey them...."

Feb 22 ~ UKIP gains former Conservative minister as three Dukes become patrons

The U.K. Independence Party today announced that the Duke of Devonshire was amongst three Dukes who had agreed to act as patrons for the Party. He was a Conservative minister under Harold Macmillan in the 1960's. The Dukes of Devonshire, Rutland and Somerset have all agreed to act as patrons of the party's fund raising drive ahead of next years elections to the European Parliament. The Party, which already holds 3 European seats, expects to make significant gains. U.K. Independence Party leader Roger Knapman said, "I am delighted to welcome their Graces to the only party which sees a free, independent future for the United Kingdom outside of the European Union. "It is increasingly clear that the U.K. Independence Party is the only party to represent the views of all British citizens, whether dukes or dustmen." ENDS

Feb 21 ~" The scientific review is one of three strands of the GM debate being conducted in parallel." David King

"The other strands are the public debate and the study of economic costs and benefits. All three were requested by Margaret Beckett in May, in response to the recommendations of the AEBC
The scientific topics being looked at will include: These issues will be added to, and refined, as a result of information emerging from all sources, particularly from the public debate to ensure that the interest and concerns raised are addressed. Guess who's on the Science Panel. Independently chaired by David King, with Chris Leaver of course.... We wonder what percentage of his, and the others', funding is GM.

Feb 21 ~ Chronicle of An Ecological Disaster Foretold

The GM oil seed rape varieties in UK's farm scale evaluations are terminator crops with in-built sterility to protect patented crop genes. Terminator crops like these had been vigorously rejected by farmers all over the world as it goes against their right to save and replant seeds. These crops are now being considered for commercial release in Europe. Dr.Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Joe Cummins tell us why these crops carry unique risks for health and biodiversity, and should on no account be approved. The complete document with diagram and references is posted on ISIS members site. Full details here

Feb 21 ~ More time for public say on GM crops

Yesterday's Guardian Paul Brown, environment correspondent
"The government has extended by three months the period for a public debate on genetically modified crops and whether they should be grown in Britain. The budget for the consultation process is also being doubled, to £500,000, and the Department of Environment will pay for staff time at the central office of information.
Margaret Beckett, the environment secretary, at first refused to allow more time or money, despite a letter before Christmas from Malcolm Grant, the chairman of the commission the government set up to organise the debate. Professor Grant said he had not been given enough time or resources to complete the task by the end of June. The agriculture ministers of Scotland and Wales, Ross Finnie and Mike German, joined Prof Grant's protests and, last month, all three lobbied again for an extension. The ministers face elections in May and wanted the debate postponed so that it would not interfere with the polls.
Environment groups have claimed that the government wanted to stifle debate by completing the discussion before three years of results from the farm-scale trials of GM crops were known in July. A study will be released that month showing whether GM crops attract more weeds and wildlife than conventional alternatives. Yesterday, in a letter to Prof Grant, Mrs Beckett accepted that "it would now be impracticable for the steering board to deliver its report by the end of June", and extended the consultation time until the end of September, with funding increased to £500,000. Sue Mayer, of the pressure group Genewatch, said: "Mrs Beckett's u-turn is good news ... We will at last be able to have an informed debate." Feb 20 ~ Tube bans animal welfare poster which might "offend".... BBC report (external link) London Underground has refused to display an advert for an animal welfare charity.
"The poster, for Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), featured scantily-clad models huddled together on one side of a poster and chickens packed in a farm on the other. Underneath the shots is the legend: "Thousands of big-breasted birds packed together for your pleasure."
The CIWF said the advert was designed to raise awareness of "appalling conditions in which meat chickens are reared". But London Underground decided it could not be displayed because it was likely to offend." What? Whose logic was this?

Feb 18 ~ Once again, the Lords defend the country...and will this government defeat too be overturned by yet another Parliament Act?

"The Government was beaten in the Lords last night over its plans to tackle hospital bed blocking, after the peers succeeded in forcing a one-year delay to the scheme by voting 152 to 133 against it....The Community Care (Delayed Discharges) Bill, announced by Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn, aims to "fine" local authorities which fail to get elderly patients out of hospital quickly enough, and was due to come into force from April 2003 - but is now postponed until 12 months later. " See report in the Western Morning News

Feb 17 ~ A very unpopular form of democracy

Booker's Notebook Feb 16 "..Following my revelation last week that 25 district auditors across the North-East are to investigate the improper use of ratepayers' funds to finance the North-East Assembly's campaign for an elected regional government, it seems that John Prescott's scheme to set up elected assemblies across England has hit another set of buffers.
His department has just released on its website a summary of responses to last year's White Paper on regional government. Of 459 organisations responding, including local authorities, only 28 per cent supported his plan, 28 per cent are against, and the rest "undecided". Of individual responses, only 7 per cent were in favour and an overwhelming 72 per cent against.
Meanwhile key historical documents only made available to MEPs last week confirm just why the plan to install regional governments throughout the European Union has been central to Brussels's long-term planning since the 1970s. A series of internal reports on the proposals for monetary union made clear that a single currency could not work without setting up regional administrations which would allow Brussels to control the transfer of funds from richer to poorer regions.
These documents, to be raised in the Lords on Thursday by Lord Stoddart of Swindon, explain the dramatic conversion to the cause of regional government of that champion of the single currency, Jacques Delors, as he laid plans for economic and monetary union in the run-up to Maastricht in the late 1980s. It was he who in 1988 put in place the rule which forced Britain to set up regional "government offices" in 1994, the foundation of Mr Prescott's subsequent plan for elected regional governments.
The only snag, as with Mr Blair and the euro, is that Mr Prescott cannot achieve this without referendums, which he seems increasingly likely to lose."

Feb 14 ~ Dolly, created in 1996, was put to sleep this afternoon at the Roslin Institute, suffering from acute respiratory disease.

Results of the post mortem are to be made public. See also Janet Hain writes to say,

Feb 14 ~ "Yield Effects of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries" (Science, Feb 7, 2003, Vol. 299) a paper jointly written by Matin Qaim of the University of California, Berkeley, USA and David Zilberman of the University of Bonn, Germany

........We will perhaps have many more such papers being doled out by dozen, all thanking the seed company Mahyco (clearly avoiding to mention its partner - Monsanto) for its research support. Nevertheless, what is interesting is that the paper begins with the wrong premise that Bt cotton increases crop yields.
See A Scientific Fairytale Providing a Cover-Up to the Bt Cotton Fiasco in India By Devinder Sharma

Feb 14 ~ "..the human rights watchdog Privacy International this week launched a competition to discover the world's most pointless, intrusive, annoying and self-serving security measures:

the "Stupid Security" award. Nominations to are welcome. See today's Telegraph


See Western Morning News (external link)

Feb 8 ~genes introduced into the DNA of a chloroplast can indeed jump into the chromosome of the cell's nucleus

Scientists have found that genes can jump from one region of a plant cell to another, making more likely the prospect of an introduced gene contaminating the plant's pollen and escaping into the wild. Independent (external link) "...Scientists have found that genes can jump from one region of a plant cell to another, making more likely the prospect of an introduced gene contaminating the plant's pollen and escaping into the wild...... Dr Timmis has shown in a study published in the journal Nature that genes introduced into the DNA of a chloroplast can indeed jump into the chromosome of the cell's nucleus. By modifying the genes of chloroplasts, therefore, the theoretical possibility exists to generate GM pollen that could cross-fertilise with related species of plants, producing GM wild flowers or "superweeds" resistant to weedkiller.
Dr Timmis's team used a gene that confers resistance to an antibiotic as a "marker", to see how frequently this alien DNA could move from the chloroplast to the nucleus of a tobacco plant. They found DNA is transferred at a frequency of one in approximately 16,000 tobacco pollen grains.
Peter Riley, of Friends of the Earth, said: "This research suggests that this is a bit of a shock to scientists. They didn't expect the genes to jump from chloroplast to nucleus so readily. It underlines the fact that we must know more about plant genetics before we start manipulating the DNA of crops."

Feb 8 ~ US trade and agriculture officials are close to launching a legal challenge in the World Trade Organisation to the EU's moratorium on genetically modified crops.

FWi (external link)

Feb 8 ~ Scottish organic bill fails - but not by much.

From The Times (external link) The Bill was defeated by 61 votes to 39 with 18 MSPs abstaining.

Feb 8 ~ "We are not the doctors; we are the disease"

From Harold Pinter's speech in Turin last November ".....The planned war against Iraq is in fact a plan for premeditated murder of thousands of civilians in order, apparently, to rescue them from their dictator.
The United States and Britain are pursuing a course which can lead only to an escalation of violence throughout the world and finally to catastrophe.
It is obvious, however, that the United States is bursting at the seams to attack Iraq. I believe that it will do this not just to take control of Iraqi oil but because the US administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary. Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless.
Unless Europe finds the solidarity, intelligence, courage and will to challenge and resist US power Europe itself will deserve Alexander Herzen's definition (as quoted in the Guardian newspaper in London recently) "We are not the doctors. We are the disease". Read Harold Pinter's speech and weep.

Feb 8 ~ "I was an aid worker in Bosnia; I know some wars are worth fighting. This isn't one of them,"

said Martin Summers, 43. Lois Atherden, 84, who grew up "in the shadow of the first world war", disagreed. "Weaponry has developed to a state where any war for any reason makes no sense at all. We have to find another answer," she said. There were anarchists and pacifists there; Quakers and Catholics; students and pensioners. The latter have formed the backbone of the vigils; this week, ages ranged from 21 to 84, but most were over 40. ..." See today's Guardian (external link)
( Hoping to see many of my fellow over 40s on Feb 15. )

Feb 8 ~ The mother of all inventions

Times today (external link) "The note of panic is palpable. "What do you mean, there's no smoking gun? Haven't MI6 got anything? No photographs? No defectors? TB is expecting a dossier next week. We promised. He said the Americans liked the last one - quoted everywhere, robust stuff, saved the CIA from having to go public with any sources. So they want another one - Colin Powell's thinking of a spot of show and tell at the UN, and wants to point to independent work by the Brits. So, we better get something - and quick
There was a nervous silence. With so many spokesmen off on crash courses in war briefing, the communications unit was understaffed. Apart from a former foot-and-mouth specialist from the old Min of Ag (chosen because he once worked on botulism), two work-experience students from Keele and a filing clerk, doubling as a liaison officer, spin was thin on the ground. "Well, one of you had better put something together. Get on the internet. Just type in ricin and Iraq and see what you find on Google. 20 pages, at least. By tomorrow "....

Feb 8 ~ Mystery over death of cloned sheep

See Independent (external link) story by Steve Connor Science Editor "Australia's first cloned sheep has died unexpectedly, raising concerns that the animal may have suffered a fatal disorder related to the same technique used to create Dolly, the world's first adult clone.
Matilda died last week and a post-mortem examination over the weekend failed to find the cause of death, said Rob Lewis, who heads the South Australian Research Institute near Adelaide."
They cremated the body before tests could be properly done. We remember the very low proportion of cloned animals that survive - and the fate of poor Dolly. The only motive for cloning is huge profit. We have always been astonished that more outrage has not been voiced.

Feb 8 ~ ".. the intelligence equivalent of being caught stealing the spoons" (Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman )

A piece of plagiarism (BBC external link) The Directorate of Military Intelligence Government dossier
"These shifting appointments are part of Saddam's policy of balancing security positions. "By constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organisation for a substantial period of time. No one becomes powerful enough to challenge the President. " Ibrahim al-Marashi's work
"These shifting appointments are part of Saddam's policy of balancing security positions between Tikritis and non-Tikritis, in the belief that the two factions would not unite to overthrow him. "Not only that, but by constantly shifting the directors of these agencies, no one can establish a base in a security organization for a substantial period of time, that would challenge the President."

Feb 8 ~ "A prime minister who condemned his country to puppet status would be unworthy of his office"

Today's Telegraph
"The superstate is here"
(external link)
".....The weasel word in this treaty, however, is not "federalism", but a phrase that sounds more innocuous: "shared competence". This, its guiding constitutional doctrine, states that, while the EU and the nation states may share competence in domestic and foreign policy, the EU's policies and laws must always have primacy. National governments and legislatures may act only where the EU has chosen not to "exercise its competence". Shared competence extends to foreign and defence policy; to the economy, including monetary and fiscal policy; to health, social security, transport, justice, agriculture, energy, the environment and trade. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which Tony Blair said would never be binding, is "an integral part of the Constitution".
This treaty amounts to a coup d'etat by a clique of a coterie of a cabal. The text was drafted by a triumvirate of arch-federalists: two commissioners, Michel Barnier of France and Antonio Vitorino of Portugal, with the former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato. The other members of the praesidium - including its chairman, Valery Giscard D'Estaing, and the British representative, Gisela Stuart MP - agreed to it, ignoring the rest of the convention.
Mr Blair now has a choice. He could veto the treaty, in which case Britain could face exclusion from full EU membership. Or he could put it to a referendum. The third possibility - that he might sign it, even in a diluted form - sounds unthinkable, yet it appears to be being thought. A prime minister who condemned his country to puppet status would be unworthy of his office."

Feb 8 ~ Protection of Freedoms Bill

"Mark Prisk, the Conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford ...alarmed by the torrent of regulation affecting the private sector, ... is bringing a 10-Minute Rule Bill before the Commons on February 25, to be known as the Protection of Freedoms Bill. It would require that every new piece of legislation be subject to a test as to how "it affects the freedom of expression, assembly, conscience and association; and why the benefits of the measure outweigh any loss of freedom". Back-bench Bills rarely make their way on to the statute book, but Mr Prisk deserves support for seeking to hold back the torrent of bad laws that do get passed. He invites readers to send him comments and suggestions about how he should proceed, and to review what he is hoping to achieve at"
A Free Country - today's Telegraph (external link).

Feb 8 ~ World politics according to Bush

This is a map of Bush's World View. It is well worth a wry grimace...but may be a little slow to load. We are sorry if we are breaking copyright - but they arrived on an email without attribution. (Later: we now have the URL )

Feb 8 ~ INES Appeal to the International Academic Community

Paris, 1 February 2003
"We oppose a US-led war against Iraq and support all non-violent opposition to the planned war. We appeal to scientists, engineers and academics throughout the world to work in solidarity to prevent this war in both their personal and professional capacities. We call for teach-ins, hearings and other meetings to take place at all universities. These should consider the consequences of the planned war on the people of Iraq; the stability of the Middle East; the future of the United Nations and international law; international relations and the dialogue among cultures; the global economy and the environment; and the development, proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction.
We call upon universities throughout the world to engage in all forms of peaceful protest. We call upon universities in those countries supporting the war to go on strike should a war begin and to announce their intention to do so in advance."
The International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility (INES) is an international non-governmental organization affiliated with the UN and the UNESCO. INES works for peace, sustainability and the constructive uses of science and technology. See

Feb 8 ~ Downing Street stands by Iraq dossier

LONDON (Reuters) - The government says it stands by an intelligence dossier on Iraq, after academics said whole passages had been lifted from magazine articles, complete with spelling mistakes.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell drew attention to a British dossier on Iraq during his presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday. The British dossier says it is compiled from intelligence material "and other sources".
Several academics came forward on Thursday saying they recognised most of the dossier as lifted, verbatim, from articles published in the U.S. journal the Middle East Review of International Affairs and in Jane's Intelligence Review.
In some cases the dossier included punctuation and spelling mistakes copied from the original articles....."

Feb 7 ~ Your second chance for... Between Iraq and a Hard Place

BREMNER BIRD AND FORTUNE - XMAS SPECIAL The comedy trio Bremner Bird and Fortune bring their viewpoint on the Iraqi crisis in their own unique way.
We're about to invade Iraq. Again. We invaded in 1917... and 1941 ... and 1991. This time though, we're dealing with Saddam Hussein.
But then, we've been dealing with Saddam for years. Why now? The Americans see the chance to bring traditional Western values to the Middle East (aka the guys with the diapers on their heads): democracy (from the people who brought you George W Bush); freedom (from the people who brought you Guantanamo Bay) and economic prosperity (from the people who bought you Enron).
Starring George W Bush, Tony Blair, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and a cast of… well, Rory Bremner, flanked by John Bird and John Fortune as Foreign Office mandarins, convinced that this time they have got it right, and that above all the one thing this is not about is oil… Read the transcript of the show
(external liks to Channel Four) (Part One)
(Part Two)
(Part Three)
(Part Four)

Feb 7 ~ Downing Street's "Iraq" intelligence dossier released on Monday was copied from three different articles

"It gives the impression of being an up to the minute intelligence-based analysis - and Mr (Colin) Powell was fulsome in his praise. ... Channel Four News has learnt that the bulk of the nineteen page document was copied from three different articles - one written by a graduate student. Published on the Number 10 web site, called "Iraq - Its Infrastructure of Concealment Deception and Intimidation", it outlines the structure of Saddam's intelligence organisations. But it made familiar reading to Cambridge academic Glen Ranwala. It was copied from an article last September in a small journal: the Middle East Review of International Affairs. ...." See Channel 4 news report

Feb 6/7 ~ We know more about killing than we know about living

emailer:"There was a good letter in the Times yesterday on the futility of war with Iraq and the final quotation from General Omar Bradley in 1948 is relevant.
"We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount...Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants...We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living".

Feb 5 ~ Mr Blair has been as shameless as James I.

"He was personally committed to a "fully elected House of Lords" He signed the manifesto pledge of "a democratic and representative" second chamber. Yet no sooner does he sniff the trough of power than he plunges straight in. He packs the Lords with friends, sycophants and bought peerages. By and large this has worked. At present a House stuffed with statesmen and soldiers dare not even discuss the impending war. ..." Simon Jenkins in today's Times on Monkey business in the House of Baboons

Feb 5 ~ Robert Fisk: Don't mention the war in Afghanistan

See Independent today " The near collapse of peace in this savage land is a narrative erased from the mind of Americans....
"There's one sure bet about the statement to be made to the UN Security Council today by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell - or by General Colin Powell as he has now been mysteriously reassigned by the American press: he won't be talking about Afghanistan. For since the Afghan war is the "successful" role model for America's forthcoming imperial adventure across the Middle East, the near-collapse of peace in this savage land and the steady erosion of US forces in Afghanistan - the nightly attacks on American and other international troops, the anarchy in the cities outside Kabul, the warlordism and drug trafficking and steadily increasing toll of murders - are unmentionables, a narrative constantly erased from the consciousness of Americans who are now sending their young men and women by the tens of thousands to stage another "success" story.....An American killed by a newly placed landmine in Khost; 16 civilians blown up by another newly placed mine outside Kandahar; grenades tossed at Americans or international troops in Kabul; further reports of rape and female classroom burnings in the north of Afghanistan - all these events are now acquiring the stale status of yesterday's war....."

Feb 4/5 ~ Radio 4 "A Strain on the System"

Wed Feb 5th at 9.00pm. The second in a three-part series assessing our preparedness in the face of national crises. Sue Broom looks at the lessons learned from the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic.

Feb 4 ~ Britain must not go to war without UN's backing, say senior officers

Times (external link)"... Serving officers are not allowed to give their personal views about an imminent operation. However, senior retired officers who keep in regular touch with the Ministry of Defence about upcoming operations are not barred from making public comments."
"..... General Sir Roger Wheeler, who was Chief of the General Staff from 1997 to 2000, said yesterday that he and many other recently retired officers would find a war without a second resolution from the UN Security Council, unaccceptable. "If we are going to war, we need the backing of the international community and the country and that means a second resolution," he said. ...Sir Roger said that he backed the view expressed by General Sir Jack Deverell, Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Northern Europe, who told BBC radio last week that he would not like to go to war without the country's support. ..."

Feb 4 ~ Yet another confused Minister

Telegraph today (external link) "Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, was in confused retreat yesterday over her attempt to ban an anti-war rally from assembling in Hyde Park because the marchers might damage the grass.
The Stop the War Coalition, organisers of the demonstration, said Miss Jowell's intervention had prompted a flood of pledges of support and predicted that up to 500,000 people would attend the protest on February 15. A spokesman for the Royal Parks said the concern over the use of Hyde Park was for the safety of those attending the march and not necessarily the damage to the grass. In a letter to Miss Jowell, Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, said Hyde Park was the only suitable venue. A culture department spokesman said: "Hyde Park is still, in our view, an unsuitable venue for safety reasons. No final decisions have been made. We are trying to find somewhere suitable where the march can go ahead. There is no hidden agenda."
• America's desire for oil, rather than concern over weapons of mass destruction, was the main reason for a possible war with Iraq, Tony Benn, the veteran Left-winger, said yesterday after returning from talks with Saddam Hussein. "This is about regime change to give the US control of the oil," said Mr Benn, on his arrival at Heathrow Airport."

Feb 4 ~ Blair: I will risk my political future over Iraq

PM admits he has failed to convince Britons of need for military action Today's Independent ".....The Prime Minister faced hostile questions from Labour MPs. Gordon Prentice, MP for Pendle, said: "There are many people who feel, like me, that we are being led by the nose into war." Derek Foster, MP for Bishop Auckland and a former chief whip, said: "There will be profound implications for the long-term security of the world if the United States was to take international law into its own hands." The former Labour MP Tony Benn, back in Britain after meeting President Saddam Hussein on Sunday, said Mr Blair held "an effective veto" on war. "If he says to Bush, 'I'm sorry, I can't go along with you', Bush would find it very difficult to go," he said. ......"

Feb 3 ~ "Vaclav Havel Takes His Leave

New York Times " ..when Vaclav Havel left Prague Castle on Sunday after 13 years as president, he took with him something quite different an exceptional individual moral authority. Mr. Havel leaves no clearly defined political legacy. What he leaves is the sense that in the life of a nation the character of its leaders matters. He showed us that speaking honestly and deeply when you are expected merely to express platitudes brings its own political authority. Czechs and the rest of us are better off because of him..Parliament has failed twice to choose his successor. The parties bicker and the press reports it. For those freedoms and many more besides, Czechs have Vaclav Havel to thank"

Feb 3 ~ Tony Benn has filmed an interview with Saddam Hussein

See Reuters He said he had asked Saddam "very simple and very short questions" during the interview that dealt with weapons of mass destruction, links to al-Qaeda terror network and oil....Benn said he did not want to reveal Saddam's answers in the interview earlier in the day "because I am hoping that within the next day or two, the whole interview will be broadcast in its entirety". He did not say when or where the interview would be broadcast. He was leaving for London via Amman late on Sunday.....He said the reason for his current visit to Baghdad was "to explore possibilities of a peaceful solution to a problem, that otherwise might lead to the most catastrophic war in which innocent people will be killed with long-term consequences".

Feb 2 ~ America - one company can now own all the radio stations, television stations, newspapers and cable systems in any given area.

Extract from article in the Boulder Daily Camera "....The Federal Communications Commission, led by Michael ("my religions is the market") Powell, is fixing to remove the last remaining barriers against concentration of media. This means one company can own all the radio stations, television stations, newspapers and cable systems in any given area. Presently, 10 companies own over 90 percent of the media outlets. Bill Kovach of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism say these are the most sweeping changes in the rules that govern ownership of American media since the 1940s. The ownership rules were put in place after we had seen how totalitarian governments use domination of the media to goad their countries into war."
Reporters without borders can be found at A visit strongly recommended..

Feb 2 ~ Some of the Prime Minister's highest-ranking former colleagues add their voices to the chorus calling for restraint over Iraq

Independent on Sunday
"Former Labour ministers who served under Tony Blair have added their voices to the growing calls on the Prime Minister to draw back from military action against Iraq. All are influential figures in the Labour movement, some having served as Cabinet ministers, others in the Foreign Office or the Ministry of Defence. Most are still sitting MPs. They have spoken out against the threatened war on Saddam Hussein, warning Mr Blair not to proceed without the backing of the international community through a second UN resolution.
Mo Mowlam, the former Northern Ireland secretary, has even cautioned that with public and political opinion stacked against a war, a prolonged and difficult conflict could spell the end of Mr Blair's premiership. "If the war is not quick and successful, he could suffer considerable political damage. He may even have to resign as Prime Minister," she said. Chris Smith, the former Culture secretary, branded military action without a second UN mandate "unacceptable". Frank Dobson, Mr Blair's first Health secretary, said war without UN backing would be "disastrous worldwide" and "politically disastrous here". Mr Blair's support for US President George Bush and his proposed invasion of Iraq has also been condemned by generals and military strategists, including General Sir Michael Rose, Major General Julian Thompson and Major General Patrick Cordingley..." (Read what they said in the full article)

Feb 2 ~ Labour MPs have remarked on the "warped sense of priorities"

that led the Government to back the ban on the grounds that the central London park's grass might be damaged, or that protesters could be injured, when a real threat to human life in the war on Iraq was at issue. Ms Short said: "I welcome the fact that so many people in Britain are troubled by the prospects of war." She was glad she "lived in a country that did not relish war" and that people were "willing to make their views felt". She added: "That is important in a democracy."
Organisers of the rally, who will meet the Royal Parks Agency tomorrow, said Hyde Park was the only realistic venue for a rally likely to attract half a million people. A spokeswoman for the Stop the War Coalition, which is organising various marches, pointed out the irony of a ban because of safety concerns: "You have to ask about the health and safety of thousands of people in Baghdad when 800 cruise missiles are targeted at them."...." From today's Independent (external link)

Feb 2 ~" I am a democrat" says Robin Cook

Are true Labourites about to stand up and be counted? See Telegraph today on Robin Cook's assertion that the principle of electing a proportion of Lords was "non-negotiable"
".....In what appeared to be an attack on Mr Blair's reputation for cronyism, Mr Cook said: "If we exclude the public from the process of selection, we should not be surprised if the public is then cynical about who is appointed."
The speech, delivered at Imperial College, London, led Cabinet colleagues and other ministers to predict that Mr Cook will shortly either resign or be sacked.
"It is getting very difficult to see how Robin can possibly stay in that job if Tuesday's vote goes against him. He would ultimately be responsible for seeing through legislation he clearly opposes," said one minister.
Challenged yesterday over what he would do if MPs come out in favour of an all-appointed chamber, the Leader of the House would only say: "I am a democrat."...."

Feb 2 ~ Content with ignoring the church, Bush has also decided to play with dynamite by ignoring some of America's top military minds.

An article in the interesting "Counterpunch" site ".....One of them is retired General Norman Schwarzkopf, the military commander of Desert Storm. He told The Washington Post that he has yet to be fully convinced that war with Iraq is necessary. Schwarzkopf's comments mirror those of other retired top generals, including Anthony Zinni, Wesley Clark, John Shalikashvili, Brent Scowcroft, Joseph Hoar, and Merrill McPeak. Pentagon sources report that the obviously mentally ill Donald Rumsfeld threatened to fire some members of his Joint Chiefs of Staff for not supporting the war against Iraq. These included former Marine Corps Commandant and now NATO commander General James Jones and Army Chief of Staff General Erik Shinseki. Another recipient of Rumsfeld's wrath is the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command General Charles Holland who Rumsfeld accused of having a "case of the slows" in carrying out Bush's war plans.
Pentagon sources report that morale among senior military commanders is at an all time low. Rumsfeld rubbed salt into open wounds when he ordered his "CINCs" (Commander-in-Chief) to drop that title, declaring that there is only one "commander-in-chief" and that is Bush. ....."

Feb 2 ~ "America could alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that probably could not be challenged for decades - not solely by controlling Iraq's oil, but by controlling its water..."

Fascinating article by the Central Intelligence Agency's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, and professor at the Army War College from 1988 to 2000, Stephen C. Pelletiere . Friday's New York Times "....In fact, those who really feel that the disaster at Halabja has bearing on today might want to consider a different question: Why was Iran so keen on taking the town? A closer look may shed light on America's impetus to invade Iraq.
We are constantly reminded that Iraq has perhaps the world's largest reserves of oil. But in a regional and perhaps even geopolitical sense, it may be more important that Iraq has the most extensive river system in the Middle East. In addition to the Tigris and Euphrates, there are the Greater Zab and Lesser Zab rivers in the north of the country. Iraq was covered with irrigation works by the sixth century A.D., and was a granary for the region.
Before the Persian Gulf war, Iraq had built an impressive system of dams and river control projects, the largest being the Darbandikhan dam in the Kurdish area. And it was this dam the Iranians were aiming to take control of when they seized Halabja. In the 1990's there was much discussion over the construction of a so-called Peace Pipeline that would bring the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates south to the parched Gulf states and, by extension, Israel. No progress has been made on this, largely because of Iraqi intransigence. With Iraq in American hands, of course, all that could change.
Thus America could alter the destiny of the Middle East in a way that probably could not be challenged for decades - not solely by controlling Iraq's oil, but by controlling its water.

Feb 1 ~ "..Typically, Mr Blair uses words that pretend the issue has not already been decided,

and then tries to tilt the debate in favour of the conclusion to which he has, in truth, already committed his premiership and his nation." See today's Independent (external link) " He made it clear some time ago that, if the US went to war in Iraq, Britain would fight alongside.
His gamble is that he will win British public opinion round, but his dishonesty is in pretending that the outcome could be altered by a vote in either the House of Commons or the UN Security Council. Of course, he would prefer to have those votes behind him, but Britain is locked into conflict anyway if George Bush decides upon it..."

Feb 1 ~ We are talking about the death of community performance.

WMN today reminds us of the extraordinarily interfering new bill - the new Licensing Bill - which may become law as early as next year. It will force pubs, community centres, village and school halls to pay for licences to stage any musical event at which there is an entrance fee - even for charity. See article (external link): The (external) link below gives some idea of what could happen (and appears to already be happening in some places). On the day the Bill was published, the Arts Council received a legal opinion from one of the UK's leading licensing lawyers confirming that corporate hospitality events where performers are paid were licensable under the Bill as published. This contradicted the government's own statement published in the Explanatory Notes that accompany the Bill.

Archive from January 2003

Press f5 SEVERAL TIMES on all main pages for latest version of warmwell

Democracy Watch ~ Stories from the Press ~

See also: for articles monitoring the State and Civil Liberties in the UK and in Europe

"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust." --Demosthenes

Don't trust computers with e-votes, warns expert

Stuart Millar, technology correspondent Thursday October 17, 2002 The Guardian
A world experts in electronic voting will today warn the government that trusting computers with the democratic process is a recipe for fraud and error. Rebecca Mercuri is assistant professor of computer science at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, who has given evidence to the US Congress. She is meeting the Cabinet Office in London today, and will urge reconsideration of alternatives to crosses on ballot papers, such as internet and text-message voting, because their results cannot be guaranteed to be secure and accurate.
She told the Guardian yesterday: "E-voting systems actually provide less accountability, poorer reliability and greater opportunity for fraud than traditional methods.
"People assume that electronic voting is just the same as other technologies we use in everyday life, like banking or airline ticketing, but there are crucial differences.
"With all these other systems there is a physical data trail, bits of paper that allow us to check that the transactions are accurate. E-voting offers none of these safeguards." ...more
Oct 17 02

Pupils urged to inform on problem parents

By Helen Hague
(Filed: 14/10/2002)

Pupils as young as 13 are being encouraged to disclose sensitive information about their parents to the Government to help discover why they might be failing at school.

Details of problems such as drink and drug abuse, depression, eating disorders and frequent domestic rows would be sought by advisers.

The data, gathered without the consent of parents by the Connexions Service, which supplies careers and personal advisers to schools, could be shared with a number of government departments, the police and health authorities.

The methods used to collect this data, its storage and future use, is worrying child mental health experts, lawyers and privacy campaigners.

Information is gathered by Connexion staff under orders from the Department for Education and Skills to compile profiles on 13- to 19-year-olds and identify problems over academic performance.

Documents seen by The Daily Telegraph say issues to explore include "evidence of suicidal thoughts", "issues around food/weight", "evidence of substance use by parent(s)/carers" and "evidence of living in a criminal environment".

Some of the 3,000 advisers in schools, colleges and one-stop advice shops have a background in youth work. Others are trained to NVQ level four, equivalent to the first year at university. To gain a diploma, they attend the equivalent of 17 days' training.

Helen Rimington, a member of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act Tribunal, said: "There are areas here where trained doctors, psychiatrists, educational psychologists and counsellors would tread very carefully."

Terri Dowty, from Action for the Rights of Children, said: "The equivalent of about three weeks' training can't possibly equip anyone to provide the level of containment necessary in such situations. It has frightening overtones of totalitarian regimes."

A DES spokesman said all 13- to 19-year olds had access to an adviser. Parental profiles could help advisers to identify the need for intervention from other agencies.
Tue 15 Oct 2002

Now they want children to spy on their parents

Allan Massie

THERE are various versions of the proverb "the way to Hell is paved with good intentions". Among them I like Ruskin?s "you can?t pave the bottomless pit; but you may the road to it". It?s a harsh saying, but a true one. A good example has been offered this week.

The authorities are rightly concerned that some children do less well than they might at school. It occurs to someone that this might, in part anyway, be due to troubles at home. We can all accept that this may be the case. So what next? What do the bright sparks come up with?

Easy: they encourage children to disclose sensitive information about their parents. It is gathered by something called the Connexions Service, which supplies careers advisers and personal advisers to schools in England and Wales, and the information provided may be shared with a number of government departments, the police and health authorities.

Apparently the new Department for Education and Skills has asked the Connexions Service to compile profiles on 13-19-year-olds and identify problems over academic performance. The agency?s staff are invited to look for such things as "evidence of suicidal thoughts", "issues around food/weight", "evidence of living in a criminal environment".

It?s all, as you can see, terribly well-intentioned; who can be against helping the kids to sort out their problems? A pity that the road taken leads straight to Hell, down into the bottomless pit.

One of the characteristics of dictatorial regimes has long been the use of children to inform on or denounce their parents. It happened in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, especially during the Stalinist years, and we, in the liberal democracies, rightly found the practice deplorable, disgusting, horrible.

But it goes further back, to Revolutionary France at least. A very good new book, The Lost King of France, by Deborah Cadbury, tells how the little Dauphin, otherwise Louis XVII, a child prisoner in the Temple, was brought to sign a declaration presented at the trial of his mother, Marie-Antoinette, in which he affirmed that he had been taught "pernicious habits of self-abuse by his mother and aunt, and that they took pleasure in watching him perform these practices ... and that very often this took place when the women made him sleep between them".

Perhaps this is just the sort of thing the Connexions Service will be looking for - even hoping for. It sounds like it. After all, to justify its employment by the Department of Education and Skills, it must persuade as many children as possible to offer evidence of their parents? incapability or vice. Any child who then subsequently suffered from guilt on account of having denounced his mother and father would, we may presume, be ready for other and still more intensive counselling from experts, some of whom, it is reported, have received as much as 17 days? training.

Only people with the very best intentions and a high sense of their own virtue could authorise this sort of thing, and not see how iniquitous it is. So far as I know, this policy of encouraging children to inform on their parents is restricted to England and Wales. One would like to be assured that a variant of it will not be adopted here in Scotland.

Meanwhile it is further evidence of how the state sees the family as its enemy, and prey.


Politicians waffle as EU onslaught continues
Sunday Telegraph

....... Friday morning's Today programme offered yet another example of how, as the EU makes its final moves towards full political integration, Britain's politicians and media seem to inhabit a different planet from everyone else in Europe. Our Minister for Europe, Peter Hain, yet again praised his boss, Jack Straw, for coming up with the brilliantly novel idea that the EU should have its own constitution, without pointing out that this is precisely what the 105 delegates to the EU's "constitutional convention" in Brussels have been discussing since March.
Michael Ancram, the Tory spokesman, then came on to rehearse his weary plea that the EU must become "more flexible", giving more power to its member states, without pointing out that this is so far from anything that anyone other than Britain's Tories have in mind that it is like a man confronted by an elephant plaintively wishing it was a sheep. John Humphrys sat pettishly in the middle, allowing them both to get away with this twaddle.
So far removed from the reality of what is going on in Brussels were these "Little Englanders" that once again one is left utterly baffled. Do they actually hope to fool us with this vacuous wishful thinking? Or can it be possible that they really have so little grasp of what is happening in front of their noses that they genuinely know no better?....more
Oct 13 02

SHAYLERGATE: British Press Gagged on Reporting MI6's £100,000 bin Laden Payoff By Paul Joseph Watson

Tony Blair has tonight ordered a D-Notice on British media reporting government officials signing court gag orders. This regards the case of former MI5 officer David Shayler, who has evidence to prove MI6 gave £100,000 to bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, arms to Iraq and had prior knowledge of several terrorist attacks on London in the 1990's.
The original articles stated that top Labour MP's had signed gag orders, whereby upon mention of this evidence in court, media have to immediately leave the trial. Newspapers all over the country, including the Guardian, the London Evening Standard and the Scotsman have either completely removed or amended their articles. This evidence is damning. The British government is trying to bury the story before it buries them. ....
Here it is in Shayler's own words plus the actual MI6 Gaddafi plot document - MI6 Plot to assassinate Colonel Gaddafi: Police enquiry confirms Plot is not "fantasy" - ......
The Scotsman also released a report which remains online but both the title and the article have been amended!!! The new article talks about new MI5 head Eliza Manningham-Buller, only mentio'ning the Shayler case in passing. It certainly does not include information concerning the Labour MPs involved and government prior knowledge of terrorist bombings in London. is the amended version - I archived the original at http://www.propagandam''_mi5_agent_to_face_jury.htm. The report was originally entitled Renegade MI5 agent ready to face jury it is now called Has MI5 really emerged from shadows? This is the report with the most damning information (the one they erased).
Here is the full text of the original Scotsman article.

Renegade MI5 agent ready to face jury

DAVID Shayler, the former M15 officer branded a traitor by the government, is due to take on the legal establishment today, as his trial opens at the Old Bailey in London.
The renegade agent, who faces six years imprisonment for breaching the Official Secrets Act after making a number of sensational revelations about M15 to a national newspaper in 1997, will represent himself for part of the landmark case. The trial will centre around a number of allegations made by Shayler about M15 holding files on prominent politicians, including former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson and Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary. He also claimed the secret services ignored warnings that might have prevented bombings in the London in 1993 and 1994.
Shayler, 36, faces two charges under section one of the Official Secrets Act for disclosing documents and information about the work of M15 and another under section four, for disclosing information about telephone taps.
He has failed so far to win his argument that his revelations were in the public interest. The High Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, have all ruled that he cannot claim he disclosed information in the public interest or out of necessity. They also ruled out the main plank of Shaylers defence - that the Officials Secrets Act is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
Shayler, who made other allegations for which he was not charged, including a claim that M16 was involved in a plot to assassinate the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, will argue that he is only guilty of "exposing wrongdoing".
"I aim to persist in my argument that the Official Secrets Act as it currently stands is totally incompatible with the Human Rights Act," he told a newspaper yesterday.
Some of the hearing is expected to be taken up by an application by newspapers objecting to plans to hold parts of the trial in secret.
The prosecution applied for hearings to be held in camera after its concerns that Shayler will make fresh allegations to the jury to back up his public interest defence.
Shaylers decision to defend himself, against the advice of his legal team, for part of the trial was prompted by the belief that he will be freer to argue his case than his barrister, Geoffrey Robertson, QC, whose hands are tied by earlier court rulings.
Even local papers such as the Leicestershire Mail and the Derby Even''ing Telegraph have removed the story from their websites! The original stories were here and here respectively. They were entiled SHAYLER AT OLD BAILEY FOR TRIAL' and 'SHAYLER ARRIVES FOR TRIAL.' As you can see by clicking the links, they are gone. As is a London Independent article that was entitled 'MI5 faces accountability test as new chief takes reins.'
UPDATE: It is now confirmed that all details relating to the Shayler case cannot be reported. The UK government have successfully gagged the cowardly pathetic mainstream media, but I will continue to track this story.
The Guardian reports - 'Shayler hearing'
'An Old Bailey court yesterday heard legal arguments relating to the trial of David Shayler, the former MI5 officer charged with breaking the Official Secrets Act. The judge ruled that they cannot be reported. Mr Shayler's trial is now expected to be heard before a jury next week.' - Richard Norton-Taylor
Read this tiny blurb at,3604,806640,00.html (until they remove that too)

Labour website spin 'like Orwell's 1984'

Professors accuse Labour of creating a 'social statistical utopia' David Walker
Tuesday October 8, 2002 The Guardian
The Labour party has "systematically manipulated" data on its website to show improvements in health, schooling and other services, according to an unpublished study. Starting in the run-up to last year's election and continuing since, Labour has guided the public to misleading statistics for crime and unemployment as well as spending on schools and hospitals.
Figures have been "mangled" to give a better impression of Labour's performance at the local level.
In a research paper circulating among academics, after being presented at a recent Political Studies Association conference, four distinguished geographers take apart the website's figures for local areas. Led by professors Danny Dorling of Leeds University and Ron Johnston of Bristol University, the team argue that Labour has consistently adjusted and manipulated data without acknowledging it. ...(See more)

Inspection as invasion

The US has been seeking to prevent a resolution of the Iraq crisis for the past eight years
George MonbiotTuesday October 8, 2002The Guardian
There is little that those of us who oppose the coming war with Iraq can now do to prevent it. George Bush has staked his credibility on the project; he has mid-term elections to consider, oil supplies to secure and a flagging war on terror to revive. Our voices are as little heeded in the White House as the singing of the birds.
Our role is now, perhaps, confined to the modest but necessary task of demonstrating the withdrawal of our consent, while seeking to undermine the moral confidence which could turn the attack on Iraq into a war against all those states perceived to offend US strategic interests. No task is more urgent than to expose the two astonishing lies contained in George Bush's radio address on Saturday, namely that "the United States does not desire military conflict, because we know the awful nature of war" and "we hope that Iraq complies with the world's demands". Mr Bush appears to have done everything in his power to prevent Iraq from complying with the world's demands, while ensuring that military conflict becomes inevitable.
On July 4 this year, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, began negotiating with Iraq over the return of UN weapons inspectors. Iraq had resisted UN inspections for three and a half years, but now it felt the screw turning, and appeared to be on the point of capitulation. On July 5, the Pentagon leaked its war plan to the New York Times. The US, a Pentagon official revealed, was preparing "a major air campaign and land invasion" to "topple President Saddam Hussein". The talks immediately collapsed.
Ten days ago, they were about to resume. Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspections body, was due to meet Iraqi officials in Vienna, to discuss the practicalities of re-entering the country. The US airforce launched bombing raids on Basra, in southern Iraq, destroying a radar system. As the Russian government pointed out, the attack could scarcely have been better designed to scupper the talks. But this time the Iraqis, mindful of the consequences of excluding the inspectors, kept talking. Last Tuesday, they agreed to let the UN back in. The State Department immediately announced, with more candour than elegance, that it would "go into thwart mode".
It wasn't bluffing. The following day, it leaked the draft resolution on inspections it was placing before the UN Security Council. This resembles nothing so much as a plan for unopposed invasion. The decisions about which sites should be "inspected" would no longer be made by the UN alone, but also by "any permanent member of the security council", such as the United States. The people inspecting these sites could also be chosen by the US, and they would enjoy "unrestricted rights of entry into and out of Iraq" and "the right to free, unrestricted and immediate movement" within Iraq, "including unrestricted access to presidential sites". They would be permitted to establish "regional bases and operating bases throughout Iraq", where they would be "accompanied... by sufficient US security forces to protect them". They would have the right to declare exclusion zones, no-fly zones and "ground and air transit corridors". They would be allowed to fly and land as many planes, helicopters and surveillance drones in Iraq as they want, to set up "encrypted communication" networks and to seize "any equipment" they choose to lay hands on. The resolution, in other words, could not have failed to remind Iraq of the alleged infiltration of the UN team in 1996. Both the Iraqi government and the former inspector Scott Ritter maintain that the weapons inspectors were joined that year by CIA covert operations specialists, who used the UN's special access to collect information and encourage the republican guard to launch a coup. On Thursday, Britain and the United States instructed the weapons inspectors not to enter Iraq until the new resolution has been adopted. As Milan Rai's new book War Plan Iraq documents, the US has been undermining disarmament for years. The UN's principal means of persuasion was paragraph 22 of the security council's resolution 687, which promised that economic sanctions would be lifted once Iraq ceased to possess weapons of mass destruction. But in April 1994, Warren Christopher, the US secretary of state, unilaterally withdrew this promise, removing Iraq's main incentive to comply. Three years later his successor, Madeleine Albright, insisted that sanctions would not be lifted while Saddam remained in power. The US government maintains that Saddam Hussein expelled the UN inspectors from Iraq in 1998, but this is not true. On October 30 1998, the US rejected a new UN proposal by again refusing to lift the oil embargo if Iraq disarmed. On the following day, the Iraqi government announced that it would cease to cooperate with the inspectors. In fact it permitted them to continue working, and over the next six weeks they completed around 300 operations. On December 14, Richard Butler, the head of the inspection team, published a curiously contradictory report. The body of the report recorded that over the past month "the majority of the inspections of facilities and sites under the ongoing monitoring system were carried out with Iraq's cooperation", but his well-publicised conclusion was that "no progress" had been made. Russia and China accused Butler of bias. On December 15, the US ambassador to the UN warned him that his team should leave Iraq for its own safety. Butler pulled out, and on the following day the US started bombing Iraq.
From that point on, Saddam Hussein refused to allow UN inspectors to return. At the end of last year, Jose Bustani, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, proposed a means of resolving the crisis. His organisation had not been involved in the messy business of 1998, so he offered to send in his own inspectors, and complete the job the UN had almost finished. The US responded by demanding Bustani's dismissal. The other member states agreed to depose him only after the United States threatened to destroy the organisation if he stayed. Now Hans Blix, the head of the new UN inspectorate, may also be feeling the heat. On Tuesday he insisted that he would take his orders only from the security council. On Thursday, after an hour-long meeting with US officials, he agreed with the Americans that there should be no inspections until a new resolution had been approved.
For the past eight years the US, with Britain's help, appears to have been seeking to prevent a resolution of the crisis in Iraq. It is almost as if Iraq has been kept on ice, as a necessary enemy to be warmed up whenever the occasion demands. Today, as the economy slides and Bin Laden's latest mocking message suggests that the war on terrorism has so far failed, an enemy which can be located and bombed is more necessary than ever. A just war can be pursued only when all peaceful means have been exhausted. In this case, the peaceful means have been averted.
Oct 8 02

Teenagers 'used to introduce ID cards by stealth'

By Helen Hague and Philip Johnston (Filed: 04/10/2002)
Children's campaigners have accused the Government of using teenagers to introduce a national identity card by stealth.
The Connexions Card - a "smart" card that carries personal data - is being offered to more than two million 16- to 19-year-olds. More than 175,000 have already been issued. The project, described as the largest in Europe, is being run on behalf of the Department for Education and Skills by Capita, the company behind the new Criminal Records Bureau, which has recently been criticised over delays in recruiting teachers.
Teenagers are not required to possess the cards, although they may be obliged to if their school or college uses them to record attendance. They are also encouraged to apply by the prospect of rewards. Holders accumulate points for good work or attendance that can be exchanged for trainers, CDs or days out. Since it displays the date of birth and a photograph, it is also being championed by the Government as a proof of age card. The card has been introduced gradually across the country over the past few months and a high profile national advertising campaign is planned for December.
However, while the Government says the scheme is both benign and voluntary, it is causing alarm among some campaigners.
Terri Dowty, from Action for the Rights of Children, said: "We are concerned that the Government is playing a long game and using the Connexions Card as a means of introducing an identity card by stealth. There would have been fierce objections to the introduction of such a card for adults."
She added: "We are extremely worried by the agenda underlying the Connexions service. The extent of the information being sought from young people and then made available to every conceivable government agency is horrifying."
One of the aims of the Connexions project is to "track" every young person, and ensure their visibility to government agencies.
Three thousand retailers - including Playstation, Panasonic and the British School of Motoring - offer rewards through the Connexions Card website. The department has set aside £100 million to put 2.4 million cards into circulation.
To boost the take-up, the card issuers have offered colleges £1 for each student record they supply - including name, address, date of birth, special educational needs, student enrolment number and digital photograph.
Sue Sampson, a smallholder in Herefordshire, was perturbed to discover that her 16-year-old son John had been signed up for a Connexions Card at school. "It smacks of an embryonic national identity card, softening up young people to release personal data by offering trendy consumer goods," she said.
"With such inducements, teenagers are more likely to get a card without thinking through the implications of releasing personal data," Mrs Sampson added.
"I'm very concerned about the Government's obsession with gathering personal information, and that big business will get hold of spending patterns to target young people. It is an opt-out rather than an opt-in system."
John has since cancelled his card.
A Capita spokesman said: "It is an entirely permission-based initiative - no young person has to have a card. Data on cardholders is not passed on to third parties and the data in the system is protected by extremely rigorous processes that ensure it cannot be abused."
Oct 4 02

The Prince is right

Simon Heffer
.......The other day I was having lunch with a senior minister, and we got on to the fiasco of last year's foot-and-mouth crisis. Without blinking, he said it was the fault of the Civil Service. The old doctrine that ministers take ultimate responsibility for what goes on in their departments has been blown out of the water. Where he had a point, of course, is that the calibre of those in the Civil Service is not remotely what it was 20 years ago. There is a stark difference in tone now between mandarins in their late fifties, who joined the Civil Service in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and those a generation younger who have entered in the last ten years. The former include a high proportion of classically educated ex-public-school and Oxbridge types, themselves not from the old governing class, but shrewd enough to have imbibed certain aspects of it. The latter have been deliberately recruited from very different backgrounds, to make the Civil Service more "representative". It is not that they are not as clever as their predecessors, but that many of them have a different agenda. They are often highly politicised; they lack, for that reason, all the attention to detail that the truly objective tend to bring to their work. However, to blame them for the failures of the government is absurd. Last week's debacle at the Department for Education and Skills shows that for every spavined senior public servant there is always at least one completely incompetent minister. Executive abilities are almost entirely absent from the Cabinet, which is why it relies so heavily on the Civil Service; and if the Civil Service is declining in ability and morale at the same time, largely as the result of government policy, the outcome is sure to be ghastly. You would think that a generation of politicians so short on talent would welcome help from whichever quarter it comes, even if it is from a rich landowner like the Prince of Wales. However, the almost oriental desire that this new governing class has to save its own face in the aftermath of its own acts of incompetence prevents it ever from acknowledging such assistance. There will be no encouragement to the old governing class to bring their skills of disinterest, and their often extensive experience of what Lord Falconer has called "ordinary people", to bear on the problems of today. Their charitable role of old has been supplanted by the state; their political role by many utterly unsuited to it. And yet, ironically, when "ordinary people" cry out for a failed minister like Estelle Morris to "do the decent thing" after presiding over some catastrophe or other, they are still expecting very unaristocratic politicians to behave in an instinctively aristocratic way when they make a mistake. It shows a touchingly traditional, if now tragically anachronistic, interpretation of human nature
Oct 3 02
Secrecy and openness in the European Union
the ongoing struggle for freedom of information
by Tony Bunyan,
Posted October 1, 2002

This project looks at the struggle for openness and freedom of information in the European Union over the past decade. It starts with the Code of access to EU documents introduced in December 1993 [Chapter 1] and the first challenges in the courts [Chapters 2 and 4] and to the European Ombudsman [Chapter 3]. Despite their public commitment to openness, EU institutions - especially the Council of the European Union (the 15 EU governments) and the European Commission wanted to control which documents were released and which were not.

At the heart of the issue was whether citizens could have access to the documents in the policy-making process before the final decision was adopted. Governments and the Commission wanted to keep under wraps all documents until a new policy was in place - except for selective leaks to "friendly" media outlets.

Civil society groups - journalists, researchers, academics and voluntary groups - argued that a democratic EU had to be based on true openness, that is, full freedom of information. Only then could all sections of society take a view on proposals and put forward their views. Around a number of successful court cases and complaints lodged with the European Ombudsman against the Council a civil society network came into being - journalists, academics and researchers.

When the Amsterdam Treaty was agreed in June 1997 the right of access to documents was written in to Article 255 [Chapter 5]. But we knew from experience that the "Dinosaurs" (as Mr Soderman, the European Ombudsman called them) backing secrecy would try and use a new treaty-based measure to set the clock back.

Our fears were compounded when the European Commission who were responsible for drafting the initial proposal failed to publish a "Green Paper" (to launch a public discussion) as is the normal practice - though Statewatch was leaked, and published, two unpublished drafts. When the Commission proposal for a new Regulation appeared in January 2000 it reflected the in-built secrecy of their existing practice.

As if things were not bad enough, just as all the Brussels institutions went on their summer vacation Mr Solana, the Secretary-General of the Council steamrollered through major changes to the existing code to meet NATO demands for secrecy - by written procedure, the least democratic policy-making instrument available to the EU [Chapter 6].

When the European Parliament finally got down to discussing the Commission's proposal in the autumn of 2000 their first reading report was by common consensus a "mess" and the first drafts of the Council's position was no better. At the turn of the year there were three quite different drafts on the table from the three Brussels institutions. None of these positions met the standard that the new Regulation should build on the existing code, including all the improvements brought about by civil society challenges in the courts and to the Ombudsman, and truly "enshrine" the right of access to documents in EU law as the Amsterdam Treaty promised[Chapter 7].

Instead of sorting out these differences in public, the institutions set up a series of secret "trilogue" meetings which made slow progress. So in February 2001 the civil society network called a meeting in Brussels with the three institutions in the European Parliament and told them that none of the drafts were acceptable and that the Commission should be asked to come up with a new draft proposal.

The "trilogue" meetings were a public relations disaster for the institutions as most of the discussions were leaked to Statewatch. The Presidency of the Council lost patience in April and cobbled together a typical Brussels "compromise" in which the politicians and bureaucrats effectively closed ranks and said that "this was the best that could be achieved". With the support of three of the main parties in the European Parliament this "compromise" was then adopted.

In the end, after a four year struggle in which civil society coalition won all the arguments, some of these were reflected in the new Regulation but many were not.

It has now been in force since December 2001 and new battlegrounds have emerged [Chapter 8]. The current state of play is that more information is now available, especially from the Council of the European Union. But even here there are glaring holes - thousands of documents circulated to meetings are not on their public register of documents and many are only released after people appeal the decision not to release the text of a document. Whether the new regulation has clawed back what the EU rigorously defends as the "space to think" - and what we argue is in reality the "space to act" away from public scrutiny - remains to be seen.

Since June 2002 the European Parliament and the European Commission have been obliged to make available public registers too under the new Regulation. Three months on the European Commission register is nowhere near meeting the requirements in the Regulation and only time will tell if it has any intention of opening up the most secretive of the EU institutions.

This project reflects our belief that:

"Democracy and democratic standards are not static, they are ever changing. While governments and ministers may, or may not, be open and transparent democracy cannot rely on them. Rather it is sustained by lively parliaments and an ever vigilant and critical civil society.

The fight for openness, freedom of information, and against secrecy in the EU is a small, but indispensable contribution to the maintenance of democratic standards"

Tony Bunyan
September 2002

Straw: Britain does not need UN approval
The Scotsman

Fraser Nelson Westminster Editor
BRITAIN does not need a fresh United Nations resolution to attack Iraq and is approaching the Security Council for political rather than legal reasons, Jack Straw said yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary said that Saddam Husseins defiance of the 14 UN Security Council resolutions has given Britain "ample power" to take action under international law. He has also said that MPs will be given the chance to vote on Iraq - but not before military action.
In a hawkish performance in front of the foreign affairs committee, Mr Straw lined up with George Bush in making clear that he believes the UN resolution which sanctioned the Gulf War in 1990 remains valid now.
"We do not regard a new resolution as absolutely critical to any circumstances in which military action might take place," he said. "We think it is desirable, not least politically, to have a new resolution. But if you go through the existing resolutions there is ample power there and ample evidence of a material breach." The US has long argued that Saddams failure to surrender its weapons of mass destruction has violated the terms of the ceasefire agreed in 1991. Only the UK agrees with this interpretation.
Britain is this week expected to present a draft resolution for the UN, threatening military action should Saddam impede the task of weapons inspectors. It needs the votes of Russia, China and France, the three other permanent members of the Security Council.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, yesterday met defence ministers of Russia and France in a closed-door NATO forum on Iraq. He said he presented evidence linking Baghdad to al-Qaeda and the 11 September attacks. However, he refused to give any detail of the proof - save that it had been provided by the CIA and is classified.
Tony Blairs Iraq dossier, released on Tuesday, failed to mention al-Qaeda. Igor Ivanov, Russias foreign minister, yesterday said that even the limited information in the dossier represented a "propaganda furore".
Mr Rumsfeld has made clear that he does not see NATO playing any role over Iraq - drawing questions over its future after 11 September.
When asked about NATOs participation against Saddam, Mr Rumsfeld said: "It hasnt crossed my mind - I havent proposed it." The case against war was consolidating in Scotland yesterday as John Swinney, the leader of the SNP, said he was fundamentally opposed to an attack. ....
Sept 26 02


09:00 - 25 September 2002
Father of the Commons, Tam Dalyell, failed yesterday to secure a vote allowing MPs to directly oppose military action against Iraq.
The Labour veteran appealed to Speaker Michael Martin for a vote on a substantive motion declining to back a war unless authorised by the UN Security Council and the Commons. But the move was rejected by Mr Martin, leaving MPs opposed to any possible military action only able to force a vote on a technical motion at the end of yesterday's emergency debate. That motion will be for the adjournment of the House, a device regularly deployed for debate and usually agreed without a vote. Any vote on it will be symbolic of the strength of feelings among the anti-war tendency but would not allow a direct expression of their views.
In a point of order, Mr Dalyell (Linlithgow) said: "There are many Members on all sides of the House who are opposed to military action against Iraq on various grounds. "Many others who represent servicemen and women, who may be called to fight in such a war, have anxieties on behalf of them and their families.
"Will you accept a manuscript motion that this House declines to support a war against Iraq using the Royal Prerogative unless it has been authorised both by the UN Security Council and a motion carried in this House. "Only in this way can Members discharge their responsibilities to their constituents."
Another senior Labour backbencher, Gerald Kaufman (Manchester Gorton), said precedents on Iraq showed that when the House was recalled in September 1990, after Kuwait was annexed, the debate was on an adjournment motion and this had happened on subsequent occasions too.
Turning down Mr Dalyell's call, Mr Martin said: "Our rules do not allow this to happen. "Under standing orders Government business has precedence over other business except in certain defined circumstances. This is not one of those circumstances. "When the House is recalled under standing order No 13 the only business to be debated is that of which the Government has given notice.
"In this case that is the motion for the adjournment of the House."
Labour's Paul Flynn (Newport W) protested: "My constituents will not understand why I cannot vote against following the Bush agenda today."
Sept 25 02

This is not a dossier but an act of desperation
simon jenkins

We still wander in a daze. Democracies rarely stay up all night seeking reasons to go to war. Normally they do the opposite. They talk, negotiate, compromise, take refuge in the United Nations. They do not like fighting, unless driven by an overwhelming logic of events.
Yesterday's government dossier on Iraq reads like a desperate quest for such a logic. Ministers cannot be quaking with fear at the prospect of an imminent assault from President Saddam Hussein. A year ago they claimed that their bombing was "containing" him, stopping him from harming even his own people, let alone his neighbours or British interests. Of course he seeks nasty weapons. Paranoid dictators always do. But nothing in the dossier constitutes evidence of an early threat, let alone a casus belli between Britain and Iraq. What is going on? I am no pacifist sap. I was convinced when past British Governments told me of threats to the British state. One threat was from Soviet Russia, and came complete with target maps, lists of vulnerable cities and an armoury of all-tooeffective weapons of mass destruction. Yet where were Tony Blair and Clare Short and others in the Labour Party? They wanted unilateral nuclear disarmament and claimed that the "threat" was dreamt up by warmongering Americans. They were wrong. Unlike many in the Labour Party, I believed that the Falklands war had to be fought against a palpable assault on British sovereignty. I thought the Gulf War just in that the invasion of Kuwait could only be resisted by main force. I felt the same about domestic terrorism. Mr Blair, supported by Ms Short and others, believed in releasing IRA terrorists from prison on the strength of vague promises of disarmament. This seemed naive and reckless appeasement, and so it has proved. People need no lessons from Mr Blair or Jack Straw in being"tough on terrorism, tough on the causes of terrorism". But yesterday's dossier is not serious. Mr Blair told us yet again yesterday what a nasty person Saddam is. We know that. The task of leadership is not to write tabloid front pages but to judge how far a threat to the nation's interest is real and, if so, how the nation should respond proportionately. Neither Mr Blair nor George Bush has yet explained what has suddenly led them to abandon containment of Iraq and to demand Saddam's head on a plate.
I...... For the moment it might seem that America's hands are tied. Yet on the assumption that weapons inspection proves as unsatisfactory as it did before, then war is back in play. On that assumption, America would be vastly reinforced in its view that Saddam is a prima facie threat. Reinforced too would be the demand that he and his arsenals be neutralised and the UN's will enforced.
There is little doubt that a renewed failure of arms inspection would secure a UN Security Council mandate authorising military enforcement of Iraqi disarmament. Whatever strongarm tactics America and Britain might deploy to win that mandate, mandate it would be. America would have done as it was bidden. Opposing American action to enforce the mandate would mean opposing the enforcement of the will of the UN. That in turn would be an intolerable boost not just to Saddam but to global lawlessness. At this point supporters of the UN would have little option. However thin the evidence of an Iraqi nuclear arsenal, however minimal the overt threat to peace, 3appropriate force4 to punish a decade-long and blatant defiance of the UN would be hard to question. The content and security of Third World arsenals is a reasonable concern to Western democracies. The UN might seem humiliated into a forced acquiescence of American aggression against Iraq. That would be better than the UN being humiliated by Saddam. That route, and that route alone, would justify Britain joining a war against Iraq. The route is long and tortuous. It might take months, even years. But the British Government yesterday failed to make a case for any short cut.
Sept 25 02

What the Connexions PAs are asking

Connexions Personal Advisers are trained to use something called the 'Personal Assessment Tool' or 'APIR'. This is a kind of questionnaire divided into 18 sections, exploring different areas of a young person's life, with a 'score' allocated for each section. These scores are then filled in on a little circular diagram. The PAs user-instructions for this Tool include 'suggested areas to explore' in each section.
Keep in mind that, unless the young person refuses consent, this information will be stored and shared with social services, health authorities, the police, probation & young offenders' services, LEAs, local authorities, youth services etc. Much of it depends on the subjective judgment of the Personal Adviser, who has to decide what is or isn't 'appropriate' - one of the most useful words in existence for making prejudice sound legitimate.
Generally, the first few sections are relatively predictable and factual: 'participation'; 'achievements'; 'basic skills'; 'key skills', 'aspirations'.
Others such as 'life skills', 'emotional/behavioural development' or 'identity and self-image' begin to feel somewhat intrusive, and allow for more subjective judgments on the part of the PA by suggesting exploration of such things as personal appearance and hygiene; self- confidence; relationships with others; 'intellectual effectiveness';evidence of 'parenting ability' where the young person is a parent - which the PA may well not be.
'Relationships within family and society' then come under scrutiny, with the PA looking out for 'age-appropriate' and 'age-inappropriate' friendships. This is followed by assessment of the likelihood of offending, seeking 'evidence of living in a criminal environment'.
One of the most offensive sections concerns the 'capacity of a young person's parents/carers'. If you are a parent, the PA will be 'exploring' whether you have aspirations for your child; demonstrate approval of education effort/achievement; ensure your child attends school and offer help with any difficulties. Are you ensuring that s/he has a positive self- image, and providing a stable family environment plus the right kind of guidelines and boundaries? Are you a role model? Emotionally supportive? Do you listen, show physical warmth, provide a hygienic, encouraging and stimulating environment, a proper diet...?' If, at this point, an overwhelming sense of failure is about to drive any parent to drink, stop at once! The PA is advised to 'explore' your substance misuse with your child, along with your 'parental strengths and difficulties'. The diploma training material advises PAs that if they 'identify developmental needs in parent/carers that could have an impact on the aspirations and development of the young person. ... then an offer to refer the parents to an appropriate agency or to offer information about the support available might be the way forward.'
As if this isn't bad enough, 'family history and functioning' wants to know all about a young person's parents and siblings. PAs are told to explore 'health experiences of parents'; 'education experiences of parents' and moves on to parents' 'life experiences'. Relationships between siblings - or between ex-spouses - are also fair game, and yet again 'substance misuse' crops up. And whether your household is 'disadvantaged' or poor.
Bearing in mind the right to privacy enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, how is it possibly acceptable that parents can have the intimate details of their personal life discussed between their child and a stranger without their knowledge, consent - or presence? Parents and siblings of a young person are also people who are entitled to their privacy. A young person may have given consent, informed or otherwise, to the storage and sharing of their own personal information, but there is no mention of seeking the consent of anyone else for the sharing of their private life in this fashion.
It is impossible to see how such potentially divisive behaviour provides any 'protection and assistance' to the family as 'the fundamental group of society' identified in the preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, nor how a young person's respect for parents is encouraged by seeing such indifference accorded to their dignity.
After this staggering piece of invasion, a few sections on the local neighbourhood, housing and income follow. The APIR then suggests exploration of a young person's physical health and medical history - including 'sexual history and activity'. Finally, if you thought that serious emotional difficulties such as suicidal thoughts, self-harm and eating disorders were matters for a skilled psychiatrist or therapist, think again. The PA will 'explore' a young person's mental health and experiences in depth. This mental health section is, in our opinion, downright dangerous. Several of the 'suggested issues to explore' are ones that counsellors recognise as up to the client to broach, probably over a considerable period of time, with several of them requiring careful containment coupled with swift psychiatric referral.
Included in this shopping list of human distress is 'experience of abuse', an area where inept or intrusive questioning can be a potentially devastating experience for a young person who has already endured the worst kinds of intrusion. Human beings build their defences against emotional pain for good reason, and to start tinkering with these is to risk triggering the very behaviour that is being investigated. Having been 'explored' during a session with a PA, how is the young person meant to go home afterwards and carry on with life? Does the PA have the skills to put the worms back in the can, having ill-advisedly prised the lid off in the first place?
PAs receive training that amounts to one evening per week for a year; the most basic 'counselling skills' course at a reputable organisation takes twice as long - and does not in any way amount to a working qualification in counselling, far less in psychotherapy or psychiatry.
A PA may be genuinely well-meaning and concerned for the welfare of young people; s/he might come from a background in educational or youth work, and may have read the Connexions prescribed books on cognitive behavioural psychology, but none of those factors provides anything approaching the expertise - or personal insight - necessary to contain the emotional turmoil of a vulnerable young person on the edge. The entire APIR document (a 3Mb pdf file requiring Adobe Acrobat) can be downloaded from the government Connexions website.
Sept 19 02

Why everybody who believes in liberty should march

By Stephen Robinson (Filed: 19/09/2002)
This week I have been ringing some of the foot soldiers who toil within what might loosely be called the "freedom community" to see how many of them will be attending the Liberty and Livelihood March on Sunday.
John Wadham, head of the campaigning group Liberty, has been a good friend to The Telegraph's Free Country campaign since its launch last summer. His instincts are of the Left, though he is a scrupulously open-minded lawyer who has recently taken on the case, pro bono, of the metric martyrs as their judicial marathon heads to Strasbourg. But Mr Wadham and his colleagues will not be marching in defence of liberty or livelihood, and seemed rather surprised by the suggestion that they might.
There is a similar lack of urgency over at the offices of Charter 88, whose founding principles exhort the faithful to take action to protect "such civil liberties as the right to peaceful assembly, to freedom of association". Karen Bartlett, Charter 88's director, said her group saw hunting "as less of a civil liberties issue as a question of cruelty versus utility".
So, no Charter 88 banner will be borne along the streets of London on Sunday, no messages of solidarity will be sent from its east London headquarters to the farmers and stable hands who have travelled to the capital from all over the country. "A lot of our members feel very strongly we should not form an alliance with pro-hunting groups," Ms Bartlett explains.
I have never attended a hunt, partly because as a townie I suspect I would feel out of place there, but also because I believe, if I am to be honest, there to be something distasteful about the ritual killing of an animal. I say distasteful because I do not think hunting is specifically cruel if you consider how quickly the hounds dispatch the fox, and if you bear in mind the alternative methods of eliminating a rural pest. And I certainly do not think it should be banned.
I apply a similar, though not very logical, distinction to shooting. When I lived in America, I would enjoy an occasional trip to the southern states to shoot, rather inexpertly, at duck. There is something invigorating about rising before dawn, setting off across the bayou, and blasting away at the wild duck as they fly across your field of fire. Then there's the fun of the communal cleaning and de-feathering of the birds before breakfast, always accompanied by several comradely nips of Jack Daniel's.
As much as I enjoyed this sort of shooting (or hunting as it is known in America), I detest the idea of the ritualised, driven shoots popular in this country. Standing in a line of men who have paid a fortune to shoot hand-reared birds has no appeal to me, and nor does all the nonsense about how you are supposed to hold your shotgun. But that does not mean I think this sort of shooting should be banned or that I think less of those who enjoy it.
I find it distasteful (as well as embarrassing and faintly menacing) when an eastern European woman thrusts her baby at me on a Tube train and asks for money. But it seems to me she has a right to do so or, at least, even if some public transport bylaw technically prohibits her behaviour, she should not be locked up for trying to feed her child.
All manner of human activity is distasteful to some. A diner in a restaurant might resent someone smoking nearby; a Muslim might abhor the sight of bare female flesh; judging by the postbag, many readers of this newspaper deplore the idea of homosexual sex. The only proper and well-mannered response to each of these aesthetic or moral challenges is tolerance. This does not imply approval of the action. Indeed, the word tolerance actually suggests a certain disapproval - that is, I will have to live with what you are doing, even as I believe what you are doing is wrong.
If a cable television entrepreneur proposed that bull fighting be transplanted from Spain to a purpose-built arena in Milton Keynes, I would oppose it not just on the grounds that it would make a horrible and incongruous spectacle, but also because it is culturally alien to us. How could you explain the occasion to an eight-year-old? Bull fighting has earned none of the historical and cultural protection that should now be afforded foxhunting, which is shielded not just by its own history and rural custom, but by our common law tradition.
The indifference of the guardians of our civil liberties to the plight of those whose families have hunted for generations is disappointing, though perhaps not surprising. Defence of civil liberties and individual freedom are generally regarded in Britain as metropolitan, Left-wing preserves.
In America, the issue of gun control alerts conservative, rural Americans to the importance of the Constitution. Travel across the heartland and nine out of 10 people will be able to recite the Second Amendment enshrining "the right of the people to keep and bear arms". We have no equivalent of that protection or that culture - one reason why, after Dunblane, the Conservative government could abruptly remove the right of law-abiding pistol shooters to own their weapons.
Because his members are so overwhelmingly of the Left, John Wadham at Liberty will not speak up clearly on behalf of foxhunting, but he is certainly troubled by what he calls "the general trend to criminalise activities without good reason". Mr Wadham favours a new Bill of Rights with a clause specifically granting "freedom of action" taking account of tradition, and barring the creation of new criminal offences unless they be demonstrably necessary in defence of a democratic society.
When I pressed Ms Bartlett of Charter 88 about her blindness to the illiberalism of a hunting ban, she told me that readers of this paper did not care very much about the rights of homosexuals or asylum seekers. This annoyed me, first, because it is a cop-out on her part, and, secondly, because on the whole she is right.
I am not suggesting that marchers on Sunday should carry banners demanding a fair deal for gay Kurdish asylum seekers. But it would be excellent if there were a general recognition on the streets of London that freedom cuts both ways, and is too important to be obscured by something as trivial as political prejudice.
Sept 19 02

Big Brother

Private lives
The information revolution has brought us many benefits, which include the means to more efficient prevention and detection of crime. But this comes with dangers and one is the erosion of our privacy
John Wadham Saturday September 14, 2002
The Guardian
Your private life on show to civil servants? More bureaucrats, local and national, having access to your personal information - through data-sharing and data-matching bet- ween government databases, through access to your telephone and email data, through the national database that will lie behind a "smart" identity card. Your health records on tap to researchers by ministerial order - your doctor can't say no. Local authorities, even health trusts, able to put you under covert surveillance.
This, as Guardian readers will recognise, is not a Hollywood vision of 2054 but the UK, as the Government envisages it in the next couple of years. The data-sharing proposals came out in a Cabinet Office report in April; the first order on health records (under the Health & Social Care Act 2001) was scheduled for parliament in May; the proposed extension of communications data access was in the notorious "snooper's charter" RIPA extension order shelved under public pressure in June, but due back in the autumn. All capped in July by David Blunkett's plans for a compulsory identity card.
One of the problems in the privacy debate in recent months has been the linkage of everything to national security and tackling terrorism. No one is disputing the importance of getting the balance right in these areas - but it is only a valid argument in this context where the proposed extensions in authorities' access to personal data actually relate directly to terrorism (or, at the very least, serious crime).
Almost none of the government's proposals in recent months has anything to do with anti-terrorism - and yet it's still the touchstone to which the Home Office instinctively reaches. Even when it's patently irrelevant, it's a position from which the Home Office will only slowly, sheepishly withdraw. In truth, this repeated appeal to such deep and natural fears has restricted and undermined the broader debate that must be had on the right balance between individual privacy and the necessary functions of the state.
So let's be clear first about the issues of terrorism and national security in this context. The police and intelligence services - the only people who do (and should) - lead the intelligence and investigative fight against terrorism, can already access virtually all your information. Since the beginning of 2002, however, the government's proposals have extended the availability of your information to other bodies, and here the terrorism justification fails utterly. And the only wholly new element, the "entitlement card", as even Mr Blunkett has conceded, is not for tackling terrorism.
Still, with nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - Mr Blunkett tells us so. Only the guilty need worry. But his approach treats all citizens as suspects. If you've done nothing wrong, you won't - can't - mind who in government knows what about you; so you won't mind which researchers get your medical records, which investigators trawl through your financial records or communications data because they've mismatched your identity with someone with a similar name (more of that later). Even without the proven capacity for error, you might feel uncomfortable with the idea that so many people can find out so much about you for so little obvious reason.
As mentioned above, the government concedes that the proposed entitlement/identity card is not for tackling terrorism. Exactly what the card is for is harder to gauge - in recent months, ministers have claimed it will tackle any number of high-profile problems. The reality is that this vastly-expensive scheme will tackle none of them effectively - identity alone is almost never the issue, whether in relation to targeting terrorists, fraudsters, or illegal workers. That's clear from even a cursory look at the facts. But the card will have a serious impact on every innocent hard-working individual in the country.
The ID card, like the extra snooping powers above, won't make us safer. So what lies behind these initiatives? The obvious answer is that this government doesn't trust us - and wants to hoard as much information on us as possible, so it has as many ways as possible of checking up on us, for virtually any reason it chooses.
And peculiarly, a government that distrusts its citizens seems affronted that its citizens show less than absolute trust in return. How dare we question its need for this information, or its ability and commitment to ensure that information is only used where absolutely necessary, for the best possible purposes, with no possibility of misuse. Government hard-sells us advantages, but rarely acknowledges the drawbacks. True, Tony Blair has noted that the "great potential to make better use of personal information to deliver benefits to individuals and to society... will only be realised if people trust the way that public services handle their personal data". And the Cabinet Office report on data-sharing accepted, importantly, that "the level of public concern about privacy is on the rise". Yet ministers' actions continue to ignore the importance of these words.
They shouldn't - because that public trust isn't there. As the Guardian poll which launched the Big Brother series dramatically showed, most people are willing to give up some privacy if it can be proven to help in the fight against terrorism and crime. But only a small minority actually believes the government can be trusted to keep their personal data secure - and few would be happy to hand public bodies, other than law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the power to access their personal information.
Research accompanying the Cabinet Office data-sharing paper backed up these findings. It found that most people questioned about privacy were concerned about the government's use of personal information, and were not convinced of the virtue of data-matching or of the adequacy of safeguards. Their wide-ranging worries included: errors in data handling; infection with inaccurate data; misidentification; malicious provision of data from anonymous sources; "soft" data (eg professionals' opinions or assessments of individuals); being widely identified as a user of stigmatised public services; and unauthorised access to or disclosure of personal information.
So people are worried and they have plenty of reasons to be. The fact that 65% of records on the Police National Computer are inaccurate is just one example - there are enough documented cases of people failing security checks because their names and addresses were similar to those of convicted criminals.
The appetite for ever more information about all of us - both in government and the commercial world - combined with accelerating developments in technology, has created an urgent need for greater protection for privacy. It's not just email data: we have the highest concentration of CCTV cameras anywhere in the world (and rising); growing use of CCTV facial recognition technology; the ability to track the movements of individuals using the cell network of mobile telephones; the potential to put fingerprints, iris scans and other personal details on an entitlement card's chip; and so on. New technology increasingly threatens any individual's ability to keep their personal information to themselves. New technology can also protect personal information, using free and very robust systems of encryption. But now even encryption keys are subject to seizure by the authorities.
Perhaps ironically, given its bad press, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is the nearest thing we have to a privacy law. Liberty lobbied for its introduction because it does, along with the Data Protection Act, provide controls on the collection, retention and sharing of personal information. But both acts failed to deal with privacy and threats to privacy in a logical or structured way. Consequently, they have been heavily criticised both by those subject to them and those, particularly police officers, who have to use them.
And legal respect and protection for privacy is hopelessly inconsistent. It's a criminal offence to listen in to telephone calls without authorisation - but it's not necessarily a crime to place a listening device in a bedroom without authorisation. Independent checks aren't required before even the most intrusive kinds of surveillance. Telephone taps require the consent of a government minister, listening devices the consent of a commissioner and access to telephone records can be authorised by the police themselves.
The development of computer and communications technologies has changed our lives, in many ways for the better. But this doesn't come without dangers; and now is the time to stop the accelerating disappearance of our right to privacy. Otherwise, in the world of the Whitehall bureaucrat, you may soon be well-known beyond your wildest dreams.
John Wadham is the director of Liberty.
osted Sept 15 02

Blunkett attacks civil liberties lobby

(Filed: 14/09/2002) Home Secretary David Blunkett has attacked critics of surveillance measures taken by the Government after September 11 which give law enforcement and other public bodies greater powers to monitor individuals.
Mr Blunkett accused the civil liberties lobby of "pocketing without so much as a thank you" legislation introduced by Labour on data protection and freedom of information as well as introducing a Human Rights Act. Writing in The Guardian, Mr Blunkett said: "Taken together, all this amounts to more protection for the British citizen against the state than virtually anywhere else in the world.
"I don't resent this, I value it as a citizen. What I occasionally find irritating are self-styled privacy campaigners who denigrate or ignore protections not available to most of our European neighbours."
He said he found it "surprising" that some Labour MPs were "instinctively aggressive about the role of the state and insist on their absolute protection against it". Mr Blunkett's attack on the civil liberties lobby came as he urged Britain's European neighbours to co-operate in the fight against terrorism.
Ahead of his meeting later today with US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mr Blunkett said that the threat of terrorism did not respect borders. He said Britain would support efforts for judicial co-operation between the European Union and the US. Mr Blunkett, in Copenhagen for the EU's informal Justice and Home Affairs Council, said: "We all know that to combat terrorism we have to tackle the global networks which now threaten all of us, and which transcend national boundaries.
"That is why European and global action is so important. Co-operation to tackle the organised criminal and financial networks as well as the terrorist cells, requires coordination and the use of the most advanced techniques, which are now being used by the terrorist themselves."
Mr Blunkett warned against complacency. "Recent weeks have shown that the threat has not receded, and underlined the need for countries to build on our combined efforts to eliminate terrorism at a global level," he said.
"The threat of terrorism does not respect borders, nor is any individual state immune."
posted Sept 15 02

Blunkett secrecy attack

Stuart Millar and Nick Hopkins Saturday September 14, 2002 The Guardian David Blunkett, the home secretary, today launches a scathing attack on critics of the government's post-September 11 surveillance measures which hand law enforcement and other public bodies greater powers to monitor individuals and their private communications.
In an exclusive article for the second issue of the Guardian's Big Brother supplement, published today, Mr Blunkett accuses the "civil liberties lobby" of "pocketing without so much as a thank you" legislation introduced by Labour on data protection and freedom of information as well as the enshrining of the European Convention on Human Rights into British law under the Human Rights Act. "Taken together, all this amounts to more protection for the British citizen against the state than virtually anywhere else in the world," he writes. "I don't resent this, I value it as a citizen. What I occasionally find irritating are self-styled privacy campaigners who denigrate or ignore protections not available to most of our European neighbours."
In another intervention, the director of the national criminal intelligence service claims that highly controversial new snooping and data retention powers do not go far enough and reveals that work to tighten and extend them is already well under way. John Abbott, whose agency has played a key role in lobbying for greater surveillance powers, becomes the first high-ranking law enforcement officer to publicly argue for stronger laws to compel communications service providers to stockpile their customer records for long periods in case they are required by the authorities.
The anti-terror legislation introduced last year in the wake of the US terror attacks established a voluntary scheme, which is the subject of sensitive negotiations between communications companies and the government, but Mr Abbott warns that this would be open to abuse and risked creating internet "safe havens" for criminals.
In a rare interview, he says: "There are problems with a voluntary code. It means criminals can shift from one service provider to another. I hope that it is successful but my concern is that it is not going to be. I would like to see consistency to prevent safe havens. Ultimately we want a global system covering all service providers."
He says there is "great merit" in making service providers retain information about clients for five years and phone companies keeping details for two. Drafts of the voluntary code call for the retention of this material for 12 months. Mr Abbott also calls for an EU-wide data retention regime within five years. "We have to be synchronised [over] uniformity of data retention. It has got to be sooner rather than later."
Last week, a Guardian/ICM poll revealed that voters are broadly supportive of data surveillance measures on the strict condition that they can be proved to increase security. The data includes logs of telephone numbers and email addresses both called and received, websites visited and mobile phone location data capable of pinpointing the users' whereabouts to within a few hundred metres whenever their handset is switched on. But the information commis sioner, the official privacy watchdog, has warned the Home Office that the current surveillance regime may be illegal under human rights law.
Some 60% of voters agree that police and intelligence agencies should have these powers, although only 20% believe they should be extended to public bodies such as local authorities and NHS trusts.
In his article, Mr Blunkett again admits that the row which erupted after the Guardian revealed these proposals in July was "politically embarrassing" for the government, but argues that data retention powers are necessary to fight terrorism and serious crime. He is particularly critical of opponents of his measures from within Labour's own ranks. "I still find it surprising that so many people who consider themselves to be on the left of the political spectrum find themselves instinc tively aggressive about the role of the state and insist on their absolute protection against it."
He says that establishing the proper balance between liberty and security is "more pressing now than at any time since world war two". Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The UK has taken away more previously existing rights in the last year than any other European country.
"That suggests we are overreacting rather than doing the minimum necessary. The home secretary never does his cause any good by being intemperate and aggressive towards their many reasonable critics."
Sept 15 02

Blair declares war on democracy
Sunday Herald

We may be on the road to war with Iraq, but have we bypassed democracy on the way? By MP and former SNP leader Alex Salmond
WE may be at the end of the beginning of the build-up to war in Iraq. That is my reading of Tony Blair's speech to the TUC, and of President Bush's address to the United Nations General Assembly. In both cases, heavy stress was laid on the importance of the UN in an effort to turn around the growing opposition -- both domestically and internationally -- to a unilateral US/UK strike. But,
significantly, Blair and Bush failed to commit to the necessity for a fresh UN mandate for military action, in the form of a specific Security Council resolution.
significantly, Blair and Bush failed to commit to the necessity for a fresh UN mandate for military action, in the form of a specific Security Council resolution.
Tony Blair is being credited with the PR tactic of stressing UN resolutions as a justification for war, while carefully omitting the need for clear UN authority for military action.
The Prime Minister is thus deliberately fudging the central issue of the need for the kind of incontrovertible UN mandate that governed the Gulf war in 1991. Then, the aims and parameters of the campaign were defined in a UN resolution, which provided the basis for the 35-member coalition that ejected Saddam from Kuwait. This coalition encompassed Western, Muslim and Arab nations. It was because the Gulf war carried UN authority and a strong international consensus that the SNP supported Operation Desert Storm.
different situation now, with the only country giving explicit backing for the US/UK position being the state of Israel -- a country itself guilty of breaking UN resolutions.
This shows what is wrong with the Bush/Blair approach. Would Arab countries, if they were strong enough, be entitled to seize back Palestinian lands by force because Israel was in violation of UN resolutions? Or would Pakistan be entitled to attack India to enforce UN resolutions on Kashmir? Obviously not. But that is exactly the chaos that will reign if other strong countries take upon themselves the authority to unilaterally enforce UN resolutions, an authority that properly belongs to the UN itself.
The point is simple. Action in the name of the UN must be decided by the UN. The need to test the legitimacy of military action is exactly why we need a substantive debate on the Iraq crisis when Westminster reassembles the week after next.
The SNP were the first to write to Tony Blair demanding a parliamentary recall, but we wanted a proper debate resulting in a proper democratic policy for the UK. Instead of that, the only vote likely to take place is on the burning issue of whether the House of Commons should adjourn at 10pm or carry on into the wee sma' hours.
Of course, the reason for this madness is to ensure that all the power remains in the hands of Tony Blair and the executive. But in the recalled debate next week there should be a substantive government motion which is capable of being amended by MPs. In that democratic situation, the SNP and other MPs would propose the need for a UN Security Council resolution governing military action. Parliament would then decide on this basic point of principle.
In the United States, President Bush has promised Congress the final word and a proper policy debate on US action in Iraq -- just as his father carried a motion authorising the use of military force against Iraq in January 1991. There will also be public questioning of administration officials by up to six House of Representatives committees, starting in the middle of this month, in order to determine whether an invasion is justified and would work.
However, democracy American-style is not to be allowed in the House of Commons.
We are at the end of the beginning of war preparations. Let us hope it is not also the beginning of the end for the rule of international law, and for any semblance of democratic procedures at Westminster.
Sept 15 02

A free country

By Stephen Robinson (Filed: 13/09/2002) It could be argued that every person in Britain should be compelled to lodge a sample of his DNA with the ever-expanding national database. It would not be an argument that would find support in this newspaper, but there is no denying the power of DNA evidence in solving some types of crime. Anyone who publicly advances the case for a compulsory database should be listened to, and vigorously argued against.
So far, Parliament has declined to introduce a compulsory database because of fears about the erosion of privacy. Not that this omission has troubled chief constables who, under an amendment to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, have retained all DNA samples taken from suspects who have been interviewed, but not charged, about a crime.
The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that this was in order on the ground that - as Lord Woolf argued - it "is obvious that the larger the databank of fingerprints and DNA samples available to the police, the greater the value of the databank will be in preventing crime and detecting those responsible for crime".
Even if it is true that a DNA databank might help detect criminals, it is difficult to see how it would prevent a crime. But this is not the central objection: yesterday's ruling stigmatises those who have been either acquitted or merely interviewed about a crime. It also endorses the creation of a national DNA database by stealth, and without Parliament's authority.
Kuwait is currently enforcing a requirement for all its citizens to supply a DNA sample to a central database. The emirate is not known for its commitment to privacy and liberty, but its government did at least feel it necessary to pass legislation, rather than create a national DNA database by the back door.
posted Sept 15 02

Our real opposition

We all depend on the unions to confront privatisation and the advance of corporate power
George Monbiot A year and a day ago, the battle which may have determined the political future of Britain was about to commence. Tony Blair was to have told the annual conference of the Trades Union Congress that he would persist with his part-privatisation of public services, and the unions were due to respond with unprecedented anger. As Blair was waiting to speak, news of the attacks on New York reached the conference. The prime minister spoke briefly about his horror, then left. The TUC curtailed its conference, and the fight was postponed until today. Blair's reappearance at the conference this afternoon will be overshadowed both by the anniversary of the attacks and by rumours of war. The unions' response to his speech is likely to flicker across our television screens then disappear. So it will take us some time to grasp the significance of 9/10. This confrontation could prove to be the most important political event in Britain since the general election of 1997.
The battle the unions will resume this week is being fought, ostensibly, over low pay, the minimum wage, pensions, health and safety and the coming war with Iraq. But, as everyone in Blackpool knows, it is in reality about far more than this. Most of the unions fighting the transfer of staff from public bodies to private companies are concerned not only about poorer conditions for the workforce, but also about the quality and scope of public services. They see part-privatisation as symptomatic of the corporate takeover of Britain, and the government's capitulation to big business, in turn, as symptomatic of its willingness to side with power against the powerless. This is the week in which the trades unions become the United Kingdom's official opposition.
They are assuming this role not as a result of any grand ambitions (if anything they have been overcautious about making use of their resurgent power) but because no one else can do it. For the past five years the radical, progressive opposition without which all political systems succumb to corruption has failed to materialise. It cannot arise in Westminster: the three main parties, constrained by the distribution of marginal constituencies, are fighting over the same floating voters of the middle classes, while the smaller ones are obstructed by first-past-the-post elections and a funding system which relies on the benevolence of the rich. There is no sign of a sustained revolt among the senior civil servants who must implement the gradual demolition of public services. The government seems to have little fear of unaffiliated public protest.
The civil servants who run our public services know that the extra money the chancellor has found for health and education is likely to be swallowed by the massively inflated costs of permitting private companies to build and run our schools and hospitals. Three months ago this column listed nine serious and specific charges of public fraud and false accounting surrounding the "private finance initiative", and suggested that if the Treasury failed to answer them, the public should conclude that it has no defence to offer. The Treasury has not responded.
But they know too that, like nuclear waste, PFI is a problem which will trouble only future generations of administrators. By the time the costs of the initiative become unmanageable, most of today's senior managers will have retired. Their interests are best served by doing what they are told and hoping that they make enough money to buy private health insurance and insulate themselves from the inevitable collapse of the system they now run. They know it's wrong - I've seldom met a senior public servant who is not privately horrified by PFI - but they have no incentive to oppose it.
Nor will spontaneous public protest be sufficient to change the course of government policy. The private finance initiative is too complicated and too boring to generate a sustained mass movement among people whose professional interests are not affected. Part-time protesters struggle to compete with the businessmen who have all day, and plenty of resources, to lobby for privatisation.
The unions, by contrast, do have an immediate professional interest in confronting the seizure of the public budget: many public service workers whose jobs are transferred to private companies must work harder for less pay. It is greatly to their credit that the unions have, on the whole, resisted the government's attempts to divide this immediate interest from their longer-term concerns, by negotiating better terms of employment. They have not forgotten that their members cannot afford to buy their way out of the system when they retire.
The unions are also uniquely equipped to confront the privatisation lobbyists. Only they can afford to employ enough researchers and analysts, only they can sustain a mass mobilisation of the kind required to defeat a policy as complex and pervasive as PFI. The rest of us have, without admitting as much to ourselves, come to rely on the public sector unions to fight this battle on our behalf.
This tacit expectation appears to be reflected in the levels of public support for strikes which might, at other times, have generated only resentment towards organised labour. Six weeks ago, for example, a Guardian/ICM poll found that 59% of voters believed that the recent strikes by rail, tube and council workers were justified, while only 29% opposed them.
We have come to rely on the unions too to confront the corporations' other intrusions upon the public domain. The Enron and Worldcom scandals appear to have done nothing to dissuade Tony Blair of the superiority of big business over any other form of human organisation: perhaps, we hope, the unions can. And who, among the opponents of the impending unprovoked war with Iraq, has not secretly wished that organised labour will somehow prise Mr Blair away from Mr Bush?
Such hopes have been boosted by the recognition that the year's delay has enhanced the unions' position. Since Blair hurried away from the conference, his two most trusted lieutenants in the movement - Ken Jackson and Barry Reamsbottom, men who behaved very much like the business leaders they were supposed to confront - have been deposed. The TGWU has begun to rise from its slumber. Unison and the GMB are more confident than they have been for years.
The trades unions, in other words, should have no fear of inciting public hatred by exceeding their mandate. It may not be fair of us to expect them to fight our battles on our behalf, and it is certainly lazy, but when the public is ready to thrust greatness upon them, they should not be reluctant to accept it. We now expect them to articulate the concerns not only of their own members but also of all those whose needs have been subordinated to corporate greed.
In time, we should hope, a revitalised union movement will encourage the rest of us to organise more effectively, but for the moment the unions offer the most realistic means of confronting the complex of state and corporate power. So today, when Tony Blair flaunts his indifference at their conference, the unions shoud not fear their freedom.
Sept 10 02

Farmer takes case against Monsanto to Supreme Court
Canadian Press

A Saskatchewan farmer is heading to the Supreme Court to try to appeal a lower court ruling that he violated a patent on herbicide-resistant canola.
On Thursday, the federal appeal court dismissed Percy Schmeiser's arguments that he did not violate Monsanto's patent on its Roundup Ready canola.
Last year, the Bruno-area farmer was ordered to pay $19,000 in damages for using the seed and another $150,000 to cover Monsanto's court costs. The farmer had argued that either the seed blew into his field from a passing truck or his crop may have been contaminated by pollination.
Schmeiser says the patent rights will be the "number one issue" of his application to ask the High Court to hear the case.
He says the stress from his legal battles with Monsanto has been hard on him and his wife, adding it's taken their life savings to fight the chemical giant to this point.
Sept 7 02

ID cards 'will sneak in fingerprint database'

By Marie Woolf, Chief Political Correspondent
The Government wants to give police the power to access fingerprint records of any British citizen as part of the new national "entitlement card" scheme.
Police and law enforcement agencies would be allowed to check millions of fingerprints to help to track down suspects of serious crimes or terrorist offences. They could centre searches on cities and towns in which crime had been committed.
Fingerprint information is intended to be included in the proposed new identity cards.
But civil liberties groups say the proposal, which will be considered as part of the Government's consultation on whether to introduce the cards on a national basis, is a gross infringement of an individual's privacy and would turn innocent people into potential suspects. Yesterday, they denounced the Government for slipping out the announcement during the summer recess of Parliament.
Roger Bingham, of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "We are talking about a national fingerprint or biometric database by the back door. The Government admitted the overwhelming majority of crimes are committed by people the police know about, but they still want to treat the other 58 million of us as suspects.".
Sept 4 02

Why Brussels wants to clear the herbalists' shelves

By Daniel Hannan
You may be one of the 20 million people in this country who, at one time or another, have taken a natural remedy. There is even a fair chance that you are one of the two million who regularly buy herbal medicines.
If so, your life is about to become a lot more complicated. Two directives are clanking their way through the EU machine which, taken together, will outlaw a good deal of what you are doing.
The Food Supplements Directive has passed through all its Brussels stages - although not without fierce opposition from Conservative MEPs - and is now awaiting implementation into British law.
It will ban hundreds of vitamin and mineral products, and restrict the dosage of others. The Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive is scheduled to become law in 18 months' time. It will affect thousands of natural medicines.
The combined result of these two laws will be to prohibit many substances that have been on the market for years without the slightest evidence that they are deleterious to our health. Natural remedies will be reclassified as medicines, making them subject to a rigorous testing regime.
It is not only each substance that must be tested, but every single product. In other words, if a herbalist wants to sell echinacea, it will not be enough to prove that echinacea is safe. He - or, more often, she - will also be required to submit her particular version of it, at a cost of several thousand pounds.
Thousands of products will be driven off the market. The bigger firms will be all right: some form of St John's wort will still be available at Boots. But many smaller herbalists, unable to meet the compliance costs, will be driven out of business.
Even by the EU's standards, the criminalisation of an activity engaged in by millions of consumers may seem rather heavy-handed. To grasp why it is happening, you need to understand a little about the Brussels system.
MEPs are rarely happier than when telling others what to do. In the three years since I was elected, we have restricted the amount of time you can spend on a tractor, demanded that you wear ear plugs in noisy places, and laid down an approved way of holding ladders against walls. The idea that herbal medicine is "unregulated" is, to most Euro-MPs, simply a loophole that needs closing.
This is not because of any suggestion that the supplements in question pose a health risk. Rather, the EU is following what it calls "the precautionary principle".
At the beginning of the 19th century, it was widely believed that the noise of a passing train would cause pregnant women to miscarry. Had we applied the precautionary principle, we would never have laid a single inch of track. After all, the rail operators of the day couldn't prove that they wouldn't cause miscarriages, any more than today's health stores can prove that their wares are not poisonous.
Most of the products in question have been used in parts of the world for hundreds of years without evidence of harmful side effects. One of the threatened substances, for example, is cat's claw, which is traditionally prescribed in my native Peru as a cure for inflammation and rheumatism. If it were dangerous, Peruvians would surely have noticed by now.
There is more to this, though, than an addiction to regulation. Whenever you see an apparently insane Brussels directive, ask yourself: cui bono? Someone, somewhere, stands to gain. Thus, the attempt to ban the British double-decker was largely driven by a handful of continental bus manufacturers who had their eye on our lucrative export market. The campaign against British lettuce was enthusiastically supported by Spanish lettuce growers.
And so it is with the directives on herbal medicines, which will allow the large pharmaceutical corporations to squeeze out their smaller competitors. These firms, like other multi-nationals, have discovered that Brussels is a lobbyist's paradise. Because the people who pass the laws are almost untouched by public opinion, measures can be pushed through which would never withstand the scrutiny of a democratic national parliament.
The EU is thus, in many ways, the opposite of a common market. The essence of a market is mutual product recognition. In other words, if a widget is sold freely in Britain, it ought to be available in Germany, and vice versa.
Instead, more often than not, the EU's approach is to lay down highly prescriptive rules on the size, shape and contents of widgets, which can have the effect of banning products which were never intended for export in the first place. And you'd be surprised by how often those standards turn out to have been proposed by some European widget manufacturer who happened to meet all the specifications anyway.
For what it's worth, I am rather sceptical about most herbal remedies - although my wife, a regular user, has converted me to echinacea. But that is not the point.
The essence of liberty, and the focus of this newspaper's Free Country campaign, is that we stand up for rights which we do not ourselves want to exercise. Even if you have never been inside a health store before, go into one now and sign the petition on the counter. This is not about science; it's about freedom.
Conversely, if you are a regular buyer of natural remedies, but have never before campaigned against an EU measure, try extrapolating from this experience.
You are now being treated as fishermen, art dealers, abattoir workers, hauliers and countless other victims of EU meddling have been treated before. It is not just this law that is wrong; it is the system that spawned it.
Daniel Hannan is a Conservative MEP for south-east England
Sept 3 02

Blair in Mozambique

Blair declined to reply to a question from the British Press Association concerning his government's attitude to a possible US attack against Iraq.
The press conference was extremely short, and only two questions were taken - one from the Press Association, and one from the Portuguese news agency, LUSA. None of the Mozambican media were able to ask questions. Had AIM been called upon to speak, it would have asked Blair what his government intends to do to ensure that African producers have fair access to the markets of the developed world.
Currently, the enormous subsidies that European and American governments offer their farmers sabotage African agriculture.
They lead to absurdities such as paying farmers in northern England to produce sugar from beet which is at least three times as expensive as Mozambique's cane sugar.
AIM would like to hear from Tony Blair whether the British government intends to move from charity to fair trade. Or will Britain's real, rather than rhetorical, relationship with Africa continue to be determined in Paris, by right-wing French farming lobbies
Sept 2 02

Blair losing control of party over Iraq
The Scotsman

Jason Beattie
TONY Blair was struggling last night to contain the growing revolt in the Labour Party over Iraq, with half of backbench Labour MPs in Scotland publicly warning against United States military action.
With Downing Street under pressure to distance itself from the hawkish line coming from Washington, Gavin Strang became the latest senior Labour figure to caution against a pre-emptive strike by the US military, warning of the "widespread unease" within the party about possible conflict.
Dr Strang, a former Cabinet minister, specifically criticised the recent sabre-rattling by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, claiming they had not considered the implications for Middle East stability should the US try to topple Saddam Hussein.
Dr Strang, the Edinburgh East and Musselburgh MP, is one of 19 Scottish Labour MPs who have signed a Commons motion noting the "deep unease" about the prospect of Mr Blair supporting a pre-emptive strike by President Bush.
Malcolm Savidge, the Labour MP for Aberdeen North, used an article in Tribune magazine to launch a excoriating attack on Mr Blair's foreign policy.
"Britain must not be drawn into immoral or illegal wars. Labour must not sacrifice its principles, moral values or British interests and lives to the false god of a specious, special relationship with the US hard Right," he wrote.
Aug 31 02

Christopher Booker's Notebook

(Filed: 25/08/2002) Tories challenge 'sneaky' asbestos legislation Customs officials continue to ignore new laws The pointlessness of the plastic cup

Tories challenge 'sneaky' asbestos legislation

In an unusual and dramatic move the leader of the opposition, Iain Duncan Smith, has intervened to stop the Government using the Parliamentary recess to sneak in controversial new regulations on asbestos which, as I revealed last week, threaten to become the most expensive law ever put on the statute book.
Mr Duncan Smith has taken the unorthodox step of writing to Andrew Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, demanding to see the still-unpublished regulations which the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) hopes to make law before MPs return from holiday in October.
In light of the cost of the new law, estimated by the HSE as £5.1 billion, although unofficial estimates put it far higher, the Tory leader has also asked Mr Smith to postpone signing the statutory instrument until Parliament has a chance to discuss it.
The main concern over the regulations, now shared by the Shadow Cabinet, is that they will impose astronomic costs on Britain's businesses by putting them at the mercy of 800 specialist contractors licensed by the HSE.
These contractors are already exploiting confusion over the dangers of asbestos by overcharging for work which often proves unnecessary either for legal or safety reasons.
In particular, contractors are peddling the myth that all types of asbestos are equally dangerous. In fact the most common form of asbestos product, the white asbestos cement widely used for roofing materials, poses no health risk at all in practical terms, unlike the hazardous blue and brown forms, based on a wholly different mineral.
By imposing draconian requirements on businesses, the HSE's regulations will only exacerbate the existing confusion which allows unscrupulous contractors to fool members of the public into paying ludicrous sums for work which can be safely carried out for a fraction of the cost.
Since my article last week, giving the e-mail address of a fully-qualified expert, John Bridle (, his advice has already saved 80 readers of this column unnecessary expenses ranging from £80 to £9,000.
Mr Duncan Smith has appointed the combative John Bercow as shadow minister to spearhead a campaign to force ministers to redraft the HSE's proposals in a way that could save the country billions of pounds, without endangering public health.
Mr Bercow will also be calling for a full investigation of the racketeers who have been profiting from the confusion about asbestos.

Customs officials continue to ignore new laws

There is no more glaring example of how officials are now a law unto themselves in modern Britain, than the contempt shown by Customs and Excise for the recent High Court ruling that it was breaking the law by persecuting motorists bringing back cigarettes and alcohol from the Continent for private use.
On July 31 two High Court judges found that Dover customs officials were doubly in breach of the law: first, by ignoring the rules of the European Union single market which permit free movement of goods; and, second, by reversing the burden of proof, whereby passengers were assumed to be guilty of smuggling unless they could prove to officials they were not.
More than 10,000 motorists, including the three who won the case, have had vehicles confiscated, the vast majority for legally bringing in goods for their own use. On August 13, two weeks after the ruling, Captain Christopher Ward, a reader who had gone over with a friend for "a good lunch in Le Touquet" and to bring back three months' supply of cigarettes and wine, was subjected by the Dover officials to the usual grilling.
What was his occupation? "Retired naval officer." What had he done in the Navy? He had served for 20 years in submarines. Implying that he must be lying, the official told him he was "too tall" to have served in submarines.
The captain was then given a political lecture. The lower price of cigarettes in Europe merely balanced their higher rates of income tax.
Tobacco taxes in Britain were high as part of the Government's campaign against the evils of smoking (obviously no one had told the officials that the net effect of encouraging cross-channel imports by making tobacco taxes so high has been to increase cigarette consumption while costing the Treasury more than £5 billion a year).
After a warning that they were lucky not to have their car seized, Captain Ward and his friend were allowed to drive home. All this two weeks after the High Court had ruled such behaviour to be illegal.
Steve Lawrence of Hoverspeed, also a party to the court action, confirms that the officials are "still acting unlawfully and in flagrant defiance of the High Court ruling". Their excuse is that they plan to appeal against the judges' findings and until the appeal is heard, they have licence to continue breaking the law as much as they wish.

The pointlessness of the plastic cup

Next weekend huge quantities of cider will be drunk at one of the west country's most popular annual events, the Great Steam Fair at Tarrant Hinton in Dorset.
Those who sell the cider, including the Somerset cider and brandy-maker Julian Temperley, have received a remarkable letter from Mr Hudson of the Dorset police which encloses a document from "my colleagues at Dorset county trading standards office".
This reminds the cider-sellers that under EU rules, they are not permitted to sell cider by the pint. They can serve it in an officially stamped pint or half-pint glass or plastic container, but may only refer to it as a "large" or "small glass", or as "568 millilitres".
To refer to a "pint" is a criminal offence, and trading standards officials will be "inspecting operations" to ensure the law is complied with.
From long experience, Mr Temperley knows it is unwise to serve cider at such events in glasses or plastic beakers, which break and become dangerous. He prefers to sell it in paper cups, as he is freely allowed to do at similar events in Somerset. But under the "unique Dorset rules" this is considered illegal, because the cups cannot be stamped.
Mr Temperley therefore plans to display a notice that customers will be served in "hard, plastic, dangerous and environmentally unfriendly, stamped containers", for which there will be an extra charge of 30p. If customers then wish to pour their cider into "our safe, biodegradable paper cups", they will get their 30p back.
Trading standards officials and their police "colleagues" (who have no legal status in matters concerning weights and measures) will no doubt be kept busy puzzling out how to bring charges against Mr Temperley for an arrangement which is entirely within the law. But, for good use of police time, it certainly beats catching burglars.
Aug 25 02

Blair 'can't be trusted to oversee ethics'

By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent
A new committee should be set up to oversee ethical standards in government because Tony Blair cannot be trusted to do it, say the Conservatives.
David Davis said yesterday that No 10's refusal to comply with a request from the committee on standards in public life showed the need for a new watchdog.
As Prime Minister, Mr Blair is in charge of ensuring that ministers comply with the ministerial code, the rulebook of government behaviour. Mr Davis, a senior shadow cabinet figure, said a tribunal consisting of privy counsellors and probably a law lord should do the job.
"It is the inability of the Prime Minister to distinguish between what is politically expedient for the Labour Party and what is proper for the government of the country that highlights the need for an independent external scrutiny of both ministers and special advisers," he said.
The committee on standards in public life is holding an inquiry into special advisers. Earlier this year it invited Alastair Campbell, the most powerful special adviser in government, to give evidence.
Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, wrote back to say that Mr Campbell and other Downing Street advisers would not appear in public. Instead they offered to meet the committee in private.
Sir Nigel Wicks, committee chairman, rejected the offer. It was "established practice" to get evidence in public, he said. The committee will not hear from Mr Campbell before issuing recommendations.
No 10 said last night that a new watchdog was not needed.
Aug 22 02

What business has Labour got messing with parish councils?

By Greville Howard
The village where I am a parish councillor is fortunate in having a full complement of able and sensible people doing the job. Not everywhere is so lucky: nearly 40 per cent of parish, town and community councils fail to attract enough candidates, according to a recent study by the University of Wales. There is a crisis in local government.
The Model Code for Parish Councillors, recently introduced by the Government, is bound to increase the problem. Worse, it will reduce the quality of candidates, as the better ones are usually the busiest and thus the most difficult to persuade to give up their time. It will be for these that the code is most likely to act as the final straw.
Throughout England, parish councillors, with no reward and only rarely any repayment of expenses, give time and energy to their local community. They have virtually no power to take decisions; those are taken by the next tier up. Their role is to be consulted: they attend a few meetings a year, frequently very dull, but they are the frontline of contact between their community and government.
Some politician or civil servant, in need of an "initiative", saw this group of public-spirited beings quietly giving their voluntary service and thought: "How shocking that they are unregulated. How can this be? They might misbehave."
There was no thought that parish councils have been going for 800 years, with scarcely a blip; no thought that the matters over which parish councillors actually take decisions are minimal, and therefore the cost-effectiveness of controls (in the unlikely event that they have the effect they are intended to have) would be zero; no thought that it is already difficult to find people to serve as parish councillors.
No, if you see something, regulate it, and so the Model Code for Parish Councillors and the concept of "quality councils" were born. The full effect has yet to be seen, but already whole parish councils are resigning over what they see as unwarranted intrusions into their private lives.
As if all this were not enough, the rules themselves are both silly and being deliberately misinterpreted by the Standards Board for England. Clause 15 of the code says parish councillors must report gifts of hospitality of more than £25.
This provoked an immediate hullabaloo, but the Standards Board for England pointed out that a Christmas present from one's spouse would not need to be declared because clause 1(2) says the "code of conduct shall not have effect in relation to the activities of a member other than in an official capacity".
When I got this information, I asked one of the delightful and helpful antipodean women at the Standards Board to confirm that, if the scope of clause 15 (the £25 gift clause) is limited by clause 1(2), then clauses 12 and 13 would similarly be limited. (These clauses state that all interests - your job, your directorships, charities where you are a trustee, trade union membership, professional associations, political affiliations etc - must be registered.) After discussion, I was referred upwards.
Surely, I repeated, if clause 1(2) stretches out to limit the scope of clause 15, then it must also limit the scope of clauses 12 and 13: it cannot just bypass them. I was told that no, this was not correct. The reason appeared to be that this was what the Standards Board for England had decided.
When my local district council issued forms for parish councillors to record their interests, the council advised that all interests must be included. On being asked, a charming woman said that was what they had been told to do by the Standards Board for England.
However, Dr Alan Whitehead (then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions), in answer to a written parliamentary question, said: "The requirements about the discharge of this duty are set out in paragraph 13 of the Parish Councils (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2001. The Code does not have effect in relation to the activities of a member undertaken other than in an official activity."
This quite clearly shows there is no need for parish councillors to include all interests regardless. The Standards Board is exceeding its powers in demanding detail that does not relate to activity as a parish councillor.
If not impossible, it is certainly very difficult to conceive how membership of a trade union, trade association or professional association could have any relevance to the official activity of a parish councillor. Even membership of a political party would usually be irrelevant, as parish councils are not run on party political lines.
Another point that merits attention is "prejudicial interest". This occurs when the "personal interest" of a councillor could be regarded by a member of the public as likely to prejudice the councillor's judgment. So what is "personal interest"?
It is where (assuming my interpretation of the appalling drafting is correct) a parish council decision would affect "to a greater extent than other council-tax payers, ratepayers, or inhabitants of the authority's area, the wellbeing or financial position of himself"
Does this mean that anyone having more property - for example, a bigger garden - is automatically disqualified by the code from being a parish councillor? After all, virtually all decisions taken by a parish council will affect a larger property owner to a "greater extent" than a smaller property owner.
Following the argument through, are larger council-tax payers excluded because they will be affected to a "greater extent"? And how is one to know what "a member of the public" will think? What a treat for the lawyers to have to argue that one.
The code is yet another expensive, rotten piece of legislation, causing unhappiness and harm and administered by bureaucrats who are deliberately misinterpreting rules. It is difficult to believe that politicians and civil servants could think there is any point in introducing a code of conduct where there is no influence to peddle. Is there, as some have suggested, a hidden agenda to get rid of parish councils?
Two other impediments to the continued good working of parish councils have been introduced. "quality councils" and the one they tried to keep secret: "community vibrancy indicators". This last, if you have not heard of it, is an "indicator theme designed to measure the capacity of parish populations to fulfil their potential for improving their local quality of life".
Politicians and civil servants have already proved themselves incapable of running their bloated empires. Fat chance of their being any help in improving local life. The only contribution they can make is to leave well alone.
One of the rules of the code states that all complaints must be investigated. In my more mischievous moments, I contemplate gumming up the system by complaining about every parish councillor in England. What stops me is that the Government could use the cost of this to close all parish councils down on the grounds that they are too expensive to administer.
Aug 19 02

Re: Sidetracked by trivia
Sunday Telegraph

Date: 18 August 2002
To judge the political ability of a parliamentary candidate, male or female, on how he or she converses with a supermarket checkout girl plumbs new depths of Tory despair.
To "instruct" constituency associations to ensure that short-listed candidates are capable of holding a five-minute conversation with this assistant presupposes that the said individual is capable of participating in the exercise or indeed is desirous of so doing!
This is humiliating and irrelevant, absurdity in a political party claiming to be grown-up. It does nothing for morale and reduces the standards which should be demanded and expected of Conservative candidates. It is trivia.

Beryl M Goldsmith, London

War on the peasantry

Mugabe's crimes pale next to what black small farmers endure in the name of development
George Monbiot Tuesday August 13, 2002 The Guardian
The most evil man on earth, after Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, is Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe. That, at least, is the view of most of the western world's press.
Yesterday Mugabe insisted that 2,900 white farmers will have to leave their land. He claims to be redistributing their property to landless peasants, but many of the farms he has seized have been handed instead to army officers and party loyalists. Twelve white farmers have been killed and many others beaten. He stole the elections in March through ballot-rigging and the intimidation of his political rivals.
His assault on white-owned farms has been cited by the Daily Telegraph as the principal reason for the current famine. Now, the paper maintains, he is using "food aid as a political weapon". As a candidate for the post of World's Third Most Evil Man, he appears to possess all the right credentials.
There is no doubt that Mugabe is a ruthless man, or that his policies are contributing to the further impoverishment of the Zimbabweans. But to suggest that his land seizures are largely responsible for the nation's hunger is fanciful.
Though the 4,500 white farmers there own two-thirds of of the best land, many of them grow not food but tobacco. Seventy per cent of the nation's maize - its primary staple crop - is grown by black peasant farmers hacking a living from the marginal lands they were left by the whites.
The seizure of the white farms is both brutal and illegal. But it is merely one small scene in the tragedy now playing all over the world. Every year, some tens of millions of peasant farmers are forced to leave their land, with devastating consequences for food security.
For them there are no tear-stained descriptions of a last visit to the graves of their children. If they are mentioned at all, they are dismissed by most of the press as the necessary casualties of development.
Ten years ago, I investigated the expropriations being funded and organised in Africa by another member of the Commonwealth. Canada had paid for the ploughing and planting with wheat of the Basotu Plains in Tanzania.
Wheat was eaten in that country only by the rich, but by planting that crop, rather than maize or beans or cassava, Canada could secure contracts for its chemical and machinery companies, which were world leaders in wheat technology.
The scheme required the dispossession of the 40,000 members of the Barabaig tribe. Those who tried to return to their lands were beaten by the project's workers, imprisoned and tortured with electric shocks. The women were gang-raped.
For the first time in a century, the Barabaig were malnourished. When I raised these issues with one of the people running the project, she told me: "I won't shed a tear for anybody if it means development." The rich world's press took much the same attitude: only the Guardian carried the story.
Now yet another member of the Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, is funding a much bigger scheme in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Some 20 million people will be dispossessed. Again this atrocity has been ignored by most of the media.
These are dark-skinned people being expelled by whites, rather than whites being expelled by black people. They are, as such, assuming their rightful place, as invisible obstacles to the rich world's projects. Mugabe is a monster because he has usurped the natural order.
Throughout the coverage of Zimbabwe there is an undercurrent of racism and of regret that Britain ever let Rhodesia go. Some of the articles in the Telegraph may as well have been headlined "The plucky men and women holding darkest Africa at bay". Readers are led to conclude that Ian Smith was right all along: the only people who know how to run Africa are the whites.
But, through the IMF, the World Bank and the bilateral aid programmes, with their extraordinary conditions, the whites do run Africa, and a right hash they are making of it.
Over the past 10 years, according to the UN's latest human development report, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than a dollar a day has risen from 242 million to 300 million. The more rigorously Africa's governments apply the policies demanded by the whites, the poorer their people become.
Just like Mugabe, the rich world has also been using "food aid as a political weapon". The United States has just succeeded in forcing Zimbabwe and Zambia, both suffering from the southern African famine, to accept GM maize as food relief.
Both nations had fiercely resisted GM crops, partly because they feared that the technology would grant multinational companies control over the foodchain, leaving their people still more vulnerable to hunger. But the US, seizing the opportunity for its biotech firms, told them that they must either accept this consignment or starve.
Malawi has also been obliged to take GM maize from the US, partly because of the loss of its own strategic grain reserve. In 1999, the IMF and the European Union instructed Malawi to privatise the reserve.
The private body was not capitalised, so it had to borrow from commercial banks to buy grain. Predictably enough, by 2001 it found that it couldn't service its debt. The IMF told it to sell most of the reserve.
The private body sold it all, and Malawi ran out of stored grain just as its crops failed. The IMF, having learnt nothing from this catastrophe, continues to prevent that country from helping its farmers, subsidising food or stabilising prices.
The same agency also forces weak nations to open their borders to subsidised food from abroad, destroying their own farming industries. Perhaps most importantly, it prevents state spending on land reform.
Land distribution is the key determinant of food security. Small farms are up to 10 times as productive as large ones, as they tend to be cultivated more intensively. Small farmers are more likely to supply local people with staple crops than western supermarkets with mangetout.
The governments of the rich world don't like land reform. It requires state intervention, which offends the god of free markets, and it hurts big farmers and the companies that supply them. Indeed, it was Britain's refusal either to permit or to fund an adequate reform programme in Zimbabwe that created the political opportunities Mugabe has so ruthlessly exploited. The Lancaster House agreement gave the state to the black population but the nation to the whites. Mugabe manipulates the genuine frustrations of a dispossessed people.
The president of Zimbabwe is a very minor devil in the hellish politics of land and food. The sainted Nelson Mandela has arguably done just as much harm to the people of Africa, by surrendering his powers to the IMF as soon as he had wrested them from apartheid.
Let us condemn Mugabe's attacks upon Zimbabwe's whites by all means, but only if we are also prepared to condemn the far bloodier war that the rich world wages against the poor.
Aug 13 02

West's greed for oil fuels Saddam fever

Anthony Sampson analyses the roots of America's fear of the Iraqi dictator,and warns that toppling him might cause less stability and more insecurity
Iraq - Observer special Sunday August 11, 2002 The Observer
Is the projected war against Iraq really turning into an oil war, aimed at safeguarding Western energy supplies as much as toppling a dangerous dictator and source of terrorism? Of course no one can doubt the genuine American hatred of Saddam Hussein, but recent developments in Washington suggest oil may loom larger than democracy or human rights in American calculations. The alarmist briefing to the Pentagon by the Rand Corporation, leaked last week, talked about Saudi Arabia as 'the kernel of evil' and proposed that Washington should have a showdown with its former ally, if necessary seizing its oilfields which have been crucial to America's energy.
And the more anxious oil companies become about the stability of Saudi Arabia, the more they become interested in gaining access to Iraq, site of the world's second biggest oil reserves, which are denied to them. Vice-President Dick Cheney, who has had his own commercial interests in the Middle East, baldly described his objection to Saddam in California last week: 'He sits on top of 10 per cent of the world's oil reserves. He has enormous wealth being generated by that. And left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not too distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons.'
If Saddam were toppled, the Western oil companies led by Exxon expect to have much readier access to those oil reserves, making them less dependent on Saudi oilfields and the future of the Saudi royal family. The US President and Vice-President, both oilmen, cannot be unaware of those interests.
Of course Western policies towards Iraq have always been deeply influenced by the need for its oil, though they tried to be discreet about it. The nation of Iraq was invented in 1920, after the First World War. The allies had 'floated to victory on a sea of oil' (as the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon put it), but they preferred to conceal their dependence on it: 'When I want oil,' said Clemenceau, the French Prime Minister, 'I go to my grocer.'
But both Clemenceau and Curzon, while they talked about Arab interests and self-determination, knew that what really mattered in Iraq was the oil that was emerging in the North; and the British and French succeeded in controlling the precious oilfields at Mosul.
Iraqi oil became still more desirable after the oil crisis of 1973 which enabled the Arab producers to hold the world to ransom; and the discovery of huge new oil reserves in the South made Iraq more important as a rival to Saudi Arabia - and Saddam more exasperating as an enemy.
It is true that since the Seventies, as the shortage turned into glut, producing countries have become much more dependent on the global marketplace. Countries which hoped to develop political clout by allocating oil supplies soon found they had to compete to sell their oil wherever they could. And Western companies developed new oilfields nearer home, or in friendlier countries.
But America and continental Europe still depend on uncertain developing countries, mostly Muslim, for much of their energy, and in times of crisis the concern about oil supplies returns. Western oil interests closely influence military and diplomatic policies, and it is no accident that while American companies are competing for access to oil in Central Asia, the US is building up military bases across the region.
In this security context the prospect of a 'terror network' controlling Saudi Arabian oil, which last week's briefing to the Pentagon conjured up, presents the ultimate night mare: a puritanical Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia, and perhaps in other Gulf states, would be prepared to defy the marketplace, with much less need to sell their oil than corrupt monarchies or sheikhdoms. Bin Laden, himself a Saudi, made no secret of his overriding ambition to rid his country of corrupt rulers and return to its austere Islamist roots.
In this scenario Americans would be more determined to get access to oil in Iraq, and the demands to topple Saddam would be reinforced.
There are undoubtedly many different and sometimes conflicting strands behind Washington's attitudes to Iraq. Certainly the public sense of outrage about 11 September, and the fear of terrorism, remains the most potent political force behind the moves against Saddam - reinforced by Israel's dread of Iraq's weaponry.
But there are also the longer-term geopolitical arguments in the Pentagon and the State Department, with commercial pressures behind them, about the need for energy security. And these have become more urgent with the growing worries about the Saudis.
The crucial question remains: would toppling Saddam safeguard Iraq's oil for the West? After all, both previous American Presidents - Clinton and George Bush Snr - were persuaded not to overthrow Saddam, because the alternative could well be a more dangerous power vacuum. That danger remains. If Iraq were to split into three parts, as many expect, the new oil regions in the South might be become still less reliable, in a region dominated by Shia Muslims who have their own links with the Shia in Iran. And a destabilised Saudi Arabia could make a power vacuum still more dangerous.
The history of oil wars is not encouraging, and oil companies are not necessarily the best judges of national interests. The Anglo-American coup in Iran in 1953, which toppled the radical Mossadeq and brought back the Shah, enabled Western companies to regain control of Iranian oil: but the Iranian people never forgave the intervention, and took their revenge on the Shah in 1979.
The belief that invading Iraq will produce a more stable Middle East, and give the West easy access to its oil wealth, is dangerously simplistic. Westerners live in a world where most of their oil comes from Islam, and their only long-term security in energy depends on accommodating Muslims.
Anthony Sampson is the author of 'The Seven Sisters', about oil companies and the Middle East.

Lords reform by stealth

(Filed: 10/08/2002)
Reform of the House of Lords has slipped into the clutches of spin doctors. In a recent newspaper interview, Lord Williams, the Leader of the House, spoke of weeding out the elderly by setting a retirement age and offering a pension.
Next, it seems, those who sit in the House of Lords are to forfeit their titles. There has been political chatter about dropping the prefix "Lord" and substituting the most modest suffix of ML (Member of the Lords). On the Lords website, this chatter is turned into reality. The prefix has been dropped, the suffix is in use. All this without serious discussion or debate.
It is plain that the Government seeks further changes in the Lords but, recalling how often past proposals for reform have been scuppered by controversy, reckons the best way of getting there is either by slipping changes past or simply imposing them. Lord Williams, again, sees no reason why receipt of an honour should entitle anyone to become a Member of Parliament. Knights, he argues, do not join the Commons, so why should Lords automatically become members of the Upper House?
Those attracted by the logic of this argument should also weigh the corollary. Once a Member of the Upper House becomes Bill Snooks ML, the way has been paved for the Prime Minister to appoint as many Snookses as he likes to the Upper House without the encumbrance of a title, and to call a whole load of other petitioners "Lord X" without giving them space on the red benches. The door to cronyism will be open wide.
All this rolls along, together with lighter hours for the Lords and talk of salaries in place of an expense allowance, but without any undertaking from the Government on meeting the desire of those who wish to see an element of the Lords removed from patronage and open to election. That, as ministers know well, would be controversial and troublesome. Easier by far to carry out cosmetic changes stealthily.
Aug 10 02

Earth summit agenda 'hijacked'

Big business is wielding its influence to water down plans for tighter regulation, says aid group

Terry Macalister and Paul Brown
The earth summit has been hijacked by big business and the original goals of enhancing the lives of the world's poor are fast disappearing, according to research by an aid agency seen by the Guardian. Christian Aid has launched a blistering attack on the business community in the lead-up to the world summit on sustainable development, which opens in Johannesburg on August 26.
Binding regulations on companies, covering such issues as human rights and the environment, have been dropped in favour of voluntary codes, its report says. The draft plan now calls only for the "promotion of corporate accountability and responsibility and the exchange of best practices".
It blames this on specially formed lobby groups including Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD), supported by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the International Chamber of Commerce.
"Business has greater access and influence than any other group and we are concerned that the agenda is being unduly skewed towards the wishlists of companies and away from those of the poor," the agency says. Its report concludes: "Ten years after the Rio earth summit, the Johannesburg summit offers the chance to place corporate accountability at the centre of sustainable development. Corporate influence means this does not look like happening."
Business leaders last night said the summit was an intergovernmental conference and they had no more influence as observers than any other non-governmental organisation.
As for regulation of corporate accountability, BASD said: "It is up to individual governments to look at what is feasible, possible and desirable. NGOs have the best interests of developing countries and small and medium-sized companies at heart but they have not really thought through the consequences."
Tougher rules could set standards that many smaller firms could not meet, leading to decreased investment in developing countries.
But Christian Aid points to comments made by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, last September, who said: "We cannot leave companies to regulate themselves globally, any more than we do in our national economies."
The agency is not the only NGO to complain that the summit has come under the sway of big business. This week Friends of the Earth said a "creeping corporate takeover of the UN itself" was under way.
Meanwhile, the environment minister, Michael Meacher, said yesterday he was delighted to have been picked as part of the five-strong ministerial team to attend the summit, after Downing Street announced it had reinstated him in the British delegation.
Mr Meacher had been dropped on the instructions of Tony Blair, who was concerned Britain was taking too many ministers in a delegation of 100 to what will be the world's biggest conference.
After the Guardian reported that Mr Meacher had been excluded, enraged environmental groups offered to pay his fare and hotel bill so Britain could be represented by the only minister they think fully understands the issues.
"Of course I am delighted to be going," Mr Meacher said. "Now we have settled the delegation I hope we can concentrate on the issues involved. I believe [these are] pushing forward the agenda on energy, water, health, food security and biodiversity to make the world better for the poor and underdeveloped countries."
Aug 9 02

Lords 'will block compulsory retirement age for peers'

By Benedict Brogan, Nicole Martin and John Jelley
The House of Lords would block any attempt by the Government to impose a compulsory retirement age on its members, peers warned last night, amid renewed speculation about the future of the second chamber.
Lord Williams of Mostyn, the Leader of the Lords, said he was in favour of weeding out elderly peers by imposing a maximum age for membership and offering a pension as an inducement to retirement.
He promised to treat elderly peers - who could include the former prime ministers Lady Thatcher, 76, and Lord Callaghan, 90, - "with decency and dignity", but made clear he wanted to make room for paid, elected members.
An all-party joint committee of the Lords and Commons set up by the Government is due to produce recommendations for further reforms of the second chamber, including electing some of its members.
Of the Upper House's 572 life peers, 78 per cent are over 60, and 43 per cent are over 70 in a chamber that has no provision for retirement. The Government is under pressure from reformers to make the Lords elected or partly-elected.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, the Liberal Democrat peer who is on the joint committee that includes Kenneth Clarke and William Hague, said retirement would have to be optional.
"I would be very surprised if any retirement mechanism was other than voluntary. Personally I would be against any form of compulsory retirement, but it would have no chance of getting through the Lords.
"Voluntary retirement would be an option. It's one of the strange things about this place that there is no mechanism for retirement. You either die or take a leave of absence."
In an interview with the Financial Times, Lord Williams called for peers to be given salaries rather than an attendance allowance. In exchange, he was "strongly in favour" of separating the award of a peerage from membership - raising the prospect of members of the Upper House serving without a title.
"I don't think that having an honour has got anything to do with being a member of Parliament. After all, if you're elected an MP, you don't get a knighthood - immediately."
Lord Blake, 85, a constitutional historian, said it was wrong to suggest that elderly peers became redundant senior citizens once they reached a certain age. "I accept that there is the danger of people going gaga, but in the Lords, so far, common sense has prevented anything silly happening," he said.
"There is no retiring age for the Commons, and the two houses should be treated exactly the same."
Lord Deedes, 89, a former editor of The Telegraph who still writes regularly for the paper, said it would be unfair to set an upper age limit because people aged in different ways.
"We all know of people aged 65 who are not very useful, and others in their 80s and 90s who are still well. Take Lord Callaghan, for example, and Lady Castle, who was still very bright when she died," he said.
"I agree that the House of Lords has been seen as a retreat for geriatrics. Throughout its history, its carried a number of pretty senile characters. But at what age can we say that people are no longer any use?"
Tony Benn, 77, the former Labour MP, who is in favour of an elected House of Lords, said: "I dont think there should be any age limit for elected peers. Why should you discriminate? The key in the House of Commons is that you have to be elected. If you want to elect an older person, you should be able to."
' Mr Benn added: "Some old people are gaga, but some young people are a menace. Im 78 next birthday and life gets better every year. I left parliament to devote more time to politics and Im busier than Ive ever been."
Aug 6 02


The logic of empire - '' The US is now a threat to the rest of the world'. The sensible response is non-cooperation

George Monbiot
There is something almost comical about the prospect of George Bush waging war on another nation because that nation has defied international law. Since Bush came to office, the United States government has torn up more international treaties and disregarded more UN conventions than the rest of the world has in 20 years. It has scuppered the biological weapons convention while experimenting, illegally, with biological weapons of its own. It has refused to grant chemical weapons inspectors full access to its laboratories, and has destroyed attempts to launch chemical inspections in Iraq. It has ripped up the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and appears to be ready to violate the nuclear test ban treaty. It has permitted CIA hit squads to recommence covert operations of the kind that included, in the past, the assassination of foreign heads of state. It has sabotaged the small arms treaty, undermined the international criminal court, refused to sign the climate change protocol and, last month, sought to immobilise the UN convention against torture so that it could keep foreign observers out of its prison camp in Guantanamo Bay. Even its preparedness to go to war with Iraq without a mandate from the UN security council is a defiance of international law far graver than Saddam Husseins non-compliance with UN weapons inspectors.
But the US governments declaration of impending war has, in truth, nothing to do with weapons inspections. On Saturday John Bolton, the US official charged, hilariously, with "arms control", told the Today programme that "our policy ... insists on regime change in Baghdad and that policy will not be altered, whether inspectors go in or not". The US government's justification for whupping Saddam has now changed twice. At first, Iraq was named as a potential target because it was "assisting al-Qaida". This turned out to be untrue. Then the US government claimed' that Iraq had to be attacked because it could be developing weapons of mass destruction, and was refusing to allow the weapons inspectors to find out if this were so. Now, as the promised evidence has failed to materialise, the weap'ons issue has been dropped. The new reason for war is Saddam Hussein's very existence. This, at least, has the advantage of being verifiable. It should surely be obvious by now that the decision to wage war on Iraq came first, and the justification later.
Other than the age-old issue of oil supply, this is a war without strategic purpose. The US government is not afraid of Saddam Hussein, however hard it tries to scare its own people. There is no evidence that Iraq is sponsoring terrorism against America. Saddam is well aware that if he attacks another nation with weapons of mass destruction, he can expect to be nuked. He presents no more of a threat to the world now than he has done for the past 10 years.
But the US government has several pressing domestic reasons for going to war. The first is that attacking Iraq gives the impression that the flagging "war on terror" is going somewhere. The second is that the people of all super-dominant nations love war. As Bush found in Afghanistan, whacking foreigners wins votes. Allied to this concern is the need to distract attention from the financial scandals in which both the president and vice-president are enmeshed. Already, in this respect, the impending war seems to be working rather well.
The United States also possesses a vast military-industrial complex that is in constant need of conflict in order to justify its staggeringly expensive existence. Perhaps more importantly than any of these factors, the hawks who control the White House perceive that perpetual war results in the perpetual demand for their services. And there is scarcely a better formula for perpetual war, with both terrorists and other Arab nations, than the invasion of Iraq. The hawks know that they will win, whoever loses. In other words, if the US were not preparing to attack Iraq, it would be preparing to attack another nation. The US will go to war with that country because it needs a country with which to go to war.
Tony Blair also has several pressing reasons for supporting an invasion. By appeasing George Bush, he placates Britain's rightwing press. Standing on Bush's shoulders, he can assert a claim to global leadership more credible than that of other European leaders, while defending Britain's anomalous position as a permanent member of the UN security council. Within Europe, his relationship with the president grants him the eminent role of broker and interpreter of power.
By invoking the "special relationship", Blair also avoids the greatest challenge any prime minister has faced since the second world war. This challenge is to recognise and act upon the conclusion of any objective analysis of global power: namely that the greatest threat to world peace is not Saddam Hussein, but George Bush. The nation that in the past has been our firmest friend is becoming instead our foremost enemy.
As the US government discovers that it can threaten and attack other nations with impunity, it will surely soon begin to threaten countries that have numbered among its allies. As its insatiable demand for resources prompts ever bolder colonial adventures, it will come to interfere directly with the strategic interests of other quasi-imperial states. As it refuses to take responsibility for the consequences of the use of those resources, it threatens the rest of the world with environmental disaster. It has become openly contemptuous of other governments and prepared to dispose of any treaty or agreement that impedes its strategic objectives. It is starting to construct a new generation of nuclear weapons, and appears to be ready to use them pre-emptively. It could be about to ignite an inferno in the Middle East, into which the rest of the world would be sucked.
The United States, in other words, behaves like any other imperial power. Imperial powers expand their empires until they meet with overwhelming resistance.
For Britain to abandon the special relationship would be to accept that this is happening. To accept that the US presents a danger to the rest of the world would be to acknowledge the need to resist it. Resisting the United States would be the most daring reversal of policy a British government has undertaken for over 60 years.
We can resist the US neither by military nor economic means, but we can resist it diplomatically. The only safe and sensible response to American power is a policy of non-cooperation. Britain and the rest of Europe should impede, at the diplomatic level, all US attempts to act unilaterally. We should launch independent efforts to resolve the Iraq crisis and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. And we should cross our fingers and hope that a combination of economic mismanagement, gangster capitalism and excessive military spending will reduce America's power to the extent that it ceases to use the rest of the world as its doormat. Only when the US can accept its role as a nation whose interests must be balanced with those of all other nations can we resume a friendship that was once, if briefly, founded upon the principles of justice.
Aug 6 02

Glenys, queen of the desert (from Booker's Notebook)
Sunday Telegraph

Just as Neil Kinnock gets into hot water over the sacking of another senior EU official for trying to blow the whistle on EU fraud, his wife, Glenys, seems to have got involved in a curious little episode of her own, in her role as international development spokesman for the Socialist group in the EU Parliament.
For some years, that highly professional campaigning organisation Survival International has been battling on behalf of the few thousand remaining Bushmen of the Kalahari, who are being forced by the Botswanan government out of the Central Kalahari game reserve, set aside by Britain in the 1960s as their last refuge. Last year the EU threatened to withhold a £4 million development grant to Botswana unless forced removals ceased.
Last November, however, Brussels gave the go-ahead for the grant, even though Survival had produced voluminous first-hand evidence that persecution of the Bushmen, including torture, was continuing.
Before recently visiting the Kalahari, Mrs Kinnock was fully briefed by Survival on the gulf between the official line that the Bushmen are being well treated and the horrific reality of the dismal New Xhade camp where they are dumped after eviction, which they call "the place of death".
During her brief visit, it was the government's district commissioner who acted as her interpreter. The Bushmen's chief spokesman, Roy Sesana, had the microphone snatched from him when he tried to speak. She was then locally reported echoing the government's propaganda line, and on the day that she left Botswana, July 1, Brussels handed over the money.
When Stephen Corry, Survival's director, wrote to Mrs Kinnock asking whether she had been fairly reported, she replied that she had seen no evidence of physical force being used and that Survival should accept the Botswanan government's invitation to visit the settlement for themselves.
A disbelieving Mr Corry responded by pointing out that over the past five years he and four other Survival staffers have made innumerable visits to every part of the Kalahari, recording hundreds of hours of interviews with scores of Bushmen.
He then listed some of the forcible measures the Botswanan government has recently used to evict the Bushmen, ranging from emptying their water tanks to threatening that, unless they agree to leave, they would be shut up in their huts and burnt. The persecution of the Bushmen was, he said, the worst case of neo-colonial oppression Survival had investigated.
Last week Survival's Miriam Ross returned from the Kalahari with a further stack of interviews describing how Mrs Kinnock's visit looked to the Bushmen. They were astonished how easily she had been hoodwinked. As Roy Sesana put it: "She wasted money coming from London. I am crying when she says these things. She should pay the money back."
Aug 4 02

Whitehall spin machine expanded

Alan Travis and Avi Silverman
The electronic information and rebuttal system used by the government to help Whitehall stay on message is to undergo a dramatic expansion, according to Cabinet Office documents seen by the Guardian.
The system, known as the "knowledge network", has been used for two and half years to give ministers, their special advisers and key policy officials instant access to the "most up to date key messages" from individual departments.
But the document shows that while the government has sworn to abandon spin, behind the scenes it has been developing ever more sophisticated ways of getting its message across.
The system's creators now want to extend it to enable Downing Street to tighten its grip over Whitehall by ensuring that civil servants "get a broader feel of wider departmental and government policies, rather than simply their own area or department".
It says that cross-government initiatives using these new information-sharing techniques have become "immensely stronger".
The primary aim of the knowledge network is to share information between government departments but in practice it has been used by Downing Street to ensure that all ministers and press officers are putting out the "most up to date messages".
The documents show that it has already proved useful to ministers in dealing with hostile criticism from MPs and the media: "Journalists will still call out of the blue on unfamiliar subjects, but we are far better equipped and less vulnerable to bolts out of the blue," the Home Office said.
The Department of Food and Rural Affairs said: "Access to information on the department's key messages and aims has certainly been improved... it proved useful in coordinating departmental responses to media coverage."
But plans to develop "knowledge-enhanced government" also include developing secure computer networks enabling key figures in local authorities, the NHS, and other agencies to join planning during crises. .................... .....In the blueprint seen by the Guardian, the ambition is to use the newly developed secure government intranet to "manage new and existing policies in conjunction with key stakeholders in the wider public, private and voluntary sectors".
The system was used in the foot and mouth crisis to ensure that the views of ministers and their advisers were shared with local officials. The blueprint says this provides a model to improve the ability of public sector officials to contribute to the debate about priorities - but cautions that the right members must be picked to take part in the first place.
Aug 3 02

Blair's worries over Iraq invasion revealed

Fraser Nelson Westminster Editor
TONY Blair is privately opposed to bombing Baghdad and has deep concerns about the consequences of any invasion of Iraq, according to King Abdullah of Jordan.
The king has said the Prime Minister told him he harbours deep reservations about the position adopted by President George Bush and the hawks in his administration.
The disclosure has shattered the image of unity between Mr Blair and Mr Bush, and left the Prime Minister accused of a duplicitous diplomatic policy, telling each world leader what he thinks they want to hear.
King Abdullah met Mr Bush yesterday and preceded the talks by giving an interview to the Washington Post, where he made clear Britain is among the countries worried about the US's rhetoric.
The president, he said, does not realise how much opposition there is to a war with Iraq because world leaders are reluctant to make their true feelings known to him.
"In all the years I have seen in the international community, everybody is saying this is a bad idea," he told the newspaper. "If it seems America says, We want to hit Baghdad', that's not what Jordanians think, or the British, the French, the Russians, the Chinese and everybody else."
He then detailed the extent of opposition to Mr Bush and singled out the Prime Minister: "Mr Blair has tremendous concerns about how this would unravel".
His comments flatly contradict the image of unflinching support for the US which Downing Street has been careful to nurture since 11 September. No 10 believes that this position delivers the most leverage with the White House.
Downing Street yesterday did not dispute the king's version of events and would only say there is no shift in position. A spokeswoman said: "The situation hasn't changed. The Prime Minister met the king on Monday, when they had a constructive dialogue. The Prime Minister believes that weapons of mass destruction is an issue that has to be dealt with." When asked whether she accepted that Mr Blair has never before admitted to any reservations about attacking Iraq, she said: "I would refer you to what he said last week."
Last week, Mr Blair gave an press conference where the topic of Iraq emerged several times. He would then say only that "no decision has been taken", but did make clear he would not require parliament's consent before making such a decision. The Conservatives said that Mr Blair has been caught trying to give two different messages to two different audiences. ......
Aug 2 02

A toast to liberty

Many a bottle of (legally) imported champagne will have been cracked open to celebrate the defeat of HM Customs and Excise in the High Court yesterday.
Customs officers will no longer be entitled to stop and search anybody returning from the Continent without reasonable grounds for suspecting those individuals of smuggling goods for commercial resale in order to avoid duties. Though Customs has been given leave to appeal, there can be no doubt that the court came to the right verdict.
Alan and Pauline Andrews, whose car and its contents were confiscated at Dover last year, should be the toast of all tourists, along with Hoverspeed, which bravely brought the case on their behalf.
It was characteristic of the arrogance that seems to have infected the Board of Customs and Excise that it should issue a statement claiming that the court had "upheld" its rights. John Healy, the Economic Secretary, even claimed that "those who bring back large quantities of tobacco must accept an evidential burden to provide a satisfactory explanation".
This is nonsense. One of the court's findings was that Customs "wrongly reverses the burden of proof". It is for the authorities to prove that an individual is engaged in smuggling, not the other way round.
Customs and Excise should cease forthwith the practice of arbitrarily seizing alcohol and tobacco as contraband, and especially of impounding and selling vehicles, without strong evidence of criminal intent. The court found that the principle of proportionality is abandoned in such penal confiscations.
The most notorious recent case, highlighted in this newspaper, was that of Mrs Kim Cundle, whose Mercedes van was confiscated and auctioned after she was unable to prove that the wine and beer she was bringing home from France were intended for her own and her husband's birthday parties.
One of the most sinister aspects of this affair has been the treatment of travellers as if they were criminals. Interrogations, sometimes lasting many hours; "lock-ins", in which passengers are forced to endure long delays; intimidating tactics, paramilitary uniforms and "intensification exercises" - all the trappings of a police state have been deployed to terrorise law-abiding people.
Ever since Gordon Brown gave the green light to such "deterrence" several years ago, the Government has been impeding the free flow of people and goods. It has abused its powers, merely to preserve the grotesque imbalance in excise duties between Britain and the Continent. As Edmund Burke observed: "The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse." It has been left to the courts, invoking European laws, to put a stop to this very British abuse.
Aug 1 02

Suspects held illegally

Fraser Nelson Westminster Editor
NINE suspected terrorists arrested without trial under David Blunkett's new emergency legislation were told yesterday that the Home Secretary had detained them unlawfully. The foreign nationals who were detained under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act were told that they had been discriminated against because they were not British.
However, they will not be released and will continue to be detained in a high-security prison in London while the Home Secretary appeals against the ruling.
In a damaging blow for Mr Blunkett's post-11 September policy, three judges in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said that the detention of the nine was "not only discriminatory and so unlawful ... but also it is disproportionate". Using the European Convention on Human Rights, they argued that Mr Blunkett cannot detain a Briton without trial, and therefore should not be allowed to imprison anyone else. The Home Office said this distinction is a cornerstone of the English legal system. "We are disappointed that the court has found that these powers discriminate against foreign nationals," it said. "Our law has always distinguished between UK citizens and foreign nationals. We will be appealing to the Court of Appeal on this issue." The nine could not be deported to their country of origin because of European Convention obligations not to deport to states which practise torture or the death penalty. Mr Blunkett's compromise was to detain them without charge in the UK - while stating that they were free to leave the country at any time if they could find a safe haven. Liberty, the civil rights pressure group which has opposed Mr Blunkett's legislation, said the ruling has inflicted an important blow on what it sees as his increasingly draconian policy. "The government did not have the guts to say they were going to intern British people because they didn't think they would get it through parliament," said John Wadham, the organisation's director.
"They took the easy option and said they were only going to intern foreigners. This violates Article 14 of the Human Rights Convention, and today's ruling is a huge victory."
This is the first time that the specially-appointed panel of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission has examined the legality of the act. Its hearing took place in secret with even the applicants' lawyers banned from hearing some of the evidence against their clients. The government had been correct to state that there was a "public emergency threatening the life of the nation", said the panel. But it added: "We have decided that the 2001 act ... to the extent that it permits only the detention of foreign suspected international terrorists, is not compatible with the convention." Lawyers for the Home Secretary were granted leave to take the case to the Court of Appeal, while the applicants were granted half their costs.
July 31 02

Blair to ignore warning on media ownership law

By Dominic White and Benedict Brogan (Filed: 29/07/2002)
Tony Blair will this week defy calls from an influential committee of MPs and peers to scrap plans that would allow foreign businesses to buy up British media companies, including television channels.
The joint committee set up to study the Government's Draft Communications Bill is expected to recommend on Wednesday that the media market should only be opened up if other countries open their markets in return. It is believed that the committee, chaired by the film producer Lord Puttnam, will criticise the plan to give major figures such as the naturalised American Rupert Murdoch a chance to increase his hold on broadcasting in Britain. The verdict recommending the proposal be scrapped is an embarrassment to ministers.
The committee's main target is the United States, which has strong bars on foreign investment in its media market. With the US unlikely to change its laws, the committee is effectively calling for a bar on companies such as Disney, AOL Time Warner and News Corporation investing in Britain.
Last night the Government made clear it was not prepared to compromise. Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, indicated that she was prepared to ignore Lord Puttnam's report. "The provisions on media ownership were not tentative proposals, they were decisions," she said. "Of course we will look very closely at what the committee says and the evidence they had.
"But the Government believes the broadcast industry and the public will benefit enormously from the foreign investment that would flow from the recommendations." The move will open the Prime Minister's relationship with the media to fresh scrutiny. It will also raise doubts about the purpose of the committee.
July 29 02

Gibraltar is not British enough for Blair

By Jenny McCartney (Filed: 28/07/2002)
The Government's shambolic show-down with Gibraltar first sprang, I suspect, largely from Mr Blair's desire to avoid social embarrassment. Every time he meets his new friend and European ally Jose Maria Aznar, the Spanish Prime Minister, Gibraltar is there too: a spiky lump of gravel in the seafood terrine.
How nice it would be, Mr Blair must have mused over his Rioja, to give Mr Aznar something to make him smile again, and how pleasant to be rid of the outmoded Gibraltarians and their faraway flag-waving. With ill-concealed enthusiasm, Mr Blair and Jack Straw, the Foreign Minister, began hastening towards an arrangement to share the sovereignty of Gibraltar with Spain (pending future discussions) and to sedate the Gibraltarians with the painkiller of a large pay-off.
Then - boom! - last week's row erupted, and the British government was left looking like a man who has rubbed violently at a small stain on his tie, and knocked a pot of soup over himself in the process.
How could Mr Blair not have foreseen it? By almost any interpretation, this government has behaved with extraordinary arrogance towards Gibraltar, and - when its people protested - it simply ratcheted up the crassness.
Mr Straw placed joint sovereignty on the negotiating table with Spain, regardless of Gibraltar's wishes. Then last week Peter Hain, the Europe Minister, indicated that London would organise a Gibraltar referendum after a few years, once its people had "time to reflect".
An outraged Peter Caruana, Gibraltar's chief minister, rejoined that Gibraltar would organise its own referendum within three months, and instantly became Public Enemy Number One. Mr Hain bluntly informed him that his referendum wouldn't count, and the British government would ignore the results. So that was that.
Except that it wasn't. Many fellow-Britons suddenly turned upon their government, elbowing their way on to the Today programme to vent their ire at Mr Hain. The anger came from Right and Left alike: Bill Morris, the leader of the TGWU, called the Foreign Office's rejection of the referendum "an insult to democracy" and announced that he personally would travel there "to campaign for a No vote".
A number of Labour back-benchers - including Lindsay Hoyle, the Labour chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar - also fiercely attacked the negotiations with Spain.
Yet Spain, at least, has been eminently frank in the pursuit of its popular interests: our government has not. The fact that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Office so grossly miscalculated the national response is very telling, for there is a blind spot in New Labour: a streak which masquerades as anti-colonialism, but is in fact brutally colonialist in its thinking.
It is best summed up by the phrase "Not British Enough": a category reserved for groups of people who have a historical British identity but create a diplomatic difficulty. New Labour treats such groups as obstreperous children, whose sticky hands must be kept away from the levers of decision-making, especially when those levers are being worked to eject them from the British state.
In Northern Ireland, the Labour party still refuses to allow British citizens the chance to organise or vote for Labour, even as it governs them from London. Indeed, the blueprint which is taking shape for Gibraltar - exclusive British government negotiations with Spain, followed by a fait accompli and a heavily-managed referendum - is startlingly similar to that which was implemented in Northern Ireland. The Foreign Office, however, appears not to have twigged that this deal is much less saleable to the British public.
There is no significant minority in Gibraltar campaigning to be part of Spain: at the last referendum, in 1967, more than 99 per cent of its population voted to stay British. Nor is mainland Britain asked to endure a bombing campaign as the price of keeping the Rock, as it was with Northern Ireland. When Mr Average in England is informed that everyone in Gibraltar wants to stay British, and realises that he is not suffering one jot as a result of them so doing, his gut reaction is: "Why the hell shouldn't they?".
None the less, something evidently niggles Messrs Blair, Straw and Hain about Gibraltarians per se, and I think it is rooted in that notion of "Not British Enough": a faint, visceral contempt for anyone who wants to remain a member of Club Britain without being born on the mainland. Somewhere deep inside their political instincts, they can't help thinking of Ulster Unionists as a bunch of mad Paddies with union flags, and Gibraltarians as wannabe Englishmen taking afternoon tea in a tinpot state.
But I have visited Gibraltar, and its people are a great deal more complicated than that. They speak English, Spanish and llanito: a dialect which combines both languages. Their peculiar history has been shaped by seafaring and sieges, Nelson and Franco. I wonder, however, what it says about New Labour's blinkered definition of Britishness, that there is no room in it for the inhabitants of the Rock
July 28 02

Blair doubles cost of spin

The amount of taxpayers' money spent on government advertising has more than doubled since Labour came to power, confirming fears that No 10's current inhabitant is obsessed with spin.
In the past year Tony Blair shelled out a staggering £147m more than John Major did in his last year of office, on advertising ranging from recruitment campaigns for teachers and soldiers to public information ads during the foot and mouth crisis last spring and summer.
July 26 02

A free country

By Stephen Robinson
Last week, Privacy International received a disquieting complaint from the mother of an 11-year-old child attending a London primary school. She claimed all children in the school had been electronically fingerprinted for a new library system without the consent of parents. Some parents were angry, saying the use of such systems softens children up for such initiatives as ID cards and DNA testing.
This fingerprinting system has been sold to 1,000 schools, or as many as 300,000 children from the age of seven. It is being used to replace library cards and to increase efficiency of library management. Each child places a thumb on an electronic scanner, and the identity of the print is then stored in a computer.
That thousands of children are being fingerprinted for school administration is worrying enough. But the most bizarre twist is that the Office of the Information Commissioner, the official responsible for the protection of information privacy in Britain, has come out in support of the practice.
In a letter to the system vendor, Micro Librarian Systems (MLS), a commission compliance officer praised the use of the technology in schools, arguing that fingerprinting "aids compliance with the Data Protection Act".
In the furore that followed, senior staff of the commissioner enthusiastically lined up publicly to "encourage" schools to fingerprint their children, arguing that it would be an example of "best practice" in information handling.
So, it seems fingerprinting of children is good for privacy. Perhaps the newly appointed Information Commissioner, who takes up his post later this year, should examine his office's raison d'etre. On the basis of what we have heard this week, it should be regarded with suspicion by anyone who cares about privacy.
July 26 02

Archbishop will not give blessing for war on Iraq

By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
DR ROWAN WILLIAMS hinted at future confrontation with the Government after being named as the next Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday when he insisted he would only support military action on Iraq which had been cleared by the United Nations. Dr Williams, who is currently Archbishop of Wales, recently signed an open letter condemning any possible attack on Iraq.
He also said he had no regrets about taking part in direct action against nuclear weapons in a protest organised by CND during the 1980s.
The Archbishop outlined his vision for the future of the Church of England, saying that he was determined that Christianity should once again "capture the imagination of our culture".....
July 24 02

Blunkett may be a listener, but he's certainly no liberal

The white paper on criminal justice is a further erosion of our rights
Hugo Young Thursday July 18, 2002 The Guardian
People who take seriously the civil liberties and human rights agenda have often, perhaps usually, voted Labour. They see themselves as progressive, on the left not the right, and have tended to assume that Labour, like them, believed in the importance of defending axioms that range across such issues as free speech, race and sex discrimination, the protection of the individual against abusive state power, and trial by jury. The assumption always was that, given the choice between the two main parties, anyone who cared about these things knew where they had to stand.
This was a triumph of optimism over experience never easy to understand. Beginning with Herbert Morrison, postwar Labour governments have found no shortage of authoritarians to run the Home Office. Few showed natural sympathy for victims of state power, or resisted populist diatribes against fundamental rights and freedoms. Jim Callaghan was in the Morrison line, and so was Merlyn Rees. It turns out that the entire weight of libertarian trust in Labour rests on the performance of one man, Roy Jenkins, whose record was epic in many of these fields, but who is now a Liberal Democrat - as is almost every politician now prepared to take risks for civil liberties.
The Blair government is, in this respect, old, old Labour. With one exception, it has run away from every libertarian challenge. It is profoundly illiberal. As home secretary, Jack Straw always wanted to make clear early in the conversation that he was not a liberal. Nor is Tony Blair. Liberal is a word that crosses Blair's lips as infrequently as socialist. The third way he seeks between these terms is the only one available: reliably and fiercely conservative.
A conservative stance was central to Blair's strategy before 1997. His most tenacious work as shadow home secretary was to prepare the end of Labour's annual opposition to renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He also persuaded John Smith to abstain rather than oppose when Michael Howard's most extreme criminal justice bill came to a final vote. As prime minister, he maintained and extended his unreliable trajectory, insisting, for example, that the Freedom of Information Act, of which he spoke in opposition as a fervent supporter, should be operationally delayed for several years. With his support, Home Secretary Straw abolished the defendant's right to silence in criminal cases, again a reversal of the previous party line.
The exception to this pattern is the Human Rights Act, importing the European convention into domestic law. It was a big reform. But it was driven forward by the inescapable demands of history, together with Lord Chancellor Irvine's conversion to its merits. Straw seized on it, perhaps as cover for the anti-progressive things he wanted to do. Blair has never made more than passing reference to it. It doesn't grow out of the bowels of Labour, old or new, and certainly not out of the mind or sympathy of the present home secretary, David Blunkett, who refers to its libertarian impulse as "airy-fairy", and furiously tried to wriggle round the constraints it placed on his anti-terrorism legislation.
This is the historic context in which to read Blunkett's white paper on the criminal justice system. The progressive agenda places heavy reliance on the importance of law and judges; Blunkett has spent much time scorning what they say and do. Never has a home secretary done more to destroy confidence in the legal profession. Morrison and Callaghan were careful what they said about judges. Time and again Blunkett has whined and sniped at judgments that went against him. It shouldn't be surprising that a defining theme of the white paper is the government's belief that the justice system has become a lawyers' ramp.
That hasn't produced a bad document. Blunkett's rarest virtue is that he's a listener, sometimes prepared to change his mind and challenge other people's conventional wisdom. The paper takes a radical and constructive swipe, long overdue, at some grotesque inefficiencies. At every stage from arraignment to trial, too many thousands of cases are bedevilled by multiple failures on the part of police, prosecutors, witnesses and lawyers. Seeking more reliable satisfaction for victims, and a better clear-up rate for crimes of every kind, is a worthy objective of government. The white paper has many sensible ideas.
It is also good and grown-up about sentencing. Financial as well as social crisis has driven this home secretary to try to do something about the exponential growth that makes Britain the prison capital of Europe. Not a new aspiration - and the message is confused by doubling, as part of the strategy to speed up trials, the length of sentences magistrates can give. But most of the language and would-be policy on prisons is practical, not tabloid.
Blunkett has also listened on juries. Six months ago, in line with Lord Justice Auld's report, he proposed a system that might have halved the number of jury trials, drastically abolishing a fundamental right. Now he's gone back on that. That does not mitigate, however, the crucial shift this state paper expresses. The rule that determined the balance of the judicial system hitherto was this: it was worse for an innocent person to be convicted than for a guilty person to go free. Now that has been reversed. What drives the Blunkett white paper is a demand for more convictions, no matter what collateral damage may be done to people who are not guilty.
That was the purpose of Labour's serial assaults on jury trial, two by Straw and one by Blunkett. Juries were thought to acquit more read ily than magistrates. Though Blunkett was forced to pull back, he continues to eat away at his target. Juries will now be removed, if judges agree, not only from complicated fraud cases but complex cases of any kind that involve money: a burgeoning category. They will also be excused if in danger of "intimidation", something easily manipulable by unscrupulous policemen. The truth is that these ministers dislike juries almost as much as they mistrust, and airily defame, the lawyers whose professional duty is to ensure defendants get a fair trial.
Even more offensive is Blunkett's willingness to open the way to more disclosure of previous convictions. This may already be done in narrowly restricted circumstances. Judges are now invited to extend them, to satisfy an explicit impatience with juries' present performance. The presumption of innocence is not being cleaved away with the axe that tabloid populism might like. But an insinuating needle can destroy the fabric of the system just as well, which Blunkett, detesting lawyers, seems only too happy to countenance.
These are a liberal's objections to his plan. To say the conviction of the innocent is more intolerable than the acquittal of the guilty sounds, these days, outlandish. But any system will be loaded to have one effect or the other, and Blunkett has made his choice. It's regrettable but not entirely surprising: the logical conclusion of Labour's unprincipled and treacherous history.
July 18 02

Blunkett's notion of justice: guilty until proved innocent

By Peter Lilley (Filed: 17/07/2002)
Asked by a judge whether his client was aware of some legal maxim with a Latin tag, the famously insolent barrister F E Smith replied "Your Honour: in the little village from which my client comes, they speak of little else."
The sarcasm was well placed. Most people know little and care less about legal matters. Four legal principles are so fundamental to our liberty that they have impressed themselves on the public consciousness: that we have the right to trial by jury; we are innocent unless proved guilty; we cannot be imprisoned without charge (habeas corpus); and we cannot be tried twice for the same offence (the double jeopardy rule).
What is remarkable is that precisely those four pillars of our liberties are now under threat from this Labour Government. Driven by a combination of saloon bar populism and zeal for modernisation, David Blunkett will today further undermine their foundations.
The Government pursues a populist line by sounding "tough on crime" through deliberately blurring the distinction between those accused, and those guilty, of crime. He claims that juries acquit more people than magistrates do, so he intends to reduce the number of jury trials. In fact, as Jack Straw admitted, the conviction rate for similar offences is much the same whether a trial is before a magistrate or a jury.
When Home Secretary, he none the less brought in two Bills to abolish our right to choose trial by jury. The Government argued that this right to an expensive jury trial was exploited by hardened criminals to get a lesser sentence than if they were tried by a magistrate. So, removing that right would ensure criminals got their just deserts and save money. This argument disintegrated when it emerged that the expected savings would be largely due to the shorter sentences that magistrates can give.
Mr Blunkett appears to have stepped back from a third attempt to abolish the right to jury trial. Instead he plans a squeeze on jury trial from both ends. At one end he will say that most offences carrying sentences of less than a year will be deemed too simple to merit jury trial. At the other end, he will say that, beginning with fraud trials, complex cases should be taken away from juries. The Government seems to have fallen for the myth that juries are so bewildered by complex fraud cases that they let guilty fraudsters go free. In fact, the Serious Fraud Office has had a 92 per cent conviction rate over the past four years, far higher than all other offences.
Despite its protestations of support for juries in principle, it is clear that a government that considers juries unsuitable for either simple or complex cases has little attachment to them at all. Yet juries, precisely because they are ordinary people, are trusted, independent of the state, fairest and the best safeguard against onerous laws, which they may simply refuse to enforce.
Above all, they are the only way, apart from voting, that citizens can participate in the process of government. A million people carry out jury service every five or six years - and in this way power is diffused into the community. We ought to be widening participation, not restricting the jury's role. Anyone summoned for service should be required to nominate a period in the coming year when they can serve.
The Government is also committed to abolishing the guarantee against double jeopardy - at least for murder. This was triggered by the Lawrence case. Stephen Lawrence's parents took out a private prosecution that failed. Hard cases make bad law; yet the Macpherson report proposed that the 800-year-old rule should be set aside to allow retrial if the police found new evidence against the same suspects. The Government decided to sound both tough and politically correct by arguing that, if new evidence is found, a new trial is called for.
The double jeopardy rule persisted for eight centuries for four very good reasons. It protects the individual from harassment by the state; it forces the prosecution to get all its ducks in a row before taking a case to court; and it reassures all innocent people, once acquitted, that they will not face a second trial. Finally, any second trial would inevitably be prejudiced if a judge first ruled that the new facts were "compelling evidence" of guilt.
We may hear rather less about the old habeas corpus rule, which protects us from arbitrary imprisonment. Yet the new European arrest warrant will enable Continental governments to arrest and extradite British citizens. It is extraordinary that we shall have less protection against arrest by a foreign government than we do against our own.
The most fundamental basis of all our freedoms is the presumption of innocence. As the great Lord Chancellor Lord Sankey wrote: "Throughout the web of the English criminal law, one golden thread is always to be seen, that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner's guilt." But, of course, it is far more convenient for governments to require us to prove our innocence. So this golden thread has been set aside in the EU directives placing the burden of proof on the accused in sex and race discrimination cases.
Steven Spielberg's current blockbuster, Minority Report, portrays the world in 2054 when everyone's iris can be identified wherever they go, and where police can try people for crimes they are predicted to commit. Now Mr Blunkett wants to store images of our irises on the state's computers. And the Government has rammed through legislation empowering police to arrest people who have committed no offence and require them to prove they are not going to behave like hooligans at some future date. Today he will bring us nearer to 2054.
Peter Lilley is the Conservative MP for Hitchin and Harpenden
July 17 posted here July 18 02

Proposal for European Arrest Warrant

UK ID Card Proposals Consultation Paper Released
Privacy International

The Home Office issued its consultation paper on an "entitlement card" on July 3. Home Secretary David Blunkett said he was "enthusiastic" about adopting it. The card would be mandatory to obtain for all persons over 16 and would be required for employment and health care and cost over 33 billion pounds to install, not including all the devices to use it. The proposal has already been criticized by members of all political parties and major media.
This is a new website
July 16 02

The great charade

As the West prepares for an assault on Iraq, John Pilger argues that 'war on terror' is a smokescreen created by the ultimate terrorist ... America itself
It is 10 months since 11 September, and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the 'war on terrorism' - when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them.
The fanatics who attacked America came from Saudi Arabia and Egypt. No bombs fell on these American protectorates. Instead, more than 5,000 civilians have been bombed to death in stricken Afghanistan, the latest a wedding party of 40 people, mostly women and children. Not a single al-Qaeda leader of importance has been caught. .........
Should anyone need reminding, Iraq is a nation held hostage to an American-led embargo every bit as barbaric as the dictatorship over which Iraqis have no control. Contrary to propaganda orchestrated from Washington and London, the coming attack has nothing to do with Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction', if these exist at all. The reason is that America wants a more compliant thug to run the world's second greatest source of oil.
The drum-beaters rarely mention this truth, and the people of Iraq. Everyone is Saddam Hussein, the demon of demons. Four years ago, the Pentagon warned President Clinton that an all-out attack on Iraq might kill 'at least' 10,000 civilians: that, too, is unmentionable. In a sustained propaganda campaign to justify this outrage, journalists on both sides of the Atlantic have been used as channels, 'conduits', for a stream of rumours and lies. These have ranged from false claims about an Iraqi connection with the anthrax attacks in America to a discredited link between the leader of the 11 September hijacks and Iraqi intelligence. When the attack comes, these consorting journalists will share responsibility for the crime. It was Tony Blair who served notice that imperialism's return journey to respectability was under way. Hark, the Christian gentleman-bomber's vision of a better world for 'the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant, those living in want and squalor from the deserts of northern Africa to the slums of Gaza to the mountain ranges of Afghanistan.' Hark, his 'abiding' concern for the 'human rights of the suffering women of Afghanistan' as he colluded with Bush who, as the New York Times reported, 'demanded the elimination of truck convoys that provide much of the food and other supplies to Afghanistan's civilian population'. Hark his compassion for the 'dispossessed' in the 'slums of Gaza', where Israeli gunships, manufactured with vital British parts, fire their missiles into crowded civilian areas.
As Frank Furedi reminds us in The New Ideology of Imperialism , it is not long ago 'that the moral claims of imperialism were seldom questioned in the West. Imperialism and the global expansion of the western powers were represented in unambiguously positive terms as a major contributor to human civilisation.' The quest went wrong when it was clear that fascism was imperialism, too, and the word vanished from academic discourse. In the best Stalinist tradition, imperialism no longer existed. Today, the preferred euphemism is 'civilisation'; or if an adjective is required, 'cultural'. From Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, an ally of crypto-fascists, to impeccably liberal commentators, the new imperialists share a concept whose true meaning relies on a xenophobic or racist comparison with those who are deemed uncivilised, culturally inferior and might challenge the 'values' of the West. Watch the 'debates' on Newsnight. The question is how best 'we' can deal with the problem of 'them'.
For much of the western media, especially those commentators in thrall to and neutered by the supercult of America, the most salient truths remain taboos. Professor Richard Falk, of Cornell university, put it succinctly some years ago. Western foreign policy, he wrote, is propagated in the media 'through a self righteous, one-way moral/legal screen [with] positive images of western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted violence'.
Perhaps the most important taboo is the longevity of the United States as both a terrorist state and a haven for terrorists. That the US is the only state on record to have been condemned by the World Court for international terrorism (in Nicaragua) and has vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling on governments to observe international law, is unmentionable. 'In the war against terrorism,' said Bush from his bunker following 11 September, 'we're going to hunt down these evil-doers wherever they are, no matter how long it takes.'
Strictly speaking, it should not take long, as more terrorists are given training and sanctuary in the United States than anywhere on earth. They include mass murderers, torturers, former and future tyrants and assorted international criminals. This is virtually unknown to the American public, thanks to the freest media on earth. ...... We, too, watched with shock the horrific events of September 11. But the mourning had barely begun when our leaders launched a spirit of revenge. The government now openly prepares to wage war on Iraq - a country that has no connection with September 11. 'We say this to the world. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist. We draw on the inspiration of those who fought slavery and all those other great causes of freedom that began with dissent. We call on all like-minded people around the world to join us.' It is time we joined them.
July 14 02


Rock's long wait for a say on its future

JACK Straw's historic Gibraltar speech to the Commons yesterday may have set Tory opponents, and not a few on his own benches, screaming: "Traitor!" But even those who shouted loudest yesterday will not have been surprised.
Foreign Office mandarins - even Mr Straw - have admitted in private for months that co-sovereignty was the stone on which the Rock's new future would, if negotiations with Spain worked out, be founded.
For Gibraltarians wandering down Winston Churchill Avenue or Prince Albert's Road or for the taxi drivers who gather in Casements Square by the latest monument, erected just a few years ago, to the Rock's Second World War heroes, there was nothing new in Mr Straw's words.
They knew Spain would never settle for a deal that did not hand it sovereignty. That is why, when the Foreign Secretary bravely decided to show his face in Gibraltar two months ago, a cordon of helmeted Gibraltarian bobbies had to prevent the crowd from mobbing him. One of the last things Mr Straw will have seen as his limousine pulled out of the back door of the governor's residence and raced to the airport would have been a tough-looking, Gibraltarian granny waving a sharp wooden stake menacingly in his direction.
Gibraltarians want nothing to do with Spain. And that is a problem that neither Mr Straw nor his new Spanish counterpart, Ana Palacio, can fix by just sitting around a table and negotiating.
The depth of Gibraltarian hatred towards Spain can be measured by the results of the last referendum which proposed they might swap nationalities. This, admittedly, was carried out while the right-wing dictator, General Francisco Franco was still in power in 1966. But the result - 12,138 against and only 44 in favour - was as good as unanimous.
The 44 did not escape lightly. Gibraltarians knew who they were and attacked their shops, cars and yachts. Another measure of Gibraltarian dislike of Spain is the wealth gap that separates them from their Spanish neighbours in La Lmnea, a few yards away across the frontier. Gibraltarians earn almost double the Spaniards' income. Why should they want to become Spanish?
It is not the Gibraltarians who want to be Spanish, it is the British government who wants them to be Spanish, or at least partly so. The reasons for this are straightforward. Gibraltar has become a nightmare for Britain in its dealings with Brussels. Often, when the 15 member states finally agree to something after years of negotiating - be it the open-skies policy or financial regulation - a last-minute cry comes up from the Spanish delegation. The deal cannot be signed, they say, until Gibraltar has been excluded.
Thus, a deal that may benefit 60 million Britons is stalled while the government tries to defend the interests of 30,000 of them. Those 30,000, obsessed with conspiracy theories about future "sell-outs", do not seem terribly grateful.
Spain's claims on Gibraltar are not completely unfounded. It ceded part of the Rock in the 1714 Treaty of Utrecht, but the other part was simply grabbed by Britain years later. That treaty also says that if Britain one day decided to give up sovereignty over Gibraltar, it must hand it back to Spain. All this adds up to the "festering dispute" described by Mr Straw yesterday. His solution - which has its precursor in the so-called Brussels process set up by Baroness Thatcher's government - is to negotiate away all, or some, of British sovereignty.
Joint sovereignty, on paper, looks like an inspired solution. Gibraltarians would keep their British passports and get the best that not just Britain but Spain - which is, after all, closer to hand - can give them. Gibraltarians already have a reputation for struggling through the frontier and then collapsing on the other side so that they can get hospital treatment, which is better, on the Spanish side. Throw in increased self-government and, argues Mr Straw, everybody should be happy.
But things are not that easy. Gibraltarians have some very good reasons for disliking Spain. For 13 years, again under Franco but also during the early years of Spanish democracy, the frontier to Spain was closed. Gibraltarians wanting to see relatives in La Lmnea had to travel via Tangiers or shout to them through the fence on Sunday afternoons.
Even now, crossing the frontier can be exhausting. Whenever the political situation gets tough, Spanish border guards are ordered to slow down their checks. Queues can last for hours.
All this could be forgotten, however, if Spain was prepared to accept sharing as a definitive solution to the problem or, even if it publicly acknowledged Gibraltarians' rights to vote in a referendum on the proposed agreement. But Spain will not even go that far. Josi Marma Aznar, the prime minister, has made it clear that sharing is a short-term solution for his government. The end goal remains total possession of Gibraltar. The referendum, he says, is a matter for Britain. Spain will have nothing to do with it.
Mr Straw has promised Britain will not ratify any agreement until the Gibraltarians themselves have backed it in a referendum. Gibraltarians see they are being invited to back a deal that will eventually hand them over to a country that treats them with, at the very best, disdain.
That is not Mr Straw's fault. But he does not want to face humiliation at a referendum and has already signalled that, if Gibraltarians do not like the deal, it may take a very long time for that referendum to be called.
If 60 million Britons have to wait years for a referendum on the euro, then 30,000 Gibraltarians can wait even longer for their referendum.
There are only two ways out of this deadlock. Either Spain drops its long-term demands for full sovereignty and starts showing some consideration to the Gibraltarians, or the talks should be cancelled. Mr Straw, despite the bravura shown yesterday, may not even have to do that himself.
Mr Aznar this week sacked Josep Piqui, the foreign minister who had been an enthusiastic negotiating partner. It was a sign that he did not consider Gibraltar a major priority. He has his own troubles with the Basque country and, now, with Morocco's claims to a series of Spanish enclaves on the north coast of Africa.
The precedent set by co-sovereignty may create problems for him on both those fronts. So Gibraltarians need not hold their breath: Mr Piqui's successor, Ana Palacio, may well pull the plug first.
Strategic position has ensured a turbulent history
THE history of Rock of Gibraltar has been governed by its physical size and its geographical location.
Standing as it does at one of the northern hemisphere's strategic crossroads, it has always attracted the attention of the world.
Gibraltar itself is a tiny outcrop of British history attached to southern mainland Spain. Its 2.3 square mile land mass is dominated by the Rock, a 426 metre-high block of limestone.
It is currently a British dependency, but has changed hands many times over the last 1,000 years. In 911 AD, Moors from North Africa conquered Gibraltar and settled there for almost 600 years.
The 14th century saw the Rock change hands as the Spaniards conquered it in 1309 only to lose it back to the Moors again in 1333.
Spain, fighting on behalf of the King of Castile, re-conquered the peninsula in 1462 and held it until the 18th century, when they were defeated by the British in 1704.
The Treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, officially handed Gibraltar over to Britain "forever".
During the course of the 19th century, Gibraltar developed into a fortress of renowned impregnability, the phrase "As safe as the Rock" became commonplace in the English language. At the same time, a civilian community grew up within its walls, earning its living primarily from commercial activities.
In 1830, responsibility for Gibraltar's affairs was transferred from the War Office to the Colonial Office and the status of Gibraltar was changed from "the town and garrison of Gibraltar in the Kingdom of Spain" to "Crown Colony of Gibraltar" with powers vested in a governor.
In 1963, the question of Gibraltar's status came before the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation and Spain seized the opportunity to revive her claim for the reversion of the Rock to Spanish sovereignty. In 1967, Spain, now under General Franco, held a referendum over future sovereignty of the island. Famously, 12,138 votes were cast against joining Spain, while only 44 were cast in favour. Despite the result, the Spanish increased restrictions at the border with Gibraltar, which culminated in the complete closure of the frontier and all other means of direct communication with the mainland.
July 13 02

Gibraltar still besieged

(Filed: 11/07/2002) Tony Blair's strategy was to counter Franco-German dominance of the European Union by forging alliances with other countries, especially Spain. Gibraltar stood in the way of this plan, so would have to be sacrificed by Britain's agreeing to share sovereignty over the colony with Madrid.
Jack Straw was to deliver an agreement on principles to the Prime Minister by the summer; Josep Pique, his Spanish counterpart, would do the same for Jose Maria Aznar. This would then be put to the Gibraltarians in a referendum in which, it was hoped, a mixture of carrot and stick would produce the desired result.
On Tuesday night, Mr Pique was sacked as foreign minister, a move that a former aide to Mr Aznar interpreted as the knell for one of his key policies, a Gibraltar deal. In fact, the betrayal of the Rock by the Government had already run into formidable difficulties: the steadfast opposition of the Gibraltarians, the brilliant advocacy of their chief minister, Peter Caruana, and American misgivings about the defence implications of shared sovereignty. To these must be added Spanish fears about the knock-on effect of a Gibraltar referendum on sovereignty on their own secessionist-minded regions, in particular the Basque country.
Mr Straw will fail to meet his timetable for a deal. But that will not necessarily let the Rock off the hook. To save face, the Foreign Secretary may seek to emphasise the points of agreement with Spain, rather than conceding that the attempted deal is dead. That would leave a sword hanging over the Gibraltarians: they would be under the threat of resumed negotiations while continuing to suffer harassment from the mainland.
The Government's attempt to appease Madrid over Gibraltar is thoroughly reprehensible and has left Mr Straw looking both unprincipled and ineffective. Part of the reason why Mr Pique went was his failure to deliver on his promises regarding the Rock. The Foreign Secretary, by contrast, is likely to remain in office. He should use the time left to him to reverse his earlier follies and reassure the people of Gibraltar.
July 11 02

Blunkett's mission to control

(Filed: 10/07/2002) David Blunkett's latest concession on the Police Reform Bill is another welcome retreat by the Home Secretary in the face of a well argued case by Opposition MPs and peers.
Whether he has stepped back far enough, however, is another matter. Not for the first time, Mr Blunkett wants to have his cake and eat it. He wishes to retain the power to intervene in the workings of a local constabulary deemed by Whitehall to be "failing"; on the other hand, he wants us all to stand back and admire his willingness to show flexibility by partially amending a measure that threatens to undermine 150 years of independent policing in England and Wales.
This country has had cause down the years to be grateful for the autonomy of its chief constables. So why does Mr Blunkett think he is the Home Secretary who should change an arrangement that has served us well? Like many occupants of the Home Office, he is frustrated that he gets the blame for rising crime - as he will when the latest figures are published on Friday - while having no obvious control over the police. (This does not, of course, stop him taking the credit when crime falls.) Why is it, he asks, that, when I pull a lever, there is nothing on the other end apart from an adverse opinion poll? One may sympathise with his predicament, but it comes with the political territory.
If the Home Secretary wishes to have more power over the police, then he is going in the right direction, albeit more slowly than he intended. But if he seriously wants to reduce crime, then he is heading the wrong way, placing too much emphasis on the narrow performance indicators - so loved by Labour ministers - that have had a baleful influence on policing in recent years. They mean more red tape and less long-term planning, and are inimical to the one thing that is likely to cut crime: the presence of more police on the streets, since the one "performance" that cannot be scientifically measured is the deterrent nature of the patrol officer.
No doubt Mr Blunkett will feel his concession is being uncharitably received should the Lords continue to resist his blandishments. But the Upper House should not lose sight of the grand design that is taking shape under Mr Blunkett's stewardship of the Home Office. He wanted to take control of the courts, but was beaten back by the Lord Chancellor; he desired to extend throughout the public sector the power of the state to pry into the lives of ordinary people, but retreated when it blew up in his face; he wants everyone to possess an identity card and register with a central population agency. Notwithstanding the occasional enforced detour, Mr Blunkett's path is clearly marked out and is consistent with the culture of intervention and control that pervades many of the policies of this Government. The line must be drawn before he gets his foot into the door of the chief constable's office.
July 10 02

Scotland 'weak link' if ID card rejected
Scotland on Sunday

DAVID Blunkett last night warned Scotland that it risks becoming "the weakest link" in the fight against crime if it tries to block the introduction of identity cards.
The Home Secretary said the country would become a "haven for fraudsters" if the Labour-Lib Dem coalition failed to implement a national ID card scheme.
Whitehall has insisted that Scotland must not be allowed to go it alone in rejecting the proposed 'entitlement' cards despite the opposition of Scottish justice minister Jim Wallace to the scheme.
The outburst has provoked fury from MSPs and human rights campaigners, who have accused Blunkett of bullying.
A spokesman for Blunkett said: "At a time when organised crime and human trafficking are becoming ever more sophisticated, the UK is alone among European countries in not having a national system of ID cards. Were England, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt the cards, Scotland could become the weakest link in the fight against fraud. I don't think anyone wants to see that happen.
"There will be a number of issues which we shall have to discuss with the devolved administrations, and that is why we are having a consultation, there's no reason for any conflict in this."
Blunkett also told MPs last week that criminals would flock to Scotland if Holyrood refused to introduce the scheme. He said: "Were we able to introduce a card that dealt with organised fraud, and were Scotland not to have such a card, Scotland would become an absolute haven for fraudsters. Not even the Scottish National Party would want that."
Under the current proposals, UK citizens would have to sign up for compulsory "entitlement cards", which could combine the functions of driving licences and passports. Labour MSPs refused to comment on Blunkett's statement, saying the issue of ID cards was a reserved matter, but their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, were furious. Mike Rumbles, the Lib Dem MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, claimed the ID scheme was "unworkable".
"This is not about Scotland not wanting to combat fraud, this is about Scots knowing that ID cards will not work. I think that David Blunkett has forgotten all about devolution," he said.
"If they are supposed to be voluntary, then why is it an issue that Scots might not have them? One minute we are told it is an inoffensive and voluntary scheme, then we are told we must all have them so as to fight terror.
"This shows that Blunkett's policy is all over the place. This system is unworkable." A source close to Jim Wallace said the minister "would wait and see" what Blunkett's final proposals contained.
"Right now Blunkett's plans are so vague and pretty chaotic," the source said.
"Jim and the rest of the group will wait to see exactly what they come up with."
Michael Matheson, the SNP's shadow justice minister, accused Blunkett of attempting to "bully" MSPs.
He said: "I think that the bullying tactics being employed by the Home Office are completely unacceptable. The justice minister has made it clear that the issue of ID cards was a devolved matter. I hope that the Scottish Executive will show some backbone and stand up to the bully-boy methods of the Home Office, and consider the issue from the viewpoint of the good of the people of Scotland."
Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tory justice spokesman, said: "David Blunkett's claims are absurd. To suggest that Scotland would become an open door for crooks, conmen and other criminals is a gross exaggeration. "This is obviously targeted at Jim Wallace. Maybe Mr Blunkett is aware of Jim Wallace's weak approach to crime and justice issues, and feels that Scotland is under threat."
John Scott, the director of the Scottish Human Rights Centre, condemned the intervention by Blunkett.
He said: "The last thing that Scotland needs is to be told by David Blunkett what we have to do. We have a young parliament, and we hardly need to be railroaded into a supposedly 'voluntary' scheme. This is one of the examples of how Scotland could and should go it alone, and avoid this badly thought-out scheme."
However, David Cairns, the Labour MP for Greenock and Inverclyde, claimed that it would be "nonsense" for two separate ID card regimes to operate on each side of the Border.
He said: "It is crucial that the same system should operate in England and in Scotland. We have driving licences, National Insurance cards, and NHS cards issued on a UK-wide basis, this system should operate on the same principle.
"It would be utterly illogical and perverse to deal with this matter on anything other than a UK-wide basis."
A Scottish Executive spokeswoman said: "We are studying the proposals and will make our views known in due course. There may be issues which will have to be legislated for by the Scottish parliament, that is something which will become clear over time."
July 7 02

Corruption at heart of freedom bid
Scotsman on Sunday

A SCOT at the centre of the UK's longest-running miscarriage of justice case is on the verge of having his conviction overturned, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.
Investigators from the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) have concluded that there were substantial weaknesses in the 1977 prosecution of Robert Brown, from Glasgow.
Brown, now 45, was jailed for the murder of Annie Walsh, a 56-year-old factory worker from Manchester.
The CCRC report, which will now be sent to the Courts of Appeal in London, concludes that there is a "real possibility" Brown's conviction will be overturned when his case is heard later this year.
The report reveals that a key officer in the original case, Detective Inspector John Butler, was the subject of several internal investigations for alleged dishonesty at the time of Brown's trial in 1977.
The report also contains details of a new analysis of Brown's confession - which was later retracted - by a linguistics expert which concludes that Brown did not voluntarily admit guilt.
The report was greeted by Brown with a mixture of jubilation and frustration. "I've got it!" he said by phone from the prison near Preston where he is being held. Brown, who has now applied to be released on bail, added: "My God, it's been a long time coming... Can someone tell me why it's taken until now to be believed?"
He also revealed that his 1977 defence team had urged him to agree to a deal which would have seen him accept guilt on reduced manslaughter charges in return for a lesser sentence. "I refused that deal because I was innocent. So I was led into the court on a conveyer belt like a lamb to the slaughter."
July 7 02

Re: Existing service already works

Date: 6 July 2002
SIR - The Government is proposing the creation of a Health Protection Agency. Far from establishing a new agency to protect the population from infection, this new creation will mean dissolving the Public Health Laboratory Service.
This service consists of linked laboratories covering England and Wales that carry out microbiological investigations for local health authorities, hospital trusts, environmental health departments and private sector companies.
The network shares the workload and the cost of the service it provides. The laboratories liaise with each other to monitor and control communicable diseases, food poisoning incidents, "super-bug" outbreaks and environmental pollution.
When the HPA is implemented, in less than a year, each laboratory will become part of its local hospital trust, with its links to its sister laboratories severed. They will no longer provide food and environmental services, there will be no division of labour to keep down costs and turnaround time and the supply of growth media and test reagents - currently provided in-house - is in doubt.
As the all-party select committee comments, it would be better - and more cost-effective - to strengthen an existing, already efficient service. Public health is at risk as Government policy forges ahead with little or no consultation with the people who spend every day protecting the population from infection.
Johanna Water, Medical laboratory scientific officer and 26 others, Norwich Public Health Laboratory
July 6 02

Identity card 'would not stop welfare fraudsters'

By Andrew Grice Political Editor
David Blunkett is facing a cabinet revolt against his plans to introduce a universal identity card, amid warnings that it would do little to combat social security fraud.
Andrew Smith, the Secretary for Work and Pensions, is sceptical that the "entitlement card" announced by the Home Secretary would help to stamp out bogus welfare claims, which cost the Government up to £5bn a year.
A Whitehall source said yesterday: "The Department of Work and Pensions [DWP] will oppose the idea. It believes this is a solution in search of a problem." The source added: "If people are going to work and claim benefits, an entitlement card is not going to deter them. They will just turn up, show the card and carry on working."
DWP officials believe the Home Office plan might encourage fraud by creating a market in stolen or fake cards.
Plans by the Tory government for a "smart card" for all claimants were scrapped in 1999 by Alistair Darling, Secretary for Social Security at the time. Ministers dismissed the £1.5bn Tory scheme as an "expensive and unsuccessful gimmick".
Instead, the DWP is trying to persuade people to have benefits paid into their bank accounts, to try to cut fraud using stolen or fake Girocheques and benefit books.
DWP officials believe an entitlement card would cost the department millions of pounds and could jeopardise plans to upgrade its computers  for example, to handle a new system for child support payments.....
July 6 02

Labour's identity crisis

(Filed: 04/07/2002)
Exactly half a century after Winston Churchill abolished identity cards, David Blunkett yesterday proposed to reintroduce them. Why? Recalling the unpopularity of the wartime national registration cards, and anticipating fierce resistance from public opinion, the Home Secretary insists that his "entitlement cards" will be quite different.
They are not an Orwellian nightmare, but an opportunity for "positive engagement with citizenship". His voluminous consultation paper is supposed to inaugurate a national debate, in which the Government will be "neutral" - though Mr Blunkett admits: "I am not going to disguise my own enthusiasm for an entitlement card system." He claims that his commitment is not "ideological" and that the new cards need not be compulsory. The cost - up to £100 a head - is dismissed as a mere bagatelle. And Mr Blunkett naturally glosses over the fact that the scheme would be administered by such notoriously incompetent branches of bureaucracy as the Home Office and the Passport Office.
The official rationale for the latest attempt to reinvent the ID card is "identity fraud". Mr Blunkett is rightly exercised about the growing incidence of fraud and identity theft. His officials have persuaded him that ID cards would help to combat these problems.
Unfortunately for the Home Secretary, the entitlement card might create as many problems for the criminal justice system as it solves. Holding so much information on one card would make it a highly desirable prize: instead of mobile phone theft, we would have ID card theft. A thriving black market in forged or stolen cards would quickly emerge. Most benefit fraud does not depend on false identity. Mr Blunkett would soon discover that the fraudsters are usually at least one step ahead of the Home Office.
The gentlemen in Whitehall, however, have been dogged in their pursuit of the Holy Grail of ID cards ever since they were abolished. Michael Howard and Peter Lilley both tried versions of the scheme now dusted off by Mr Blunkett. The Home Office is not institutionally racist, but it is institutionally illiberal. The very name "entitlement card" is odious, implying as it does that our liberties are in the gift of the state. Has Mr Blunkett forgotten that in Britain, uniquely, people sing they never, never, never shall be slaves? That in Britain everything that is not prohibited is permitted? That the British are prepared to suspend their freedoms only in the face of a national emergency, and then only temporarily?
Such an emergency might, perhaps, be argued to have arisen on September 11. Though Mr Blunkett insists that the attack on America did not prompt his conversion to ID cards, it clearly was an underlying factor. If ID cards were a foolproof safeguard against international terrorism, that could conceivably justify their introduction. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that they would hinder or deter organisations as sophisticated as al-Qa'eda or the IRA. Moreover, provisional anti-terrorist measures tend to become permanent.
Have the Home Secretary's mandarins convinced him that ID cards would resolve the asylum crisis? He confesses that he is "obsessed with asylum and illegal immigration". Our European partners, and the French in particular, have been demanding that Britain introduce ID cards for some time, though Mr Blunkett indignantly denies that his espousal of the scheme was prompted by pressure from Paris. Whether or not such pressure was a major factor, ID cards are not a substitute for a sensible immigration and asylum policy. None of the options proposed would require people to show their card on demand, so it would pose little or no deterrent to illegal immigrants or asylum seekers. Yet Mr Blunkett may believe that the promise of ID cards would persuade the French to close the Sangatte refugee camp. We doubt it, but to curtail ancient liberties for such a short-term gain would, in any case, be a national disgrace.
If the Conservatives are serious about freedom, they should abandon the Major government's flirtation with ID cards and campaign vigorously against them - just as Churchill did in 1951, under the slogan: "Set the people free!"
July 4 02

Brussels follows Labour's spin model

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels (Filed: 01/07/2002) The European Commission is to counter the growing mood of Euroscepticism across Europe by abandoning neutral presentation of facts and instead creating an aggressive spin machine modelled on the Downing Street methods of Alastair Campbell.
A leaked strategy document obtained by The Telegraph outlines a plan to spend 267 million euros (£173 million) over four years to devise a core catechism of "messages", and harness all elements of the European system to "improve the perception that citizens have of the European Union".
The new unit will begin operations in early 2003, in time for the expected euro referendums in Britain and Sweden.
An "action plan" will start in September involving the use of focus groups in each member state. It will work with the opinion poll departments of each EU government and co-ordinate "informational vigilance". The document, written in French and entitled An Information and Communication Strategy for the European Union, calls for a pre-emptive use of public relations to promote "the legitimacy, image, and role of the union".
"A true EU communication method cannot be limited to mere diffusion of information: it must give a sense to things and put the EU's actions and policies in perspective," it says. "If factual, neutral information is necessary, it is not sufficient. Experience shows that information cannot remain neutral because of the constant distortion by the media, intermediaries and other multipliers of opinion." The EU already has hundreds of information outlets scattered across the 15 states. But the document says that the machinery has not been properly "exploited" to project the EU message. The new propaganda body is to be a revamped version of the Inter-institutional Information Group (GII), a little-known group that already meets twice a year.
A British official, Jan Royall, who is a political appointee at the Commission, working for vice-president Neil Kinnock, played a key role in preparing the strategy report. The text, which is to be debated by the 20 European Commissioners in closed session tomorrow, calls for careful "targeting" of opinion-makers. These would be key figures in civil society, business and women's rights, with a special focus on the education system to counter an alarming increase of anti-EU sentiment among the young.
It said that since "the EU cruelly lacks a 'face' viz-a-viz the ordinary citizens", it must recruit opinion leaders in every state as a sort of visual viceroy - "intermediate personalities" - to help Brussels reach out to the people. The new pro-active strategy follows three disastrous years that have seen the rejection of the Nice Treaty by Irish voters, a victory of the "no" campaign in Denmark, and the eruption of violence at the Nice and Gothenburg summits. The document acknowledges that the EU is "suffering the full blast of public disaffection" and is the lightning rod for the anti-establishment feelings across the Continent.
"Many citizens simply do not understand what the functions of the EU are supposed to be: some think the union ought to do more to address their concerns, others think it meddles too much in details that should be left to member states or regions. "Some see the community as a threat to their national identity." The new plans are certain to outrage eurosceptics. Last week Britain's Bruges Group launched a pamphlet in Brussels - Federalist Thought Control - accusing the commission of spending 250 million euros a year on "blatant propaganda" promoting closer integration.
July 1 02

An ineffective, illiberal and expensive idea that just will not go away

01 July 2002
Consultation, openness, debate. These are good things, and so should we not be pleased that the Home Secretary is to publish a discussion paper outlining the various options for identity cards and inviting responses?
No, because the basic premise of identity cards is flawed, and has been found to be so by governments of both political colours and all shades of concern for liberty since they were abolished in Britain in 1952. Peter Lilley, the former Secretary of State for Social Security, explained yesterday with his usual clinical logic why the Conservatives rejected the idea. He is personally liberal, but was a member of a government which was potentially quite as authoritarian as the present one. Yet not even Michael Howard could be persuaded that identity cards were a good idea.
The essential point is simple. Making them compulsory would represent an increase in the power of the state over the individual, making it an offence to be forgetful or inefficient. Far from helping to fight crime, a compulsory scheme would create thousands more criminals.
If carrying identity cards is not made compulsory, on the other hand, and David Blunkett insists he has no intention of doing this, what is the point of them? It has come to something when 27 Labour MPs are unwilling to take their own Home Secretary at his word, having signed a House of Commons motion opposing compulsory identity cards, which they must suspect is Mr Blunkett's ultimate objective.
That is the context for the options which have been floated for a middle way between compulsory and voluntary cards. Mr Blunkett says he does not want to make it compulsory for people to carry identity cards, except for asylum-seekers, although his document this week may canvass the idea that, if someone is found not to have a card on their person, they may be escorted home or required to produce it at a police station later.
It is true that the main category whose members cannot readily confirm their identity any other way is that of asylum-seekers. Individuals often arrive here without any papers at all. But they have to record their fingerprints when they apply for refugee status. What is the point, as Mr Lilley asked yesterday, in insisting that they carry cards with their fingerprints encoded on an electronic chip when they are likely, if asked for them, to have their real fingerprints about their persons?
Dressing up identity cards as "entitlement cards" which have to be shown when claiming state benefits makes no difference to the underlying idea - although it gives a clue to the simplistic thinking in Whitehall which is constantly returning to this impractical, expensive and illiberal non-starter.
The simplicity of a universal means of checking identities is deceptive. It seems to offer a simple way to detect crime, stop benefit fraud and control illegal immigration all at once. But the police say that, when they apprehend people, establishing their identities is rarely a problem and not a serious factor in today's low clear-up rates. Identity cards would only cause tensions between them and ethnic minorities. As for benefit fraud, the Government already has a hard enough time keeping track of National Insurance numbers - why should a new layer of records make enforcement easier?
We believe one of the options in this week's consultation paper will be to decline to introduce identity cards at all. That is the option Mr Blunkett should choose - and he should concentrate on policies which are likely to work.
July 1 02

A free country

By Stephen Robinson
The House of Lords yesterday ruled against the Daily Mirror in a case that raises disturbing questions about the freedom of the press. The case arose out of a Mirror article published in December 1999, which included details of the medical records of the Moors murderer Ian Brady while he was on hunger strike in Ashworth secure hospital.
Certainly, as a cause celebre, this episode may be found wanting. Breaching the confidence of an individual's medical records is a serious matter, even if - as in this case - the subject had himself released details of his own medical history. Moreover, the Mirror paid its source for the information, which concerned Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, in giving the lead judgment yesterday. The concern here is not so much with the specific case as with the principle, for, as Lord Woolf conceded: "Any disclosure of a journalist's sources does have a chilling effect on the freedom of the press."
The Brady case goes to the heart of the confusion about the limits to press freedom in this country, where there is no American-style First Amendment protection. In the absence of constitutional guarantees, British journalists can turn only to the Code of Practice of the Press Complaints Commission, the newspaper industry's self-regulatory body, which maintains that reporters "have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources".
Journalists who fail to honour the code are liable to be sacked by their employers. Newspaper executives and reporters who fail to answer court orders to name sources are liable to go to prison, whatever that code may say. And in future, members of the public who might once have turned whistleblower to disclose a serious crime may opt instead to keep quiet.

While Britain Slept

While the British people's attention was elsewhere their government has agreed the final form of the European arrest warrant, leaving parliament powerless to block or amend the measure.

The warrant was formally adopted at a meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council and so becomes part of European law, to be implemented in Britain, and escaping from any scrutiny by the elected representatives of the people.
As detailed previously in these pages the arrest warrant will be used by the EU to suppress all opposition to the diktats of Brussels. Indeed as Lord Scott, a law lord, says "the definition of xenophobia would almost certainly cover the distribution of Biggles and probably the Old Testament".
CIB Vice Chairman, Lord Pearson said "One of the most sinister and little-known aspects of our relationship with the EU is that when the executive agrees something on Britain's behalf, parliament is powerless to change it. If we voted against the warrant it would be enforced by the European Court. This is a very important example of our subservience to Brussels. Parliament is irrelevant in the law-making process.
A Home Office spokesman said parliamentary scrutiny committees had already discussed the subject but Lord Pearson called these debates a "sham" because even though few who spoke in them agreed with the measure, parliament was unable to change it.
Those who have done this are either incompetent fools who "know not what they do" or malign knaves who have deliberately evaded parliament in order to push through a measure which will transfer even more power to the dictators of Brussels. They have betrayed British democracy and are a disgrace to this nation. Those who support the use of the European arrest warrant in this country are at the very least Lenin's "useful idiots" or, more likely, arrogant pseudo fascists who seek supreme power for their elite club at the expense of the democratic rights of the people.
Unless the British wake up soon it really will be too late.
June 25 02

At the seat of empire
Africa is forced to take the blame for the devastation inflicted on it by the rich world

George Monbiot Tuesday June 25, 2002 The Guardian
In the Canadian fastness of Kananaskis this week, the messianic cult of empire will solemnly worship itself. The leaders of the G8 nations will declare that they have come to deliver the world from evil. They will announce that they are sacrificing themselves for the good of lesser nations. They will propose solutions from on high, without acknowledging any responsibility for the problems.
It is traditional, when empire celebrates, that its vassal states come to pay tribute and beg for deliverance. This time, the African leaders who will be admitted to the summit on Thursday are prepared to suffer the final humiliation by blaming themselves for the disasters visited upon them by the G8.
"Africa," according to the Canadian government, "will remain a central focus of the Kananaskis summit." The discussions will revolve around a plan called the New Partnership for Africa's Development, or Nepad, drafted by the African leaders and enthusiastically endorsed by the G8. The enthusiasm is not entirely surprising, as Nepad places nearly all the blame for Africa's problems and nearly all the responsibility for sorting them out on Africa itself. In the hope that it might win them a few crumbs of aid and extra debt relief, the continent's leaders appear to have told the rich world everything it wants to hear.
Nepad accepts that colonialism, the cold war, and "the workings of the international economic system" have contributed to Africa's problems, but the primary responsibility rests with "corruption and economic mismanagement" at home. Few would deny that these have played a significant role, but nowhere in the document on which the plan is based is there any mention of the far more consequential corruption and mismanagement by the nations to whom they are appealing.
Africa's underlying problem, as the continent's leaders acknowledge, is debt. Nepad implicitly accepts the rich world's explanation for this debt: that previous African leaders have frittered away their economic independence through poor planning and personal graft. Nowhere is any context given: that Africa's deficit is merely one component of a vast and growing global debt, affecting consumers and nations in the rich world as well as nations in the poor world. The US, for example, owes $2.2 trillion: almost as much as the entire developing world's debt put together. No mention is made of the debt-based banking system which has caused this crisis, and which ensures that the only way debts can be discharged is through the issue of more debt.
This problem, as poor nations know but dare not acknowledge, is compounded by the policing system developed by the rich world at Bretton Woods in 1944. Rather than the self-correcting mechanism proposed by John Maynard Keynes, which forced creditors as well as debtors to discharge the debt, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund were introduced as a means of persuading only the debtor nations to act, in the knowledge that this couldn't possibly work.
This system granted the rich world complete economic control over the poor world. The power that nations wield within the IMF is a function of their gross domestic product: the richer they are, the more votes they can cast. The World Bank is run entirely by "donor" states. These two bodies, in other words, respond only to the nations in which they do not operate.
The consequences for national democracy are devastating. African voters can demand a change of government, but they cannot demand a change of policy. All the important decisions affecting the continent are made in Washington, and they always boil down to the neoliberal demolition of the state's capacity to care for its people. So when the African leaders announce that "Africa undertakes to respect the global standards of democracy", they are accepting a burden they cannot lift. Democracy in Africa is meaningless until its leaders are prepared to challenge the external control of their economies.
But far from denouncing the authors of their misfortunes, they appear only to embrace them. "Structural adjustment", the IMF policy which has forced countries to repay their debts instead of investing in healthcare and education, is now almost universally acknowledged as the nemesis of development in Africa. Nepad's fiercest criticism is that it "provided only a partial solution" to poverty. Africa's leaders have pledged to support not only its successor policies (such as the IMF's demand that Malawi privatise its food reserves, with the result that millions of its inhabitants are now at risk of starvation), but also the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act passed by the US Congress. This seeks to complete the job which structural adjustment began: forcing African nations to dismantle state support and privatise their economies in return for minimal concessions on trade and aid.
Without addressing any of these obstacles, Nepad blithely promises to eliminate poverty, enrol all children in primary school, reduce child mortality by two-thirds and supply the continent with clean water and effective infrastructure. It will achieve these worthy aims, it claims, largely by means of "public-private partnership", the mechanism which is now failing so spectacularly in the rich world, while being forced on Africa by the G8.
Agricultural development depends, Nepad tells us, "on the removal of a number of structural constraints affecting the sector". One might have expected this to mean the dumping of subsidised produce on the African market by Europe and North America, which is widely acknowledged as a crippling impediment to effective farming on the continent. But this is never mentioned. Instead, the plan insists, the "key constraint is climatic uncertainty". Quite how the African leaders intend to "remove" this constraint is not explained, but that objective is arguably just as realistic as any of the others they propose.
Apart from a few timid requests for an increase in aid and a little more debt relief, the continent's leaders absolve the G8 nations of all responsibility. Instead, they proudly proclaim that "we will determine our own destiny" and call on the people of Africa "to mobilise themselves in order to put an end to further marginalisation of the continent". Self-determination is an admirable goal, but without control over economic policy it is bombast.
Some might say that this self-flagellation is a realistic means of engaging with the imperial powers in Kananaskis: the G8 nations, after all, do not take kindly to being lectured on their responsibilities. Nepad could be viewed as a white lie: the lies of the whites, repeated, with the best intentions, by the leaders of Africa. But development cannot be built on a lie, for development is a matter of reality. So while their plan has admitted them to the imperial court, it merely reinforces the dispensation that ensures Africa stays poor while the G8 stays rich. The continent's leaders will be forced to kneel on the stony ground of Kananaskis. But at least they've brought a Nepad.
7 George Monbiot will be away until August. His website can be found at
June 26 02

Top mandarin: Blair circle acts like the Third Reich
The Observer

Kamal Ahmed, political editor Sunday June 23, 2002
Tony Blair's government has been compared to the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler's Third Reich by a senior civil servant who worked for the Government until 2000. The remarkable accusation is made by Sir Richard Packer, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture who was made a knight by the Prime Minister when he retired from his job.
His comments, which brought immediate condemnation from Downing Street, will re-ignite the row over 'control-freakery' at the heart of the Government.
Although Packer insists that his allegation is only true 'in one respect', the fact that he makes the link will bring astonished responses from former colleagues who still work in Whitehall. It is highly unusual for such a senior former member of the civil service to speak out publicly so soon after his departure from office, particularly when the comments are so controversial.
'It is true they've shaken up departments and there's a lot more power in the centre,' Packer says in an interview with BBC1's On the Record programme, broadcast today. 'In one respect it did remind of the Third Reich where there were overlapping responsibilities and nobody quite knew where ultimate responsibility lay.
'There are groups at the centre with the Prime Minister's ear and I rather think that from those out on the periphery, it seems as though, if something goes wrong, departmental responsibility is clear, but if something goes right, they read in the newspaper that it was all the Prime Minister's idea.'
Packer hit the headlines earlier in the year when he accused the Prime Minister of giving 'grossly disproportionate' support to the Indian multi-millionaire and Labour Party donor Lakshmi Mittal over his bid to buy a Romanian steel plant.
'One of the problems is that the present administration when it first came in, immediately suggested that it was going to improve the delivery of policies radically,' Packer said. 'That was a very large claim. I don't think it was well thought through and so far it hasn't happened.'
Packer's comments reveal a deep-seated dislike of the Labour government among some parts of the civil service. Many officials feel that they are under-valued by Number 10, which has set up a de facto Prime Minister's department to control the Government from Downing Street.
The Government's special advisers, political appointees whose role became notorious after the Jo Moore episode, also brief against civil servants who they say are not up to the job, are too stuffy and lack a desire to change. Tony Wright, chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, said there was a need for a new Civil Service Act to give Whitehall officials constitutional protection from political pressure.
The Conservative Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Tim Collins, demanded that political appointees, such as Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of communications, and Jonathan Powell, his chief of staff, were stripped of their civil service powers.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman yesterday rejected Packer's claims saying that although they were 'colourfully put' his opinions were now 'wholly out of date'.
June 23 02

Warning from Wales
Western Morning News. Saturday Jun. 15 '02

Central Government proposes to set up regional assemblies throughout England. To be able to manage your own affairs sounds like a great idea. We, in Wales, thought exactly that. The reality is not what we expected. Be warned. Shortly before our assembly was set up, all our County Councils were abolished. A whole tier of local government was taken from us.
The assembly took over their role and has no more power than the former councils did. The money that ran the county councils now runs the assembly. There was no new money. With the assembly unable to pass any new laws, or raise any local taxes, we are unlikely to become any better off than we are at present.
Next our historic counties themselves were abolished. Counties like Glamorgan that had existed for more than a thousand years were swept away. They were replaced by a hotchpotch of so called "unitary authorities". The boundaries of the new authorities were drawn up on flat maps. Things like large rivers, or mountain ranges, were not taken into consideration. All that mattered to the planners was to put a certain number of people into each new authority area. We now have people who formerly lived in different counties, on opposite sides of a mountain, lumped together in the same authority area.
Some of the new rural authorities now cover such large areas money has to be spread very thinly. We have seen several cottage hospitals and village schools close. Some authorities, like my own, Merthyr Tydfil, are no longer large enough really to be viable. Several are already in financial difficulty. This year in Merthyr we have seen a 7.9 percent increase in our council tax while services decline. Any E.U. money due to wales cannot go directly to our assembly. It goes to London and they decide if we get it under a system known as "reciprocal funding".
After your assembly is set up, you will still send M.P.'s to London. If you have occasion to write to your M.P., or any Government department, your letter will be automatically returned to your assembly to be dealt with. London washes its hands of you. You are out of their hair.
It was recently reported that London is now the richest city in Europe, generating £159 billion this year alone. Why does the Government not distribute this around the country? That's true democracy.
James F. Addis, Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales.

Breathtaking examples of stupidity and brutality
The Scotsman

IN HAMLET, Shakespeare wrote that there was Providence in the fall of a sparrow. I'm not much of an expert in falling sparrows, but I do know a bit about the way in which American politics works. And when it comes to major bone-chilling announcements about the prospect of a "dirty bomb" attack on the American capital, then it is worth taking a step or two back and asking what exactly we are being told - and why are we being told it? We'll get to the hype in a minute, but first, the facts.
An American citizen and small-time gangster with a violent past, Jose Padilla, converted to Islam, changed his name, and - according to the FBI - became involved in a plot with al-Qaeda terrorists to explode a bomb filled with radioactive material in an American city. Padilla has been held for a month without charge and has been declared an "enemy combatant" by the US authorities. This means they can interrogate him without offering him legal representation, and - pending challenges from civil liberties groups - they can do so more or less indefinitely.
President Bush has already acted as judge and jury. "This guy Padilla's a bad guy," was how Mr Bush put it.
Now, Padilla may be the devil incarnate for all I know. But usually in democracies even Satan would get the right to legal representation, a hearing in court, and a fair trial. In the current mood in America, such sentiments are not very popular. Most Americans want to congratulate their intelligence services for averting a terrorist attack of indescribable horror.
But what has Padilla actually done that is illegal? If he has done something illegal - conspiracy to cause explosions, perhaps - why not bring him to trial? And if he merely thought about doing something illegal, is the US government going to make a habit of arresting its own citizens for Thought Crimes?
Then there is the hype over the "dirty bomb" itself. Some media accounts this week referred to the "dirty bomb" as a favoured weapon of terrorists. In their dreams, possibly. No-one has yet shown any evidence of any such weapon ever having been used by any terrorist group anywhere.
Before scaring ourselves witless, perhaps we should ask: how many people have "dirty bombs" killed this week? Fewer people than badly-wired toasters and accidents with lawnmowers.
Then there is the question of the credibility of the FBI. In the same week that J Edgar Hoover's FBI took a big bow for preventing some kind of terrorist holocaust in Washington, on the other side of the United States there was a different kind of FBI on display. A court in California awarded two radical environmentalists £3 million in damages after the jury decided that six FBI agents and three police officers tried to frame the environmentalists for planting a bomb in 1990.
It took 12 years for the environmentalists to achieve justice in the courts. Perhaps it is just as well that the environmentalists were not alleged to have been operating with al-Qaeda. Under such circumstances they might merely have been interned without trial and the key thrown away.
Besides, the legacy of US federal law enforcement incompetence, stupidity and brutality in the past decade or so is quite breathtaking. There were the intelligence failures leading up to 11 September itself. The FBI has been restructured - again - to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.
Then there was the mess at Waco, Texas, in February 1993, when dozens of federal agents stormed the compound of the Branch Davidian sect led by David Koresh. The FBI finally moved against the Branch Davidians, claiming, among other things, child abuse. This started a fire which killed 76 people, including many children.
Then there was the less well-known siege of Ruby Ridge in 1992, in which federal agents, including more than 100 from the FBI, were involved in a messy shoot-out with white supremacists in Idaho. Now, of course, in a civilised society we all need to be protected from the illegal activities of religious fanatics, white supremacists and, most especially, al-Qaeda.
But we also need to be on our guard against government agencies in the United States and elsewhere who seek to protect our freedom by destroying it. The supposed big success of the FBI over Padilla blew the scandal of the FBI agents in California right off the front pages of newspapers. How convenient.
Gavin Esler is a presenter on BBC News 24.
posted June 18 02

Monstrously illiberal

It has been nearly a year since this newspaper launched its Free Country campaign. But never before have we been faced with a proposal as illiberal, disproportionate and dangerous as the extension of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. The Government intends to allow our internet use, emails and telephone calls to be monitored by a whole range of officials, with virtually no judicial control. Not only the security services, but also such bodies as the Food Standards Agency and even local councils will be allowed to access our personal communications.
The burden of proof ought always to rest with those who wish to take away a given freedom. It is up to the Government to explain how we will be made any safer by giving, say, the Post Office the right to monitor our private communications. So far, it has barely attempted to make this case.
"If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear," comes the old refrain. If only this were true. In fact, almost every day we read of innocent people who have suffered from the bungling of some state agency.
"Personal information - seeking advice about a medical condition, making disobliging comments about someone else, visiting a pornographic website - will now be rather less personal. The opportunities for blackmail or abuse of power are immense.
In a letter elsewhere on this page, the Tory leader in the House of Lords writes of his readiness to oppose this monstrous measure. We hope that peers of all parties and none will back him.
The first duty of an upper chamber, however constituted, is to protect the citizen from badly drafted and invasive legislation. It is difficult to think of any clearer example than the proposal that will come before the Lords tomorrow.
June 17 02

On the road to a totalitarian state

While we quibble over the PM's role at the Queen Mother's funeral, our freedom is being eroded

Liberty Watch - Observer special
Anthony Scrivener Sunday June 16, 2002
The big news of the week has been the Prime Minister's denial that he was becoming more royal and trying to muscle in on the funeral of the Queen Mother. It was not as if he was demanding his own cassock or the right to nominate relatives for decent accommodation at the Royal Palace at a bargain rent. It was all about where he should greet the coffin. I am sure that this earth-shattering issue justifies the time and expense in producing a 29-page dossier which should make an excellent Christmas present. This concentration on a matter of such utter triviality demonstrates how out of touch with reality the administration and some parts of the media have become. There are in fact some earth-shattering constitutional issues around, about which the Government has issued no dossier at all.
While the debate goes on as to where the Prime Minister should stand at royal funerals, Big Brother is being quietly ushered in, not by the dreaded Conservative Party responsible for a whole raft of other illiberal measures including the Investigation of Communications Act 1985, but by New Labour, the self-styled party of human rights. Snooping is to become official. Soon we shall all be able to sleep easier in our beds in the knowledge that seven Government departments, including Transport, Work and Pensions and Health, all local authorities, the Postal Services Commissions, the Office of Fair Trading, the Environmental Agency, the Financial Services Authority, the Health and Safety Executive, to name just a few, as well as the police, will be able to demand communication data on any one of us from telephone companies, internet service providers and postal officers.
All of these public bodies and many more will be able to obtain, simply on demand and without a court order, details of any phone call we have made or received, the source and destination of any of our emails, the identity of all websites visited and - best of all - all mobile phone location data which will reveal our whereabouts at any given time within a few hundred metres.
We shall have attained a unique position in the free world - not a police state but a state whose citizens are constantly monitored by public officials without any control by the courts. Before leaders of councils begin to laugh with glee at the possibility of digging up the dirt on the journalist who gives them such a hard time, or perhaps their political opponents, they should bear in mind that the Town Hall Big Brother will know where they were on that Saturday night, too. If you want just to have the privacy you enjoy now, then it is back to the carrier pigeon although, no doubt, New Labour will allow public officials to shoot them down humanely. No wonder John Wadham at Liberty has said 'it is practically every public servant who will be able to play the game'.
The Government was forced into enacting legislation covering such covert investigations as phone tapping under pressure from the European Court of Human Rights. There was no right to privacy under the common law, but in 1984 that court declared that phone tapping was a breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention because the law was not sufficiently clear 'to provide an adequate indication as to the circumstances in which and the conditions on which public authorities are empowered' to obtain evidence by covert means. At the time there was only a Home Office circular governing such matters and the Convention was not part of our law.
By 1996 some fragmentary statutory provisions had been stitched together but in that year in a case involving phone tapping, Lord Nolan said 'the lack of a statutory system regulating the use of surveillance devices by the police seems astonishing'.
The crisis came when in 1998 we adopted the European Convention and Article 8 became part of our law. A clear statutory scheme was necessary for covert surveillance and along came the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. We were told this Act would be a bastion for freedom and that access to communications data would be confined to anti-terrorist investigations. All of this was pie in the sky. Next Tuesday, Parliament will debate a draft order to be made under this Act which will establish public officials as national monitors. The argument is that democracy is under attack so we should suspend democracy to protect it. After all the Americans, by their canny use of a declaration of war, not against a country but against a group, have managed to dodge the rule of law.
If China announced the introduction of such measures in Hong Kong we would be marching on their embassy with banners. Here, we have forgotten the principles on which freedom has been built and we shall do nothing. We shall concentrate instead on where the Prime Minister should stand in relation to a royal coffin. Those concerned with individual freedom will have to rely in Parliament on the Lib Dems and a handful of old Labour.
This proposal - together with a sustained attack on juries, a blunted Freedom of Information Bill, the proposed abolition of appeals for some asylum seekers and even the removal of their right to judicial review - is a dangerous milestone on the road to a totalitarian state. New Labour, which promoted human rights so vigorously in Opposition, has shown itself willing to cast aside those proud principles now it is in power. It is a particularly remarkable change for two members of the Government - Patricia Hewitt and Harriet Harman, both former senior officials of Liberty

June 16 ~ It's here, it's now: Big Brother's reign has begun

By Boris Johnson ....Anyone who loves liberty, and who wants to be protected from a nosy and unscrupulous government, should be aware of the coming Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Seldom has a Bill been so grotesquely misnamed. This will not regulate or control investigatory powers. It will oversee and encourage an explosion in snooping, by official bodies, into our lives, our associations, our interests, our every move. Investigatory powers are to be given to virtually every public body and quango, from the police to the local dog-catcher.
The Government originally said the Bill would be aimed at increasing the powers of only the police, Customs, the intelligence services and the Inland Revenue. That in itself is excessive. But under measures that have still to be debated by MPs, seven Whitehall departments, every local authority, health bodies, and 11 other bodies are included. It is a quite stupefying extension of state power over the individual. Let us imagine that Labour really wanted to do in poor Pam Warren, or you and me. Let us suppose that we were saying or doing things that they didn't much like, causing them embarrassment, making life difficult for Byers - that kind of thing.
All they would need to find would be a convenient Labour-sympathising person on one of these bodies, and he or she could snap his fingers and conjure up a fantastic quantity of personal information about us. In order to have access to details of all our personal phone calls and e-mails, it would be enough to show that it was necessary for protecting public health, or public safety, or mitigating any damage to anyone's health.
In fact, the Bill is drafted with such unbelievable woolliness that, for the snoopers to avail themselves of this stuff, they could argue, among several other possible grounds, that it was to "safeguard the country's economic well-being". What if it was arbitrarily decided, by some Labour-supporting council official, that what you or I were up to was against the "economic well-being" of the country?
In that case, without consulting any judges, or securing any warrants, or even obtaining the approval of the police, that official could demand - and furtively pass on - the following information. They could establish what websites you have visited, whom you have called on your mobile phone, who has called you, and even the location of those calls.
What if you were a journalist, looking up Islamic websites on the net? Does anyone have any right to draw conclusions from that? Suppose you find yourself somehow trapped, as I once was, in a website called "Boobtropolis", which blurts an embarrassing welcoming song. Does anyone, apart from the indulgent readers of this newspaper, have a right to know that?
Suppose you are scanning the net for information about a disease from which you suffer, or about the possibility of terminating a pregnancy? Why the hell should that be a matter for anyone else? It is not just that the wrong officials could get their hands on this stuff. It could fall into the hands of the media. The possibilities for blackmail or abuse are limitless.
The measures are justified, as ever, in the name of the fight against crime. Serious criminals will soon learn to avoid detection, perhaps by leaving their mobiles running in other places, or by rediscovering the art of letter-writing. This is an attempt to scarify the public, by letting them know that they are being watched not only by Big Brother, but also by all his nosy little relatives.
There is nothing between you and this Bill but one 90-minute debate next week. Then it will be law. You have been warned.
Boris Johnson is MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator
June 13 02

British liberty, RIP Government snoopers must be stopped

Leader Tuesday June 11, 2002 The Guardian
Just how quickly civil liberties can be eroded is graphically illustrated by our front-page story today. The story lists the host of public authorities which will be able to demand the communication records of every telephone and internet user in the country. Compare this frightening prospect with the picture painted by David Blunkett just a few days before he published his anti-terrorist bill last November. In an article for Tribune, the Labour weekly, setting out the criterion by which he was judging what should be included, the home secretary asserted: "Every measure in our bill has to meet one simple requirement: will it be a practical contribution to combating terrorism." And he gave this pledge: he would not give the police or anyone else the power to routinely monitor phone calls or emails between individuals.
Yet, as we report today, it is not just the police, security services and inland revenue which are to be given an almost complete map of people's private "electronic" lives; data on whom people talk to by email and phone, what websites they consult, and where everyone goes at any particular time while their mobiles are switched on. A long list of other public authorities are being given access too - seven government departments, hundreds of local authorities, all fire authorities and 12 other national bodies, ranging from the atomic energy authority's constabulary to universal service providers as defined under the Postal Services Act of 2000.
Just two years ago ministers tried to turn internet service providers into a supporting arm of the police by a regulation that would have required them to retain internet and email traffic details for 12 months. They were stopped by parliament, which believed this was a step too far. Now, just two years on, this data will be made available not just for anti-terrorist purposes but for criminal investigations and wider purposes too. True, the public authorities will not be able to look at the content of the emails, but the map which they will obtain, particularly with the new generation of mobile phones that pinpoint location to a few metres, makes a mockery of the right to privacy that the Human Rights Act is supposed to protect.
Blanket data retention is the penultimate step towards a national traffic data warehouse, which the security services and police chiefs have been seeking. There are profound civil liberty implications. The web browsing behaviour of a million customers for a year could be held on about 100 matchbox-sized tapes. Ironically, such Orwellian surveillance will be of little help in tracking terrorists or organised crime cells. They can avoid identification by using prepaid mobile phones or web-based email from public terminals. If David Blunkett was being sincere in his Tribune piece, he would drop this catch-all provision. It will not help him catch terrorists, but it will increase public suspicion and mistrust of the security services and the police.
It is time for parliament to step in again. The new powers are being bestowed by a statutory order that is due to be debated in the Commons next Tuesday. It should be resisted by both houses of parliament. It follows a move by the European parliament, revealed 10 days ago in this newspaper, which overturned a decade of data protection by giving member states the power to force internet companies to retain detailed logs of their customers' traffic. Some ministers might want to intervene. Surely Patricia Hewitt, a former general secretary of Liberty, is one who would want to assert the importance of a robust right to privacy?
June 11 02

Time to come clean on the dirty secret of starvation

This week's World Food Summit will once again avoid the real issues

John Vidal Monday June 10, 2002 The Guardian
If you want to see a hideous sight in the next few days, head for Rome where the second World Food Summit will be taking place. Held over from last year following September 11, it will feature 60 heads of state and thousands of bureaucrats and politicians. Even as they pledge yet again to feed the 800 million people who go hungry every year, they will be tucking into the world's finest produce.
Parma hams, wild salmon and canapes are a world away from the roots and berries that S, a Malawian woman I met last month, will be eating this week. She, like tens of thousands of people in southern Africa, has completely run out of food through no fault of her own; her life, from now until next April at the earliest, depends on northern governments and charities sending their surplus food across the world. The UN believes that 11 million people now face severe malnutrition if not starvation in the region. They say four million tonnes of grain will be needed but so far governments have pledged less than 100,000 tonnes. Thousands have already died, tens of thousands more inevitably will.
The global food situation has barely improved since 1996 when the first food summit was held and politicians hollowly pledged to halve the proportion of hungry people by 2015. If present trends continue, 122 million people will have died of hunger-related diseases by then, and the UN admits it will take 60 years to reach even that modest target. Governments, in short, have utterly failed to address one of the world's greatest scandals.
The first paradox is that the world has never grown so much food; there is no overall scarcity and food has seldom been so cheap. The simple equation in the politics of food today is that hunger equals poverty. What we see now is the relatively new phenomenon of increasing hunger amid ever-greater plenty. Just because a country produces more food does not mean it has no malnourished people. The US grows 40% more food than it needs, yet 26 million Americans need handouts. India's grain silos have been bursting for the past five years and a record surplus of 59 million tonnes has been built up, yet almost half of all Indian children are undernourished, tens of millions of people go hungry and many hundreds of poor farmers have committed suicide. .....
June 10 02

Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, Sat 8th Jun.

Richard Mawdsley, The Dash, Bassenthwaite, Keswick. Cumbria. CA12 4QX
Regarding the letter [C&W Herald 25 May] from George Nicholson. I agree with everything he writes. The regionalisation project is claimed to play a part in "bringing democracy closer to the people".
The lie is easily demonstrated by the fact that it is the culmination of a series of initiatives developed in a European context, completely by-passing the normal British democratic institutions. And only now, when the agenda has already been decided - with many of the structures already in place - was a white paper published. And through this, the public is not to be asked whether it approves of regionalisation, per se, but merely "about the shape Regional Government takes". Such is the nature of modern democracy.
What the public is not being told is that the true purpose of regionalisation is political integration. The regions themselves are encouraged by way of "bribes" of regional funding to deal directly with Brussels, thus by-passing the central governments and thus undermining nation states.
As a result, the British public deliberately have not been "engaged" in what amounts to a substantive - and alien - revolution in the nature of local government. Structure and traditions going back centuries have been wilfully abandoned, all to conform with this European agenda. This has no relevance at all to British local government. What is not so obvious is the fact that local government structures are being designed and exploited to fulfil the political dream of a united Europe. That is not the purpose of local government. Regionalisation is not in the interests of the British peoples, nor of good governance.
We have six MP's in Cumbria. Not one of them has had the honesty or decency to stand up and tell us that we have been betrayed. That everything has been agreed behind our backs. That we are like a lot of chickens, plucked, gutted, trussed and offered oven ready to Europe and at a discount price too.
The debate should not be whether Cumbria is lumped with the N. West Region [together with Manchester], or aligns itself with Newcastle and the N. East , but whether we want or need to be regionalised at all. Write to your MP and County and District Councillors and dig the truth out of them..
June 5 02

To: Subject: taking criticism

09 June 2002
This week the next Cabinet Secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, is to spend a few days shadowing his predecessor before taking over the job full-time in September. He arrives in the post at a time when the Civil Service is in turmoil. One of the great departments of state, Transport, appears wholly dysfunctional. The role of special advisers has also muddied the waters of Whitehall. What would Sir Humphrey have made of it all?
Traditionally, Britain has had a professional civil service of great integrity which administers on behalf of the Government, regardless of whichever party is in office. But this government has, through its use of political advisers, jeopardised the values of Whitehall.
Last week the Government was forced to admit that its senior officials were attempting to smear victims of the Paddington rail crash. One of its special advisers issued an e-mail seeking information that could tarnish Pam Warren, a member of the Paddington Survivors' Group, who had dared to cross the then Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers.
This was not the first time that the Government has tried to undermine its critics. It attacked a 94-year-old woman, Rose Addis, for being racist after she and her family complained of her treatment in hospital. There have been plenty of other instances of people in positions of influence being similarly attacked: Mo Mowlam, Elizabeth Filkin, and now, as we report today, Gwyneth Dunwoody.
Labour came into power after years of Conservative sleaze. The Tory government looked bedraggled and corrupt. Tony Blair offered higher standards of probity. His comment at the time was: "We are not here to enjoy the trappings of power, we are here to uphold the highest standards of public life."
Yet the Government attacks those who criticise or question its policies, its methods, and its provision of services, even when those challenging it are members of the public, who have first-hand experience of New Labour not fulfilling its promises on health and transport. In opposition Labour formed an effective fighting machine. Criticism was dealt with promptly by the Rapid Rebuttal Unit. That same mentality exists today. No criticism can be brooked. No attack can be allowed to stand. Now Labour is in power this only serves to underline its lack of belief in itself as a government. A government must tackle criticism with the grace that should come with office. A democratically elected government must be open to criticism, and if Blair's administration is to deserve our respect then it must face criticism head-on. Too many people in this country already mistrust politicians and the political process. This disaffection causes the number of people turning out to vote to fall. It also means less candidates come forward for election. Attempting to smear women such as Pam Warren and Rose Addis brings the Government into disrepute and it disillusions people even further about the dark arts of politics.
It is the Prime Minister who must tackle the culture of mendacity that threatens to undermine public life. As Sir Andrew begins his new job as head of the Whitehall machine, this is the moment to counter the rot in the Civil Service. A Civil Service Act would make the boundaries between ministers, civil servants and special advisers much plainer. It would offer protection to those who feel under pressure to abandon the principles of the non-partisan civil service, and enable Parliament to scrutinise more thoroughly. The core value of impartiality must be maintained. We are fortunate in having a civil service that is non-political. Special advisers may have their place, providing ministers with antennae, but they must not politicise the Civil Service.
June 9 02

British company equipped Indian sea base
Independent on Sunday

By Jo Dillon and Severin Carrell
Rolls-Royce struck a £22m deal to supply the Indian Navy with military equipment as fears grew over a nuclear war over Kashmir. Through a US subsidiary, the famous British firm sold an advanced shiplift 12 days ago. It was bound for India's new naval base being built at near Goa at Karwar on the Arabian Sea south of Pakistan. The base will be headquarters for India's Western fleet. News of the deal will heighten growing anxiety over Britain's decision to continue talks over a major £1bn arms deal to sell 60 Hawk jets to the Indian Government.
It emerged yesterday that Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, reassured the Indian defence minister, George Fernandez last week that the deal could still go ahead.
Today's revelations will reopen the Cabinet dispute prompted by last week's Independent on Sunday report, which quoted authoritative sources at the Department of Trade and Industry who said that the Government had agreed to suspend arms sales to both countries. Downing Street insisted that the current tension over Kashmir was no reason for a change in policy. But other senior ministers, including Robin Cook and Clare Short, have indicated support for a suspension. Labour MPs have already voiced serious concerns about the lack of scrutiny surrounding arms deals to unstable countries.
Richard Bingley, of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade lobby group, said: "It is farcical for the Foreign Secretary to go out to South Asia to promote peace, yet at the same time British companies are still arranging arms deals with Government backing. Quite how promoting the Hawk deal with help promote peace is beyond me." A spokesman for Rolls Royce said the company had followed all British and US Government guidelines for applying for export licences when it agreed the contract. "We clearly went through all the current procedures, as we always do," he said. ......
June 2 02

Labour accepts £12m in donations and perks from defence contractors IoS investigation: Government's 'ethical' policy in disarray as MPs enjoy hospitality from ordnance firms
Independent on Sunday

By Jo Dillon Political Correspondent
Labour has accepted more than £12m in sponsorship for Government projects and political events from arms and defence companies since 1997, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Labour MPs, including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dr John Reid, have also accepted hospitality from such firms.
And links are strengthened by the appointment to Government quangos of senior executives from some of the companies involved.
The multi-million pound link has prompted concerns that a cosiness exists between Labour and the arms industry that threatens an ethical foreign policy, even where there is no impropriety. Richard Bingley, of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, said: "No wonder the Government finds it so difficult to put an arms embargo on India and Pakistan when they receive donations and hold shares in arms companies. There seems to be an institutionalised connection between the Labour Government and senior figures in the arms production business.
"It means that other groups that might be putting across a different message to the Government are not getting a fair hearing." Concerns over arms trading have been heightened in recent weeks because of the threat of conflict between India and Pakistan in their dispute over Kashmir. Plans by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt for a UK arms embargo to the two countries were quashed last week after Tony Blair used his personal authority to save a £1bn deal to sell Hawk fighter-bombers to the Indian Government.
The company involved in the deal is British Aerospace Systems (BAe), which is listed among companies who gave more than £5,000 in sponsorship to the Labour party in both 1998 and 2000, sponsored a ministerial question and answer session at the 1999 Labour party conference and paid £12m to sponsor the Mind Zone in the Millennium Dome. The Labour party pension fund has 27,490 shares worth around £95,000 in BAe. Sir Richard Evans, the chairman of BAe Systems, sits on the Government's Competitiveness Council. The former vice-chairman of BAe, Richard Lapthorne, was appointed by the Government in April 2000 to set up its Working Age Agency and Lord Hollick, a Labour peer and party donor, was a director of BAe from 1992-1997. BAe's chief operating officer Peter Gershon is paid £180,000 a year as the head of the Office of Government Commerce, set up in 2000. In April, the Prime Minister, intervened personally in a BAe deal to promote the sale of 24 JAS-39 Gripen fighters to the Czech Republic, later defending his role as straightforward backing of British industry.
Other arms and defence companies linked to Labour include Raytheon Systems, who, according to Friends of the Earth, gave £30,000 to the Labour party in 1997, £15,000 for a pre-dinner drinks party at the Labour conference in 1998 and £12,500 for drinks at the London Hilton in 1997. The US arms manufacturer was awarded a £800m contract by the Ministry of Defence for their Astor battlefield radar spyplane system in 1999. David JB Brown, the managing director of Multidrive, a manufacturer of commercial and military vehicles based in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, donated more than £5,000 to the Labour party in 1999-2000. Thomson-CSF Racal, an integrated defence company, gave more than £5,000 in sponsorship in 2000, as did the UK Defence Forum.
A number of Labour MPs have also listed perks from defence companies in the Register of Members' Interests. In January 2001 Cabinet Minister Dr John Reid took a courtesy helicopter, paid for by BAe Systems, from Stirling to their shipyard in Scotstoun, Glasgow. He then accepted a lift back from Glasgow to RAF Northolt in the chairman's private jet. BAe Systems also paid for Labour backbencher David Borrow's return flights from Chester to Toulouse to visit Airbus Industrie, and his trip in June 1999 to the Paris Air Show. Fellow backbencher Roger Casale, a former policy advisor to John Prescott and Tony Blair, accepted travel and expenses for trips to Italy from defence company GKN, who also part-sponsored a trip to Rome for Labour backbencher Rachel Squire. In June 1997, Raytheon Systems Ltd flew Labour MP Frank Cook to the Paris Air Show where Labour peer Lord (Barry) Jones was a guest of BAe Systems. MP Gordon Marsden's attendance at a conference on EU enlargement in 1998 was paid for by BAe.Labour peer Lord Gregson is the president of the Defence Manufacturers Association and Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate, a special advisor to Jack Straw on policing, is its honorary vice-president.
A Labour party spokesman said: "A lot of these companies are diverse companies who are employing a lot of people in this country. It is totally proper that they should be able to make donations to politcal organisations."
But the links have further angered campaigners against the arms trade, who maintain that UK arms exports are still being used by oppressive regimes such as those in Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Angola and Zimbabwe.
June 2 02

Chantilly Virginia Confirmed as 2002 Bilderberg Venue
for the latest

31May02 - Tony Gosling -
No it wasn't 'a couple of weddings' as we were told yesterday by the staff. The Westfields Marriott hotel in Chantilly Virginia was today confirmed as the venue for this year's secret Bilderberg meeting.
Security is very tight with FBI Secret Service and White House Security Staff, all paid from taxpayers money, on duty around the perimiter of this so-called 'private' meeting. This year, for the first time, all security have coded symbols on their lapels to distinguish who they work for.
Hotel staff are always sworn to secrecy at these events but some still feel the world has a right to know what is going on behind the cordon. They risk their jobs, and possibly more, by telling those outside who is inside the hotel and what they're talking about.
Staff have told reporters at the gate that the much talked about attack on Iraq must go ahead but will probably be delayed until Autumn 2003. To try to persuade other western leaders to join in an attack on Iraq Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of State for defence will be attending the Bilderberg conference ... (Saturday). He will almost certainly be giving a presentation to the 120 or so power-brokers in attendance. Rumsfeld's deputy Secretary of Defence Kenneth Dam has already been spotted in the hotel, he's attending all four days of the conference.
It seems to have escaped both these so-called public servants that if the U.S. government agreed to lift Iraqi sanctions which are killing roughly six thousand children a month in the country, Iraq could return to relative normality and war would be unnecessary. But Rumsfeld and Dam are in fact lobbyists for the defence industry and lobbyists for U.S. expansionism. They consider the growth of the U.S. defense industry, or 'military indusrtrial complex' as president Eisenhower described it, to be more important than tens of thousands or even millions of human lives.
Global banker and head of the Rockefeller dynasty David Rockefeller has been spotted by Westfields Marriott staff as have Henry Kissinger and several others. Secretary-General of NATO, Lord Robertson, is aslo known to be in attendance this year. When I contacted the hotel earlier today (Friday) the Bilderberg organisers refused to confirm or deny anyone's presence - they said they would be producing a press release but declined to say when. Hotel telephone +1 703 818 0300 just ask to be put through to 'the conference'
June 1 02

Europe votes to end data privacy

Law will allow police to spy on phone and net traffic

Stuart Millar Friday May 31, 2002 The Guardian
European law enforcement agencies were given sweeping powers yesterday to monitor telephone, internet and email traffic in a move denounced by critics as the biggest threat to data privacy in a generation. Despite opposition from civil liberties groups worldwide, the European parliament bowed to pressure from individual governments, led by Britain, and approved legislation to give police the power to access the communications records of every phone and internet user.
The measure, which will be approved by the 15 EU member states, will allow governments to force phone and internet companies to retain detailed logs of their customers' communications for an unspecified period. Currently, records are kept only for a couple of months for billing purposes before being destroyed.
Although police will still require a warrant to intercept the content of electronic communications, the new legislation means they will be able to build up a complete picture of an individual's personal communications, including who they have emailed or phoned and when, and which internet sites they have visited.
From mobile phone records, police will also be able to map people's movements because the phones communicate with the nearest base station every few seconds. In urban areas, the information is accurate to within a few hundred metres, but when the next generation of mobiles comes on stream it will pinpoint users' locations to within a few metres.
Tony Bunyan, editor of Statewatch, said: "This is the latest casualty in the war against terrorism as far as civil liberties are concerned. The problem with wanting to monitor a few people is that you end up having to keep data on everybody."
The British government, which played a key role in driving through the new measures, has already introduced such powers as part of the anti-terror bill rushed through in the immediate aftermath of September 11, although the data retention measures have yet to be implemented.
UK civil liberties groups had hoped that if MEPs rejected data retention, it would open up the possibility of a legal challenge to the British legislation on the grounds that it was incompatible with European data protection law. After yesterday's vote they now expect the government to press ahead with implementing the act.
May31 02

A free country

By Simon Davies (Filed: 31/05/2002)
This month, President Bush signed into law an Act that will ultimately force UK passport holders to be fingerprinted. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act will ensure that everyone travelling to America must be "biometrically" scanned. A biometric is an electronic scan of a body part. Governments believe it is far more accurate than conventional identification methods, such as a photo or identity papers.
Immigration departments in Europe and America are salivating at the prospect of biometric technology, despite evidence that the technique is unreliable. The Act does not specify whether the biometric should be a fingerprint, a retina scan or a handprint, but it makes clear that by 2003 all entry points to the US should be equipped with the technology to read such data.
The American legislation specifies a harmonious global approach to identification, but does not stop there. It requires the transmission of passenger information prior to arrival in America, mandates increased questioning and scrutiny of travellers, and authorises a global information sharing system on all travellers.
The motivation behind the legislation may be commendable, but it carries enormous dangers for individual freedoms. A global identification and data system on all travellers will ultimately be linked to national security and police databases. Such systems are notoriously flawed. Both UK police and the FBI have been repeatedly criticised over the high level of inaccuracies in their intelligence systems.
At the moment, every traveller is considered a potential threat to security. If the intent of the US legislation becomes reality, authorities will have the power to carry out unaccountable and unfair practices on innocent travellers.
May31 02

Blair's Downing St team completes its takeover of power

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor 31 May 2002
Tony Blair used this week's reshuffle to strengthen his already tight grip on the Whitehall machine by creating what amounts to a "Prime Minister's Department".
Downing Street smuggled out a significant change beneath the headlines about Alistair Darling, the new Trans- port Secretary, and Paul Boateng, Britain's first black cabinet minister.
Whitehall watchers will look back on Wednesday's reshuffle because, for the first time in memory, the Cabinet Office is headed by a minister who does not have a seat at the cabinet table. Instead Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, the Communist shipyard apprentice turned television boss, and his deputy, Douglas Alexander, a Gordon Brown protégé highly rated by Mr Blair, will report directly to the Prime Minister.
In opposition, Mr Blair decided to have a "strong centre" – the opposite of the wobbling and weakness displayed by the Major government – if he won power. But it has taken him five years to mould the Whitehall machine into shape.
Even now, Mr Blair is coy about admitting he has created a Prime Minister's Department, knowing this will provoke more criticism of his presidential style. Officially, the Cabinet Office remains a separate department. But it has been so slimmed down that it is now virtually an extension of No 10. John Prescott's rather grand-sounding Office of the Deputy Prime Minister was split from the Cabinet Office, taking with him responsibility for social exclusion. The women and equality unit has been switched to the Department of Trade and Industry.
Other units based in the Cabinet Office already work for Downing Street, including the performance and innovation unit, Mr Blair's personal think- tank, which is headed by Geoff Mulgan, who also runs No 10's forward strategy unit, responsible for "blue skies thinking" such as Lord Birt's ideas on long-term transport policy. The Prime Minister has two other advisers who report to Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, but in reality work for Downing Street: Michael Barber, who heads the delivery unit, and Wendy Thomson, who runs the office of public services reform.
The rather bewildering structure has provoked complaints, not least from Mr Prescott, who has now abandoned his co-ordinating role to focus on his pet policies.
Lord Macdonald, who was Mr Prescott's number two until this week's reshuffle, was also frustrated. One Whitehall source said: "He's good but he didn't have the muscle to call in cabinet ministers and ask them why they were not delivering. Ministers take notice of No 10 but not someone below them in the pecking order." Mr Blair tried to address this problem this week by announcing that Lord Macdonald now reports directly to him. But some officials believe he should have promoted Lord Macdonald to the Cabinet to give him the necessary clout.
Does the shake-up matter outside academia and the Westminster village? At one level, Mr Blair is merely fine-tuning the machine to make it more focused on public service "delivery", the buzzword at Downing Street.
One Whitehall source said: "There are now three groups working to different timescales: long-term 'blue skies' thinking; reform in the medium term; and delivery in the short term. It is a logical set-up."
However, some ministers resent the interference of the Downing Street policy unit in their business and are worried about the further concentration of power in Mr Blair's hands. One said: "It's fine for No 10 to move in when there is a crisis, but increasingly it is involved in day-to-day policy decisions." The Prime Minister is likely to be questioned about the changes when he appears before the chairmen of Commons select committees in July. The Public Administration Committee is expected to launch a formal inquiry into the "new centre" in the autumn, inviting Mr Prescott and Lord Macdonald to give evidence. Tony Wright, the committee's Labour chairman, said: "There is much to be said for this approach to government, but its implications, especially for the accountability of No 10, need to be explored." Blair aides say Downing Street is small compared with the White House and the offices of the German Chancellor and French President.
Some ministers believe the attention given to the Blair operation misses the point because the real power lies at the Treasury. Mr Brown is now chairing a cabinet committee thrashing out a three-year spending programme to be issued in July. Crucially, he has seen off the Cabinet Office's attempt to share the job of monitoring the targets set for Whitehall departments. One insider said: "The Treasury is by far the most powerful centre because it has the resources and weight of a huge department plus the clout of an enormously powerful Chancellor."
May31 02

Revealed - Leo's medical records
Sunday Telegraph

(Filed: 26/05/2002)

Last Tuesday, the Government dismantled our system of medical confidentiality. Using procedural devices to prevent debate in the House of Commons, New Labour quietly despatched one of our few remaining civil liberties. Under new regulations, the Secretary of State will be able to demand that doctors hand over your medical records - and fine them if, in order to protect your confidentiality, they refuse to do so.

The lack of any real protest shows how we have come to accept the erosion of our liberties by Tony Blair's Government. Faced with the centralising and coercive culture of New Labour, even the once fiercely independent General Medical Council (GMC) has remained subdued - but then the Government is about to announce its proposals for a reform of the GMC, and the GMC is running scared.

The Government slipped its proposals out under the cover of a plan to ensure that the cancer registries could function properly. That change was supported by all parties. The Government, however, went much further: it gave the Secretary of State the right to demand, and receive, confidential medical information whenever that is in "the public interest". The "public interest" is defined as essentially whatever the Secretary of State says it is. It explicitly includes immunisation programmes, adverse reactions to medicines or vaccines, as well as various undefined "other risks".

So a GP could be forced, for example, to disclose to the Government the names of patients who had been tested for HIV in his practice, and could be fined up to #5,000 if he refused to do so. It undermines a long legal tradition which recognises that in areas such as sexually transmitted diseases, the privacy of patients must be protected in order to encourage them to seek treatment and to reveal information about potentially infectious contacts.

Having worked as a doctor myself, it horrifies me that doctors will now have to choose between breaching their ethics and breaking the law. To make matters worse, the new law is not restricted to doctors: the behaviour of every health care professional to his or her patients will now be subject to the direct control of politicians. The new law places the administrative convenience of the NHS not only above the bond of trust between doctor and patient, but above the dignity and privacy of patients.

When Tony Blair decided not to disclose whether his son Leo had been given the MMR jab, he cited patient confidentiality. It was, he said, more important than any public health message. Whatever the merits or otherwise of that judgement, I publicly backed his right as a parent to keep his child's medical records private. The changes Labour have just introduced will effectively destroy that right for the rest of us: any Secretary of State will be able to demand your child's immunisation records from your GP - and you will have no right of veto on behalf of your child.

There are legitimate concerns about whether it is possible to keep information secure when it is so widely shared. More importantly, however, the change marks the death of the principle of the patient's right to give consent before identifiable personal data about them is shared. Labour's decision to dispense with patient confidentiality represents the latest and most worrying example of this Government's accumulation of power by controlling information. It is yet another restriction of our liberty - and one we have surrendered to with barely a whimper of protest.
May 26 2002

How Blair tamed his poodle
Telegraph Opinion

The Government (of which Stephen Byers is a member) is pressing full steam ahead, or so it says, with the next stage of reforming the House of Lords. A joint committee of peers and MPs is to draw up a list of options, and then a free vote will be taken to decide the role, composition and powers of the new chamber. We are going about our constitutional reform back to front.
That the United Kingdom is in the grip of a constitutional crisis nobody should doubt. As speaker after speaker, Left, Right and centre, pointed out at The Daily Telegraph's recent Free Country conference, the crisis is that Parliament has far too little control over the actions of the executive.
But that crisis has its roots in the Commons, the House that decides how the country is governed and who should govern it. The Lords is the second chamber, both in name and importance, whose job is to balance and check the power of the first. How very odd, therefore, to propose reconstituting the Lords before settling the future of the Commons, from which any reform of the second chamber should logically flow.
The very fact that many MPs favour a wholly elected second chamber shows how frustrated they are with the elected Commons as it is now run. They feel powerless to restrain an over-mighty executive - and, as things stand, they are right.
Take one example: today, the Commons will have its one and only chance to debate a measure that has already given the Government extraordinary new powers to seize and slaughter healthy farm animals and pets without their owners' consent. The TSE (England) Regulations 2002 came into force without debate on April 19, even though similar measures had been rejected by the Lords only three weeks earlier. So how did the Government manage to extend its powers so enormously without the consent of Parliament - indeed, against the expressed wishes of the Lords?
The answer is that the regulations were sneaked through as secondary legislation under a statutory instrument - a device that allows the executive to do what it wishes with only the most cursory parliamentary scrutiny. Every year under Labour, many more than 3,000 statutory instruments have been laid before Parliament for rubber-stamping, and the number is growing. There is hardly time for most backbenchers to read them, let alone debate them.
But there are many other means by which the balance of power in Britain has shifted away from Parliament. Since Labour was elected, the Government has abused its enormous Commons majority to mount a sustained assault on Parliament's authority in a way that has grave implications for British liberty. The attack has been on three fronts: managerial, procedural and constitutional.
On the managerial front, Labour has deliberately recruited bland parliamentary candidates, likely to do as they are told. It has then whipped its MPs mercilessly to keep them "on message". It has packed the watchdog committees of the House with its own appointees, keeping likely trouble-makers out.
Procedurally, one of Mr Blair's first acts was to declare that he would answer Prime Minister's Questions only once a week, instead of twice. "Family-friendly" parliamentary hours are being introduced, to send MPs safely home to bed, where they can cause no trouble to the Government. The parliamentary guillotine has been used constantly to silence debate - even on constitutional Bills, which by convention had always been debated in full. Meanwhile, important policies have frequently been announced outside the House. All this, while a weak Speaker watches on.
Constitutionally, Parliament's powers have been sapped by devolution, Europe and a judiciary newly politicised by the Human Rights Act.
The Commons - between elections, the only guardian of the people against the executive - is being emasculated. The Opposition parties must commit themselves to beefing up the watchdog committees of the House and codifying the old conventions that once held the executive in check. They must make firm pledges now - before they, too, are corrupted by power.
May 15 2002

Labour's euro quandary

(Filed: 14/05/2002)
THE acquisition by this newspaper of Labour's plans for a euro referendum is a blow for the "yes" campaign. It is hard to think of intelligence which ministers would less like to have fallen, as it were, into enemy hands.
The memo from GGC, Labour's chief strategist, sets out how voters might be gulled into voting for the euro. First, Labour will make a great song and dance out of assessing the five economic tests ("seeming to wait and watch increases support by nine points" [our italics]).
Then, with exquisite choreography, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will drop his opposition ("two thirds say that if Gordon Brown and the Treasury say the euro meets the tests, then joining probably makes sense"). Publication of this plan now means that, when this charade takes place, we shall know exactly what is going on. Labour's strategy depended on secrecy; that element has been lost.

In a curious way, the memo is also a vindication of the tactics being pursued by the "no" campaign. Probably subconsciously, its authors have assumed that supporters of the pound will fight a very different campaign from the one they are actually planning. When presenting their sample with the arguments of the two sides, they tended to put words into their opponents' mouths ("Britain is an island country; we would lose our historic identity").
In fact, "no" campaigners have eschewed appeals to history or patriotism, marketing themselves instead as young, progressive and internationalist. Only last week, it was revealed that the "no" campaign has commissioned a series of cinema advertisements involving such figures as Rik Mayall, Harry Enfield and Jools Holland - hardly Tory usual suspects. And, as opinion polls in this newspaper have repeatedly shown, 18- 24-year-olds are more strongly opposed to the single currency than any other group except the over-75s.
Which leads on to the delicate question of how the Conservative Party should slot into the anti-euro coalition. On the one hand, only Iain Duncan Smith can bring to the table a campaigning machine with a presence in all 658 constituencies. On the other, there is nothing Tony Blair would like more than to present the referendum as "another chance to kick the Tories".
In the Scottish and Welsh devolution referendums, the Conservatives contrived to get the worst of both worlds: they were just high-profile enough to attract plenty of flak, but did very little to mobilise their supporters on the ground. It does not need to be that way.
In Kent, the Conservatives have mounted a brilliant campaign in defence of selective education, but have done so by taking their place quietly within a non-partisan organisation, "Support Kent Schools". A similar way must be worked out to recruit the Tories to the "no" campaign as individuals or in groups.
By ensuring that his party does not dominate the pro-sterling campaign, Mr Duncan Smith is doing a difficult but patriotic thing. To mount a full-scale anti-euro campaign at this moment would certainly enthuse his own supporters; but it would also undermine the "no" movement more widely. Mr Duncan Smith is right to concentrate first on restoring his party's credibility before turning up the volume on the euro.
After all, the strongest pro-pound argument is the sense that Britain is doing perfectly well as it is, and does not need to take risks. Deliciously, ministers cannot counter that argument without trashing their own record in government. The Tories are right to let them face that dilemma on their own.
May 14 2002

Tim Luckhurst: England needs devolution like a hole in the head

10 May 2002 I have long wondered what John Prescott dreams about. My list usually includes an American- style constitution that would give the Deputy Prime Minister automatic assent to ascend to the premiership in the event of something nasty happening to Tony. That and an accident involving Peter Mandelson and some well-rotted compost. Wrong. Mr. Prescott dreams of devolving political power to the English regions. His precious hours of REM sleep, he says, are filled with visions of dynamic local assemblies merrily filling England's "democratic deficit" with accountable prosperity and progress. No matter that the "democratic deficit" phrase was Donald Dewar's and that he did not believe England had one. Mr Prescott's dreams are his own, even if the language employed in them is borrowed (and thus unusually eloquent). If he had any decency he would keep them private. Sadly for that large majority of the British population that has been spared the mediocrity of devolution, the Deputy Prime Minister has gone public. In partnership with Stephen Byers, the most transparently incredible minister in the Cabinet, he has advanced his plan for English Regional Assemblies.
England should resist. The Prime Minister was right when he authorised an official at No 10 to explain that the experience with devolution in Scotland and Wales has convinced him that England needed it "like a hole in the head". Scotland reveals the principal flaws in devolved government. Here it has not delivered power to the electorate. It has consolidated the stranglehold of a parochial ilite composed of Labour apparatchiks too incompetent even to win election to Westminster. Three years into the experiment, Scotland does not feel confident and dynamic. Instead, as The Herald ironically revealed just as Mr Prescott revealed his plans to Parliament, "we just feel an awful sense of anti-climax". No wonder. The flowering of debate long predicted by campaigners for a Scottish Parliament was murdered at birth by a system of election that ensures that every candidate must be vetted by party managers. Patronage, not independence of mind, is the route to advancement. Generously, Mr Prescott is proposing the same thing for England.
Devolution has made it harder to win office without sponsorship from the Labour Party. Its nominees stuff every quango in the land. A party incapable of winning 50 per cent of the vote exercises 90 per cent of the power. Devolution means machine politics, not diversity. One First Minister has been driven from office amid allegations of financial irregularity. His successor is deemed a failure by 72 per cent of Scottish voters six months into his term of office. Business laments the absence of a vision for the Scottish economy.
The few capable politicians who followed Donald Dewar into Scotland's legislature have either resigned, as Wendy Alexander, the then Minister for Enterprise, did last week, or been sacked. They loiter on the back benches, angry but impotent or, like Alex Salmond, the the former SNP leader, return to the comparative sanity of the House of Commons. English devo-enthusiasts may be surprised to learn that even supporters have described the Scottish Executive as "a place where failed councillors go to die". Will things be different in England? It seems unlikely. The region most anxious for devolution, the North-east, is, like Scotland, dominated by a Labour establishment preserved from the era of the brontosaurus. These are the people who will grab ministerial jobs, cars and expense accounts if a referendum consents to the change.
Principled enthusiasts for the idea of devolution owe it to the rest of the population to ask themselves: who really benefits? The answer in Scotland has been a narrow sectional interest culled from the corrupt culture of single-party local councils. Devolution has been brought into disrepute as these low-grade career politicians knife each other for position and wrangle over the stupendous cost of an unnecessary new parliament building. Mr Prescott is promoting a myth. He may get away with it. The failure of the UK media to pay attention to events in Scotland since 1999 has left the impression that Scotland has prospered massively under devolution. Yet Scottish economic growth lags persistently behind that achieved in England. Business-failure figures are alarming. The one upside of a devolved administration that more than 60 per cent of Scots believe to be a failure is that it has received generous financing from the Treasury. That, not radicalism, has permitted such policies as the partial abolition of student fees.
But if everyone chooses devolution, who will finance the differential largesse? Even with the additional factor of national pride, which keeps Scots hoping that the parliament they chose will one day make them proud, devolution to Edinburgh has made voters more sceptical about government. So much so that yesterday The Scotsman was reporting that Scottish Labour is so short of support that it plans to draft in members from England to fight next year's Scottish election campaign. Oh England! Devolve if you want to, but don't delude yourselves that you are following best practice. And don't say you weren't warned.
May 10 2002

Surveillance of telecommunications EU governments are secretly drafting a binding Framework Decision to introduce the universal surveillance of telecommunications

- European Parliament faces crucial vote on 29 May to reject the governments' demands on the retention of data and access by the law enforcement agencies
Statewatch has learnt that in advance of the completion of the EU legislative process on proposals for the revision of the 1997 EU Directive on privacy in the telecommunications sector a number of EU governments are drafting a binding Framework Decision to ensure that all EU member states introduce a law requiring the retention of telecommunications traffic data and the granting of access to it by law enforcement agencies (police, customs, immigration and internal security agencies).
On 29 May the European Parliament plenary session is due to vote on a report adopted by the Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights on 18 April. This report re-affirmed the position taken by the parliament in its 1st reading on 13 November 2001 which opposed the fundamental change being put forward by the Council. Under the 1997 Directive data can only be retained for a short period for "billing" purposes (ie: to help the customer confirm usage details) and then it must be erased. The Council want this data to be retained for law enforcement agencies to access. The European Parliament proposes that the current position is maintained whereby such data can be accessed for the purposes of national security and criminal investigations where it is authorised in a case-by-case basis by judicial authorities. The Council of the European Union (the 15 governments) and the European Parliament are thus potentially on a collision course over the issue. As the measure is subject to the co-decision procedure, whereby the Council and the European Parliament has to agree the final text, if the parliament holds to its position then the process moves into the stage where a "Conciliation Committee" is set up to reach agreement.
However, the next stage is the crucial vote in the European Parliament on 29 May where a majority of MEPs, 314 out of 626, have to back the parliament's 2nd reading position. If the position adopted in November and confirmed in April this year does not get the backing of the majority of MEPs then the Council's position will carry the day. The vote has been moved from the plenary session on 15 May to the mini-plenary in Brussels on 29 May.
The Brussels "spin machine" will be hard at work trying to re-assure MEPs that the Council's proposal is not binding on EU member states and that it will be up to each governement (and parliament) to decide how to respond. However, this position is completley exposed by the revelation that EU governments are planning to adopt a Framework Decision which will bind all members states to introduce the retention of data.
Tony Bunyan, Statewatch editor, comments:
"By drafting a binding Framework Decision before the proper legislative process is finished EU governments are showing their utter disregard for the European Parliament.
The vote in the European Parliament and the final decision on this issue will be a defining moment for the future of democracy in the EU. If all telecommunications - phone-calls, e-mails, faxes and internet usage - are placed under surveillance not only will data protection be fatally undermined but so too will be the very freedoms that distinguish democracies from authoritarian regimes"
May 10 2002


By Hugo Salinas Price
23 December, 1997 .....Clearly, it is unsound for the world to depend on exports to the U.S. for national stability. And it is profoundly unsound for the U.S., to place itself in the position of buyer of last resort to the world.
When economic collapse comes about, as in Malaysia, the globalists call for pulling down barriers to the flow of capital. However, their diagnosis of the problem lacks depth; the problem is not "free flow of capital"; it is not even, fundamentally, overexpansion of credit or other unsound banking practices, but rather, in the last analysis, the Bretton Woods system of Dollar reserves, that skews every economy in the world towards the objective of Dollars via exports, over everything else. The globalists4 insistence on lowering barriers to the entry of foreign capital is interpreted, correctly, as political intrusion, for power always follows money. Predictably, nationalism flares up. Korean rioters may not understand just what is going on, but their hatred of the IMF and foreign takeovers of their banks, is justified. And nationalism is alive and well in the U.S. itself, as will become very clear when the trade deficit approaches $300 billion a year.
Our very odd world monetary and financial system, built on the ruins of Bretton Woods, has produced an unstable world economy, and is headed for a serious conflict with nationalist sentiments the world over. Picture yourself playing "Monopoly" against a player that owns the "Bank"!
The Soviet Union fell apart because of the inherent weakness of its statist policies; the United States may find that its decline in the world mirrors the fall of the Soviet Union, because of the unsound basis of the monetary and financial system haunted by the ghosts of those two economists, long dead, John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White.
If the world is out of joint because of the Dollar reserve system instituted by Bretton Woods, then clearly, what the world requires is a system where national currencies do not depend on Dollar reserves. And that can only mean one thing: gold reserves, and their corollary, currencies convertible into gold. Either that, or we shall be treated to the spectacle of a crumbling world economy, and virulent nationalistic reactions.
May 9 2002

Direct democracy for all, except the British

simon jenkins
The death of Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician, was an accident of public life. The famous are always vulnerable. But the life of Pim Fortuyn was no accident. It symbolised the new democracy of Europe. The dominant British response to him and others like him has been contempt. That response is stupid and democratically immature.
Consider the man. He was rich, homosexual, articulate, libertarian and economically Thatcherite. He was the Post-Modern politician, defying stereotype. He was not just a personality but a point of view. He wanted to end immigration into The Netherlands because he saw it as having an alien impact on Dutch society. Many Muslims refused to speak Dutch and opposed Dutch permissiveness on drugs and homosexuality. Mr Fortuyn was intolerant of Muslims because he found them intolerant of him. He pointed out that all societies try to guard their identity and regulate social change. His views were popular, and put him in line to be a future Dutch Prime Minister.
The Europe-wide movement of which Mr Fortuyn was part is the true "Third Way". It is hard-nosed social protectionism, throwing down a gauntlet to the internationalist consensus that has ruled Europe for the past half century. Each nation is different, but in all the movement is electorally potent.
France's Jean-Marie Le Pen is a racist rabble-rouser, appealing to the embattled working class of eastern and southern France. His is the politics of paranoia, of the "little man" fighting big government. In Austria, Jvrg Haider's Freedom Party has six Cabinet posts. In Italy Umberto Bossi's Northern League is sharing power with Silvio Berlusconi. In Denmark, Pia Kjaersgaard's Danish People's Party has doubled its parliamentary strength.
Anti-immigrant parties are doing well in Belgium, Switzerland and Norway. Few of these movements are Fascist in the old sense. Mr Fortuyn loathed M Le Pen's anti-Semitism and was liberal on sex, drugs and euthanasia. Indeed he used liberalism as a stick with which to beat immigration. His cause was that of national identity.
Few of these people would get anywhere in British politics. They come from outside the political class. They are entrepreneurs, writers, soldiers. Britain's party system would reject them as "inexperienced". But what is experience? We have just seen Britain's annual Festival of Contempt known as the local council elections. A jeering national media found a new twist in the handful of directly elected mayors. It ridiculed the voters of Middlesbrough for choosing a former policeman and those of Hartlepool for choosing a candidate standing against the rotten Labour leadership dressed as a monkey.
That electors could prefer a policeman or an ape to the governing party would in most countries suggest something wrong with the party. In Britain it is seen as something wrong with the electors. Such impertinence cannot be allowed. It has been reported that the Local Government Minister, Nick Raynsford, may ban further direct elections, for fear of more rebuffs to Labour from the forces of democracy.
Direct election means that anyone can stand for office without having to work their way up a party machine. The process is uncontrollable, except by the electorate. Small wonder local Labour parties are appalled by it and are doing everything to stop direct election spreading. Middlesbrough's Ray Mallon, like London's Ken Livingstone, traded on being against the party system. He increased turnout by a third and drew 40 camera crews to his declaration. If he does not work out, his electors can throw him out. In France, direct election allows second thoughts even in a second ballot.
The Government may now use the threat of the British National Party to backtrack on directly elected mayors. Yet the emergence of anti-Establishment figures across Europe is the result of just such a contempt for localism. Last month's first-round ballot in France was significant not for M Le Pen's performance but for two thirds of the voters rejecting both established parties. Only countries with vigorous devolution, such as Germany and Spain, have been largely free of mavericks.
Britain's system of constituency and ward election has protected established parties from all such threats. Even centre parties have been unable to dent their security. Directly elected mayors were always a serious threat to party rule and so they have proved, albeit slowly. Whatever view is taken of London under Mr Livingstone, he has redefined civic politics. Elected mayors are here to stay. Nothing shows the ineptitude of the Tories so much as their opposition to them. Had they campaigned for them from the start, they could now be ruling half the cities of England.
Prosperity is known to have weakened party loyalties. Mobility has undermined territorial representation. My patch of London does not need a good MP to defend its corner, since neither the corner nor the MP has an ounce of autonomy. Yet I must still vote on this pretence. If someone promised to police my street, improve my clinic and give vent to my grievance, I would find it attractive. I might even regard it as the essence of democracy. Americans do, along with most Europeans.
Which brings me to immigration. Fear of immigration is the oldest fuel in the political engine. At a moment's notice the London mob would sally forth to attack Huguenots, Catholics, Jews, Welsh, Irish, Chinese, Negroes, Indians. Group protection was the essence of party. It is hardly surprising that it should be the essence of the new politics.
Such protection is customarily seen as primitive, working-class, fed by the fear of economic competition. What was significant about Mr Fortuyn was his discovery of a new, wider constituency for his social protectionism. He appealed to people who did not see themselves as racist but who wished to defend their culture and the character of their cities.
Liberal euphemism will no longer wash with many such voters. They know the rich can escape the consequences of immigration, and resent it. The rich can move house. I have just visited Bradford and Handsworth. Colourful they may be, but they are unrecognisable from the cities I once knew. City-dwellers also wonder how their opposition to immigration differs from country people excluding "newcomers" from rural communities and confining low-cost housing to "local people". They see double-standards everywhere.
Of course a peculiar odium attaches to race and religion as criteria for any form of social exclusion. But the fact is that millions of European city-dwellers face greater immigration than ever since the end of the 19th century. Figures published yesterday showed Britain last year had a net inflow of 180,000 newcomers, most of them non-European, almost all into city centres. To some, these migrants are welcome as refugees and as aids to economic growth. Others cannot see why, as democrats, they are not entitled to regulate the flow, if not stop it altogether. One man's racism is another's cultural conservationism.
Mr Fortuyn used intolerance to defend what he saw as the Dutch libertarian tradition. That was a paradox. An open society is full of paradox. Western governments are tearing up civil liberties in "the defence of liberty". By their bombing, they are instilling terror to defeat terror. The question is not the fact of paradox but the manner of its resolution. Party elites across Europe have long assumed that because they agree about open borders, free trade and European union, their publics agree too. That is not the case. Every one of the new mavericks opposes free trade, open borders and European integration. They face electorates many of whom question whether Europe's welfare state can still meet the challenge of large-scale immigration. That question is being tested at elections that directly expose the protagonists to the vote.
To turn from events in The Netherlands and France to Britain is to turn from clarity to smugness. Britain protects its rulers from public opinion in a Westminster clubland of party machines built on the antique footings of constituency and ward elections. Politicians dare not face direct election because it might unleash forces they cannot control. They are reluctant to see more cities with elected mayors because voters who choose a monkey might choose a Fascist. I do not believe they would. But I do believe they are entitled to be asked.

Eu Expansion 'Could Help Fight Against Terrorism'

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent, PA News
Expansion of the EU to include more Eastern European countries could be "essential" in the war on terrorism after September 11, a top policeman said tonight. David Veness, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told the House of Commons Defence Select Committee that growth of the European Union could be vital in developing effective anti-terrorism police work. Asked by Jim Knight, MP for South Dorset, if expansion would create problems, Mr Veness said: "No, I think it's essential and in many ways is beneficial. "Inclusion of Europol and Eurojust (the Pan European police and judicial groups) I would regard as a plus." Mr Veness, giving evidence to the committee's long-running inquiry into defence and security, went on to say he was confident any counter terrorism intelligence gathered by western agencies - including those in the US - would reach British authorities if it was relevant to the UK. "If there was any item of information which could save a life in the UK it would be actioned and it would be passed on," he said. "I am confident that if there is intelligence in the system then it would be passed through the system to where it can be acted upon and where it can reduce public harm."
But there was still a huge amount of work to be done to build intelligence networks on the vast range of terror groups including al Qaida, he added. "Al Qaida are at the top of the pyramid, then there is a second tier of groups which are linked by a dotted line," he told MPs. "Even the people at the bottom of that pyramid can prove to be potential mass murderers." Mr Veness said there may be an argument for a national counter terrorism service within the police, along the lines of the newly created National Crime Squad and the National Criminal Intelligence Service.
Alan Goldsmith, from the Association of Chief Police Officers anti-terrorism committee, who is also deputy chief constable of Lincolnshire, told MPs that important lessons have been learned during the foot-and-mouth and fuel crises on how to deal with terrorist threats. Both events had taught police how to improve "organisational structures" such as the use of e-mail and the internet to pass on information during disruptions.
May 8 2002

Global Self-Organization from Below

............ The unilateralism of the Bush administration poses a barrier to nearly every initiative attempted by the global justice movement, from global warming agreements and protection of human rights to affordable AIDS treatment and sustainable development for poor countries.
But that unilateralism is provoking a reaction. According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, "Europeans have embraced President Bush's formulation that an 'axis of evil' threatens world peace. There's only one small problem. President Bush thinks the axis of evil is Iran, Iraq and North Korea, and the Europeans think it's Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Condi [Condoleezza] Rice."
European Union (EU) officials warn of a rift opening up between Europe and the United States wider than at any time for half a century. Chris Patten, the EU commissioner for international relations, said it is time that European governments spoke up and stopped Washington before it goes into "unilateralist overdrive."
He adds, "Gulliver can't go it alone, and I don't think it's helpful if we regard ourselves as so Lilliputian that we can't speak up and say it." Patten called on Europe's 15 member states "to put aside their traditional wariness of angering the United States and to speak up, forging an international stance of their own on issues ranging from the Middle East to global warming."
Such a response--at both the governmental and grassroots levels--can begin to isolate the Bush administration's ideological agenda. For example, immediately after the United States rejected a modified version of the Kyoto climate accord, 178 countries went ahead and accepted it. The city of Seattle announced that it would unilaterally abide by the accord and cut its carbon emissions by more than the required percentage.
Beyond "Anti-globalization"
The many strands that came together to form globalization from below were initially united by little beyond their opposition to globalization from above. But their common interests go far deeper than that. They share a common interest in putting the world on a safer, saner, and less destructive path than global elites currently offer.
Therefore, globalization from below is less and less presenting itself as a movement against globalization. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen observed at the WSF that calling the movement "anti-global" only plays into the hands of the corporate elites. "Better we say what we are for. We are for democracy, diversity, and equity."
At a simultaneous "Another World Is Possible" rally in New York, Columbia University student Yvonne Liu of Students for Global Justice met cheers when she said, "We are not an antiglobalization movement. We are against corporate-led globalization. We are a global justice movement."
Globalization from above is certainly doing its part to encourage a worldwide backlash in favor of globalization from below. A survey sponsored by the World Economic Forum found that nearly one in two citizens and majorities in half of the 25 countries surveyed "support people who take part in peaceful demonstrations against globalization because they are supporting my interests."
Globalization from above is leading millions of people around the world to organize on their own and others' behalf. While globalization from above may self-destruct through its own internal contradictions, its failure does not guarantee that another, better world can be realized. That depends on the commitment, integrity, wisdom, and unity of those who are forging globalization from below.
*Based on material from the new Second Edition of Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith, GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW: THE POWER OF SOLIDARITY (South End Press, 2002). Visit the authors' web site at
May 5 2002

Milburn demands patients' case notes from doctors
Sunday Times

Jonathon Carr-Brown
THE health secretary, Alan Milburn, is planning to grant himself sweeping powers to override patient confidentiality and demand doctors hand over case notes. Critics say the legal instrument that Milburn wants in force by June 1 in order to improve cancer research breaches patients' common law right to confidentiality. The Conservatives intend to form an all-party coalition in the House of Lords to try to defeat the measure but the government is determined to push the powers through.
Liam Fox, the shadow health secretary, said: "This abolishes any guarantee of patient confidentiality, potentially criminalises doctors who decide to protect their patients' most intimate personal details and flies in the face of the government2s own human rights legislation." Ultimately, however, Milburn will be able to enforce the measure without reference to parliament under powers granted by a recent health act.
The Department of Health says it has been forced into the move to protect research into cancer and track communicable diseases. It insists there are safeguards to ensure identifiable patient information is not misused. However, campaigners point to the catch-all nature of the legislation which gives Milburn powers to demand information in the "public interest".
A spokesman for Liberty, the civil rights group, said: "The measure is sweeping in its potential and its definition of the public interest appears to override basic rights."
The General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates medicine in the UK, pointed out two years ago that, under the data protection act and common law, a patient's consent was needed before identifiable details could be given to research charities compiling registers on the incidence of cancer and communicable diseases. The registers have been vital in identifying clusters of illness. At the moment, doctors hand over patients' records to researchers without consent. In effect, this is a breach of the law although it is not thought any such case has ever come to court. Medical bodies proposed reforms to put in place a system of 3informed consent4, which would allow patients to refuse to take part in research.
However, Milburn is trying to go much further than the professionals have suggested. He proposes making it legal for the health department to demand patient notes from doctors. Any doctor who refused would be liable to be fined up to 35,000.
Patient groups are particularly concerned to safeguard the rights of cancer patients who are asked more than 200 highly personal questions about their lifestyle as part of the diagnostic process. The proposal also allows the government to look at the notes of anyone with a communicable disease. Lawyers believe the clause means the government could demand files of people with CJD, HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Marion Chester, legal adviser to the Association of Community Health Councils, which represents patients' interests, said: "Large numbers of organisations have already applied to the health secretary to get access to this identifiable information about patients." Ian Barker, of the Medical Defence Union, said: "The power to fine a doctor who refuses to provide information is a matter of significant concern."
May 5 2002

Big Brother needs watching

WHEN George Orwell invented the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-four, it was meant to be satirical. Yet this Government obviously took him seriously. Next week, a long-awaited draft communications Bill is expected to be published and at its heart is a new super-regulator called Ofcom (short for Office for Communications), which looks uncomfortably like Minitrue. Ofcom will hold sway over what used to be known as the New Economy, just as Orwell's original concerned itself with "news, entertainment, education and fine arts".
Having a single body regulating everything from mobile phones to the internet, newspapers, television and radio already sounds old-fashioned. The idea of multi-media was a craze that dominated the late 1990s. Now, those huge international companies that emerged at that time, such as AOL Time Warner and Vivendi Universal, look like absurd, lumbering giants. We are not all using our mobiles to watch television, after all.
The Government says Ofcom will display "a light touch". But the evidence so far is not encouraging. With so much to keep an eye on, in diverse industries employing hundreds of thousands of people, Ofcom will need 3,000 rooms, just as Orwell said. But the principal objection to Ofcom is not so much its size, and its inevitably bureaucratic nature, but its powers and its purpose.
We were given a preview of these in a white paper 18 months ago. It proposed that Ofcom "draw up detailed rules" to enforce "acceptable community standards" and compel news providers to be "impartial". Its proposed powers include the right to block takeovers and mergers, enter premises and confiscate documents, and to monitor training at media organisations in order to ensure that approved schemes are in place.
The head of Ofcom will be a political appointment and could be one of the most powerful unelected figures in the land. Yet, so far, there has been no mention of accountability to Parliament, only to "citizens' juries".
Of course, the white paper may have been misleading and the Bill published next week turn out to have all the nasty bits removed. And most are agreed that the existing rules governing the media are outdated. Even so, the special joint committee of both Houses, under Lord Crickhowell, which will scrutinise the draft Bill, must be brave and cut the Government's dangerous plans down to size. He could start by asking why we need such a powerful body at all. Ofcom needs watching, lest it start watching you.
May 3 2002

Scrap bad laws

A GREAT deal of ground was covered at The Daily Telegraph's Free Country conference on Wednesday, but one issue kept surfacing - the fear that our parliamentary system is lapsing into irrelevance. A former Conservative MP explained that he gave up his safe seat at the last election because Parliament had become so emasculated that serving in it was a waste of time. From the platform, Baroness Kennedy, a Labour peer and QC, lamented the almost total lack of scrutiny that allows badly drafted and repressive laws on to the statute book. As she put it: "Governments will always seek to take more power for themselves if given half the chance." This Government seizes any opportunity to do so, by using the guillotine more frequently than has been customary and by breaking conventions, such as its proposed resort to the Parliament Act to force through the ban on hunting. The record of all governments in scrutinising legislation arising from EU treaties is particularly feeble, with screeds of regulation nodded through without debate. How can this trend be reversed, and Parliament's authority over the executive be restored so that our freedom is protected?
At the conference, Oliver Letwin, the shadow home secretary, warned about the controlling instincts of central government. Freedom, Mr Letwin said, was not an absence of other factors that might limit it, but a positive quality, so that, when it is constrained by government, "something intrinsically bad" has occurred. This was good to hear, but it is no longer sufficient to take on trust the idea that politicians will honour these principles when they go into government. Governments of all parties have an interest in not doing so. From 1979 to 1997, the Conservatives paid lip-service to the idea of freedom and made genuine advances in economic liberty, but had a terrible record in augmenting the powers of central government over locally elected authorities. We have them to thank for plenty of legislative idiocies, hastily framed to deal with perceived threats from dangerous dogs or law-abiding pistol shooters. Under New Labour, which in its rhetorical flourishes specifically disdains the notion of freedom, the pace of control has quickened. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor are accumulating ever greater powers through "targets", Downing Street initiatives and funding sleights of hand to meddle in the areas of health, crime and education that would properly be devolved to local areas.
Governments accumulate powers for the same reason that cats hunt mice - it is their nature to do so, and neither the ministers nor the cats are necessarily acting ignobly. Thus, rather than take their credentials on trust, we challenge the political parties to make a manifesto commitment to honour a presumption in favour of freedom, in the same way that there is a presumption of innocence under the law. Under this presumption, the Government would have to form a view as to whether a proposed Bill would erode individual liberty and, if it did, to justify this erosion by identifying a greater good that would be achieved. Governments always promise to pass more laws, but they rarely pledge to repeal bad ones. The notion of freedom must be made electorally attractive before our parliamentary system slips into terminal disrepute. A solemn manifesto commitment to review our statutes and repeal the repressive or unnecessary ones would be a splendid start.
May 3 2002

Labour accused of dirty tricks
By George Jones, Political Editor

LABOUR was accused last night of using unfair tactics to influence voters in today's local elections in England.
The Conservatives claimed that an announcement of 700 new police officers and 2,300 extra prison places by David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had breached the convention that major Government initiatives were not launched in the run-up to elections. The eve-of-poll row erupted as the three main parties launched their final appeals for votes in today's council elections, the first big electoral test since Labour won a second term last June. Nearly 6,000 council seats are at stake in London boroughs, metropolitan authorities, district councils and unitary authorities - as well as seven contests for directly elected mayors. Mr Blunkett used Labour's final press conference at the party's Millbank headquarters to announce more police for London - one of the main election battlegrounds - as well more money for other police forces, including Greater Manchester. The announcement was followed by a Home Office press release setting out how #340 million of additional police funding would be allocated, including #67 million for tackling street crime.
The Tories complained to Sir Richard Wilson, Cabinet Secretary, that Mr Blunkett had breached guidelines issued six weeks ago by the Prime Minister cautioning against the announcement of "sensitive decisions with a local dimension" during election campaigns. "This is a serious breach of the rules," said David Davis, the Tory party chairman. Mr Blunkett claimed that he was entitled to make the announcement because the extra money was made public in last month's Budget. Downing Street backed Mr Blunkett, saying his announcement was part of a strategy to show how crime was being tackled.
Oliver Letwin, Conservative home affairs spokesman, urged voters to make the elections a "referendum on crime". Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader, predicted "significant" gains for his party.
He said he was convinced that the Lib Dems would do particularly well at the expense of the Labour Party, and dismissed the Tories as "an electoral irrelevance". Charles Clarke, Labour party chairman, accused the Conservatives of encouraging apathy in the belief that a low turnout represented their best chance of making gains.
May 2 2002

Law letting police store public's DNA 'infringes liberty'

By Rachel Sylvester
TONY BLAIR'S flagship criminal justice legislation is to be criticised as draconian and illiberal by the Government's own Human Genetics Commission.
A report by the advisory body, chaired by the Labour peer Lady Kennedy of the Shaws, will raise serious concerns about the decision to allow the police to store DNA fingerprints of innocent people indefinitely on a database. It will recommend the introduction of new safeguards to protect the privacy of people who have never been convicted of any crime.
Lady Kennedy told The Telegraph that the law was far too draconian because it allowed the police to store DNA fingerprints taken from innocent members of the public. "It covers samples given by people who take part on a voluntary basis in an intelligence-gathering exercise. I don't think people would be happy to have their details stored on a great big police computer when they haven't done anything wrong." The commission's report on the storage of genetic information, to be published shortly, will call for a new ethics committee to be set up to control the way in which the DNA samples are stored and used. The Criminal Justice and Police Act, which became law last May, gave the police new powers to store fingerprints and DNA samples on a database. A Home Office spokesman said the information stored was covered by the Data Protection Act and would be regulated by the Information Commissioner. "The samples can only be used for the prevention or detection of a crime," she said.
However, Lady Kennedy said the legislation had been "pushed through without adequate debate". She added: "There has to be proper oversight. There should be an independent authority over-seeing the keeping of those samples."
The commission is also going to recommend in the report that there should be a new criminal offence of obtaining DNA without consent. "There could be situations where tabloid journalists or private investigators wanted to try to prove that somebody is the father of a child or that somebody is not the child of a public figure," Lady Kennedy said. "It would be an outrageous invasion of people's privacy to take a sample for such purposes - that should be criminal behaviour."
May 1 2002

The world won't listen

May Day protesters are demanding an end to exploitation and military aggression, says Gideon Burrows It has been said so many times that the world changed completely on September 11 last year, but has it? While terrorists were crashing passenger jets into the World Trade Centre in the US, thousands of British protesters were gathered outside the UK's biggest ever arms fair.
In the morning, we were simply an inconvenience to the hundreds of police accompanying us. But by the afternoon, as one officer took great delight in informing me, we were "sick for continuing to protest after what happened".
Post September 11 protesters are "sick" for challenging the policies of our "leaders", many of whom - as has been written many times in the last seven months - arguably contributed to the terrorist attacks in the first place.
The billions western states spend on arms every year certainly didn't prevent the attacks. For more than 100 years, May Day has been the calendar highlight for workers and anti-liberalisation protesters alike. This week, tens of thousands of trade unionists, along with anti-globalisation, anti-capitalist, anarchist and environmental protesters will mark the day by congregating in city centres across the world. In London, two separate protests - one beginning in Mayfair, the other ending in Trafalgar Square - will attempt to show that, despite everything, the world has not changed that much. It is still a world where workers globally are denied a basic living wage, healthy working conditions and the right to join a trade union. It is still a world where British politicians condemn the rise of the French right in one breath, and in another call for asylum seeker children to be imprisoned to prevent them "swamping" our schools. It is still a world where the US, with UK support, pursues a national missile defence system, which could not possibly prevent similar terrorist attacks. And it is still a world where the most significant piece of news about last year's May Day protests in London, was that it stopped high street chains on Oxford Street from making £20m. Just as in the run up to last year's protest, people suspected of facilitating, organising and even supporting the events have faced police and political intimidation, interrogation and threats.
The May Day website at has been moved numerous times, after police raided internet service providers threatening to close them down, and demanding the names of those behind the site.
The Radical Dairy, a Hackney social centre which has been a hub for event planning, but which is also a local community cafe providing services for children and the excluded in the ailing London borough, has been raided by police. Individuals have been visited at 7am by teams of police, armed with stab-jackets and video cameras, to serve warrants saying the recipients will be held responsible if violence takes place tomorrow. (The individuals, of course, refused to receive the warrant).
This year, protesters have attempted to respond to the often-repeated challenge, "What are you for?" However, if mainstream media journalists, police and politicians had read the propaganda properly, they would realise we've been answering this question for at least four years. This year's event in Mayfair has been billed, clear as crystal, as a 'Festival of Alternatives'. The festival includes events exploring, discussing and presenting an alternative vision to capitalism, exploitation and military aggression. The programme includes workshops on alternatives to consumerism, skill-sharing, wildlife projects, clothes making and low impact lifestyles. Far from a rejection of politics wholesale, May Day is another episode in a rolling vision of practical, participatory politics that rejects the idea that politics must include the ballot box. It has included 100,000 people uniting on the streets of London last month against the bombing of Afghanistan, Iraq and US/UK policy on Israel; last year's World Social Forum in Porto Alegre; and it will include the Johannesburg Earth Summit in September.
On May Day itself there may be what the police call, "violent elements", or "hardcore protesters". Sure enough, some protesters will attempt to highlight their dissatisfaction by smashing global chain store windows and scrawling on walls and statues. Last year, Ken Livingstone took out national newspaper ads urging people not to attend because of this minority.
Presumably, thousands of football fans will also cancel their travel and viewing plans this year, the moment a minority of England supporters gets pissed and kick-off during the World Cup.
Ken misses the point: the more people who turn up to these protests, the more of a minority the "violent element" becomes. The biggest challenge the protest movement faces is not its violent elements but its ability to offer viable alternatives. This year, more than any previous year, May Day will answer that call. My May Day will start at 7.30am, when I join thousands of cyclists in a "critical mass" ride through central London. If a pollution free, silent, speedy, and almost accident free form of transport is not a viable alternative, I don't know what is. 7 Gideon Burrows is a writer and journalist on protest politics and ethical issues. He has just written a book on the international arms trade.
May 1 2002

After five years in office, New Labour has still not found its sense of purpose

It may seem an absurdly small incident on which to hang an assessment of Tony Blair's five years in office. But complaining to the Press Complaints Commission about mischievous reporting on the Prime Minister's alleged wish to play a more prominent role in the Queen Mother's lying in state tells us a good deal about the way New Labour has chosen to run the country. Of course, what Mr Blair's office said to the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod about the arrangements for this piece of state pageantry is stunningly trivial compared with, say, the running of the economy, the battle to deliver quality public services, the Northern Ireland peace agreement or even the Ecclestone or Hinduja affairs.
But it is important because Downing Street cannot rise above it. It is an excellent example of what has prevented this government from becoming the truly bold, radical reforming administration promised to us in May 1997. "The time for words is over; it is time to do," Mr Blair said then; half a decade on, with some fine successes to its credit, the abiding impression is of a government less interested in "doing" than being seen to do.
When Mr Blair was granted his first landslide majority by the electorate there was much talk about his government emulating the two other great progressive administrations of the past century, those led by Attlee and Asquith. On the world stage he has shown commendable courage and vision, often at great political risk, while at home he seems content to dissipate his energy on futile little skirmishes.
There is also a worrying sense of drift. After longer in office than Callaghan or Heath, and on his way to surpassing Lloyd George, Wilson and Macmillan, Mr Blair still spends too much time dreaming up "eye-catching initiatives", often just to grab headlines, and too little time laying the foundations of the "new Britain" that he once spoke about so often.
It feels almost as if Mr Blair is frustrated that the "big idea" has eluded him. The Budget's "tax and spend" to fix the NHS was, in truth, an admission of defeat. Constitutional reform has been shelved, our schools have not become world-beaters and conditions on our sink estates have not visibly improved. Mr Blair has been too impatient, too fond of the knee-jerk reaction and too inclined to spin his way out of trouble. Jo Moore was unlucky to have been caught sending her notorious e-mail about burying bad news on 11 September, but she was acting in a way that was characteristic of her bosses.
All that would be dispiriting enough. Still worse, however, is the degree to which so much of the spinning has been directed against fellow ministers. There may not have been anything as damaging as the open warfare between the Chancellor's press officer Charlie Whelan and Peter Mandelson that broke out in the autumn of 1997, and which threatened to destabilise the Government's economic policy. But the low-intensity warfare between No 10 and No 11 has been a tragic feature of the past five years, as seemingly witnessed by the leaking of Mr Blair's daft idea of withdrawing child benefit from the parents of persistent truants.
To have a powerful Prime Minister or Chancellor is one thing; to have both trying to run a Presidential-style government from adjacent bunkers can only result in paralysis - as we see all too clearly on the pressing question of the euro. And now we find the Home Secretary lobbing a few grenades at the "money God", Gordon Brown.
To borrow Mr Blair's verbless oratorical style, we might sum things up as follows: Cabinet neutered. Politics discredited. Voters disconnected. True, the media have too often unfairly treated politicians as if they were all congenital liars and cheats. But New Labour must take its share of the blame for the spread of cynicism. This is not what we thought the new Britain would feel like.
May 1 2002

How The European Union Overides Democracy
Le Monde

by Bernard Cassen
The European Union's decision-taking bypasses Europeans and their elected representatives to impose on them neo-liberal, anti-social economic policies, all in the name of Europe. The EU regularly overrides democracy for the benefit of private wealth and influence.
While the two main candidates in the French presidential election were trading the slogans that do so much to raise the level of electoral debate and mark distinctions the public is not always able to discern, the president of the republic and his prime minister were occupied with more serious things. Together, they were permanently settling a number of major issues - issues they will consult their citizens about only when they are already settled. There is no point in reading the candidates' policy statements on retirement age, pension funds, liberalisation of public services, wages or flexible working. All these have been decided, not by the National Assembly or the government, but by the European Union heads of state and government meeting in Barcelona on 15-16 March. The real joint programme of Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin for the next few years can be found in the document "Presidency Conclusions, Barcelona European Council", which ought to be included in the documents sent to every voter in a democracy.
April 30 2002

Daily Mail

27TH April 2002
SO much for the Government's grossly misleading assurances that the fast-track European extradition treaty poses no threat to individual liberty. What happened in Greece has exposed the folly of its whole approach to EU legal matters.
Nothing can excuse yester-day's conviction of the plane spotters. These are clearly innocent people who are being cruelly abused by the legal system of a supposedly civilised state that for some twisted, paranoid, machismo reason imagines that a somewhat eccentric hobby Is the equivalent of espionage.
Only the vagaries of the appeals process now stand between these ordinary, harmless people and a Greek jail. And given the chippiness, insularity and untrustworthiness of the Greek courts so far, nobody can be very optimistic. But what can the plane spotters do? Thanks to Mr Blair's obsession with all things European, they have no choice but to return to Greece for the appeal hearing, even though they know they will be facing the equiva-lent of a kangaroo court.
This Government agreed sweeping new extradition powers for the EU at the Laeken summit just before Christmas, even though human rights groups warned they are wide open to abuse.
The plane spotters have no hiding place, anywhere in Europe. If necessary, British police would seize them and send them back to Greece. Pay close attention to what has happened to an innocent group of Britons peacefully pursuing their hobby. Their fate is a warning of the banana republic mindset that passes for justice among some of our European "partners". And of how insecure our ancient liberties are in Mr Blair's hands. Readers who are contemplating a holiday in Greece this year might like to think twice.

Money talks

Even basic utilities such as water may be privatised in developing countries if the EU has its way. With 1.3bn people already denied clean water, this push for profit could have devastating effects
Kevin Watkins
When it comes to double-dealing in world trade, nobody does it better than the EU. Like a junky that promises to do better but can't kick the habit, our governments are just hooked on hypocrisy - and developing countries pay the price. Having committed themselves to a new "development round" of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks supposed to make trade work for the poor, Europe is gearing up to make it work even better for the rich.
If further proof that old habits die hard were needed, the EU's proposals for liberalising service markets, disclosed by the Guardian last week, provided it in abundance. Opening negotiating gambit it may be, but the commission's proposals for the liberalisation of service markets is unprecedented in its scope. It holds out the promise of windfall gains for transnational companies - and misery in the developing world.
Reading the EU's 1,000-page epic negotiating text is like entering the deeper fantasy world of corporate executives. It is a deregulator's dream come true. Restrictions on foreign ownership in India, China, Mexico, Brazil and Malaysia? Here today, gone tomorrow, if the EU gets its way. Controls on foreign corporations entering banking and insurance markets in Argentina and China? Consigned to the dustbin of history. Limits on foreign accounting firms, foreign advertisers, and profit repatriation? In your dreams.
To its credit, the EU has blown the gaffe on the WTO's propaganda machine. For years, we have been told that basic services such as water will not be subject to enforced liberalisation under the so-called General Agreement on Trade in Services (Gats). Such pussy-footing has no place in the EU's brave new world, where water is just another commodity. Countries such as Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela and Thailand that have yet to fully liberalise and privatise water utilities have been presented with a list of demands that will make even hardened privatisers in the World Bank wince. So how come a bunch of Brussels bureaucrats can come up with such a radical and imaginative corporate shopping list? The answer: by letting corporate lobby groups dictate it. Much of the text has been lovingly crafted by the European Services Network - a grouping of executives from 50 financial sector companies, including Goldman Sachs, Sun- Alliance Insurance, and HSBC Holdings. Chaired by Andrew Buxton, the chairperson of Barclay's Bank, the ESN has enjoyed privileged access to the so-called Article 133 committee in the European Commission - the body responsible for drafting negotiating texts. If it wanted to sue the EU for plagiarism, the ESN would have a watertight case.

Almost no service has escaped the EU attention. Environmental protection is seen as a major growth area for private companies. Why not have Group 4 running the Masai Mara or the Okavango Delta?
Apologists for the EU claim that the new preliminary negotiating text is just that: a toe in the water to test the temperature. Developing countries, so the argument runs, can refuse to play ball. Welcome to the real world. When it comes to the negotiating table, the EU will demand market openings in services as a condition for opening its own markets in garments and textiles and agriculture. ......
Nowhere are the threats posed by the EU strategy more marked than in water. If it succeeds, WTO negotiations will give a decisive impetus to water privatisation across the developing world. Once liberalisation has taken place, developing countries will then be prevented, under Gats rules from discriminating against foreign water providers. All of which is music to the ears of giant European water utilities such as Vivendi, Suez and Thames Water.
Poor communities are likely to see things differently. Programmes aimed at cross-subsidising public water supplies to poor communities by taxing commercial providers could put a government in a WTO dispute tribunal. So could any attempt to impose price regulations aimed at making water affordable. In a world where 1.3bn people lack access to clean water, and where inadequate access to clean sanitation is implicated in 12 million child deaths a year, such policy prohibitions have grave implications.
As European citizens, we now know what our governments are demanding on our behalf - or, more accurately, on behalf of big business. Unlike most of the dirty tricks they have concocted against the world's poor, this one, at least, is out in the open.
Kevin Watkins is policy director at Oxfam. Further information at: and

An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth about Globalization, Corporate Cons and High Finance Fraudsters

"Courageous reporting - read this book!" - Michael Moore ......
Who owns America? How much did it cost? Cash, check or credit card? The Bushes and the billionaires who love them.
Chapter 7. CASH-FOR-ACCESS - LOBBYGATE  the Real Story of Blair and the Sale of Britain.
My bald head took up the entire front page of the Mirror under the headline, THE LIAR! Did I upset someone? When Tony Blair came to power, I set up an undercover sting exposing the influence kasbah in 10 Downing Street......
April 21 2002

Liberty to Launch New Civil Rights Website

By David Barrett, Home Affairs Correspondent, PA News
The UKs largest free online human rights guide is to be launched next month, it was announced today. Civil rights group Liberty is behind the project which draws on its years of experience running advice lines for the public and specialists. The guide, entitled Your Rights Online with the web address, will launch on May 16 with backing from the Community Fund, formerly known as the National Lottery Charities Board.
Libertys public legal advice service receives around 3,500 written queries and 1,600 telephone calls a year. John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: Human rights law affects thousands of people in their daily lives. They need easier access to information and this website will help provide that. We believe it will complement our busy telephone advice services, and help more people access basic but important information and guidance quickly.
April 21 2002

Bustani hits back at US criticism International Herald Tribune

The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog agency, Jose Bustani, accused U.S. "hawks" Wednesday of undermining multilateral diplomacy by seeking to fire him and suggested that Washington saw his agency as an obstacle to its campaign against the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein.

Washington has alleged financial and administrative incompetence by Bustani, a Brazilian who is director general of the 145-country Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was established in 1997 to stop the spread of chemical weapons and oversee the destruction of weapons stockpiles.
Bustani said that the American effort to remove him had given him concern about the future of international diplomacy. He told the foreign ministers of the member countries that the essential question was: "If one member state or even a few can dictate the departure of the director-general today, then who will do it tomorrow, and for what reason?"
His was the bluntest accusation so far by a senior international official that the United States is seeking to impose its will on multilateral organizations, including the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
In a lengthy paper circulated among member countries, the United States accused him of confrontational, abrasive and inappropriate conduct but has provided little explanation for its charges. Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said last month that the administration had lost confidence in Bustani, a Brazilian, because of "ill-considered initiatives" and the "demoralization" of its technical staff......
April 19 2002

A privatisers' hit list

European commission demands to deregulate services spell disaster for the developing world
Katharine Ainger
In the fevered imaginations of anti-globalisation protesters, the World Trade Organisation agreement known as Gats is a corporate boot sale of essential services, from water to electricity to the media. It is, they say, an attack on democracy that will lock the world into privatisation and deregulation of essential services ad infinitum. Now, as revealed in this paper, we have got the leaked documents of the European commission's secret WTO negotiating positions to prove it. Let no one wonder any longer why WTO negotiators have to meet behind six-foot fences to avoid protesters.
The commission documents - leaked to Corporate Europe Observatory and posted on the Guardian's website - are breathtaking in scope. This is a corporate shopping list of requests to open up service sectors in everything from water supplies to banking in 29 countries, including China, India, Canada, Egypt, Mexico and the US. In a month, more countries will be included.
The requests are described by an Indian NGO, Equations, as "a frontal attack on the Indian constitution". The Council of the Canadians, a large and moderate consumer group, described them as "chilling". The EU demands are extraordinarily aggressive - whether they are to remove the ability to limit Wal-Mart's activities in India, or to take away the Mexican people's control of the land along their borders, or to destroy Malaysia's capacity to regulate its financial sector.
Despite the commission's cant that a "development round" of trade negotiations is under way at the WTO, an essential tool for poor countries - the ability to regulate foreign investment - is a key target. One of the arguments used to deflect critics of Gats is that developing countries have the choice to "opt in" the services they want to be liberalised, making exemptions for those they wish to build up domestically. What the documents show is that while that may be true, the commission has simply taken this list of exemptions - and used it as the basis for its liberalisation hit list.
Water in developing countries is a major target for European companies in the current negotiations. Citizens from Ghana to Argentina and Bolivia have already strenuously resisted such privatisations. The idea that poor people's access to clean water can be adequately decreed by European corporations such as Vivendi or Thames simply has no basis in reality.
Another controversial demand is for Canada, the US, Australia, China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, Panama and Colombia to make no market restrictions on the distribution, at wholesale or retail level, of alcohol or tobacco.
To add insult to injury, while the EU incarcerates increasing numbers of migrants from poor countries, it is now pushing across the board for intra-corporate labour mobility under Gats. In a nutshell, that's free movement for corporate yuppies, but not for street-sweepers from Kenya.
If this is the commission's negotiating position, what on earth does the US's look like? The commission has said that Gats is "first and foremost an instrument for the benefit of business". It is more than that. It is a corporate wish list made manifest. Corporate lobbying is its heart and soul. According to David Hartridge, former director of the WTO services division, "without the enormous pressure generated by the American financial services sector, particularly companies like American Express and Citicorp, there would have been no services agreement".
What is the point of discussing how we fund our healthcare systems when we don't know what effect Gats will have on them? What we do know is that the US corporate lobby group, the US council for service industries, with its strong American healthcare contingent, has already complained: "Historically, healthcare services in many foreign countries have largely been the responsibility of the public sector. This public ownership of healthcare has made it difficult for US private-sector healthcare providers to market in foreign countries."
Another of the most important members of the USCSI was Enron, pushing for energy deregulation worldwide. One Canadian activist, Tony Clarke, says that other members of the USCSI pushing for Gats reads like a "who's who of those connected to the Enron scandal", including the beleaguered accountants, Arthur Andersen.
Secret trade and investment documents leaked over the internet are the dynamite keg that have brought other such treaties to their knees. Five years ago, US NGO Public Citizen found and posted an obscure investment treaty called the Multilateral Agreement on Investment on their website. What campaigners found in this text sparked an unprecedented worldwide campaign against it, until the treaty no one had heard of crumbled under public pressure.
The lesson from the MAI is that it is no longer possible to negotiate trade and investment treaties in secret. As the Financial Times wrote in the wake of the MAI campaign: "That makes it harder for negotiators to do deals behind closed doors and submit them for rubber-stamping by parliaments. Instead, they face pressure to gain wider popular legitimacy for their actions by explaining and defending them in public."
Katharine Ainger edits New Internationalist magazine
April 18 2002

No wonder they want us muzzled

Then we wouldn't know how Paul Drayson ran rings round ministers
David Leigh
Just about the only sensible thing Enoch Powell ever said was that for a politician to complain about the press is like a sailor complaining about the sea. Yet the obviousness of this has not stopped a few seasick souls in the government - and even their more pliant friends in the media - from self-righteously denouncing investigative journalists. We're accused of being hysterical, overly suspicious of the most innocent government doings and poisoning the well of democratic politics.
It would be a pity if such accusations put reporters off from the patient attempt to elicit the facts behind Labour's award of contracts and favours to their friends and donors in the world of big business. Because it was only by persevering in the face of a blizzard of evasions that it was discovered this week how one wily businessman - PowderJect boss Paul Drayson - appears to have run rings round health ministers. For £10m, Drayson is buying some German smallpox vaccine, so far unlicensed in the UK - 20 million doses, only enough for one in three of the population - and selling it on to the taxpayer for £32m.
There has been no competitive bidding or open discussion of the peculiar specifications which dumped this juicy contract in PowderJect's lap. Had reporters accepted the unattributable whispers - some direct from ministers - they would have stopped their inquiries and accepted the following government propositions:
7 The vaccine was being made in Britain but couldn't be talked about for security reasons.
7 MI6 had secretly dictated the need to buy a particular strain, because the ex-Soviet biological warfare programme threatened us with its terrorist spin-offs.
7 "National security" naturally prevented the number of doses and hence the price paid per shot being revealed.
All these propositions were false; and were made absurd by the disclosure that the US government has openly taken tenders for and openly purchased vaccine from another UK company at a freely disclosed price of £1.90 a shot, to include clinical trialling and maintenance of a rolling 20-year stockpile. All the Department of Health can do now is mutter that "the US has a different culture to us". You bet.
The friends of Mr Drayson, the PowderJect boss, say he has donated a moderate £50,000 to the Labour party and vociferously supported this government in the past, because he wants to have something done to improve the NHS. A cynic might say that the best service he could now do the NHS would be to pass them back some of the millions he seems to have extracted from the taxpayer by exploiting health minister John Hutton's anxiety about a potential biological attack, and his apparent naivety about the world of business. As taxes go up in the Budget to help fund the half-starved NHS, it seems odd that the British pharmaceutical industry is rolling in cash in this way. But part of Mr Drayson's role, as chairman of the bio-industry association, is to meet ministers and lobby for generous treatment. If I were chairing parliament's public accounts committee, I should want to look into this piece of procurement, and ask how it was that no open bid took place; why Britain can't afford enough of Mr Drayson's prices to supply each citizen with a vaccine dose, as the Americans are receiving; and how Mr Drayson's company managed to tie up the distribution rights for the vaccine he is now getting for a song from IDT in Germany. Significantly, just the same complaint about the media went up earlier this year when they started looking into Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian tycoon who gave £125,000 to Labour and subsequently got a helpful letter signed by Blair when trying to buy up a Romanian steel plant. Government spinners had planted the following propositions:
7 The letter was a mere formality.
7 The prime minister was helping a British company.
Both claims turned out to be quite false.
To invigilate the way members of the government bestow political favours and cash prizes on their friends is a central part of British journalists' job. Unless we press on without fear or favour, we're failing our readers.
Of course there is plenty of political spite in the tide of innuendo in the Tory papers against unelected Blair aides. And Labour has certainly been a victim of its own transparency. But the answer to the embarrassment is not to rail at journalists.
Ministers should grow up. Only part of the answer to their donations problem lies in caps on party spending and more state funding. The other part of the solution is that ministers should take fewer low-quality decisions in Whitehall, of the kind that can't stand up to scrutiny. 7 David Leigh is the Guardian's investigations editor
April 18 2002

EU 'does not want to privatise Third World'

By Stephen Castle in Brussels
18 April 2002
The European Commission rejected as "patently false" yesterday claims that it is demanding that several Third World countries privatise their public monopolies as part of the new global trade talks.
EU trade officials did confirm that they had asked for key sectors such as water distribution and energy in developing countries to be opened to more foreign competition.
The EU stance was revealed in leaked draft documents detailing the Union's opening bids in world trade negotiations.
Dave Timms, a spokesman for the pressure group World Development Movement, said utilities could move "from state control to the private sector". But a spokesman for Pascal Lamy, the European trade commissioner, said that to say the EU was seeking privatisation was "patently false".
April 18 2002

(This followed the Guardian story, below)

Secret documents reveal EU's tough stance on global trade

John Vidal, Charlotte Denny and Larry Elliott Wednesday April 17, 2002 The Guardian
The European Union is demanding full-scale privatisation of public monopolies across the world as its price for dismantling the common agricultural policy in the new round of global trade talks, secret documents leaked to the Guardian revealed yesterday. The sweeping requests for the opening up of sensitive sectors of its trading partners' economies including water, energy, sewerage, telecoms, post and financial services are contained in a 1,000-page draft document prepared by Brussels officials for approval by member states next month.
Europe has spelled out in detail a long list of restrictions which it wants its trading partners to drop. These include requirements that New York estate agents be US nationals, a ban in Mexico on foreigners owning land within 50km of the border and rules in Korea restricting the sale of alcohol to licensed providers.
Many of Europe's demands are likely to meet with bitter opposition from its trading partners, resentful that Brussels is dragging its feet on opening up its own markets in key areas. In some areas, such as energy and postal services, Brussels wants other countries to break up national monopolies which its own member states have been reluctant to tackle.
The draft negotiating strategy has provoked alarm among development campaigners who fear the ultimate goal is to push poor countries into privatising public services like health and education.
"We are shocked by how the the EU is preparing to trample over its claims to be in favour of sustainable development in the naked pursuit of the interests of European multinational service corporations," said Dave Timms from the World Development Movement. "These documents confirm our worst fears about these negotiations. The EU is targeting sectors where there is no evidence that liberalisation benefits developing countries."
With Brussels under mounting pressure from its trading partners to scrap its expensive system of agricultural subsidies and tariff walls in the new round of talks launched in Doha last November, Europe's top trade official, Pascal Lamy is hoping to make major gains at the negotiating table in the increasingly lucrative global trade in services, particularly in the financial sector.
The EU wants its companies to be able to compete on an equal footing with local firms which will require its trading partners to scrap rules banning foreign competition and ownership in sensitive parts of their economies. The strategy is the fruit of years of lobbying by Europe's financial services sector which is hoping to expand throughout Latin America and Asia.
With the City of London, home to the most sophisticated financial industry in Europe, Britain is likely to be a big winner; Mr Lamy's initiative has enthusiastic backing in Westminster.
(Access the Guardian to )Read the documents here EU requests: Argentina EU requests: Australia EU requests: Brazil EU requests: Canada EU requests: Chile EU requests: China EU requests: Colombia EU requests: Egypt EU requests: Hong Kong EU requests: India EU requests: Indonesia EU requests: Israel EU requests: Japan EU requests: Korea EU requests: Malaysia EU requests: Mexico EU requests: New Zealand EU requests: Pakistan EU requests: Panama EU requests: Paraguay EU requests: Philippines EU requests: Singapore EU requests: South Africa EU requests: Switzerland EU requests: Taiwan EU requests: Thailand EU requests: Uruguay EU requests: USA EU requests: Venezuela
posted April 18 2002

Lords say no to Home Secretary's new powers over police
The Times

By Greg Hurst and Melissa Kite
THE Government suffered a heavy defeat over its police reforms yesterday when the Lords threw out controversial powers for the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, to intervene in failing police forces. Opposition parties in the Lords combined forces to strike an entire clause outlining the power from the Police Reform Bill, saying it undermined the independence of chief constables. It would have allowed ministers to order a chief constable to prepare an action plan, and revise it if instructed, if the whole force, one area within it or one aspect, such as its burglary rate, was deemed inefficient or ineffective. This was defeated by 205 votes to 131, a majority of 74, during the Bill's report stage in the Lords. An angry Lord Rooker, the Home Office Minister, warned peers before the vote that the Government would overturn the defeat in the Commons. He told them: "I say this: this will come back from the other place so this will not be the end of the debate."
Ministers tried to head off criticism that the powers were too draconian by introducing an amendment that offered safeguards over how the power would be used. This proposed giving advance warning to the chief constable and police authority concerned, a chance to make representations, and to put forward their own solutions for dealing with the problem before ministers intervened. It also required the Home Secretary to consult police authorities and representatives of chief officers before using his new powers and said the details of the regulations would need further approval by Parliament. Lord Rooker told peers: "We are proposing a robust and effective system to ensure that direction powers are not used lightly and will not allow any home secretary to act on a whim or a hunch." But Lord Dixon-Smith, for the Conservatives, said the measures were "taking the business of centralising the administration of one of our essential services too far.
"We see the legislative tentacles of the department stretching down, desperately seeking something small enough that they can control." He said that such interference would ultimately only impede the running of police forces. Lord Dholakia, for the Liberal Democrats, said the measure placed too much power in the hands of the Home Secretary. "We do not want to see our police under the control of central government. There is too much at stake if we get this wrong," he said. The defeat came despite the fact that the Government's amendment was given a guarded welcome from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), which has lobbied against parts of the Bill aguing that they threaten operational independence.
Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers welcomed some other changes to the Bill. These included a requirement for the Home Secretary to consult police authorities, chief constables and others before laying an annual national policing plan, the key instrument by which the Government would direct the priorities of police forces.
The Police Reform Bill, one of the Government's flagship pieces of legislation in this session, also seeks to give powers to police support staff and civilians to perform defined policing functions, to pave the way for new categories of community support officers, or wardens, proposed in a White Paper in December last year.
April 16 2002

Mowlam: my vicious, horrible colleagues

Ex-Cabinet star in bitter attack on spin
Kamal Ahmed, political editor
Mo Mowlam, the former Cabinet Minister and one of the most popular figures in the Labour Party, has launched a remarkable attack on her former government colleagues, accusing them of 'vicious, violent and horrible behaviour'. In an outburst that will once again put the issue of New Labour spin at the centre of the political debate, the former Northern Ireland Secretary will say in a documentary to be screened next month that the behaviour of officials who briefed against her over her ill-health was 'despicable'. Transcripts of the Channel 4 programme, which have been obtained by The Observer, reveal Mowlam's fury at the way she was treated by the Government. She says a whispering campaign by senior figures undermined her career in government, despite the fact that she was a huge hit with voters.
In other, highly damaging, parts of the transcript of the programme, Mo Mowlam: Inside New Labour , she says that the relationship between Tony Blair and the Chancellor of the Exchequer is 'destructive' and that Gordon Brown should be removed from his post.
She also claims that tension between the two men delayed the implementation of key policies, and that she bitterly regrets that the Government failed to do more to help poorer people. Mowlam, who quit politics at the last election, said that Blair had become 'more presidential than prime ministerial' and that the notion of Cabinet government, where the Prime Minister consults senior colleagues over key decisions, had become 'a farce'. Such a powerful attack will be difficult for the Government to dismiss. Until last year, Mowlam, who was sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary in 1999 and moved to the Cabinet Office, was a central figure in the government. She was one of the most popular speakers at Labour conferences and is still the darling of the Left.
Asked about stories that appeared in the press suggesting that her illness with a brain tumour had affected her ability to do her job, she lays the blame directly with Labour's 'spin machine'. '[That was] vicious, violent, appalling behaviour by the people that did it,' she said. 'Some might say that's politics, I think it's just despicable.'
She said that she asked Alastair Campbell, Blair's director of strategic communications, for an explanation.
'I'd phoned him to find out what was behind the story and he said well if I didn't talk about these problems they'd go away, it's me talking about them that makes them hit the press hard,' she said.
'Well, I'm sorry, but I didn't brief the press that I was going mad, that I was intellectually inferior since my brain tumour. Things got to a ridiculous point.' Mowlam's attack comes at a difficult time for the Prime Minister, who is already facing a backlash from Labour backbenchers over his backing for President George Bush's plans to attack Iraq. Blair has said that growing cynicism among the public about politics is damaging the New Labour programme - cynicism that will be increased by Mowlam's claims. 'My health was used against me all the way through the whispering campaign, that I thought was damn well disgusting,' she said. 'They'll stop at nothing.' Mowlam's most damaging claims come over the way the Government operates. Describing the central relationship between Blair and Brown, she says: 'Occasionally, when one was leaving Cabinet and one was entering they didn't even acknowledge each other's presence. That to me does not indicate a positive relationship.
'You could tell by the body language, the amount of eye contact, how poor the relationship was. I just don't think that was helpful to government, you need a strong team at the top to make it function well. There was still a tension from when they both wanted to be leaders, I don't think Gor don ever got over that or has got over it now. 'If their relationship continues as destructively as it is now, I think the only way forward is for the Prime Minister to move him to another job.' Mowlam, whose memoirs containing fresh allegations are to be published in the next two weeks, said the tensions between the men had delayed policy implementation. She said that failure to deliver on policies was her greatest regret: 'Delivery and the failure of delivery to the people we were elected to help frustrated me no end.'
She agrees with critics who claim that the Prime Minister has become too presidential. 'Tony has by default become more presidential than prime ministerial. When you're running a war you can understand why, but what I think we have to be wary of is, if we haven't got the checks of Cabinet government, what checks do we have?'
April 15 2002

Adrian Hamilton: Oil is the reason America wants to be rid of Saddam

12 April 2002
One wouldn't normally accuse Tony Blair of naivety or the Labour left of missing a trick when it comes to anti-Americanism. But it is utterly astonishing that a week of discussion of Iraq and the Middle East could fail to connect them to the other big story of the week - oil.
Oil has always been at the heart of Middle East politics. Even more so now that prices are on the rise and Saddam Hussein is using the oil weapon. The US reach for secure oil supplies is as much behind Washington's determination to overthrow Saddam Hussein now as any question of Saddam's danger to the world.
This is not to accuse Washington of some deeply nefarious international conspiracy with the oil companies. It doesn't need that. It is simply to point out that a country as dependent on imports as America is bound to take a strategic view of its interests, all the more so when it is headed by a president from an oil state who has earned most of his personal fortune from the commodity. It would be astonishing if America didn't plan to tie up oil reserves for itself. It always has in the past, which is why it (and the British and French) supported Saddam Hussein for so long, when he was using chemical weapons against his own people. What is extraordinary is that Tony Blair should not recognise this as an integral part of American motivation in its post-11 September policies. For the single most important foreign policy fact of the 11 September attacks is the extent to which they have undermined America's traditional relationship with Saudi Arabia. Three quarters of the hijackers involved in the attacks were Saudi and most of the financing of al-Qa'ida emanated from the desert kingdom.
For the first time that anyone can remember, officials of the State Department and White House began openly to brief against the regime there, suggesting both that the royal family had had its day and that its importance as a strategic ally was greatly exaggerated. It was this implied threat that is in part responsible for Saudi Arabia's dash to lead a moderate peace position in the Middle East and to declare so promptly that it would make up any oil that Iraq cut back.
But as an oil producer, Saudi Arabia has nevertheless reached its peak. Its finances, thanks to gross overspending and endemic corruption, are in a mess. The balance of power within the royal family has shifted to the isolationists away from the pro-westerners. The US must look to alternative sources at the very least to secure its future increase in imports and to keep a lid on prices which threaten its economic recovery.
There are only two unexploited sources with anything like the potential reserves of Saudi Arabia. One is Iraq, held back by political constraint for nearly 30 years, and the Caspian, restrained by Russian self-interest and incompetence. Washington is now going determinedly for both. Even if Iraq were not developing weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein were merely sitting in a corner with his thumb in his mouth, it is probable that the US would now be seeking his removal.
In Central Asia, 11 September has also accelerated policies which the US was pursuing in any case. Development of the Caspian could bring huge new supplies on to the market. The question is whether they would be pipelined via Russia and its semi-satellites or Iran and the Middle East. Washington wants it moved through pro-Moscow territories. But this in turn has led it to support, with the complicity of Moscow, the nastier former communist regime of Uzbekistan and to encourage the pro-Russian and anti-Islamic elements in the surrounding countries. That is probably the last thing that Britain should be lending its weight to. Our interest, and Europe's, has to be in bringing Iran into the Middle Eastern regional fold and in diversifying European energy sources. Excessive reliance on Russia as the route of provision cannot be good. So too with Iraq. In a general sense a change in the Iraqi regime and an easing in the current supply squeeze would be a good thing. But the question is what kind of regime would replace it. America's interest is in ensuring a central, probably authoritarian, regime to keep the oil supply flowing. That is, after all, why America together with the Saudis did not ensure the demise of Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War or support the rebellions in north and south. The last thing they wanted was an Iraq that split up. So long as Saddam Hussein was contained and the price of oil was falling (as it was), why worry? It's the reverse in price trends that have changed things. Europe cannot be said to have the same interest. An independent Kurdistan or even southern Shia Iraq should not concern us so long as they are democratic and peaceable.
Which is the most important point of all. The demand for security of oil supplies almost invariably leads to support for the more unpleasant regimes of the world. There can be few more unsavoury than our new ally Uzbekistan, for example. Yet that is where America is heading. Where oil is concerned, Washington has its own interests. For Tony Blair to think that he is only supporting a moral crusade and the demands of friendship without realising that he is also being used to further America's own commercial self-interest is simply to act the chump.
April 12 2002

Biotechnology's Third Generation From Golden Rice to Anti-Viral Tomatoes -- Good Health or Good Marketing?
Watch org

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero
Special to CorpWatch April 5, 2002
As the international leaders prepare to meet in the Hague next week to discuss the UN Convention on Biodiveristy, activists are finding it difficult to get the biotech genie back in the bottle. Not even negative world opinion has slowed the development of a new generation of genetically modified plants and animals. The global controversy surrounding genetic engineering includes:
Worldwide consumer skepticism -- and sometimes outright rejection -- of genetically modified (GM) foods
Growing opposition to Terminator and Traitor technologies which produce sterile seeds
Recent reports of GM maize invading Mexico's center of biological diversity
Yet none of these developments have made the pharmaceutical and agrochemical giants rethink their investment in biotechnology as the key to conquering all evils as well as many lucrative global markets.
"For many of us, the name biotechnology might at first seem intimidating," reassuringly notes the Council for Biotechnology Information, an industry group. "But if you look more closely, it is easy to see what biotechnology is, what it is doing, and what it can do to protect our environment, to help feed our expanding world population, and to foster the treatment and prevention of a wide array of diseases."
The Solution to Hunger and Malnutrition?
After giving us Round-Up Ready Soybeans and Starlink corn, the biotech industry is now offering Golden Rice as the magic bullet that will end malnutrition. This new GM rice, developed by government researchers in Europe, but owned by the Swedish-British AstraZeneca corporation (now Syngenta), has been engineered to contain beta-carotene which gives it a bright orange color. Beta-carotene turns into vitamin A inside the body.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly three million children under the age of five suffer from a severe vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A helps fight tuberculosis, malaria, diarrhea and lowers child mortality(1).
Who, then, can possibly oppose the Golden Rice? Doesn't this new product prove that biotechnology can be used for good purposes? Biotech defenders answer a resounding "Yes!"
"Whether it's a new kind of wheat that is drought resistant, or corn loaded with more protein or a new strain of rice packed with Vitamin A, people who look at the entire world see biotechnology as a potential solution to the many problems the developing countries face, including food security and food safety," Cargill Chairman Ernest S. Micek in an address to the pro-business Economic Strategy Insitute's Global Forum.
But critics are not buying the biotech industry's assertion that its products are a panecea for the world's ills.
"Vitamin A deficiency is a symptom, a warning sign of broader dietary inadequacies associated with poverty and with agricultural change from diverse cropping systems to rice monoculture", says Peter Rosset co-director of Food First, an Oakland, California-based research and advocacy group.(2)
"People do not have vitamin A deficiency because rice contains too little vitamin A, but because their diet has been reduced to rice and almost nothing else. A magic-bullet solution that puts beta-carotene into rice -- with potential health and ecological hazards -- while leaving poverty, poor diets and extensive monoculture intact, is unlikely to make any durable contribution to well-being," according to Rosset.(3)
"The lower-cost, accessible and safer alternative to genetically engineered rice is to increase biodiversity in agriculture," argues Indian activist and scholar Vandana Shiva. "Further, since those who suffer from vitamin A deficiency suffer from malnutrition generally, increasing the food security and nutritional security of the poor-- by increasing the diversity of crops and therefore diets of poor people -- is the reliable means of overcoming nutritional deficiencies."(4)
Activist groups view golden rice not as a boon for the world's hungry, but as a public relations campaign for the biotech industry. "The real problem the industry seeks to address is not malnutrition but public opinion", says Charles Margulis, of the Greenpeace Genetic Engineering Campaign. "The propaganda value of yellow rice has been immeasurable, as industry has shamelessly used it in an attempt to quell growing US distrust of its experimental foods."(5)
Is genetic engineering really needed to fight world hunger? There are more than enough wild or underutilized highly nutritious plants that provide vitamin A and other nutrients. The combination of rice and moringa (drumstick) leaves, for example, has far more nutritional value than the golden rice. The moringa tree, native to India, grows abundantly in all tropical countries where vitamin A deficiency is a is a problem.(6) The grain amaranth has nine times more calcium than wheat, and 40 times more calcium than rice. It has four times as much iron as rice, and twice as much protein. The ragi millet, grown in India, has 35 times more calcium than rice, twice as much iron, and five times more minerals.(7)

Biotech Generation Three: Coming Soon to a Supermarket Near You

Golden Rice is just the spearhead of a new generation of biotech products, the so-called nutraceuticals, bioreactors, "pharm crops" or "functional foods." These new products are also known as biotech's Generation Three. The first generation refers the herbicide-resistant (Roundup-Ready) and biopesticide-producing (Bt) crops, which are now planted on tens of millions of acres of farmland. Generation Two consists of the proposed Terminator and Traitor technologies which genetically modify of plants to produce sterile seeds, forcing farmers to buy new seeds each year.

Unlike the previous two generations, Generation Three aims to be consumer-friendly: GM agricultural plants and farm animals with augmented nutritional content, or that produce industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals in their tissues. Novel products now being developed include an antiviral tomato, rice that produces human proteins for drug production, chickens that produce pharmaceutical drugs in their eggs, cavity-fighting fruits, and slow-growing lawns, among others.(8)

Citizens groups concerned about biotechnology advise the public not to get caught up in the functional foods hype. "While Generation Three could have far-reaching implications in the South and the North, the vast majority of these products will have little to do with feeding poor people or promoting sustainable agriculture" states the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group, formerly Rural Advancement Foundation International). "The target market is the affluent consumer Most functional foods of the future are not likely to be found in poor farmers' fields or in their cooking pots, but on supermarket shelves and in suburban kitchens".(9)

"Functional foods are about marketing, not health", says Marion Nestle, New York University nutrition and food studies professor. "My concern is that functional foods will distract people from eating healthy diets and encourage companies to market absurd products as heath foods because they contain one or another single nutrient."(10)

What are the potential dangers of Generation Three, beyond marketing unnecessary and silly products? Critics worry that crops that produce potent pharmaceuticals or industrial chemicals could get accidentally mixed up with the human food supply causing a potential threat to public health.

"How will crops that are engineered to produce industrial chemicals or drugs affect soil micro-organisms or beneficial insects?" wonders the ETC Group. "What if biopharmaceutical crops end up in animal feed? Will pharmaceutical proteins be altered in unforeseen ways? Could they cause allergies?"(11)

Some activists say Generation Three will increase potential hazards already faced by the public from currently existing GM crops. "Most noteworthy are problems of cross-pollination, and unknown deleterious effects on insects, soil microbes and other native organisms," according the Edmonds Institute, a Washington state-based think tank devoted to biotechnology issues. "Further, we may soon see biologically active enzymes and pharmaceuticals, only found in nature in minute quantities -- and usually biochemically sequestered in very specialized regions of living tissues and cells-- secreted by plant tissues on a massive commercial scale."

"The consequences may be even more difficult to detect and measure than those associated with more familiar GM crop varieties, and could escalate to the point where those now-familiar problems would begin to pale by comparison," the Institute warns.(12)

Activists say that without national or global rules regulating the development of biotechnology, by the time the consequences are felt it could be too late to reverse the damage.

Footnotes: 1. Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN). "Engineering Solutions to Malnutrition". Seedling, March 2000.
2. Letter to The Nation, published in the July 16 2001 issue.
4.Vandana Shiva. "Genetically Engineered Vitamin A Rice". Included in "Redesigning Life? The Worldwide Challenge to Genetic Engineering". Brian Tokar, ed. Zed Books, 2001.
5. GRAIN. "Engineering Solutions to Malnutrition
6.Vandana Shiva. "Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply". South End Press, 2000.
7. Rural Advancement Foundation International (Now ETC Group). "Biotech's Generation 3". RAFI Communique, November 2000.
11.Edmonds Institute. "Biohazards: The Next Generation?". November 2000. 20319-92nd Avenue West. Edmonds, Washington, 98020, e-mail:
Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist and a Research Associate at the Institute for Social Ecology

With a friend like this...

Nick Cohen Sunday Observer
...Washington wants to 'discourage' the 'advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership', while maintaining a military dominance capable of 'deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role'. The quotes don't come from a babbling conspiracy theorist but from the Pentagon's Defense Planning Guidance, which set out American strategy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A draft was leaked to the New York Times in 1992. Pentagon bureaucrats were appalled because, in their marvellous jargon, it hadn't been 'scrubbed'. What they mean was candid language for private consumption hadn't been swabbed away and replaced with a coating of euphemisms, carefully constituted to avoid any phrase which might stick in the reader's mind. The leak explained the thinking of a part of the Washington establishment with brutal clarity. If America didn't 'stabilise' - to use a verb which seems particularly inapt at the moment - the Middle East, Europe, Japan and China, which have a far greater dependence on Gulf oil, would move in and protect their interests. Although their interventions wouldn't necessarily bother America, in the long term they would grow into powers which would challenge its authority.
Walter Russell Mead, a foreign-policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, explained the doctrine. 'We do not get that large a percentage of our oil from the Middle East... And one of the reasons that we are sort of assuming this role of policeman of the Middle East has more to do with making Japan and some other countries feel that their oil flow is assured... so that they don't then feel more need to create a great power, armed forces, and security doctrine, and you don't start getting a lot of great powers with conflicting interests sending their militaries all over the world.'
America's friends are potential enemies. They must be in a state of dependence and seek solutions to their problems in Washington. Thus Europe was, rightly, castigated for its failure to stop Slobodan Milosevic's goons murdering and raping their way across the Balkans. Yet when Blair and Jacques Chirac proposed a European army which could operate independently, they were regarded with deep suspicion by Republicans and many Democrats, along with the American-controlled chunk of the British press in Wapping and Canary Wharf. .... ......How can America (and Britain) declare war against Iraq for possessing weapons of mass destruction when the US won't accept any controls on its nuclear, chemical or biological weapons? How can the US call Saddam Hussein a war criminal, when it won't accept the jurisdiction of an international criminal court?
The tensions America's anarchic unilateralism creates are at their greatest among the world's ilite. European leaders have few problems with globalisation, but can't stomach Bush unilaterally imposing steel tariffs which make a nonsense of the very 'free' market America and Europe instruct the Third World to embrace. They have all but begged America to be allowed a junior role in the 'war' against terrorism. Their rejection puts them, somewhat to everyone's surprise, temporarily on the same side as the mass of the world's poor. The greatest worry a friend of America should have is how its insistence that it can leave no part of the world alone has created anti-Americanism not only in Muslim countries but in regions such as Latin America where bin Laden's theology means nothing. If you dream that everyone might be your enemy, one day they may become just that.
posted April 8 2002


How dare George Bush preach peace to Israel when he's meeting Blair to plan war on Iraq .. and the deaths of thousands more innocent people?

PRESIDENT George W Bush yesterday called on Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian cities occupied by its forces during the last week.
He excused Israel's violence, but lectured the Palestinians and the rest of the Middle East on the need for restraint and a lasting peace. "The storms of violence cannot go on," said Bush. "Enough is enough."
What he neglected to say was that he needs a lull in the present crisis to lay his own war plans; that while he talks of peace in the Middle East, he is secretly planning a massive attack on Iraq.
This historic display of hypocrisy by Bush will be on show at his ranch in Texas today, with Tony Blair, his collaborator, in admiring attendance.
Yes, enough is enough. It is time Tony Blair came clean with the British people on his part in the coming violence against a nation of innocent people......
....Blair's culpable silence is imposed by the most dangerous American administration for a generation. The Bush administration is determined to attack Iraq and take over a country that is the world's second largest source of oil.
.....The United States, with British compliance, is currently blocking a record $5billion worth of humanitarian supplies from the people of Iraq. These are shipments already approved by the UN Office of Iraq, which is authorised by the Security Council. They include life-saving drugs, painkillers, vaccines, cancer diagnostic equipment. This wanton denial is rarely reported in Britain. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children, have died as a consequence of an American and British riven embargo on Iraq that resembles a medieval siege. The embargo allows Iraq less than #100 with which to feed and care for one person for a whole year. This a major factor, says the United Nations' Children's Fund, in the death of more than 600,000 infants.....
...Denis Halliday, the assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, resigned in protest at the embargo which he described as "genocidal". Halliday was responsible for the UN's humanitarian programme in Iraq. His successor, Hans Von Sponeck, also resigned in disgust. Last November, they wrote: "The death of 5-6,000 children a month is mostly due to contaminated water, lack of medicines and malnutrition. The US and UK governments' delayed clearance of equipment and materials is responsible for this tragedy, not Baghdad."
.....The British soldiers who take part in an invasion have every right to know the dirty secrets that will underpin their action, and extend the suffering of a people held hostage to a dictatorship and to international power games over which they have no control. Two weeks ago, the Americans made clear they were prepared to use "low yield" nuclear weapons, a threat echoed here by Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon. When will Europe stand up? If the leaders of the European Union fall silent, too, in the face of such danger, what is Europe for? In this country, there is an honourable rallying cry: Not In Our Name. Bush and Blair must be restrained from killing large numbers of innocents in our name
April 6 02

Scientists unravel DNA code for rice
The Times

By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent
THE first analysis of the genetic code of rice has revealed important evidence that DNA added to genetically modified crops will not harm human health. A comparison between the human genome and that of rice has found that the two organisms have no genes in common. The findings indicate that plant genes are incapable of 3jumping4 naturally into animals, resolving a common fear about the safety of GM crops.
The sequencing of the rice genome 7 the first crop to have its genetic code mapped 7 was formally announced yesterday by Syngenta, a Swiss company, and a publicly funded consortium from the United States and China, which has each worked on one of the major strains. The research will be published today in the journal Science. Syngenta has secured an agreement with Science by which its map of the japonica strain will not be freely available for all in the public Genbank database but will instead be accessible only through the company2s website. The agrochemical giant has pledged unlimited access to academic researchers but will allow commercial rivals to use the data only with its agreement, and on payment of a substantial royalty.
The agreement has angered many scientists, with a group including the British Nobel laureates Sir Paul Nurse and Sir Aaron Klug sending an open letter of protest to Science.
April 5 02

UK: Police threaten Mayday web hosts

"The MET police have been threatening to raid website hosts who have tried to host the website for this years "May Day Festival of Alternatives".
The content of what should be available at is information about the 2002 "May Day Festival of Alternatives". Running from 16th April - May 6th, the programme of events mostly includes music performances, film screenings, and workshops on a variety of issues and diy skill sharing, as well as ideas for protests on 1 May itself.
The website should have 'gone live' last month, however at least 3 different website hosts who agreed to host the site have been quickly approached by police, when the domain name '' has been pointed at their servers.
MET Police have either contacted the hosts by phone or in person, demanding to know all of the personal details of the people behind the 'ourmayday' website. The MET Police have also told the hosts they must remove the site (or not to host it) or be faced with a police raid during which their web servers would be seized. The Police have not said under what legislation they are making these demands and threats. As a result of the police threats the webhosts have so far declined to host the website.
Recently the website was temporarily hosted on a German website, but soon after the whole server which also hosts many other websites 'went down' and has not been restored. At this time it is not known if this is connected to British police activity. Appeals have now been made for other servers to host the website.
NB: Text on the website and on May Day leaflets says:
"This Mayday we are responding to the frequently asked question 'What are you for? What do you actually want?' We aim to show our goals of creating a society based on solidarity, autonomy and co-operation - in practice. We want to show that there is a future beyond capitalism, wage-labour and the state;"
"The Festival will consist of around 10 days of community-based events aiming at celebration, subversion and DIY liberation; and to demonstrate the diversity of our movement, with the intention of building long-range sustained alternatives.".......

Planned workshops throughout the Festival of Alternatives include: *Allotments *Wildlife garden projects *Asylum *Biodiversity and food security *Clothes making *Desktop publishing *Feminist History *Film Showings *Flamenco *Gender *GM monoculture *Shiatsu *Journalism *Sweatshop labour *Nuclear issues *Climate Change *Social Centres *Squatting *Plumbing *Tree climbing *What is Anarchism? *Yoga
April 5 02

A compliant press is preparing the ground for an all-out attack on Iraq. It never mentions the victims: the young, the old and the vulnerable :
New Statesman

John Pilger : 21 Mar 2002
The promised attack on Iraq will test free journalism as never before. The prevailing media orthodoxy is that the attack is only a matter of time. "The arguments may already be over," says the Observer, "Bush and Blair have made it clear . . ." The beating of war drums is so familiar that the echo of the last round of media tom-toms is still heard, together with its self-serving "vindication" for having done the dirty work of great power, yet again.
I have been a reporter in too many places where public lies have disguised the culpability for great suffering, from Indochina to southern Africa, East Timor to Iraq, merely to turn the page or switch off the news-as-sermon, and accept that journalism has to be like this - "waiting outside closed doors to be lied to", as Russell Baker of the New York Times once put it. The honourable exceptions lift the spirits. One piece by Robert Fisk will do that, regardless of his subject. An eyewitness report from Palestine by Peter Beaumont in the Observer remains in the memory, as singular truth, along with Suzanne Goldenberg's brave work for the Guardian.
The pretenders, the voices of Murdochism and especially the liberal ciphers of rampant western power can rightly say that Pravda never published a Fisk. "How do you do it?" asked a Pravda editor, touring the US with other Soviet journalists at the height of the cold war. Having read all the papers and watched the TV, they were astonished to find that all the foreign news and opinions were more or less the same. "In our country, we put people in prison, we tear out their fingernails to achieve this result? What's your secret?"......(more)
April 5 02

The rice genome must be made available to all

The importance of rice for the future of humanity is not to be underestimated. It is the most important crop in the developing world and, as we report today, half the world's people rely on rice to provide about 80 per cent of their dietary needs. With most of the growth in the global population in the developing world, rice will become even more important as the staple crop to feed an increasingly hungry world.
Deciphering the rice genome - the genetic recipe of the plant and its nutritious seed - therefore represents a major scientific achievement. Donald Kennedy, the editor of the journal Science, goes as far as to say that the rice genome will prove to be even more important than the human genome, itself lauded as the greatest technological advance since the invention of the wheel.
Preliminary estimates of the size of the rice genome range between 45,000 and 56,000 genes. Somewhere in this genetic information are the signposts that will lead us to higher-yielding varieties, better tolerance to drought or salinity, increased resistance to pests or improved nutritional content. The rice genome will prove to be invaluable for agriculturalists who want to reverse the alarming slowdown in rice production witnessed over the past decade.
But rice is more than just this. The genetics of this plant are viewed as a model for other important cereal crops, such as maize, barley, oats and wheat. Understanding the genetic instructions that enable rice to grow will provide much-needed insight into the healthy development of the other staple crops on which we all depend.
In a perfect world, this information would be shared freely for the common good. However, concerns have been aroused by plans to put the genome of one rice variety on to a database controlled by a multinational agrochemicals company. Many scientists believe this breaks the spirit of openness that is a hallmark of scientific publication.
The company, Syngenta, has promised free access to the data to any academic scientist not working for a commercial competitor. It is at least an attempt to meet these concerns and is certainly better than making the rice genome a trade secret.
Rice and the food we eat are too important to be left solely in the hands of private organisations wielding control over who has access to the information. The unravelling of the rice genome is to be applauded, and its open publication even more so. .....
April 5 02

Farmers struggle against WTO, IMF
Jakarta Post
A'an Suryana, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Freedom from injustice as a result of political reform in the country has proven short-lived for Indonesian farmers, who are now facing tougher challenges in the form of a global regime, an activist said.
Chairman of the Indonesian Farmers Federation (FSPI) Henry Saragih told a seminar here that unlike in the past when torture and misappropriation of land were rampant, now international organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank were impinging on the rights of farmers.
"The international organizations, which pushed ahead for the creation of free trade regimes, are an axis of evil as they bring hardship to farmers worldwide, especially those in Indonesia," Henry told participants of the Regional Conference on Farmer's Rights here.
According to Henry, the policies of the WTO, IMF and World Bank have contributed to the hardships Indonesian farmers are facing today.
Citing an example, he said the IMF had imposed a structural adjustment program (SAP) on struggling economies like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.
"The program might be a medicine to cure the banking crisis, but it certainly has brought losses to other sectors of the economy, including the agricultural sector," Henry said. .....
April 3 02

Clare Short is backing a plan which will impoverish 20 million people in India. Why?

George Monbiot
Clare Short is a paradoxical figure. She has hinted that she might resign if Britain helps the US to invade Iraq. She has bravely blocked the aid money which would have been spent on a useless British air-traffic system due to have been deployed, at great expense, in Tanzania. Her picture appears on the cover of this week's New Statesman magazine clutching a diminutive Tony Blair, whom, we are told, she is "cutting down to size". The development secretary is widely portrayed, as the Sunday Times puts it, as "the cabinet's leftwing conscience". Yet many of those she claims to be helping regard her as the angel of death.
For the past fortnight, a delegation of Indian farmers has been travelling around Britain, raising support for their campaign to prevent Clare Short from destroying their lives. Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) has promised £65m to the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, to help implement a programme which the state government claims will "totally eradicate poverty". The people it affects say it is more likely to eradicate the poor.
The scheme envisages the "rationalisation" of farming in Andhra Pradesh. Small farms will be consolidated into large ones, bullocks will give way to tractors and combine harvesters, traditional seed varieties will be replaced by genetically modified crops. Some 20 million people will lose their land or their jobs on the land.
Last month, a "citizens' jury", composed of people drawn from the social groups the scheme is supposed to help, rejected the project unanimously. Last year, the Guardian obtained a leaked copy of an internal DFID report, which warned that the scheme suffered from "major failings", threatened the food security of the poor, and offered no plans for "providing alternative income for those displaced". Yet the "cabinet's leftwing conscience" continues to back it.
So why should the minister who claims to put the lives of the poor above all other considerations and who is prepared, when necessary, to take a principled stand have decided to support a scheme which her own department says is "confused", "unfocused" and "inconsistent"? There are several possible explanations.
The first is that she genuinely believes development of this kind can help the poor and feed the starving. The government of Andhra Pradesh says it will increase food production and enhance exports by switching from traditional peasant farming to biotechnology and industrial monoculture. But the problem with relying on new technology to solve hunger is that the technology generally resides in the hands of those who are not hungry. The companies producing genetically engineered crops, for example, have spent billions of dollars buying up seed banks, altering their contents, then advertising and distributing their new products. They did not spend those dollars to reap rupees. The cultivation of these crops must attract hard currencies to be viable.
This is why, despite all their bombast about feeding the world, the biotech companies have put so much of their effort into developing animal feed. The feed market in the rich world is enormous, and expected to grow by between 30% and 50% in the next 20 years. Millions of acres in the poor world are now devoted to growing grain for pigs, chickens and cattle; in other words, the fat are becoming fatter, with the result that the thin become thinner. Clare Short herself has observed that "those who focus their efforts simply on increasing agricultural production must be under no illusions that they will therefore help the poor to obtain food".
The government of Andhra Pradesh would argue that by selling crops for hard currency, it can obtain the money necessary to raise living standards and feed the starving. But this vision relies on a "trickle-down" theory of economics which even the World Bank has stopped promoting. It is particularly inappropriate where new agricultural technologies are concerned. The biotech companies, for example, have gone to great lengths to ensure that the profits stay in their own hands, patenting crops and the technologies associated with them, and designing seeds which cannot reproduce. Food, land and the wealth arising from them are all removed from circulation in the local economy, and shifted instead between the foreign corporations and the new landlords, who in some cases are one and the same.
Already people leaving the countryside in Andhra Pradesh have nothing to go to: private-sector employment is declining and the state has stopped recruiting. When the unemployed are joined by a further 20 million, almost everyone's prospects are likely to decline. The state government appears to be proceeding on the grounds that enclosures lead to industrial revolutions: a kind of doctrine of historical signatures. The second possible explanation for Clare Short's support for this scheme is that, like everyone else in the cabinet, she has succumbed to corporate pressure and the neo-liberal ideology associated with it. Her enthusiasm for corporate protectionism in the form of global intellectual property rights suggests that this is at least partly true. It is also clear that governments tend to club together against their people. Short's deputy, Hilary Benn, recently made the extraordinary assertion that "the future is a matter of political will and choice, and only governments have both the legitimacy and the opportunity to exercise that will". Development policy, in Britain and elsewhere, has often been a matter of brokerage between global elites, at the expense of everyone else. But this doesn't really answer the question. Why has she aligned herself with power against the people of India, but not against the people of Iraq or Tanzania?
One of the few consistent themes in Clare Short's speeches and public statements is her visceral loathing of environmentalists. While making the appropriate noises about "sustainability", she is furiously dismissive of those who seek to promote it. Environmental protesters, she has claimed, are white, privileged people, opposed to the interests of the poor. She appears to see her battle with the greens as the last outlet for a class war she is no longer permitted to fight on any other front.
Though the great majority of the world's environmentalists live in poor nations, and though environmental destruction - as her own department acknowledges - hits the poor hardest, environmentalism is still perceived by many people as the preserve of toffs and proto-fascists. Indeed, in its early days as an acknowledged movement in the west, it was. But, now led by the poor world, it has come to represent the very opposite interests to those it championed in the 1930s. Clare Short, however, still appears to see the greens in the rich world as class enemies, while not seeing the greens in the poor world at all.
This formulation provides the necessary cover for her abandonment of the socialist principles she once defended, and her support for corporations and governments against the people. The development secretary's outdated worldview permits the destruction of 20 million lives. 7
April 2 02

The third witness for the prosecution in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharons war crimes trial has been murdered in Brazil.American Free Press

And Then There Were None: Key Witnesses Against Sharon Drop Like Flies
By Christopher Bollyn
A third witness for the prosecution in the case charging Ariel Sharon, the current Israeli prime minister, with war crimes was killed in Brazil on March 7.
Michael Nassar, 39, is the third former Lebanese militia fighter to die this year who had command-level knowledge of the 1982 massacre of some 2,500 Palestinians at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.
Nassar and his wife, Marie, 31, were shot by masked assailants with silencer-equipped pistols at a gas station in Sao Paolo, Brazil, as they waited to repair a tire, which had been punctured as they drove through a tunnel.
A nephew of the former commander of Israels proxy army, the South Lebanon Army, Nassar had been an associate of Elie Hobeika, the former Phalangist leader who died in a January car bombing in Beirut. Nassar had made a fortune selling weapons to Croatian forces.
The first former associate of Hobeika to be killed was Jean Ghanem, who drove his car into a tree on New Years Day. He died after being in a coma for two weeks.
Nassar had called a friend because men in a car were following him. He called again to report that the pursuers seemed to have vanished, when they suddenly reappeared and fired five bullets into Nassar and seven into his wife.
A Belgian court recently postponed its decision over whether to indict Sharon for his role in the massacres until May 15. However, key witnesses for the prosecution are disappearing by the week.
A Lebanese witness said recently that dozens of Palestinians who survived the massacres were executed at a former barracks near Jounieh, north of Beirut, after being held in containers for two weeks.
Israeli troops reportedly handed the Palestinian prisoners over to the Phalangists to be killed. Britains newspaper, The Independent, according to its correspondent Robert Fisk, knows the location of their mass grave.
March 28 02

Brazil's Prized Exports Rely on Slaves and Scorched Land
New York Times

INGUARA, Brazil  The recruiters gather at the bus station here in this grimy Amazon frontier town, waiting for the weary and the desperate to disembark. When they spot a target, they promise him a steady job, good pay, free housing and plenty of food. A quick handshake seals the deal.
But for thousands of peasants, that handshake ensures a slide into slavery. No sooner do they board the battered trucks that take them to work felling trees and tending cattle deep in the jungle than they find themselves mired in debt, under armed guard and unable to leave their new workplace.
"It was 12 years before I was finally able to escape and make my way back home," said Bernardo Gomes da Silva, 42. "We were forced to start work at 6 in the morning and to continue sometimes until 11 at night, but I was never paid during that entire time because they always claimed that I owed them money."
Interviewed recently in his hometown, Barras, about 600 miles east of here, Mr. Gomes da Silva said particularly troublesome workers, especially those who kept asking for their wages, were sometimes simply killed.
Brazil was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, and forced labor for both blacks and whites continued throughout the 20th century in some rural areas. But government authorities admit that despite a federal crackdown announced seven years ago, "contemporary forms of slavery" in which workers are held in unpaid, coerced labor continue to flourish. The reasons range from ranchers in cahoots with corrupt local authorities to ineffective land reform policies and high unemployment. Perhaps most important, though, is the growing pressure to exploit and develop the Amazon's vast agricultural frontier, in part to supply foreign markets with two prized goods: timber and beef.......
March 27 02

Christopher Booker's Notebook

Landfill rules cause chaos for hazardous waste disposal Fish catastrophe was the work of Brussels Bill to justify illegal cull Some home truths for Blair
Landfill rules cause chaos for hazardous waste disposal
A RED tape problem afflicting a Lincolnshire oilfield run by Rupert Lycett Green, the husband of John Betjeman's daughter, Candida, has highlighted the eagerness of Whitehall to interpret rules from Brussels more rigorously than the rest of the European Union.
It is universally agreed that one of the safest ways to dispose of contaminated liquid waste is to pump it thousands of feet below ground into strata which formerly contained oil. During last year's foot and mouth crisis, when the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was looking for a safe way to dispose of waste from rendered animal carcases, it appealed to Mr Lycett Green's company, Blackland Park Exploration, which runs a small oilfield at Whisby in Lincolnshire.
However, other Defra officials have now declared the Whisby disposal process illegal, because they refuse to ask Brussels for an exemption which other countries such as France have applied for as a matter of course.
When the oil from the Whisby field reaches the surface, it contains contaminated water, which is then pumped 4,000 feet back down a second disposal well to the strata where it originated. To finance drilling a new oil well, Mr Lycett Green has contracts to dispose of contaminated liquid waste for Defra and commercial companies. With approval from the Environment Agency, the liquid is strained and pumped below ground.
This means of disposal is believed to be so safe that environmentalists were calling last week for it to be extended to North Sea oilfields. At Whisby, the strata into which waste is pumped are already contaminated, and are insulated from groundwater by thousands of feet of impermeable clays.
However Defra environmental officials have now ruled that, under the EU's landfill directive, this practice can no longer be allowed. Although article 3(5) of the directive allows member states to apply for exemptions permitting such disposals, Defra refuses to do so. A senior official, Tom Bastin, explains: "The Government took the view that we would not take up these exemptions as we believe that underground storage should be subject to the same rigorous controls as surface landfills."
Yet when the Boulby potash mine near Whitby in Yorkshire was looking for a way to dispose of 200,000 tonnes of contaminated waste a year, an EU-funded study recommended that it should be pumped down disused workings in the same mine. Although this will be much nearer the surface and more contaminated than Whisby's waste, Defra has no objection.
Mr Lycett Green says that he has had support for his process from the Environment Agency and the Department of Trade and Industry, and that if he had been regulated under the EU's groundwater directive instead of opting in 1994 for a waste management licence, his operation would not be affected.
However, thanks to Defra's draconian interpretation of the landfill directive, which was never intended to apply nearly a mile underground, Britain will lose the safest means of dealing with 500,000 tonnes of liquid waste a year which will still have to be disposed of somewhere.
Fish catastrophe was the work of Brussels
LAST week, when even Brussels officials admitted at a conference in Norway that fish stocks in the North Sea are in near-terminal decline, they did not of course admit that this ecological disaster has been directly brought about by 20 years of their own Common Fisheries Policy. One of their more futile gestures was last year's temporary closure to fishermen of 40,000 square miles of the North Sea, supposedly to protect dwindling cod stocks.
They nevertheless made an exception for Denmark's so-called industrial fishing fleet, which was allowed into the area to continue sucking up anything that moved, to be processed into animal feed or used as fertiliser. Its catch included millions of baby cod, even though a key reason for the collapse in stocks is the impact of industrial fishing on the smaller fish which are the basis of the marine food chain,
When on February 7, 2001 Brussels issued its first regulation setting up its "cod protection zone", crab fishermen pointed out that there was little likelihood of their crab pots catching cod. The fisheries minister, Elliot Morley, agreed that it was only by "an oversight" that they had not been excluded from the ban. A second EU regulation on March 6 specifically conceded that crab-fishing gear "creates no peril for cod stocks".
Early in April two Devon-owned crab boats, the William Henry and the Euroclydon, accordingly put down their pots off the Shetland coast. Both boats were inspected by Royal Navy fisheries protection vessels, the skippers made their case and assumed they would hear no more about it. But nearly a year later the owner of the Euroclydon, Thomas Carani, has been charged with fishing illegally for crabs inside the exclusion zone. If the Lerwick court finds him guilty he could face a fine up to £50,000.
Last month Allan Watt, stood trial at Wick sheriff court for forgetting to hand in a log sheet to the officials until after his crew had begun unloading their catch. For being a few minutes late with his log sheet, due to an "oversight", he was fined £10,000. He has now put his boat, the Genesis, up for sale. An "oversight" has cost him and his crew their livelihood. But when the "oversight", to quote Mr Morley, is the fault of Brussels, it seems it is still the fishermen who must pay by losing their livelihood.
Bill to justify illegal cull
ASTONISHING figures just extracted from Defra confirm that last year's "contiguous cull", the strategy promoted by the Imperial College computer to tackle the foot and mouth crisis, was one of the greatest criminal acts ever committed by a British Government. The only legal power Defra had to order the killing of some nine million animals, just because they were on farms within three kilometres of an infected farm, was provided by the Animal Health Act 1981. This permits the killing of animals only where there is evidence of infection or of direct exposure to infection.
The new figures show that not a single one of the 3,305 farms which lost their animals under the cull tested positive for the virus. Of 3,873 farms "slaughtered out" only one tested positive. Defra weakly pleads that, despite its own figures, other evidence indicates that 120 out of 2,960 cull farms were positive. But this is still less than 2 per cent of the total, meaning on its own admission that 98 per cent of the animals were killed illegally.
It is precisely because the Government knows that it was acting way outside its legal powers that it is pushing through its new Animal Health Bill, giving its officials power to kill any animal they wish, without having to produce justification and making it a criminal offence for anyone to object. A final chance to stop this extraordinary Bill lies with the peers who consider it at Committee stage this week.
Some home truths for Blair
TONY BLAIR was shameless last Wednesday in claiming that the reason why dozens of care homes are closing every week is because their owners can make more money from selling them for redevelopment. Privately he has been fully briefed that the real reason for the closures is that the homes are being squeezed out of existence by regulatory overload and starved by social services of funding.
March 24 02

Mr Blair also knows that this is creating a massive crisis for the NHS, as hospital beds are blocked because there is nowhere for old people to go. As Dr Tim Evans of the Independent Health Care Association put it on Friday: "Unless the Government makes £1.5 billion available immediately, the care home sector will continue to collapse and the NHS could be left with a bill for £15 billion. Unless Mr Blair acts soon, his plans for saving the NHS will disappear into the sand." Focus on water in the 21st century
New Sunday Times (Malaysia)
Two things are clear about fresh water in the future: there will be less of it and we will pay more for what much of the world now takes for granted. ........... According to the Commission, a 20 per cent increase in freshwater will be needed by 2025, when the world's population of six billion people is expected to have increased by another three billion. World Water Institute estimates that more than three billion people will lack access to adequate water supplies by 2025. ........
Water as a source of conflict Some analysts predict that water may replace oil in the 21st century as the major source of geopolitical tensions. Water has become the source of dangerous friction, with developing nations jousting over water supplies as their populations soar and their environment deteriorates. Worldwide, at least 214 rivers flow through two or more countries, but no enforceable law governs the allocation and use of international waters. One such potentially explosive region is the Middle East, a region that is predominantly desert in climate, has a huge rate of population growth, shrinking aquifers and ever-present tradition of strife. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria all draw water from the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers, while Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank are heavily dependent on the Yargon/Tanninim aquifer and two others which lie under most of the area's disputed settlements. ......... The inequality of water consumption in Israel has been the cause of much turmoil and unrest; in the urban areas of the occupied territories, Israel communities consume seven times as much water per capita as the Palestinian Arabs. ....... In the scorched west of the US, water dominates the political landscape. Since the beginning of the 20th century, California and Arizona have fought over the allocation of the Colorado River which divides the two states. Only a small part of the watershed is in California, yet the State has always wielded greater political clout and so, has tapped more than its share. ............ California has its internal water wars,too. The northern part is adequately supplied by the Sacramento River which flows into the great delta of the San Francisco Bay area. But the river water is coveted both by the agricultural industry in the central state and the urban surroundings around Los Angeles. According to the International Water Management Institute, Singapore, Pakistan and parts of China and India are among 17 countries and regions around the world that are facing "absolute water scarcity" within 25 years. This means they will not have enough water to maintain their present levels of food production, or to meet the needs of industry and domestic households. The farming sector will be affected due to the reduced water flow to farmers, thus this will badly hit the output of locally grown foods. Naturally, this will increase the dependence on food imports from abroad and affect the economies of these countries. The water shortage problem currently experienced by the world community is ironic but it has a simple explanation. Some 97 per cent of the world's water is sea water. The other three per cent is fresh water. Two per cent is locked up in the polar icecaps, or in underground reservoirs. Less than one per cent is available for human use.
Australia is also at risk of running out of water and its land is being ruined by rising salt levels, according to two surveys released in 2001 by the Australian National Land and Water Resources Audit. The surveys found that a third of the nation's groundwater reserves are being overused and 18 million hectares of farming land will be hit by salinity within 50 years. Almost six million hectares of farmland are already salt-affected, the reports said. As trees are cleared along rivers, water tables rise, bringing salt naturally present in the ground, up to the surface.The salt contaminates agricultural land and is washed into rivers by rainfall. The studies also found that more than a quarter of Australia's rivers are having water taken from them at unsustainable rates.
Why shortage? But why does our water resources become scarce? The world's stock of fresh water is under unprecedented demand pressure from population growth, rapid economic development, widespread pollution and climatic change. This pressure will greatly increase over the next quarter century if, as some have projected, the global population rises from six billion to nine billion. The biggest increase in population is predicted to happen in Asia, the Middle East and other areas already exposed to water-related difficulties.
The world has also undergone rapid economic growth, especially from the late 1980s to 1997. Many countries, especially in Asia, had been seriously intensifying their industrial sectors and food industries and this had placed tremendous stress on their water needs. ....... Global warming could lead to increased evaporation of lakes and rivers, a higher frequency of extreme weather and a catastrophic shift in climate zones and seasons that could lead to reduced water supplies. (Source: Will the taps dry up? Asia Inc, July 2000) Case study: Water shortage in Africa According to the UN Environment Programme, the need for freshwater is greater in Africa than anywhere else in the world. The African Continent has 19 of the 25 countries in the world with the highest percentage of populations without access to safe drinking water, says the agency. Nearly two out of three Africans living in rural areas lack an adequate water supply, and nearly three-quarters have insufficient sanitation, according to the African Development Bank (AFDB).
And things are getting worse. More Africans lack adequate water services than in 1990, and Africa is the only continent where poverty is expected to increase over the next 100 years, according to projections by the United Nations Development Programme. The African countries are caught in a vicious cycle whereby the lack of water is causing socio-economic problems and this in turn, makes the objective of developing the continent's water resources an impossible feat. In the Namibian capital of Windhoek for instance, fresh water is so scarce that around one sixth of the water supply comes from recycled sewage. Another area of potential shortage is the rapidly disappearing Lake Chad which is bordered by Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Chad itself. The lake has shrunk from 25,000 square kilometres in the 1960s to just 2,000 square kilometres today.
With three per cent population growth a year in Africa - the highest of any continent - demand for water can only increase. ...... Studies have shown that although groundwater supplies are relatively small in comparison to the quantum of water taken from surface sources, they are still quite significant in terms of yield and availability to make reasonable contribution to the problem of meeting future water demands for public water supplies. Existing and potential groundwater sources should be conserved and protected for use especially in times of need during water crises. ..................... But why are some states experiencing scarcity of water? The amount that goes into the rivers depends on rainfall, which is not distributed evenly in terms of geographical areas and time frames. Also, almost all the rain falls during the three months of the monsoon season.
And demand is inconsistent. Highly populated areas (which are also industry-based) like the Klang Valley, Perlis, Kedah and Penang experience high demand. All this factors make for water-stress areas. Where Malacca is concerned, it is a dry state which does not have enough rainfall to meet demand.
The situation is aggravated during droughts when there is not enough water in the rivers to dilute the materials disposed indiscriminately into the rivers and hence, water pollution problems rise to the fore. Rivers become exceedingly polluted and it is either too costly to treat them or the technology to do so is not available.
There are basically five different types of pollutants:Organic pollutant (sewerage), especially from animal livestock farming. Agro-industries such as oil palm, rubber and food industry also discharge a lot of organic pollutants. Non-point sources of organic contamination from household septic tanks which have overflowed.
Chemical pollution mostly comes from industries, motor vehicles emit lead and mercury while agricultural fertilisers contain phosphate and nitrates.
Sedimentation is the third group of river pollution source, which iscaused by massive land clearing. As many rivers become silted, the nearby areas become more prone to flooding. Irresponsible solid waste disposal is another source that pollutes the nations precious river systems.

Genetic Pollution: Starlink Corn Invades Mexico

By Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero

Mexican corn farmers joined by students, Zapatista supporters and others, took to the streets this week challenging the U.N. International Conference on Financing for Development taking place in the northern city of Monterrey. The summit is supposed to focus on alleviating poverty, but protestors say developed countries and multilateral institutions are prescribing the same free market solutions that have widened the gap between rich and poor over the last decade.
Mexican corn farmers have a special grievance: their crops have been contaminated by genetically altered corn, known as Starlink, produced as cattle feed by the biotech giant Aventis. While advocates of biotechnology argue genetically engineered crops are the key to ending hunger, Mexican farmers say their crops, native seeds and very livelihoods are at risk.
For years, biotechnology boosters have repeatedly stated that genetically altered (also known as GM) organisms could be contained. Pro-industry scientists were quick to dismiss the possibility of GM organisms migrating or reproducing out of control as purely theoretical -- and easily refutable -- scenarios. But this theoretical scenario is now a reality in Mexico, the US and even parts of Asia.
Contaminated Corn Invades Mexico Last September the Mexican environment ministry (INE) announced that cornfields in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca turned up GM-positive.1 In November, Nature magazine published a peer-reviewed article that confirmed INE's findings. According to Antonio Serratos, of the Mexico-based International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT), if a farmer with a one-hectare plot plants a single row with GM seed, 65% of the plot will be GM in only seven years.2 Farmers, indigenous peoples and activists in Mexico are asking the government to take measures to prevent further contamination and to identify those responsible.
"This is pollution in the very center of origin of a crop of major importance for world nutrition. This pollution can spread not only to native and traditional maize, but also to wild relatives," wrote Silvia Ribeiro, of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group), in an article published in the Mexican daily La Jornada. This gene flow "is polluting and degrades one of Mexico's major treasures."3
Biotechnology advocates have tried to minimize the importance of this development, stating that it is not "pollution", that it will not harm Mexico's corn, and even arguing that the corn -- deemed unfit for human consumption -- is a positive addition to the crop's genetic endowment.4 However, critics respond that such statements completely overlook the ethical concerns.
"For the Gene Giants to argue that there is no problem, is to suggest that violating Mexico's sovereignty and insulting the socio-cultural rights of Mexican farmers is of no concern", said the ETC Group in its January/February 2002 newsletter. "Can industry really be saying that citizens don't have the right to say 'no' to a technology that offends their views on life and food and, as well, raises concerns for their livelihood, health and environment?" 5
According to Oaxaca farmer Aldo Gonzlez, "Native seeds are for us a very important element of our culture. The (Mayan) pyramids could be destroyed, but a fistful of corn is the legacy that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, and today we are being denied that possibility."6
US Consumers First to be Affected In September 2000, a year before the spread of GM corn to Mexico was confirmed, a coalition of US activist groups announced that fast food chain Taco Bell's tortillas contained traces of a GM corn.7 The variety in question, called Starlink, contained Cry9C, a bacterial protein that is not broken down by the human digestive system, and is therefore a potential allergen. However, US authorities approved Starlink for consumption by cattle.
In the days and weeks that followed, Kraft Foods, seller of the Taco Bell product line, recalled its tortillas from US supermarkets, Starlink maker Aventis bought the entire harvest of Starlink corn from the farmers who had planted it, and traces of Starlink were found in countless other food products. 350 flour mills had handled this GM corn, and doubts had started to surface as to how well they had segregated it from the human food supply.8 The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control are investigating 48 cases of alleged Starlink-induced allergies.9
Genetic Pollution Spreads In March of last year, Aventis announced that no less than 143 million tons of corn had been contaminated.10 Seed companies, farmers, processors and food makers spent over $1 billion in six months trying to get rid of this GM corn.11 Then it started showing up in corn exports.
Later that year, over 100 US consumer, farm and environmental groups called on president George W. Bush to suspend the exports of corn and corn-derived products unless the government could assure they were Starlink-free.12
In spite of all the outrage, the US keeps exporting Starlink-polluted corn. "The discovery of Starlink in Japan and South Korea, two of the biggest customers of American corn, means that this genetically modified corn could be anywhere," explained Meena Raman, of Friends of the Earth-Malaysia. "Until the US government and the Aventis biotech corporation can control the contamination, these countries should not allow corn imports until they are guaranteed to be Starlink-free."13
Civil society organizations in the Global South fear that the US could resort to dumping this decommissioned GM corn on poor countries by labeling it "aid". It is estimated that over two million tons of GM products are sent yearly from the US to poor countries by way of food aid. "We categorically oppose any delivery of Starlink food aid as an alternative market for these products," said Karin Nansen, of Friends of the Earth-Uruguay.14
Terminator Seeds: the Neutron Bomb of Agriculture The biotech corporations assure consumers that they can rest easy, for they have found a way to put an end to genetic contamination forever: A GM seed that is genetically programmed to not reproduce.
But such seeds, known colloquially around the world as Terminator seeds, will force farmers to buy seed every year. Since the dawn of history, farmers have saved and exchanged seed, a practice that is vital to the survival of 1.4 billion subsistence farmers in the world today.15 With the seed industry rapidly consolidating in recent years and falling under the control of corporate giants like Monsanto and Dupont, farmers will be left with little choice but to accept Terminator seeds. The biotech industry plans to add Terminator genes to every one of its GM seeds in the near future. Dupont, the world's largest seed company, and Syngenta, the world's biggest agrochemical company, currently own patents for Terminator technology.16
Environmental and food safety activists from all corners of the globe have come out against Terminator technology since it first came out in 1998. "This is an immoral technique that robs farming communities of their age-old right to save seed and their role as plant breeders," according to Camila Montecinos, of Chile's Center for Education and Technology. "This is the neutron bomb of agriculture."17
Apart from the political and ethical issues, will Terminator seeds be safe to eat? What will happen to bacteria, fungi, rodents and birds that eat them? Scientists, like University of Indiana biologist Martha Crouch, warn that Terminator genes could pass on via pollen on to other plants, with unpredictable consequences. "I am sure that there will be other problems nobody yet foresees or imagines. There will be surprises," says Crouch. "But whatever the potential biological problems presented by Terminator, in my view they are small in comparison to Terminator's economic, social and political ramifications."18
Terminator tech is part of a broader package known as Traitor technology, which allows genetic traits to be turned "on or off" through the application of an inducer chemical.19 This proprietary chemical will be available only from the agrochemical-biotech company that provides the seed, and can come conveniently mixed with a pesticide or herbicide from the same company. Using Traitor, for example, Monsanto could sell seeds for plants that die unless given constant doses of its Roundup herbicide.
What, then, will happen to farming and food security? In his recent book, The ETC Century, author Pat Mooney warns that "In a world in which a handful of transnational enterprises dominate agricultural biotechnology, in a world where the Terminator is the platform technology upon which all new biotech breeding is undertaken, it is not difficult to believe that corporations or governments would use the technology to impose their will."20 Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist and a Research Associate at the Institute for Social Ecology.
March 22 02

We don't get our money's worth from Gordon Brown
Opinion Telegraph

........ I am indebted to a very clever man I met last night, who gave me a phrase which should be the next Tory slogan. It is not tax cuts - a phrase which needs to be rescued from the Labour smear machine; it is taxpayer value. We know what shareholder value is. Shareholders make an investment, and they want to see a decent return. If they think the company's management is doing a poor job, and not maximising shareholder value, they get stroppy; and taxpayers should make their contributions in much the same spirit.
We have poured our money into this joint stock venture called UK Plc, and in the five years it has been under Labour management the returns have not been distinguished: not on any impartial assessment of the current state of our roads, rail, hospitals, schools, or law and order. Labour endlessly talks about spending, or "investment", as ministers idiotically call it, as though that were an end in itself. It is not. The point is not to spend our money. The point is to achieve results. Next month Gordon Brown will reel off a dizzying series of noughts representing spending on the NHS. He will turn on the great tax hydrant. He will shower the landscape. The question is whether it is really right to pump all health spending through the leaky Saharan water pipe of Whitehall spending, when there are such huge inefficiencies in the system - such as the one-size-fits-all pay structure for every nurse in the country.
Labour brags about increased spending on care homes. It is true that these are in crisis, with beds being lost across the country. But the crisis has been caused, and the expenditure necessitated, by ill thought-out Labour regulations on how these homes should be run. Labour boasts about the squillions they have squirted into schools; so let me give you one particular example of how Labour spends your money on education.
They launched a computer training scheme called the Individual Learning Account, by which you could avail yourself of £200, from the state, to learn about computers. In the space of a year, it turned into a complete racket, by which bogus training providers fleeced the Government of hundreds of millions. By the time the Government pulled the plug on the scheme, the fraudsters had hacked into the mainframe of Capita, the company paid £50 million to run it, and were looting at will. The Government was forced to call an abrupt and humiliating halt last November, causing hardship to many innocent computer training firms. Would the Tories have made the same mistake? I don't think so, because Labour's plans were all about meeting targets, with no real sense of what the market might require.
They wanted a million subscribers - a nice round number, rather like the made-up Soviet figures for sorghum yields; they wanted to push out the dough; and they ended up with such a loosely devised scheme that it cost the taxpayer £550 million, at least half of which was stolen. That's a lot of money to lose. Was it a good investment? It was not. Plenty of Tory councillors get elected and re-elected on their ability to deliver value for money in the spending of local taxes. There is no reason why the same principle should not apply at Westminster. Taxpayer value. You read it here first.
March 21 02

Another Sinister Lurch to the Left.
Scottish Mail

If you wondered what the New Scotland created by devolution would be like, the answer is now clear: like the Soviet Republic of Outer Mongolia, circa 1932.
The latest legislative proposals on land reform from the Scottish parliament have only one template recognisable in recent memory: Romania under Ceausescu.
Not only has the inappropriately named justice 2 committee rejected landowners' pleas that open access to their property should not apply during the hours of darkness, a clear invitation to rural crime; not only has it refused to safeguard the vital ecology of inland waterways and the livelihoods dependent on them; it is also trying to prevent country dwellers from passing on their own property to their children.
Nothing remotely resembling this Marxist extravagance has been seen anywhere in Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The New Scotland is diametrically opposed to the political culture of the New Europe. Already compromised by its anti-hunting legislation, Holyrood is now headed for an outright confrontation with the European Convention on Human Rights - the flagship legislation which, only two years ago, it was so eager to incorporate into Scots Law.
It would be easy to make a huge joke of the Land Reform Bill at Holyrood, to laugh it off as a piece of extravagant nonsense. But this law could kill off the rural economy. Properties would be panic sold at tumbling prices. Employment, and with it villages and schools, would disappear. This is not even class war legislation. The informed, economically active rural workers and crofters are opposed to it. Crofters' leaders are afraid that this Bill will unravel the whole precarious fabric of crofting. It is a law to oppress the whole of rural Scotland.
posted March 18 02

It was a telling comment on how our country is now governed that in just four days last week the European Parliament considered more items of legislation than appear in a Queen's Speech and that most of this went wholly unreported.
Sunday Telegraph

MEPs punched buttons hundreds of times, to approve 40 directives and other proposals, which will impose costs on Britain's economy amounting to billions of pounds. Yet there is little or nothing our Westminster Parliament can do to influence this flood of legislation in any way.

One directive, for instance, will outlaw the sale of vitamin and mineral supplements, except those on a list approved by the European Union, meaning that thousands of harmless products used by millions to balance their diet will have to be withdrawn. Another will knock £1 billion off the income of Britain's post office, which says it will be forced to add several pence to the price of a stamp. A directive imposing new limits on airport noise, however welcome to those who live near airports, will bring a significant rise in the cost of air travel. This is quite separate from the Physical Agents (Noise) directive, also approved by MEPs, which will make it virtually impossible to run a teenage dance club or for an orchestra to play Beethoven's Ninth Symphony unless all the musicians wear ear plugs. This in turn is not to be confused with the Physical Agents (Whole Body Vibration) directive, approved last week in Brussels, which will make it illegal to operate almost any kind of machinery, from heavy goods vehicles and tractors to chain saws and road drills, for more than a few hours or even minutes a day.

It has not been generally noticed that there has recently been a significant mutation in the nature of legislation pouring out of the EU. For a long time all these directives remained comfortably remote from the lives of most people, affecting only comparatively small sectors of the population, such as fishermen, farmers or abattoir owners. But today, as the EU moves towards the final stages of political integration, its legislators feel free to pass laws which will have much wider effect, like those which will impose costs amounting sometimes to hundreds of pounds on anyone wishing to dispose of old vehicles, television sets or any type of electrical equipment

Other proposals voted on by MEPs last week included a tranche of new directives on financial services, taxation and power supplies, to celebrate the EU's assumption of control over financial and energy markets. They approved the creation of a European Data Protection Supervisor (how they love those capital letters) to ensure the enforcement of data protection law in the EU. They voted for moves towards welding the EU into a "single judicial space", with a single system of justice based on the continental model. Finally they welcomed a proposal to give the European Union its own "legal personality" as a sovereign country, able to claim representation at the UN and to sign treaties in its own right. Since to a great extent we already live in that country it must be remembered that its laws can only be proposed by the European Commission, over which we have no democratic control. The role of the MEPs, punching their little buttons, is only to rubber stamp what the Commission proposes. In other words, we increasingly live in what is in effect a one-party state. Whatever doubts we have about the version of democracy represented by Mr Mugabe, are we really in any position to wax so self-righteous?

Blair defends links with Europe's right
The Scotsman

Andrew Porter in Barcelona
TONY Blair and Gordon Brown last night broke off from key meetings at the European Summit in Barcelona to defend the government's close relationship with "right wing" European leaders.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor both rounded on John Monks, the TUC general secretary, who accused the government of risking losing Labour voters over plans to reform labour laws in tandem with European leaders such as the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
Mr Brown said: "We are not going to be deflected as a government from our pro-competition, pro-enterprise agenda. This is the way forward for the British economy.
"It is creating more jobs and a higher standard of living. I hope Mr Monks will look at our white paper on European reform and find in it measures that promote competition and the rights of workers."
A visibly irritated Mr Blair, who met Mr Berlusconi in Rome last month to discuss labour market changes, broke away from the round of meetings with his EU counterparts to launch an attack on Mr Monks over his comments. .............
The Prime Minister was last night expected to meet Mr Berlusconi for a meeting to discuss further moves towards creating flexible labour markets.
Mr Blair's closeness to centre-right leaders was pointed out by Mr Monks, who said it could have a detrimental effect on key Labour policy areas. He called the relationship with Mr Berlusconi "bloody stupid". He said: "They will find it very difficult to sell the euro to British workers if there is no social dimension in parallel."
Mr Blair is also close to the Jose Maria Aznar, the centre-right prime minister of Spain.
Mr Monks is considered a moderate and someone Mr Blair can do business with, but his outburst could damage the links between No10 and the TUC.
Earlier this week, the Tories held talks with the unions about a possible alliance over the government's pensions policy. The Liberal Democrats have also been making overtures.
In recent months, the relationship between Labour and the trade unions has been strained. The issue over private sector involvement in the public services has led to some unions threatening to withhold their donations to the party.
In Barcelona, the British delegation was forced to accept there was little chance of achieving one of the key aims on economic liberalisation. France is not expected to give way on the issue of freeing up its energy market to foreign competition. Yesterday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said the liberalisation goal remained the same, but added: "We realise that we may not be able to achieve it all in one go."
March 16 02

Row over US veto on EU army

By Benedict Brogan and George Jones in Barcelona
TONY BLAIR faced the prospect of a confrontation with France at today's European Union summit in Barcelona after it emerged that he wanted to give America a veto over any EU military action.
A leaked Ministry of Defence briefing confirmed that the Government would block any attempt by Brussels to use the European rapid reaction force without American approval.
The tough line is seen as a reassertion of the Prime Minister's pledge that the European Defence and Security Policy launched in December will not undermine the role of Nato.
The disclosure, which came as Mr Blair arrived at the summit, will infuriate France, which has expressed a desire to see the EU assert independence from Washington. The MoD document was prepared last week for Gen Sir Michael Walker, Chief of General Staff.
It rejects the claim made by critics of the European defence force that it will undermine Nato, saying: "It is sensible planning for those circumstances where the US may not wish to participate, but where there is a clear need for action by EU states."
But in an apparent hardening of the Government's line, it adds: "We would reject any attempt to go for an EU-led operation in circumstances where the US did want to take part."
This will be seen in Paris and other EU capitals as tantamount to giving America a veto on any operations by the European rapid reaction force, which European member states have agreed should be able to put 60,000 troops into any trouble spot within 60 days and keep them there for at least 12 months.
The EU decided to set up the force at the Helsinki summit in December 1999, and laid down 144 capabilities which it should be able to carry out for an operation. Brussels admits that it has to depend on the Americans to supply at least 55 of them.
The disclosure that Mr Blair is insisting on American approval comes at a sensitive time for the Prime Minister. He is already at odds with other European leaders over his support for President Bush's determination to topple Saddam Hussein in Iraq and destroy his stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. At the summit, Mr Blair may come under pressure to urge Mr Bush not to take military action in Iraq. Although Mr Blair has been a strong supporter of the European rapid reaction force, he is anxious to reassure Washington that it does not mean Europe is preparing an alternative military force to Nato. ..... Progress on economic reform and the liberalisation of energy markets will help Mr Blair make the case for Britain joining the euro. Ministers have already begun a campaign to soften up the British public for the single currency amid growing expectations that a referendum could be held in May next year.
March 15 02

Stop talking and start acting against Mugabe, say Tories

South African deputy hails Mugabe 'victory'
THE Conservatives yesterday accused the Government of not doing enough to condemn the results of the elections in Zimbabwe and want the Prime Minister to get the Commonwealth to take strong action.
Michael Ancram, the shadow foreign secretary, said the Government should "stop talking and start doing".
He said: "For the sake of the people of Zimbabwe and for the sake of democracy the Government must recognise that the time has come to stop talking and to start doing."
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who came to the Commons to give MPs a statement on the election results, said: "Robert Mugabe may claim to have won this election but the people of Zimbabwe have lost. Zimbabweans have plainly been denied their fundamental right to choose by whom they are governed."
Mr Straw said Britain and other European Union states would consider the matter later at the Barcelona summit. "We will continue to oppose any access by Zimbabwe to international financial resources until a more representative government is in place."
He said events surrounding the election had confirmed the Government's view that Zimbabwe should be suspended from the Commonwealth, a move rejected previously by other heads of government.
The Commonwealth troika of Nigeria, South Africa and Australia will assess the report of its election observers and Britain will await their conclusions, but Mr Ancram said Mr Straw had not done enough in his condemnation.
"It sounds like just more of what we've heard before . . . once again it's hope against experience," said Mr Ancram, who accused Mr Straw of not making it clear whether he accepted the result. It should not be called a victory.
The result had been rigged well before polling day and was neither free nor fair. "The long run-up to the elections had been marked by violence, by intimidation and by the use of terror as a political weapon.
"It is a test for the Commonwealth as to whether the principles upon which that organisation is founded mean anything at all and it is a test for the Prime Minister who has spoken about 'healing the scar that is Africa' to show that he can, even belatedly, give the leadership to mend what is not just a scar, but an open and bleeding wound on the body of that great continent."
March 15 02

The problem is alienation, not apathy

Labour's traditional voters feel their concerns are being ignored
Margaret Hodge
There are lots of theories about low turnouts in elections. Pundits and politicians speak confidently about apathy, results being a foregone conclusion, cynicism generated by media coverage and out-of-date voting facilities. So when fewer than half of those eligible in my constituency of Barking chose to vote at the last general election, I decided to dig deeper. Barking is one of Labour's core seats. It is the 24th most deprived area in Britain, with the lowest take-home earnings in London. It has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country and one in three households live in social housing. But it has benefited from a Labour government. Standards in our primary schools are dramatically better. Child benefit, the working family tax credit and the minimum wage have all raised family incomes. So why did voters stay at home?
With the help of Deborah Mattinson of Opinion Leader Research, we ran focus groups and a telephone survey, talking to people who had voted in 1997 but not in 2001, as well as those who had never voted. We concentrated on women with young children, but we also talked to men to see whether their views differed significantly.
The people we spoke to were not apathetic. They were not disengaged from political issues. They were passionate, clear and angry about their issues and the impact they had on their daily lives. But they believed that their concerns were not seen as important to the political class.
They felt unrepresented and disengaged from the politicians. For many the decision not to vote was the only way of expressing their frustration. In the words of one woman: "If enough people don't vote, they may start thinking - hang on, maybe we ought to change the way we've been doing things." .....
March 13 02

We're being hijacked by the middle classes, says BBC chief
The Times

By Adam Sherwin, Media Reporter and Laura Peek GAVYN DAVIES, the chairman of the BBC, last night accused a white, middle England elite of trying to hijack the BBC and force it to produce only the programmes they wanted. Mr Davies stunned an audience of ministers and media executives when he dismissed the BBC's critics as a group of southern, white, middle-class, middle-aged and well-educated people. He accused a vocal group of middle England viewers of trying to manipulate the BBC with repeated claims that that it was dumbing down. The comments made by the Labour-supporting multimillionaire were criticised by politicians and former senior figures at the BBC. Speaking to the Westminster Media Forum, Mr Davies said many of those who sniped merely wanted more services for themselves. He said: "Still the criticism for dumbing down will not go away. Typically, this criticism comes from a particular group of people in the UK. "They tend to be southern, white, middle-class, middle-aged and well-educated. Strangely enough, they are already the type of people who consume a disproportionate amount of the BBC's services - people who get more out of the licence fee than they put into it." He concluded: "In some cases, the criticism of dumbing down is simply a respectable way of trying to hijack even more of the BBC's services for themselves."
Davies's comments came after Charles Clarke, the Labour party chairman, and David Davis, the Conservative party chairman, had written to him, warning the BBC not to dumb down its political coverage. The BBC is considering abandoning coverage of party political conferences and parliamentary debates after young viewers said they were boring.
Mr Davies's outburst found little favour with legislators. He was immediately told by Tessa Jowell, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, that the BBC should be expanding its audience with quality, risk-taking programmes rather than being locked in a ratings battle with other broadcasters.
The minister then dealt a major blow to Mr Davies when she announced she was not ready to approve BBC3, a new entertainment digital channel, because it could undermine commercial channels already providing a similar service.
Tim Yeo, the Shadow Culture Secretary, said: "Someone has to speak up for the large and respectable group of middle England citizens who are entitled to have their needs catered to by the BBC. We in the audience were taken aback when he launched into this tirade."
Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent and ex-MP, said: "This is absolute nonsense. The fact of dumbing down is there for all to see. They can't deny it. They are just trying to justify it. "It is worst on the news at six which is almost indistinguishable from Neighbours which precedes it. In a way I am glad he said what he did. It seems to me that it is the first time that the BBC has admitted at a very high level that dumbing down has happened. "The public is being very poorly served. People of ethnic minorities need to be informed of what is going on in the world around them just as much as white people."
Sir John Mortimer, the author who has warned the BBC against dumbing down, said the remarks made him despair of the organisation. He said: "It is a totally incomprehensible, illiterate and generally absurd statement. Does he mean those white, middle-class people do not count? "You can, after all, be northern and not middle class but well educated. What is sad is if you think of the BBC chairmen of the past, people of huge stature, and now you have a man saying that kind of thing."
Ian McEwan, the Booker prizewinner, said: "It sounds so Byzantine. If it (the BBC) is not dumbing down, then it should be perfectly accommodating those people."
Mr Davies said that refusal to approve BBC3 would damage the Government's policy of encouraging viewers to switch from analogue to digital television. The Government plans to turn off all analogue signals by 2010. Mr Davies said: "Without BBC3 our digital proposition looks that much less compelling and analogue switch-off looks that much further off. We simply cannot deliver value for money, or attain near universal reach, if we only serve minority tastes." It emerged last night that Mr Davies himself accused the BBC of dumbing down in a report he produced three years ago into the corporation's future funding.
The report said: "We welcome the BBC's remarkable success in more or less preserving the market share of BBC1 and BBC2 in the face of increased competition. But we worry that this has to some extent been achieved by dumbing down, in a way that has upset the balance." Ms Jowell further promised that the BBC will be more heavily regulated than any other broadcaster under OFCOM, a new industry-wide regulator to be created under a Communications Bill to be published next month. She also set up a review into the performance and cost of BBC News 24 which will be lead by Richard Lambert, former Editor of the Financial Times.
The BBC has been accused of dumbing down over the dearth of serious arts programmes on BBC1 and BBC2. A series in which Rolf Harris examined painters was the major arts contribution last year. Critics say the creation of BBC4, a channel devoted to arts and current affairs will be a dumping ground for such programmes. Mr Davies insisted 230 hours of arts programming was "ring-fenced" on terrestrial channels. BBC Choice, the template for the proposed BBC3, has been criticised for serving up programmes such as Sex, Warts and All; and a six-part series on the history of the toilet found little favour with viewers.
Current affairs and documentaries have disappeared from prime-time since Greg Dyke arrived as Director-General with a stronger focus on ratings. Panorama has been moved to Sunday evenings where its audience has dropped.
Moving the nightly news to the later time of 10pm was seen as an attempt to open up the evening schedules for more entertainment.
Cutting-edge drama dealing with social and political issues are rarely seen on BBC1. Lorraine Heggessey, the Controller, is a fan of lighter female-centred comedy dramas such as Rescue Me and Linda Green.
Moving live coverage of the political party conferences to the digital Parliament channel is said to signal the end for traditional coverage of politics.
March 13 02

Mark Seddon: Vague words can no longer disguise Tony Blair's betrayal of Labour 'It is his unofficial compact with business which is driving the unions from the party they created'

Lib Dems and unions 'ready to form an alliance' Flutter! Flutter! Cluck! Cluck! What is this we hear? Surely not the sound of chickens coming home to roost? Actually, yes - a mighty flock of them.
The softly spoken TUC general secretary, John Monks, warned the Government this weekend that it could face a "haemorrhage" of trade-union votes in the polling booths at the next election. Mr Monks was speaking at a Unions 21 Conference - a more moderate assembly of the union clans it is impossible to imagine. Such genteel company allowed the Secretary of State for Trade, Patricia Hewitt, to caution the TUC leader "against conducting rows through a hostile media without so much as a slow handclap".
Ostensibly, the two had come to blows over that most tendentious of issues which is now pitting the union movement against New Labour, Tony Blair and his new ally, the Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Mr Monks is opposed to the development of a "two-tier workforce". Outsourced public service workers will lose pension and workplace rights once they have transferred to private contractors - now busily hoovering up secure government contracts throughout the public sector. Ms Hewitt says that the Government will adhere to the deal announced by her jinxed colleague, Stephen Byers, at last year's Labour conference to safeguard those workers being transferred.
So far, so good. But it's just that Ms Hewitt and her colleague, Lord Gus Macdonald - who have been given the task of administering this sugarless pill - keep on prevaricating when it comes to the rights of new workers recruited directly by private companies. ....
Mr Monks is far too polite to say that he doesn't believe Ms Hewitt or Lord Macdonald. But his colleague, Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of the mighty Unison public services union, has become less circumspect. He has read the text of a document agreed by Mr Blair and Mr Berlusconi at a meeting on 15 February. It baldly states that "modern, flexible labour markets require a new approach to employment and the regulation of labour law" (that is, fewer mandatory rules and more "soft" regulation based on benchmarking and best practice).
Cut through the technobabble - as Prentis has - and it is hardly surprising that the union leader fired off this volley late last week: "It is outrageous that Blair is lining up with Berlusconi to attack workers' rights. It is ironic that all Britain can export is privatisation." The French and the Germans, who will most likely oppose the Blair-Berlusconi compact at the Barcelona summit later this week, have not missed this irony. Nor has it been lost on the British Chancellor, Gordon Brown, who is becoming increasingly alarmed by Mr Blair's love affair with neo-liberalism.
This affair has cost Labour dear. It was Mr Blair who wanted to distance New Labour from union funding in favour of "high value donors" such as Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal. . .........
But it is Mr Blair who now finds himself in that most difficult of positions. He may not realise it yet, but the Prime Minister is caught between a rock and a hard place. Attacked from both left and right, he has attempted that old formula of appealing in language that is so general and inoffensive that no one can be offended.
"Reform" and "modernisation", these words graced the swish-looking Government handbook on the future of public services released last week. Those words will have been heard again at Chequers over the weekend - where the Prime Minister still presides over the most united, or some might prefer, supine, Cabinet in a generation. On Tuesday, Mr Blair will take his message directly to handpicked Labour Party members in a venue to be decided in central London.
Once upon a time, that warm glow of New-Labour-speak was enough to calm the palpitating hearts of all but the serial doubters. Not anymore. The Blair-Berlusconi axis has become a triumvirate, with the right-wing Spanish Prime Minister, Jose Maria Aznar, backing the new deregulatory agenda. And Mr Blair hopes that no one is noticing. This is the stuff of scorched-earth politics; no wonder Mr Monks is feeling the heat.
March 13 02

Last days of the awkward squad

The Labour Party had its roots in giving two fingers to authority, but now it has been taken over by a gang who idolise deference. Mark Seddon has felt the full oppressive force of this new regime
Democracy is in crisis. Discuss. Students of this contemporary phenomenon could be excused for taking their lead from many of the commentators and rent-a-quote politicians who litter the airwaves. For them it is down to public apathy, a government with an overweening majority which hardly needs worry, not forgetting that, for many in Britain, they have never had it so good.
So far, so good. But what if public apathy is simply a reflection of the apathy of a new breed of politicians who are technocrats rather than visionaries? What if the divide between rich and poor has become so profound that for a good third of the population, they have never had it so bad? And who in today's de-racinated Parliament will represent them?
Don't look for the independent-minded backbencher, for they are sadly few and far between. By the next general election they will almost be extinct. As with sepia-framed photographs of the Tasmanian tiger, future generations may marvel at the boldness of backbench MPs such as Brian Sedgemore, the irascibility of Bob Marshall Andrews, the inquisitive mind of Richard Shepherd or the indefatigable Alice Mahon
Over the past five years we have witnessed the wholesale clear-out of the awkward squad of Labour MEPs, the de-fenestration of Labour left-winger Denis Canavan, the axeing of Ken Livingstone and the blocking of Rhodri Morgan. Morgan came back through default, rehabilitated, the past forgotten.
But Tyrone O'Sullivan? Few outside of Wales will have heard of Tyrone. Miner's lodge secretary at Tower Colliery in Mid Glamorgan, Tyrone led a miners' buy-out of the pit in the face of opposition from British Coal, which wanted to close it. His action not only saved hundreds of jobs, it made him a local hero. But when Tyrone wanted to stand as a Labour candidates for the new Welsh Assembly, he was deemed unfit. Having spent a lifetime working in a male-dominated industry, Tyrone had failed to impress the selectors with his grasp of equal opportunities.
"I warn you," rasped Neil Kinnock on the eve of poll in 1987 "if the Conservatives get in tomorrow, not to fall sick, not to get old, not to be young." Would the younger firebrand Neil Kinnock have made it past a Labour selection committee? Might he have this advice for those who would follow in his foot-steps: "I warn you not to be a socialist, not to be working-class, not to sport tattoos, and most certainly not to try and emulate me"?
The cloning of Parliament is surely not irreversible. The awkward squad have a final duty. They must replicate themselves. General election candidate selection is altogether more difficult to police; it may be possible for a few of the truculent tendency to sneak through.
No one in their wildest imagination expected the dissident Bob Marshall Andrews to win his marginal seat at the 1997 election, least of all Marshall Andrews himself. When John Cryer won the equally marginal seat of Hornchurch in Essex, Peter Mandelson was overheard saying: "What's that c**t doing in here?"
But if the awkward squad is prevented from replicating in the Labour Party, it will find other ways of doing so. Politics abhors a vacuum and voters clamour for people who speak their mind. Watch out for a plethora of independent candidates, single-issue candidates, candidates sporting white suits at the next election. The future could belong to them.
posted March 11 02

When I play Tony, I see what has gone wrong
Sunday Telegraph

By Rory Bremner
Before our eyes, New Labour is disintegrating under the weight of its own contradictions. The party of slick presentation has been gravely compromised by the very masters of spin and manipulation who helped create it. The Third Way, that wishful compromise which saw the Prime Minister performing the splits between the public and private sectors, the City and the unions, has now given him a hernia. Three strands emerged time and again as we followed and researched the Government during the course of the series. The first was the mismanagement of damaging stories, from Mandelson to Mittal, up to and including Byers. Five years ago - over Bernie Ecclestone - Blair's instinct was to admit, explain and rectify. Now it is to deny, distort and smear. Jo Moore's September 11 email was not a mistake. It was a calculated piece of callousness, and her retention for a further four months shames Labour and shames Tony Blair. Ditto the survival of Stephen Byers. This is Labour, 2002 style: If you lie, we'll back you. If you put the party before the people we will support you. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough. ...................
Those we have spoken to testify to Blair's distaste for ministers who have an agenda: his eyes glaze, his attention wanders, he instinctively shuts off. The resulting minutes of bilateral meetings with ministers are long on Cabinet Office instructions and short on genuine dialogue. Who runs the country? Half a dozen of Blair's closest friends. This state of affairs is beginning to leave the Prime Minister isolated within his own Government, and ministers are already beginning to challenge him. Tony Blair has shown an increasing tendency to provoke enemies where there are none. Before September 11, and the speech-that-never-was to the TUC, there was a positive mood among public sector unions. John Monks and others knew that reform was needed and were prepared to work with the Government to achieve it. Now the atmosphere is rife with conflict and mistrust. Last week's letter from fund managers warning that their risk premiums would be higher on public-private partnerships after the experience of Railtrack is an ominous assertion from the City: "We Are The Masters Now". So, 10 years on: a different government, but the same sense of disarray. Last year William Hague feared that Britain was becoming like a foreign land. This is clearly untrue: if it were a foreign country, the Prime Minister would actually spend some time here. As it is, he appears to have given up Britain for Lent. But it is clear that the Government needs to rediscover a human face........
There is a hunger for passion and honest debate in our politics. Tony Benn has become one of the country's most popular performers, inspiring and invigorating his audiences with the warmth of his personality and the human force of his beliefs.
What we ask for is a government we can be proud of, in a country we can be proud of: honest and vigorous. What we have is an increasingly isolated Prime Minister defending the indefensible and picking new fights. There is a sense of Henry IV about him: Presume not that I am the thing I was:
For God doth know, so shall the world perceive,
That I have turn'd away my former self;
So will I those that kept me company.
With that, he dismissed Falstaff. What price John Prescott in the reshuffle?
March 10 02

End of the road for woman who lived in a car

Protests as well-heeled London street loses 30-year 'resident'
Steven Morris
To the passer-by it must have seemed nothing more than an old abandoned car. But for Anne Naysmith, the battered Ford Consul, which was covered with colourful daubs, slogans and rhymes, had been home for almost 30 years.
After spending the days roaming London or tending her little garden on a nearby car park, Miss Naysmith, a former concert pianist, would return to the vehicle, make a nest out of fresh newspaper and bed down for the night. Just like the protagonist in Alan Bennett's essay and play The Lady in the Van, Miss Naysmith, 60, had resisted all attempts to persuade her into more comfortable lodgings.
Yesterday, however, amid protests and recriminations, the council and police arrived in force to remove the car. Supporters of Miss Naysmith tried to resist. A neighbour clambered on to the bonnet of the car and only got down after being threatened with arrest. There were tears as the Ford was finally towed away.
The argument over whether Miss Naysmith should stay or go has long been a topic of conversation over the dinner tables of this well-heeled street in Chiswick, west London. Some, especially those who had only recently arrived in the area, argued she should be moved, worried that her presence could affect the value of their £800,000 homes.
Others were happy to accept Miss Naysmith's alternative lifestyle. Her fate came to stand for society's attitude to those who cannot or will not conform.
How Miss Naysmith came to be living in the car remains unclear. She used to live in a house nearby and in the 1960s performed in concerts at the Wigmore Hall in London and taught at a convent school. It is thought she suffered a nervous breakdown, perhaps after a failed love affair, and took to living in her car with her dog, Bouncer.
For the past 30 years she has become a familar character in west London. She wears clothes made of rags, scraps of discarded umbrellas and pigeon feathers. She cooks on an open fire on a nearby car park, where she also has her patch of garden, and washes in a doctor's surgery. She will not take hand-outs but is prepared to barter using the flowers and vegetables she grows.
As usual, she left the car at 8am yesterday. Though she had been told that the council were coming, friends say she did not really believe the car would be moved. Court orders delivered to the car had been ignored. Hounslow council officials arrived an hour later and handed residents leaflets explaining what was happening. They said moving the car was good for the neighbourhood and for Miss Naysmith, who had been offered a flat. Many were furious.
Sally Mates, an actress and the sister of former Tory minister Michael Mates, said: "They are doing this because some people are worried that the car is affecting the value of their houses. This will destroy her life."
The transporter which was to take Miss Naysmith's home to the police pound arrived at 10.30am. Miss Mates decided that direct action was the only option. Watched by a police inspector and two officers, she put aside her crutches - she has broken leg - and clambered on to the bonnet.
Another neighbour, Sian Wheldon, and florist, Chris Young, leaned against the car to prevent workmen securing it. Ms Mates told the officers that she had taken legal advice and that moving the car would breach Miss Naysmith's human rights.
Inspector Michael Nicholls warned the three that they would be arrested if they did not move. They remained steadfast.
Mrs Wheldon, 41, a mother of three, said: "She won't be able to live among people she doesn't know. She is vulnerable but so are a lot of elderly people. She should be able to take her own risks. It is the ferocity of her independence which is keeping her alive." Only after Insp Nicholls radioed for back-up did Ms Mates and the other two protesters back off. As the van was winched on to the transporter, 30 years of debris was revealed.
An hour later Miss Naysmith returned to where her home had been. She stormed off warning that if the car was not returned she would kill herself. The council claims the vehicle was moved because it had "deteriorated dangerously" and because of "growing concern over the welfare of Miss Naysmith".
But the spokeswoman admitted the flat was not yet ready and she would have to move into a B&B to begin with.
March 8 02

Big Brother Awards highlight digital privacy threats

12:12 Tuesday 5th March 2002
Matt Loney
Government plans to store all Internet traffic in a single warehouse featured highly in the Big Brother Awards in London last night
A proposal by the National Criminal Intelligence Service to store all UK Internet traffic for seven years in a single data warehouse won the Big Brother Award for Most Appalling Project on Monday night.

Interception of communications was high on the agenda at the event, which has hosted by comic and investigative journalist Mark Thomas, and Simon Davies of Privacy International.
Noting that this year's awards, represented by a boot stamping on a decapitated head, were slightly smaller than in previous years, Thomas said: "Yes, we've gone from the jack boot of tyranny to more of a Chris Smith New Labour rambling look."
The Big Brother Awards are presented annually by Privacy International to the companies and individuals that have done most to erode the privacy of the citizen, and are accompanied by the "Winstons", which are awarded to those who have done most to protect privacy. ....One of biggest threats to privacy is the interception of any type of material you can imagine," she said, collecting her award. "The (governments') solution to their problem seems to be to store all communications data on a huge storage device. Data retention is the single biggest threat (to privacy)." The NCIS warehousing proposal beat into second place the Electoral Reform Society which was nominated for its patronage of a report by the Independent Commission on alternative voting methods which, said the judges, provides a "woefully scant assessment of the substantial privacy and security threats arising from electronic voting". Alongside the NCIS as winners of Big Brother Awards were the Norwich Union, which won the Most Invasive Company award for using unapproved genetic tests for potentially fatal diseases when assessing whether to offer life insurance cover to people. The Norwich Union was the only Big Brother winner to have a representative present to collect its award.
Most heinous government organisation was the Department of Education and Skills, for removing anonymity in the 2002 national schools census and for creating a student tracking system.
Worst public servant was Sir Richard Wilson. The judges said he had earned his nominations for "his long standing commitment to opposing freedom of information, data protection and ministerial accountability."
And the Lifetime menace award went to the national ID and data sharing scheme proposals for a comprehensive data sharing scheme between government agencies and the private sector. These proposals have, said the judges, become a fixed component of government thinking in recent years. "These proposals, whether they are marketed as a national ID card or an entitlement card, constitute the greatest ongoing threat to privacy". ....
March 5 02

Britain concerned over possible EU peacekeepers in Macedonia
Story from AgenceFrancePresse

LONDON, March 3 (AFP) - Britain said Sunday it was weighing whether to send British troops to Macedonia as part of an EU peacekeeping force, despite concern from within the goverment such a mission could end up in a fiasco.
About 700 NATO soldiers are currently deployed in Macedonia to monitor a fragile peace there after last year's ethnic Albanian uprising, but their mandate expires in June. If EU troops are deployed in the Balkans to relieve NATO, it would be the first operation for the European Union Rapid Reaction Force.
However, it was too soon to tell whether British troops would actually take part in such a mission, the spokesman for Prime Minister Tony Blair said Sunday. He was responding to a report in the British newspaper The Sunday Telegraph, which obtained leaked documents from the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the Foreign Secretary highlighting strongly differing viewpoints on British involvement.
The paper reported that the office of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote to Blair on January 17, calling upon the prime minister to commit British soldiers to an EU force, to demonstrate Britain's commitment to the EU. "If we look like becoming isolated, we would do better to accept an EU mission... the political case for doing so would be strong," the letter said. But the office of Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon then wrote on January 22, cautioning such an operation would constitute far too much "magnitude and risk" for British troops.
"The defense and intelligence staff assess that there are already indications that the situation in Macedonia may well deteriorate," it added. The ministry said while it was unlikely international troops would be targeted if security there goes downhill, "there would be a real risk that the EU's first mission would end in failure or rescue by a re-engaged NATO." That "would be disastrous in presentational terms," the leaked letter continued.
The British prime minister has been a key backer of the European Union Rapid Reaction Force, which plans to be ready to deploy up to 60,000 troops should the need arise by 2003.
A western-brokered peace plan reached by Macedonian and Albanian political parties in August put an end to a seven-month ethnic Albanian uprising which had pushed the Balkan state to the brink of war.
March 5 02

European traffic control to be based in space
Christopher Booker's Notebook

LAST week Mr Blair's transport commissioner David Begg recommended that the movements of every motorist in Britain should be tracked by satellite, as the basis of a congestion tax for using busy roads. ........ The project will be used for a wide range of military, civil and commercial purposes, not least to operate the "Eurocontrol" system, by which the EU plans to take over all air traffic control in what is now officially called "the single European sky". But the purpose suggested by Professor Begg is that drivers should have to fit equipment allowing their every movement to be tracked, via a super-computer at GCHQ in Cheltenham.
Not only would this allow motorists to be charged for travelling on busy roads, it would also enable police automatically to detect any breach of speed limits.
Theoretically a motorist could be fined so many times on a single journey that, by the time it finished, he could be disqualified for exceeding his points limit. Certainly this would soon reduce congestion on Britain's roads very drastically. The police might also of course find it useful to be able to follow every vehicle movement for other purposes, which would be justified as a weapon in fighting crime.....
March 3 02

Prince Charming and the panto that lost the plot

matthew parris
The wise are saying it wasn't simple and anyway it's over. The wise are saying that the latest Byers affair is too tangled for the electorate to bother our pretty little heads with; that what Stephen Byers did tell Sir Richard Mottram or did not tell Jonathan Dimbleby is too shaded and too trivial to matter.
The wise say that the Tories would be fools to think they can benefit, that their past condemns them to perpetual silence on sleaze lest a public memory of old sins be refreshed; and that if the Byers affair leaves any legacy at all, it will only be a heightened cynicism about all politicians.
We fools say it is simple. We say the voters know enough to know that something shabby has been done quite near the top, and left unpunished. We say a near mutiny in part of Whitehall is not trivial.
We say the Tories must benefit; that the Liberal Democrats must benefit; that all new Labour's competitors must benefit; that the Conservative Party's unique status as moral untouchables is not an unalterable clause of the British constitution and must dissolve; that public memories of Tory sleaze must fade into some kind of perspective; and that this episode must help that process.
We fools say this nasty little scandal may not be over yet, and that when it is, voters will still remember.
To listen to some of my colleagues in the media, you would think that the old copybook headings of British politics have been abolished. The fashionable new fairytale goes something like this: "Once upon a time, long, long ago - as long as 20 years, even - everybody trusted politicians and took a lively and informed interest in our democratic process. Then came a band of wicked Tories. They cheated and lied and slept around. By about 1986 folk were getting suspicious. Eventually they threw out the Wicked Witch in charge of the Tories, and invited a gentler Tory, "Buttons" Major, to be Prime Minister.
"But the Tories didn't get any better. Luckily, just as everybody was beginning to despair, Prince Charming arrived. He was handsome and brave and seemed different from the rest. Prince Charming formed the new Labour Party, promised to be ‘purer than pure', and threw out the Tories. Everyone cheered.
"But - oh dear! - soon some of Prince Charming's gang started to misbehave too. Before long, nobody trusted any politicians except possibly the Liberal Democrats, who were unfortunately a bit dozy and disorganised.
"So now, children, we are all terribly disillusioned, but we shall probably vote for Prince Charming again because we became so very fed up with the last lot. We have lost our innocence, however, and democracy will never be the same again." ...more
March 2 02

Any minister who lies has Blair's full support

By Boris Johnson (Filed: 28/02/2002)
WHO can forget the sermon on spiritual frustration, as delivered by Alan Bennett in Beyond the Fringe? Life, the vicar tells us, is like a tin of sardines. You open them up and scoop them out, but there's always a little bit left in the corner that you can't quite reach.
Do you have a little bit of sardine in the corner of your life? asks the vicar; and the answer is, I do, vicar, I do. He is called Stephen Byers, and it seems impossible to get him out. He's the bit of toothpaste just beneath the nozzle of the tube. He's the stain on your tie.
He's like one of those nuclear bomb-proof bits of chewing gum that you are forced to sit on in the railways over which he presides with such intergalactic incompetence.
He clings to his seat at the Cabinet, as if blessed by the Almighty with a prehensile bottom. Train delays mount up, the Tube is in chaos, there is hardly a road in the country that isn't blighted by enigmatic and infuriating cones - and still Byers survives.
His department of state is more crumbly than Britain's transport infrastructure. His two top spin doctors fall together, their teeth locked in each other's throats, like Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls - and Byers stays in office....(whole article)
Feb 28

Labour donors use tax loophole to save millions
Sunday Times

David Leppard and Gareth Walsh
NINE of Labour's biggest donors are benefiting from a lucrative tax loophole that Gordon Brown, the chancellor, repeatedly promised to close. One third of the election cash raised by Labour in the first six months of last year came from foreign-born donors who are able to exploit the loophole.
Among the beneficiaries of "non-domiciled" status, which is costing the Treasury millions of pounds a year in lost revenue, is Christopher Ondaatje, the international financier. He became one of Labour's biggest donors when he gave £2m to the party last year. Others who are eligible for "non-dom" tax status despite spending much of their time in Britain include Gulam Noon, an Indian-born entrepreneur who has given the party at least £200,000; David Potter, chairman of Psion, the computer company, who has donated £90,000; and Lakshmi Mittal, whose £125,000 gift sparked the "steelgate" affair. At least five other donors, who between them have given the party almost £500,000, are registered to benefit from the tax break. Mittal's company received a letter of support from Tony Blair to help Mittal to buy a Romanian steelworks even though the firm is not British. The affair led to allegations - denied by Downing Street - that Blair had sent the letter because of the donation. ....
Feb 24

New town planned underwater
Christopher Booker's Notebook

A DEVON council has received a record number of objections, well over 21,000, to its plans to site a small town, starting with 2,900 houses, in a stretch of countryside north-east of Exeter, large parts of which are regularly under water. Pictures taken by the Environment Agency show several feet of water over areas which East Devon council wants to see built on by private developers.
The campaigners against the scheme point out that, apart from the danger of flooding, the new settlement, between the villages of Broadclyst and Rockbeare, will restrict a planned expansion of Exeter airport, since it underlies a flight-path, and will overload the road system and threaten a wildlife site.
They argue that the scheme will take up a large part of East Devon's allocation of housing development, and make it almost impossible to get permission for housing elsewhere in the district, including Axminster, whose town council is crying out for 1,000 more houses.
By February 15, the deadline for objections, East Devon had received more than 21,000, believed to be the most ever recorded against a planning proposal, aided by the campaign's website,
But despite Government promises to review new development on flood-plains in the wake of last year's inundations, the council has given no sign it is prepared to drop a scheme it has been discussing for three years.

Judge rules that EU has no power over Parliament

THE Court of Appeal may have confirmed last week that it is now a criminal offence to sell a pound of bananas, but buried in Lord Justice Laws's judgment was a highly significant point generally missed. Reporting on the case suggested that EU law must now override the wishes of Parliament in all respects.
Hence, for instance, the front page of The Sun which carried the one-word headline "Surrender". But this was not what the judge said. He was anxious to underline that Parliament has no power to give away its sovereignty.
EU law can only override the will of Parliament because Parliament agrees to allow it do so through the European Communities Act. But there is nothing in this Act, the judge explained, which allows the EU or any of its institutions, including the European Court of Justice, to "qualify the conditions of Parliament's legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom.
Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it." The EU cannot overrule Parliament: "Being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty."
If Parliament wishes to withdraw from the EU by repealing the European Communities Act, the judge confirmed, it is entirely free to do so. It is equally free to enact laws which contradict EU law, although these must state explicitly that this is the intention.
Only because this was not done by the 1985 Weights and Measures Act, permitting traders to continue selling in pounds and ounces, could this Act be overruled by EU law.
Another point generally missed was the judge's ruling that Sunderland City Council is not entitled to £55,000 legal costs for its original case against Steve Thoburn, the first of the "metric martyrs". Last April Sunderland's lawyers forgot to apply for costs.
In September, although they were months out of time, the district judge retrospectively granted costs against Mr Thoburn. Last week this was overruled by Lord Justice Laws.
Now the council has asked the Department of Trade and Industry to foot the bill, arguing it was unfair that the costs should fall on the ratepayers of Sunderland. They are quite happy for Mr Thoburn to pay his costs, but when they themselves make a mistake, they expect to be reimbursed by the taxpayers.
Feb 24

Arrogant, inept, patronising . . . Tony, they're talking about new Labour
The Times

Patience Wheatcroft
The chattering classes of India are tut-tutting. Can you believe it, they say, the only way to do business in Britain is with bribes. The Blair Government's enthusiasm for ingratiating gestures towards the rich, particularly those who are prepared to give sizeable sums to the Labour Party, has given the appearance of an administration which can be bought. The appearance may be misleading, although the evidence so far seems persuasive, but Tony Blair as much as anyone knows that appearances are what counts.
And just as he now looks like a man prepared to sign a helpful letter for a "friend" (deleted) who happens to have handed over a cheque for£125,000, his Government also looks increasingly as if it treats most of the country with contempt. Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair's mouthpiece, on Sunday dismissed inquiries into the Mittal affair as "boring", a sneering remark summing up the arrogance which characterises the Government's response to a deeply disturbing chapter of events.
It is no coincidence that this high-handed attempt to brush off questioners as if they were irritating insects came the weekend before farmers began a legal action to challenge the Government's refusal to hold a public inquiry into the handling of last year's foot-andmouth epidemic.
As the disease swept the countryside, Tony Blair promised that there would be a full, open inquiry into what had so obviously gone wrong. When Labour was in opposition, a Tory had only to accept so much as a bus fare to find himself at the centre of calls for a full public inquiry. But despite the billions of pounds that foot-and-mouth cost the country, the Prime Minister's enthusiasm for a public inquiry rapidly waned. Inquiries there could be in plenty, he decided, but they would take place behind closed doors.
The need for speed was given as explanation for the about-turn. The need to avoid undue embarrassment for ministers looks more likely. Right from the beginning, when the Government was appallingly slow to act, the handling of foot-and-mouth was riddled with ineptitude. The issues are sufficiently important for the country, including the farmers and business people who suffered most, to want to see those involved called to account. Instead, the hapless Nick Brown has now been shuffled out of Agriculture to become Minister for Work and Margaret Beckett has been landed with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. (That role may not stop her being deputed to appear on the Today programme to deal with the Mittal affair. Mr Blair is far too superior a being to condescend to answer nasty questions, but when the demands become too shrill to ignore, it is usually poor Mrs Beckett who is dragooned into service.) Tony Blair seems to think that the public should be content to receive shinily spun versions of events and does not need to be concerned with the facts. He may see himself as a benevolent paternalist, expecting the public to trust him and let him get on with putting the world to rights. In which case, he would have had a shock on Sunday morning when he saw the opinion poll finding that 65 per cent of Labour voters think that Mr Blair is prone to "give special help to people and companies that donate large sums to the Labour Party".
There are now too many extraordinary questions raised by the Mittal affair, and too many contradictory answers that have been given, for the public to avoid sensing a whiff of corruption. It may take the courts to push the Government into instituting a full public inquiry into foot-and-mouth but if it wishes to kill the idea that a donation to Labour can buy favours, the Government needs to move fast to open a public inquiry into Mr Blair's endorsement of a foreign bid for a Romanian steel plant.
Otherwise, the public will rightly cling to the view that the Hinduja brothers and Lakshmi Mittal were not mere unfortunate coincidences of generosity to the Labour Party coinciding with apparent favours given.
When new Labour assumed power, its members assumed an attitude of superiority which was bound to lead to problems. They did away with assisted places at fee-paying schools but in several cases decided that the state sector was not good enough for their own children; they railed against fat cats in business but wooed their support with peerages. It fell to Lord Falconer of Thoroton, himself an unelected member of the Government, to sum up the attitude, with his famous reference to "VIPs and ordinary people".
It was reminiscent of the American hotelier Leona Helmsley, who once opined that "only the little people pay taxes". They fought back. She went to jail.
posted Feb 22

The BBC must steel itself to probe the Mittal scandal

By Boris Johnson
IN my darker moments, I think the Tories should campaign for the abolition of the £109 BBC licence fee. It is an anachronistic impost, which falls most heavily on the poorest.
Not only does it allow the corporation to compete unfairly with unsubsidised businesses; but the constant injection of government funding bloats and enfeebles the organisation, to the point where it now resembles a great fat man, so paunchy that he cannot see his own toes.
And you certainly don't find the modern BBC doing anything so strenuous as chasing a story, not when that might be embarrassing to its Whitehall paymasters. Look at these indolent subsidy junkies. They have 10,000 journalists. They have £2.5 billion of taxpayers' money. They have expense accounts and telephones, and yet when a fantastic story lands in their lap, like the Mittal affair, they seem incapable of bringing a single new fact into the public domain.
When you watch or listen to BBC accounts of the scandal, everything is related as if it were some distant row, conducted in the newspapers. Everything is assessed in terms of how much "damage" the latest disclosure will do the Government - normally, in the view of the reporter, not very much.
It never seems to occur to him or her to get out of the studio, swab off the make-up, and find out what on earth is going on. Let me remind Greg Dyke, and the thousands of BBC producers planning on filling the airwaves with bilge, what a stupefying story this is, in the faint hope that they might think it worth the time of a couple of reporters.
Back in July last year, Tony Blair wrote a letter to the Romanian prime minister, championing one Lakshmi Mittal, who was trying to take over a steel plant called Sidex. The Romanians were considering the rival claims of Usinor, a French firm, and at the time they were a bit dubious about Mittal............
If he had been truly concerned for British steelmakers, he should surely have opposed the sale of Sidex to LNM, because LNM is doing everything in its power to damage those who really make steel in this country. In his guise as the proprietor of Inland Steel, a big but ailing American concern, Lakshmi Mittal has given $600,000 to a "Stand up for Steel" campaign.
This is designed to encourage President George W Bush to slap tariffs of up to 40 per cent on imports of British and other European steel. If Bush goes ahead, as expected, on March 6, that will cost Britain orders and jobs.
Why in heaven's name, given LNM's major and inimical American investments, and microscopic investments in Britain, did Blair say that the company was British? Why did Richard Ralph, Our Man in Bucharest, meet Mittal and co on a dozen occasions, or more, to push through the deal? But I think you know, or suspect, the answer already. It is because Mr Mittal, who is Indian, gave £125,000 to the Labour Party before the election.
Somehow or other, this fact contaminated the process of government; it generated the fiction that LNM was British, and it encouraged Blair to make statements that were palpably false.
We deserve to be told the truth about how it all happened. We want to know who deleted the suggestion, from the original draft of the letter, that Blair was a "friend" of Mr Mittal. We want to know why the Foreign Office, and Mr Ralph, were so keen on LNM.
We want to know how the letter came to be on Blair's desk, and whether he understood what he signed. This is not some banana republic. This is a mature democracy, in which we have the right to know the procedures by which we are governed.
The newspapers have done their best with the story, but are running into the arrogance of the government stonewall. Is there no one, in the entire BBC, with the guts to take on the story?
Boris Johnson is editor of The Spectator and MP for Henley
Feb 21

It needs to be stopped. Full stop

The NSPCC is far more concerned with filling its coffers than protecting vulnerable children

Dea Birkett
The Guardian The NSPCC obviously thinks there's no such thing as bad publicity. Yesterday the NSPCC's director, Mary Marsh, gave her closing statement to the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié, brutally murdered by her great-aunt and her boyfriend in February 2000. It was the last chance for Britain's leading childcare charity to come clean. Victoria had been referred to an NSPCC-run family centre in north London seven months before her death, by which time she was being regularly beaten, trussed up in a bin bag and left in freezing baths. No one from the centre went to see her. The inquiry wants to know why.
But yesterday these matters seemed of scant concern to Marsh. After glancing over to Climbié's parents and saying "I'm very sorry", she took little more than 10 minutes to explain how they so catastrophically mishandled Victoria's case.
The rest of her allotted half hour was spent outlining the restructuring and extolling the virtues of her organisation. Attention was drawn to the NSPCC's £3m Saatchi Full Stop campaign. As if addressing a fundraising dinner, Marsh pronounced: "It's our mission to end cruelty to children," words that must have rung very hollow with Victoria's watching family.
Mary Marsh's cynical attempt to use the inquiry as a publicity platform is no surprise. Self-promotion is, after all, what the NSPCC is all about. Last year, just £36m of its annual £82m budget was spent on direct services to children; much of the rest went on publicity and campaigning. The efficacy of these efforts is questionable. The NSPCC has been around since 1884, but the level of child abuse has remained constant. Yet posters in bus shelters, rather than hands-on help, is the charity's preferred way of tackling child abuse. Last autumn, they closed 16 child protection schemes. The centre which so failed Victoria has been shut down. It seems that the national body of the NSPCC hopes the case against them will be similarly dismissed. .....
Feb 19

New laws to suppress academic research

By Charles Arthur Technology Editor
Laws being introduced by the Government would give it the power to see academic papers before they are published and suppress them. It could also prevent the use of e-mails between foreign colleagues.
The Export Control Bill, being steered through the Lords by the Department of Trade and Industry, could also mean foreign students working in British laboratories would need "licences". The Bill, a revision of the 1939 Export Control Act, will include powers that put software, e-mail and even speech under official control.
"This has serious implications for academic freedom," said Dr Ross Anderson, of the security research group at Cambridge University. Dr Anderson, an expert in cryptographic systems, went on: "The DTI is trying to extend the scope of the Export Control Bill to interfere with all the nooks and crannies of science and technology. They like the idea of being able to exercise a pre-publication review - which they've never been able to do in the past. If you submit a patent, it could be suppressed for defence reasons but scientific papers never had that."
The DTI insisted the laws would not be applied to information already in the public domain and the legislation contained an exemption for "basic scientific research".
But determining whether the science was "basic" or "applied" - which would need licensing - would require the scientist to contact the DTI.
The areas covered could change all the time. In the House of Lords, Baroness Hendon argued that the Secretary of State would have a "continuous power" to make fresh orders that could add to or detract from the type of goods governed by the legislation. That would let the minister change the reason software or even e-mail would require a licence - and what subjects were proscribed from communication.
Peter Cotgreave, director of the pressure group Save British Science, said: "It's all very well saying they won't use these powers themselves but they are creating these powers, and who knows who will be in charge a few years down the line?"
He added: "This is especially ironic, given that this Government claims to be in favour of freedom of information. Anything that stops the publication of any serious peer-reviewed work is bad.
"We've seen from the examples of BSE and genetically modified organisms that the only way to get people to trust scientists is to be completely open - not to stop them doing something on the grounds of national security."

The DTI said European regulations that recently became law already controlled the export outside the European Union of "dual-use" items and ideas, which could have civil or military uses. The new laws would be used principally to cover military uses and the export of any objects or concepts that could be used for nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.
But Dr Anderson noted important implications for universities. "Teaching medicine to a foreign national would appear to require a licence - many of the core curriculum subjects, such as bacteriology, virology, toxicology, biochemistry and pharmacology are central to a chemical and biological weapons programme. South Africa's programme was set up and run by P W Botha's personal physician. Other problematic subjects include not just nuclear physics and chemistry but aerodynamics, flight control systems, navigation systems, and even computational fluid dynamics."
Dr Anderson said he had been told by the DTI that the e-mails he swapped with scientists in Norway and Israel in the late 1990s, when they were developing a cryptographic technique for a competition, would be subject to licensing under the revised Act. A DTI spokeswoman said she could not comment on a specific case.
The Bill is a piece of "primary legislation" that creates a legal framework; and is made enforceable through "secondary legislation" that specifies the objects covered by the new law.
However, the Government has not published the secondary legislation - only a dummy version.
During debate in the Lords last week, Lord Sainsbury of Turville said the new Bill was the result of a detailed examination of the former Act called for by the Scott report into the arms-for-Iraq scandal in 1996. That report said arms controls were too lax and there were not enough checks to make sure items had the use that was claimed for them and they reached the destinations they were said to be bound for.
Feb 18

Blair fails to wash away whiff of sleaze

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Tony Blair's pledge to ensure his administration would be "whiter than white" has rung hollow as a new poll deemed his government nearly as sleazy as its Conservative predecessor.
After a week of political infighting, resignations and questions over party funding, Blair's famed "spin doctors" have failed to banish a sense among some commentators that dirty deals had become a part of government. Blair has struggled in the past week with questions about his links to big business after he wrote a letter of support for a deal by an Indian business tycoon who made a large cash donation to the Labour Party. The prime minister's reputation has appeared to suffer from revelations that he wrote to the then Romanian Prime Minister to support the sale of a Romanian steel group to a international steel conglomerate run by Labour Party donor Lakshmi Mittal.
A poll for the Sunday Times on Sunday showed Blair's government, which he promised would be "whiter than white" when he defeated a Conservative administration mired in corruption and sex scandals in 1997, is now almost as bad. Sixty percent of respondents thought Labour sleazy, just less than the 63 percent who dubbed the Conservative government sleazy in a poll carried out in April 1997, weeks before the Conservatives suffered a landslide election defeat. The Sunday Times poll showed how far Labour has fallen in the eyes of the public since 1997. The same survey in April 1997 showed just 19 percent of people thought Labour sleazy. "There is an enormous whiff of garbage -- indeed it stinks like a sewer," Sir Bernard
posted Feb 18

Culture: Richard Brooks: Biteback
Sunday Times

BBC1 is devoting most of this Wednesday to our embattled health service. Good for the Beeb. Greg Dyke - who's (sic) annoyed rivals stole the march with their Bloody Sundays - wants more big-event telly and a different approach to politics, which makes Your NHS is a key test on both counts. A few years ago, David Dimbleby would surely have fronted Your NHS. Now, it's going to be Nicky Campbell, along with Fiona Bruce, who has just had her own hospital experience with her first baby. Dimbleby, apparently, felt snubbed. He is probably not too happy, either, with the way coverage of politics on the BBC will go once the current review is complete. Out with navel-gazing Westminster chat; in with how political decisions actually affect real people. In Dyke-speak, a yellow "cut the crap" card to anybody at the Beeb who tries to stop a livelier approach to politics. The young are not just refusing to vote at elections, but are utterly bored by Westminster coverage.
Sue Townsend (now aged 55), of Adrian Mole fame, has, sadly, had too much of the NHS over the past decade. She has had a serious heart attack, and, as a side effect of terrible diabetes, is now almost blind. Yet Townsend is getting on with her next novel, though she is having to dictate it. The book is all about the relationship between the policeman outside 10 Downing Street and a prime minister not unlike a certain Tony Blair. "The policeman is the only person who knows all the secrets," says Townsend, a splendid human being who, as an old Labourite, despairs of the actor-manager Blair.
Feb 17

Mittal row stirs debate on state funding of political parties
Financial Times

By ANDREW PARKER The government left open the possibility that it could introduce state funding of political parties as Downing Street yesterday denied that it had lied about the Lakshmi Mittal affair. The Conservatives claimed that Downing Street had told "untruths", and demanded the removal of Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff at Downing Street.
The prime minister's spokesman accepted that the affair had unleashed a new debate about the merits of state funding for political parties, and cabinet members discussed the issue at their weekly meeting. "Clearly, a healthy democracy does need funding," said the spokesman. "There are different ways of doing this. State funding is one." A Whitehall official suggested the government's position on state funding for political parties was likely to be determined by whether there were more "cash for favours" rows.
Mr Mittal, an Indian businessman, donated Pounds 125,000 to the Labour party shortly before the 2001 general election. After the poll, Mr Blair wrote a letter to Adrian Nastase, the Romanian prime minister, supporting a bid by LNM Holdings, Mr Mittal's company, for the country's main steel company. The bid was successful. .............
Feb 15

America's Imperial War

by George Monbiot The Guardian February 12, 2002
Never was victory so bitter. Those liberals who supported the war in Afghanistan, and so confidently declared that their values had triumphed in November, must now be feeling a little exposed. Precisely who has lost, and what the extent of their loss may be, is yet to be determined, but there can now be little doubt that the dangerous and illiberal people who control the US military machine have won. The bombing of Afghanistan is already starting to look like the first shot in a new imperial war.
In 30 years' time we may be able to tell whether or not the people of Afghanistan have benefited from the fighting there. The murderous Taliban have been overthrown. Women, in Kabul at any rate, have been allowed to show their faces in public, and readmitted into professional life. Some $3bn has so far been pledged for aid and reconstruction. But the only predictable feature of Afghan politics is their unpredictability. In the absence of an effective peace-keeping force, the tensions between the clan leaders could burst into open warfare when the fighting season resumes in the spring. Iran, Russia and the US are beginning, subtly, to tussle over the nation's future, with potentially disastrous consequences for its people.
In the meantime, seven million remain at risk of starvation. Some regions have been made safer for aid workers; others have become more dangerous, as looting and banditry fill the vacuum left by the Taliban's collapse. Already, some refugees are looking back with nostalgia to the comparative order and stability of life under that brutal government. For the Afghan people, the only certain and irreversible outcome of the war so far is that some thousands of civilians have been killed.
But other interests in Afghanistan are doing rather nicely. On January 29, the IMF's assistant director for monetary and exchange affairs suggested that the country should abandon its currency and adopt the dollar instead. This would, he explained, be a "temporary" measure, though, he conceded, "when an economy dollarizes, it takes a little while to undollarize." The day before, the administrator of the US Agency for International Development revealed that part of its aid package to Afghan farmers would take the form of GM seed.
Both Hamid Karzai, the interim president, and Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special envoy, were formerly employed as consultants to Unocal, the US oil company which spent much of the 1990s seeking to build a pipeline through Afghanistan. Unocal appears to have dropped the scheme, but smaller companies (such as Chase Energy and Caspian Energy Consulting) are now lobbying for its revival. In October the president of Turkmenistan wrote to the United Nations, pressing for the pipeline's construction.
More importantly, the temporary US bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Caspian states appear to be putting down roots. US military "tent cities" have now been established in 13 places in the states bordering Afghanistan. New airports are being built and garrisons expanded. In December, the US assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones promised that "when the Afghan conflict is over we will not leave Central Asia. We have long-term plans and interests in this region."
This is beginning to look rather like the "new imperium" which commentators such as Charles Krauthammer have been urging on the US government. Already there are signs that confrontation with the "axis of evil" is coming to involve more than just containing terrorism. Writing in the Korea Times last month, Henry Kissinger insisted that, "The issue is not whether Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack on the United States, though no doubt there was some intelligence contact between Iraqi intelligence and one of the chief plotters. The challenge of Iraq is essentially geopolitical."
An asymmetric world war of the kind George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld have proposed provides the justification, long sought by the defence companies and their sponsored representatives in Washington, for a massive increase in arms spending. Eisenhower warned us to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." But we have disregarded his warning, and forgotten how dangerous the people seeking vast state contracts can be.
In October I wrote that "the anthrax scare looks suspiciously convenient. Just as the hawks in Washington were losing the public argument about extending the war to other countries, journalists start receiving envelopes full of bacteria, which might as well have been labelled "a gift from Iraq". This could indeed be the work of terrorists, who may have their own reasons for widening the conflict, but there are plenty of other ruthless operators who would benefit from a shift in public opinion." The suggestion was widely ridiculed.
This week's New Scientist reports that the FBI has yet to catch the perpetrators of the anthrax attacks. "Investigators are virtually certain of one thing, though: it was an inside job. The anthrax attacker is an American scientist -- and worse, one from within the US's own biodefence establishment. ... If he wished to scale up US military action against Iraq, he almost succeeded -- many in Washington tried hard to see Saddam Hussein's hand in the attacks. If he wished merely to make the US pour billions into biodefence, he did succeed."
Now Bush has secured a further $48bn for the defence contractors who helped him into office, and those who contested the first phase of his war are still reviled, by people such as the British minister Peter Hain, as "rejectionists" and "isolationists". In truth, it is those who supported the war who have endorsed US isolationism. Hain insists that Britain will use its influence to restrain the "hawks on Capitol Hill", but I fear that Henry Kissinger comes closer to the truth when he suggests that "Britain will not easily abandon the pivotal role based on its special relationship with the United States that it has earned for itself in the evolution of the crisis. ... A determined American policy thus has more latitude than is generally assumed." Jack Straw's newfound enthusiasm for the US missile defence programme (which necessitated, of course, the unilateral abandonment of the anti-ballistic missile treaty) suggests that Dr Kissinger is rather better versed in British politics than Mr Hain.
Over the past few weeks, the men who run the military-industrial complex have shoved aside the government of the Philippines, despatched 16 Black Hawk helicopters to Colombia, arrested the Cuban investigators seeking to foil a bomb plot in Miami, alarmed Russia and China by scrambling for central Asia, begun developing a new tactical nuclear weapon, and all but declared war on three nations. Yet still the armchair warriors who supported their bombing of Afghanistan cannot understand that these people now present a threat not just to terrorism but to the world.
Feb 11

Christopher Booker's Notebook
Sunday Telegraph

The great asbestos cull begins
ROYAL Sun Alliance, one of our biggest insurance companies, last week shocked the markets by announcing that its profits over the past six months have been cut to zero.
A crucial factor in this £459 million drop in profits, it was explained, was an explosion in claims for damage by asbestos.
In Warrington, Cheshire, 1,000 people are about to be evicted from their homes, as 250 houses on the Blackbrook Estate are pulled down by the council at a cost of £1.5 million because "independent specialists", accredited by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), have ruled that white asbestos cement in the houses is posing a danger to their health.
Yet the HSE cannot point to a single case of someone whose health has been damaged by white asbestos.
Like the shareholders of the Royal Sun Alliance, these Warrington families are among the millions of prospective victims of what promises to become the most costly health scare in history.
Backed by an alliance of regulators, multi-national firms which make asbestos substitutes, specialist contractors and lawyers who earn a fortune from compensation claims, this is the bizarre campaign to demonise white asbestos - chemically indistinguishable from talcum powder - by equating it with the blue and brown forms of abestos which are proven killers, and which are totally different chemicals.
A new edict proposed by the HSE, the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations, will be the most expensive item of legislation this country has ever seen, imposing costs which even the HSE itself estimates at between £5 and £8 billion. And this does not include the massive cost of replacement.
The TUC, which strongly supports the rush to make compensation claims, estimates that the final cost of removing asbestos from Britain could be £80 billion, equivalent to £4,000 for every household in the country.
Yet what is astonishing, when one examines the scientific evidence produced to justify this campaign, is how flimsy it turns out to be. Last week when I challenged the HSE to cite one unqualified example of death caused by white asbestos, they could not do so.
Their reply was: "It is impossible to find a case of someone who has only been exposed to white absbestos and never to blue and brown. Lots of products are made of a mixture of the different forms, and it is very complicated and expensive to find out which form of asbestos is present."
Yet 90 per cent of asbestos products are made exclusively of the white form, and diseases related to the blue and brown asbestos now derive almost entirely from past exposure before their dangers became known in the 1950s.
Last Sunday John Monks, the general secretary of the TUC, wrote to this newspaper calling me "irresponsible" for suggesting that white asbestos is not a killer. But the only evidence he cited was a paper by a Japanese scientist which appeared last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
What he failed to tell readers was that this paper has no relevance to the British experience whatever. It was based on a study of workers in a totally unregulated Chinese asbestos mine, exposed to huge quantities of raw asbestos dust over decades. Even then, its findings are dismissed by other scientists as ill-founded.
Dr John Hoskins, whom even the HSE must admit is one of the leading experts in the field, last week told me that to cite the Japanese paper as evidence for the dangers of white asbestos in Britain was "clutching at straws".
Yet Mr Monks, who quotes this paper out of context as his only evidence, is happy to countenance Britain spending £80 billion on removing a largely non-existent danger.
When the HSE itself last week issued a press release, attempting to discredit my earlier articles, this again failed to address any of the specific criticisms levelled by expert scientists at what they see as its shamelessly scaremongering approach.
Certainly this suits the commercial interests which stand to make billions from promoting this scare, such as the companies credited as having assisted the HSE in making its propaganda film How Are You Today?, now being shown all round the country.
But what is odd is that no minister or politician seems yet to have been involved in this extraordinary story.
Before the HSE is allowed simply to promulgate its new law, an independent investigation of the scientific evidence behind it should be called for as a matter of the highest national priority.
The Rock's role in Spanish deal
AS even Labour backbenchers wax indignant over the Foreign Office's attempt to strike a deal with Spain over the future of Gibraltar, it is puzzling why Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, is behaving in this curiously shifty manner.
The explanation may lie in a seminar at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on January 6, 1999 called by Robin Cook, Mr Straw's predecessor, and attended by a bevy of senior civil servants including Sir John Kerr, then the FCO's permanent secretary, and his counterpart at the Ministry of Defence, Kevin Tebbitt.
The meeting was to discuss a paper presented by Charles Grant, on "Building British Influence in the EU". One of Mr Grant's suggestions, which won approval, was that, to counter the Franco-German axis which dominates the Council of Ministers, Britain should seek to build up an "enduring" alliance with other countries, notably Spain.
Unfortunately, said Mr Grant, this "potentially strong friendship" was sullied by "the Gibraltar problem", and "Britain should be prepared to negotiate on its future status" as a bargaining chip to win Spanish support on other issues.
Spain could be asked to pay "a heavy price" for such a major concession, such as support on financing the Common Agricultural Policy and agreeing "to curb the cost of structural funds and to back British nominees for top EU jobs".
If this kind of horse-trading explains why Britain now seems to be preparing to share sovereignty over Gibraltar with Spain, Mr Straw needs to say what he has won in return.
Certainly it cannot be support on financing farm subsidies, since Britain does worse out of the new system than any other country.
Tied up in knots
NOT long ago an octogenarian customer walked into John Kerwin-Davey's DIY shop in Skipton, North Yorkshire, asking for "three yards of string".
When Mr Kerwin-Davey served him and said "that will be 30p", a young woman materialised from the shadows, plonked a briefcase on the counter and thrust a plastic card within inches of his face. Announcing that she was from Northallerton trading standards office, she said he had just committed a criminal offence.
She explained that, when given an order in imperial, he should have translated it into its metric equivalent - 2.73 metres - and asked the customer to rephrase his order.
He could expect to face prosecution, she said. Some time later, when a more genial trading standards officer came into the shop, Mr Kerwin-Davey explained why he was not too keen on her council and she offered her apologies for her colleague's officious behaviour.
Strictly speaking, however, if a shopkeeper is given an order in imperial, he must translate it into its metric equivalent before handing over the goods. The official only erred in suggesting that the customer must be made to rephrase the request.
Such idiocy may come to an end on February 18 when we are at last due to hear the Court of Appeal's verdict in the famous "Metric Martyrs" case. On the other hand, I suspect it may not.
Due care and attention
LAST week I gave an e-mail address for a paper by my friend Dr Richard North, making nonsense of the current campaign to equate breaking a speed limit with drunk-driving as a cause of traffic accidents. He has had more than 150 requests.
Many recipients, including policemen, paramedics and motoring associations, have complimented him on the quality of his research. His paper is now available on the website of the Association of British Drivers at

The Business Of Power

by George Monbiot
Just as the government struggles to shake off one scandal, it is entangling itself in several more. Almost every day for the past fortnight Labour has been embarrassed by new revelations about the favours it has exchanged with the disgraced companies Enron and Andersen. And almost every day for the past fortnight, the government has been stocking up future trouble by granting companies even more extravagant concessions.
On Sunday, Tony Blair spoke of his determination to continue bringing corporations into government by means of the private finance initiative, which has already become the occasion for most of the trouble about Andersen's role. One of the Sunday newspapers claims that the government will announce its decision to part-privatise the London Underground on Thursday. Stephen Byers, the transport secretary, appears to be preparing his case: on Saturday he sought to dismiss comparisons between the privatisation of the railways and "public private partnerships". Other government spokespeople were forced, last week, to pour scorn on similar comparisons between the break up of the railways and the rushed privatisation of the Post Office. (MORE)

The euro and European statehood
Letter The Times

From Dr Dennis Jones
Sir, I note with some amusement the recent flurry of activity regarding the sovereignty of Gibraltar (report, February 5). Given that we are undoubtedly heading for a European superstate anyway, isn't this all a bit academic?
Sunnyside, West Lulworth,
Wareham, Dorset BH20 5RT.

Feb 7

PM ignores Chinook crash plea
The Scotsman

Alison Hardie Political Correspondent TONY Blair yesterday refused to back a House of Lords inquiry which cleared two helicopter pilots of blame for the catastrophic Chinook helicopter crash which wiped out the cream of Britain's anti-terrorism intelligence in 1994.
The Prime Minister's refusal to intervene personally in the controversy surrounding the cause of the Mull of Kintyre tragedy, which was reignited by the publication of a third report to clear the pilots, provoked an outcry from the families. John Cook, whose son, Richard, was one of the pilots blamed for the disaster which killed 29 people, has branded senior defence chiefs the "Ministry of Deceit" for their insistence the inquiry had produced no new evidence. Mike Tapper, the father of the second pilot, Jonathan, said: "I think Tony Blair must consider carefully the position of those who continue to serve. In the event of this verdict not being quashed, their confidence has to be eroded."
Mr Cook and Mr Tapper said they were relieved the cross-party Lords committee had concluded there was no justification for holding the two special forces pilots responsible.
Their legal representative, Peter Watson, said the Lords' report represented "a wrong righted".
However, both fathers lambasted the reluctance of Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence to accept immediately the findings of the report. Their outrage was echoed by senior politicians, who accused the government of "behaving like an ostrich with its head in the sand". ............
Feb 6

Blunkett clears the path for compulsory identity cards

By Ian Burrell, Home Affairs Correspondent 06 February 2002
The Government took a significant step yesterday towards introducing Britain's first compulsory identity card scheme since the Second World War, invoking a furious response from civil libertarians and anti-racist groups.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, told Parliament he wanted to raise the idea of a national "entitlement card", which would determine the bearer's right of access to the NHS, education and state benefits.
The announcement took civil liberties groups by surprise as Downing Street had appeared to reject the idea of identity cards in October, after Mr Blunkett said he was "attracted" to such a scheme.
Mark Littlewood, of the civil rights group Liberty, said introducing entitlement cards would be "a very serious step". He said: "Not only would such a scheme be prohibitively expensive, but it would pose a real threat to civil liberties. People already have countless ways to prove their identity, whether they are using private or public services." Mr Blunkett said refusing to carry the cards would not be a criminal offence but Liberty said the scheme would pave the way for a national database and an "ever more draconian" system.
Charter 88, another civil rights group, said the idea would damage relations between the police and the public. Milena Buyum, co-ordinator of the National Assembly Against Racism, warned of further discrimination against visible ethnic minorities. She said: "It's a very opportunistic way of introducing a radical change in British society."
The Home Secretary told MPs he had received 600 letters about identity cards since 11 September. He said he would be publishing a consultation document in the spring to canvass views on a national scheme.
The Home Office said the cards would help prevent social security fraud, income tax evasion, working by illegal immigrants and other offences.
Mr Blunkett accepted there were "many arguments, both philosophical and practical, for and against a scheme". He said: "We will not proceed without consulting widely and considering all the views expressed very carefully." ........
Feb 6

The gentleman in Whitehall is wrong about MMR

By Robert Haris (Filed: 05/02/2002) IT is now more than 60 years since the Labour MP Douglas Jay made what is still, perhaps, the most irritating declaration in modern British politics: "In the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for the people than the people know themselves."
You would think that times had moved on since the Second World War, and that Whitehall at last would have learnt a little humility. But no. The song of the Jay, like the sound of the first cuckoo, is still a perennial part of the British scene. Ssshhh. Listen. You can hear it even now, warbling away as strongly as ever, in its traditional nesting ground, the Department of Health.
Most readers will probably not have bothered much about the controversy over the single dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination. Frankly, I wouldn't have bothered much myself, except that I have a 15-month-old son who is due to be inoculated later this week, and an eight-year-old nephew who suffers from autism. Such coincidences tend to concentrate the mind.
When I was growing up, everyone used to get measles, mumps and rubella (German measles) and hardly anyone had heard of autism. Now the equation is exactly reversed. Almost nobody gets MMR, but almost everybody seems to know someone - a friend, a colleague, a family member - who has been touched by autism.
As Dr Kenneth Aitken, an autism specialist, said on ITV last night: "When I was training, one in 2,500 [children was autistic]. Now it is one in 250." The only logical explanation, he said, is the MMR vaccine.
Few in the medical profession would go so far in making that link as Dr Aitken, or Dr Andrew Wakefield, the now-famous expert at the Royal Free Hospital, who treated my nephew and who lost his job over the MMR injection just before Christmas.
They have certainly produced no absolute scientific proof of their suspicions. Instead there are just a few scraps of disputed evidence, in particular a disproportionately high incidence of the measles virus lodged in the intestines of autistic children who have had the MMR vaccine.
That - and the sheer, unscientific common sense which whispers in the ear of every parent: that to inject three live viruses into a baby certainly sounds like the sort of intervention that might conceivably produce, in a tiny fraction of cases, a catastrophic reaction.
A sensible health service - especially one quite rightly dedicated to stamping out these miserable diseases - might at this point have decided to offer parents a choice between giving their child the single MMR jab or the old method of three separate shots. This, after all, is what 85 per cent of us want, according to the latest opinion poll; this is what actually happens - oh, the wearily familiar comparison! - in France.........I'm still enough of an old Lefty to feel guilty about private health care. But then, when I think about it further, the guilt curdles into a kind of rage that, as usual, it is the poor who are let down by the NHS - who pay their taxes and yet have to take what they are given, like it or lump it, like supplicants at some Victorian charitable institution. ....... For while the middle class, as he says, can always opt out, "it is the worse-off who suffer in hospital waiting rooms and are left waiting in corridors".
Mass immunisation once seemed to offer a perfect example of universal health care in action. But now, with MMR, even this has come to be tainted by double standards. Increasingly, we want the same kind of choice over health that we have in every other, less vital aspect of our lives, and if the gentlemen in Whitehall won't give it to us, then we shall simply have to seek it for ourselves.
Feb 5

Any questions?
Daily Telegraph

(Filed: 30/01/2002)
John Clare deals with your education conundrums

MY 15-year-old has come home with something called a Connexions Card. What on earth does it connect him to? Is this another step towards a national identity scheme?

Yes. Potentially, it connects him and two million other teenagers to an infinite number of databases, effectively exposing them to total surveillance. I am not making this up. The Connexions Card bears the holder's name, photograph and date of birth. On the back is a magnetic strip.
Launching the card, Tony Blair has described it as "an electronic key to personal information". The Department for Education and Skills (DfES), whose baby it is, says: "The card holds lots of information about the courses and lessons young people have attended, the qualifications they have gained, and their own personal details. In fact, as it can link with other computer-based systems, it gives us the potential to create a common management information system for post-16 education and training." Among the other systems it can "link with" are those of the police, social services and the benefits agencies. And there is more. This is a commercial operation, run like so much else in the public sector by Capita, a private-sector company. Astonishingly, the commercial sponsors - 350 have signed up so far - will have access to every card holder's "personal details".
That is to facilitate one of the scheme's other purposes, which is to "award young people points for the effort they put in, which they can use to pay for things they want, such as clothes and CDs". Earned in the classroom, these "teenage lifestyle discounts" will be available in high-street shops, fast-food outlets and cinemas. The DfES calls it "an entirely new approach to motivating young people to learn". It also claims that owning a card is voluntary. Yet it is urging schools, colleges and training providers to use it as a swipe-card to control access to their premises and record pupils' attendance, punctuality and achievements.
The card's data privacy statement is carefully ambiguous: "Any data that you submit will not be passed on to anyone else without specific instruction from the person who submitted it". Equally reassuringly, it adds: "Data is only stored for function of the site." About 50,000 cards have been distributed.
Soon, they will be issued to "rising 16s" at the rate of 600,000 a year.
As in the case of the computerised "tracking system" that the annual pupil census has now become, parents will not be asked to give their consent.
Feb 4

Bushmen face water ordeal
Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Booker's Notebook
LAST week our Government maintained to the end its shabby record over one of the greatest tragedies of the modern world, which I have been reporting since 1996. On Thursday the Botswanan government turned off the last water supply to the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, to force the last 700 Bushmen living in the wild into the hellish official settlement at New Xhade which they call "the place of death".
The previous day, a Foreign Office minister, Lord Grocott, assured Lord Pearson of Rannoch in the Lords that the British High Commissioner had last December "visited the area" with EU colleagues to speak to the Bushmen involved. In fact our High Commissioner, David Merry, had been no nearer to the reserve than Ghanzi, nowhere near the groups of Bushmen affected.
The reserve was set up 40 years ago by the British government as a haven for the Bushmen. Their right to live there undisturbed was guaranteed by the constitution when Botswana won independence in 1966. But since 1996 the Botswanan government has used every means, including well-attested cases of torture, to expel the Bushmen from an area which may contain diamonds, because it fears a legal claim over mineral rights.
The Bushmen have been forced into dependence on a government-run water supply because of the lowering of the reserve's water-table by boreholes dug by cattle-ranching companies, set up and part-subdised by the EU under a long-standing deal to export beef to the EU. This continues although Botswana is officially recognised as having foot-and-mouth disease.
The story is made more heartrending by our Foreign Office's abetting of this human and ecological disaster, in its desire to maintain good relations with Botswana. Since 1996 Parliament has been consistently misled by ministers, who parrot the Botswanan line that the Bushmen must be provided with "the amenities of the modern world" (a claim ridiculed by everyone who has seen the squalor in which they live in New Xhade). This latest misrepresentaton to the Lords was an epitaph to a shameful episode.

Muddle over metric
Sunday Telegraph

Christopher Booker's Notebook
HANSARD was kind last week to a Lib Dem peeress, the Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer, in the way it reported the tangle she got into when talking about "food miles", a jargon term for the distance people must travel to buy food from the nearest supermarket.
Rattling off statistics, she suddenly remembered, as a good little politically correct metricator, that she should be translating how "food miles" had risen "from 14 kilometres in 1986 to 22 kilometres in 1996". Amused peers felt the printed version made her seem rather more on the ball than they remembered her sounding in the chamber.
Meanwhile we enter the eleventh week since the conclusion of last November's historic "metric martyrs" case in the Court of Appeal, still without sign of a judgment. The word is that Lord Justice Laws may still be scratching his head trying to find some legal technicality on which to let off the Sunderland greengrocer Steve Thoburn, to avoid having to enter a political minefield by dealing head-on with the implications of that ruling by the district judge last April that "this country quite voluntarily surrendered the once seemingly immortal concept of the sovereignty of Parliament and legislative freedom by membership of the European Union".
This is not quite how older electors remember the case being put in that Common Market referendum in 1975. Certainly lawyers say they cannot remember any judgment in such a case taking so long to emerge.
Feb 3

Irvine orders check on press gags

Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
Friday February 1, 2002 The Guardian
The lord chancellor has asked the law commission to investigate whether gagging writs and letters warning the media off publishing stories are still having a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Lord Irvine announced yesterday that he had commissioned the study from the government's official law reform body to see whether such bullying tactics were still a problem following changes in libel laws and court rules.
The gagging writ - a libel writ issued but never intended to be taken further - was a favourite tactic of the disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell, who used it to great effect to stop media investigations into his fraudulent activities. Only after his death did it emerge that he was siphoning off vast sums from employee pension funds. A spokesman for the commission said it would consult lawyers and media organisations and produce a short paper by the end of March. If this revealed a problem, a larger study might follow. .....
In a separate project the law commission is taking a preliminary look at how the contempt of court laws can control publication in the age of the internet and satellite.

· An attempt to force the Law Society to hold an independent inquiry into the way it got rid of its first non-white vice president, Kamlesh Bahl, was adjourned yesterday to allow the parties to explore the possibility of mediation.
Solicitor Imran Khan forced a special general meeting on the issue yesterday. Ms Bahl was in line to be the first president from an ethnic minority, but was made to step down after allegations of bullying were found proved by a panel headed by a former law lord.
Mr Khan hoped to push through motions calling for an inquiry, the suspension of Robert Sayer - the former president found guilty of sex and race discrimination by an employment tribunal - and the scrapping of the society's guarantee to pay his appeal costs.
Feb 1

Uneasy lies the head

(Filed: 29/01/2002) WHY has Jack Straw decided to elevate the Prime Minister to the status of a monarch? Asked whether Tony Blair has been taking over the Foreign Secretary's job, Mr Straw said, "He's not. The more critical an issue, the more a head of state is going to be involved with September 11 and the use of our military action."
Surely ignorance wasn't behind the slip-up. And he couldn't blame it on his African trip: jet lag is rarely a problem when returning from that continent. So we can assume only that this was no mistake and that Mr Straw was intending to celebrate the all-powerful ways of his master.
And who are we, mere subjects of the new king, to object? Mr Blair must be accorded all the trappings of a monarch and that includes right and proper celebrations of his jubilee.
The real anniversary we should be celebrating this year is not whatshername's 50th, but mighty Mr Blair's fifth - it was on May 1, 1997, that he graciously took up the reins of power. Break out the Chianti Classico. Minstrel, strum that Fender Stratocaster.
Wheel his'n'hers thrones into the middle of the great floor beneath the Dome. Let joy be boundless and the golden age of giving last another 1,000 years.
Jan 29 posted Jan 31

The Colder War
Znet/ The Mirror

by John Pilger The Mirror January 29, 2002
LAST week, the US government announced that it was building the biggest-ever war machine. Military spending will rise to $379billion, of which $50billion will pay for its "war on terrorism". There will be special funding for new, refined weapons of mass slaughter and for "military operations" - invasions of other countries.
Of all the extraordinary news since September 11, this is the most alarming. It is time to break our silence.
That is to say, it is time for other governments to break their silence, especially the Blair government, whose complicity in the American rampage in Afghanistan has not denied its understanding of the Bush administration's true plans and ambitions.
The recent statements of British Ministers about the "vindication" of the "outstanding success" in Afghanistan would be comical if the price of their "success" had not been paid with the lives of more than 5,000 innocent Afghani civilians and the failure to catch Osama bin Laden and anyone else of importance in the al-Qaeda network.
The Pentagon's release of deliberately provocative pictures of prisoners at Camp X-Ray on Cuba was meant to conceal this failure from the American public, who are being conditioned, along with the rest of us, to accept a permanent war footing similar to the paranoia that sustained and prolonged the Cold War.
The threat of "terrorism", some of it real, most of it invented, is the new Red Scare. The parallels are striking.
IN AMERICA in the 1950s, the Red Scare was used to justify the growth of war industries, the suspension of democratic rights and the silencing of dissenters. That is happening now.
Above all, the American industrial-complex has a new enemy with which to justify its gargantuan appetite for public resources - the new military budget is enough to end all primary causes of poverty in the world.
Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, says he has told the Pentagon to "think the unthinkable."
Vice President Dick Cheney, the voice of Bush, has said the US is considering military or other action against "40 to 50 countries" and warns that the new war may last 50 years or more. A Bush adviser, Richard Perle, explained. "(There will be) no stages," he said.
"This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there ... If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely, and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy but just wage a total war, our children will sing great songs about us years from now."
Their words evoke George Orwell's great prophetic work, Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, three slogans dominate society: war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.
Today's slogan, war on terrorism, also reverses meaning. The war is terrorism. The next American attack is likely to be against Somalia, a deeply impoverished country in the Horn of Africa.
Washington claims there are al-Qaeda terrorist cells there.
This is almost certainly a fiction spread by Somalia's overbearing neighbour, Ethiopia, in order to ingratiate itself with Washington. Certainly, there are vast oil fields off the coast of Somalia. For the Americans, there is the added attraction of "settling a score".
In 1993, in the last days of George Bush Senior's presidency, 18 American soldiers were killed in Somalia after the US Marines had invaded to "restore hope", as they put it.
A current Hollywood movie, Black Hawk Down, glamorises and lies about this episode. It leaves out the fact that the invading Americans left behind between 7,000 and 10,000 Somalis killed.
Like the victims of American bombing in Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Cambodia, and Vietnam and many other stricken countries, the Somalis are unpeople, whose deaths have no political and media value in the West.
WHEN Bush Junior's heroic marines return in their Black Hawk gunships, loaded with technology, looking for "terrorists", their victims will once again be nameless. We can then expect the release of Black Hawk Down II.
Breaking our silence means not allowing the history of our lifetimes to be written this way, with lies and the blood of innocent people. To understand the lie of what Blair/Straw/Hoon call the "outstanding success" in Afghanistan, read the work of the original author of "Total War", a man called Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's National Security Adviser and is still a powerful force in Washington. (More)
Jan 30

"Our grief is not a cry for war." Nor for concentration camps and torture of prisoners.

by Darnell Summers For the past few days the US Military has been transporting suspected members of the Taliban & Al Queada from a military prison in Kandahar Afghanistan to another prison on the island of Cuba at the US Naval base at Guantanamo Bay which was leased to the US Government by the new Cuban Government installed after the war between the US & Spain in 1898 which ended hundreds of years Spanish colonial rule in the Caribbean & South Pacific(Guam & the Philippines in particular) and with the loss of their stolen treasures to the US. I watched as the military guards paraded their captives in front of the TV cameras at Kandahar, bragging openly that they had been sedated and shackled like animals. They then dragged them along blindfolded like slaves to Auction. They were forced unto the plane and believe me this was no charter flight to Mallorca. A few buckets were set among the prisoners to serve as toilets. It was outrageous.
When they landed in Cuba they were again paraded in front of a disgusting array of reporters and cameras to be led into another facility where they were thrown in open cages and exposed to the elements 24 hours a day. America has a long history of running prisons with 25% of all prisoners locked up in the world locked up in the US.
I couldn't escape the Irony of the situation. Brown and black bodies being brought to Cuba again. This island used to be the biggest breeding station of slaves in the New World And once more there were being brought, by their white masters the protectors of the "Holy Grail ", to sit somewhere and rot.I sat there and thought of my own experiences for I too was once a prisoner of the US Military. I know first hand how brutal they are. I saw them use the same tactics against their own soldiers at the notorious Army Prison at Long Binh Viet Nam, LBJ, where I was a held captive in 1968, the first and worst of several such places I would experience. The Daily Beatings, Torture & Terror, there's no other way to explain it. I resisted, I was beaten. I was one among thousands of American soldiers who had experienced this same form of justice and Democracy. The spectacle of it all, the deceit, the arrogance, the cold-blooded murder. The utter disregard for human dignity.
They say they're only protecting their way of life. Well, their right to live only means untold millions must die to serve that end and that includes the victims who died and those who were injured during the World Trade Center attack. I sat in front of the TV and searched the faces of the US soldiers looking for that tell-tale sign of fear in their expressions, I knew what to look for, I had seen it in my own face. You can feel it somewhere in your stomach and your face has a mind of its own. A fear generated by the realization that you don't want to be where you are. You want out, but you're thousands of miles away from home killing and bombing in someone else's country. Setting it up for the kill, making it ready and ripe for rape, pillage and plunder. A strange mix of apprehension and doubt. I found what I had searched for across the TV screen.................. "Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that numbers of people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience. ... Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That's our problem."
Jan 30

How the media's obsession with polling twists the news, alters elections, and undermines democracy (books)

The Media are lying to you and they're using "public opinion" to keep you misinformed. Welcome to the world of "Mobocracy"--a place where opinion polls, wielded by a cynical, ideologically driven press, distort the news and change opinion. It's a place where the fleeting whims of a largely ignorant populace are used to supplant thoughtful, reasonable debate, and where, all too often, pollsters and the art they practice are shrouded behind a cloudy curtain of clever wording, data manipulation, and hidden agendas.
This is "Mobocracy."
Never before in the history of our nation have public opinion polls played such a central role in the way policy is conceived, molded, and enacted. And at no time has there been a more dangerous and misleading abuse of public opinion than now. In "Mobocracy", Matthew Robinson uncovers how the media's obsession with polling drives public policy, subverts elections, and decides what we see on the evening news. He reveals how our country's democratic process has been corrupted by the mob rule of an ill-informed electorate whose opinions are trumpeted at the expense of thoughtful reporting.
Through meticulous research and insightful interviews, this book exposes how the questionable science of polls can be manipulated, how poll-driven news leads to shallow coverage, and how many of our elected officials have come to serve poll results more than they serve their constituents. ..............
Hard cover. 377 pages
Jan 29

Gulf war syndrome activist dies at 44

By Richard Savill
(Filed: 26/01/2002) A GULF War veteran who campaigned for former servicemen taken ill after the conflict has died from the motor neurone disease he developed when he returned from the Middle East. Nigel Thompson, 44, who believed his illness was triggered by drugs he was given during the war, faded from robust health as a fit sailor to confinement in a wheelchair.
But he worked relentlessly for a public inquiry into the handling of illnesses of fellow veterans. Of 52,000 British troops sent to the Gulf, 9,000 have reported ailments they attribute to their Gulf service.
Mr Thompson, who died at a nursing home in Yeovil, Somerset, was petty officer with 848 Squadron based at the Royal Naval Air Station in Yeovilton. He developed muscle spasms and other problems in 1993 within months of returning from the Gulf.
Doctors diagnosed motor neurone disease, a degenerative illness that causes muscle weakness and wasting. They said he would not live to see the second birthday of his daughter, Hannah, now seven.
His wife, Samantha, 31, said: "He was a very brave man, very courageous and although he had to suffer a most undignified and debilitating illness, he did it with a smile. I have never known anyone as brave."
In his later years Mr Thompson used a voice synthesiser while seeking justice for victims of the illnesses, known as Gulf war syndrome. He told friends he would not live to see the results of a public inquiry, but hoped to see one launched.
He promoted the Gulf Veterans' Association and raised £320,000 for families. In 1998 the Royal British Legion honoured him with the Wilkinson Sword of Excellence for outstanding achievements. It was presented to him by Tony Blair and the then Liberal Democrat and Tory leaders Paddy Ashdown and William Hague.
The Government refuses to hold a public inquiry, claiming insufficient medical evidence.
Jan 26


U.S. creates long-delayed Gulf War illnesses panel news

Thursday, January 24, 2002 By Will Dunham, Reuters
WASHINGTON - More than a decade after the Gulf War, the U.S. government launched a fresh initiative Wednesday aimed at getting to the bottom of the mysterious illnesses suffered by an estimated one in seven veterans of that conflict. The Bush administration announced the formation within the Department of Veterans Affairs of a 12-member advisory committee charged with sifting through medical research on so-called Gulf War syndrome, some of which has been all but ignored by the government until now.
................... Binns said the government in the past has treated Desert Storm veterans afflicted with unexplained ailments - perhaps linked to their service in the 1991 war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi forces - as if their illnesses were all in their minds.
"These, by and large, are not a group of men and women who were prone to illness or prone to being hypochondriacs before they went into military service," Binns said. "There's substantial evidence that this problem is real. There are probable causes and even are promising avenues for treatment. And I wonder why the attitude hasn't been, 'Let's jump on this. Let's pursue these encouraging bits of research.' I say that's where I think we can make a difference."
Many of the nearly 700,000 U.S. Desert Storm troops say they suffer from conditions including pain in the muscles and joints, fatigue, nausea, and balance problems. Their children also appear to have a higher risk of birth defects. ......The Department of Veterans Affairs last month said Gulf War military personnel apparently are nearly twice as likely as other veterans to develop the fatal neurological ailment amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The department said it would give additional benefits and compensation to veterans who served in the Gulf region during the war and later came down with ALS.
This was the first official acknowledgment of a scientific link between Gulf War service and a specific disease.
Jan 26

Prove the politicians wrong: get out on the street - and party

By Tom Utley WE have all long known, and David Dimbleby often reminds us, that Question Time studio audiences are not representative samples of the population. They include large numbers of enthusiasts for politics - and that on its own sets them apart.
The things they say, and the answers from the panel that they are prepared to applaud, do not therefore tell us much about what is going through the country's mind. But they are interesting for what they show about the way in which the politicised classes are thinking, and about what these people now think it respectable to say in public. It is the politicised classes, after all, who tend to get things done - more's the pity. .................. .......But you can be absolutely sure that, if the jubilee is seen to be a flop, the opponents of hereditary monarchy will never let us forget it. I cannot see Mr Blair standing up for the Crown - he, who has been hacking the British constitution to pieces since the day he came to power - in the face of a public display of apathy.
If the jubilee is a success, however, it will help to prolong the life of the monarchy in Britain for a great many years to come. And I see no reason why it should not succeed. As Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said this week: "People don't think about summer street parties in the depths of winter."
At about this time in 1977, the same fears were being expressed that nobody was interested in the jubilee. But when the big day came, it was a triumph. On the day of the silver jubilee, I was the only reporter on duty at the Tavistock Times in Devon. I spent the day phuttering around the circulation area on my motorcycle, reporting on dozens of street parties on the edge of Dartmoor. I can testify that everyone was having a wonderful time.
Those of us who like the monarchy because it works, and because it keeps politicians in their place, have a duty to celebrate this year. You just wait. If the jubilee is a success, Mr Blair will be the first to take the credit and to announce that he is the most enthusiastic monarchist in the land. And if making it a success means going to a street party, then I'm up for it.
Jan 26

USA: Washington Pressures EU to Drop GMO Labeling

Environment News Service January 16, 2002
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Confidential documents obtained by Friends of the Earth Europe underline American opposition to European Union plans for compulsory tracing and labeling rules for all food and animal feed containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) above a certain threshold. The United States is concerned that tracing and labeling rules would limit imports of American crops such as GM soy and corn.
The U.S. government argues that the European Union proposal is "unworkable and not enforceable," and that labeling will actually erode rather than bolster consumer confidence.
The comments are contained in two recent American submissions to the Technical Barriers to Trade Committee of the World Trade Organization, which is coordinating global response to European Union plans for a system of supply chain tracing and labeling GMOs.
The European Commission issued legislative proposals last summer as part of European Union (EU) efforts to strengthen consumer safeguards over genetically modified organisms.
Argument continues to rage over whether a de facto European Union moratorium on new genetically modified product approvals should be lifted before the supply chain rules take effect.
Today's leaked documents confirm that, although the United States wants the moratorium lifted as soon as possible, it does not accept a tracing and labeling regime. The EU's proposals are not necessary on food safety grounds, the American documents argue. The U.S. maintains that tracing GMOs along the entire supply chain would be too complicated, and the whole system would be vulnerable to fraud.
The European Union's de facto moratorium on genetically modified organisms was initiated by five of the 15 EU Member States in 1999 -- Denmark, France, Greece, Italy and Luxembourg. They demanded traceability and labeling regulations before any more genetically modified organisms are approved for release in the European Union. Since then, three more Member States -- Austria, Belgium and Germany -- have adopted positions which support the moratorium.
The U.S. comments identify as the ''core problem facing the European Union in biotechnology'' the fact that EU Member States have the final say in the authorization procedure. The United States considers that the recent proposals fail to address this and complains that ''decisions will still be made through political process'' and therefore ''individual Member States will continue to be able to hold the approval process hostage to political concerns.''
The American submission to the WTO's Technical Barriers to Trade Committee asserts that the EU risks further damaging current low levels of consumer confidence in food safety by introducing labeling. If the genetically modified organism in question has been approved as safe for use in food, the American argument goes, then a label alerting consumers to the presence of GMOs would imply that safety regulations are lax and cannot be relied upon.
In response to the submission, Friends of the Earth Europe accused the U.S. government of seeking to "bully" countries around the world into abandoning plans for tough GMO legislation.......
Jan 25

Terrorism As Cannibalism
Znet Daily Commentaries

By Vandana Shiva Year 2001 will be etched in our memory as a year in which the vicious cycle of violence was unleashed worldwide. Of the Taliban bombing the two thousand year old images of peace, the Buddhas of Bamiyan. .........
Why is violence engulfing us so rapidly, so totally? Why has violence become the dominant feature of the human species across cultures. Could the violence characterising human societies in the new millenium be linked with violent structures and institutions we have created to reduce society to markets and humans to consumers? ...................
Greed and appropriation of other people's share of the plane's precious resources are at the root of conflicts, and the root of terrorism. When President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that the goal of the global war on terrorism is for the defense of he American and European "way of life", they are declaring a war against the planet-its oil, its water, its biodiversity. ........... If the past enclosures have already precipitated so much violence, what will be the human costs of new enclosures being carved out for privatisation of living resources and water resources, the very basis of our species survival. Intellectual property laws and water privatisation are new invisible cages trapping humanity. IPR laws are denying farmers the basic freedom of saving and exchanging seed. They are, in effect, enclosing the genetic commons, creating new scarcities in a biologically rich world, transforming fundamental freedoms into criminal acts punishable with fines and jail sentences. Water privatisation policies are enclosing the water commons, transforming water into a commodity to be bought and sold for profit, creating water scarcity in a water abundant world. Percy Schmeiser, a Canadian farmer had been using his own seeds for the past fifty years. His Canola seed was genetically polluted with Monsanto's GM Canola through wind and pollination. Instead of Percy being paid compensation in accordance with the polluter pay principle, the courts fined Percy on the basis of Monsanto's IPR case which argued that since the genes were Monsanto's property their being found in Percy's field made him a thief irrespective of how they came to be there. The violator becomes the violated, the violated becomes the violator in the perverse world of patents on genes, seeds and living material. Such perverse laws are transforming agriculture into police states and farmers into criminals. They are the invisible cages which are holding humans captive to market processes and corporate rule. ................. Animals were not designed to live imprisoned in cages. Humans were not designed to live imprisoned in markets, or live wasted and disposable if they cannot be consumers in the global market. Our deepening dehumanisation is at the roots of growing violence. Reclaiming our humanity in inclusive, compassionate way is the first step to peace. Peace will not be created through weapons and wars, bombs and barbarism. Violence will not be contained by spreading it. Violence has become a luxury the human species cannot afford if we are to survive. Non-violence has become a survival imperative.
Jan 24

How the BBC stopped me putting Labour on the rack
Telegraph Opinion

By Janet Daley
(Filed: 23/01/2002)
YOU may occasionally catch a late-night BBC2 programme called Despatch Box. Then again, you probably don't.
DB is really only for insomniac political obsessives who want to see the last vestigial trace of parliamentary coverage left on terrestrial television, and are prepared to sit up until midnight to do it.
Anyway, I (or rather, my agent) was contacted by the programme last week. They said that they wanted to base the following Monday's discussion on my most recent column about the contradictions in New Labour. Would I come on, first to review the next day's papers and then to participate in a debate with one Old Labour and one New Labour MP?
Well, I generally refuse to appear on most mainstream television current affairs programmes these days, but this sounded like good fun. A chance for some healthy knock-about on the crisis in the Third Way, with committed representatives of the two conflicting wings of the Labour Party. OK, I said, let's do it.
That was last Friday. About midday on the Monday when the programme was to go out, I received a call from the producer, Libby Jukes, standing me down. She had decided, after "mulling it over", that the discussion should be an "internal" Labour Party conversation. She was therefore replacing me with Stephen Pollard.
Mr Pollard is an able enough commentator, but he is also, as he was introduced on the programme, a former Labour policy wonk. This was to be a strictly family affair. No one from outside the Labour tent would be admitted. I watched the programme that night. It was a love-in.
The two MPs fell over each other to express mutual affection and admiration in spite of their (minimal) disagreements. Even Mr Pollard, who has made some trenchant comments about the Blair Government in print, was helpfully supportive of the party on the air. So that was that........
The only place where you can see old-fashioned, spontaneous, surprising political conversation is on the BBC's digital 24-hour news channel, which is allowed, for some reason, to broadcast current affairs for grown-ups. News24 programmes such as Dateline London, Straight Talk and Head to Head, with their tiny budgets and minimal sets, are the last reminder of what lively political television should be about: ideas and arguments.
The BBC says it wants to know why most of you think its political coverage is boring. I wonder if it would listen to any answer that it hadn't scripted in advance itself.
Jan 23

Telegraph - Opinion

By Sarah Smith .................... THE American government continues to smoulder with resentment at the charge that it is treating Afghan soldiers held in cages, like animals.
What we've failed to appreciate, apparently, is that each cage does have an exercise wheel, a mirror and a big bit of cuttlefish. Plus, chainlink walls are the ultimate in openness. Why, you can see everything those pesky Afghans get up to.
Yes, that's right, roll the cameras, call Davina McCall, it's the perfect format for a television reality show! Which of the prisoners will the viewers vote to go to military tribunal and possible execution this week? If only the title hadn't been used, they could call it Big Brother.
Jan 22

We're still digesting that most murderous lunch

By Robert Harris (Filed: 22/01/2002)
SIXTY years ago this week, in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee - a kind of waterside Holland Park - 15 of Germany's most senior civil servants, roughly equivalent in Whitehall rank to permanent secretary, gathered for a buffet lunch. .....................
Before the Wannsee lunch, the Nazis had killed only 10 per cent of the six million Jews who were to die during the Final Solution; in the 12 months after it, 50 per cent of the eventual total were liquidated.
In other words, it accomplished what the man who convened it, SS-General Reinhard Heydrich, sought to achieve: it energised the formidable German administrative machine, enabling Europe, as he put it, to be "combed through from east to west" until it was clear of Jews. The foreign ministry ensured that other European countries co-operated.
The minutes are euphemistic about how the Jews were actually to be killed - most were to be worked to death and any survivors "dealt with appropriately" - but according to Adolf Eichmann, who drafted the official record, the participants certainly discussed methods of mass murder, including gassing
. "Not only did everybody willingly indicate agreement," he testified at his trial in Israel in 1961, "but there was something else, entirely unexpected, when they outdid and outbid each other, as regards the demand for a final solution to the Jewish question."
Eichmann professed himself amazed at the enthusiasm of these normally fussy administrators, and who can blame him? Eight of those around the table had doctorates.
Indeed, one of the most telling scenes in the brilliant dramatic reconstruction of Wannsee - Conspiracy, to be broadcast on BBC2 on Friday night - occurs when someone asks how many of those present are lawyers, and most of the participants raise their hands. Heydrich himself was, at the time of the meeting, president of Interpol.
Watching a tape of the programme - and I would urge anyone with an interest in history to see it, not least for Kenneth Branagh's astonishing portrayal of Heydrich - what struck me most was that this all happened a mere 60 years ago. Sixty years! In historical terms, 60 years barely qualifies as a blink.
Small wonder, then, that Wannsee, more than any other recent anniversary of the Second World War, resonates so strongly. The pitched land, air and sea battles of 1939-45, for all their epic scale, have an old-fashioned quality: even such a relatively tiny conflict as Afghanistan revealed advances in military technology that make the weapons used during the last war seem as quaint as muskets and cavalry horses.
The bureaucrats of Wannsee, by contrast, have a horrible freshness about them. There are people like this in every government, in every country: the prim Wilhelm Stuckhart, who pedantically makes the case for compulsory sterlilisation as a "humane" alternative to extermination; the creepy lawyer from occupied Poland, Josef Buehler, who "had only one request - that the Jewish question be solved as quickly as possible"; the self-aggrandising "Plenipotentiary for the Four-Year Plan", state secretary Neumann, who has no problems with mass murder as long as it does not affect "industries vital to the war".
One would like to think that the Wannsee lunch could never happen again; one knows in one's bones that it could. And when one looks around at the modern world, from Israel's understandable paranoia about its security, to Germany's understandable desire to subsume itself in a wider Europe, one feels the long shadow of that snowy day in a Berlin suburb 60 years ago.
Jan 22

GM virus research will stay secret

By Charles Clover Environment Editor (Filed: 19/01/2002)
A NUMBER of dangerous genetically modified viruses and bacteria under development in British laboratories will remain secret for reasons of "national security" when a public register is reopened next month, the Government announced yesterday.
The register was closed after September 11 because of fears that the information could be used by terrorists. But in a move criticised by senior academics and environmentalists, the Government has amended the law to keep secret the most dangerous diseases under development.
Only one per cent of the laboratories work with the most dangerous viruses and bacteria on the register which include anthrax, salmonella, encephalitis and typhus.
Some critics of the secrecy clause believe that the things most likely to be removed from the list are precisely those that should not be experimented on at all.
Stephen Byers, secretary for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, said in a written parliamentary answer that a sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Modification would consider whether any genetically modified pathogens should be excluded from the register.
12 December 2001: Virus test site register closed over terror threat 1 April 1998: GM killer bugs developed as defence against germ warfare
posted Jan 21

ARCH's Questions fall on Deaf EarS:

ARCH accused of lying
ARCH's questions regarding the need for and use of sensitive information in the 2001 Schools Census have spawned a host of contradictory statements from DfES (or Deaf EarS, as one parent astutely terms them).
Anxious parents have contacted ARCH since the launch of the Stop the Census campaign, asking for clarification of the answers to their questions which have been given by DfES - each answer seems to conflict with the one before, adding to parents' fear and confusion.
Yesterday, in a desperate attempt to restore the calm which DfES had enjoyed whilst parents remained ignorant, DfES resorted to telling callers that ARCH and the Daily Telegraph newspaper were "giving out false information" about the Census, and accused them of "scaremongering".
So, DfES, here is your chance. And, in best schoolteacher style, we remind you that, in order to score any marks just ANSWER THE QUESTIONS!
Click on this link and begin as soon as you see the page. This test is timed. You have until 5.00 pm Thursday 24th January 2002. ARCH calls for the Schools Census to be halted with immediate effect until such time as the DfES consults with interested groups, including parents and children. Unlike those who are employed as public servants, parents are not paid for their work, we cannot be sacked or voted out of office, and we will not go away.
Jan 18

Any questions? John Clare deals with your education conundrums

AS chairman of the governors of a primary school in York, may I draw your attention to a deeply troubling change in the rules regarding the annual school census that takes place nationally tomorrow? Until now, the information that schools have been required to supply every year to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) via their education authority has not identified individual pupils. However, the form that we, like all 24,000 schools in England, will have to fill in tomorrow, asks for every child's name, address, postcode, date of birth, "unique pupil number", special educational needs, mother tongue, ethnicity and eligibility for free school meals - all of which will be made available to "essential data users". Under the Data Protection Act, can we do this without parents' consent? And how is it different from a national identity scheme, which was recently debated and rejected for adults on human rights grounds?

(John Clare)This is an extraordinary business, not least because there has been absolutely no public debate. The official announcement that it was going to happen was made by Estelle Morris, the Education Secretary, in a parliamentary answer on February 5 last year. She said the DfES "intended to create a central pupil database" of all children in the state sector. Information would be "collated mainly by means of a `unique pupil number' allocated to them when they first enter school" - starting in September 1999. The "backbone of the database", beginning "as soon as possible after January 2002", would be the annual school census. The database, which will include pupils' results in national tests and public exams, would be a "tracking system" that would "make a major contribution to the drive to raise standards".
Those with access to it apart from the DfES would include Ofsted, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and local education authorities. However, it may not stop there. Arch - Action on Rights for Children in Education ( says Miss Morris's database could easily be linked with another being compiled for her department's Connexions scheme. This has the power to collect personal information on every child aged 13 to 19 from a wide range of sources, including the police, the probation service, health authorities, social services and benefits agencies.
Under the Data Protection Act, passing on such "sensitive" information as the census requires would normally require the consent of parents of children under 16 and of pupils who are 16 and over.
That, as the DfES helpfully explains on its website,, is why the census has been put on a statutory basis: "It means that schools do not need to obtain parental or pupil consent to the provision of information (which would be a major burden for them), and they are protected from any legal challenge that they are breaching a duty of confidence to pupils". No data, the department adds, will be copied to other organisations "without there being a clear need". Arch says the census is indistinguishable from a national identity scheme. I agree. It is also being introduced with unseemly stealth. I wonder why?
Jan 19

Satan doesn't wear sweaty socks
The Times

..........................America will save the planet if America must, and it will pay the piper: but it will then call the tune. A negotiated process of cooperation is not what America has in mind. ........................... Now that President Bush has signed up Tony Blair as British Robin to the American Batman, is there reason to think these verities have been suspended? The question is not posed rhetorically, for there are some reasons for hope. Terrorism is, after all, against all our interests. But how we define terrorism, where we diagnose it, and to what resorts we think it right to go in combating it, are debates in which we Europeans and the United States may find our preferred positions sliding apart. I think that slide began this week, as the unsavoury pantomime took to the stage in Guantanamo Bay. Take Donald Rumsfeld's angry brushing aside of concerns about the treatment of prisoners, an outburst which, from the Prime Minister down, members of the British Government have been trying to sidle past, looking the other way. Said the US Defence Secretary: "I do not feel the slightest concern at their treatment. They are being treated vastly better than they treated anybody else." In a saloon bar this will do, but is that the standard? How much does the Secretary of State really know about these individuals? And why are they not prisoners of war? Face it: Mr Rumsfeld does not care about the niceties and cares little who knows it. Washington's way of "fighting terror" is not, despite appearances, the same as Britain's. We seek to project the message that there are rules to which all nations are subject. America has a simpler message: kill Americans, and you're dead meat. The British Foreign Office may huff and puff that US swagger is "counterproductive", alienating "moderate Arab opinion", but Washington proposes a different approach: show them who's boss. America - not Britain, Europe and America and not "the international community", but America - is boss. On this analysis Rumsfeld with his visual aids - cages, razor-wire, manacles and sedating syringes - is not maladroit: he's on message. Be sure that frantic private telegrams are winging their way over the Atlantic explaining the embarrassment this is causing Mr Blair. Be equally sure where Mr Bush is putting them. America has simple gods and likes to keep her satan simple, too. Every populace has a tendency to see for a while evidence of a single demon's fiendish plans beneath every stone, but Americans take this to extremes. In Salem it was once witches. In Senator Joe McCarthy's heyday it was Commies. Now it is al-Qaeda. And September 11 offered tremendous provocation. Of the brutality and ill-intent of the United States' fundamentalist foe there can be no doubt, nor of the righteousness of American wrath. But this does not make their assessment of the foe accurate. We are told on very little evidence that the al-Qaeda network is incredibly sophisticated, yet the things we know it has done have been relatively crude, the technology modest. We are told (and the slavishness of the British press in printing this unquestioned is depressing) that al-Qaeda "masterminds" are at work here - in London, Leicester, or wherever else some fundamentalist nutcase with nasty ambitions and contacts abroad is found in a bedsit. But in the claimed evil genius about whom we do know a bit, Richard Reid, we see little to justify the term. This imbecile is about as inconspicuous as a bag-lady. He has been attracting suspicion wherever he goes. When he flies El Al it puts a marshal in the adjacent seat. He couldn't even devise a way of detonating his own shoes, short of bending down in his aeroplane seat, with passengers around, and trying to set fire with matches to a foot-sweaty fuse. Why didn't he go into the loo? If this really is the cream of al-Qaeda then things are less dire than we feared. You, reader, will have furrowed your brow about some of this already.
So will a million others. A silent minority used likewise to wonder if half the village really were witches; if the goofy clerk at work really was a key communist spy. Of course al-Qaeda exists; of course it is numerous; of course it is murderous; of course it must be fought. But it is not the only, and may not even be the cleverest, terrorist organisation in the world. Suicide bombing is as old as the bomb, and dangerous prisoners who would stop at nothing have been transported and held in custody since courts and prisons were invented. This is not the greatest evil the world has ever seen, nor the cleverest, nor the first - and nor, certainly, will it be the last. But America is moving into a phase of believing so, and America is apt to throw her weight around. It may go to some lengths and last some time. We should hang back.
Jan 19

About the School Census 17th January 2002
DFeS Pdf file

Implications for schools of the agreement with the Data Protection Registrar The agreement with the Registrar has the following implications for schools:
schools should not generally advise pupils (or parents) of their UPN, nor indeed take any positive steps to inform them of the introduction of the UPN system. Schools will of course wish to deal with any enquiries from pupils or parents honestly and without evasion, and pupils have the right under the Data Protection Act to receive on request a copy of any information the school holds about them (including their UPN). But schools should not give out details of pupils' UPNs otherwise;.....
Jan 17


On January 17th 2002, schools must make their annual census return to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). This gives information about all the pupils in the school - the kind of information which it asks for can be seen here
In the past, the information has always been submitted without the names and addresses of pupils, or anything else that could identify them.
For the very first time, the DfES has told schools that they must 'personalise' the information and it will then be put on to a government database which will hold an individual record about each child.
The Secretary of State for Education has explained that the DfES wishes to build a system which will 'track' all children and young people. Her reply to the parliamentary question in which she confirmed this can be seen here ** FAMILIES HAVE NOT BEEN CONSULTED ** ACT NOW TO STOP THE CENSUS!! Read more about why we are concerned about this Write to your headteacher Fax your MP Spread the word - print posters click here to download "Say No" posters (double poster in rich text format, readable by most word processors for printing on A4 landscape), or click here for the webpage poster (HTML format) .....

Muddle on asylum
Times Letters

Sir, Mr Alasdair Mackenzie (letter, January 14) draws attention to the fact that Mr Blunkett's proposals for asylum "will effectively cut off people's legitimate rights of appeal against wrongful refusals of asylum". You also report today that UK "deportations to Zimbabwe will continue". I cannot remember when I last saw two more incongruous pieces of information in the same issue of your paper. Yours sincerely,
House of Lords.
January 14.
Jan 16

Come back BR and NHS - all is forgiven
The Times

Once upon a time, little boys wanted to be engine drivers and little girls wanted to be nurses. Now they can be both. They can join a Big Five accountancy firm and run trains and hospitals at the same time. ............................ In my experience, what hospitals want and need is not private profit but some relief from central interference. They want to serve their communities as their leaders see fit under clear remits from their boards. As long as Mr Milburn meddles in their affairs they cannot do this. Privatisation may marginally enhance autonomy, but the cost will be high. Hospital buildings run under private finance plans cost more than NHS buildings. The same will apply to private managers. Performance is not secured by staff loyalty and continuity but by contracts, accountants and lawyers. The organisation comes to "work the contract" and pocket the rest. That is not the path to quality public service.
Mr Milburn should talk to his friend, Mr Byers, who now appears to be running in the opposite direction. He is dismantling railway privatisation as a costly failure. Trains have been run as performance-linked private franchises on someone else's infrastructure, which is what Mr Milburn wants for "failing" hospitals. The result has been confusion, buck-passing, and constant ministerial tampering with the contracts. Britain's railways are now managed by accountants guarded by lawyers. It is unbelievably expensive. And Mr Byers still cannot decide if he wants a public railway or a private one.
Rail privatisation must rank as the most grotesque error in modern British government, topping even the poll tax. I favoured it for the crude reason that British government control was so poor, compared with the Continent, that rail investment would always be stifled without it. But the privatisation should have been "clean", either of British Rail as a whole or preferably as five or six companies running regional lines out of the capital, each in control of its assets. Such a plan was discussed within British Rail in the late 1980s and supported by John Major as Prime Minister. It was the best option and the only one to make sense. One day I know it will happen, after two decades of fiasco.
The regional break-up was vetoed by the Treasury in a turf war admirably related by Christian Wolmar in Broken Rails. The Treasury got it wrong. The new railway has had to receive twice the subsidy of the old one, despite business rising by more than a third. The Prescott/Byers plan forecasts a staggering £70 billion of investment over ten years. Half of this is pie-in-the-sky, but even the half underwritten by the Treasury is three times more per year than was available under nationalisation. The reason is not more business. As Roger Ford of Modern Railways calculates, so inefficient has been privatisation that each pound of new investment yields only a third the improvement it yielded BR. The rest goes on overheads, regulation and profit. The new public cash in Prescott/Byers will only maintain the railway in its existing state, not improve it.
The conclusion is stark. The efficiency gains used to justify privatisation have not materialised. They do not justify the extra cost of capital - 6 per cent extra for Railtrack - or the loss of leadership confidence on which the delicate balance of railway risk and performance depends. I have no doubt that so much money, had it been offered to the old British Rail, would by now have produced the finest railway in Europe. Even today, with subsidies at two to three times the British Rail rate, private operators may soon join Railtrack in bankruptcy. This is the measure of the madness of 1991-93. The guilty men, Norman Lamont, John MacGregor and the Treasury's Steve Robson, are still sitting pretty in the City with two peerages and a knighthood.
Running a railway may not require a public service ethos - not like a hospital in this sense - but it does require leaders who know where they are going. Under Mr Byers they have no clue. Two Downing Street units are looking into the railway, and another in the Treasury. The Transport Department has its three rail directorates. Railtrack has a chairman, John Armitt, a bevy of administrators from Ernst & Young, and Richard Bowker of the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA). Mr Bowker recently announced a new station for Ludlow, which is nice of him, but why is this his business? Which of these is to run Mr Byers's railway? He appears to want a "not-for-profit trust" answerable to him, or perhaps the SRA, but with a profit-making subsidiary which will employ subcontractors to work in collaboration with private train companies. They will answer to a franchise director. All can receive subsidies and be under Treasury control.
This is where we began, in a fidget of inchoate reform. It is where Mr Milburn is also heading. Even the most ardent privatiser knows that you cannot mix profit with public service in one pot. Nor can you constantly reorganise. Railways and hospitals are hot-blooded human institutions. They are being tossed about like baubles at court, from cronies to martinets to "czars", from spinners to administrators to consultants. This is what happens when government cares only about tomorrow's headlines.
Oh hell, why not just bring back British Rail and the NHS?

God save us from this spin
Evening Standard

by A.N. Wilson.
Click here for previous columns by A N Wilson
............... The influence of modern political methods - of spin doctors, of campaign managers, of PR - is to be seen in many areas of life which would be better off without it. Judges, for example - particularly, senior judges - never used to give interviews to the newspapers. The first judge to give a press conference was the publicity-mad Lord Denning, when he was Master of the Rolls and was chairing the inquiry into the Profumo scandal. It was an entirely improper attempt to stimulate pornographic excitement in an already salacious public.
Now, it is commonplace for the Lord Chief Justice and other venerable judicial figures to give their views, not merely from the bench, which is where we want to hear them, but in a radio or TV studio. This gradually demeans their position.
A bishop's suitability for the role of Archbishop of Canterbury should be visible within the church, among his own people. As soon as he goes outside, touting for public opinion in a radio studio, he has lowered the church.
A Lord Chief Justice who gives " interviews" suggests that his bench is no longer interesting enough or authoritative enough in its own right. Therefore, he has to woo the journalists. Likewise, no Government minister would make an important announcement at the dispatch box of the House of Commons if he could persuade Richard and Judy to let him do it on their chat show.
One does not care tuppence whether the Bishop of Rochester dabbled with Roman Catholicism in his youth. One cares desperately that he has dabbled with spin-doctoring in his middle age.

A pox on the views of kiddies

Mr Tony Blair has assembled a team of kiddies to advise the Government. These truly nauseating nippers will be airing their views on such issues as science teaching in schools, and whether the internet is the best way of interesting young people in politics.
John Clarke, disabled and 13, from Burton-upon-Trent, pompously told a newspaper: "I agreed to get involved because neither young people nor disabled people have a proper voice in government". Why should they have a "voice"? Most of us hate young people, with very good reason. Their voices grate on us. Their views bore us. Their behaviour nauseates us. Nearly all the crime in London is committed by them.
In the past they were locked away - pressganged into ships, sent down mines, imprisoned in boarding schools, tortured into submission until they were old enough to be tolerable company.
The chief blight of modern life is its kiddie-centredness, its sycophancy towards babies and adolescents.
A Government which wants to "listen" to this universally odious group deserves every misfortune coming to it. Philip Larkin was wise when he said: "As a child, I thought I hated everyone. When I grew up, I realised it was only kids I hated."
Jan 14

In the end, you can usually trust a tortoise
The Times

There is no doubt who made the star speech in the House of Lords debate on Lords reform. It was Roy Jenkins. His speech was funny, hard-hitting and historic. One of my friends on the cross benches described it to me as "wonderful". Lord Jenkins of Hillhead argued that Parliament - not just our House - needed reform; that the House of Commons is the weakest it has been in modern history, lacking independence, failing to oversee the actions of Government and failing to scrutinise legislation. He laughed at the Government's very laughable scheme of reform. By the weekend, the Labour scheme for a largely party-nominated House, with only 20 per cent elected, and even the elected Members subject to a party list, had been derided in the Lords and battered in the Commons. It had come to resemble one of Hitler's abandoned tanks at Stalingrad, with icicles hanging from the turret and the gun pointing skyward - an object of melancholy curiosity. The Conservatives were against it; the Liberal Democrats were against it; the Labour back benches were against it. Only the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is for it; when he went to argue its merits to Labour MPs, he got the bird.
This is a reminder of a truth about constitutional reform. Like war, constitutional reform is quite easy to start, but very hard to stop; the eventual outcome is outside the control of the original reformer. When Louis XVI summoned the Estates-General to meet in May 1789, he did not foresee that the process started by that meeting would take him to the guillotine only four years later.
When Tony Blair, in a frivolous mood, decided that he would remove the hereditary peers, without knowing what sort of House of Lords would eventually replace them, he no doubt imagined that this would be a minor reform which would enhance his own power over a House he rather dislikes. Inadvertently, he opened the way to the logic of the constitution.
The old House was an anachronism, but it was an ancient anachronism. After 750 years people had become accustomed to the absurdity of having hereditary legislators. The life peers kept the House refreshed with talent; the job was done quite well; the debates were good; there were no scandals: the legislative botches of the Commons were calmly corrected. Wiser Labour leaders, from Attlee to Callaghan, had decided not to meddle with a House that worked well and gave a minimum of trouble.
The argument against the old House was that it was not democratic; that is the argument against the present House; it is also the argument against the Labour proposal. Once Blair had decided that the hereditary principle was too undemocratic to survive, it became obvious to any thinking person that the appointive principle was equally undemocratic. Indeed, the appointive principle is the greater threat to democracy. ................... Some people argue that there should be no second chamber. This argument was answered by Roy Jenkins. The present Commons has lost its independence; it is under a dictatorship of the whips for the benefit of Tony Blair. It does not scrutinise legislation properly. The thousands of amendments, many of them put down by the Government, which have to be passed by the Lords, are evidence of the incompetence of the present Commons as a legislative machine.
The logic of reform is irresistible. The constitution needs a House of Lords; Parliament should be chosen by the people; a new House of Lords should therefore be elected. Most observers would include a minority of non-elected members, the law lords, perhaps some bishops, a few people of exceptional experience, but these should be kept in a minority and some think they should not have votes. The Government failed to see this. It went back on its promise to consult the other parties; it did not even follow the carefully crafted, if unsatisfactory, compromises of the Wakeham Commission; it published its plan for a non-democratic, largely appointed House. No great matter, one might think, to public opinion. The electors of 2005 will be worried about the social services, transport and possibly taxation, but not at all about the House of Lords. ...........

Don't go working on Maggie's farm no more

Tony Blair says he has learned much from Mrs Thatcher's success. But now it's time to learn the biggest of all: why she failed
Jackie Ashley

Is this the beginning of the end? We all know to everything there is a season and all that; a time to be born, a time to die. Could it be that historians will look back on this month as a historic tipping-point in British politics, the moment when the Tories began their rebirth and Labour its remorseless decline? Is this the time when the ice starts silently to melt?
It's easy to write the script: Labour is rocked by union militancy; talk of another winter of discontent; the transport system in chaos; the Prime Minister returning from sunny climes, not exactly saying: 'Crisis, what crisis?' but announcing he's off again soon. And all the while, the sound of steady, deliberate steps towards the centre coming from the Tory party. An arrogant Government failing to deliver and a chastened Opposition which is listening at last. It's certainly been the Conservatives' week.
Commentators from Left and Right, who rarely agree, all see some unseasonal signs of the green shoots of their recovery. The Tories are 'inching towards reality' says the Guardian 's Hugo Young. They are 'showing signs of returning to life' according to Steve Richards in the Independent, and 'at last have something interesting to say' for the Telegraph 's Alice Thomson. One by one, the old Tory mantras are being turned on their head, from Michael Howard's disavowal of the idea of low taxes above all else to Oliver Letwin's discovery, contrary to Margaret Thatcher's assertion, that there is such a thing as society.
The likeable, self-deprecating Letwin concludes that the old 'prison works' theme does not tell the whole story on crime. Add to that Damian Green's critique of what's wrong with our secondary schools - devised after spending three days helping teach in one. Then there's Caroline Spelman's restraining voice on asylum-seekers and military action against Iraq.
All of them except Michael Howard, who these days bears little resemblance to the 'something of the night' Howard of old, are the 'No-Names'. Oh how we mocked when Iain Duncan Smith found most of his party's heavyweights had gone off in a sulk and he had to fill his front bench with people few voters had ever heard of. Yet the No-Names are winning themselves a bit of reputation for candour, intelligence and fresh thinking.
Whether these changes are coming about because of, or in spite of, Iain Duncan Smith is not clear. Supporters say he's never been the swivel-eyed extremist of his caricature, but has a wide and deep intellectual thirst. That's yet to be proven, but could he turn out to be a modern, smaller version of the Clement Attlee of his party? Attlee, you'll remember, was a balding, uncharismatic man with a steely sense of strategy who allowed others, like Nye Bevan and Ernie Bevin, the space to shine beneath him.
Of course, it's always much easier to think freely in Opposition. There's more time, for a start, and much less media attention. But it is as though the Tories, having suffered what Mr Alastair Campbell might call a 24-carat breakdown, are now in full rehabilitation mode. Confessional, frank, and open, Shadow Ministers are suddenly asking for advice and searching for solutions. Damian Green is not only spending time in schools, he's touring Europe, too. Oliver Letwin has thrown his net wide in looking for solutions to the scourge of crime. It may have been taking things a little far actually to become the victim of a burglary himself, but you can't deny his enthusiasm.
Now look at Labour. It is also in search of new thinking and rightly, for the Third Way has run out of road. But instead of being open and self-critical, Labour seems hierarchical, closed and retentive, clasping policy ever tighter to the centre. Where does Labour look for new ideas? Why, a host of businessmen. Downing Street is stuffed with new units and they're not just the ones chosen from the furniture showrooms by Mrs Blair. There's the Performance and Innovation Unit, the Policy Unit, the Forward Strategy Unit - and on it goes.
Among the luminaries in these units are John Birt, former director-general of the BBC, Penny Hughes of Coca-Cola, Nick Lovegrove, from the management consultants McKinseys, and Adair Turner, a former director-general of the CBI. Each of them is undoubtedly a worthy bigwig, but without, in some cases, a political bone in their bodies.
The units are there to prescribe, order, measure and dictate, not to listen or rethink or even to communicate with the rest of us. Accidentally or not, they simply clench more power and author ity to the centre, at the expense of departments and Parliament. If the Tories have been a bit like a man rediscovering himself after a breakdown, sloughing off the old arrogance, then Labour has been like the man driving himself obsessively towards that breakdown.
But there are no scripts here. Nothing is preordained. These are very dangerous times for New Labour because it is now that it could absolutely confirm the control-freak yet incompetent image that too much of the country suspects. Yet there are also signs that some at least of the party's senior figures realise the danger and are starting to change course. Stephen Byers has sounded like a human being in his interviews on the rail crisis.
His department's critic, Peter Hain, is still in his job after making the latest of many embarrassing but accurate statements. Charles Clarke and Clare Short similarly have been frank in a way that, back in 1997-8, would have had Alastair Campbell in apoplexy. In the Commons, Robin Cook is licensed to work on reforms that the executive as a whole dislikes. I sense U-turns coming on the London Underground and Lords reform, both welcome admissions of earlier mistakes. The euro, admittedly, is still a neuralgic issue and Ministers are watched carefully by both Number 10 and the Treasury. Yet even here we are seeing clear differences of emphasis (Clarke and Brown, Hain and Straw) without the ceiling falling down.
All of this is both good for the country and self-preserving for Labour. What has been lacking so far is a strong signal from the top which puts past failures in context and explains exactly where the party wants to take Britain now. But even that may finally be coming. Tony Blair's new theme is that the public services are in real danger because the Tories and the media wish to talk them down relentlessly as a prelude to a further and dramatic era of break-up and privatisation: only more money, more reform and more political grit can save them.
We don't yet know yet where the Tories will end up in their survey of public services policy but there is enough truth in the Blair charge to rally his own party. If he was able to extend his thinking to admit the excessive control-freakery of the past and to admit a new tolerance and openness of style, then he could yet find that second wind which has so far eluded him. It would be, I admit, very difficult to do. Margaret Thatcher never managed to let go, which was really why she was toppled.
Mr Blair has spent much of his life learning lessons from her success. Maybe it's time to learn from her failure as well. If he can, it is only the end of the beginning.
Andrew Rawnsley is on holiday
Jan 13

Stuck Before You Know It
World Net Daily

From an article by Henry Lamb
.......I get letters from readers regularly, who say things such as: "I'll never accept world government!" The truth is, we are already in its grip. Global governance will not march on Washington in the form of blue-helmeted troops. It is marching into our towns in the form of "smart growth" proposals; into our schools in the form of "tolerance" curricula; into our churches in the form of "The National Religious Partnership for the Environment"; and into our government in the form of a parade of bills to promote everything from global taxation, to a Department of Peace inspired by UNESCO. Global governance is all around us; we just don't recognize it as such. Nowhere is global governance more apparent than in our land-use policies. Way back in 1976, the U.N. set forth its policy on land use, saying: Land ... cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market. Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle in the planning and implementation of development schemes. The provision of decent dwellings and healthy conditions for the people can only be achieved if land is used in the interests of society as a whole. Public control of land use is therefore indispensable. ..." .
.......The Wildlands Project seeks to set aside 50 percent of the total land area as wilderness. John Heilprin reports in the Anchorage Daily News that since 1970, designated wilderness areas have grown from 247 to 741 million acres - to encompass about 15 percent of the total land area of the continent.
When congressmen introduce wilderness bills, they never say that the purpose of the bill is to comply with the U.N. policy of land-use control. They say it is to "protect" the land and its resources for future generations. When Bill Clinton designated his monuments and "roadless areas," he didn't say it was to advance the policy of the United Nations, he said it was to "protect" the land and its resources for future generations.
If the land and its resources are owned or controlled by the government, it will be of no more value to future generations than it is to the present generation from which it is being taken. Once land is owned by, or under the control of a government entangled in land use treaties, our government becomes little more than an administrative unit for the implementation of global-governance policies........

Push for euro attacked
The Scotsman

David Scott
THE Scottish executive was last night accused of meddling in Westminster business after it stepped into the debate over the introduction of the euro, calling on government to do more to promote the single currency.
A report from the department of enterprise, headed by Wendy Alexander, called for the UK government to encourage pricing in both pounds and euros for key business sectors, including the tourism industry.
It said the executive endorsed the view that it is important to prepare "for the possibility of UK entry at a later date".
A Scottish Tory spokesman said the report appeared to echo the Labour policy being adopted at Westminster but added: "What is more questionable is the fact that it is not up to the executive to say whether or not we join the euro. It is a reserved issue so why is the executive getting involved?"...........
Jan 12

Reform the Commons

(Filed: 10/01/2002)
THE Prime Minister told the Commons yesterday that he would "listen carefully" to its views on the future of the House of Lords.
Tony Blair, of course, never willingly pays much attention to what MPs have to say, on this or any other subject. This time, though, he may have little choice because, on the Lords, a cross-party consensus is beginning to emerge that may soon become overwhelming.
One hundred and eighty MPs, mostly Labour and Liberal Democrats, have already signed a motion calling for a wholly or substantially elected second chamber. Meanwhile, the Conservatives, as we report elsewhere, also seem about to come out in favour of an upper house in which the majority of members will be elected - perhaps as high a proportion as 80 per cent.
If the Government does find itself encircled on the Lords, it will have only itself to blame. Its proposals, published in November, were blatantly designed to subordinate the upper house to the will of the executive, and that was bound to render them offensive to backbenchers of all parties.
The Prime Minister's determination that the reformed Lords should be largely appointed by party whips even came under attack yesterday from Lord Wakeham, who chaired the Royal Commission on the subject that reported two years ago. If an old-fashioned political fixer such as Lord Wakeham thinks that party patronage is being taken too far, things must be bad......
Jan 10

Nisha caught up in the 'manifold' of terror
Lloyds List

....Even if the authorities were convinced that the Nisha was a potential threat, there were many less extravagant counter steps that could have been taken.
Once the ship was fixed for a voyage to London, she certainly could have been used for criminal purpose, but then there was very little time for terrorists to plan and organise it.
It follows that, even if the authorities were convinced that the Nisha was a potential threat, there were many less extravagant counter steps that could have been taken. In this case the owner was a British subsidiary of an Indian public company, the supplier of the cargo was the Mauritius Sugar Syndicate and the receiver was the household name of Tate & Lyle. All were authorised by contract to survey the ship before any cargo was loaded.
Further, the authorities, at any point of her ope month voyage from Mauritius to London, could have detained her at a small cost.
Finally, the authorities have ordinary powers for searching a vessel for contraband goods before entering British waters. No owner could refuse such a search.
It has been said that, as the owner's representative, I have objected to the severity of the attack on the ship. This is quite untrue. So long as the ship was considered to be a terrorist ship, force might well have been justified. My complaint is that any investigation through a few telephone calls in London should have been sufficient to reduce the doubts. It is perhaps proper to end with Kant. He argued that it is not what we know that matters but how we put together what we know. The Nisha incident is one of the saddest tragedies of unnecessary ignorance. We could have done much better.
posted Jan 9

How the government is stealing our freedom - a sobering thought for the New Year

01 January 2002 Simon Carr: Brave New Britain
The third of the dark rules of politics states: "Pay no attention to what politicians say, only what they do." The Government declares itself committed to restoring a vibrant, civil society. But the political theme that has emerged over the last five years is, predictably perhaps, precisely the opposite.
In a wide range of laws, often opportunistic reactions to one-off events, ordinary people are disempowered while officials and experts are given the whip hand. Increased surveillance, intrusion, arbitrary powers, detention, seizure, state secrecy and the suppression of dissent are the hallmarks of New Labour in action.
Here, then, follows a selection of some of the measures taken, about to be taken, or proposed to be taken. One by one, they may seem inoffensive. As a collective, they are impressive.
The freedom of officials and experts to access information on our private lives has been given a generous boost in the last couple of years. Information from a wide range of sources - the Office for National Statistics, the National Health Service, the Inland Revenue, the VAT office, the Benefits Agency, our school reports - can now be collated into a file on a citizen, without a court order showing cause why.
David Blunkett's Anti-Terror Act says: "Public authorities can disclose certain types of otherwise confidential information where this is necessary for the purposes of fighting terrorism and other crimes." The phrase "other crimes" is not defined.
Some proposals put forward in Bills
Phone and e-mail records to be kept for seven years. The extension of child curfews. Keeping DNA of those acquitted of crimes and of "ex-suspects". Restrictions on travel of those convicted of drug offences; the extension of compulsory fingerprinting for those cautioned of a recordable offence; and public authorities authorised to carry out speculative searches of the DNA database.
It will be a criminal offence to disobey a police officer who has told you to leave a demonstration outside any residential property. It will be an offence to attend a demonstration wearing a mask or painted face.
Liberty, the human rights organisation, comments: "A substantial number of the much-trumpeted powers brought in over the last 10 years are in fact unnecessary, because the police and others have been Hoovering up new powers since the beginning of the 1980s (about 85 Acts dealing with crime and criminal justice since 1981).
Social Security Fraud Bill
This will allow officials to compile a financial inventory from our bank accounts, building societies, insurance companies, utilities companies, telecom companies, and the Student Loan Company. Every number on our phone bills may be reverse-searched for an address. There may be no evidence that we are involved in fraud for us to be investigated - we may merely belong to a demographic group of people that experts feel is "likely" to be involved in fraud (men, perhaps, or women).
Trial by jury
Jury trials are to be abolished for a wide range of offences including assault, theft and drugs. A magistrate will decide what form the trial will take - whether by magistrate, stipendiaries or by jury.
The House of Lords has twice blocked attempts to abolish this ancient right. The Government's third attempt has been bolstered by a report written by Lord Justice Auld (at the Government's request). Lord Justice Auld says abolition of trial by jury will limit the number of "perverse decisions" by juries.
Interestingly, Lord Devlin was a great defender of "perverse decision", as giving "protection against laws that the ordinary man regards as harsh and oppressive".
Indeed, 19th-century sheep-stealers, modern mercy killers, peace protesters, whistleblowers and elderly shoplifters have all benefited from "perverse" juries refusing to convict them. Such juries defy evidence, the law and the judge's instructions. Perhaps they believe the sentences are disproportionate to the crime. Perhaps that the law is odious or idiotic.
Justice for 18,000 people a year will now be delivered by legal experts and officials rather than by a jury of peers. Magistrates convict very significantly more than juries.
Elected county councils are to have their planning powers stripped from them, to allow faster building development. It now appears that the planning permission for 3.8 million homes will be approved by officials and experts, with advice from politicians. Stephen Byers describes the proposed system as "fairer".
Habeas corpus
In response to the events of 11 September, the Home Secretary David Blunkett determined that terrorism was "threatening the life of the nation", so he abolished habeas corpus. As a result of the Anti-Terror Bill passed before Christmas, certain people may be locked up without trial. If tried, the court proceedings may be in secret. Prisoners needn't hear all the evidence against them. Defence lawyers would be hired by and respon- sible to the court. The lawyer wouldn't have the right to see the accused or the evidence. Officials, legal experts and politicians will administer this system of justice in secret.
Business bribery
Officials in Britain will have the power to regulate exporters' commercial behaviour outside Britain. Exporters dealing with countries where bribery is culturally tolerated (indeed, required) will find a new difficulty: exporters may be prosecuted in Britain for offering inducements, perks, commissions, gifts to local business people.
Freedom of Information
This was promised as a significant addition to the power of individuals vis-à-vis the state. The White Paper drafted by David Clark was hailed as a state-of-the-art piece of legislation. The then Home Secretary Jack Straw and Tony Blair had it dismantled and rebuilt on very different lines. The Act is no stronger than the code of practice laid down by the Tories - it requires public bodies to provide citizens with information, unless ministers don't want it to be provided. The Information commissioner may insist the information be released, but the decision doesn't have to be obeyed. A charge may be levied for each document released.
European arrest warrant
Offences committed anywhere in the EU can be pursued on a standard Euro-arrest warrant. If a British national returns from holiday having committed an offence in Greece (photographing planes, say), a warrant can be issued in Athens, the accused will be arrested in Britain, taken to Greece and held for trial. The warrant applies to offences not against the law in Britain. Xenophobia is a criminal offence in Europe. Lord Lamont asked whether a tabloid editor using the term "Huns" or "Frogs" before an international football match might be arrested in Britain under this arrangement. Lord Scott said that the answer was, essentially, yes. Lord Lamont says: "It will no longer be necessary for any evidence to be produced against the suspect. Nor will the accused be allowed to argue that he won't get a fair trial. The request is the end of the matter."
Combating the new class of terrorist
European interior ministers have agreed on a definition of terrorism. It includes people "who hoped to seriously alter the political, economic or social structure" of the EU. This will include Eurosceptics, Marxists, hunt saboteurs, GM crop activists, anti-road protesters, fuel protesters, and carnivalists against capitalism.
Double jeopardy
A defendant acquitted of a crime can be re-prosecuted, if new evidence emerges. Liberty says that no acquittal will ever be felt as final. The draining experience of a court trial will never be dispatched. The reputation of acquitted defendants will never be fully cleared: "At a time when the criminal-justice system is straining under the weight of numerous changes, we question the virtue of such a proposal on pragmatic as well as principled grounds."
Taking passports from football hooligans
The court must be satisfied merely that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder. Presumably, any previous involvement in related offences would provide reasonable grounds. A football-related offence might include drink-driving to and from a match. Or celebrations at an after-match function. Or disorder in a pub where a match was playing. A player's offensive gesture to the crowd could attract a private prosecution for disorderly conduct.
Convictions could result in an up-to-10-year ban from all football matches, restriction of foreign travel and perhaps de facto imprisonment at a police station during domestic football matches. An officer might issue an order to a fan requiring him to attend a magistrate's court the next day to defend their right to attend matches. Failure to comply would represent an imprisonable criminal offence.
Detaining mental patients without treatment
"An individual with any form of mental disorder can be detained against their will, even if they cannot be effectively treated and have not done anything wrong, on the basis that they pose a risk to others." Liberty says: "Predicting dangerousness is an inexact science, as is assessing personality disorders. Detaining people who've done no wrong and to whom the system can't offer treatment will benefit no one."
Forfeiture of assets
The courts can now confiscate your assets if they think you've been involved in crime. If you have inherited, won or been given money, you may be sued for it by the police in a civil court. The standard of proof in a civil court is lower than in a criminal court (not "beyond reasonable doubt", but on "the balance of probability"). The police are suing you because you are probably a criminal. The burden of proof has shifted away from the presumption of innocence. As the Cabinet Office said in 2000: "Civil forfeiture would be a significant extension in the powers available to the state ... because it extends the circumstances where assets can be forfeited without a conviction to the criminal standard."
TAKEN TOGETHER, all this adds up to the hidden theme of the Government, the reality behind the brave new world promised five years ago. Traditional structures are dismantled, power is inexorably, and probably irreversibly, transferred from individuals and communities to the state. Increasingly, the political class reigns as well as rules. It's just as well our politicians' track record is so good. Otherwise we wouldn't put up with it.
Jan 1 posted Jan 7

Whose side is this euro knight on?
Sunday Telegraph
By Jeff Randall

I WAS initially delighted to learn that Niall FitzGerald, Unilever's chairman, had been awarded an honorary knighthood. He's one of business's most genial figures, who has shaken up the food giant's archaic management and brought clarity to its product range. Better still, he loves football and the occasional glass of throat lotion and has been kind enough to let me take a few quid off him on the golf course.
Alas, according to the Financial Times, his call from Buckingham Palace was prompted by none of these achievements and virtues. It reported: "The honorary knighthood to Mr FitzGerald, an Irish citizen, is a striking signal of prime ministerial approval of his leading role in Britain in Europe, the pro-euro campaign".
Hang on. What happened to Gordon Brown's dispassionate, clear and unambiguous assessment of the euro's risks and rewards? I thought the Government's position was that it had yet to make up its mind on whether it's in Britain's interest to join euroland. ..............
FitzGerald is an astute fellow who passionately believes that Britain's membership of the euro would greatly enhance Unilever's commercial outlook. He's entitled to that view and is paid handsomely by Unilever's shareholders to do what's right for their company.
But that does not explain why Her Majesty should honour him for talking his own book. What if, against the odds, Brown decides that the abolition of sterling would damage this country? We would then be in the uncomfortable position of having rewarded someone for campaigning against what's best for Britain. .....
Jan 6

Lawless Britain

HERE are a few snapshots from around Britain over Christmas and the New Year. A teenage girl is shot in the head in east London during the street robbery of her mobile telephone. A man is vilely murdered after a car theft in Yorkshire. Ten children aged between 10 and 13 emerging from a cinema in south-east London are robbed of mobile phones and pocket money. A 10-year-old boy is forced to hand over his £25 Christmas money at gun-point. And a landowner is arrested in Essex by the police he had summoned to evict people having a "rave" on his property: he had unplugged the sound system, so he was taken into custody "for his own safety", a police spokesman confirms.
These are discrete cases, and some more obviously appalling than others. But in sum they point to a society in which the police seem to be losing not just control of the streets, but also the will to enforce the law. Too often, when faced by a flurry of mobile phone thefts, police announce "initiatives" to "crack down" on the distribution of the stolen property, rather than actually to make the streets safer by increasing patrols.
Meanwhile our cities, and particularly London, where there has been a 35 per cent increase in street crime in the past year, are becoming more dangerous. It is true that the current terrorist threat has increased pressure on the police in the capital. But proper policing is required to reverse this deplorable situation, and the police must now resume the practice of stop and search.
Equally, though, it is true that the laws of trespass are inadequate. It was patently absurd of the police to have victimised the landowner because a fight might have broken out. The police are not employed to mediate between trespassers and landowners, but to enforce the law and protect the public and the rights of property owners.
As police on the beat will privately admit, too many senior officers would be better suited to teaching gender awareness courses than running a demanding police operation.
As a nation, we have never been more spied on by closed-circuit television cameras, by police speed traps and by a government that wants to snoop at our e-mails - yet we feel less secure. Too often, when police can be seen in our cities, they are merely hounding motorists over trivial offences.
In Britain, we appear to lack the political will to force an improvement. If Mayor Michael Bloomberg fails to maintain the improvements in the quality of life that Rudolph Giuliani brought to New York, he will be booted out of office. There is no equivalent mechanism in Britain; in London, Ken Livingstone seems entirely detached from the issue of policing the capital.
The Government yesterday confirmed the appointment of Kevin Bond as head of the Police Standards Unit at a salary of £200,000 for four days a week. If he can reverse recent trends, he will deserve his hefty salary. But the suspicion remains that his appointment is another example of the Government obscuring its failure to improve public services by declaring yet another bold new initiative
Jan 5

Blair's push to soften UK for Euro
The Scotsman

Alison Hardie Political Correspondent
TONY Blair yesterday stepped up the government's efforts to soften public opinion towards Britain's entry into the euro, warning critics of the single currency that they were no longer able to "hide their heads in the sand."
Mr Blair, in carefully-timed comments which underlined his own support for the euro, claimed it would be "foolish" to ignore the currency, or to pretend it did not exist.
While Mr Blair gave no hint on when there might be a referendum in the UK on joining the euro, he was unambiguously indicating the government's desire to press ahead. Tories believe an attempt to bounce Britain into the single currency is under way, and suggest the apparent disagreement between senior ministers is more a careful strategy to advance the case for entry, paving the way for a referendum, possibly next year. There were even suspicions at Westminster yesterday that Mr Blair was taking advantage of Gordon Brown's paternity leave to push his preference.
Mr Blair, speaking on the first leg of a six-day tour of the Indian sub-continent, said: "Our position on the euro hasn't changed. Of course, the euro is now a reality so I think the idea that we can run away from it or hide our heads in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist would be very foolish." He went on: "We have got to prepare for it, but the eventual decision is for the British people. I think the important thing to recognise is that for 12 out of 15 of the European Union countries it is now there. It's the currency people are using in their daily lives." Asked why he is in favour in principle of joining, Mr Blair said it offered the "potential for stability". He added: "But there has to be convergence for us to make the single currency work for Britain." The remarkably euro- friendly comments of Mr Blair, speaking for the first time since notes and coins were introduced, infuriated the Conservatives.
Michael Howard, the shadow chancellor, said: "The euro has been a reality for the last three years. No-one has pretended it does not exist.
"The government should stop talking nonsense and stop playing games. If it thinks Britain should join, it should set a date for a referendum and get on with it. If it does not, it should stop talking about it and concentrate on the crisis in our public services."
Jan 4

Don't throw away freedom to a Euro-superstate

The move to a single currency is part of an effort by the bigger EU members to create a superstate which they will seek to dominate, argues Bernard Connolly . So here they come, those bits of paper adorned with fictional bridges (what a splendid reminder of the roads and bridges from nowhere to nowhere on which EU taxpayers' money is so shamefully and shamelessly wasted).
You'd better not try to forge them, for that would be a federal offence, and come 2004 the eurocops will come and get you, literally, and there would be nothing the Irish courts could do to protect you: no habeas corpus, no presumption of innocence, no evidence required before you are whisked off to the Continent for unlimited "investigative detention", no trial by jury. The euro is a part of the design to extinguish freedom in a European empire. The introduction of euro notes and coins has practically no economic significance. But its psychological importance will be considerable.
It will bring home to the Irish people that the Rubicon was crossed nine years ago when they were led blindfold into the Maastricht referendum trap, beguiled by the Yes campaign's siren song of "six billion pounds". Ireland really did sell its birthright for a mess of pottage. It sold itself into euro-slavery that day. Now the euro notes, tokens of bondage, are here.
It's ironic that this final humiliation should come just a few days after Argentina was reduced to riots, 27 deaths, debt default and a state of siege.
What Argentina is suffering now, Ireland will very likely suffer over the next two or three years.
Dec 31 posted Jan 2

Prescot hints at euro test in spring
The Scotsman

Jason Beattie Political Correspondent
TODAY'S launch of the euro has been overshadowed by growing confusion over the government's policy on the single currency, with a senior minister letting slip that an assessment on whether to ditch the pound could be made as early as this spring.
John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the review of the five economic tests - the criteria for determining Britain's entry - was well under way, fuelling speculation that Tony Blair is planning to call an early referendum on the issue. After 40 years in the making, the vision of a single European currency became a reality as 300 million people across the continent gave up their traditional notes and coins in favour of the euro. While the launch was hailed by the leaders of the 12 countries in the eurozone as a new chapter in European history, the event prompted a fresh debate in Britain about the merits of joining the economic experiment.
Eurosceptic fears that monetary union represents the first step towards a European superstate appeared to be confirmed when Romano Prodi, the President of the European Commission, heralded the launch of the euro as the start of a process towards full economic co-operation. "The euro in our pockets will lead to greater convergence in economic policy. We need to have more common rules," he said. Mr Prodi's controversial comments, while manna to the "no" campaign, are likely to infuriate Labour, which has been seeking to play down fears that joining the single currency would mean transferring British sovereignty, lock, stock, and barrel to Brussels.
Jan 1 2002

Farm subsidies just grow like weeds
Boston Herald

by Edwin J. Feulner
Saturday, December 29, 2001 Other than being rich and famous, what do David Rockefeller, Ted Turner, Sam Donaldson and Scottie Pippen have in common? They all feed at the public trough.
More precisely, they collect subsidies from the federal farm program, as do at least 14 members of Congress. They grow, or agree not to grow, the "right'' crops - the corn, wheat, rice, cotton and soybeans that eat up 90 percent of subsidy dollars. The farmers foolish enough to produce the "wrong'' ones - poultry, eggs, cattle, nuts (with the exception of peanuts) and most vegetables - get nothing from Uncle Sam.
The subsidies don't all go to rich people, however. Some go to rich corporations. Chevron, with revenues of $5.2 billion in 2000, received $260,223 between 1996 and 2000. John Hancock Life Insurance, with $9 billion in annual revenues, raked in $211,368. Why should multimillionaire hobby farmers and large, well-heeled corporations get lavish federal handouts while most family farms get nothing but a tax bill? It's because the playing field is tilted: The top 10 percent of farm subsidy recipients collect two-thirds of the money, and the bottom 80 percent get just one-sixth. In fact - by design - subsidies go to the biggest, most profitable farms. Take Rockefeller, grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and former chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank. From 1996 to 2000, he received $352,187 from the government for the corn, wheat and soybeans grown on his family farm in Hudson, N.Y. Turner, worth more than $6 billion, reeled in $176,077 in federal handouts over the same period. And Pippen, who will make $18.1 million this season playing basketball for the Portland Trail Blazers, got $131,575 to not grow crops on his Arkansas farm. Not surprisingly, just as many hardscrabble farmers live inside the Washington Beltway. Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, has rung up more than $750,000 in subsidies, placing him in the top fifth of the top 1 percent of subsidy recipients. Rep. Doug Ose (R-Calif.), the 22nd richest member of Congress, has collected $149,000 in rice subsidies. Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), with a net worth of $7 million, has pocketed nearly $50,000. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, owns one-ninth of a family farm that has received $351,085 in subsidies. With refreshing candor, though, she admits that the $10,000 check she gets as her share is "not critical to my sustenance or my sustainability.'' Now Congress is trying to open the spigot even wider. In October, a full year before the current farm legislation will expire, the House passed the "Farm Security Act of 2001.'' It was originally labeled the "Agriculture Act of 2001,'' but members somehow divined that this peculiar exercise in "trickle-up'' economics was a matter of national security. They plan to reconcile their bill early next year with a similarly misguided version not yet passed by the Senate. Why jam this budget-buster (calling for $73 billion on top of the $95 billion already approved for farm subsidies next year) through now, with a war on and the projected surpluses of the summer just as gone as the summer itself? Brace yourself for more candor. "The money is in the budget now,'' says Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "If we do not use the money, it is very likely not going to be available next year.'' Think about that the next time you hear lawmakers say we can't afford another tax cut. The money's "available'' for them. Why not for the rest of us? Edwin J. Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Dec 30

Euro-creep: Brussels may set UK taxes

Hamish Macdonell Scottish Political Editor
THE prospect of British taxes being raised and collected by Brussels moved a step closer yesterday when Germany's finance minister heralded the introduction of the euro as a major step towards a Europe-wide tax system. In a move which fuelled fears of "euro-creep" - that the single currency would bring greater political and economic integration in its wake - Hans Eichel said he could imagine the development of a centralised European tax system to rival, and supersede, the tax regimes in individual countries. Mr Eichel also claimed the euro would become a "parallel currency" in Britain, mirroring the pound and gradually growing in strength as more people used it. The comments immediately put Mr Eichel at odds with Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, who has repeatedly resisted any moves towards greater tax harmonisation within Europe.
But the German finance minister already has the support of Belgium, which proposed similar plans when it held the EU presidency earlier this year, and other finance ministers. With just three days until the euro is introduced in 12 countries, Mr Eichel's comments infuriated senior government figures in Britain. A Treasury spokesman made it clear yesterday Mr Eichel's views were not shared by the government. "We are in favour of tax competition, not tax harmonisation," he said. The Tories, however, seized on Mr Eichel's remarks to claim he had revealed the true agenda behind the introduction of the euro - political and economic union within Europe.
In an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Mr Eichel said: "In the longer term, I can imagine a Europe tax. It strengthens spending discipline in Brussels if responsibility for expenditure and income is put together. But if there were a Europe tax, national taxes would have to be lowered commensurably. We cannot pile up administrative layer on top of administrative layer and tax upon tax. Europe would not become a growth and prosperity project like that."
Mr Brown is already known to be sceptical about joining the euro because of the limitations it will place on him, and on the Bank of England, to control the economy. The introduction of the euro is seen by many European politicians as the start of a process that will lead to closer economic and political union with shared taxes and shared national pension funds, a move which would be to Britain's distinct disadvantage because of the lack of pension provision in large parts of the continent.
Peter Duncan, the Conservative MP for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, said Mr Eichel was saying what many europhile politicians were scared to admit. "This is probably more honesty than we have heard from many of Europe's politicians," he said. "Many like Tony Blair continue to deny its implications for common taxation while advocating the euro at the same time.
"The currencies that work long-term eventually end up influencing common taxation. I would expect that Tony Blair is considerably embarrassed by what is being said in Europe." He added he saw no evidence that anybody hunting for bargains in the post-Christmas sales was preparing for the euro to come in as a parallel currency.
The pressure on Mr Blair to hold an early referendum on the euro increased yesterday when Digby Jones, director general of the CBI, called on the government to end "delay and prevarication" on the issue. Mr Jones said uncertainty about membership of the euro inevitably had an "impact on investment decisions". He added: "Britain has got to be shown to make its decision and get on with its life."
Dec 29

Labour's control freaks pose a danger to our health

EVERY doctor receives a large, and growing, number of free publications of varying degrees of usefulness. Undoubtedly the least useful - that is to say, the most completely useless - is the NHS Magazine, a patronising glossy compilation, entirely devoid of worthwhile informational content, upon which the Department of Health has seen fit to waste £900,000 of taxpayers' money.
The magazine is pure propaganda, of course: spin made print. The NHS of the eponymous magazine is a land in which all faces are smiling, in which everyone looks forward to a glorious and untroubled future, in which the plan will be fulfilled and overfulfilled through the sheer Stakhanovite enthusiasm of the workers. Patients are called customers. There are articles about such vital matters as "the thinking behind the adoption of a single corporate logo to represent the whole of the NHS". One is reminded of Soviet propaganda of the famine era, in which tables groaned with food, there were endless fields of flourishing grain, and all peasants danced happily in embroidered national costumes, while millions in fact died.
The point of such propaganda is not to persuade, much less to inform: it is to humiliate and to render docile. The more at variance the tenor of the propaganda is with everyday reality, the more impotent the recipient feels, and the more firmly in the grip of a giant organisation against which all resistance is futile. Thus, when I receive my copy, telling me about the glories of information technology to come, of the mounting enthusiasm of everyone for the latest round of reforms, and so on, I know that a few yards up the corridor there will be elderly patients who have been waiting on trolleys in the corridors (renamed beds to improve the statistics for waiting times) for 18 hours............
The Prescribers' Journal was suppressed because it was genuinely independent. A survey demonstrated that fewer than one per cent of doctors thought it was the mouthpiece of the Department of Health, a situation that no self-respecting apparatchik like Alan Milburn could be expected to tolerate for long. It would be like having a BBC that advertised for staff anywhere other than in the Guardian. The Prescribers' Journal was in potential conflict with the deliberations of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (by excellence, of course, is meant uniformity), which is expected increasingly to boss doctors about and make them criminally liable if they reject Nice's advice. Being genuinely independent and disinterested, there was a distinct possibility that the experts recruited by the journal might come to different conclusions from Nice's, and in our new gloriously diverse and multicultural Britain, we must all sing the same song with the same voice. Indeed, in the last days of the journal's distinguished existence, pressure was put on its editors not to publish on certain subjects for fear that its conclusions might differ from Nice's. For is it not evident that any question in medicine must have one, and only one, indubitably correct answer, revealed to Pope Milburn the First? .................... Dec 28

Cosy contacts
Peterborough, Telegraph

A FESTIVE tip for companies hoping to ingratiate themselves with New Labour, but lacking the guts to make a direct - and declared - contribution to party funds. Sign up with the PR firm Brunswick, which has just made a sizeable sum (£9,000) over to the cash-strapped party's bank account. A sympathetic ear, while not guaranteed, must surely be on the cards. Brunswick's former clients, incidentally, include the National Lottery operator Camelot which, last year, won a new licence to operate for another seven years. And last month it was announced that Brunswick had joined forces with Gordon Brown's wife Sarah to launch a Europe-wide arts PR firm. Cosy, isn't it?
Dec 27

Christmas will be spent preparing to face trial

A freelance photographer is spending Christmas preparing to face trial in America on a conspiracy charge.
Steve Morgan, arrested after covering a Greenpeace demonstration against the 'Star Wars' missile programme, faces trial in Los Angeles on January 8. He faces up to six years in prison following his arrest at the Vandenburg USAF base in California. He was working for Greenpeace at the time and covers a variety of news, but began his career on a weekly newspaper in Hull before moving on to the Yorkshire Post and then the Independent. Despite his press credentials he was locked up for a week before being released on $20,000 bail, and had to find another $50,000 before he was allowed to return home pending the trial.
posted Dec 26

Pressure mounts on Blair to say if Leo had MMR jab

By Benedict Brogan, Political Correspondent
(Filed: 24/12/2001) TONY BLAIR'S impassioned attempt to draw a line under the MMR row appeared to have failed last night after he was challenged by MPs and campaigners to confirm that his son Leo has received the triple vaccine. The Prime Minister issued a statement over the weekend which condemned "horrible and unjust" press intrusion into his family life while seeming to suggest that the 18-month-old has been inoculated. Mr and Mrs Blair have come under intense pressure to say whether they have chosen MMR for their son, following unproven claims that the combined vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella causes autism.
Downing Street released the statement after reading a number of newspaper reports suggesting that the Blairs had personal experience of autism, and that this may have influenced their attitude to MMR. Mr Blair expressed his support for MMR, and denied he and his wife believe it is dangerous. His aides encouraged journalists to conclude that this meant young Leo had received the jab, or was about to. But the lack of an explicit confirmation allowed speculation to continue yesterday, with one media report contradicting the official version by claiming that the Blairs have vetoed MMR for their son.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, became the most senior politician to weigh into the debate when he urged Mr Blair to "put the issue to rest". He told BBC Radio Five Live: "They are more or less acknowledging, without being explicit, that they probably have had this particular jab administered for the baby and probably now the easiest thing would just be to put the issue to rest by just confirming that to be the case and be done with it." He was backed by Dr Liam Fox, the shadow health secretary, who urged the Prime Minister to speak out because uncertainty about MMR is causing more parents to fail to vaccinate their children. .............
Dec 24

Have MMR jab or face nursery ban
Scotsman on Dunday

CAMILLO FRACASSINI HEALTH CORRESPONDENT CHILDREN will be banned from schools and nurseries unless they have been given the controversial measles, mumps and rubella jab under plans being considered by the government's expert group on the MMR vaccine.
Vaccination would effectively become compulsory under the draconian scheme, which is designed to prevent outbreaks in the face of falling inoculation rates across the country.
The plan, which is based on current American policy, would mean that children who had not been vaccinated against the diseases would be refused places at any state nurseries or schools. However, while American parents can opt to give their children single vaccines, in Britain only MMR is offered on the NHS. The idea has sparked an angry backlash among doctors and parents, already incensed by Prime Minister Tony Blair's continuing refusal to say whether his 18-month-old son Leo has been given the injection.
The highly contentious proposal follows a dramatic slump in the uptake of the MMR triple jab, which has been linked to autism and bowel disease.......
Dec 23

Blunkett lists terror fears as ship seized
The Times

THE Government presented a catalogue of its fears about the risk of nuclear, chemical and biological attacks on Britain yesterday, as Royal Navy commandos boarded a ship that security reports suggested was carrying terrorist material that would "rock the City of London". A 20-page Home Office document, in support of the Government's claim that a Moroccan man should be kept in custody following his detention under the new anti-terrorism law, says: "The presence of extremists at this time and for the foreseeable future creates a situation of public emergency threatening the life of the nation."
The document, put before the court on behalf of David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, gives warning of the dangers of a "devastating" nuclear attack, a strike on the London Underground using an explosive device, or from a biological or chemical weapon. It says that although the latter weapons would be likely to cause less immediate destruction, they would lead to widespread public alarm. The list of threats to Britain emerged as Djamel Ajouaou, one of eight men held because of suspected links with the al-Qaeda network, was denied bail at an appeal hearing.
The document says that Britain is also under threat from attacks like those of September 11 because "the UK's geographical position makes it within easy reach of a number of airports overseas". It says that protection from hijacked airliners depends on the uniform international application of increased security measures. Britain will be "a target for vengeance" if Osama bin Laden is killed because of the involvement of British forces in Afghanistan, it says. "Bin Laden's allies need urgently to re-establish their capability and intent in order to make up ground they have lost since September 11: they will seek to do this through terrorist attacks," it adds. Tony Blair, commenting on the Navy action yesterday, said: "We remain on top-level vigilance through the coming weeks. We will not hesitate to take any action that we think necessary."
See comment
Dec 22

We must not give up the very freedoms we are fighting for

By Stephen Robinson This ( written in October) is just one of the articles in the Telegraph's FREE COUNTRY campaign feature
AS hundreds of extra police patrol our streets and many of us worry that we will be next to suffer a terrorist outrage, can Britain afford to be free? David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, seems to think not. Already he is laying the ground for new laws. Mr Blunkett's response to the terrorist threat has been to ridicule the "chattering classes" for their failure to understand that "freedom springs not from abstract legal process, but from political action". Our senior judges are growing alarmed, because they know there is no political will within Labour or the Tories to stand up for individual liberties. ............ Our Free Country campaign has looked at the use of video cameras as a cheap alternative to the proper policing of Britain's towns and cities. We reported from the London borough of Newham, where the high street has been turned into a gigantic film set, on which CCTV cameras cover every single angle of the bustling life there. We spent a morning in Newham's CCTV control room, where we watched events of the morning rush hour unfold on video screens. We saw motorists encroaching on bus lanes, and men who looked as though they might be drug dealers, but we saw not a single policeman. When this year's Home Office crime figures came out, it was no surprise to find that Newham has almost the worst crime clear-up rate in Britain. Equally, we have seen grainy images of the suicide hijackers boarding planes on the day of the attacks: they were able to do so because basic security systems were inadequate. As in Newham, the sense of security created by surveillance cameras proved to be illusory. In the fight against any crime, the real danger comes when spies and policemen start relying on video and satellite cameras and stop using their instincts to find criminals. When I flew back to London last month after reporting on the World Trade Centre atrocities, I was cross-examined by an armed American security man. He wanted to know where I had stayed in Washington, why I had changed my flight home and who I had met during my time in the United States. In those fraught circumstances, I found the grilling both understandable and reassuring. I remember the last time I came back into Britain from abroad, in July, when I tried to drive my car on the Eurotunnel train at Calais. A young British customs officer waved me down, and asked me a range of nosy questions, including whether I owned the car I was driving and whether I had a press pass on me. He was not seeking to protect Britain from a terrorist threat, or to apprehend illegal immigrants. His mission was simply to protect the government's excise duties by thwarting people who legally stock up on goods bought more cheaply within our single European market.
Our intelligence services are stretched, our police stations are closing down, but our government is spurred to action only to defend its revenues. Two years ago, as planning was already well under way for September 11, Gordon Brown released £209 million to pay for 1,000 more customs officers. Their priority is stopping cigarettes, not drugs, even though the vast majority of heroin coming here subsidises the Taliban. It is highly unlikely that one of these officers would have apprehended bin Laden walking off a ferry, unless he had been carrying more than 800 Silk Cut.
Laws made in haste almost always turn out to be bad, which is why Mr Blunkett should be opposed in his plans to pass repressive legislation. It seems he has dropped immediate plans to introduce ID cards, but only because of the expense. He argued recently that, in times of crisis, judges should accept that "the majority must be protected from the minority". This is crass: at all times, all of us should be protected from terrorism as individuals. There is nothing incompatible in wishing to feel both free and secure, and The Daily Telegraph will continue to argue for A Free Country.

Pope condemns terror attacks

By Victoria Combe
THE Pope has made his most explicit statement to date on the September 11 terrorist attacks, describing them as "an offence against God".
Reflecting on the conflict, Pope John Paul II said the only route to "true peace" was through justice and forgiveness. He described the attacks as "an intolerable crime". His message was released before World Peace Day on Jan 1 in the hope of encouraging more religious leaders from around the world to join him in Assisi on Jan 24 to pray for peace.............the Pope said there was a need to address the injustices in countries that nurture terrorists. The Pope said: "International co-operation in the fight against terrorists' activities must also include a political, diplomatic and economic commitment to relieving situations of oppression." "The recruitment of terrorists in fact is easier in situations where rights are trampled upon and injustices tolerated over a long period of time."

Argentina collapses into chaos

President quits and 22 are killed as economic crisis worsens
Uki Goni in Buenos Aires
Argentina's president Fernando de la Rua resigned last night after thousands of angry and impoverished protesters took to the streets of Buenos Aires in a revolt against the government's handling of a devastating economic crisis. Mr De la Rua quit after two days of rioting and looting that left at least 22 dead and scores of protesters injured in cities around the country.
The president resigned after opposition parties refused his request to form a coalition amid the most severe civil unrest for more than a decade.
He will be replaced provisionally by Ramon Puerta, the Peronist president of the senate, until the national congress chooses a successor to rule the nation until elections are called. The crisis sent jitters through the international markets. Harrowing images of unrest were transmitted round-the-clock to a stunned populace. In Buenos Aires, a police officer guarding the doors of the congress from demonstrators trying to storm the building was killed by a pavement stone hurled by a protester..........
Several hundred people were in a standoff with police last night in the central square, Plaza de Mayo. The demonstrators included a middle-aged woman who, despite having had one of her toes hacked off by a horse's hoof, still railed against "this government's starvation plan". She was referring to a zero-deficit austerity package imposed by the International Monetary Fund on Argentina, which is on the verge of defaulting on its $132bn (£90bn) foreign debt. "Argentina is empty," said another protester. "My children want to leave this country, there is no future here, our politicians are too corrupt."...
The unrest erupted after the country's free market programme turned sour. In the past two years Argentina, long the wealthiest nation in Latin America, has felt the pressure of a deepening political, social, and economic crisis.
Dec 21

Backlash over costly hi-tech for Tanzania

World Bank, IMF see air system as white elephant
Charlotte Denny, economics correspondent
The government's decision to approve the sale of BAE's £28m air traffic control system to Tanzania came under fierce scrutiny last night, with aid agencies and both Labour and Liberal Democrat backbenchers asking how such a deal could be justified. Government sources have said that the new system will allow Tanzania to expand both trade and tourism, and profit from charging planes that use its air space.
The World Bank and Oxfam have criticised the deal, saying the system is primarily designed for military purposes and is unsuitable for a country with a per capita income of little more than £200 a year.
Oxfam's head of policy, Justin Forsyth, said the decision made a mockery of the government's commitment to reducing debt in the developing world. Tanzania has taken out an expensive loan from Barclays to pay for the system; the World Bank and International Monetary Fund refused to lend money to purchase a system they regard as a white elephant. "It is outrageous that Tanzania's debt relief will go towards bolstering the profits of BAE and Barclays bank rather than helping the poor people of Tanzania," Mr Forsyth said.
The decision to back the sale has split the cabinet, with Clare Short, the international development secretary, and the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, vehemently opposed. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, and Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, have voiced strong support, backed by Tony Blair.
Mr Straw's stance is said to have particularly angered Mr Brown and Ms Short, after an earlier attempt to wave the sale through before the election was quashed by Robin Cook, then foreign secretary. Opponents argue that the decision to grant an export licence to BAE undermines the government's development agenda and comes at an embarrassing time for Ms Short and Mr Brown who have led international efforts to focus aid budgets on poverty reduction not prestige projects with few productive returns. This week's row blew up as Mr Brown returned from Washington where he had asked the US treasury secretary to back Britain's efforts for the doubling of the international aid effort. ...... ... The developing world's current debt crisis began in the 1970s when western banks overflowing with oil money financed dozens of unsuitably grandiose projects . Tanzanians are still struggling to pay £80m in interest a year - even after receiving a partial writedown of its debts from western donors earlier this year - Barclays and other banks have largely escaped the consequences of their ill-judged lending decisions. .....
Dec 21

We can't trust ministers to tell the truth on MMR

.......having talked to two friends who have children who became autistic after these inoculations, I'm now paying for separate jabs. No one has yet been able to explain away the tenfold increase in autism since the vaccine was introduced in 1988. Even back in the dark ages of the 1980s, doctors were unlikely to have missed that many cases. I don't trust the Government's reassurances. It's not just Cherie refusing to tell us whether Leo's had the jab. She's probably done her own homework rather than Euan's and decided it's risky. But her husband's Government is heading this propaganda campaign. He is quite happy to use his sons to promote the Dome or the Army - if Leo had had the jab, surely his father wouldn't have been able to resist telling us? The Government prefers to spend its money (£3 million a year) promoting this cocktail, rather than putting it into research. Ministers' instinct is to prevent panic. Nor do they want to become embroiled in litigation. Were they to admit that they had concerns, parents with an autistic child would be queueing up to demand compensation. The GPs back the Government in most cases, because they believe the jab works. But some also have a financial incentive to persuade children on their list to be immunised: they receive a bonus tied to their inoculation programmes. Those in the medical profession who even question the official line risk losing their jobs. Dr Andrew Wakefield, who first raised concerns about autism, has been forced out of the Royal Free Hospital. .......
Terrible mistakes have been made on both sides of the Atlantic after parents started hounding suspected paedophiles. In Britain, several were wrongly exposed by the News of the World's naming and shaming of "perverts". So what can the Government do to protect children from paedophiles? Make their sentences reviewable, so they can be kept in prison for as long as they are considered dangerous. Develop better treatment for offenders. Whiting spent only two years and five months in prison and refused to join the voluntary sexual offenders' treatment programme. But first the Government must regain our trust and, to do that, it should stop insisting our children become MMR junkies.
Dec 21

Ruckus greets concept of implanting ID chips in humans
Washington Post

By ROBERT O'HARROW JR. - The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- A New Jersey surgeon has implanted, under his skin, a tiny computer chip that can automatically transmit personal information to a scanner. His employer hopes the technology will someday be widely used as a way to identify people. ........... The new chip, slightly smaller than a Tic Tac mint, emits signals containing about two paragraphs' worth of data when scanned by a handheld reader.
Company officials said they hoped to sell the device to patients with pacemakers, artificial hips and other implanted devices. The idea is that the chip could provide prompt and accurate medical information in an emergency. The signal can contain a name, telephone number and other information. Or it can send out a code that, when linked to a database, can call up records. The scanner can read the chip through clothing from as far away as four feet, company officials said.
Applied Digital executives said its new product also could serve as a tamperproof form of identification. Corrections authorities have expressed interest in using the chips to better identify prisoners and parolees, officials said. The device must undergo clinical trials and be approved by the Food and Drug Administration before it could be marketed. The surgeon, Richard Seelig, 55, said he had implanted devices in his hip and an arm in September. He said he decided to test the chip himself after seeing rescuers at the World Trade Center disaster site write their names and Social Security numbers on their arms so they could be identified in case they were injured or killed at the site.
Applied Digital has high hopes for the technology, in part because the company is struggling financially and recently fell behind on loans from one of its major creditors. Its stock, which trades on the Nasdaq Stock Market, was as high as $3 in the past year. It closed Wednesday at 45 cents.
Applied Digital already sells electronic chips that help farmers keep tabs on the health and safety of cattle and other livestock. The company also makes a monitoring bracelet for Alzheimer's patients, so families can use global positioning satellite systems to find loved ones who may wander off. Airlines, nuclear power plants and other sensitive facilities may want to use the chips for employees, company officials said. Some parents may consider embedding chips in young children or elderly relatives who may be unable to say their names, addresses or telephone numbers. "It depends on the spirit of the marketplace and the demand," said Keith Bolton, the company's vice president and chief technology officer.
He said that the use of the chip should be voluntary unless the law allows otherwise. Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute in New York, said the chip "evokes images of science fiction." Murray said: "We need to consider carefully the broader implications. Alongside the possible benefits, it has the potential to be misused by forces who do not have your interests at heart."
Regulatory approval is not necessary to sell the chip overseas. Applied Digital expects to be selling chips in foreign countries in about 90 days. One potential market is kidnap targets, who could use these chips in combination with global positioning satellite devices. ............ Paul Saffo, director of the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, Calif., said, "The computer has jumped off our desktops, and it is insinuating itself into every corner of our lives. Now it's finding its way into our bodies. This stuff is going to happen. These guys are the start." .......
Dec 21

Widespread fiddling of NHS waiting lists revealed

By Celia Hall and Nicole Martin
LARGE-SCALE manipulation of hospital waiting lists by some NHS managers is revealed today in a damning report from the Government's public spending watchdog.
In one case, patients were asked by telephone when they were going on holiday, then given dates for their operations in that period, the National Audit Office says. The report, Inappropriate adjustments to NHS waiting lists, describes several other ways managers strove to meet Goverment targets.
It says patients were given dates at short notice. When they declined, the time they had waited was altered so that they did not breach the Government's 18-month maximum waiting time. In one hospital, out-patients waiting to see a consultant were excluded from the list until the month of their appointment.
Another method was not to count patients waiting more than 18 months and keep them on an unofficial list. The report identifies nine trusts in which "inappropriate adjustment" of waiting lists took place. They include some of the best known hospitals in the country,,,(See comment)
Dec 19

Labour to seize powers over planning

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor

NUCLEAR waste dumps, power stations, airports and trunk roads could be built in future without residents having the right to object to them in principle at a public inquiry.
The plans, published by the Government yesterday, are intended to streamline the planning system for large infrastructure projects. Industry welcomed them, but conservation groups described as them as "completely unacceptable".
The plans would mean that major projects could, for the first time, be subject to a whipped vote in both Houses of Parliament by members who were not well versed in the details of the developments.
There would be a temptation for ruling parties to approve unpopular developments in opposition constituencies. The proposals also further reduce the role of county councils, which are to have their planning powers taken away under Green Paper proposals published last week. ...............But the scale of the exemptions from existing public inquiry procedures, including open-cast mines, quarries and chemical plants, shocked conservation groups. They said that the removal of objectors' rights was potentially a violation of human rights and environmental law. Hugh Ellis, planning campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "The Government has completely caved in to industry. These plans are a nightmare for local democracy and the environment." Teresa May, the Conservatives' planning spokesman, said the proposals gave "enormous power" to the Secretary of State. She said: "These proposals are even worse than I thought. They cut off criticism from local communities and stifle debate in Parliament. They mean that major schemes could be approved in the Commons in an hour and a half on a whipped vote."
Dec 18

(See also)

Planning reform will strip county powers

By Charles Clover, Environment Editor (Filed: 13/12/2001)
COUNTY councils, the principal opponents of excessive housing development in the countryside, will have their powers removed under what the Government yesterday claimed were the most radical planning reforms for 50 years. The Planning Green Paper proposes to strip away a democratically-elected layer of the system for approving developments, replacing it with a two-tier system of neighbourhood or village plans, drawn up by district councils, and regional plans drawn up by as yet unelected bodies. The Green Paper was warmly welcomed by businesses but one of many environmental groups that criticised the proposal described it as "one of the biggest blows to environmental protection and democracy in the past 50 years". .....The 3.8 million homes that are to be built in England in the next 20 years will be allocated by non-elected regional bodies.
posted Dec 18

Woolf attacks new terror law

By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor
LORD WOOLF, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, will today attack the Government's new Anti-Terrorism Act and say it damages Britain's reputation abroad.
He discloses that he has appointed an experienced team of judges to hear challenges by alleged foreign terrorists who may be detained here without trial. He makes it clear that judges will release them if their detention is not based on proper evidence.
In an interview for BBC News 24's Hardtalk programme to be broadcast this evening,
"One doesn't want to have a situation of this sort. The precedents are not auspicious. In previous wars, things have happened which, with hindsight, are now known to have been wrong. We have to be astute to avoid that happening, so far as possible."
The Lord Chief Justice says aspects of the Anti-Terrorism Bill, as originally drafted, caused him "concern". He is encouraged by the fact that the legislation will be kept under review by Parliament and hopes it will be repealed as soon as possible. .........
Dec 17

'Peer was told that MI5 was bugging him'
The Times

A LABOUR peer has lodged an official complaint that he was warned by a minister that his anti-war comments were being monitored by MI5. Lord Ahmed, who is a Muslim, claimed yesterday that he had had an angry confrontation with Denis MacShane, a Foreign Office minister, during which, he alleged, he was told that he was under surveillance. Lord Ahmed has submitted a complaint to the tribunal which investigates the misuse of bugging equipment. .................. Lord Ahmed has criticised the Governments policy on the war in Afghanistan and its anti-terrorism legislation. He said he was summoned by Mr MacShane after telling a friend by mobile phone that he could no longer support the Governments stance. The peer said that one conversation to which Mr MacShane referred had been held outside a building; he did not see how anyone could have heard it. Lord Ahmed said: I would appeal to Tony Blair that people have got to be able to express their views. It should be accepted in our democratic country where most people are speaking in one voice that one representative should be able to express his view without being threatened. His solicitor, John Wadham, who is director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: He has instructed me to make an application to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to make a complaint. Any bugging or surveillance order must be authorised by the Home Secretary.
Dec 17

Business zones win planning loophole

Ministers plan to let businesses build offices and factories in "business planning zones" across the country without having to seek planning permission to do so. And tomorrow they will announce plans to stop people challenging the need for new roads, airports, nuclear dumps and power stations at public inquiries.
Environmentalists believe that the changes will fatally undermine the system and open up the countryside to development.
However, Lord Falconer, the Planning Minister, says that the zones will make rural areas more "business-friendly", attracting firms by virtue of being "simple and easy to operate". They would exempt companies from having to get planning permission, so long as the firms observe general "criteria" drawn up for the areas. This would ensure businesses that they would get the go-ahead without delay.
The new provisions for roads, nuclear power stations and other "major infrastructure projects" - stimulated by frustration at the length of public inquiries into controversial plans - are likely to provoke even more opposition. Under them, says Lord Falconer, public inquiries will be able to consider only "the how, not the whether" of schemes. The need for such projects would be decided by "a national policy statement", issued by ministers, and approval would be given by an Act of Parliament. The Government, he said, would "almost certainly" take a view on each project, which means that it would be whipped through. But Tony Burton of the National Trust said yesterday that both plans made ministers "unaccountable".
Dec 16

Here we go again
Sunday Telegraph

(Filed: 16/12/2001)
EUROPEAN federalism, we keep being told, is off the agenda. The notion of a super-state is pure fantasy: a false creation proceeding from the heat-oppressed brains of Eurosceptics. It may once, admittedly, have had its advocates - Jacques Delors and the like - but no one thinks that way any more. So say Tony Blair, Jack Straw and a whole chorus of off-stage Government spokesmen.
It is instructive, therefore, to look at what has just been agreed in the Brussels suburb of Laeken. As an intellectual exercise, let us assume that Mr Blair is wrong, and that the EU is still bent on super-statery. What, in these circumstances, would its heads of government have wanted to achieve at their summit?
In fact, much of the apparatus of federalism is already in place: the EU has equipped itself with its own parliament, currency, supreme court, anthem, flag and the rest of the paraphernalia of statehood. But there are still three vital elements missing. It lacks its own armed forces, its own constitution, and its own criminal justice system. So if, for the sake of argument, the British Government's analysis were false, we might reasonably expect the Laeken summit to have concentrated on filling these gaps. Which is more or less what has happened.
In each case, though, the story has been deliberately confused. The progress towards a European Army (or European Rapid Reaction Force as it is hilariously known) has been masked by a row over whether the EU was to have a formal role in peace-keeping in Afghanistan........ If a free-standing body of troops under the direct control of EU politico-military structures does not constitute a European Army, it is difficult to think of what does.
The same applies in the field of constitution-making. As Daniel Hannan writes elsewhere, the EU has launched a "Convention", consciously echoing the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. This body, composed of MPs, MEPs and other bigwigs, will draft a European constitution for adoption in 2004. Once again, though, Government spokesmen have done everything they can to blur the picture. When, almost exactly a year ago, the British media began to scent that a written constitution was on the agenda, the Europhile establishment went into an almost Soviet mode of denial. Even Radio Four's Today programme - rarely accused of Eurosceptic leanings - was described by Alastair Campbell as "gullible" and by the EU spokesman, Jonathan Faull, as "mischievous and outrageous" simply for daring to cover this story properly.
Yet it is impossible to describe what is happening as anything other than federalism. The Convention, under the chairmanship of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, is to examine a series of federalist proposals including a directly elected President of Europe and pan-European political parties, contesting elections on EU-wide lists.
It is the same story again when we turn to the progressive harmonisation of justice and home affairs. Proposals for the standardisation of the national criminal codes, highly contentious when they were first put forward three years ago, have now been relabelled "security measures". In the current climate, hardly anyone dares to criticise them. As well as the infamous European arrest warrant - which, it cannot be stressed too often, does not apply to terrorism only, but to a series of offences including theft, murder and "xenophobia" - there are measures to establish a European public prosecution service, to give Brussels the power to freeze assets, and to beef up Europol, the "embryonic federal police force". The Commissioner who is pushing all this through, Antonio Vitorino, openly admits that the proposals pre-date September 11, and are aimed at creating a "common judicial space" in the EU. But the British Government, true to form, keeps trying to pretend that it is all about combating terrorism.
It was ever thus. Faced with some new transfer of power to Brussels, the first response of British spokesmen is to try to focus attention on something else: "The real story here is that the European Court has ruled against the French ban on British beef." When that fails, they try to pretend that there is no support for whatever is being proposed: "No one is actually going to agree to an elected EU President, it's all just excitable rhetoric."
When that, too, becomes unsustainable, they take to claiming that the proposal is actually about something else: "It's not really a constitution; it's an attempt to restrict what the EU can do." And when it becomes obvious that that, too, is untrue, they use their trump card: "This was all decided months ago; it's no use complaining now." And so the process rolls on.
Dec 16

Dec 16

Blair battles EU over war as Tora Bora fighters flee
Scotland on Sunday

BRITAIN was at loggerheads with its European partners last night over the conduct of the war on terrorism, with Tony Blair angrily rejecting EU plans to stop America widening the hunt for al-Qaada fighters outside Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister fought a pitched battle to see off a draft conclusion of the Brussels EU summit which would have demanded international approval before the US launches attacks in Somalia or Iraq. The row exposed the growing rift between Europe and America over the conduct of the war on terrorism as the last remaining al-Qaada fighters were flushed out of the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan yesterday. The final pockets of resistance were understood to be crumbling in the terrorists mountain stronghold. .................. The possibility that Bin Laden or members or his terror network have already fled to other countries fuelled the Europe-wide row over future American strategy. While UK spokesmen attempted to play down the rift between EU heads of state, diplomatic sources said that Britain had reacted furiously to a suggestion in the summit's draft conclusions that America would have to seek international permission before widening its campaigns to other countries. "The approval of the international community must be sought prior to any geographical extension of those operations," the draft said. Belgium, which holds the EU presidency and is opposed to the war on terrorism, was one of the most vociferous backers of the demands. While British spokesmen declined to be drawn into the row, one senior EU source said the suggestion had been bitterly opposed by the UK, which has been Americas staunchest ally in the war on terrorism. "The British were very much against it," he said. The offending sentence was later deleted. Britain, America's staunchest ally in its military campaign, has not ruled out supporting military action against states other than Afghanistan if there is convincing evidence of their involvement in terrorism. Hardliners in President George W Bush's administration have pressed for a more aggressive policy towards Iraq, while action against Somalia, Yemen and Sudan has also been mooted. However, EU sources in turn reacted angrily to the British intervention, and hinted heavily that America itself had attempted to influence the wording of the summit's conclusions. " The great majority of people here think that some consultation is not a bad thing," said one insider.
Dec 16

Blair will bypass Lords over EU arrest warrants

By Philip Johnston, Home Affairs Editor
TONY BLAIR is to challenge the authority of Parliament by signing Britain up to the new EU arrest warrant despite a refusal by a House of Lords committee to clear it.
The Prime Minister travelled to Belgium last night for today's EU summit making clear he would agree to the proposed warrant, under which suspects wanted in one EU country can be sent for trial in another.
The measure is being rushed through as part of the "war on terrorism", though it has been under consideration in Europe for several years.
All EU legislative proposals are scrutinised by committees in the Commons and Lords before ministers agree them at European council meetings. Since there is no other way for Parliament to have its say, the Government is meant to wait for measures to be cleared before signing up to them. With the summit in Laeken looming, the Commons scrutiny committee - dominated by Labour - passed the arrest warrant document on Wednesday, though MPs said they retained deep misgivings about its contents and have asked ministers to return to address their concerns.....
The warrant will replace existing extradition procedures and allow the arrest of British citizens for crimes such as xenophobia and racism, which are not specific criminal offences in Britain. Once it is agreed at EU level it still has to go through national parliaments - but its main components cannot be amended without the agreement of all 15 member states. The reserve power was introduced in 1998 and was described by ministers at the time as "the cornerstone" of the scrutiny system. The Government called it "an undertaking not to agree to a measure in the Council of Ministers until Parliament has completed its consideration of the proposal". The reserve can be overridden if the matter is "confidential, routine or trivial" or if there are "special reasons" for doing so. Mr Blair is required to tell his EU counterparts that a parliamentary reserve has been entered and then explain to the committee why he ignored it. Similar systems operate in other EU countries. Oliver Letwin, shadow home secretary, said if Mr Blair ignored the Lords reserve it "will demonstrate once again this Government's disregard for Parliament". Archive of this page