Democracy Watch ~ Stories from the Press ~ archive fromwarmwell.com
Jan 31 ~ In Berlusconi and Putin's steps
Tony Blair's instincts towards the media have sinister Russian and Italian echoes - says John Kampfer in today's Guardian "... traits that many hoped Blair and friends had shed are reappearing with a vengeance. How else could one look on Alastair Campbell's finger-jabbing performances last July and his folie de grandeur declaration of victory over the BBC on Wednesday? One might dismiss it as laughable were it not so dangerous.
The dangers to the BBC are many, for all the staff protests and management assurances. Watch the BBC fall back into the worst of the old days. Watch it become cowed. The governors' over-reaction in forcing out the director general, and the craven apology of the interim chairman, Lord Ryder, bodes ill..." read in full
Jan 31 ~ Hutton's verdict could spark an unchallenged deluge of propaganda from the government
Financial Times - letter
From Mr Vaughan Jones.
".....If our democracy is to be meaningful, one of the crucial roles of the BBC is to raise questions and air challenges to the hype and spin of the government of the day. In a healthy debate no party, including those that just report the issues, can realistically be expected to be infallible. In a 24-hour, competitive news market, where breaking news is vital to hold one's audience, the editorial vetting procedures advocated by Lord Hutton may not be achievable without incurring delay and a lack of spontaneity.
A sophisticated audience can distinguish between opinion and the facts, yet the impact of the Hutton report could stifle investigative reporting and inhibit the lively debate that is essential for good governance. If so it would be a tragedy for the BBC and for the country. .... Shooting the messenger has previously been the hallmark of repressive regimes.
If the BBC is to be constrained in its reporting by the Hutton editorial hurdles, while the government spin merchants have no such inhibitions, the public is in for a virtually unchallenged deluge of propaganda...." Read in full
Jan 30 ~ "... but, hey, that's politics," says Austin Mitchell, on how his vote was bought He voted for top-up fees in exchange for concessions for Grimsby.
"....Austin Mitchell, 69, MP for Great Grimsby, was a firm opponent of government plans for variable tuition fees of up to £3,000 until a few minutes before Tuesday night's crunch vote.
He changed his mind, however, helping the Government to secure the slimmest of majorities, when whips agreed to his demands for two concessions for Grimsby unrelated to the Higher Education Bill. ...".if these could be agreed, it might help me to make up my mind, and clearly the Government was running scared because they did agree. Now, this morning, I am feeling a bit bad about it, but, hey, that's politics."
Jan 29 ~
Demand grows for Inquiry....
"...In a final submission to Lord Hutton, published last night, the Kelly family said: "The Government made a conscious decision to cause Dr Kelly's identity to be revealed and it did so in order to assist it in the battle with the BBC." The family seized on Mr Campbell's diaries as evidence of the Government's "improper" intent. In one extract disclosed to the inquiry, Mr Campbell wrote: "The biggest thing needed was the source out."
Jan 29 ~ "a vast enterprise of looting.." Ambrose Evans Pritchard in the Telegraph "The European Commission has overseen an "intolerable" breakdown of EU financial control while subjecting whistleblowers to vindictive treatment, Euro-MPs said yesterday.
The European Parliament's annual report on the EU's £70 billion budget expressed "extreme alarm" over failures in the commission's accounting system, finding that the books did not add up and large sums of money could not be traced.
The report, drafted by Paulo Casaca, a pro-EU Portuguese socialist, complained that no commissioner had taken the blame for the disappearance of £ 3 million into "black accounts" at the EU's data office, Eurostat.
Pedro Solbes, the economics commissioner in charge of Eurostat, has refused to accept the blame for abuses described by investigators as "a vast enterprise of looting".. Yves Franchet, Eurostat's former chief, continues to draw a £ 144,000 salary plus perks while key officials linked to the downfall of Jacques Santer's commission after fraud allegations in 1999 kept their posts in the machinery.
By contrast, Paul Van Buitenen was suspended on half pay after he disclosed endemic abuses under Mr Santer and Marta Andreasen, the commission's chief accountant, was fired when she said the budget was "an open till waiting to be robbed".
Jan 28 ~
"Today the stain on the integrity of the Prime Minister and the Government has been removed..." Alastair Campbell in the Times ".......Mr Campbell ignored reporters' questions about whether he was responsible for leaking sections of Lord Hutton's report to The Sun, which the newspaper published this morning.
Asked why No 10 had set up Mr Campbell's televised statement, one of the Downing Street officials present said: "Because when the accusations were made, Alastair was employed by the Government as the Prime Minister's director of communications and strategy and therefore it's only proper we facilitate his statement."
Jan 28 ~ "there can be few subjects of greater public interest than reasons presented by a Government
to its own people as possible grounds for war. That - let there be no doubt about it - was the
purpose of the September dossier. It was an assessment of the threat posed by a foreign power
against whom hostilities were in serious contemplation.
It was advertised by a label which is almost unique in British political history. The Prime Minister
was to share with the people the gist of the formal intelligence assessments he had received from
the Joint Intelligence Committee. The invitation was to share the Prime Minister's conclusion,
having shared the intelligence....…the BBC anticipates criticism of the 6.07 broadcast in particular and its treatment thereafter,
but they do ask the Inquiry to have in mind the public interest in the remainder of its extensive
coverage of Dr Kelly's concerns about the dossier, which the BBC believes the public had a right
to know." Mr Caldecott, QC for the BBC concluding his statement to the Hutton INquiry on behalf of the BBC, quoted by the Hutton report (p193)
Gavyn Davies has resigned.
Jan 28 ~ "..nothing is more dangerous than intelligence so processed as merely to reinforce the existing prejudices of government." Of Hutton, the Guardian reports:
"....The scale of his criticism has sent shock waves through the BBC particularly as the way in which the intelligence dossier was drawn up was vindicated by Lord Hutton despite reservations expressed by some intelligence sources during the inquiry about the language used.
However, in the words of Simon Jenkins on June 4th last year, "Ministers wanted evidence of an immediate threat that intelligence could not deliver. Just as Mrs Thatcher's bias was against overseas spending, Mr Blair's was in favour of supporting Washington whatever it chose to do. Such known bias infects any intelligence machine. Desperation breeds misjudgment. The September and March dossiers on Iraq were barely plausible. Yet Mr Blair presented them with such conviction that even I half-believed them. ...In May 1983, some time after Franks had given Mrs Thatcher his equivocal exoneration, she did a remarkable thing. She summoned him privately and remarked: "I don't think you said all that was in your mind about intelligence." Franks replied with a Ciceronian lecture: any government with enough money can gather information. The test of a ruler is the judgment applied to that information. That is the true quality of intelligence. It will be of use if it can exert leverage on the swirling forces of power. Thus nothing is more dangerous than intelligence so processed as merely to reinforce the existing prejudices of government..."
"I do not consider it was improper for Mr Scarlett [chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee] and the JIC to take into account suggestions made by Number 10 and adopt those suggestions if they were consistent with the intelligence available," said the report. "
Jan 28 ~ What Lord Hutton said See Guardian's summary See Hutton website for the full report
Jan 28 ~ in its obsession with control the Government has humiliated itself. Simon Jenkins in the Times says,
".....The student fees argument has become a bundle of nonsense wrapped in humbug enveloped in class prejudice. Yet in its obsession with control the Government has humiliated itself. It has lost millions of pounds in up-front fees and half a billion pounds in short term cost to no advantage, not even political. A minor uprating of university income has come close to toppling the Prime Minister from office. That is the price of meddling. ..."
Jan 27 ~ The Lords have passed a Bill to make provision for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union A press release from the Conservative party today says, "...We will now visit a number of the fishing communities across the UK to talk directly to those involved. In time, we expect to visit other countries that already have successful national management schemes. In the long term, we will come forward with details as to how a Conservative government will establish a management scheme outside the Common Fisheries Policy"
See also Richard North's "An Analysis of the 2002 Review of the Common Fisheries Policy"
Jan 27 ~.. humanitarian intervention had climbed the political agenda as other justifications offered by the US or British governments for going to war collapsed:.. ..Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, his alleged terrorist links and the idea that Iraq could serve as a beacon for democracy in the Middle East.
"The dominant justification for the war - WMD - seems to be fading away," he said.
"The only way [that is left] to justify this war is as a humanitarian war."
Human Rights Watch began in the US 25 years ago and now has representatives worldwide. The report also concentrates not only on human rights in Iraq but in Africa, Chechnya and the Balkans, and is critical of the US for continuing to hold prisoners in Cuba as part of its "war on terrorism". ..." The Guardian on the the annual report of Human Rights Watch published yesterday.
Jan 27 ~ Ministers were accused last night of presiding over a "wretched moment in history" by creating a new constitution that would give the Government the ultimate power to veto the appointment of "troublesome" judges...." Independent
Jan 27 ~ Ethics Humbug
The Western Morning News "The Government's
"ethics police" were yesterday accused of squandering thousands of pounds
conducting investigations into trivial parish squabbles - ....
.....An investigation by a national
newspaper into the work of the watchdog, set up to ensure ethical probity
in local government, claims that most of its £8 million annual budget is
spent probing trivial squabbles between councillors.
Of the 3,495
allegations received last year, half were made against the lowest tier of
councillors ..... In three-quarters of cases the watchdog found no evidence
of a breach or said that no action could be taken.
....... the Standards Board states in its aims: "Confidence in
local democracy is a cornerstone of our way of life....."
Jan 26 ~ ".. the moral obligation to assist genuine refugees"Guardian
The report from the Commons home affairs select committee, which is endorsed by the former Tory shadow home secretary, Ann Widdecombe, concluded that nearly half of the asylum seekers who come to Britain were fleeing conflict rather than poverty.
"Whether we are dealing with genuine asylum seekers or economic migrants we should never lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with human beings, not numbers, and they should be treated accordingly," it concluded.
The committee, which is chaired by the former Labour Home Office minister, John Denham, says a number "weaknesses" in the asylum system need to be dealt with, in particular the "poor quality of much initial decision-making on asylum claims".
The MPs also called for an independent review of the so-called section 55 power under which asylum seekers who fail to make a claim within 72 hours of arriving in Britain are denied access to welfare benefits saying it continues to lead to "unduly harsh treatment".
"More needs to be done to ensure that failed asylum seekers leave the UK and tough action against abuse is justified. But this does not relieve our country of the moral obligation to assist genuine refugees," said the former Home Office minister. "
Jan 25 ~" Intelligence was “cherry-picked”, with damning intelligence against Iraq being selectively chosen while intelligence assessments, which might have worked against the build-up to war, were sidelined. Intelligence work had become politicised under Labour , and spies were taking orders from politicians. They provided worst-case scenarios which were used by politicians to make factual claims. .." The exclusive story in the Sunday Herald, in which the "views of senior members of the intelligence community" are given. They "believe the political fallout from the publication on Wednesday of the Hutton Inquiry's report will result in an attempt by the Prime Minister and his senior Cabinet colleagues to blame the intelligence services for the shoddy information which was used by the government to convince the British people and parliament that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were a threat to the UK." Sunday Herald
Jan 25 ~"Blair in panic as WMD blow strengthens tuition fee rebels" Sunday Herald
"Tony Blair's last-ditch charm offensive against MPs threatening to vote against the government in Tuesday's crucial vote on tuition fees was dealt a fatal blow this weekend by the US's leading weapons inspector in Iraq, who said Saddam Hussein had no arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
....David Kay's resignation - anticipated by Washington since mid-December - has ended any lingering hopes by Downing Street that they could persuade many more of the rebels to back down ahead of Tuesday's vote. Rather than reducing rebel numbers, the resignation statement, from the man who headed the CIA-backed Iraq Survey Group's hunt for WMD in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, seems to have emboldened those rebel MPs who believe it may be payback time for Blair.
A defeat on tuition fees will see Lord Hutton's potentially damaging report into the death of Dr David Kelly being delivered the next day into a hothouse of speculation about Blair's future.
The void that is now at the heart of the government's case for going to war was exploited by the former foreign secretary, Robin Cook, who immediately called on Blair to use his Hutton report statement in the Commons on Wednesday to admit going to war was a mistake. ..."
Jan 25 ~ Three European Commissioners under fire in the row over Eurostat and the missing £3.5 million - dubious contracts ran on, unchecked, until at least 2002
"Three European Commissioners under fire in the row over Eurostat, the fraud-ridden statistics agency, will be accused of bringing European institutions "into disrepute" when MEPs give their final verdict on the 2001 accounts this week.
Neil Kinnock, Michaele Schreyer and Pedro Solbes face the possibility of what would amount to votes of censure by the European Parliament as MEPs consider a hard-hitting report on the commission's control of EU finances.
Mr Solbes, the commissioner directly responsible for Eurostat, says that he was unaware of a long-running anti-fraud investigation into the statistics agency until last spring, as do Mr Kinnock, the commission vice- president in charge of its drive against sleaze, and Mrs Schreyer, responsible for the EU budget.
Jan 24 ~
"All I want is justice for my son" Guardian last Wednesday with the story that the families of British detainees at Guantanamo Bay are to take their fight for the men's release to the US with the help of the foremost American civil liberties group, the American Civil Liberties Union. "..... "It is plain and clear that the treatment of these 660 being held without charge, without access to a lawyer, without access to a court, violates the most fundamental of human rights," said Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College, London.
Mr Begg's father, Azmat, said he believed that the American public would support the families when they learned about the detainees.
"All I want is justice for my son," he told the meeting.
"Democracy and justice cannot exist in any country unless governments act according to international human rights law and the conventions that apply to captured prisoners." ..."
Jan 24 ~ A Cumbrian village is to establish the first cooperative-run state school
after losing two appeals to keep its 18-pupil primary open. One of the most encouraging news articles we have seen for weeks was in the
Guardian yesterday (many thanks to Coleen for this)
"Villagers in Lowick, which is spread over three small parishes on the
southern edge of the Lake District, have been told that their 150-year-old
school must close in July due to falling rolls. Pupils will instead have to
travel up to 11 miles a day by taxi to Perry Bridge school.
However, campaigners for the school, including its pupils, who mounted the
judicial review which failed to halt its closure, insist that the school is
vital to the community .......The Co-operative
Action Fund has donated £28,000 to help produce a legal model of the new
school before term starts in September. The school's headteacher, Shirley
Rainbow, said the school is the "focus of the community".
"There is no shop, no post office, just the church and the school. We were
badly hit by foot and mouth, nobody could go anywhere, but they came here,
just to talk," she said. They plan to call the school the Lowick Pioneers
Jan 23 ~" The drugs economy is the single biggest handicap to social cohesion in Britain. It blights law and order, family policy, mental health, truancy and gun control. " Simon Jenkins in the Times Drugs turn the brains of politicians into marzipan
today on the reclassification of cannabis.
"....Drugs must some day be legalised and controlled. In the meantime, policy must at least make sense. The Conservative Party demands that the drugs advisory committee no longer consider aligning penalties to harm, only to politics. The party flirted with sanity under William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith. Now it is telling millions of young people that a Tory vote is a vote to put them and their friends in prison. They might prefer Mr Blair's top-up fees to that. ..
...The global drugs trade kills far more people than terrorism. Yet it receives scant priority. The West's regime change in Afghanistan may not have stamped out al-Qaeda but it liberated the opium market which the Taleban had ruthlessly suppressed. Ninety per cent of Britain's heroin now comes from that country. The street price has fallen 20 per cent in a year. Meanwhile, 60 tonnes of home-grown cannabis in the form of Sativex, to relieve sufferers from cancer and multiple sclerosis, are waiting in the stores of GW Pharmaceuticals. Ministers must overcome a state of frozen political terror for them to be put on sale. ..."
" Read in full
Jan 22 ~ What would the Opposition do with our time-honoured judicial system? .... The answer is evolution, not revolution, writes Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor of the Telegraph "....we should still beware of cosy deals among judges. If the Government's proposals are to become law, they must pass muster with opposition MPs. And in a policy paper launched today, two Tory front-bench spokesmen say that "as Conservatives who support evolutionary rather than revolutionary change," they intend to reject "Tony Blair's teenage radicalism"....Alan Duncan, who shadows Lord Falconer....sees no "intellectual rhyme or reason" in Government plans to abolish the Lord Chancellor, to replace the law lords with a supreme court and to create a judicial appointments commission..." Read in full
Jan 22 ~"...as rhetorically flat as it was intellectually dishonest"
The Washington Post comments ( Richard Cohen) "Hussein is gone, and that is all well and good, but gone too is the confidence of the American people that this administration levels with them. Bush certainly did not do that Tuesday night.
This State of the Union address was as rhetorically flat as it was intellectually dishonest -- a political pitch designed to obscure uncomfortable facts and to solidify the conservative Republican base. .." Read in full
Scotsman yesterday "Mr Bush emphasised the need for security at home and called on Congress to renew key provisions of the controversial Patriot Act, which has been attacked by civil liberties campaigners as a "snoopers charter", used to spy on the public.
While parts of the act were due to expire next year, "the terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule", Mr Bush said. He went on: "Our greatest responsibility is the active defence of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11, 2001, over two years without an attack on American soil - and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting - and false....."
If we have nothing to fear but fear itself then Bush is ladling it out in bucketfuls to the Americans.
Jan 22 ~ Boris Johnson on swill He tells us that "Britain's sewers are becoming like that nightmarish advertisement, showing the effects of smoking on the arteries...in the last couple of years the pressure on the sewers has grown, and it is coming from our plates"
Telegraph "....the problem in the sewers. That is why our landfill sites are now mountains of whitening bones and melba toast. It is because, in 2001, in a fit of unnecessary alarm, they abolished swill feeding.
In so doing, the Government whacked an industry which was worth £40 million a year, and which disposed of 1.7 million tons of biodegradable material in the most natural way possible. The 62 licensed swill users had their livelihoods taken away, without compensation. .
There was one failure, when Bobby Waugh, of Heddon-on-the-Wall, was convicted of feeding unprocessed swill to his pigs. This is thought, though by no means proven, to have been the cause of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak. Even if that were so, it makes no sense to abolish swill feeding, since Waugh's practices were already illegal.....
(See also the Jason Podmore case)
Jan 21 ~ " People have given this President an unwarranted benefit of the doubt this past year; people want to believe their president is not lying to them, and they particularly they want to believe that a war that he's lead us into, with great personal leadership, against opposition in this country and abroad, was just and necessary and successful and worthwhile. It wasn't, actually, and that means that the President has been following a policy that's depended on lies, and on secrets. And that means that he's been vulnerable to a truth-teller at every step of the way, and Joseph Wilson is one of those who did step forward, and provided an example that obviously this White House is very afraid will be followed by others. I hope it will be followed by others.
But they set out him to intimidate him, and to intimidate others who might emulate him..." More from Daniel Ellsberg
Jan 21 ~ "There is probably very little Mr Bush would not do to get re-elected...." The Guardian today on the Democrats' "coming struggle to unseat George Bush"
"....the And all the time Mr Bush, who hits the trail today fresh from his State of the Union address, will be strutting his presidential, war-leading stuff while adding more millions to his war chest. He is not leaving anything to chance. In recent days, Mr Bush (or his administration) has bought $50m worth of surplus orange juice in Florida (as in 2000, a key swing state), promised yet more tax cuts, torn up immigration policy to win Latino votes and shamelessly milked the memory of Martin Luther King. There is probably very little Mr Bush would not do to get re-elected, including going to Mars. .."
Jan 21 ~"... Leadership was supplanted by regulation. Catastrophe ensued..." Simon Jenkins today in the Times, on the fiasco that is the UK railway system. "Investment planning collapsed and had to be resumed by the Treasury. When the boom in demand came in the 1990s, the network could not cope. When accidents happened, as they do, there was no experienced management to keep its nerve. Talented executives, key to cost control, had fled the system. Contractors doubled prices.
So awful was the Robson plan that it has had to be refashioned three times since 1993. It still does not work. Subsidy has soared to three times in real terms what it was under nationalisation. If anyone wants to know why air travel is now cheaper then rail, they need only look at 14 tiers of authority between a rail passenger and destination.
Mr Darling says that "renationalisation" is not an option. He clearly does not speak English...." Read in full
( When Simon Jenkins says that "Mr Darling is the Paul Bremer of the railway. He is charged with delivering his boss "peace by election time", despite being largely ignorant of the empire over which he rules. He therefore merely craves control..." he is surely describing a government mindset that is affecting far, far more than the railways.)
Jan 21 ~ Cost of Government spin operation rises fivefold to £2.4m since 1997
"The cost of the Government's spin operation has increased five-fold since Labour came to power prompting questions from opposition MPs about the use of taxpayers' funds. The communications budget in Whitehall has jumped from £ 575,000 in 1997 when Tony Blair entered Downing Street to £ 2.4 million this year.
Ministers explained the increase in the budget of the Government's information service by saying that its "role and responsibilities" had evolved and developed. The Government's Communications and Information Service (GICS) includes Whitehall press officers and ministers' communications advisers. They are in charge of pushing out ministerial information to the media and responding to stories in the press.
The figures show that spending on spin has steadily increased since Labour came to power. In 1997 the figure was £ 575,000, which rose to £ 680,000 in 1998-99. The next year the budget crept up to £ 815,000. Then in 2001-02, spending shot up to £ 1.88 m. The budget leapt dramatically in 2002-03 to £ 4,079,000 when it included the cost of media communications for the Queen's Jubilee celebrations.
At least half of this year's budget of £ 2,458,000 will be spent on "emergency communications", the Cabinet Office minister, Douglas Alexander, said.
However, the Liberal Democrats said the dramatic leap in funding meant that claims from Downing Street that the Government had given up spin were untrue.
Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman who obtained the figures in a written reply, said: "Government spin that spin is dead has been shown to be spin itself."
"At the same time that they are massively increasing propaganda spend they are cutting environmental budgets to the bone. A five-times increase is impossible to justify though I suspect that theGovernment's reaction will be yet more spin to try to do so."
Jan 21 ~ "Some of the families of British terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay are being helped by a new human rights body to seek justice for their loved ones. The Guantanamo Human Rights Commission was launched by the actors Corin and Vanessa Redgrave yesterday to unite the families and lawyers of prisoners from across Europe." Independent
Jan 21 ~ House of Lords - Several government sources said that the creation of the new working peers was one of many decisions put on hold until after the Hutton report is published BBC "... Downing Street has still not submitted the list of nominees for vetting by the Appointments Commission.
The Commission recently took over the job of vetting new peers from the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee.
A spokesman for the Commission said: "We have yet to receive the list. It is entirely down to the Prime Minister when he wants to introduce a new list."
The BBC understands that the new list will include five new Tory peers, eight Liberal Democrats and about twenty Labour Lords. ..."
Jan 20 ~ the Civil Contingencies Bill would replace outdated legislation "not designed with the needs of modern society in mind".
The Scotsman reports the Second Reading of the Civil Contingencies Bill. Douglas Alexander
"... reassured MPs that allowing ministers to by-pass Parliament and issue urgent orders would not over-ride human rights legislation."
"The definition of an emergency in the Bill was changed after a joint committee of MPs and peers set up to scrutinise it warned it would allow a future Government to invoke the powers simply to protect its own existence. ...Originally including threats to the "political, administrative or economic stability", an emergency is now defined more tightly as "an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or the security of the United Kingdom or a place in the United Kingdom".
This could still cover a wide range of disasters from a terror outrage to major flooding, catastrophic storms, outbreaks of animal or human diseases, oil-spills, disruption of fuel supplies or even a serious attack on the Internet.
Mr Alexander said the wide consultation on the legislation had made "a real difference" and promised to involve the public further before making specific regulations. ..." Read in full
The last line of the article quotes Mr Alexander: "Press reports that human rights would be suppressed were wrong, he said."
Jan 20 ~ Downing Street will not "yield to pressure on freedom of information"The Phillis report criticises the Government for greatly watering down its original proposals, contained in the Freedom of Information White Paper, and rendering the final Bill ineffectual.
"Spin-doctors to stay in shadows at briefings" Times headline
In spite of the Times' headline above, the significant part of the article is:
"Downing Street made clear, however, that it would not yield to pressure on freedom of information. "The Freedom of Information Act is itself a major step towards openness," the Prime Minister's spokesman said. "That Act does not come into force until 2005. Therefore we do need to see how that operates and then consider how it operates in the light of Phillis and no doubt other thoughts expressed between now and 2005."
Read in full
The spokesman rejected a suggestion that this amounted to a failure to implement part of the Phillis report, saying that it was sensible to test the Act already due to come into force before considering further changes.
Downing Street also rejected the report's suggestion that ministers should lose their right to 40 hours' notice of national statistics before their release in which to consider their response. ..."
Jan 19 ~ "... official who refused to release documents on the grounds
that they "could fuel public discussion on the subject"..."
In view of the publishing of the Report authored by Bob Phillis (see the Times and the Independent articles below) we remind readers of the Freedom of Information articles by Richard Wakeford, head of Science and Technology Information, posted here in 2001.
He pointed out that the Government White Paper of Dec 1997 "Your Right to Know" said thatALL Government departments, ALL Public bodies and ALL Private Organisastions were originally covered. Strict tests would be in place to ensure information would be released except where disclosure would cause substantial harm or to be against the public interest. Then, after the task of steering the FOI bill passed to the Home Office, key proposals had been so watered down that broad umbrella exemptions were incorporated;
Indeed, suggests Mr Wakeford in this article from 2001, the Act may even in places be weaker than
the voluntary Code of Practice on Access to Government Information
that was introduced by John Major in 1993.
Security and Intelligence Services are entirely exempt (although no-one would ever expect access to operational
information there is also no public scrutiny of administrative
affairs such as the costs of the expensive new headquarters
buildings for MI5 and MI6)
- The test of "substantial harm" has been replaced by one of "harm" -
only one word has been lost but it is a critical one in guiding
judges when assessing where the balance of public interest should
- The Information Commissioner can make recommendations but has no
powers to enforce disclosure.
As for Freedom of Information in the European Union, it is in danger of going into reverse.
"A watching brief on the
European situation is maintained by the magazine Statewatch at
http://www.statewatch.org/ . Quoted here is the ineffable comment of
a European official who refused to release documents on the grounds
that they "could fuel public discussion on the subject"...."
Jan 19 ~
Curb spindoctors and lift veil of Whitehall secrecy, says report
By Rosemary Bennett in the Times
Tony Blair will be told today in a hard-hitting report to overhaul the entire machinery of government communications and to lift the veil of secrecy that covers Whitehall business.
Bob Phillis, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group and author of the report, will recommend that more ministers brief the press and not leave the business of delivering the Government's message to spindoctors.
...... will also say that the Freedom of Information Act passed by Labour is woefully inadequate for a modern democracy. An urgent review is needed if public faith in government is to be restored.
The Act was dramatically watered down by the Government before it became law in the last Parliament.......
However, to great relief of the Government, Mr Phillis stops short of recommending that the Act itself is amended.....
...The Act places three hurdles in the way of publication of government documents. "Class exemptions" state that they cannot be published if that would damage commercial and security interests. Secondly, they cannot be published if it would harm individuals.
If these two hurdles are overcome, ministers have a right to veto publication.
... Mr Blair has pre-empted the Phillis report by offering to accept all his key recommendations. He has promised to appoint a civil servant to the job.... David Hill, his new communications chief, has been given a much more clearly political function, with no powers over other departments.
Mr Phillis will say that communications need to be more central to the policy-making process and not just tacked on at the end in a panic when officials realise that aspects of an initiative may be unpopular.
He will also call for greater openness in the daily briefings to political correspondents. The report wants lobby briefings to be televised, to lose their reputation for secrecy. ..."
Read in full
and see Independent report below.
Jan 19 ~
Brown blocks Downing Street plan for White House-style briefings
By Andrew Grice, Political Editor of the Independent
Downing Street wants Mr Blair's two official spokesmen, Godric Smith and Tom Kelly, to appear on live television like C J Cregg, the fictional White House press secretary seen in the TV series The West Wing. But some cabinet ministers, including Mr Brown, believe that elected ministers, rather than civil servants, should be the Government's public face.
....Several ministers are reluctant to face questions on issues ranging across government, for which they would need to be intensively briefed to avoid mistakes.
......" On-camera ministerial briefings were tried in 2002 but petered out because ministers were reluctant to appear.
The one that received the most coverage was when Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was contradicted by Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, who was chief of the defence staff, over the impact of the firemen's strike on the armed forces.
Today's report by a committee chaired by Bob Phillis, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, will warn that a "breakdown of trust" between the Government, the media and the public has turned people off politics. ..."
Jan 18 ~ For justice's sake -
Publish the legal advice for Iraq war
"Tomorrow, a young woman of principle will appear at Bow Street magistrates court charged with breaching the Official Secrets Act. Katharine Gun, a former translator at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), is accused of leaking a top-secret document sent by spies in the United States. The document urged Britain to join in a dirty-tricks operation aimed at discovering the voting intentions of United Nations delegations on the eve of the war on Iraq.
At the time of the disclosure, in March 2003, the British and American governments were still doing everything in their diplomatic power to persuade six key nations - Chile, Mexico, Pakistan, Guinea, Cameroon and Angola - to vote for a second UN resolution authorising the use of force in Iraq. The existence of the espionage operation, first revealed in the pages of The Observer, showed the lengths to which the American government was prepared to go in order to secure a vote for war.........At the time of the disclosure Ms Gun had no reason to believe the British Government would go to war without a second resolution. Most experts in international law believed then that intervention would be illegal. Many still do.
The Government has been under pressure to disclose the Attorney General's legal advice, which made the case for war without a second resolution. If it helps Ms Gun get a fair trial, then we believe that advice should be released immediately. "
See also some of the warmwell pages about Iraq and the UK Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith
Jan 18 ~ Scotland Yard report says Government's anti-terror policy is "uncoordinated, condescending, outdated and incoherent"
The Unicorn Project, which was commissioned by Assistant Commissioner David Veness, the head of Scotland Yard's Special Operations, condemned the Government's anti-terrorism policy as "uncoordinated, condescending, outdated and incoherent".
After a seven-month investigation, in which the project team spoke to personnel from more than 180 private companies, government departments and security agencies, it concluded that the Government's policy lacked leadership, direction and had failed to impart any worthwhile message to both the public and commerce.
The report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Telegraph, also stated that little use had been made of what the report referred to as "first responders" - members of the public such as door supervisors, security guards and receptionists, who could easily be schooled in situation awareness and consequently help to save lives in the event of an attack.
The report has been disseminated to the Metropolitan Police, elements of the commercial sector and various government departments, and is due to be published next month......
In a section of the report labelled "observations", it reads: "The present policy (such as it is) is no longer plausible; it is unanimously viewed as being condescending and muddled. It is acknowledged that there are departments and individuals striving to do better, but there is no apparent coordination of either the message to be imparted or the means to do it." .......
"The Government's deficiencies will be exposed during the Civil Contingencies Bill that starts going through Parliament this week." (Patrick Mercer the Shadow "Homeland Security" Minister)
Jan 18 ~ "under those same EU rules, it would now cost him £155 to get the relevant visa (free to asylum seekers)"
Booker's Notebook "...it is apparent that, in contrast to EU citizens (or asylum seekers), the UK is no longer particularly keen to welcome anyone from the English-speaking world, even those who have lived here much of their lives."
Jan 18 ~ a dramatic swing against elected assembliesBooker's Notebook ".... the "vice-chair" of the unelected North-East Assembly was Gill Hale, the northern secretary of the local government union Unison, many of whose members might lose their jobs under an elected assembly, since this would mean the abolition of Durham and Northumberland county councils.
What made this odder was that Unison contributed its members' money to the Campaign for English Regions, at the same address as Unison, which in turn gave money to the North-East Constitutional Convention Ltd, a private company set up at the same address to campaign for an elected assembly, of which Ms Hale was the director and secretary. Unison members expressed considerable surprise at this.
Last week, at the end of a Northern Echo report on a YouGov poll showing a dramatic swing against elected assemblies (only 19 per cent in Yorkshire are now in favour), it was discreetly announced that Ms Hale has stepped down from her assembly post."
Jan 17 ~ Is the British public not disturbed to see its own government putting such intense pressure on the media?
The BBC's independence from government is now clearly under threat ...an article in today's Guardian by
Peter A Hall, Krupp Foundation professor of European studies at Harvard University.
"...Is the British public not disturbed to see its own government putting such intense pressure on the media?
Read in full
Many in Britain seem to be transfixed by the notion that everything said on the BBC must be true. Perhaps this is a perverse effect of the corporation's reputation for accuracy in news reporting or the national pride it inspires. If so, that is a dangerous effect. Although accuracy is of great importance, the greater value lies in freedom of the media, and, in a world of fallible beings, this must include the freedom to make mistakes. If it was a mistake for Today to carry Gilligan's report on the dossier, and it is by no means clear that it was, surely the future of a free press depends on the media having the right to make occasional mistakes in the course of seeking out and reporting the news. That right should be accorded to the BBC no less than to any other news organisation, if it is not to become a creature of the government.
...For over 80 years, Britain has had a public broadcasting system dedicated to accuracy in news, independent enough from government to take chances on investigative reporting and irreverent commentary, and sufficiently insulated from commercial imperatives to offer alternative programming. The events of the autumn and the documents submitted to the Hutton inquiry have revealed that these achievements are under threat. Whatever the text of the report, this will be its sub-text. Much will depend on how the media, the public and especially the government react. At stake is not only the denouement to a tragedy, but the future of a British institution that is the envy of the world. "
Jan 17 ~ Introduction of a Lords Speaker would be a "retrograde" step Guardian
Jan 16/17 ~ "Some may see Ms Weleminsky as a whistleblower and martyr; others may fear she was the colleague from hell. The reality is that both may be true at the same time."
MPs voted to refer Lord Falconer's action against Judy Weleminsky to the Commons standards and privileges committeex Guardian "The lord chancellor's suspension of a whistleblower who spoke out about failings of an official child protection agency is to be probed by a parliamentary watchdog, it was agreed. MPs voted to refer Lord Falconer's action against Judy Weleminsky to the Commons standards and privileges committee over fears it could have been a breach of parliamentary privilege. The government backed the investigation, with Mr Hain saying it would uphold the principle of protecting witnesses "to the end".
See also friday's Guardian Leader "...The need for a more open public culture means that grown-up disagreements on public bodies - whether Cafcass or the cabinet - ought to be publicly acknowledged and debated. But there have to be some limits and rules. Some may see Ms Weleminsky as a whistleblower and martyr; others may fear she was the colleague from hell. The reality is that both may be true at the same time."
Jan 16 ~ it sometimes feels as if Islamophobia is replacing anti-Semitism as the principal western statement of bigotry against "the Other": William Dalrymple, writing in the New Statesman, warns that
"the spread of idiotic stereotypes of Muslim behaviour and beliefs, have been developing at a frightening rate since 11 September 2001. It is especially ironic that much of the criticism of Muslims comes from the right, given that British Islam has successfully preserved traditional conservative values: an emphasis on the family, chastity before marriage, respect for elders and weekly attendance of a place of worship, as well as observance of various important religious feasts...An emailer writes today, "Speaking to contacts in London, I hear of "immigration sweeps" that are targeting and upsetting the ethnic community there (and probably elsewhere) we are creating our own terrorists."
..This month's upsurge of rampant Islamophobia in Britain, widely reported in Muslim countries, is the last thing we need in such a desperately volatile climate.
" Read in full
Jan 15 ~ US police forces are allowed new powers in the " homeland" to conduct searches...and the US sends forces to peaceful Mauritania in its "war against terror"....
Guardian yesterday "In a 6-3 ruling, the supreme court yesterday reversed a lower court decision in Illinois not to allow police to set up roadblocks to collect information from motorists. The supreme court said it did not represent an unreasonable intrusion on privacy. The three dissenting judges said the ruling exposed motorists to police interference. "
This came on a day when the US announced what it calls "a new front in the war on terror."
A small vanguard force arrived this week in Mauritania to pave the way for a $100m (£54m) plan "to bolster the security forces and border controls of Mauritania, Mali, Chad and Niger."
"West Africa is not known as a hotbed of support for Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network but Washington is taking no chances in a region with strong Arab and Muslim ties. ..."
Jan 14 ~ "Mr Blair should chuck out his orgy of
sycophants." Simon Jenkins' My humble proposal for saving the PM's posterior
"....who is it who dares kick the imperial backside? Surely not Jonathan Powell or David Hill or Sally Morgan. Surely not Gordon Brown, who kicks only the crotch. Mr Blair's old friends, Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, are at the end of the phone with a reassuring murmur or verbal massage. Surely Mr Blair is not referring to the press. ...
...He had hoped to use Hutton to blame the BBC for Dr David Kelly's death, desperate to deflect attention from his own abuse of intelligence. This hope was absurd at the time and has seemed crazier ever since. It was the act of a serial egotist for whom "l'état, c'est moi ". ....
...Faith is diminishing in "old government", in a hierarchy of politicians and officials exercising judgment, taking risks and accepting blame. Yesterday saw their replacement on parade, a stamping army of regulators, judges, lawyers and consultants. They are Dickens's public commissioners who "came to reign upon Earth. . . and knock the wind out of common sense". ...(Read in full)
Jan 13 ~ Under a new proposal, the White House would decide what and
when the public would be told...
Sun Herald WASHINGTON - Under a new proposal, the White House would decide what and
when the public would be told about an outbreak of mad cow disease, an
anthrax release, a nuclear plant accident or any other crisis.
The White House Office Management and Budget (OMB) is trying to gain final control
over release of emergency declarations from the federal agencies responsible
for public health, safety and the environment.
The OMB also wants to manage scientific and technical evaluations - known as
peer reviews - of all major government rules, plans, proposed regulations
Many in the scientific community worry that the OMB's selection process for reviewers will taint impartiality.
.... "If the plan is implemented, it will mean that political considerations, and not public health, will be the administration's primary concern in the deciding whether to release health and safety information to the public in emergency situations."
Jan 13 ~"PM opens the way for spin doctor Campbell's return"
"Tony Blair indicated yesterday that he would be happy to see the return
of Alastair Campbell, his former communications chief, during the next
general election ..
In an interview on the BBC's 'Breakfast with Frost' yesterday, Mr Blair said he had not yet decided whether to ask Mr Campbell to return to an election role. But "if Alastair wants to come and help then his services will be used".
"As you know, I mean he's rough and he's tough but he's someone with tremendous integrity," Mr Blair said.
Mr Campbell said in an interview with 'The Times' last week that he regretted leaving Downing Street when he saw the Prime Minister under pressure.
Mr Campbell said he was still one of Mr Blair's informal strategy advisers and would not write a book about his experiences as long as Mr Blair remained Prime Minister. Publishers are said to have offered him more than £2 million for an instant account of life alongside Mr Blair.
See also the Scotsman comment from yesterday .
Jan 12 ~".. Internet-based groups could contribute to the spread of unfiltered messages in American politics.""TV Ad Contest Targets President"
(Los Angeles Times- requires free registration) "Fourteen in all, the TV spots aim to depict the anger and frustration many Democrats harbor toward the Bush administration. But they're not the work of any slick political ad firms - they're finalists in a nationwide contest sponsored by MoveOn.org, a popular Internet-based political action group. . .
The MoveOn.org contest spotlights the aggressive and uncharted role special interest groups not linked to either party are expected to play in the 2004 presidential campaign. Some say it also shows how such Internet-based groups could contribute to the spread of unfiltered messages in American politics."
(It's MoveOn.org Voter Fund, not MoveOn.org, by the way, which sponsored the contest. To view the winning ads after they're announced tonight
Jan 12 ~ Big Brother Britain, 2004
Four million CCTV cameras watch public. UK has the highest level of surveillance Independent"... what is terrifying is that we are alone in the world for not even having a debate about what it means for our privacy."
Read in full
Jan 11 ~ I could easily have put a bomb in my baggage John Humphrys in the Sunday Times "....They can treat us like criminals and fingerprint half the world and scan our irises until we go cross-eyed. They can have air marshals in every other seat and stop us forming little whining groups as we huddle, cross-legged, waiting for the loo. They can force so many airlines to cancel flights that the queues at Heathrow will stretch halfway round the M25.
They can do all that, but they can't guarantee that any of it will work. .." Read in full
Jan 10 ~ "... the question of whether, following Hutton, there should be a wider judicial inquiry ... cannot properly be taken by the prime minister, when it is his actions that are under scrutiny." Michael Meacher in Wednesday's Guardian on the ".. centralisation of power, which has been gradually gathering pace for decades. Richard Crossman, subsequently a cabinet minister, said 40 years ago that the power of the prime minister had been increasing, was still increasing, and should be cut back. It wasn't reduced, and the process has steadily been taken further, to the point where the big issue in Britain now is a widely held and deeply resented sense of powerlessness.... "
Jan 10 ~ the strategy for "unfriendly information" is to "deny, degrade and destroy". ".. embedding journalists in Iraq was a clear means of building up "friendly" information. An MoD-commissioned commercial analysis of the print output produced by embeds shows that 90% of their reporting was either "positive or neutral". ....
.... "In other words," notes retired US army colonel Sam Gardiner, "we will even go after friends if they are against what we are doing or want to do."
In the UK, according to Major Nigel Smith of the 15 Psychological Operations Group, staffing is to be expanded and strategic information operations "will take on a new importance" as a result of Iraq. Targeting unfriendly information is central to the post-conflict phase of reconstruction too. The collapse of distinctions between independent news media and psychological operations is striking. .."
Read in full The domination effect from Thursday's Guardian
Jan 9 ~ Blair may not attend debate on Hutton Independent " .. MPs had always assumed that he would also lead the Government's case in the all-day debate. Michael Howard will lead for the Tories and Charles Kennedy for the Liberal Democrats."
Jan 7 ~ No 10 move delays Hutton report
"Publication of the long-awaited Hutton Report has been delayed.....
Downing Street confirmed last night that a final submission had been made by the Government after the Hutton inquiry concluded its public examination of witnesses in October.
Although officials refused to be drawn on the contents, it is understood to contain Mr Blair's response to delayed evidence from Sir Kevin Tebbit, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, disclosing that the Prime Minister chaired a meeting that led to the identification of Dr Kelly.
There is considerable nervousness in Government over the extent to which the report will attribute blame to Mr Blair and officials at No 10 ......
In a letter to Mr Blair, Mr Howard said: "Your official spokesman has admitted only today that in November the Government made a late submission to the Hutton Inquiry.
"This submission was therefore made after Sir Kevin Tebbit [Ministry of Defence permanent secretary] gave his crucial evidence to the inquiry.
"This has given rise to very serious concerns. Given the public interest involved, will you now publish this hitherto undisclosed submission?"
(Lord Hutton is to make a statement this afternoon on Downing Street's late submission to his inquiry into the death of weapons expert Dr David Kelly.Scotsman) (Briefly, the statement was "contrary to the suggestions in some of the press reports today, there was nothing surprising or unexpected or of special significance in the making of these written submissions....
" See Hutton Inquiry website )
Jan 7 ~ "Mr Blair and George Bush are mocking President Roosevelt's admonition that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Simon Jenkins at his best - but where are all the other journalists? H L Menkhen thought that "the function of a newspaper in a democracy is to act as a sort of chronic opposition to the reigning quacks"
Times (new window) "... The alternative is that we are seeing another twist in the ratchet politics of fear. Mr Blair and George Bush are mocking President Roosevelt's admonition that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself". Modern rulers are growing to love fear. It excuses their mistakes and covers their folly. It silences opponents and boosts budgets. Fear is smoke blown by weak leaders in the eyes of the people. It must make bin Laden laugh. "
Read in full
Jan 7 ~ "This looks like the identity card scheme without the plastic card" Register would give everyone ID number
Times (new window)
"....Why are we getting this measure put forward now, only weeks before the Home Office is to publish a draft bill for identity cards? This looks like the identity card scheme without the plastic card."
Jan 7 ~ if this is what foreign aid amounts to, it seems to me that there is too much of it George Monbiot on the way Britain's Department for International Development is beginning to do more harm than good.
Today, the British government is helping the corporations to seize not only the land from the poor, but also the water, the utilities, the mines, the schools, the health services and anything else they might find profitable. And you and I are paying for it.
Read in full
Jan 6 ~ A "pox on the countryside"...says the CPRE Local councils are to be stripped of their powers to block development on greenfield sites.
Western Morning News
"Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael said the Government was determined to prevent the countryside becoming a "museum of the landscape", adding: "Planning rules must make rural communities fit for the 21st century."
The Campaign to Protect Rural England is describing the plans as a "pox on the countryside"...."Tom Oliver, CPRE head of rural policy, said ministers were making the "fundamental mistake of failing to value the ordinary, everyday countryside for its own sake".
Read again Simon Jenkins on the subject (his article Britain for sale: apply Gordon Brown and Co in full)
Jan 6 2004 ~ The prospect of an elected House of Lords, which appeared to have vanished
from the government's agenda last year, is now actively under consideration Financial Times (new window) ".... Mr Blair's primary concern about further Lords reform - the risk that peers could challenge the supremacy of the Commons by appearing to have an equally valid direct mandate from the electorate.
Jan 6 ~ "You all are changing the face of America by participation in these Meetups. We haven't had anything this powerful in American Democracy since 1772 and the committees of correspondence set up by Sam Adams in Boston. And through this activity we're bringing citizen participation into democracy. It's a tremendous inspiration to me…"
- General Wesley Clark, speaking about meetup.com (new window) an interesting example of the way democratic political discussionis now able to take place across the internet.
Jan 4 ~".. even against the menace of terrorism, we have to be vigilant that, in protecting its citizens, the state does not arrogate too much unaccountable power to itself... It is tragic to watch the Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer - a smart, modern politician - trying to justify an unelected House of Lords.."Observer Leader (new window) " ....This month, the Hutton report will expose, just as other government inquiries such as the Phillips inquiry into BSE have done, how poor the political process and structure of government decision-making actually is. Action is deferred or postponed; information is manipulated; the prejudices of individual civil servants or Ministers, rather than considered appraisal, too often determine policy.
New Labour, before it took office, was an enthusiastic advocate of transparency and accountability. In office, it has converted to the caricature of the British state - that its vocation is to govern the great unwashed as it deems fit. This was never good enough, and will certainly not work today. It is tragic to watch the Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer - a smart, modern politician - trying to justify an unelected House of Lords."
Jan 4 ~ David Owen: Self-rule by Blair gives him a Suez crisis David Owen in
Sunday Times (new window)
"...In both Suez and Iraq, parliament was deliberately misled, leading to profound and widespread disillusionment.
What is not widely known is that in 2001, after being re-elected, Blair made sweeping changes in the method of conducting foreign and security policy, some of which had been contemplated by Margaret Thatcher but wisely discarded. He brought the European unit from the Cabinet Office, where it had previously co-ordinated departmental responsibilities relating to, first, the European Community and then the European Union, into No 10 as his own European secretariat.
He also created an overseas and defence secretariat, again under his personal control in No 10...
...No doubt Blair will brazen out the Hutton report but he needs to demonstrate that he has learnt the lessons that emerge from it. I suspect that Hutton will do more damage than most commentators assume, for on the evidence already made public it is likely, sadly, to reinforce the widely held view that the prime minister did not tell the truth.
Blair's political shelf life is drawing to its end and he would be wise to plan for an honourable exit rather than try to win, as he well might, another election.
... Blair must take steps to restore cabinet government. ...collective cabinet responsibility back for international affairs, too."
Jan 4 ~ two policemen supported the "bailiffs"....if the courts themselves disregard the law and their own instructions, the whole principle of the rule of law is under attack From Christopher Booker's Notebook " In November I reported on the strange but not untypical experience of Peter Troy, a self-employed businessman, who had been called on early one morning by two men claiming to be bailiffs who wanted to remove his car in payment of unpaid parking fines. When Mr Troy called in the Durham constabulary to stop the removal of the vehicle he needed for his work, the two policemen supported the "bailiffs". He subsequently discovered that the seizure would have been illegal on two counts: first, because the men, employed by a private firm, were not certified bailiffs and, second, because it is an offence to remove a vehicle or other "tools of trade" in pursuit of unpaid parking fines.
When Mr Troy wrote formally to complain to Robert Whitehouse, the chief executive of Durham magistrates courts, he was perfunctorily told he had no grounds for complaint. When he subsequently obtained a copy of the warrant issued by the court, this specifically prohibited the "bailiffs" from seizing his car. Mr Troy has now lodged a civil case against the Durham magistrates in the county court, arguing that if the courts themselves disregard the law and their own instructions, the whole principle of the rule of law is under attack."
Jan 4 ~ When it comes to empty promises, Mr Timms is certainly a faithful champion of Blair's Britain. Booker's Notebook
"....Last January I reported how 600 villagers of Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire were fighting to stop the closure of their local post office, despite the fact that it was making a profit and supported the village shop which played a key part in community life. Thanks to the efforts of the campaign's redoubtable organiser, Mimi Harker, the battle of Chesham Bois was debated in the Commons.
The post office minister, Stephen Timms, promised that no post office would be closed if someone suitable could be found to take it on. When Chesham Bois lost its post office, at great inconvenience to the village, it made a mockery of his pledge.
A few weeks ago, Mrs Harker sadly informs me, the shop also closed. When it comes to empty promises, Mr Timms is certainly a faithful champion of Blair's Britain."
Jan 2/3 ~ the controversial Lords Reform bill is unlikely to be introduced early in the new year as expected. Guardian (new window) ".. The Tory former chancellor Ken Clarke and the party's former leader William Hague are both refusing to sit on the joint committee...those refusing to serve fear that the committee will prove "purely decorative", and will be used to condone the "government's dirty work".
Mr Clarke told the Guardian: "As far as I am concerned it is a waste of time. If invited, I shall refuse to serve on it. I am not wasting my time on something that was completely hijacked by the prime minister. ....
The government will try to reconstitute it to give an air of respectability to their hopeless bill to get hereditary peers out. It's to go through the motions, giving it respectability and making it appear that the government approach is an acceptable, all-party approach. ..."
Jan 2 2004 ~ "...Accountability abhors a vacuum."Sir Simon Jenkins today in the Times on the BBC and its Listeners' Law
....... The collapse of the parliamentary arm of the British constitution
invites the media to supplant it. Accountability abhors a vacuum.
The Commons no longer behave in any sense as scrutineers of
government or as a check on legislation. They merely date-stamp the
latest Blairite ectoplasm. If the people's representatives will not
do what the Constitution expects of them, self-appointed tribunes
will take their place. Journalists and broadcasters will be the
proxy exponents of the public will.
Which brings me full circle. There is virtue in the listeners'
law after all. I have debated it for an entire column. I am sure
that the BBC would declare this as no more than their original
intention. A listeners' law is better than no law at all. Where
indeed would we be without the BBC?" Read in full
Jan 2 ~ " the danger is always that we become the evil we deplore." Another bishop has joined the chorus of senior Church of England figures attacking the Government's anti-terrorism measures.
Telegraph (new window) "The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Rev Jonathan Gledhill, suggested that the decision to jail 14 terrorist suspects in Britain without trial could have severe consequences." The bishop said in his New Year message: "In our own country we appear to have abandoned one of the cornerstones of our liberty - habeas corpus.
"It is good that our security services are vigilant and trying to keep one step ahead of violent crime. But the danger is always that we become the evil we deplore."
He complained of the willingness of politicians to exploit "easily-identified hate figures" such as Saddam Hussein.
Jan 2 ~ John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, will step up his campaign to persuade the people of northern England to accept regional government...the cost? Telegraph (new window) ".... Referendums will be held in the autumn in the North-East, the North-West and Yorkshire and Humberside to establish elected assemblies.
But how much will the exercise cost? A White Paper last year suggested that each assembly would require about £25 million a year to run. Yet it is apparent from the other devolved administrations in Britain - let alone what has happened in Europe - that once such institutions are set up they grow like Topsy.... bloated bureaucracies of Scotland, Wales, London and Brussels are testament to the predisposition of such bodies to expand at the taxpayers' expense. Not only are more staff taken on but the salaries and perks that go with the jobs tend to increase as well. Soon, an administrative monster is created - one that has a self-interest in getting fatter and no desire to slim down."
Jan 1 ~ Government ministers to retain 150 'secrecy laws' Independent (new window) "....Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner who polices the Freedom of Information Act, said yesterday that one of the laws the Government intended keeping concerned his own powers. Under the Data Protection Act it is a criminal offence for the Commissioner or any of his staff to disclose information that he has gathered while carrying out his duties in connection with the Act. Ministers have refused Mr Thomas's request to repeal this law.
Mr Thomas, who was a senior lawyer at Clifford Chance, the London law firm, before being appointed Information Commissioner last year, said: "This has a chilling effect because it can cover any information that comes into my possession. I hope this is still part of an ongoing debate I am having with ministers and that they will change their minds before next year."..."
Jan 1 2004 ~ "The EU's controversial arrest warrant comes into force today (Guardian) allowing Britain and other member states to secure the extradition of suspected terrorists or criminals far more easily than before.
It also makes it far harder to resist a request to hand over a national to another EU state.
The measure, one of a package introduced in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, has aroused the concern of civil liberties activists who fear uneven standards of justice and inadequate judicial safeguards. .... In Britain, the system has been savaged by the Tories as a panic measure, while the civil rights group Liberty has warned that whatever governments may promise, standards of justice differ widely....."
Jan 1 2004 ~ "A Happy New Year - and may you feel free...."The words were those of Tony Martin, hearing which listener's new law idea gained the highest number of votes in a Today programme poll.
Today listeners voted to make a new law allowing home owners to take any measures they thought fit to ensure the security of their own homes. This "Listener Law" will be put forward as a private members bill. Listen again.
Jan 1 2004 ~" just maybe, it will be the beginning of the end of this corrupt, banal administration of con artists who shamelessly use the dead of that day in September as the cover to get away with anything.
I think it's time we all stood up and started asking some questions of these individuals.
The bottom line: Anyone who would brazenly steal an election and insert themselves into OUR White House with zero mandate from The People is, frankly - sadly - capable of anything... " "The Sad and Sordid Whereabouts of bin Cheney and bin Bush"
A Free Online Chapter addition to "Stupid White Men"
by Michael Moore
Dec 31 ~" Welcome to a new, democratic way to spread the truth about George W. Bush," says MoveOn.org
Log in to vote in MoveOn.org Voter Fund's political ad contest. (new window)
"... it's your turn to fight back against the propaganda being beamed at you by the current administration's media mavens. ... The winning commercial will be televised during the week of the President's State of the Union Address this January. ...Many of these ads are amazing, many are funny, and some are entertaining, so enjoy them, watch them, and e-mail them to anybody and everybody you can think of. Ideas are powerful -- let the truth be told. George W. Bush is misleading our country."
In the last election, we knew the election was stolen; in this election, we may not even know that much. by John Greeley, a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Vietnam and a graduate of St. John's Law School
....the only way to avoid the biggest scam you'll never know about is to prevent it in the first place. Paper may not be the best friend to the trees in the forests, but it sure is the best way to keep a record when it comes to our sacred vote. Don't leave your polling place without it, unless you are willing to trust in the good will of others not to take easy advantage to change the outcome of your vote to what others want. Vote, fellow Americans, but make damn sure you get a receipt for it."
Dec 31 ~ Times Square welcomed revelers to its New Year's Eve party Wednesday with two tons of confetti, thousands of balloons, a pop star, a war hero, rooftop snipers and metal detectors.
Newsday.com (new window)
Dec 31 ~ Sharon's resignation, and other reckless predictions Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian (new window)
"Blair and Bush have little to fear in 2004. But what of the rest?" Jonathan Freedland makes what he calls "reckless predictions" on the Hutton Report, The US elections,
Iraq, Isreal and Palestine, and on the home front, "...Gordon Brown stays on as chancellor - and waits."
Dec 29 ~ There is no constitutional machinery for holding a prime minister to account After his interview with Jonathan Dimbleby yesterday ... "Mr Bremer was forced to backtrack after being told that Mr Blair had made the claim..."
in a Christmas broadcast to British troops in Iraq.
Downing Street stood by Mr Blair's comments, but Mr Bremer's words were seized on by critics of the war, who have accused Mr Blair of putting his own "spin" on the report by experts searching for Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal of banned weapons.
Writing in The Independent, Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary, said: "It is undignified for the Prime Minister, and worrying for his nation, to go on believing in a threat which everyone else can see was a fantasy. Nor will Tony Blair ever recover his credibility until he stops insisting he is right when the public can see he was wrong....." Independent Bishop attacks Blair as 'white vigilante'
Ian McWhirter, writing in yesterday's Sunday Herald
: "Going to war on a false pretext is possibly the worst thing a prime minister can do. Few decisions taken by modern political leaders are matters of life and death. But the decision to invade Iraq led to the deaths of more than 50 British servicemen, hundreds of US troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Sunday Herald (new window)
So, why is he still there? Why hasn't the Prime Minister been impeached? Why are Labour still comfortably ahead in the opinion polls? Well, the short answer is that it is virtually impossible to remove PMs, other than at election time. There is no constitutional machinery for holding a prime minister to account, other than a vote of confidence in the House of Commons...."
Dec 28 ~ "The year ends appropriately with the row over charges that lives
have been lost through the clumsy drafting of the Data Protection Act 1998."Booker's Notebook - a survey of the year. " But
even the BBC has been forced to admit there is no hope of amending this Act
because it merely implements an EC directive, 95/46. Under the principle of the
acquis communautaire, once EU legislation is agreed, however faulty, there is
virtually no mechanism for changing it..."
Mr Booker also comments on the Janet Hughes' story
Dec 24 ~ Mr Blunkett tells Britons to suspect foreigners with funny bags,
to pay more taxes and to shut up about civil liberty. Simon Jenkins in the Times.
"All governments can say is give
us more money and more power. Of course I want to be safer. I pay a
fortune in taxes to that end. I might even accept some change in
civil justice to enhance that safety, but only if convinced of the
necessity. At Guantanamo Bay and Belmarsh prison I am not so
Dec 23 ~ "a proposed law that will give local authorities the right to veto publication of critical auditors' reports, amounts to a charter for corruption."icWales (new window) yesterday reported "Earlier this month, during a House of Lords debate on the Bill, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Thomas of Gresford criticised evidence given to the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons by the Welsh Local Government Association. The WLGA argued that it should be open to a local authority to refuse to consent to the publication of condemnatory audit reports.
Lord Thomas said, "That is muddled thinking. The Auditor-General is the guardian of the public interest, not the institution that is being inspected."
Mr Sutton, who conclusively won his case for constructive dismissal against Flintshire Council last week when councillors voted to abandon any further appeal against his Employment Tribunal victory, has spoken out against Clause 54.
"If this clause goes through, Wales will effectively become a banana republic," he said.
"..... the National Assembly should hold back from local authorities the money it costs to run internal audit and instead have a centrally funded internal audit function where staff are not employed by the councils...."
Dec 23 ~".. worries about civilised values in an uncivilised world." John Humphrys in the Sunday Times ".... Amnesty International has accused Britain of having "a Guantanamo in its own back yard". It says 14 people have been locked up in British prisons under our new anti-terrorism laws, some for nearly two years, without having been told what they are charged with. They have no access to secret intelligence evidence against them and there is no prospect of a trial in sight. Amnesty says that this is "Kafkaesque".
David Blunkett, the home secretary, is outraged.....
....Emergency measures are called for in exceptional times and we are at war.
The problem is with the word "emergency". By definition it means temporary. .....
If public support cannot be sustained, as it is in a "normal" war, by the prospect of ultimate victory, it may have to be sustained by fear -- and increasing fear at that. It is impossible to rely on victories because we do not see the vanquished enemy or the strategic target defended by brave soldiers. There is no bridgehead to be held. Instead we must trust the authorities when they tell us, necessarily without details, of yet another plot thwarted.
Many Americans are growing increasingly uneasy at being told that they must accept a diminution of civil rights in the face of an unseen danger. A friend recalled the chilling words of Martin Niemöller, the German pastor: "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communist . . . Then they came for me. And there was nobody left to speak out for me."
My friend was not making a comparison between modern America and Nazi Germany. He knows that would be preposterous. But he worries about civilised values in an uncivilised world. " Read in full
Dec 5 ~ Blair's preferred option is a dormant LordsPeter Riddle in the Times"... ministers have been accused of high-handedness over the Constitutional Reform Bill to abolish the lord chancellorship, to take the present law lords out of the second chamber by creating a supreme court and to establish an independent appointments commission. This would have required tactful handling at the best of times, given the innate conservatism of the old and the bold (however learned). But by suddenly announcing the changes without consultation, and with many loose ends, the Government fuelled suspicions about a threat to the judiciary. ..
.... Many senior judges have seen no need for the change, have been worried about the appointments commission and have objected to the loss of the Lord Chancellor defending their independence around the Cabinet table....
The bigger question is how far a largely appointed second chamber should recognise the limits of its legitimacy. Should there be a new convention, or rules, on the balance between revising and delaying (perhaps formalised on constitutional Bills)? But Mr Blair prefers to put the Lords to sleep."
Dec 4 ~ The judicial review will not only determine whether the Environment Agency acted lawfully with regard to the modification of Able UK's waste management licence Friends of the Earth http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/press releases/ghost ships in court battl.html
"This case is much more than a battle over the Ghost Ships. It is about ensuring that international laws to protect our
wildlife are complied with, and that local people are not deprived of their right to be involved in decision-making on
issues which affect their environment. To suggest, as some have done, that failure to obtain the necessary permissions is a mere technicality shows a serious disregard for the rules that are supposed to protect us and our environment."
Dec 4 ~ House of Lords ".... the Government may be forced into a humiliating retreat." Labour vandalism gets 188 Lords-a-seething - Telegraph
".....Tony Blair is in trouble in the Lords for two main reasons. The first is the Government's breach of trust. In 1999, more than 600 hereditary peers were evicted from the Lords. The rump of 92, elected by the rest, were permitted to remain, pending the "second stage" of reform.
Many Labour and Liberal peers feel cheated of the reformed second chamber they were promised. Other peers, while not averse to an elected element, reckon the 92 hereditaries have earned their keep. The entirely appointed House now proposed pleases nobody.
The second reason peers are unhappy is the cavalier treatment of the judiciary. This "impulsive vandalism", as Lord (Geoffrey) Howe called it, will weaken judicial independence, create a pseudo-Supreme Court, deprive the revising chamber of the Law Lords and the Cabinet of the Lord Chancellor. Again, hardly anybody (except Lord Falconer) is in favour...."
Dec 4 ~ Trials to prepare for compulsory ID cards
Alan Travis in
"The Home Office admitted yesterday that its six-month trial of new hi-tech passports would "lay the foundations for a compulsory identity card scheme".
The pilot scheme, which starts next month, will involve 10,000 volunteers receiving personalised smartcards containing biometric information - initially a digital image of their faces based on a passport photograph.
The trial will assess the cost of and reactions to the scheme, and will be run by the Passport Service and Mori, the pollsters. The contractor, Schlumberger Sema, will announce the first of four sites where it will be launched next month.
The immigration minister, Beverley Hughes, admitted this was a preparation for compulsory identity cards, although the legislation has been delayed for a year:.....
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the human rights organisation Liberty, said the scheme would legitimise identity fraud. "At least Beverley Hughes has had the honesty to admit there will be nothing voluntary about this," she said.
Dec 3 ~ Peers Vote Against Hereditaries Axe
"The House of Lords fired a powerful shot across the Government's bows over Lords reform tonight when peers voted against its plans to axe hereditary peers.
They took the rare step of passing an amendment to the traditional vote of thanks to the Queen for the State Opening.
The Tory amendment, passed by 188 votes to 108 (majority 80), "regrets" the Government's decision to abandon the search for cross-party consensus on constitutional reform.
The amendment, moved by Tory peers' leader Lord Strathclyde, accuses the Government of launching "unilateral" proposals that "could gravely weaken" the House.
And it calls on ministers to "withdraw their current proposals and to undertake meaningful consultation with Parliament and the senior judiciary before proceeding with legislation".
The Liberal Democrats, who abstained on the Tory move, have warned that the Government cannot rely on their support for the eviction of the hereditaries, unless it is accompanied by moves towards a wholly or mainly elected second
Liberal Democrat peers' leader Baroness Williams of Crosby, in a separate amendment to the vote of thanks, accused ministers of repudiating their previous commitment to create a "more democratic and more representative" House.
........this was the first time since February 1914 that the House of Lords has passed such an amendment."
Dec 3 ~ Law on corporate killing 'to exempt public bodies' Independent "Ministers plan to grant their departments blanket immunity from hard-hitting legislation on corporate killing to be published this month.
The new law will make it easier to imprison directors and managers of private companies for manslaughter offences but almost impossible to prosecute ministers whose departments will be able to claim Crown immunity.
The Home Office is set to ignore independent legal advice from barristers at Matrix chambers that such a move would breach the European Convention on Human Rights...."
Dec 3 ~ Guantanamo "...a team of lawyers was dismissed after complaining that the rules for forthcoming trials were unfair. BBC
"New York's Vanity Fair magazine reports that some of the lawyers say their ethical obligations are being violated. ....
..... in October, a former US appeals court judge, John Gibbons, told BBC News Online that justice was being "totally denied" to the detainees in Guantanamo.
"They don't have access to lawyers; they have had no hearings; they are just in limbo. That's as clear an example of justice denied as you can find," he said.
US authorities reportedly plan to release at least 100 inmates from Guantanamo Bay detention camp later this month, but few details have been released.
The US has already released 88 inmates - although many were re-arrested in their home countries."
Dec 2 ~
Labour's cloak of secrecy is bigger than the Tories'
Rob Evans in
"Ministers in Tony Blair's government have issued more official gagging orders than the previous Conservative government, figures show.
The figures have been collated from lists of orders obtained during an investigation by the BBC's File on Four programme, which will be broadcast tonight on Radio 4.
While in opposition, Labour made political capital by criticising Conservative ministers for exploiting gagging orders to suppress politically embarrassing evidence. Sir Richard Scott, during his inquiry into the arms-to-Iraq affair, delivered a scathing attack on the abuse of such certificates.
File on Four highlights two cases where gagging orders have been criticised.
Seven former inmates at the Portland young offenders' institute in Dorset who claim they were abused there are suing the Home Office. Their lawyers have been denied copies of medical records as well as information on the outcome of a disciplinary action against an officer at Portland.
Dec 2 ~ "Inspirational Communication" a new phrase for propaganda?
The Western Morning News under the headline "Huge Increase in Windfarms" "....Energy Minister Stephen Timms yesterday paved the way for a huge increase in the number of windfarms as he told the industry to "go out there and build"..... .The Government yesterday acknowledged the growing opposition with the announcement of £2 million funding for an "inspirational communication" campaign to sell renewable energy to the public and planning authorities, who have thwarted many windfarm plans in the South West. ....
South West Euro MP Giles Chichester ...."Their policy is wholly unrealistic. We would need thousands and thousands of wind turbines to meet the existing target; I am astonished that they have increased it. Even if you built them you would have to provide back-up for times when the wind is not blowing or blowing too strongly. "Ministers are just following fashion. I am fully behind those who are resisting these masts in most of Devon because there are fundamental problems with the technology yet they would severely scar the landscape."
Beware missionary Zeal over wind farms....
Dec 2 ~ New York Times picks up on Lord Steyn's comments .....Guantánamo Bay, Cuba....
....... arguments by the United States have not proved persuasive with its allies.
In a speech last Tuesday, one of Britain's most senior judges, Johan Steyn, offered a scathing criticism of the United States' continued detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, the latest of several protests from top international lawyers.
"The question is whether the quality of justice envisaged for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay complies with the minimum international standards for the conduct of fair trials," Lord Steyn said. "The answer can be given quite shortly. It is a resounding, `No.'
" The speech was notable because it is extraordinary for sitting judges to comment directly on current situations.
He also said that "authoritarian regimes with dubious human rights records" have seized upon Washington's example to justify their own improper behavior...." New York Times
Dec 2 ~ "Lord Hutton has alarmed the government by refusing to send drafts of his report into the death of David Kelly to ministers officials and others - including the BBC - who will be the subject of criticism.
His decision, which breaks with the normal practice of judicial inquiries, could give Tony Blair only hours to react before the potentially damaging report is published.
"It's going to come as a bolt from the blue," one government official told the FT. "We're being given no advance warning at all." The judge is expected to submit his report to Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, early next year. Insiders say the government is unlikely to delay publication for more than about 24 hours for fear of being accused of a cover-up. January 12 is being touted as a publication ..." FT
Dec 1 ~ The European Constitution may well hang on the balance of referenda across
various EU member states. From euobserver.com " The European Constitution might be subject to referenda in half of the EU member states.
Seven countries have already declared definitively, that they will consult their citizens."
The site has the exact situation in each
of the 25 EU countries..
Nov 30 ~ it could be a "shabby" deal based on forced confessions. BBC " A deal to repatriate British terror suspects held by the US at Guantanamo Bay could be finalised by Christmas, according to reports.
The nine Britons could be flown back to the UK whether or not they are charged with any crimes, The Observer claims.
The report was welcomed by campaign group Fair Trials Abroad but raised concerns that it could be a "shabby" deal based on forced confessions.
The British Foreign Office refused to say whether such a deal was close. ..."
Nov 30 ~ Stop telling me what to do Henry Porter in the Observer
"Why do our rulers always want to boss us about? It's time to stand up and start causing trouble ..."
Nov 30 ~ Is the European Union good at what it does?
Before handing over a new tranche of powers, it is surely sensible to look at what Brussels is doing with the powers it already has, writes Daniel Hannan
Amid all the arguments about the Euro-constitution, we are forgetting to ask a very basic question: Is the EU good at what it does?
Last week, the Court of Auditors published a report into precisely this. For the ninth year in a row, the auditors found so many flaws in the EU budget that they refused to approve it. This ought to have been massive news ....
Why are we not more concerned? Partly, I suspect, because we take Euro-sleaze so much for granted that it is no longer newsworthy. Partly, too, because the report was long and difficult. None the less, it ought to matter a great deal: how else can we judge the EU if not by its record? So, on your behalf, I jammed some matchsticks under my eyelids and spent last week doing some concentrated reading.
The most striking thing about the document is that it reveals systemic abuse. We are not dealing with isolated cases of human weakness, but with what Lord Macpherson would call institutional corruption..." Read in full
Nov 30 ~
One law for the West
- Such is the fear of terrorism that our governments now treat natural and legal justice with contempt
David Blunkett got into trouble again last week....
When he spoke, ...He was almost certainly calculating whether the detention might have helped to prevent a terrorist attack. Yesterday, other papers reported the discovery of hollowed-out shoes, and one carried a front-page splash on the possibility that a new attempt was being planned to blow up a transatlantic flight with a shoe-bomb. There seemed to be no concern that this report might prejudice a trial. But perhaps there should have been. ...
Justice is one thing, protection is another.
I have long had a nightmare about the consequences of terrorism in Britain. ... I have heard many of the usual people fulminating about the crimes of the Americans at Guantanamo Bay, and thought that they probably had a point, but what else was one to do? .
.... the senior law lord Lord Steyn is not one of the usual people. He isn't a kneejerk single-issue campaigner or a parti pris semi-politician. So his lecture last week on Guantanamo constituted a butt in the ribs to those of us who have been turning the other way.....
Lord Steyn described as 'a monstrous failure of justice' the decisions of US courts not to consider credible medical evidence of torture when trying Camp Delta cases. He went on: 'Trials of the type contemplated by the United States government would be a stain on United States justice. The only thing that could be worse is simply to leave the prisoners in their black hole indefinitely.'
His target was the sheer and deliberate arbitrariness of the procedures.
....'How,' he asked, 'could it be morally defensible to discriminate in this way between individual prisoners? It lifts the curtain a little on the arbitrariness of what is happening at Guantanamo Bay and in the corridors of power on both sides of the Atlantic.'
'The judge's words sent a real shock through my body........ At what point does our behaviour become as bad in consequence as the thing which we desire to prevent?
Nov 30 ~ It comes to something when they have to close down the Today programme just to stop me appearing on it. Christopher Booker " On Thursday I recorded some comments on the latest shambles over the EU constitution, due to be broadcast just after 8 am on Friday, as a prelude to an interview with Jack Straw. Just before 8 am Today went off the air, replaced by sinisterly distracting piano music of the sort Radio Moscow used to play when a Soviet leader had died.
It appeared that much of the BBC had been silenced by a power failure, but Today managed to regain its transmission from another studio, just in time for Mr Straw to explain why it really wouldn't matter if the EU didn't have a constitution. Without my contribution, there was no one to point out that Mr Blair had originally said there was no need for an EU constitution, and then had said that it was essential. Now he and Mr Straw seem to have returned to their first view. This might seem a frivolous way to approach the drawing up of a framework for Britain's government. But it is of a piece with most of what Mr Blair gets up to."
Also in Booker's Notebook
Extracts: "....Durham, whose chief constable, Paul Garvin, remains an outspoken opponent of the camera policy, and whose county's accident record is 30 per cent below the national average...... a Daily Telegraph poll revealed that the public agrees with Mr Smith by two to one that speed cameras do not reduce traffic accidents; and by nearly three to one that their chief purpose is to raise revenue rather than improve road safety..
"....Anyone wishing to join Saturday's "virtual march" should log on to www.Referendum04.co.uk. But this is only meant to be the start of a campaign from which we shall hear more."
"... Jim Dougal, the European Commission's man in London, wrote, on the directory enquiries shambles, that "no directive or regulation at EU level demands Britain adopt 118". He couldn't be more wrong. .."
Nov 29 ~ "We are
passionate decentralisers, unlike Labour" Christopher Huhne, MEP for South East Region (Liberal Democrat)
writes to the Times today.
"....What are we to make of a Chancellor who rightly berates red tape and regulation in Brussels but who has hired more British civil servants in just one year, up to April 2003, than the entire staff that the European Commission has managed to accumulate since the 1950s? The Commission numbers 22,453 people, the same size as Surrey County Council. The British Civil Service now has 552,870 staff. .."
Nov 29 ~ Given that British intelligence about the status of Iraq's WMD has been shown to be fundamentally flawed, the genesis of this failure should be addressed. Scott Ritter the
former UN weapons inspector, in a letter today to the Guardian
"Operation Rockingham's role in this is not small.
Morrison speaks of the "independent" nature of the intelligence work conducted by Operation Rockingham. The reality is that it institutionalised a process of "cherry-picking" intelligence produced by the UN inspections in Iraq that skewed UK intelligence about Iraqi WMD towards a preordained outcome that was more in line with British government policy than it was reflective of ground truth.
Many examples can be offered to counter Morrison's assertions that Operation Rockingham was little more than a "tiny intelligence cell", the sole purpose of which was to provide intelligence leads to the UN inspectors. Far from being the "shining example of the effective use of intelligence in support of the international community", Operation Rockingham was, in fact, more reflective of an institutional predisposition towards the politicised massaging of intelligence data that resulted in the massive failure of intelligence that we all have tragically witnessed regarding Iraq and WMD. ..." Read in full
Nov 29 ~ Legal row after terror arrest The Guardian Attorney general to investigate Blunkett
Richard Norton-Taylor, Matthew Taylor and Owen Bowcott "The attorney general is to investigate whether the home secretary's outspoken comments about the arrest of an alleged al-Qaida terrorist are a breach of the laws of contempt of court.
Lord Goldsmith's office promised the politically embarrassing inquiry into possible contempt of court - by one cabinet minister of another - after the attorney general by coincidence delivered a critique of reporting practices that undermine the laws of contempt of court.
"Some lawyers are concerned...," Lord Goldsmith QC told a conference of journalists in London, "that these days we may see reporting about the background of the suspect at the time of the arrest that in previous years was usually only seen after a conviction."
David Blunkett had said: "This individual posed a very real threat to the life and liberty of our country... This person has connections with the network of al-Qaida groups." .....
Some lawyers believed the remarks constituted a clear breach. Keith Mathieson, a media lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamerberlain, said: "It was an extraordinary thing for the home secretary to say. It's hard to think of anything more prejudicial to say about anybody now than that they are linked to al-Qaida." ...."
Nov 28 ~ Bill 'risks ministers misusing power' Times "Sweeping plans to overhaul laws to deal with emergencies could allow a government to dismantle democracy, a joint parliamentary committee says today.
The committee expresses alarm that, in the wrong hands, the plans could allow a government to ditch legislation that had underpinned the British constitution for centuries. It also said that ministers would be given powers to set aside human rights laws and that they would have too much power to interpret what constituted an emergency.
The "potentially dangerous flaws" in the draft Civil Contingencies Bill are outlined in a detailed report by a joint committee of MPs and peers set up to scrutinise the plans. ..."
See also BBC "....The measures are aimed at shaking up legislation that date back to the 1920s, giving ministers all the powers they need to tackle a wide range of incidents - ranging from foot-and-mouth to an attack on the internet. ...."
Nov 28 ~ Blair rejects referendum call BBC "..the prime minister again insisted he would not accede to demands for a referendum on the draft constitution.
Earlier Foreign Secretary Jack Straw insisted there was "no case" for a vote on the issue.
Mr Blair said: "If this constitution were to mean the end of us as a nation state then it would be a different matter but it doesn't.
"What's more, take it from me there is nothing we are going to agree to here that's going to put at risk any of these key red lines that we have set out." ....."
Nov 27 ~ UK to reject draft EU blueprint
"The government says it will reject an Italian draft of the new European Constitution because it would remove member states' veto on foreign policy.
A Foreign Office spokesman said the draft by Italy, which holds the EU presidency, is unacceptable although more discussions are due on Friday...."
Nov 27 ~
Blair 'has broken his promise' on peers
By Andrew Sparrow, Political Correspondent
Tony Blair was accused of breaking a promise yesterday after he confirmed that he wants to remove the 92 remaining hereditary peers from the House of Lords.
Tories said the measure would contradict a firm commitment given by the Government four years ago to allow the peers to stay until Lords reform was finalised.
Opposition parties can outvote Labour in the Upper House and peers said they would block the Bill outright if Mr Blair refused to amend it.
Lord Strathclyde, the Tory leader in the Lords, said: "This is a mean and vindictive measure. It will not improve the scrutiny of legislation and it breaks an undertaking given by the Government in Parliament.
"If you cannot trust an undertaking given by a minister at the Despatch Box about the future of Parliament, then can you trust any assurance given by a minister?" asked a Tory source.
By convention, opposition peers do not vote against proposals mentioned in the Government's manifesto.
But Lord Strathclyde said this would not stop his party voting against the Lords Bill, because the Labour manifesto promised something quite different."
Nov 27 ~ Of all the constitutional constraints on Labour's leviathan
state there are only two left: the House of Lords and the judiciary. That is
why the Queen's Speech included Bills that will damage both. Telegraph
Nov 26/7 ~ Service providers must again be smashed by centralism, upheaval and reformSimon Jenkins in the Times ".....This nemesis of Labour's second term of office is painful to watch. Years of trial-and-error reform have led to the same outcome as afflicted Mr Blair's heroine, Margaret Thatcher: an overcentralised public sector riddled with leader-loathing. Prime ministers in that predicament are easily seduced into foreign affairs. Mrs Thatcher squandered her political hegemony in rows with colleagues over Europe. Mr Blair has squandered his over Iraq..... "
Nov 26 ~ "the FBI is targeting Americans who are engaged in lawful protest. The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred." Guardian comment
"....instead of hearing the voices on the streets - voices pleading with police to stop shooting and clearly following orders to disperse - we heard only from police officials and perky news anchors commiserating with the boys on the front line.
Meanwhile, independent journalists who dared to do their jobs and film the police violence up close were actively targeted. "She's not with us," one officer told another as they grabbed Ana Nogueira, a correspondent with Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! who was covering a peaceful protest outside the Miami-Dade county jail. When the police established that Nogueira was "not with us" (ie neither an embedded reporter nor undercover cop) she was hauled away and charged. ...On Sunday, the New York Times reported on a leaked FBI bulletin revealing "a coordinated, nationwide effort to collect intelligence" on the anti-war movement. The memorandum singles out lawful protest activities. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the document revealed that "the FBI is targeting Americans who are engaged in lawful protest. The line between terrorism and legitimate civil disobedience is blurred."
We can expect more of these tactics on the homeland front. Just as civil liberties violations escalated when Washington lost control over the FTAA process, so will repression increase as Bush faces the ultimate threat: losing control over the White House. "
Nov 26 ~Anti-terror powers watered down Evening Standard
"......Until now it was planned to exempt special directives under the Civil Contingencies Bill, to be flagged in (the).. Queen's Speech, from being challenged in the courts.
But a report from a joint committee of MPs and peers on Friday will recommend a crucial amendment.
This will allow emergency regulations to be overturned if they breach the Human Rights Act or other laws. Government sources said the committee's recommendations would be accepted when the Bill's full details are published. ..."
Nov 26 ~
We must stop the drive towards a superstate
Clare Short in the Times
"You don 't have to be a Little Englander to ask what is the point of the EU...... the reality is that pro-Europeans are driving a
project that leads inevitably to a superstate, which most of us
don 't want. .
We have reached a point when we need a new rationale for the EU. There is increasing agreement that we need more decentralisation and stronger local government in our own overcentralised island, and this should be complemented by a commitment to review all EU powers - strip out all the unnecessary regulation and test every EU power against the principle of subsidiarity. The future I see is an EU slimmed down to run the single market; and a Commission revamped with efficient and fraud-free financial management systems. ." Read in full
Nov 26 ~ to call for a referendum on the EU Constitution From http://www.referendum04.co.uk/march.html
"On 6th December Referendum04 will be co-ordinating the biggest 'Virtual March' on 10 Downing Street the country has ever seen. It is to call for a referendum on the proposed EU Constitution and will demand of Tony Blair and the Government that the 'People's Voice' be heard.
It is part of a co-ordinated symbolic statement by similar groups across the whole of Europe in advance of the Inter Governmental Conference (IGC) Summit.
Participation will involve you registering your request for a referendum at the Prime Minister's e-mail address and will take no more than a minute of your time. It can be done from the comfort of your home or office without the need for travel arrangements, sandwiches or an umbrella! We will provide full, easy to follow instructions nearer the time.
We do however, need numbers, so simply e-mail us back at: firstname.lastname@example.org (click and insert your name in the subject box) and we will add you to the ever growing list. ....
Campaign Director "
Nov 25 ~ Britain is preparing to abandon the European Union constitution if the differences between the 15 member states cannot be resolved a senior Foreign Office source has revealed. Scotsman "In a surprising policy shift, the official indicated the future of the EU was not dependent on the treaty being ratified and enlargement would still take place next year.
Labour has come in for sustained criticism for its approach to the constitution, which critics claim will shift huge swathes of power from London to Europe.
Although Downing Street remains confident that its red lines will be met, there remain too many other outstanding problems, notably on energy policy, rows over the role of the commission and the weighting of votes per country on the council of ministers.
Any abandonment of the constitution would be seen as an astonishing retreat by Labour and provoke claims that the government is seeking to avoid a political backlash for refusing to allow a referendum on the issue.
Some were last night interpreting the official 's comments as brinkmanship on the part of the government. "
Nov 24/5 ~ Humphrys and John Simpson have already voiced their opposition, faced with the suggestion they should give up their newspaper columns Guardian
"the BBC's board of governors is to consider a plan, drawn up by the director of news Richard Sambrook, which will curb the practice of journalists topping up their meagre public-sector salaries by writing for newspapers such as the Sunday Times.
It will be the first concrete reaction to Lord Hutton's inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly...." John Humphrys' column is always well worth reading. What an ill-advised reaction this plan would seem to be.
Nov 24 ~ Rampant fraud costs EU more than £600m a year
Anthony Browne, Brussels Correspondent of the Times
Frauds against the European Union totalling more than half a billion pounds have been uncovered in the past year, according to official figures obtained by The Times, which show that fraud is far more widespread than had been thought.
The number of suspected cases has risen by nearly a fifth in just one year to 3,440, with fraud being discovered in almost all the institutions of the EU and all its funding programmes. In the last financial year alone, 252 cases of fraud were proven, leading to 230 cases being sent to court.
.......The figures, to be published in the next fortnight by Olaf, the EU's independent anti-fraud unit, in its annual report, are immensely embarrassing for the European Commission, which took office four years ago with the aim of stamping out fraud and corruption. Neil Kinnock, the vice-president of the Commission, has been responsible for introducing a barrage of controls to clean up the EU. .......
One of the most rapidly growing areas of fraud is in external aid, both to the candidate countries joining the EU and to the developing world, most notably in the EU's aid programmes to Africa...."
See also ~"The commission must not be allowed to make Olaf the scapegoat for its own shortcomings"
Nov 23 ~ Blair plans new laws to curb civil liberties Sunday Herald and
Sweeping new emergency laws to counter UK terror Independent
"UK wants similar powers to controversial US Patriot Act. Sweeping new emergency legal powers to deal with the aftermath of a large terrorist attack in Britain are being considered by the government.
The measures could potentially outlaw participation in a protest march, such as last week's demonstrations during President Bush's state visit, making it, in effect, a criminal offence to criticise government policy. ...a beefed-up version of current civil contingencies law is being considered. It will allow the government to bypass or suspend key parts of the UK's human rights laws without the authority of parliament. ......The new powers would only come into force if a state of emergency was proclaimed with the authority of the sovereign. The government, if the new measures were introduced, would be able to prohibit any assembly or activity it believed threatened national security. However, government legal sources have urged that any new laws in such a sensitive area would not be forced through without widespread consultation. .....
As in the US, the excuse is "terrorism" but we do urge readers to look at recent articles by our best journalists: Robert Fisk, Simon Jenkins, Matthew Parris among them.
With Robert Fisk, we ask "Where, oh where are we going? How much longer must we suffer this false account of history? How much longer must we wilfully misread what we are doing and what is being done to us?"
Nov 23 ~ Labour to abolish hereditary peers' voting rights in revenge for defiance
Independent on Sunday
"The last of Britain's hereditary peers are to be stripped of their voting rights in retribution for the chaotic scenes last week when MPs were kept up until 2am to salvage key government legislation.
Tony Blair is reported by aides to have been "cursing" at the way peers obstructed legislation designed to make it easier for courts to convict in serious fraud cases and where criminal gangs have tried to intimidate juries. The Bill went through on Thursday, after three days of frantic horse-trading.
The Prime Minister's angry reaction means that a promised Bill to take reform of the Lords a stage further is now close to the top of the Government's agenda.
The Bill, which will be announced in Wednesday's Queen's Speech, will mean that the 92 hereditary peers still in the Lords will lose their voting rights..."
Nov 23 ~ "to make the most boring subject in the world as readable as a novel"Booker's Notebook ".. most surprised us when we began researching the history of the EU was just how superficial and misleading all previous accounts of this story had been.
There is scarcely a single episode that does not emerge in a new light, from the real reason why de Gaulle had to "keep Britain out" in the 1960s, to the way that the Foreign Office and Geoffrey Howe kept Mrs Thatcher in the dark about plans for a further leap in integration.This was to be so ambitious that it had been decided as early as 1984 that it would require two new instruments, now known as the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty.
If we have achieved anything, as I observed at the book's launch on Thursday, I hope it is "to make the most boring subject in the world as readable as a novel". I trust our readers will agree." See The Great Deception: The SECRET History of the European Union
Nov 23 ~" the insane regime under which Britain's fishermen must now live, as Defra zealously enforces CFP rules ..". Booker's Notebook ".. In recent months, as anger over the disaster that is being visited on Britain's fishing industry has erupted, support for the repatriation of fishing policy has soared, particularly in Scotland, which accounts for 85 per cent of UK tonnage, and where nearly 100 vessels, including some of the most modern boats in the whitefish fleet, have been forced out of business by the Brussels "cod ban".
Scottish Tory MSPs, led by Ted Brocklebank; Lib Dems, including Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland; and Alex Smith, the leader of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, have swung behind Mr Salmond's bill. So too have the fishermen of Folkestone, where Mr Howard has only a slender majority.
The ever-greater absurdity of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy was recently highlighted by a case in Whitby, where nine fishermen, including Arnold Locker, the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, faced criminal charges relating to Brussels's "cod ban", though fishermen now report cod so abundant that they cannot avoid catching them."
Nov 23 ~"...the po-faced absurdity of these rules"
Booker's Notebook "... Peter Senneck was for years the manager of a NatWest branch in Gloucester, where he still keeps his account. When he recently went in to open an account for his granddaughter, his former staff apologetically told him that, under the rules, he had to produce "proof of his identity"...."
Nov 22 ~ Blair in fresh cronyism row over reform of Lords Independent "...Tony Blair was embroiled in a new row over alleged cronyism yesterday when he was accused of reneging on his promise not to pack the House of Lords with his political allies.
The Prime Minister was planning to "slip through" a batch of 20 new Labour peers in the next few weeks before the publication of a Bill on reform of the entire upper chamber, the Liberal Democrats claimed. This would break Mr Blair's promise to make sure the composition of the House of Lords reflects each party's showing at the 2001 election. Of the 30 new peers to be appointed, 20 are expected to be Labour, six Conservative and only four or five Liberal Democrat. This would give Labour more than 200 peers, far more than the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives.
....Critics accused the Government last night of trying to skew the political process after a series of defeats in the House of Lords, which have forced it to compromise many of its policy proposals, for example, over limits on trial by jury..."
Nov 22 ~
Nov 20 ~ Prodi has resisted calls to sack those responsible for the financial scandal. The Guardian "...
Mr Prodi said yesterday that there had been a "breakdown in communications", between commissioners, heads of department and the EU's independent anti-fraud unit, Olaf, which is to deliver a long-awaited report into Eurostat. ....
Chris Heaton-Harris, a Conservative Eurosceptic MEP, said: "A positive statement on the 2002 accounts was vital for the credibility of the commission.
"The Eurostat scandal has thrown into doubt the safety of taxpayers' money and these findings do nothing to change that.
"The current commissioners have presided over three years of dodgy accounts.
"Unless they can assure us the 2003 accounts are correct their legacy to the EU's taxpayer will be a decade of fraud."
Nov 20 ~ Peers reject limits to jury trial
Peers reject plans to limit trial by jury just a day after MPs overturned 16 Lords defeats of the Criminal Justice Bill.
Nov 19 ~ Grave concerns over the security of electronic voting machines in the United States means the heart of American democracy is at risk The Register
Nov 19 ~ Cherie Booth: "It seems inconceivable that a state committed to the rule of law, such as the US, would refuse to investigate and prosecute its nationals should there be reliable evidence that they had been involved in international crimes." Independent ...the Prime Minister's wife said it was "inconceivable" that the United States would not allow prosecution of its own nationals accused of war crimes abroad. She said that the court would put "tyrants and torturers in the dock" and was a "shining example" of how human rights could be enacted.
President Bush pulled out of the treaty establishing the court, which is designed to deal with war crimes and genocide, even though it had been signed by President Bill Clinton."
Nov 19 ~ Opponents of ID cards, who include several cabinet ministers...will seize on the findings released today in a survey by Mori as proof that there is little popular support for the move. Independent
Nov 18 ~ EU auditors blast budget failings Telegraph Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
"..The European Union is failing to keep track of huge annual subsidies, and 91 per cent of its budget is riddled with errors or cannot be verified, a financial watchdog said yesterday.
The European Court of Auditors refused to certify EU accounts for the ninth successive year, saying Brussels has failed to match reform rhetoric with a genuine change of culture. Abuse is said to be endemic in the Common Agricultural Policy, which still consumes almost half the £65 billion budget....The report says the European Commission has still not switched to the sort of modern accounting system used by the British Government and World Bank, making it impossible to know if transactions have been "fully and correctly recorded".
The court suggested that EU staff were abusing the disability system on a large scale, costing taxpayers £54 million a year. Half the claimants had psychological or stress-related complaints....
Most of the invalids are in their 30s or 40s, securing life-time pensions worth 70 per cent of the final retirement-age salaries.
The court also accused Euro-MPs of padding their pension funds with subsidies from the taxpayer...."
Nov 18 ~ The House of Lords was on the verge of rejecting legislation that would bring the so-called 'Snoopers'Charter' into force on Thursday, but gave way to Government pressure to pass the measures. (Outlaw.com ) "It was "a dark moment in the history of the House of Lords," said human rights group Privacy International.
The controversial new laws, laid before Parliament in September, give public authorities - other than the police and intelligence agencies - access to personal data held by telcos and ISPs for periods of up to twelve months.
They form part of a package of measures produced under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime & Security Act (ATCSA), which was enacted in the aftermath of the September 11th atrocities.
This Act required the retention of communications data on the grounds that these were needed for the purpose of fighting terrorism....."
Nov 17 ~ British Guantanamo prisoners set to be tried in US
"President George Bush has strongly hinted that British prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are likely to be tried by a military tribunal in the US and not sent back to Britain.
In an interview on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost, the US President said that he wanted to find an agreement on the issue that Tony Blair was "comfortable with".
However, it appeared clear that the White House was determined not to give ground on its repeated view that it wanted a military court to deal with illegal combatants in Afghanistan.
Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, has raised with Washington the issue of British terrorist suspects detained without trial at the US naval base detention centre in Cuba. And civil liberties campaigners have complained about the treatment of the prisoners, whom the Americans refuse to recognise as prisoners of war..."
Nov 17 ~" The commission must not be allowed to make Olaf the scapegoat for its own shortcomings" Prodi turns on EU's 'failing' fraud squad
" The European Commission is planning a shake-up of its anti-fraud squad,
Olaf, because of its poor record in investigating corruption - including the multi-million scandal surrounding Eurostat, the Brussels statistical office.....On Tuesday Mr Prodi will be questioned on the Eurostat affair at a special meeting of the European Parliament's budgetary control committee, alongside colleagues including Neil Kinnock, the vice-president of the commission. Mr Prodi's critics suspect his move against Olaf is timed to divert blame for the corruption scandals.
Euro-MPs said yesterday that the commission already had access to information regarding alleged EU corruption, and could have reacted more quickly over the Eurostat affair.
"The commission must not be allowed to make Olaf the scapegoat for its own shortcomings," said Herbert Bosch, an Austrian Euro-MP and anti-fraud expert."
Nov 16 ~ " I resent the United Kingdom and its people being used as part of the Republican election campaign." Lord Hattersley - BBC report.
Nov 16 ~ 'Shoot-to-kill' demand by US Observer " ..Home Secretary David Blunkett has refused to grant diplomatic immunity to armed American special agents and snipers travelling to Britain as part of President Bush's entourage this week.
In the case of the accidental shooting of a protester, the Americans in Bush's protection squad will face justice in a British court as would any other visitor, the Home Office has confirmed.
The issue of immunity is one of a series of extraordinary US demands turned down by Ministers and Downing Street during preparations for the Bush visit.
These included the closure of the Tube network, the use of US air force planes and helicopters and the shipping in of battlefield weaponry to use against rioters.
In return, the British authorities agreed numerous concessions, including the creation of a 'sterile zone' around the President with a series of road closures in central London and a security cordon keeping the public away from his cavalcade. ..."
Nov 16 ~ "... never underestimate the rage of the voters when they realise how far they have been deceived." Booker's Notebook "....Tim Yeo..., when shadow spokesman on trade and industry, recently pulled off a remarkable feat by managing, in the course of a long interview on over-regulation, not to mention the EU once, even though it is the prime cause of the over-regulation that has almost every business in Britain tearing its hair out.
This was almost as remarkable as Mr Yeo's feat, as Tory agriculture spokesman during the foot and mouth crisis, of not mentioning that every detail of the Government's handling of the crisis was being dictated by rules laid down under EU directives.
Since the Tories receive £4 million a year from the taxpayers for acting as Her Majesty's Opposition, it might be thought that, if they decline for internal party reasons to carry out a good half of their job, we should get half our money back.
"Never underestimate the determination of a silent shadow spokesman" may be a slogan to keep Mr Clarke happy. But never underestimate the rage of the voters when they realise how far they have been deceived."
Nov 16 ~" this wholesale abuse of the law... takes place with active support from both police and courts, leaving the victims totally powerless."
Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph on the violation of Section 54 of the Magistrates Courts Rules which expressly prohibits bailiffs from removing vehicles used in the course of employment. "...What makes this odd is not just that the police seemed so ready to support the "bailiffs" - and Mr Troy received no sympathy either when he raised this illegality with Robert Whitehouse, the chief executive of Durham magistrates courts - but that similar incidents happen all the time."
Nov 16 ~ 'Paranoid' US security push threatens future of transatlantic flights
Sunday Herald "new data demands from America ...Jane's aviation security editor Chris Yates said they can expect a bumpy few months ahead.
He said: "Privately, airlines are very worried that passengers will boycott them if personal details are handed over to a US database. Airlines are also worried that, because mistakes are inevitable, a sizeable minority of passengers will be turned back from US immigration - airlines will have to pay for those people to be brought back to the UK. The US is going way and beyond what is needed."
Nov 15 ~"... Our collective task must be to minimise intrusion by bureaucrats and to preserve the personal opportunities and rights of the citizen. Unfortunately, the ongoing erosion of individual rights by the inspired madness of governments ...the type of civilisation forecast by George Orwell all those years ago." An article on the Australian site Your Guide
Nov 15 ~" We're not taking away personal rights; we're increasing personal security," A reminder of the way President Bush has "slimmed down" the American Constitution.... See The Onion
"Attorney General John Ashcroft said. "By allowing for greater government control over the particulars of individual liberties, the Bill of Rights will now offer expanded personal freedoms whenever they are deemed appropriate and unobtrusive to the activities necessary to effective operation of the federal government."....."Any machine, no matter how well-built, periodically needs a tune-up to keep it in good working order," Bush said. "Now that we have the bugs worked out of the ol' Constitution, she'll be purring like a kitten when Congress reconvenes in January - just in time to work on a new round of counterterrorism legislation."
"Ten was just too much of a handful," Bush added. "Six civil liberties are more than enough."
(The Onion is, of course, a spoof news site)
Nov 15 ~ Democrats defy Bush over judges
A marathon debate in the US Senate ends without progress for the president's efforts to appoint four new judges.
Nov 15 ~ it will now be easier than ever to hack into an election
The Times "...Critics of electronic voting cite early problems in the US, where President Bush last year pledged $3.9 billion (£2.3 billion) to modernise the ballot.
Bev Harris, author of a book investigating electronic-voting companies, has catalogued what she alleges are electoral irregularities involving touch-screen and other computerised voting systems.
Last November, for instance, 6,300 votes changed overnight after an election in Alabama, handing the state's governorship to a Republican. At the same time three winning Republican candidates in elections in Texas all polled exactly 18,181 votes. Ms Harris, who suggests that the vote may have been compromised by a hacker, points out that an alphabetical conversion of 18,181 is "Ahaha". ..."
Nov 15 ~ "Of all the many difficult issues confronting governments at next month's world information summit in Geneva the future of internet governance is the toughest says Nitin Desai, the UN secretary-general's special representative to the summit.
Many developing countries - including heavy hitters such as China, Brazil, India and South Africa - are pushing for international regulation of the internet by a UN body such as the International Telecommunication Union, the UN telecoms agency. It is a move that is being fiercely resisted by the US and the European Union..." FT
Nov 14 ~ her alleged disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing by the US and could have helped to prevent the deaths of Iraqis and British forces in an "illegal war". The Guardian
A sacked GCHQ employee charged yesterday under the Official Secrets Act said last night that her alleged disclosures exposed serious wrongdoing by the US and could have helped to prevent the deaths of Iraqis and British forces in an "illegal war". ...In a statement last night, Ms Gun said: "Any disclosures that may have been made were justified because they exposed serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US government which attempted to subvert our own security services. Secondly, they could have helped prevent widescale death and casualties amongst ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces in the course of an illegal war."
Nov 14 ~ ID cards in doubt as Scots opt out Telegraph
Plans for compulsory identity cards began to unravel last night when the Scottish government said they would not be introduced there on the same basis.
There are also questions over whether the scheme would be adopted in full in Wales or Northern Ireland.
The government in the Republic of Ireland, whose citizens are entitled to free movement throughout the UK and are not treated as foreign nationals, was expected to seek clarification about the Home Office's intentions.
Jack McConnell, Scotland's First Minister, said there would be no requirement to do so for matters falling under the Scottish Parliament's jurisdiction such as health, education and law and order.
Announcing the scheme on Tuesday, Mr Blunkett said the true benefits of the card would not be realised until there was "full compulsion".
A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed that it would be up to devolved administrations to decide if they wanted to introduce ID cards for areas under their control.
Kevin McNamara, Labour MP for Hull North, said the Government was "flying by the seat of its pants". He has tabled a Commons question to Mr Blunkett over the position of Irish people living in Britain.
Nov 14 ~ ID cards: secret, bureaucratic, unwieldy and redundantLetters in the Times
from Mr Iain Mackinnon
First, it will result in an unprecedented concentration of sensitive data in a single new national identity register. The State currently holds a good deal of information about me, but it is widely distributed, and in that distribution lies a safeguard: I am protected by the inability of Government's right hand to know what its left hand is doing. Blunkett's single register will create a honeypot for anyone who wishes us ill - whether as individuals or as a nation.
Secondly, the detail which the new card would contain about me will be hidden from me in the computer chip. I would feel much more comfortable if I could have access to a reader which will let me see for myself what it contains.
Am I not entitled to that anyway, under current data protection legislation? "
From Mr Richard Tweed
Sir, The old blue British passports used to include biometric data and I don't recall anyone objecting to it. The data were "height", "eye colour" and "distinguishing marks" such as scars or tattoos.
I never understood why this information was dropped.
Nov 13 ~ John Pilger (below) asks "where are the contemporary works that go to the heart of this funny old world"? ... But more timely than any novel is The Great Deception: The Secret History of the European Union
As North and Booker say of today's UK politicians in this message
".... for 40 years our politicians have, like true 'little Englanders', consistently failed to understand or face up to the 'project's' real nature and purpose, and they have therefore concealed it from the British people.
In particular they have totally failed to explain to the British people just how much of the government of their country is now in the hands of this new supranational system of government in Brussels. Probably not more than one MP in 100 could even define the term 'supranational'. But the British people are gradually waking up, as reflected in the 90 percent who believe, according to the polls, there should be a referendum on the constitution. If they continue to be lied to and betrayed, they will eventually become as angry as the more farsighted already are."
Nov 13 ~ John Pilger - The Silence of the Writers " ...the FBI now routinely inspects the reading lists of public libraries." (New Statesman via Information clearing House) "........where are the contemporary works that go to the heart of this funny old world, as the books of Steinbeck and Joseph Heller did? Where is the equivalent of Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America, Jonathan Coe's What a Carve-Up! and Timothy Mo's The Redundancy of Courage? There are, of course, honorable exceptions. You can buy James Kelman's collection And the Judges Said... in W H Smith, which proves that books that rescue true politics from the Westminster media village's "bantering inconsequence" (to borrow from F Scott Fitzgerald) are wanted very much by the public.
......unless politics can be diminished to its stereotypes and, better still, turned into a TV drama, no thank you. After all, as one critic who dominates the reviews of paperback non-fiction, wrote: the suggestion that social democracy is threatened by the insane march of George Bush and his attendant McCarthyism is, well, "silly". No matter that when you fly to the United States you lose the basic civil liberty of your privacy; that your name alone can lead to body searches, as Edward Said frequently experienced; that the FBI now routinely inspects the reading lists of public libraries..."
Nov 12/13 ~ "There will be no exclusion zones. He (Bush) could quite easily come into contact with demonstrators."
Nov 12 ~ Howard was well armed, resurrecting comments from Blair's younger days. Blair had made a personal pledge to leave the European Union and criticised the United States of state-sponsored terrorism, Howard said.
"I wonder if he will be raising that with President (George W.) Bush next week," he roared, to the delight of his supporters. .."Reuters "Blair and Howard enjoy Commons joust"
Nov 12 ~ A message from Christopher Booker and Richard North about their book The Great Deception: The Secret History of the European Union, to be published by Continuum on 19 November 2003
"...Grateful though we are to the Daily Mail for giving such space to their serialisation,, we wanted to pass on that our book is rather more substantial than might have been guessed from the way the Mail chose to present it. Read in full
Essentially The Great Deception is by far the most comprehensive account of the history of the 'European project' that has yet appeared. By drawing on a huge range of source material, including many documents never published before, it has been possible to show almost every part of the story in a new light..."
Nov 12 ~ Mr Blunkett " said crime, fraud, terrorism and illegal immigration would be
curbed by a national ID scheme. Critics, however, say it will do nothing to
prevent any of these, will be open to forgery and represents an unjustifiable
curtailment of civil liberties." Comment here from the Times and the Telegraph on the ID scheme.
The cost to the taxpayer for setting up the database would be
almost £200 million.
Nov 12 ~ Scotland's Faculty of Advocates says plans to replace the House of Lords with a new final court of appeal is "unconstitutional and unlawful" (The Herald)
"... the 500-year-old body representing 465 advocates ....said a supreme court run by the newly established Department for Constitutional Affairs would be in breach of the 1707 Act of Union, which protects the independence of the Scottish courts system..... senior judge Lord Hope of Craighead... said the plans could open a constitutional minefield because the 1707 Act of Union states that no Scottish case can be heard in an English court.
....The new plan to sidestep the act has already infuriated lawyers and judges and is expected to create further rifts between Holyrood and Westminster.
Under the Department for Constitutional Affairs' white paper to modernise the judiciary, the supreme court would replace the appeal court function of the House of Lords.
The Lords at present acts as the ultimate court of appeal ..."(
On 12 June this year Mr Blair announced some far-reaching changes to the British Constitution, including:
Replacement of the Lord Chancellor with a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (and the creation of a new Department for Constitutional Affairs to replace the Lord Chancellor's Department)
Creation of a Supreme Court to replace the judicial function of the House of Lords
Establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission, to recommend appointment of judges
For details, see the website of the new Department of Constitutional Affairs:
Nov 12 ~ EU/Frauds - Europe - the Community of BananasItalian website of the radical party
Declaration of Maurizio Turco, President of the Radical MEPs of the Emma Bonino List in the European Parliament:
"If the anti-fraud office of the European Union learns of a fraud concerning 2.3 million Euro to the (detriment) of the Union through a parliamentary question and communicates to the author of the question that OLAF is available to collaborate with the competent judicial authorities...there is something evidently "anomalous".
Nov 11 ~ Mission impossible? Blunkett's big biometric ID adventure "... he has nailed his colours to the biometric mast even more emphatically" The Register article by David Lettice ".. Biometric identifiers on ID "will make identity theft and multiple identity impossible, not merely impossible, impossible." That one's tougher to stand up than you think, David, and we're going to hold you to it.
.Blunkett was speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, where we believe he has a camp bed, prior to making the statement to parliament on his ID card rollout plans. After what have been described as "brutal" meetings on the subject, Blunkett has secured cabinet approval in principle for a compulsory national ID card, but the final green light for this is contingent on a number of criteria being fulfilled (more details of these here).
Blunkett's championship of biometric identifiers has become increasingly evident as discussion of ID cards has proceeded ('progressed' would we feel be the entirely wrong word), and this morning he has nailed his colours to the biometric mast even more emphatically....
Nov 11 ~ Bush ".. the three-day visit is already acting as a magnet for protesters and anarchists from all over Europe."
The Guardian "learned last night of tension between US security agents, who want an exclusion zone round the president, and the London mayor, Ken Livingstone, who wants the demonstrators to be guaranteed as much freedom as possible. The Metropolitan police are caught in the middle. ...".
Financial Times - "Police are planning to ban protesters from central London during President George W. Bush's visit next week. The Stop the War coalition, which is expecting "tens and tens of thousands" at its Stop Bush march on November 20, is contesting an attempt by the Metropolitan police to exclude demonstrators from Parliament Square, Whitehall and Westminster Bridge.
The march is to start from Malet Street and end in Trafalgar Square, but the coalition and police are arguing over the route. Organiser Lindsey German said: "We want a route that takes us to the heart of London."
Mr Bush's three-day visit, starting on November 19, is aimed at acknowledging the close relationship with Tony Blair, particularly over Iraq.
Details of his itinerary are being kept secret, although a drive in an open-topped carriage and a visit to the City have been ruled out."
Nov 11 ~ Blair to create 20 Labour peers
Nov 11 ~ EU constitution faces poll defeat Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels Telegraph "...The draft European constitution has failed to inspire Europe's citizens and is likely to be defeated in referendums next year unless rewritten, says a survey.
Support for the 230-page document was negligible among key states certain to hold a vote, falling as low as five per cent in Holland and three per cent in Denmark, said the EU-wide poll yesterday.
Most people with any view on the matter wanted the text "partially" or "radically modified" or abandoned, though most supported the abstract principle of an EU constitution.
Britons were the most hostile, with 35 per cent calling for outright rejection. But citizens in all of the EU's current and future states appeared disdainful of the document.
Support for the draft stands at 11 per cent in Germany followed by France (10 per cent), Spain (seven), Austria (six) and Finland (four).
The survey, published by the European Commission, will bolster calls by the Conservatives and the French opposition parties for a referendum, showing 86 per cent support for a vote in Britain and 92 per cent in France.
Nov 11 ~ Not enough rebels to stop the forcing through of fluoridation of water Independent "...Ministers steered through a change in the law to make it easier to medicate the drinking water and force water companies to add fluoride to local supplies.
But the move by Health ministers was opposed by MPs from all parties who warned of adverse side-effects and argued it was wrong to "mass medicate" the population without individual consent.
MPs from all parties rebelled against the move last night in a free vote during the third reading of the Water Bill. But they had insufficient numbers to defeat the move...."
See warmwell report from Sept 30 Water fluoridation goes against leading principles of pharmacotherapy
Nov 11 ~ Gulf War illnesses "What we have found in the limited answers from the Government is worrying enough for us to have renewed our call for an urgent public inquiry."Femail "13 years after the conflict so many of our troops, some now terminally ill, still have medically unexplained illnesses.
British Legion Director of Welfare Colonel Terry English said: "What we have found in the limited answers from the Government is worrying enough for us to have renewed our call for an urgent public inquiry.
"This issue needs to be brought out into the open. The Legion is taking the lead on behalf of the many 1990/91 Gulf War veterans, both those who are unwell and those who have no symptoms of ill health, who believe that Gulf War illnesses are attributable to the concentrated anti-biological weapons immunisation program and/or the requirement to take pyridostigmine bromide (known as NAPS) tablets as an antidote to attacks on the nervous system."
Nov 10 ~ the Foods Standards Agency is defying Ministers, who have promised to consider the results of the Government's own consultation of the public this summer before taking action Geoffrey Lean in the Independent on Sunday says
"...The agency's position, however, is exploded by the report, which concludes that safety testing of GM foods - including the sweetcorn - has been sporadic, non-existent, or based on assumptions that cannot be verified. .."
the report Toxikologie und Allergologie von GVO-Produktenreveals reveals that
"no direct testing ... was carried out". Such indirect evidence as was assembled was "insufficient", and some of the scientific references provided to "confirm the safety of the products ... are cited wrongly, or are outdated, or are even suspected to be selectively quoted".
In the absence of proper testing, biotech companies have traditionally relied merely on asserting that GM foods are "substantially equivalent" to their non-GM counterparts, and regulatory authorities have waved them through on that basis.
But the Austrian government report shows that the applications - including the one for the sweetcorn to be considered tomorrow - fail even this undemanding requirement. It says that the concept is used "to argue for the safety" of every GM product it considered, but added: "The parameters chosen ... are not comprehensive enough to justify substantial equivalence and/or to detect probable unintended secondary effects."Read in full
Nov 10 ~ The Great Deception: The SECRET History of the European Union by
Christopher Booker and Richard North will be published on November 30. Copies can be ordered from Amazon - details
Nov 10 ~ White House wants West End to be no-go area
"White House officials are demanding that police cordon off the centre of London and ban all demonstrations during President Bush's three-day state visit next week. The Times goes on to refer to "anarchist groups" which have pledged to disrupt Mr Bush's trip. That there are so many anarchists in the UK now is an interesting fact. Fellow anarchists may share our deep concern at draconian anti-terrorism laws that may well be used against protesters.
With ten days to go until Mr Bush arrives, there is still no agreement with the US Secret Service, which guards the President, over how to police the controversial trip without bringing the capital to a standstill.
Nov 9 ~ Judges line up for battle over reforms Guardian
Six of proposed supreme court's 12 members denounce 'harmful and costly' plan as judiciary airs fears of threat to independence
"Senior judges are gearing up for battle against the government's plan to push through far-reaching legal and constitutional reforms, including the abolition of the lord chancellor.
Judges have been airing their doubts in private for months, but the strength of their opposition burst into the open this week as first the 12 law lords and then the judges' council - representing the judiciary from top to bottom-attacked key planks of the plan.
The first revelation was that only four of the 12 law lords who sit in the country's highest court, the House of Lords, actively support the proposal to replace it by a supreme court outside parliament.
Six of the 12 judges who would make up the new court's bench insisted that its creation would be "harmful" and the cost "wholly out of proportion to any benefit". The other two abstained from comment. ..."
Nov 9 ~".. Robin Cook has always been a true parliamentarian and believer in constitutional propriety. He is clearly depressed and disturbed by the prime minister's contempt for parliament and the principles of cabinet government.
Early in his term as leader of the house, and with responsibility for Lords reform, he was present at a cabinet sub-committee which fully discussed the options of an elected or appointed upper house. "I was not to know," says Cook, "that this would also be the last meeting of the cabinet sub-committee, and that throughout two years of intense debate on the direction of Lords reform I was to be denied another opportunity to argue it out collectively with the ministers most involved."
Blair's dislike of being influenced by his colleagues did not just apply to House of Lords reform but covered the whole range of policy. On March 7 2002, Cook recorded in his diary: "A momentous event. A real discussion at cabinet. Tony permitted us to have the debate on Iraq... For the first time I can recall in five years, Tony was out on a limb."
He then writes: "I am told, not that I have witnessed it, that in the old days prime ministers would sum up the balance of view in the discussion... However, Tony does not regard the cabinet as a place for decisions. Normally he avoids having discussions in cabinet until decisions are taken and announced to it." ...The Guardian on Robin Cook's book "Point of Departure"
Nov 9 ~ Christopher Booker's notebook
Read in full
Home 'written off' in mix-up over asbestos - "the same shock that Mrs Jenny Jones recently suffered may soon be inflicted on many other homeowners"
Emergency services kept at bay by fear of dust - "...The only people to show common sense were the police, who were powerless to intervene."
Round up all the useful idiots - "...Since these conventions have been notoriously reluctant to admit anyone who opposes regional government, and since the NWCC has received money from the Campaign for English Regions, it is hard not to conclude that these gentlemen may have allowed themselves to be exploited as what Lenin called "useful idiots".
Guinness is good for EU -"... No doubt we shall be told the new EU constitution is "pure genius"."
Nov 8 ~ Tony Blair is prepared to appoint Peter Mandelson as Britain's man in Brussels in a move that would fuel Gordon Brown's resentment over the growing influence of his bitter foe.
The prime minister's increasing reliance on a politician dubbed the "prince of darkness" has emerged as a significant factor behind this week's public fall-out between Mr Blair and the chancellor. .." Guardian
Nov 8 ~ Judges warn of threat to judicial independence Financial Times "..Lord Woolf, the country's most senior judge, said the government had failed to grasp the implications of the "vacuum" that would be left by abolishing the ancient role that was the "central core" of the judicial system.
The long-awaited response of the Judges' Council, the body that represents all levels of the judiciary in England and Wales, will cast new doubt on the government's preparations for a historic constitutional shake-up. Tony Blair was widely attacked in June for rushing out plans to scrap the office of lord chancellor and create an independent supreme court without consulting parliament or judges.... Lord Woolf said there was a "radical difference" between the lord chancellor who was a judge sitting in cabinet to represent and protect the judiciary and the newly created constitutional affairs secretary who would be a "full-time politician" and was not subject to the same constraints and vows.
He said Britain's "funny old constitution" with a lord chancellor had worked well in the past..."
Nov 7 ~ If someone is in a position to exert power over just one tiny aspect of your life, they will invariably exert that power.This article in the Independent's Portfolio today by Philip Hensher gets to the heart of the matter of ID cards
".. The man in charge of the car park at a village fete will tell you exactly where you may park, and probably shout at you if you disregard him. That, really, is one's objection to the whole idea of the national identity card, that it gives the agents of the state a new element of control over our lives, which will inevitably be widely abused to inconvenience and irritate, and with no very obvious benefits in return."This was the attitude we saw - many of us with horrified surprise - in 2001. Officials with stony faces, dressed in a little brief authority and understanding nothing about the issues at stake, made a hell of the lives of the animals and owners they intimidated. (Just as, it seems, they are doing in Worcestershire at the moment.) Mr Hensher asks what will the national ID card be there for? " We are told that it will serve, among other things, as a certificate of entitlement to National Health services; no-one could imagine for a moment, however, that a hospital would turn away anyone with serious injuries, say, without their proper documentation. In any case, what kind of burden on NHS services do these people represent?" He mentions that often quoted mantra "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear." - but there are many things that are simply not the business of the police or other agencies "the mere existence of such a card will create an atmosphere of control and bored minor harassment."
"Some countries have sacrificed the liberty of the ordinary citizen, and their crime statistics are no doubt the object of great envy in the Home Office. But in the end, you can't have both. We can, if we choose, continue in the certainty that the greater part of our lives are nobody's business but our own; or, if we choose, we could transform our society into something resembling Singapore. There, the streets are clean; crime is low; and no-one ever tells a policeman to mind his own damned business. No sane person could want that. "
Nov 7 ~"As spun by our David, on the other hand, "we've got the green light to
go ahead" - but a reversal for Blunkett's ID card
plans nonetheless The Register "... He will now be forced to revert to an 'ID cards by stealth' approach.
Blunkett himself did not put it quite that way in interviews this lunchtime.
.......Listen to the agreed cabinet statement issued (this is a highly
unusual move, reflecting the intensity of the cabinet battle over ID) today and
to Blunkett, and you could well think we're talking about two entirely different
countries here. The statement boils down to a national ID card scheme being a
good thing in principle, but says that "given the size and complexity of the
scheme, a number of issues will need to be resolved over the years ahead.".... the final decision is now postponed until
"later this decade". Legislation to enable the scheme will however be
"introduced and [planned] on the basis that all the practical problems can be
overcome." But it won't go ahead until it is clear that they have been.
As spun by our David, on the other hand, "we've got the green light to
go ahead" and "we're talking a three year set-up before we can bring in the
biometrics." Which you'll note is sort of the same as the cabinet statement, but
sort of different too.
Blunkett however claims that biometrics are
absolutely vital in order to tie the identification to the individual, that the
whole of Europe is going this way anyway...which we think is a very significant
thing for him to say, because biometrics are indeed planned for these....this is how he will proceed, and how ID by stealth will
...He wins in that he has the in
principle agreement to have a compulsory national ID card 'sometime', but he
loses in that he can't have it until it works, or until the cabinet can at least
fool itself into thinking it's going to work. So maybe he's been saved from
Nov 6 ~ Peter Mandelson is now masterminding strategy inside Downing Street.Telegraph Gordon Brown " is incensed at the powerful role that Tony Blair has given to Mr Mandelson following the departure of Alastair Campbell in the summer, and furious that he has been pushed aside as Labour's election supremo..
...With differences between the Chancellor and Mr Blair widening over Europe in recent days, the deterioration in the key relationship at the heart of the Government is now causing alarm among senior ministers...
...Mr Blair, who is facing heavy pressure to call a referendum on the EU draft treaty, is keen to play down the threat from the constitution while Mr Brown is playing up the danger."
Nov 6 ~ A new campaign group, Battle for Britain, was established yesterday to fight against the EU constitution. Norris McWhirter, the publisher, author and broadcaster, is among those behind the group, which will push for a referendum on the constitution.
About 120 English councils, representing 15 million people, will have issued a formal call for a referendum by the end of the year, the Conservatives said last night.
Nov 5/6 ~"... Former diplomats say British intelligence has now been subverted. "The integrity of our intelligence system has been battered by the demands of No 10," Sir Harold Walker, former British ambassador to Iraq, observed last month.
The mere fact that Alastair Campbell, a political appointee as Blair's communications director, was involved in discussions over the contents of the infamous September dossier on Iraq with John Scarlett, the JIC chairman and a former MI6 station chief, illustrates the encroachment of New Labour values into the intelligence world. ..." Guardian
Nov 5 ~ "Human rights watchdog Privacy International (PI) will today warn a House
of Lords conference that government proposals to stockpile details of
all phone calls and Internet access made by the entire population of the UK will create grave dangers for both privacy and security.
The Register 'Statutory Instruments' - currently being considered by Parliament will create a legal basis for comprehensive surveillance of communications and establish a regime for warehousing acquired data - phone numbers and email addresses contacted, web sites visited, locations of mobile phones etc. - about every UK subject. .."
The regulations will allow an extensive list of public authorities access to records of individuals' telephone and Internet usage (under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act). This communications data will be available to government without any judicial oversight.
Nov 5 ~ EU: The beleaguered Committee of the Regions fell further out of favour with MEPs on Tuesday as committee president Albert Bore took the stand over allegations of fraud and malpractice. See EUpolitix.com"...Van Hulten originally alerted Olaf to suspicions of financial mismanagement following an appeal to MEPs from the committee's financial controller Robert McCoy in March.
According to anonymous committee sources, Bore failed to give any recognition to McCoy's efforts in stamping out financial irregularities.
The Olaf report fired strong criticisms at the committee over its treatment of McCoy, who appeared to have been punished for doing his job well, said UK Conservative MEP Chris Heaton-Harris.
...Well-informed sources commented...that serious problems had been uncovered in 2002."
Nov 5 ~ Acquitted GM protestors convicted It is a worrying development that the High Court has seen fit to overturn the acquittal of four GM protestors, previously aquitted of criminal offences. The FWI report says "Two judges ( Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Silber ) on Tuesday (4 November) overturned a district judge's decision to acquit the four, declaring the district judge was wrong to accept the protestors' defence that they were protecting the environment."
See also Wednesday's Guardian
Nov 4 ~ An electronic dossier on every UK citizen? Paper records are more trustworthy because they are harder to alter argues FIPR
"The Government plans to establish a database of life records which could be used to create a dossier on everyone in the country, privacy advocates fear.
The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has called on the Government to ensure that a new electronic database of life events - births, marriages, deaths etc. - supports, rather than reduces, privacy and liberty.
...Fraud and crime prevention could be argued to justify the inclusion of information relating to social security benefits, tax, passports, drivers' licences, criminal records and much else," the FIPR writes.
"Public health considerations might be argued to justify extension of the snapshot of information about the cause of death to an accumulation of information about health events during life. The protection of children might be argued to justify linkage with information accumulated by social services departments. The needs of the war on terrorism seem capable of being used to justify almost anything," it adds. ...The think tank also believes paper records are more trustworthy because they are "harder to retrospectively alter" than database files. ..." See FIPR press release
Nov 4 ~"... While we cannot be trusted to vote on the European Constitution, the Government will allow referendums on whether to split England into nine regions. .... In order to make space for them, Mr Prescott proposes to demolish a system of county administration which has existed in England for 12 centuries. ...The pity is that we are missing the opportunity for genuine devolution, aimed at empowering consumers and creating a proper link between taxation, representation and expenditure at local level. " Telegraph
( Note how the Times report uses uncritically the inappropriate word "devolution")
Nov 4 ~ Before the President of the United States visits this country shortly, will there be a resolution of the wholly unacceptable position whereby British citizens are held at Guantanamo bay and not subject to due process? Hansard
Mr. Heath: ....... Before the President of the United States visits this country shortly, will there be a resolution of the wholly unacceptable position whereby British citizens are held at Guantanamo bay and not subject to due process?
The Solicitor-General: ... I take this opportunity to remind the House that the Attorney-General has been holding discussions with the US authorities and has been seeking undertakings that if UK citizens are put on trial in the US they will have a fair trial. We have made it clear that if the Attorney-General is not satisfied that those citizens would receive a fair trial under the United States' procedures they will be returned to the UK. The hon. Gentleman can be satisfied that either they will have a fair trial or they will be returned to the UK. As negotiations are continuing, I am afraid that I can say nothing further about timing.
Nov 4 ~ the Government's policy on
reform of the House of Lords
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): .....
The Lord Chancellor recently said publicly to hon. Members that he does not regard the door on the future democratic and representative composition of the second Chamber to be closed. If that is true, .... it puts the whole issue back in the melting pot. It seems that there could be a rush towards introducing a tinkering Bill on reform after the Queen's Speech. If so, there will not be an opportunity for the consultation that the Lord Chancellor suggests.
The Leader of the House will recall that this House voted substantially against an all-appointed second Chamber, because he too voted that way. If we are to revisit the issue, will he assure us that we will hear a statement about the Government's position and that there will be a proper opportunity for cross-party debate by whatever mechanism he considers appropriate?
Mr. Hain: .... given that the House could not agree on an option for reform, the door remains open to bring about a settlement that will survive and be sustainable in the long term. As the Prime Minister made it clear, we will want to consult on that and people will want to express their views freely. There is a distinction between the completion of the consultation exercise and the introduction of subsequent legislation and finding out, in the long term, whether we can reach consensus on a more democratic alternative which, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, I voted for earlier this year..." Hansard
Nov 3 ~ Unions to sue Government in lost pensions test case
"Two trade unions will file a lawsuit against the Government today on behalf of former employees of Allied Steel & Wire who lost their pensions when the company went bust last year.....Kevin Brennan, Labour MP for Cardiff West, where one of the ASW plants was based, yesterday pledged to table amendments to the Pensions Bill if it does not include provisions for compensation for around 40,000 people who have lost their pensions already in the UK..."
Oct 26 ~ Darkening of a nation
Basic civil liberties are in dire jeopardy when anti-terrorist laws are used for day-to-day policing ...Nick Cohen writes in the Observer "....the High Court in London has been considering..... what happened to demonstrators who gathered in September outside Europe's biggest arms fair in London's Docklands. ......
Dozens of protesters were arrested and searched under Straw's anti-terrorism legislation.....Liberty, which asked the High Court to decide whether the police were using what were meant to be emergency powers against potential psychopaths as 'another tool in the kit of day-to-day policing'. Liberty's lawyers discovered that it has become routine for the police to declare the whole of London a special zone for anti-terrorist operations.
No one knew what the Met was up to because orders akin to the announcement of martial law were declared and confirmed in secret. From 13 August for 28 days and from 11 September for 28 days, the police had unconstrained power to treat everyone in London as a terrorist, and stop, search and hold them without cause or reasonable suspicion.
The judge will deliver his ruling this week on the legality of using exceptional powers against unexceptional people. What he won't be able to do is comment on what happens to respect for the Government and the police when their promises are broken without an attempt at an explanation and the 'war against terrorism' is turned into a war against nuns.
A few rooms away in the Royal Courts of Justice, Mr Justice Kay was ruling on Friday that vast amounts of 'public money were being wasted' because New Labour had left destitute asylum- seekers with no option other than to turn to the courts.
When you hear Blunkett screaming about the BBC, or Blair condemning 'gravy-train' lawyers who make a fraction of what his wife earns, it's easy to dismiss their cries as mere bluster for the benefit of the tabloids. But the bluster of the powerful is translated into legislation and threatens the lives and liberties of real people. ......"
as mere bluster for the benefit of the tabloids. But the bluster of the powerful is translated into legislation and threatens the lives and liberties of real people. ......"
Oct 25 ~"Will the Deputy Prime Minister be able to give us a shining example of how properly to apologise to the House for inaccuracies and will he then pass the report of that debate to No. 10, so that the Prime Minister can learn for once how one should apologise to the House for inaccuracies, and so that I do not have to raise it in "Prime Minister's porkies" every week?
"The Prime Minister would appear to have prejudged the issue, would he not? It is therefore very important that we have a debate in the House as early possible, so that the Government can tell us what they are thinking and, as important, so that the House can tell the Government what Members of Parliament are thinking. We must not, surely, have this issue kicked into the long grass. ..." Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) in good form.Hansard for Oct 23
Oct 25 ~ we cannot wait until the Government have considered all the evidence? There is a need for a debate now.
...Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Europe next week there will be a meeting of the Standing Committee on Seeds and Propagating Material of Agriculture, Horticulture and Forestry to consider the contamination levels of non-GM seeds by GM seeds? May I draw his attention to the statement made by Eurocommerce, which consists of Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, Boots and others that
"the proposed thresholds for seed lots will lead to contamination of the whole of the food and feed supply chain and will considerably reduce the freedom of choice available to consumers"?
Given that this Government have consistently supported those thresholds for contamination, may I tell him that we cannot wait until the Government have considered all the evidence? There is a need for a debate now. Things are happening and decisions are being taken that will determine the future of GM in this country for ever." Hansard for Oct 23
Oct 25 ~ "The BBC's undercover reporter, Mark Daly, is still due to answer bail next month after he was arrested by Greater Manchester police and held on suspicion of obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception, and criminal damage caused by hiding a camera in a police vest...." Blunkett calls secret police film 'justified' Guardian " Home secretary apologises for having called BBC exposé a stunt.."
Oct 23 ~ " According to Mr Blunkett, sounding like an irate Alastair Campbell over the infamous Iraq dossier, this was yet another case of the BBC trying "to create, not report" a story. As for the police themselves, their first reaction was to arrest the intrepid reporter and charge him - ludicrously - with "obtaining a pecuniary advantage by deception".
This would be the stuff of soap opera were it not so serious. Fortunately, by yesterday the penny had dropped: there really is a dangerous undercurrent of racism among some young police recruits. Five police officers have resigned as a result of the programme and three more have been suspended. Cue a sudden rush of feet being removed from mouths. ..." The Scotsman
Oct 21 ~" Free trade is fine, as long as it affects someone else's job." George Monbiot (Guardian) on the historical irony that Indian workers can outcompete British workers today because Britain smashed their ability to compete in the past. " Having destroyed India's own industries, the East India Company and the colonial authorities obliged its people to speak our language, adopt our working practices and surrender their labour to multinational corporations. ......
...at least 30,000 executive positions in Britain's finance and insurance industries are likely to be transferred to India over the next five years.... the US will lose 3.3 million white-collar jobs between now and 2015. Most of them will go to India.
Just over half of these are menial "back office" jobs, such as taking calls and typing up data. The rest belong to managers, accountants, underwriters, computer programmers, IT consultants, biotechnicians, architects, designers and corporate lawyers. For the first time in history, the professional classes of Britain and America find themselves in direct competition with the professional classes of another nation. Over the next few years, we can expect to encounter a lot less enthusiasm for free trade and globalisation in the parties and the newspapers which represent them. Free trade is fine, as long as it affects someone else's job.
For centuries, we have permitted ourselves to ignore the extent to which our welfare is dependent on the denial of other people's. We begin to understand the implications of the system we have created only when it turns against ourselves.
Oct 21 ~ "part of a disturbing Union-wide erosion of privacy since September 11 2001"
Liberty groups attack plan for EU health ID card
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard Telegraph
"The European Union took its first step yesterday towards the creation of an EU-wide health identity card able to store a range of biometric and personal data on a microchip by 2008. Approved by Union ministers in Luxembourg, the plastic disk will slide into the credit-card pouch of a wallet or purse.
... civil liberties groups said it was the start of a scheme for a harmonised data chip that would quickly evolve into an EU "identity card" containing intrusive information of all kinds that could be read by a computer.
Tony Bunyan, the head of Statewatch, said it was part of a disturbing Union-wide erosion of privacy since September 11 2001. "We all know where they're heading with this," he said. "They want a single card with all our data on one chip. It'll be a passport and driver's licence rolled into one with everything from our national insurance numbers, bank accounts, to health records."
Oct 21 ~ "The centralisation of power towards Number 10, and consequent lessening of Cabinet power and responsibility, has been a growing feature of British politics since 1979.. ...and it has led to the visible ageing of Mr Blair and John Major, although admittedly it only ever seemed to rejuvenate Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps it is the workload itself that needs to be reassessed in the light of the Prime Minister's irregular heartbeat, rather than just the breakneck speed at which he undertakes it.
A century or so ago, when Britain ruled one fifth of the globe, prime ministers such as Disraeli, Gladstone and Lord Salisbury could take every weekend off, go on six-week foreign holidays in the summer and devote significant amounts of time to entirely non-political pursuits such as novel-writing, tree-felling or chemistry experiments. Their ministries did not noticeably suffer in any way as a result. Today, shorn of their imperial responsibilities, prime ministers none the less work so hard that their hair falls out, they age 16 years in only six, and they wind up in Hammersmith Hospital under general anaesthetic being given electric-shock treatment. In politics, Tony Blair needs to learn, faster is not always better. "
Telegraph An irregular heartbeat is Blair's ticket out of Number 10
Oct 20 ~ The European Union's anti-fraud office has confirmed allegations of fraud and financial mismanagement at the EU body that represents local and regional authorities Financial Times "According to people familiar with the confidential report in which the allegations were confirmed, fraud investigators at Olaf found evidence that some members of the 222-strong Committee of the Regions had made false declarations to claim allowances and expenses they were not entitled to.
They also found "systematic and flagrant incompetence within the committee" and evidence a private company had received contracts from through manipulated bidding procedures.
Chris Heaton-Harris, a British Conservative member of the European parliament (MEP), who has read the report, on Sunday cited a passage from the document accusing the body of an "endemic culture of unprofessionalism and improvisation" where opacity was preferred to openness...."
Oct 19 ~ So, just as over Iraq, inertia and a desperate desire to prove the Prime Minister right and avoid offending George Bush threaten seriously to damage the vital interests of the British people. It is time to decide where the true priorities lie. From the article by Geoffrey Lean Focus: No support from the public. No evidence. No case for GM in the Independent on Sunday.
There have been striking similarities between the way the Government has handled the unfolding Iraq crisis and the controversy over genetically modified crops. In each case deeply unpopular policies have been zealously pursued by Tony Blair. The difference between GM and Iraq is that, following last week's unfavourable verdict on the GM crop trials, the truth has emerged before major damage has been done...."
Oct 16 ~ the European Commission's framework directive on the retention of communications data is in itself unlawful... The government plans to widen the list of authorities which can demand access to phone, Internet and email records to the extent that it will be quite difficult to identify the bodies that don't have the authority to obtain data on us without the aid of a court order.
Two articles on the "snoopers' charter" UK 'snoopers charter' claimed to break EU law and
Government trying to slip through "voluntary" data retention rejected by consultation process
"According to the opinion, comissioned by Privacy International from law firm Covington & Burling, the European Commission's framework directive on the retention of communications data is in itself unlawful, which means that any state in the process of actually implementing it may have to think again.
In the UK, this could add another chapter to the tortuous and - so far - unfortunate history of the 'snooper's charter, which is currently before Parliament as a series of Statutory Instruments..."
Oct 16 ~ Queen raises fears over EU constitution Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent of the Telegraph "....... Her worries came to light as Tony Blair prepared for an EU summit today in Brussels, where European leaders will begin final negotiations on the text of a new EU treaty.
As the head of state, the Queen sees weekly briefing papers from Government departments, including the Foreign Office, which has helped negotiate a draft text of the constitution with Britain's EU partners.
She also holds a weekly audience with the Prime Minister at which she can raise issues that worry her. But sources say that the Palace has started to throw the net wider and has sought expert independent and critical views about the EU's plans.
It is believed that the Palace's concerns focus on whether the Queen's supreme authority as the guardian of the British constitution, asserted through the sovereignty of Parliament, could be altered or undermined by article 10 of the draft text.
This states: "The constitution and law adopted by the union's institutions in exercising competences conferred on it shall have primacy over the law of the member states."
Many MPs say that this will rob the House of Commons of its ultimate authority to override decisions and laws made by the EU.
Last night Downing Street refused to comment on the Palace's request for more information about the constitution. But Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, said: "It is wonderful that at last the Palace has got wise to this."
Oct 16 ~ New 'snooper's charter' faces legal challenge Philip Johnston in the Telegraph "....
New regulations will give more than 24 state bodies and hundreds of local government officials the power to demand personal communications details, though not the content, of messages and calls.
Organisations ranging from the Environment Agency and the Information Commission to the Gaming Board and Food Standards Agency will be able to obtain the information.
Others with the powers include NHS trusts, the Financial Services Authority, the Royal Mail and more than 450 local authorities.
But Privacy International said .....
"Under the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, such a disproportionate interference in the private lives of individuals cannot be said to be necessary in a democratic society," it adds.
"The Government's plans are illegal. We are calling on all communications providers to support their customers' rights by ignoring the Government's proposals."
Oct 13 ~"Plans to introduce identity cards for every citizen in Britain have been shelved after protests from ministers who argued that they were "flawed" and would spark a political backlash.
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had been pushing for a Bill introducing ID cards to be included in next month's Queen's Speech, but Downing Street has abandoned that plan in the face of objections from cabinet ministers...The backdown will delight civil liberties groups...." Independent
Oct 13 ~ The language of globalisation is all about democracy, free trade and sharing the benefits of technological advance. The reality is about rule by elites, mercantilism and selfishness. Guardian article pointing out " what it is like to be on the receiving end of the west's determination to shape globalisation to its own ends."
Oct 12 ~ Mr Blunkett's 'entitlement' card would be ineffective against terrorism. David Blunkett wants each of us to carry a card with fingerprint and other personal data to stop those who have no entitlement using public services (he means illegal immigrants). But the Home Secretary knows that it is already easy to do this. Everyone has unique NHS and national insurance numbers. Birth certificates, driving licences, passports also provide means of proving who we are. All can be forged, of course. But so, too, can compulsory ID cards.
Nor is there any proof that such cards would make us more secure. In the US, which continues to resist an ID system, the 11 September terrorists were well known to the US authorities. The missing information was not who they were, but what they were up to. ID cards would not have prevented the tragedy. Nor would they here. As we reveal today, Mr Blunkett's 'entitlement' card would be ineffective against terrorism. Observer Leader.
See also "Ministers to dump 'useless' identity card"
Oct 12 ~ "The potential for a large-scale debacle which harms the Government is great"
The Sunday Times has published the letters from Paul Boateng to David Blunkett and from Jack Straw to David Blunkett about the "entitlement cards".
Oct 12 ~ "They would have to defend every surrender of power already made - mainly by Conservative governments - while trying to insist that the constitution is something quite different" Booker's Notebookin the Sunday Telegraph "...
If the Tories get the referendum that they are calling for, they may well be paid out for their efforts to narrow down the debate over "Europe". With Tony Blair, the Lib Dems and the "Tory big beasts", such as Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine, all lined up in favour of a "Yes" vote, Iain Duncan Smith and Ancram would find themselves on the back foot, having to defend an absurdly inconsistent position. They are so keen to insist that Britain must remain in the EU that they will not dare to raise any of the larger issues concerning the extent to which the EU has become the government of this country. They would have to defend every surrender of power already made - mainly by Conservative governments - while trying to insist that the constitution is something quite different; and that, even if Britain did vote "No", we would remain members of a club whose rules we had rejected.
No wonder Mr Blair looks forward to the moment when he can give the Tories the referendum they want, because he thinks that, without any alternative strategy, they can be made to look weak and foolish. Which is why he also thinks that, unlike a referendum on the euro, this is one he could win."
Oct 11 ~" technocratic and bureaucratic, and that's why there is a complete failure of public sector reform" Guardian "Mowlam says that Blair runs the cabinet as if it were a law firm, patrician, hierarchical and clubby: The cabinet was a pretty hollow being, and if you were a crony, you got listened to. If you weren't, you didn't." Short has condemned the "virtual collapse" of cabinet government, and sees the whips' bullying and bribery of parliament as the antithesis of modern management based on shared values, motivation and capacity-building. "That's when you get the beautiful things," she says. "They don't understand that, and that's why it is technocratic and bureaucratic, and that's why there is a complete failure of public sector reform."
Oct 11 ~ "Britain's treatment of the Chagossians is a national disgrace. Their struggle will continue, through the US courts. Meanwhile, we might honour the Chagossians if only by laughing whenever Tony Blair professes his support for human rights."
See Mark Curtis' article in yesterday's Guardian
Britain is putting US interests on Diego Garcia above the right of Chagossians to return to their islands
Oct 11 ~ The business community is interested in control plausibly masquerading as 'democracy' From Medialens Alert Oct 10
"...If we pose the question, 'Are Telegraph journalists free to criticise big business domination of society?' we are asking the question in relation to a paper which is precisely restructuring itself to +accommodate+ big business domination of society. The point being that the question is equally absurd for +all+ newspapers that are 75% dependent on advertising - including the much-vaunted, but in fact illusory, defenders of democracy like the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent.
....The business community is interested in control plausibly masquerading as 'democracy', not in transparent trampling of popular feeling and political protocol in a way that threatens to wake the slumbering giant of public opinion. The 2 million march in London on February 15, although casually dismissed as ineffectual by the media, will undoubtedly have rung serious alarm bells among the powers that be.
For the people who would keep us in tranquillised 'buying mode', a "crisis of democracy" of this kind - that is, an outbreak of +real+ democracy - is exactly what they fear most. ..." (read in full)
Oct 11 ~ "...Never mind the plot. Disbelief is totally suspended. Bravo! Encore!
" Yesterday's Scotsman "....
We have had three weeks of politics as melodramatic opera. Party leaders have been turned into lachrymose Italian tenors. Each turn on the carefully lit stage has followed form: big gesture arias and reprise, followed by storm of applause from an audience converted into one huge baying claque. All that Tony Blair and Iain Duncan Smith needed to round off their showstopper performances were cries of "Encore" and the big Pavarotti handkerchief to mop the glistening brow and wave triumphantly to the Upper Circle. Never mind the plot. Disbelief is totally suspended. Bravo! Encore!......Yet this week some of the speeches by leading Conservatives did not even approach the Blair level of intellectual content. Theresa May, the party chairman, held forth in short, primary-school-teacher sentences and revealed utterly nothing by way of idea or analysis. More could have gleaned by interviewing her shoes. This deficiency was made good in some measure yesterday, but in a speech marred by slow, self-conscious, hammed-up delivery.
And how telling that both the Duncan Smith and Blair speeches were full of "I'm in charge" declarations and calls for total loyalty: the Führerprincip in essence. "
Oct 10 ~ "The powers to stop and search people and vehicles under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 may be exercised "whether or not the constable has grounds for suspecting the presence of articles of that kind"..." Joshua Rosenberg, Legal Editor of the Telegraph "...a draconian power and so you have this supposed safeguard of authorisation by a senior police officer and endorsement by the Home Secretary."
In fact, authorisation has been granted across the whole of London for the past two-and-a-half years on what she describes as a "rolling" basis.
Scotland Yard, which is reviewing the situation, insists that each 28-day extension has been considered on its own merits - though the effect is no different.
This fact would not have emerged if the police had not used their anti-terrorism powers to stop and search demonstrators on their way to protest at an arms fair in Docklands last month.
Anyone stopped under the Terrorism Act is entitled to a written statement from the police referring to the legislation. Those statements enabled Liberty to launch a legal challenge against Scotland Yard and the Home Secretary, arguing that the powers had been used unlawfully.
After a hearing in the High Court last week, judgment was reserved by Lord Justice Brooke and Mr Justice Maurice Kay, who will clearly not be influenced by anything I write here.
But whatever the outcome of the case, Miss Chakrabarti believes that the litigation has already had a beneficial effect. Without it, the extent of police powers would never have become known...."
Oct 10 ~ Iranian lawyer Ebadi wins Nobel Peace Prize
"OSLO (Reuters) - Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi has won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in defending human rights and promoting democracy.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Ebadi, Iran's first woman judge before the Islamic revolution forced her to step down, for work focused on the rights of women and children.
She won from a record field of 165 candidates including Pope John Paul and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.
The Nobel prize is worth 10 million Swedish crowns and will be handed out in Oslo on December 10. Ebadi is only the 11th woman to win since the prize was set up in 1901."
Oct 10 ~ there will be nothing independent about independent television. Guardian comment by John O'Farrell "...Whoever takes advantage of the government's recent decision to lift the ban on non-EU ownership of ITV, there will be nothing independent about independent television. Just when we thought Blind Date had been axed, it returns for a one-off special in a brand new format. The head of ITV will sit there on the stool nervously seeking reassurances from these prospective partners, while on the other side of the screen the three predators will be all sweet talk and promises, even though they're obviously only interested in one thing. Except, of course, in this version it's the viewer who gets screwed."
Oct 10 ~ Whistleblower to face tribunal
"A Green councillor who blew the whistle on a secret council deal to give a rates holiday to British Energy is to face a tribunal at which she will be charged with breaching a local government code of conduct......John Whitelegg, the Greens' leader in the north-west, denounced the code for denying councillors a conscience. "
Oct 8 ~ the dream turned to a nightmare when the processing plant at Boyton got bogged down in bureaucracy Western Morning News tells the story of how a " businessman's dream, built on a "bright idea" from Brussels, turned to a nightmare as the fledgling flax industry turned into a disaster. A £1.4 million subsidy fraud trial at Exeter Crown Court heard that a lot of people who invested in flax schemes went to the wall and others were still going under."
Oct 7 ~ ITV merger rings alarm bells at BBC Guardian "...The prospect of a US-owned ITV has caused unease among the British broadcasters, who fear wholesale cost-cutting and the imposition of bland global TV formats. Old-guard regulators and some of the most senior executives in commercial TV and the BBC are resigned that this is the beginning of the end of ITV as a public service broadcaster with an obligation to show arts, regional and religious programming. .....The Guardian has learned that Mr Dyke's animosity towards the Labour administration is such that he has joked of setting up a rival "splinter party". Some associates say he believes government policies could ruin broadcasting.
This is a long way from the Greg Dyke of 1994. ....While Mr Dyke has never sought political favours, he now thinks Mr Blair and Alastair Campbell have traduced him beyond the call of political duty. ..
One of his associates told the Guardian: "He treats those who surround Tony and Cherie with contempt. He feels the same as all liberal Labour party supporters over the Hutton inquiry, which has shown how much Campbell and others were out to get the BBC, and how they ratcheted up the Gilligan affair into a cause célèbre. His anger is real and heavy."
Mr Dyke has kept his concerns largely private. But two weeks ago, at the Royal Television Society's biennial convention in Cambridge, he accused a "small coterie in Downing Street" of forcing through the relaxation of media ownership laws. It was "bullshit", he said, to claim that US companies would bring greater investment to British TV. ..."
Oct 6 ~ Behind the government's war of words with the BBC are serious threats to its licence, fees and independence"... A new Blair-brokered regulatory commission is committed to the New Labour vision of more and more privatization in the media.
......As US media watcher Joe Conason put it last week, "this campaign aims to intimidate the BBC's management from broadcasting anything that might offend reactionary sensibilities; but its ultimate goal is the crippling, or even the abolition, of the BBC itself…. And while British broadcasting is structurally (and qualitatively) very different from its US counterpart, the conservative agenda in both countries is identical: to stigmatize dissent and to dominate discourse." Britain Faces U.S. Media Invasion
Oct 5 ~".. the uniquely dutiful way in which British governments have obeyed Brussels's rules" Booker's Notebook today contains the usual heartbreaking list of examples of this. One is the destruction of Appledore shipyard because of Brussels's rules to reduce shipyard capacity by drastic cutbacks on state aid at the very time when other European shipyards are being saved: "...Brussels has just approved the French government's £2 billion bail-out of Alstom, the firm that recently launched the QM2, the world's largest liner. Another subsidised French firm is to be given a big share in the contract to build two aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy. Italian and Dutch shipbuilders, backed by their governments, use every kind of creative device to get round the rules on state aid.
Last year I reported another example of how the EC approved a hefty subsidy to an east German shipbuilder, Mecklenburger Metallguss, which enabled it to undercut Stone Manganese, the Birkenhead company that has built the propellers for almost every famous British ship of the past century....
. Last week, Amicus and GMB, the unions fighting the Appledore closure, insisted it was time our government learned from other EU countries how to work the system in looking after our national interest. Meanwhile, taxpayers will have to foot the bill for keeping Appledore's workforce on the dole."
Oct 4 ~ "We wanted Europe not to be written in the palaces of power or in the constitution, but in a democratic way with the people," said Francesco CarusoNot much reported in the UK press were the demonstrations and marches outside the European Union summit in Rome on Saturday. TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:
"Unions are concerned that some European governments seem to be moving away from the ideals of a social Europe towards one more concerned with the interests of big business."
Reuters "... Riot police in Rome used batons and teargas to beat back hundreds of anti-globalization protesters at a demonstration on Saturday during a meeting of European Union leaders.....The clashes came as thousands of demonstrators completed a march to protest against the EU constitution, which they say is too focused on free markets and capitalism and not enough on peace and understanding.
While organizers claimed as many as 100,000 people joined the rally, Pisanu said the figure was closer to 15,000.
Some 7,000 police officers were deployed to maintain security along the route of the 2-mile march and two helicopters hovered overhead monitoring the crowds
." (If Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu was right, does that not mean that one armed policeman was waiting for approximately every two demonstrators?)
Oct 4 ~ Like most people, I'd much rather slide into cynicism and despair. Just reach for another Budweiser and forget about it all." Guardian "Berlin in 1936 is a fairly good analogy for where Moore thinks America is at the moment. Not that he is comparing Bush to Hitler, but because he believes America's democracy is in peril, .... That's what I fear. It won't happen with a bang but with the whimpering sound of a frightened nation...
...Let's face it, almost every family has at least one rightwing reactionary of its very own... It's clear that they suffer from a unique pathology that is slowly driving them insane. They are, at their core, very, very afraid. They are afraid because, ultimately, they are ignorant. They haven't a clue what it's like to be black or hopelessly poor or wishing to kiss someone of their own gender. This basic ignorance leads to their overwhelming and permanent state of fear. The fear quickly manifests itself into hate, which eventually leads to a very dark place. They become consumed with a desire to actually harm others, if not by their own hands (they are usually too afraid to do it themselves), then by having the state act in their stead....
.."...Like most people, I'd much rather slide into cynicism and despair," he says, the laughter returning. "Just reach for another Budweiser and forget about it all. I am truly optimistic, because when people are given the information and given leaders who will truly lead and have the courage of their convictions, the majority will go with them. It's not a large majority, it's a slim majority. But it's a majority nonetheless." Read in full
Oct 3 ~ Tony Benn, who disagreed with almost everything in it told us he thought it was Blair's most authoritative speech. From James Naughtie's Today Programme update "....Blairites were in rapture, and by the evening it was the Prime Minister who was swanning around the parties (The Animals, believe it or not, were playing at the Northern MPs' bash) with a very wide grin, just as Gordon Brown had gone on a back-slapping tour the night before.
The episode was a typical conference affair. A few words.an atmosphere.a sense of the world stopping for a moment.At these times you sense that all the bustle of the conference managers, and the trade stands, and the hundreds of fringe meetings big and small slips into the background to reveal a political moment that will last, long after the stage set and the studios have been cleared away and taken north to Blackpool for the Tories. I can't know precisely what will emerge from the twin performances of Prime Minister and Chancellor, but I know - this isn't a hunch, it's knowledge - that they will have a difficult conversation or two in the weeks ahead...
...His speech achieved its political aims as a conference morale-booster, but of course the real test comes afterwards. Around the Cabinet table will they be able to put their troubles behind them? Lord Hutton still has to report, Iraq presents many difficulties, the question of trust still hangs heavy over them all. And when the Prime Minister talks of a great national consultation about the way forward, what exactly does he mean? We don't know. But this time, as he knows, he has to deliver....
Sept 30 ~"the stealthy privatisation of the NHS " George Monbiot in The patient is dying (Guardian)
The fate of an eye hospital in Oxford is symptomatic of the stealthy privatisation of the NHS
John Reid " insists that the private operators will provide cheaper services than the NHS, cut waiting lists and offer patients a choice of where and when they have their operations. All these claims have already turned out to be untrue. But they will succeed in destroying the last pretence that the health service is not being privatised...."
"... two of Oxfordshire's primary care trusts were incautious enough to have expressed an interest in a public (not private) DTC. That is all they did. But the Department of Health was desperate to find some primary care trusts that would accommodate the corporations. Like the Native Americans who had no idea that they were signing away their land, the trusts discovered that they had mysteriously consented to colonisation. In August, they wrote to the NHS to explain that a mistake had been made and ask that their presumed consent be withdrawn. "Detailed discussions have taken place with... the Department of Health at the highest level," a leaked response from the health service reveals. "We cannot accede to your request." ..."
Sept 30 ~national population register without any apparent need for new legislation or any public debate.. " Guardian The cabinet has secretly given the go-ahead to the chancellor, Gordon Brown, to set up Britain's first national population computer database that is the foundation stone for a compulsory identity card scheme.
The "citizen information register" is to bring together all the existing information held by the government on the 58 million people resident in Britain.
It will include their name, address, date of birth, sex, and a unique personal number to form a "more accurate and transparent" database than existing national insurance, tax, medical, passport, voter and driving licence records.
The project, which last night set alarm bells ringing among civil liberty campaigners, is believed to have been recently approved by the cabinet's public expenditure sub-committee.
The decision to give the go-ahead to the national population register without any apparent need for new legislation or any public debate is in sharp contrast to the intense cabinet debate now taking place over the home secretary, David Blunkett's, identity card scheme.
Mr Brown's backing for a national citizens' register also contrasts with the Treasury's reluctance to finance the proposed national identity card scheme. The Home Office has had to accept it will be funded through the private finance initiative with part of the cost raised by charging the public for the cards.
The plans for a citizen information register have not been announced and the only official reference was a brief mention to a feasibility study in the government's consultation paper on identity cards published last July.... "
Sept 30 ~ Liberty, the human rights organisation, raised the need for safeguards to protect personal privacy. "The government does seem to be determined to create some form of mass national database on us all, whether identity cards or this system. What on earth is the point? If you create a national database on 58 million people it will be guaranteed there will be numerous mistakes. What rights will the citizen have to check the information is right?" asked spokesman Barry Hugill.
He said the record of all recent governments on computer projects had been atrocious, and he wondered where a private company would be found with the capacity to manage such a database.
He also raised the question of abuse of access to the database by such as private detectives, debt collectors, or violent partners." Guardian
Sept 29 ~ By hook or by crook....Scots teenagers to be issued with ID cards Scotland on Sunday: "Every secondary school pupil in Scotland is to be issued with an ID card bearing his or her name, age and address, under a controversial government scheme branded last night as an assault on privacy.
The ‘entitlement cards' will be issued to 400,000 12 to 18-year-olds from March next year and will be used for a range of services including school meals and leisure centres.
But the scheme - which has already been piloted in Aberdeen - was condemned yesterday as a cynical ploy to introduce national identity cards for adults by the back door. ..."
Sept 28 ~ Secret plan to tag asylum-seekers
The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Securicor, which already has a contract to tag criminals, has met Home Office and Immigration Service officials to discuss controversial plans to fit electronic tags to immigrants.
Sept 28 ~ "..according to the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), barley straw - which is only widely used for this purpose in Britain - would have to be approved under the EU's biocidal products directive 98/8. He was horrified to discover that this would cost £120,000 for two years research, plus up to £65,000 more for the European Commission to evaluate the results. And even then, since the exact nature of the chemical process involved is a mystery, he might well not get the approval required.
Even Mr Pain's Lib Dem MP Mark Oaten describes this threat to a wholly safe, environmentally-friendly product as "bureaucracy gone mad". Mr Pain's local HSE inspector uses barley straw in his own pond. The only possible consequence of banning barley straw would be to force the Environment Agency, water companies and pond owners to replace it with toxic chemicals, to achieve the same purpose less effectively and much more dangerously..." Booker's Notebook today
Sept 27 ~ John Reid, the Health Secretary, has described Labour party traditionalists as "conservatives" who are stuck in the 1970s. Telegraph"....Tony Woodley, who takes over next month as leader of the TGWU, warned that Labour could suffer its "Doomsday" at the next election if the Government did not return to traditional values.
"This is not a case of being bloody-minded or awkward," he said. "For crying out loud: stop listening to big business and the rich and powerful and start listening to the supporters and activists whose efforts and help you need."
Sept 27 ~ the top ten reasons why Perfect Storm exceeded the already impressive levels of press complicity W. Lance Bennett is Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and the author of News: The Politics of Illusion. His article, Operation Perfect Storm: The Press and the Iraq War suggests the ten factors that created a propaganda storm Extract: "Intimidation of journalists and news organizations began within hours of the 9/11 catastrophe, achieved a well-tuned efficiency during the Afghanistan War, and continued through the Iraq War to discipline those who dared to raise questions..."
Sept 26 ~ why George W. Bush will almost certainly be the next president of the United States -- no matter what the people of the United States might want.
Global Eye- Vanishing Act
"....The American vote-count is controlled by three major corporate players -- Diebold, ES&S, and Sequoia -- with a fourth, Science Applications International Corporation, coming on strong. These companies -- all of them hardwired into the Bushist Party power grid -- have been given billions of dollars by the Bush Regime to complete a sweeping computerization of voting machines nationwide by the 2004 election. These glitch-riddled systems -- many using "touch-screen" technology that leaves no paper trail at all -- are almost laughably open to manipulation, according to corporate whistleblowers and computer scientists at Stanford, Johns Hopkins and other universities..
...The mad rush to install unverifiable computer voting is driven by the Help America Vote Act, signed by Bush last year. The chief lobbying group pushing for the act was a consortium of arms dealers -- those disinterested corporate citizens -- including Northop-Grumman and Lockheed-Martin. ."
See also Possible flaw triggers electronic voting concerns
Sept 26 ~ Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, last night fought off calls for the resignation of a European Commissioner over an EU fraud scandal, as MEPs backed off immediate demands for a scalp. Independent
Investigations showed how the Luxembourg-based agency acted as a law unto itself, raising and spending money outside the control of EU accountants. Around €5m (£3.5m) is unaccounted for.
One document argued that the commission is "ill-equipped to protect itself" from a repeat of extraordinary goings on at Eurostat, which colluded with private firms to create bogus or inflated contracts.
Addressing senior Euro-MPs yesterday, Mr Prodi emphasised that the vast bulk of financial irregularities took place before the current European Commission came into office late in 1999, and "would have very little chance of occurring now". ......
....senior MEPs showed little appetite yesterday for seeing a head roll immediately.
... there are question marks over the treatment of warnings given to the commission by whistleblowers, and suggestions that Mr Solbes's cabinet were informed of suspicions about Eurostat.
...... "Mr Kinnock told us this would be the best administration in the world - that has totally collapsed"
Sept 26 ~ "Lord Hutton has extracted from the 'Executive' more paperwork surrounding a matter in the public eye than any number of select committees staffed by the very people we elect to hold governments to account." said Jon Snow yesterday in his Channel 4 news update.
"This may be an investigation into why Britain's top expert on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction killed himself. In reality it has also proved to be a revelation that goes to the very heart of the way in which this country is governed in the 21st century. At times it has been simply interesting, at other times horrifying, and at all times fascinating."
Sept 25 ~"Number-crunchers defrauded EU to fund holidays and their own volleyball team" Guardian "Euro-MPs called for heads to roll last night after investigators found that millions of euros had been diverted into slush funds by the European Union's statistics office, Eurostat. Repeated warnings by whistleblowers were ignored...."
Sept 25 ~ "Legislation in the Queen's speech is expected to establish a system for giving all 11million children in England a unique identifying number attached to an electronic file of personal information
Guardian "Ministers are preparing legislation for the next session of parliament to make local authorities create files on every child in England, including intimate personal information about parents' relationships with other partners and any criminal record, alcohol or drug abuse in the extended family."
Surely few, in these days of deep suspicion of government centralisation, can be impressed by the "entitlement" argument. See below "he had every reason to suspect the encroachment of the State into everyday lives. The apparatus of Nazi repression depended on knowing who and where every citizen was "
Sept 24 ~ "I wish my father were still alive. He, who came to Britain at the age of 12, was a fantastic admirer of its traditions of liberty. He used to lecture us on how lucky we were to live in such a free country, and how suspicious we should be of any attempt by the State to curtail our liberties.
As a refugee from Nazi Austria, he had every reason to suspect the encroachment of the State into everyday lives. The apparatus of Nazi repression depended on knowing who and where every citizen was ..." The Times article by Mary Ann Sieghart who says, "The whole idea of identity cards is illiberal, coercive, cumbersome and extraordinarily expensive. What is more, it won't even work. The
cost -- up to £3 billion -- is more than the entire NHS capital budget
for 2003-04. I bet you can think of better ways to spend that money.
I know I can. "
Sept 23 ~ " The idea that you or I should be able to walk free and anonymous beneath the sky, snapping "None of your business!" when the State asks our name is, to Mr Blunkett, an idea whose time has passed. Modern reality is just not like that. We are all hemmed in by checks and identification documents now: we can't drive or leave the country, get a job or an education or open a savings account without some plasticised document coming into play. Respectable old ladies are finding that after 40 years' loyalty to their bank they are suddenly required to turn up with three separate forms of identification in case they are moneylaundering crack dealers. .
...The trouble is that our whole relationship with the State is symbolised by this card argument: and right now, the efficiency of the State does not command great confidence. It is not so much Big Brother as Idiot Brother-in-Law: an irritating stumblebum for ever having to be bailed out. It visibly wastes money, it fires off half-baked initiatives, it builds Domes, it fails to police urban jungles and rural areas properly, it plans to sign up to a foreign constitution without asking us and it devotes more attention to banning footling minority sports than to ensuring that children in care get educated. Offered an "entitlement card" for 40 quid we would be justified in saying: "Stick it, we're already entitled, we pay our taxes."
.... " Libby Purves in the Times
Sept 23 ~
Blunkett's identity crisis
"The Home Secretary admitted on Sunday that he "does not have a clue" how many illegal immigrants are living in Britain; and then, bizarrely, offered this as an argument in favour of spending £3 billion on a national identity card scheme for which these happy invisibles, presumably, are expected to volunteer. Some will say this is shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. They are wrong. This is to propose the construction of a brand new stable in the hope that, when you open the door, you will miraculously find some horses inside."
Sept 22 ~ perfect copies of ID
cards on sale A speaker in a radio station debate on ID cards last night said that in Nigeria, perfect copies of ID
cards were on sale in Lagos weeks before the real ones had begun dropping
through letter boxes.
The speakers in favour of the scheme were unable to answer the often fierce
questioning from the callers about how retina eye scans could be made
secure against forgery. Although excited by the technology, they clearly didn't understand it at all.
Sept 21 ~ ID cards. Blunkett carries on regardless
David Blunkett's flagship identity card plan, in spite of failing to win Cabinet backing for legislation in the next session of Parliament, is going to be included in the Queen's Speech.
It is the first compulsory scheme since wartime identity documents were scrapped 50 years ago.
The cost is estimated at £3 billion while the practical difficulties of putting 50 million people on to a "population database" is mind-boggling.
Sept 21 ~ New law will curb asylum appeal rights Observer
"Blair admits MPs 'will not like' legislation ...The proposals, which will be included in the Queen's Speech in November, are part of a government drive to 'kill the issue' of asylum before the next general election, expected in 2005."
Imran Hussain of the Refugee Council.
"said the appeals process was lengthy because many Home Office decisions to reject asylum applications turned out to be wrong. He said recent figures revealed that of the appeal cases sent to the asylum adjudicator, 21 per cent were upheld.
'If any other Government department had a failure rate of one in five that would be a significant cause for concern; and here you are often dealing with matters of life and death.'
Sept 21 ~ Reality hits EU recruits
Booker's Notebook "After a multi-million-pound propaganda blitz by Brussels, almost all the countries applying for EU membership have now voted in favour. Already stories are coming in, however, of how their peoples are waking up to the extent to which, after being told of all the benefits of life in the EU, they were hoodwinked as to its realities.
In Malta, much anger has greeted the discovery that a secret condition of entry will be a drastic reduction in one of the island's biggest economic concerns, the building and repairing of ships in its famous dockyard. The government omitted to mention during the referendum campaign that Brussels was insisting that itbe severely scaled down because of an "excess of dockyard capacity" elsewhere in the EU.
Hungarians were shocked last week to hear of the closure of one of their most successful export businesses. On Friday, 70 employees of a company selling hand-made Kashkaval sheep's cheese to the Middle East were given their cards because David Byrne's Sanco officials had ruled the process was not sufficiently mechanised, and it would cost more than the firm could afford to buy the necessary machinery.
Sept 21 ~ Victory for Nelson
Booker's Notebook "Last April I reported on a remarkable battle by a mixed English and Asian community in the Lancashire town of Nelson to save 400 stone-built terraced homes from being bulldozed to make way for a vast council redevelopment scheme. Despite John Prescott's efforts to overrule their wishes, the brave ministry inspector came up with a second report, even more trenchant than his first.
Last Thursday the mass-clearance order was withdrawn. Thus ended an admirable campaign. What is vital now is that those residents are properly consulted as to how their cruelly blighted area can be put back on its feet again."
Sept 19 ~ Was Campbell cleared? The Telegraph's LondonSpy takes up the story again today.
"Did Alastair Campbell receive sufficient security clearance for his role in the run-up to the war in Iraq? Spy first posed the question more than a fortnight ago, but - despite numerous parliamentary questions - the Prime Minister is still refusing to give an unequivocal answer."
(See warmwell's concern on this issue below)
Sept 19 ~ People power in East Coker Western Morning News: .More than 80 per cent of residents of the tiny village of East Coker have made use of a rarely used right to hold a "parish-poll".
and taken part in a unique referendum "It's important to do everything in our power to fight for our communities and not just for ourselves but for the sake of future generations."
"The referendum, the results of which will be known today was implemented by East Coker Parish Council in an attempt to stop a potential change of use to several hundred acres of top grade agricultural land just north of the village. ..."
Sept 19 ~ "...a plan, imposed by a single party from above, to drive out some of the hardest-working peers in the House." Telegraph Rigging the Lords
"... It is not as if the British constitution has been without need of reform since Labour came to power, and started tinkering with it. The need is becoming desperate. Bills are no longer scrutinised properly. The West Lothian Question still remains unanswered. No thought has been given to the proper place in the constitution for referenda, or to how peers might be induced to play a more active role at Westminster (Labour appointees have been among the most conspicuous absentees), or why we need more than 650 MPs.
The issues dealt with by this website (and we do not include hunting since its discussion has no place here) have received proper government consideration only by select committees and - especially - the House of Lords. We have particular reason to be profoundly grateful for the high level of debate, intelligent grasp and light touch with which the peers, including many hereditary peers, have been a much needed check on Mr Blair's juggernaut. The Labour MPs may well be privately simmering about things -but they generally keep sycophantically quiet. The Lords do not. They get informed and most speeches we have heard have reassured us that there are still people in parliament with intellect and integrity. How very much we agree with the Telegraph article when we read,
All these questions are matters for both Houses and every party to discuss co-operatively. Instead, the best that the Government has been able to come up with is a plan, imposed by a single party from above, to drive out some of the hardest-working peers in the House..."
"most revealing of all about the new proposals is that they are concerned solely with the composition of the Lords and the way in which its members are chosen. They do not even touch on the powers of the House or the balance of the constitution. The questions of how to make the Lords more effective, and how to make its functions fit in with those of a reformed House of Commons, are left unasked."( Simon Hoggart explained the West Lothian question in The Guardian Nov 7 2001)
Sept 18 ~"the necessary level of security vetting..."As we reported yesterday, evasive answers continue to cast doubt on whether Mr Campbell was subject to appropriate vetting procedures
On the 16th July 2003: "Developed Vetting" is required for high level intelligence
( HM Government's statement of vetting policy, as announced to
the House on 15 December 1994) but, oddly, no question has yet elicited a clear answer on whether Mr Campbell was ever thus vetted.
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Prime Minister to what level of clearance Mr. Alastair Campbell has been vetted for access to Joint Intelligence Committee material. 
The Prime Minister: Alastair Campbell has been cleared in the same way as other Downing street officials, whose roles may include seeing intelligence material.
8 September 2003
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 16 July to the hon. Member for New Forest, East ref. 126089, to what level of clearance Downing Street officials, whose roles may include seeing intelligence material, are vetted. 
The Prime Minister: All staff are subject to the necessary level of security vetting.
17th September 2003
Dr. Julian Lewis: To ask the Prime Minister pursuant to his answer of 8 September 2003, Official Report, column 18W, on Security Clearance, what further clearance is required for Downing street staff in order to see (a) secret and (b) top secret Joint Intelligence Committee material, once they have been positively vetted. 
The Prime Minister: The levels of security clearance that staff need in order to be granted access to classified material are those which apply across Government. They are set out in HM Government's statement of vetting policy, as announced to the House on 15 December 1994, Official Report, columns 764-66.
Sept 18 ~ "Critics immediately accused Blair of planning an emasculated second parliamentary chamber, packed with his cronies. " Reuters: Archer out as Blair axes hereditaries
"...During his first term in power, Blair threw out 90 percent of hereditary peers from the Lords, leaving a token number of aristocrats sitting alongside appointed members. He promised a second round of reform to make the chamber more democratically accountable but that has never materialised.
In the meantime, the Lords -- who can delay and amend but not throw out government legislation and where Blair has no majority -- has proved a constant thorn in the prime minister's side, forcing him to back down on various controversial policy plans.."
Sept 18 ~ National veto must go, says Prodi
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph
"The European Commission called yesterday for the abolition of the national veto in all constitutional matters.
The demand was in proposed changes to the draft European constitution unveiled yesterday by Romano Prodi, the commission's president, supposedly in the name of the entire body..... Mr Prodi said member states retained far too much power to block decisions. ...This opens the way for almost limitless erosion of sovereignty even if Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland were all united in adamant opposition.
...Mr Prodi also called for an end to the veto in remaining policy areas, citing taxation, public health and even the fight against bio-terrorism...
"This is simply ludicrous," said one EU diplomat. "The French wouldn't dream of accepting these plans, or any other state, because it means they could be out-voted on their core concerns."
Sept 17 ~ Was Alastair Campbell ever properly vetted? If not "...he was seeing intelligence that he was not cleared to see, including the proceedings of the JIC, which is about as high level as you can possibly get.."On Sept 2 we reported the Telegraph column "London Spy" that quotes Sir John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph's Defence Editor:
".......It is certainly rumoured that Campbell was never properly vetted. If so, he was seeing intelligence that he was not cleared to see, including the proceedings of the JIC, which is about as high level as you can possibly get."
On the 15th of September, Peter Ainsworth asked the Prime Minister a Parliamentary Question http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmhansrd/cm030915/text/30915w17.htm#30915w17.html_wqn1
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Prime Minister whether Mr. Alastair Campbell was the subject of the developed vetting procedure. 
Earlier, in an answer to a PQ by Dr Julian Lewis, Geoff Hoon said:
The Prime Minister: Information relating to personnel records, including those relating to recruitment, promotion and security vetting, are not disclosed under part 2, exemption 8 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
"The levels of security clearance that Ministry of Defence officials need in order to be granted access to classified material are those which apply across Government. They are set out in HM Government's statement of vetting policy, as announced to the House on 15 December 1994, Official Report, columns 764 - 66W. "
This statement, referred to by Mr Hoon, says, "Individuals employed on government work who have long term, frequent and uncontrolled access to TOP SECRET information or assets, will be submitted to the level of vetting clearance known as Developed Vetting (DV)."
If Mr Campbell had been subject to developed vetting, why should Mr Blair not have said so, rather than dodge the question as he did?
Sept 16 ~"it is hard to find anyone in Europe not employed by or not beholden to the big corporations who sees Lamy's negotiating position as either desirable or just." George Monbiot today in the Guardian
"...Several European governments, recognising that it threatened the talks and the trade organisation itself, slowly distanced themselves from his position. To many people's surprise, they included Britain. Though Pascal Lamy is by no means the only powerful man in Europe who is obsessed with the rights of corporations, his behaviour appears to confirm the most lurid of the tabloid scare stories about Eurocrats running out of control.
But while this man has inflicted lasting damage to Europe's global reputation, he may not have succeeded in destroying the hopes of the poorer nations. For something else is now beginning to shake itself awake. The developing countries, for the first time in some 20 years, are beginning to unite and to move as a body. ..." Read article
Sept 16 ~"The euro will only be a friend to big business - as the progressive Swedes have clearly understood"
Caroline Lucas MEP writing today in
"The rejection of the euro by Swedish voters should give both sides of the debate in Britain pause for thought. The Swedish no camp won not on the basis of nationalist or conservative arguments, but a compelling case on the economics and politics of the decision - while the yes campaign lost in spite of the support of big business, the mainstream political parties and all major media outlets. Give voters the respect of a mature political debate, it seems, and they will turn out and make their minds up for themselves. ..
... European monetary union will not serve the interests of progressive internationalists, equity, social justice or democracy. It won't serve the interests of environmental protection, either, as power transfers to exactly those corporations whose activities environmentalists would like to see regulated further. So whose interests does it serve? A glance at the history of monetary union points to one answer above all: the euro benefits corporate interests, and especially those corporations operating across Europe's borders, rather than those of wider society. ..
" (Read in full)
Caroline Lucas' website is http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/
Sept 15 ~ Sweden says No " The rejection is more than a matter of economics. The euro is the European Union's most powerful tool to deepen European integration. By saying "no" Swedes are flying the flag of national sovereignty against the vision of an "ever-closer union" of European states." Radio Free Europe
Sept 15 ~ "...the EU is so divided over Iraq that the subject cannot even be discussed at summits of EU leaders.
Why is Europe so feeble? Why can't Brussels pull the skin off a rice pudding? The answer is that Europe is not a natural political unit. As Delors was to discover, the people of Europe do not vote as one, think as one, or speak as one....
The Iraq war not only undermines the case for Euro-federalism; it is also, paradoxically, a recruiting sergeant for Europeanism.
Already, in Brussels, the kindly and charming bureaucrats are no doubt pushing aside their moules-frites and doodling new plans on their napkins. Indeed, as I write these words, they are preparing for a new constitution of Europe. And good Lord Tony Blair proposes that there should be a new "president of Europe", who should be, no doubt, a charismatic, glistering-toothed and straight sort of guy, with four children and an interest in rock music.
." Boris Johnson in the Telegraph
Sept 14 ~ "pure Goebbels.....In many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts." Dr Martin Weale, the director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research .Booker's Notebook today looks at the White Paper on the proposed EU constitution. On a page describing the benefits of EU membership to Britain, is the claim that "more than three million jobs" in Britain "depend on the EU".
"This pseudo-statistic first appeared in 2000 when Britain in Europe used a report by the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) to claim that, if Britain were not a member of the EU, 3.5 million jobs would disappear. Dr Martin Weale, the director of the NIESR, was so outraged by this misuse of his study that he called it "pure Goebbels", and said: "In many years of academic research I cannot recall such a wilful distortion of the facts."
His report had in fact concluded that almost all of these jobs would exist whether Britain were a member or not. This did not prevent Tony Blair, Robin Cook and others parroting the "three million jobs" claim ad nauseam, and the White Paper repeats this dishonesty just as if Dr Weale had never refuted it." Read more
Sept 11 ~ "It's what many warned might happen - the moment you introduce draconian anti-terrorist powers, they get used at the first opportunity. One is tempted to ask whether anyone inside the exhibition has ever been guilty of supplying arms to er, terrorists..no don't let's go there tonight...." Jon Snow's Chanel 4 news update yesterday.
Sept 11 ~ Blair faces aftermath of spin row over tough speech at dinner "I thought spin was supposed to have stopped with this new bloke"
The TUC Conference speech row...Ben Russell and Barrie Clement in the Independent:
This was a disastrous first outing for David Hill. ....
Before the meal, Matthew Doyle, a Labour Party press officer, had handed out the extracts to waiting reporters. One passage warned: "The idea of a left-wing Labour government as the alternative to a moderate and progressive one is the abiding delusion of 100 years of our party. We aren't going to fall for it again."
Derek Simpson, leader of the giant Amicus trade union, left the dinner for a pre-arranged interview, only to read with horror a copy of Mr Blair's prepared text. "It was slightly bizarre," he said.
......Mr Blair stood to give his speech...... the tone seemed to be far softer than the harsh words in the press release. Trade unionists were struck by the "evangelical" tenor of the Prime Minister, and were lulled by his jokes to give him what one general secretary called an "enthusiastically warm reception".
Some denied that the words "delusion" and "far left" had been uttered. Others agreed that they had, but believed the speech was markedly more conciliatory than the version given to the press.
Meanwhile, reporters hurriedly refiled. This time the headlines were of a Labour spin shambles. No 10 knew a carefully planned message to union leaders had gone awry.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, backed Downing Street yesterday, insisting Mr Blair had not toned down his message. He told Today on BBC Radio 4: "I think his messages were strongly put across and were actually rather well received by everybody who was at the dinner."
Yet when journalists waiting for union leaders to emerge from the banquet had asked Mr Barber if the Prime Minister's comments were as hard-line as the press release, he went off to consult his "spin doctor"'. He later came back and said that they were.
Bob Crow of the RMT said: "I thought spin was supposed to have stopped with this new bloke."
Sept 11 ~ We aren't the enemy within.The Independent: "...Dave Anderson, an official from Unison, said there was "massive opposition" to foundation hospitals in the labour movement. "We are opposed to reform that is not thought through and is destined to lead us back to the days of competition within our health service.
We aren't the enemy within. We are the people who kept the health service alive during 20 years of Tory rule, and we are the people who kept the Labour Party alive throughout the same period ......"
Sept 11 ~ "to the daily astonishment of the media and political establishment, Swedish people have been able to grasp enough economics - and they believe their intelligence is being insulted by a campaign full of slogans which are demonstrably untrue." Before the news of the stabbing of Swedish foreign minister Anna Lindh, an article from the Scotsman " Stockholm is currently plastered in examples. The "yes" posters outnumber the "no" by about ten to one, almost all with smiling political leaders asking questions such as: "Would you prefer an economy that grows, or one that does not?" Its mantras are identical to those of Britain's "yes" side. The euro will open the trade door to Europe, lifting economic growth and therefore creating more jobs. Best of all, prices will go down as one pricing system means more visibility. ......... The "no" campaign - such as it is - simply points to the rest of Europe. If price "visibility" is such a blessing, why have prices in Ireland soared by 22 per cent since it scrapped the punt? And in which eurozone country, exactly, have prices fallen? "
Analystsare now predicting a close race at the weekend as the sympathy vote kicks in.
Sept 10 ~ while fluoridation is neither effective nor safe, it continues to provide a convenient cover for many of the interests which stand to profit from the public being misinformed about fluoride.
The Absurdities of Water Fluoridation
Unfortunately, because government officials have put so much of their credibility on the line defending fluoridation, it will be very difficult for them to speak honestly and openly about the issue.
"..... the recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine (2000), Dr. Arvid Carlsson:
"I am quite convinced that water fluoridation, in a not-too-distant future, will be consigned to medical history...Water fluoridation goes against leading principles of pharmacotherapy, which is progressing from a stereotyped medication - of the type 1 tablet 3 times a day - to a much more individualized therapy as regards both dosage and selection of drugs. The addition of drugs to the drinking water means exactly the opposite of an individualized therapy."
As stated by Dr. Peter Mansfield, a physician from the UK and advisory board member of the recent government review of fluoridation (McDonagh et al 2000):
"No physician in his right senses would prescribe for a person he has never met, whose medical history he does not know, a substance which is intended to create bodily change, with the advice: 'Take as much as you like, but you will take it for the rest of your life because some children suffer from tooth decay. ' It is a preposterous notion."
Sept 10 ~ "Yesterday it was everybody's DNA to be kept, today it's every
child to have a file - we are having a central data base set up, on which we will all
eventually appear." An emailer writes: " As we know through PLASC and Connexions (see www.arch-ed.org ), every child in State Education
already has a centralised individual record. Also at the beginning of this
year (I think) it was announced that every child was issued with a number via
computer as soon as it was born (Not much different from the old system I know
but this is centralised).
I've skimmed through the summary available at:-
Children's green paper: summary (pdf) and it sounds like it's full of the empty rhetoric we have grown
used to from this government.
For the full Green Paper go to :- Children's green paper: Every Child Matters
(pdf) I am very suspicious that under the guise of the Victoria
Climbié case (which was simply down to deplorable inaction from the Social
Services) we are having a central data base set up, on which we will all
eventually appear.... "
Sept 10 ~ the world trade talks beginning in Cancun, Mexico - "two battles will be fought". George Monbiot's second article on trade The myth of localism (yesterday's Guardian) ".... there has seldom, if ever, been a trade treaty struck between rich and poor which does not amount to legalised theft. The draft agreement the members of the World Trade Organisation will discuss this week is no exception. While it permits the rich nations to continue protecting their markets, it seeks to force the poor nations to open their economies to several novel forms of institutional piracy.
...We have the opportunity to fight for something unprecedented: a trade treaty stacked against the rich. But if we are serious about campaigning for fair rules, we must also cease campaigning for unfair ones. The localists must confront their contradictions and decide whose side they are on. "
Sept 9 ~".. provisions in the criminal justice bill will allow the police to take DNA from anyone they arrest." The Guardian articleyesterday.
"There are fears that insurance companies might use DNA profiles to assess the genetic risks of policy holders.
The controversy over identity cards reappeared at the weekend when it was reported that the chancellor, Gordon Brown, and John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, had joined forces to oppose Mr Blunkett on the introduction of the cards.
Ministers have questioned the scheme's cost and its political acceptability. ..."
Sept 9 ~ "It would be a much better government if policy-making went back to the cabinet.." says Roy Hattersley in the Guardian on Monday. ".. Then last week's backstage changes really would merit as little attention as they got."
Sept 9 ~ "Some serious questions need to be asked about this Bill" - David Lidington is not keen on fluoridation
The Shadow DEFRA Minister, David Lidington, says,"Fluoridation is an important element of the Bill, and I feel serious unease
at the idea of giving the State the power to insist on putting medicines
into the water supply. The House of Lords has managed in the teeth of
Government resistance to change some parts of the Bill for the better. But
it remains a badly flawed piece of legislation.
"The Bill fails to provide a coherent strategy to address challenges facing
the industry and its customers. For all the talk about sustainable
development and joined up Government, water policy is still being decided
Sept 7 ~ Humphrys: 'Gag me and I quit' Observer today
"Veteran Today interviewer warns BBC as Hutton inquiry team begins to consider confidential list of witnesses for cross-examination
John Humphrys, the public voice of the BBC's flagship Today programme, last night warned that he will quit if the governors order him to 'go soft' on politicians in the wake of the Hutton inquiry. ..."
Sept 7 ~ Prescott and Brown move to block Blair's ID card plan
Brown and Francis Elliott in the Sunday Telegraph
"Tony Blair is facing a Cabinet revolt over the introduction of compulsory identity cards as senior ministers press him to tone down his radical agenda in the run-up to the next general election.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, are leading the Cabinet opposition to the cards.
They would cost individuals about £40 each and would be required before any of the benefits of the state could be obtained.
The ministers believe that the policy, which will cost an estimated £1.5 billion, will be difficult to implement and unpopular with voters. They are urging Mr Blair to focus instead on the delivery of steady improvements in public services."
Sept 2 ~ David Kelly was given the highest level security clearance in 2002 having been positively vetted.
"While one would assume that Alastair Campbell received the same treatment, you will find no one either to confirm or to deny it." Telegraph LondonSpy (link now correct. ... apologies)
".......It is certainly rumoured that Campbell was never properly vetted," says Sir John Keegan, The Daily Telegraph's Defence Editor. "If so, he was seeing intelligence that he was not cleared to see, including the proceedings of the JIC, which is about as high level as you can possibly get."
Sept 2 ~ "Blair bid to end culture of spin" - is a headline.... in the Evening Standard on Tuesday.
It makes no mention of the fact that David Hill was Neil Kinnock's former PR chief, and comes from a lobbying firm, Chime Communications, which advises the GM giant Monsanto as well as Nestle, Securicor and Coca Cola. Recent lobbying successes include convincing the Government to drop the ban on gambling with credit cards and helping Securicor to secure private contracts in the prison service. The article does however say
"Claims that Mr Mandelson, the former Ulster Secretary, will be given a big role influencing Labour strategy have been dismissed. But the ex-minister is said to be firmly back as an unofficial adviser to the Prime Minister."
Sept 1 ~ when you heard Campbell's words you distrusted Blair's voice. Rory Bremner in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday "... When the PM says "I believe it with every fibre of my being" we know he means it from the bottom of Campbell's script, and when you heard Campbell's words you distrusted Blair's voice. Blair is a very good actor, but he is now missing his playwright. Witness his speechlessness on being confronted with Dr Kelly's death. He couldn't even manage "He was the People's Scientist", though it seems clear that that is what Kelly was.
The PM has now lost the last of his Fedayeen. Campbell and Mandelson were in a sense his Qusay and Uday, twin symbols of the excesses of his regime. (Or perhaps Comical Ali is a better analogy.)
And what of Campbell's future? It will be a tremendous relief for him to know that if the Today programme infuriates him, he can now roll over and go back to sleep like the rest of us. With his wit and pugnacity, he's an absolute shoo-in to present Have I Got News For You.
In leaving, he said he wanted to get his "life back". It is a tragic irony for all concerned that that's one luxury Dr David Kelly does not have."
Aug 31 2003 ~ we should be talking about where those weapons of mass destruction are Independent on Sunday "....Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat chairman, accused Mr Campbell of engineering his departure to obscure more important issues.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "In his own departure Alastair Campbell has managed his greatest spin ever. When we should be talking about where those weapons of mass destruction are, about what is happening in Iraq where our soldiers are being killed and peace is a long way off, he has taken those headlines away and made himself again the major news story."
Aug 31 ~ The King of Spin is in charge of the death of spin Independent on Sunday "....The decision to appoint a new Permanent Secretary in charge of the entire government communications network will be part of an effort to end damaging publicity about the role of politically appointed "spin-doctors".
But one rumour causing grim amusement in Whitehall is that the brain behind the strategy is Peter Mandelson, the former Labour Party communications director who is credited with being the first of the new wave of spin-doctors when he worked for the party in the 1980s...."
Aug 31 ~ " this is a government in total paralysis. Despite being buttressed by a whopping parliamentary majority, it still cannot muster the strength to face the public on any issue of importance." Rod Liddle in the Spectator ".... The trust has gone and its support is swiftly ebbing away, as poll after poll demonstrates. The fact that the opposition appears torpid and ineffectual only underlines the gravity of the diagnosis.
Tony Blair should relinquish his premiership. It is not simply that he has lost the trust of the voters, his own party activists and increasingly large sections of the parliamentary Labour party, and is regarded with luminous contempt by such dispossessed ministers as Robin Cook, Clare Short, Peter Kilfoyle and Glenda Jackson. It is that he can no longer do his job properly, and that the protective cabal around him has shrunk with such rapidity that he has nowhere to turn for succour and support.
And the things which have brought about this situation -- culminating the Hutton inquiry -- were not rare examples of a lapse in judgment, which we might be inclined to forgive, if not forget, but are instead emblematic of the long-term traits of this regime: lying, dissembling, and the orchestrated smearing and vilifying of people who have objected to the lying and dissembling. ..."
Aug 31 ~ France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Holland have all rejected mass water fluoridation. In the UK it is introduced by stealth The Observer says: "
The Government's amendment - inserted quietly into the Water Bill last month - will wrest control away from the water companies who have traditionally presided over the decision whether to add fluoride to drinking water. In the past, they have turned down scores of requests, fearing legal action from campaign groups. Instead, responsibility will be transferred to the strategic health authorities of England and Wales.
Next week the Bill will be read before Parliament. Ministers and fluoride supporters are confident it will be law by Christmas. From then, strategic health authorities will be encouraged to consider its mass introduction.
A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed yesterday it would be asking officials to 'consider fluoridating their water as part of their overall oral health strategy'.
France, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Holland have all rejected mass water fluoridation. The Belgian government last year even outlawed the sale of fluoride tablets and chewing gum, as concerns over its safety persist. The campaigning National Pure Water Association describes fluoride as a pollutant. ...."
Aug 31 ~ ". should they not proclaim how much of our legislation comes from the system they admire, rather than try to hide it?" Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph "..... there was no mention of the fact that this stemmed from an EC directive. There are scores of similar instances of "hidden Europe". Consider, for example, that ministers will never admit that their control of policy on GM crops was surrendered to Brussels in 1990. Similarly, they conceal Britain's outlay of billions of pounds in order to comply with absurd EC standards on water quality - money which could much more usefully be spent on replacing crumbling 19th-century infrastructure.
One of the most glaring examples of "hidden Europe" was the separation of the ownership of rail track from the companies operating the trains, which is widely blamed for the chaos besetting our railway system. It was even vigorously denied that this decision had any connection with the EU, despite the fact that the regulation enacting it was put through under the European Communities Act, to comply with EC directive 91/440.
Oddest of all, however, is the fact that the ministers who go out of their way to conceal all this are supposed to be enthusiasts for the "benefits" Britain derives from the EU. If they are so keen on this new form of government, should they not proclaim how much of our legislation comes from the system they admire, rather than try to hide it?"
Aug 30 ~ The one thing the Home Office seems determined to avoid in its drive to impose a compulsory national ID card is an honest debate. Telegraph " This newspaper, and a large majority of the hundreds of readers who have e-mailed their views to email@example.com, believe ID cards represent an unacceptable extension of the state's powers over the individual. But there are some perfectly respectable arguments in favour of considering an ID card system, and the Home Office should be trying to make them.
Instead, David Blunkett appears determined to introduce the cards by stealth. When the Government initiated a consultation period on its plans, it spoke only of proposals for an "entitlement card", presumably because its focus groups suggested this euphemism was somehow cuddlier.
This week it emerged that "smart" passports, containing the sort of biometric information to be used in ID cards, are to begin trials in an unnamed market town of about 100,000 people. Meanwhile, schools around the country are being encouraged to issue ID cards to pupils as another part of the campaign to soften us up for the scheme.
Publicly, Tony Blair has said that issues of cost and technology have to be resolved before the scheme can be introduced. But there is every indication that the Government is preparing to announce the legislation in the autumn. Labour MPs seem to have lost their appetite for individual liberties since they became the party of government. ..."
Aug 28 ~ No referendum - but get ready for the Euro anyway The Western Morning News "....The Government is urging Westcountry councils to get ready for the euro, it emerged yesterday. New guidelines issued by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's office recommend that all local authorities ensure their computers were compatible with the single European currency and consider how they would convert fees for services like car parks and libraries...."
Aug 28 ~ "One clear theme, unrelated to Iraq, the BBC or even the cult of spin, emerges from all the Hutton evidence. It is that the democratic apparatus of the country is faulty." Machine in meltdown
by Jonathan Freedland in yesterday's Guardian
".. Where other nations have a system of checks and balances, each part carefully weighted against the others, we have an overmighty executive that towers over all the rest.
So when parliament's foreign affairs committee wanted to ask questions of Dr Kelly, it had to seek the permission of Geoff Hoon: he granted it only on condition that Dr Kelly not be asked his wider views on Iraq's military capacity. When the same committee asked to see John Scarlett, the intelligence chief who testified before Hutton yesterday, it was refused by Scarlett's notional boss, Jack Straw. It's tempting to see this as evasiveness by Hoon and Straw, or "monumental cheek" in the words of yesterday's first witness, Andrew McKinley MP. But that's not the point. The problem is a constitutional one: parliament, the legislature, should have its own authority to scrutinise the government, the executive. It should not have to go cap in hand to the very people it is meant to be watching over.
.........Scarlett yesterday sounded more like an on-message, Downing Street operative than the voice of independent intelligence. Our system is so centralised, even Hutton himself was appointed by the prime minister.
In other words, it should not surprise us that things keep going wrong, whether it's arms to Iraq, BSE, foot and mouth, or now this. The machine is broken. The centre of government has become too powerful, the rest of the body politic has grown too weak and the latter has no ability to hold the former in check. Sacking the driver might feel therapeutic, but we need to do more than that: we need to change the machine.
Aug 27 ~ "This is without doubt the pilot for an identity card scheme. The real reason the government is going ahead with this pilot is because it wants to be seen to be 'doing something'. The supposed benefits of ID cards remain wholly unproven, whereas the costs are measurable and substantial."
She said the evidence from other European countries was that identity cards fuelled a criminal industry in the production of forgeries and worsened race relations.
The test is expected to involve two companies, possibly in a joint project. The two firms are Schlumberger Sema, already one of the biggest information technology suppliers to the British public sector, and Northrop Grumman Mission System Europe, part of America's second largest defence contractor, which runs the US military's identity card scheme.
The decision to press ahead with a British trial of the ID technology comes despite the widespread assumption after Tony Blair's last press conference that it was unlikely to be introduced until after the next general election. ..." See ID cards to be tested in 'a small market town' in today's Guardian by Alan Travis, home affairs editor
Aug 24 ~ Lord Falconer explains that the administration of local justice across England and Wales is to be taken away from the Court Service writes Christopher Booker in the Sunday Telegraph this morning, ".. and magistrates courts committees, traditionally run on a county basis, and transferred to a new executive agency, responsible for running "all courts below the House of Lords". These will run the courts on a regional basis, which will eventually, after a transitional phase, be aligned with the system of regional governments for England and Wales now being constructed by John Prescott as part of the "Europe of the Regions". The reason Hampshire is to be moved out of the South-West and into the South-East is that this is where, according to Prescott's blueprint, it belongs. Lawyers or magistrates wishing to protest will eventually find they are up against a brick wall with Mr Prescott and his friends in Brussels sitting firmly on top of it.
Aug 24 ~ Goodbye speed cameras, hello a spy in every carRobert Winnett and Dipesh Gadher in the Sunday Times write:"Even George Orwell would have choked. Government officials are drawing up plans to fit all cars in Britain with a personalised microchip so that rule-breaking motorists can be prosecuted by computer. ..(the plan) has outraged civil liberties groups who claim the electronic vehicle identification (EVI) programme is draconian and an infringement of human rights. Even those less inclined to worry about Big Brother are likely to take offence. Tony Blackburn, the radio DJ and car buff, said: "What are they going to do next? Start putting chips in people to make sure we are eating properly?"... ."
Aug 23 ~ Post Foot and Mouth rural Britain remains in deep and resentful depression...
Those that work and live in the North East rural community are becoming increasingly restless. ....
Rural incomes are now well below the national average. Earnings from farming have fallen by 70% in the past decade. Farming produce fell from £6 billion to £1.8 billion in the period 1995 to 2000 and is still falling. Agriculture is now less than !% of the UK's GDP.
The disappearance of banks, post offices, public transport, affordable housing together with more expensive fuel and lack of Police, Ambulance and Health Care services is fuelling rural unrest.
The Foot and Mouth disaster of 2001 was the most harrowing experience the rural community had experienced in living memory; the economic effect of which lingers on. Tens of thousands of small businesses suffered huge losses of income through no fault of their own. The estimate of the damage on the nation's overall economy was in the region of £20 billion. Post Foot and Mouth rural Britain remains in deep and resentful depression which is a measure of the severity of the problem which most people in Britain, least of all politicians from all sides, do not appreciate.
Federation of Small Businesses
Aug 18 ~"The most effective and lasting monument to Dr Kelly would be the reform of the parliamentary system..""..., to ensure MPs can investigate seriously the abuses of executive power, before a national tragedy forces a judge to intervene with the full powers of his office." Today's Guardian looks at how yesterday's Sunday papers reported the Hutton Inquiry, including this comment by Anthony Sampson in the Observer.
Aug 17 ~"It is hard today to sympathise with Downing Street's rage about unauthorised leaking." Max Hastings in the Sunday Telegraph ".... Since 1997, no Government policy or announcement has been formally unveiled in Parliament until it has been selectively leaked to whichever newspaper is Alastair Campbell's favourite of the moment. Those who live by leaks deserve no pity when they are leaked against.
The Ministry of Defence, furious with Kelly about his contacts with the press on such a sensitive issue, released his name. We seem likely to be told that this was done at Downing Street's behest....All those who started this fight must wish that they had not."
Aug 7 ~ This is becoming more and more a government of who you know rather than what you know. Whether or not it is intended, jobs increasingly appear to go to people who are 'one of us'." Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman
The Independent yesterday. ".. The government was accused of "rampant cronyism" last night after a barrister from Cherie Blair's law firm was named as the head of the Crown Prosecution Service. Ken Macdonald, a founding member of Matrix Chambers, where the Prime Minister's wife practises under her maiden name Cherie Booth, will become Director of Public Prosecutions in the autumn.
Aug 1 - 4 ~ One of the most relentlessly promoted lies in British politics has come unstuck.
Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph "...Last February I asked the European Commission office in London whether it had ever held any meetings with the English Regions Network (ERN), a shadowy body that has been set up to co-ordinate the political strategy of the eight English regions outside London, as they move towards having elected regional assemblies. The reply from Christopher Bell, the commission's press chief, was categorical: "There have been no meetings between the European Commission office in London and the English Regions Network."
I now have the minutes of a meeting at the commission's office on November 15, 2001. This began with lunch given to senior ERN officials by commission officials, headed by Geoffrey Martin, then the commission's top man in the UK, followed by a meeting in the commission conference room until 4pm. It was recorded that the ERN had "agreed an invitation from the EU Commission UK office to hold further meetings at that venue"...."The NERA is already under attack from local campaigners, led by Neil Herron of North East Against A Regional Assembly, following a district auditor's ruling that it was improperly using money from local authorities to campaign for an elected assembly. The attempt to hide the links between the ERN and the commission should cause them further embarrassment."
Aug 1 - 4 ~ "How crazy does the world have to get before someone calls a halt to all this lunacy?"
Safety signs too dangerous to erect from Booker's Notebook
"Last March, the villagers of Childswickham, near Broadway in the Cotswolds, were overjoyed to hear that, after years of campaigning, something was at last to be done about the heavy lorries which hurtle along the country lane through their village, using it as a "dangerous and totally inappropriate" short cut between the A44 and the A46. Geoff Cox of Worcestershire county council told them that signs imposing a weight restriction would be in place by early June.
On July 16, Mr Cox wrote again to say that, under "new safety regulations", the Highways Agency was unable to accept the signs unless crash barriers were erected "to prevent vehicles colliding with the posts that have to support the signs". The £10,000 cost of these - a quarter of his annual budget - would make the signs too expensive. Thus, in the name of safety, villagers' lives continue to be endangered.
Peter Luff, the local MP who told me this story, asks "How crazy does the world have to get before someone calls a halt to all this lunacy?" The short answer, alas, is that officials will continue to behave like this until Mr Luff and our other elected politicians develop the collective will to call them to heel.
Aug 1-4 ~ "...difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction." See this Guardian review of Orientalism
by Edward Said. "Western scholars helped justify the war in Iraq ........Without a well-organised sense that the people over there were not like "us" and didn't appreciate "our" values - the very core of traditional orientalist dogma - there would have been no war. The American advisers to the Pentagon and the White House use the same clichés, the same demeaning stereotypes, the same justifications for power and violence (after all, runs the chorus, power is the only language they understand) as the scholars enlisted by the Dutch conquerors of Malaysia and Indonesia, the British armies of India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, West Africa, the French armies of Indochina and North Africa. These people have now been joined in Iraq by a whole army of private contractors and eager entrepreneurs to whom shall be confided everything from the writing of textbooks and the constitution to the refashioning of Iraqi political life and its oil industry.
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilise, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires....
... Rather than the manufactured clash of civilisations, we need to concentrate on the slow working together of cultures that overlap, borrow from each other, and live together. But for that kind of wider perception we need time, patient and sceptical inquiry, supported by faith in communities of interpretation that are difficult to sustain in a world demanding instant action and reaction."
Aug 1-4 ~ New UK-US Extradition Treaty
removes or restricts key protections for defendants
signed and adopted without any parliamentary scrutiny
The UK-US Treaty has three main effects:
An analysis of the new UK-US Treaty - which will replace the 1972 UK-US Treaty
- it removes the requirement on the US to provide prima facie evidence when requesting the extradition of people from the UK but maintains the requirement on the UK to satisfy the "probable cause" requirement in the US when seeking the extradition of US nationals;
- it removes or restricts key protections currently open to suspects and defendants;
- it implements the EU-US Treaty on extradition, signed in Washington on 25 June 2003, but far exceeds the provisions in this agreement.
Aug 1-4 ~ Regardless of the merits of the MMR jab the
ruling that two children must receive it against
their mothers' wishes represents a worrying
expansion of the law. See http://www.spiked-online.com/articles/00000006DEA5.htm
July 29 ~ the people are right more often than the expertsTelegraph Opinion . "...The argument that masses are too dense to understand complex issues has a respectable lineage, numbering Shakespeare and Dryden among its advocates. Yet it is also an argument against holding elections. In fact, the people are right more often than the experts. Consider, as just one recent example, Denmark's referendum on the euro, where politicians and business leaders made a series of claims about the calamitous consequences of a "No" vote. The voters sensibly ignored them, and the country has since flourished. Perhaps this is precisely what the Government (of which Alastair Campbell remains Director of Communications and Strategy) is afraid of; but the rest of us should embrace the idea."
July 29 ~" The new Lord Chancellor shows signs of being even bossier towards the House of Lords than his predecessor.." Telegraph Opinion "...It is not for him or his Government to decide whether Lord Archer is fit to retain his seat. Unlike the Commons, which sits under a Speaker, the Lords controls its own conduct and this should surely extend to judgment on the
conduct of one of its members. Lord Archer apart, there is a reason for maintaining the difference between the Lords and the Commons. A member expelled from the Commons may serve again, if re-elected; a peer once banished cannot return.
Lord Archer does not go out of his way to attract much public sympathy, which may give Lord Falconer the impression that, by legislating against him, ministers will win acclaim. On the contrary, a lot of fair-minded people will see such a move as both vengeful and wrong."
July 29 ~ "The truth is we've got no choice. It'll be Hobson's choice." UKIP Euro MP Graham Booth
...quoted in this Western Morning News report SNUB FOR REGIONAL ASSEMBLY
"We'll either have an elected assembly or an unelected assembly, either
of which will take power away from direct control by this country's
central government and it will hand it over to control from Brussels."
A government "sounding exercise" on the issue revealed that fewer than
700 responses were received from the region, of which only 40 per cent
were in favour of an elected regional assembly.
The revelations will be made tonight on ITV's programme "Power to the
People?" at 10.30pm.
July 29 ~ ".. people
still don't know exactly what they are meant to do, or when. Much of the
infrastructure is not in place. The clock is ticking."The number of cars dumped in the countryside is expected to rise dramatically when the new EU End-of-life Vehicle Directive regulations come in later
this year. The WMN reports: "....The warnings came as the Government's Better Regulation Task Force urged
ministers to take urgent action to ensure that new rules on car disposal
and separate laws on the disposal of electrical goods did not turn into
another "fridges fiasco". Last year, the Government's bungled
implementation of new EU recycling rules forced councils to stockpile
thousands of old fridges at huge cost.
Janet Russell, who led the task force, said: "The potential for things
going wrong is even greater with these directives than it was for
fridges...Ministers have already delayed implementation of the laws by more than a
year while talks continue with industry, but further delays are unlikely
because of fear of prosecution by the European Commission.
July 28 ~ Roy Hattersley on Lord Hutton - " we can expect his inquiry to end as so many inquiries have ended." "The admission that one judge is more appropriate than another calls into question the notion that they all perform their tasks with equal and absolute objectivity. We can assume that were Robert Marshall-Andrews QC ever to reach the bench, no government in its right mind would invite him to inquire into the propriety of its conduct. Do governments, with success and survival on their minds, look for a judge who is all the things that Marshall-Andrews is not?
........The report will be balanced and judicious, as is always the case. No one will be unfairly blamed, as they never are. But when was the last time a judicial inquiry was explicitly critical of a minister's integrity or the honesty of a senior civil servant? Not Franks on the Falklands war and certainly not Scott on arms to Iraq. On the rare occasions when that happens, the report is a sensation. We are at least allowed to wonder if, when Lord Hutton was adjudged to be "appropriate", the appointing authority recalled that sensation is not his style. ..." link to Guardian
July 28 ~ Campbell - ".. will
the accounts of his imminent retirement also turn out
to be a feint?" Telegraph Opinion " Like Mr Campbell's
"withdrawal" from the task of day-to-day lobby
briefing in June 2000 to concentrate more on long-term
strategy - a decision taken after an earlier media
feeding frenzy in which he became "the story" - will
the accounts of his imminent retirement also turn out
to be a feint?
...Sometimes, in politics, leaders have to amputate
diseased limbs. But this operation is looking more
like the separation of Siamese twins joined at the
head: neither can live without the other.
The analogy will appeal in all of the wrong ways to
many Conservatives, who regard the ascendancy of New
Labour as a kind of monstrous deformity - a usurpation
of their heaven-sent right to govern. They would do
better to learn the lessons from the Campbell story.
Mr Campbell has finally over-played his hand, through
dishonesty, bullying and egotism, but, until the last
two years, he did Mr Blair far more good than harm....The political party that really succeeds in
modern conditions will not be the one that abandons
"spin", but the one that develops something worth
July 28 ~ Sack Gilligan and it's peace - government offer deal to BBC......."Greg has told everyone this is about the very heart of the BBC and the heat from the government is fierce. And he will go if any compromise is forced on him."
James Cusick, Westminster Editor of the Sunday Herald writes
Dyke's hardline stance, understood to have the full backing of BBC chairman Gavyn Davies, comes after the culture secretary, Tessa Jowell, stated last week that the outcome of the Hutton inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly could influence the government's review of the BBC's charter, due to begin in September.
The Sunday Herald has also learned that Number 10 told the corporation that if it sacked Andrew Gilligan .... it would cease its attacks. The BBC refused.
The Sunday Herald has also been told that a deal to call off the war between Number 10 and the BBC was agreed earlier this month during David Frost's annual summer party in Chelsea, attended by both BBC bosses and government ministers. Both sides are said to have agreed "enough was enough".
The Prime Minister is said to have been told of the pact, but a BBC source claimed that when Downing Street's director of communications, Alastair Campbell, heard of the peace deal he personally scrapped it.
.....Caroline Thomson, the BBC's director of policy and legal issues, who is also in charge of charter renewal, warned that changing the director- general of the BBC, who is appointed by the governors, has nothing to do with the government.
"If it did become something to do with the government that would be atrocious. It would signal the end of the BBC. It would effectively mean revoking the Royal Charter," she said.
"Then it would be war if they [the government] tried to get rid of the director-general."
July 28 ~ Has everyone forgotten that Alastair Milne was forced to resign by Mrs Thatcher's behind-the-scenes fury as long ago as 1986? See too the BBC Charter ..and its chilling paragraph 8.3
" If and whenever in the opinion of the Secretary of State an emergency shall have arisen in which it is expedient in the public interest that Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom shall have control over the broadcasting or transmission of any matter whatsoever by means of the stations or any of them, it shall be lawful for the Secretary of State to direct and cause the stations or any of them or any part thereof to be taken possession of in the name and on behalf of Her Majesty and to prevent the Corporation from using them, and also to cause the stations or any of them or any part thereof to be used for Her Majesty's service, or to take such other steps as he may think fit to secure control over the stations or any of them, and in that event any person authorised by the Secretary of State may enter upon the stations or any of them and the offices and works of the Corporation or any of them and take possession thereof and use the same as aforesaid." See also The Day Auntie Died by Tony Gosling
July 28 ~ Sars gives the EU a chance to extend its powers Christopher Booker's Notebook (link to Sunday Telegraph)
One of the more endearing characteristics of the European Commission is the way it combs the headlines for populist issues which can be used to justify further extending its powers. The latest example of what is known as "the beneficial crisis" is how Brussels has seized on the recent greatly overblown Sars scare as a further excuse to set up a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
There is no practical need whatever for the EU to duplicate the effective work already done in this field by the World Health Organisation, based in Geneva. But to Brussels, of course, Switzerland is not in "Europe" and is certainly not the EU. An almost exact parallel was the way, in 2002, the Commission used the excuse of a Swiss air crash to justify its taking over the EU's air space ("the Single European Sky") and setting up a European Aviation Safety Agency, when air traffic control throughout Europe had already been efficiently co-ordinated by an intergovernmental body since 1960.
A similar "beneficial crisis" was the Belgian dioxin scare of 1999, used by the Commission to seize control over food law and to set up its European Food Safety Authority, even though, as eventually emerged, the dioxins in Belgian chickens had posed no risk to human health whatever. In 1998 the perennial "crisis" of terrorism and drug trafficking was used as the excuse for setting up Europol, hijacking part of the existing role of Interpol to give the EU its own embryo police force.
The true purpose of all these new EU agencies, hijacking existing forms of international co-operation, is to promote what is the only real agenda behind everything the EU does: to further the holy cause of integration. But is it not curious that whenever this happens, the result is to turn a system which works into one conspicuously less efficient?
July 28 ~ Identity cards won't stop the terrorists: they're only a fig leaf
By Stephen Robinson in the Telegraph "..
....People old enough to remember the wartime ID cards abolished in 1952 have joined forces with middle-aged and younger readers to express their alarm. Quite a few who work in computer and web-based businesses have written, because they know how intrusive technology can be when harnessed to the sort of "smart" chips that Mr Blunkett wants to put into the cards.
One thing has become clear: should the Home Secretary succeed in passing the legislation he plans to introduce in the autumn, millions of people will resist, and thereby become technically criminalised, placing a huge new burden on the police.
The "libertarian" or "liberal" argument against ID cards is that they fundamentally shift the balance between the rights of the individual and the state. They reverse the common law presumption of innocence, by imposing a requirement on a person to prove who he is, even when acting perfectly legally.
But there are serious practical objections, too. Industry estimates put the cost of the scheme at more than £5 billion, dwarfing the Home Office estimate of £1.5 billion. An ID card will lead inevitably to "function creep", so that though in theory it will not be compulsory to carry one at all times, without the card it will become impossible to draw money from a bank, perhaps even board a train.
Then there is the point about forgery and identity fraud. These cards are supposed to last 10 years or so: does anyone doubt that a card based on technology developed in 1993 would by now have been mastered by gangs of forgers? And if you are wondering why the price of a new passport has just risen to £42, from £18 when Labour took office, it is because you are being softened up for the introduction of the Blunkett card." Read full article
July 27 ~ Under Mr Blunkett's scheme, every citizen over 16 will report once a decade to be questioned and digitally photographed, and to have biometric information such an iris image recorded. And they will be charged £40 for the card.
One version of the scheme would require every adult to report personally to a government office to have their identity checked.
British citizens who fail to register for an ID card could be denied access to the NHS or state benefits, and prevented from renewing their driving licence or passport. Any foreign national living here without a proper ID card would be committing a criminal offence.
But the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has quietly dropped the idea that people stopped by the police could be ordered to report to a police station with their ID card.
Mr Blunkett first proposed to introduce ID cards as an anti-crime measure after the 11 September attacks, but his latest version emphasises their use in combating illegal immigration.
A recent Home Office study conceded that there could be thousands of people working illegally in Britain. Mr Blunkett believes that making it known that people without ID cards will be denied access to benefits or free health care would act as a deterrent.
The Home Secretary had been expected to announce the scheme before MPs left for their summer break, but the announcement was postponed after a private meeting with Mr Blair on 15 July.
Home Office officials have been told to make adjustments to the scheme to minimise the inconvenience to the general public. This could mean allowing people to renew an ID card by post, so they need make only one trip to a government office for the necessary tests to register their identity.
New details of the scheme were set out by Mr Blunkett in a letter to members of the Cabinet's domestic affairs committee, chaired by John Prescott. Angered by an earlier leak, Mr Blunkett urged members to be extra careful to prevent leaks of his proposals. He said: "Only those in your office and the key official dealing with these matters should have sight of this document, and I would be grateful if you would also keep a register of those who have seen this material."
The letter, dated 4 July, revealed that Mr Blair and Mr Blunkett had met three days earlier and agreed that anyone who claims state benefits or NHS treatment would have to produce an ID card.
But it also revealed that the Prime Minister had demanded "more clarity" over "basic design questions". The Independent on Sunday has learned that the argument dragged on for a fortnight, until Mr Blair told Mr Blunkett on 15 July to put the matter back to the autumn.
(Independent on Sunday)
July 27 ~ "Mr Campbell's rough-and-tumble tabloid style is his own, but he was never a rogue agent. Even at his most demotic, his most aggressive, his most manipulative, he was always doing his master's bidding, or what he knew his master wanted but could not demand explicitly. Indeed, when he and the Prime Minister clashed, it was less often over "spin" than over principle, especially education policy (Mr Campbell has ever been a much more passionate believer in traditional Labour Party values than Mr Blair). Those who regard Mr Campbell as a monster should not neglect the Dr Frankenstein who first sent a million volts surging through his body.
This fundamental truth about the Prime Minister - Campbell was his creature, not his Svengali - explains much of his own behaviour since Dr Kelly's death. As I wrote last week, Mr Blair and his aides grasped at once that the suicide of the MoD adviser had the capacity to transform the political landscape - just as Vince Foster's death in 1993 disfigured the Clinton presidency. For the first 36 hours, the Prime Minister was in a daze, horrified and uncertain about what lay ahead. And then, just as quickly, he snapped out of it. It was as though he had disappeared into himself briefly, asked whether he could live with what had happened - and decided that he most certainly could. ..
it is wrong to think that Mr Blair has been emotionally capsized by this tragedy, his political radar destroyed. Remember: there is not a shred of sentimentality in this Prime Minister. This is the man, after all, who last month sacked Derry Irvine, the man who introduced him to his wife, without compunction or pity. His leadership of the Labour Party arose out of a death, or, more accurately, his response to one. When John Smith died in May 1994, Mr Blair's lieutenants were working the phones on his behalf within hours (I can vouch for that), while Gordon Brown busied himself with writing obituaries. One caught a glimpse even then of what Graham Greene called the "splinter of ice in the heart". I do not mean to say Mr Blair was not upset by Mr Smith's death; he was. I do not mean to say that he was not shaken to the core by Dr Kelly's suicide; he was.
And yet - as Lord Falconer's remarks today make clear - the Prime Minister gets over these things. Even as he urges the nation to behave with decorum in honour of Dr Kelly, you can see the defiant questions etched into his face. Why should I stop now? What will posterity say about me? Why should I hand it on a plate to Gordon? The sense of destiny, the preternatural self-belief, the bitter resentment of his foes: all these are undimmed within Mr Blair. And over those things - the hard core of this hard politician - death has no dominion.
." Sunday Telegraph Opinion
July 24 ~" I view the matter of trust of paramount importance, and I have been utterly dismayed by the "integrity" displayed by this government in a whole range of matters. I was first alerted to the smear and bully boy tactics, the suppression of information and the supply of misinformation, in the FMD epidemic, which I followed closely. (Many questions in connection with the FMD epidemic, and with handling future outbreaks, are still unresolved). It was at that time that I became disillusioned with politics. Subsequent events, culminating in the "grounds for going to war with Iraq" question, have served to reinforce this view. ..." From an open letter written by Anne Lambourn to Mr Duncan Smith.
July 23 ~ performance targets are seriously damaging health." Waiting
time targets for new outpatient appointments were met at the cost of
delaying or cancelling follow-up meetings....." Reuters
The attempt to raise standards by setting targets was a quick fix scheme that has wrought havoc in many areas. It is perhaps an example of what Word Spy calls the Revenge Effect..the notion that when we try any kind of ill
thought through schemes, safety legislation or pre emptive strikes for a "better
world" we get the dark other side of the coin very fast.
July 22 ~ "I will do what I like to find the truth, says Lord Hutton The Times
"The law lord who will head the inquiry into the death of David Kelly hinted strongly yesterday that his investigations will go wider than initially thought.
In what was seen as a clear assertion of his independence, Lord Hutton made plain that he would decide the scope of his investigation. He also suggested that interested parties and bodies called before him might be represented by counsel or solicitors, a signal that he intends his investigation to be as close as possible to a full-scale judicial inquiry. ..."
July 22 ~ the Bush administration is beginning to lose the battle to keep its internal workings secret.Telegraph
"....The 16 pages, dated March 2001, show maps of Iraq oil fields, pipelines, refineries and terminals. A document titled Foreign Suitors for Iraqi Oilfield Contracts is also included, listing which countries were keen to do business with Saddam's regime.
Judicial Watch requested the papers two years ago as part of its investigation into links between the Bush administration and senior energy executives including Enron's former chairman Ken Lay.
Mr Cheney has fought the release of the documents at every stage. A court ordered two weeks ago that at least some of the task force's working papers should be made public."
July 22 ~ No 10 overruled defence chiefs in leaking Kelly's name to Press Independent "....... officials, including one of the highest-ranking civil servants in the MoD, believed the matter could be dealt with< internally without the weapons expert being identified. Among those involved in the MoD meetings were Mr Hoon; Sir Kevin Tebbit, the permanent secretary; Pam Teare, the director of news, and Richard Hatfield, the personnel director.
There were also regular telephone calls from Downing Street - including, it is claimed, from Alastair Campbell. MoD sources confirmed that No 10 demanded, and was told, Dr Kelly's name. Asked yesterday if Mr Campbell was consulted on the release of Dr Kelly's name, Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "We were consulted, and the MoD was the lead department and remained the lead department."
The officials who expressed doubts were told that Downing Street had agreed Dr Kelly's identity could be confirmed by the MoD press office if the media put his name to them. But they are concerned that Dr Kelly's name was deliberately fed to journalists friendly to No 10, who then rang Ms Teare for confirmation. ..."
July 21 ~"their peculiar, increasingly unhealthy, interdependence"
"Tony doesn't believe Alastair will ever be disloyal to him. And besides, how can he stop him?"
Telegraph Opinion on Mr Campbell's influence over Tony Blair "Who will rid us of the over-mighty Campbell?"
by Robert Harris
".... Mr Campbell's decision to erupt back into full public glare - branding a BBC reporter "a liar", hammering the table at a select committee meeting, striding into the Channel 4 News studio while the programme was being broadcast - were reckless actions, the product of wounded vanity and a hamfisted strategy to divert attention from the real substance of the issue: did Britain go to war on a false prospectus? ..." Read in full
July 20 ~ Foot and Mouth restrictions deprive Weymouth of their open spaces
Several hundred residents on the edge of Weymouth, Dorset, have been told that the fields they use for walks and recreation cannot qualify as an open space for recreational purposes because they were closed under foot and mouth restrictions in 2001.
The law says that any land that has been used freely and continuously for "sports and pastimes" over 20 years can be registered as a "town green". But lawyers for Dorset county council have told the Southill and Radipole Open Space Society that the area they are concerned with, which has been used in this way for at least 70 years, does not qualify. Because access was barred for five months during the foot and mouth epidemic two years ago, the recreational use has not been "continuous". The council also claims that the land cannot be considered as "open space" because it is crossed by footpaths.Booker's Notebook this week covers this extraordinary legal wriggling by Dorset County Council, bills which will run into billions of pounds because of the blunder by the Health and Safety Executive over asbestos ( "government officials who have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not know what they are talking about"), an EU directive that will finally destroy the hallmarking system which guarantees the quality of precious metals, and the
30 million pound investment fund, much of it provided by the EU, given by Finance Wales into its own hands "Finance Wales insists that "we are completely satisfied that we followed European procurement procedures to the letter".
July 18/19 ~The New Statesman questions Mr Blair's sanity... "eloquent self-delusion on a heroic scale."
The New Statesman is owned by Geoffrey Robinson, the former paymaster general, a friend of Gordon Brown.
The New Statesman article (subscription only) invited psychologists and psychiatrists to give their opinions on Mr Blair's mental health.
"One view emerged strongly: there appears to be something worryingly adrift in the mind of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, a man who doesn't really know who or what he is," it said.
"More technically, he is diagnosed as a psychopath capable of reinventing himself with remarkable dexterity, like an actor.
.....What most people call 'spin', the routine lubricant of all political gearboxes, is, in Blair's case, eloquent self-delusion on a heroic scale."
"He is one of the few politicians who has never told a lie because his belief in whatever he says - about public transport, hospitals, schools, weapons of mass destruction - is total...."
July 18/19 ~ "...the ID systems favoured by the more repressive Asian regimes. ..
." Telegraph: A free country
By Stephen Robinson
" ..that ID cards should be viewed as helpful tools to allow citizens easier access to public services - exactly echoes the PR line of SchlumbergerSema, the technology giant that hopes to pick up the multi-billion-pound contract for providing the cards. SchlumbergerSema prefers the term "enabling card" to ID card, and has provided much of the technology that has enabled the governments of Malaysia and Singapore to keep closer tabs on their citizens through new "smart" technology. ..."
July 18 ~ July 18 ~ Downing St advisers earn more than cabinet minsters (Quotations from article in Independent, July 17th by Chief Political Correspondent, Marie Woolf.)
"Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell earn up to £131, 000 a year - more than any cabinet minster - the Government said last night.
The bill for ministers' special advisers and spin doctors has trebled since labour came to power and now costs £5.4 million a year. (Cost in 1997 was £1.8 million).
The figures show the government now employs almost 70 special advisers.
The cost has angered MPs who have questioned the need for so many special advisers, particularly in Downing Street, where there are 26 (up 6 from 1999 Guardian July 17th).
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said.the figures were 'further depressing evidence of the centralisation of power in No 10 and the bypassing of the elected House of Commons. But it's understandable that Alastair Campbell has had a significant pay increase. He is effectively Deputy Prime Minister.'.. "
N.B. apparently there are are 2 Downing Street advisers in the next pay band down from Campbell, £78,606 to £94,326. (Source Guardian, July 17th). So, if the maximum cost of the top four DS advisers is approx £450, 650, how much do the other 66 special advisers cost the taxpayer?
July 17 ~ A spokesman for Liberty said: "We would like to know who gave the order to use anti-terrorism legislation to curb legitimate protest." An article in today's Guardian under the headline Terrorism Act 'used to halt protest' by Jamie Wilson tells us: "The civil liberties group Liberty claims police breached the human rights of anti-war protesters at a Gloucestershire RAF base by using powers under the Terrorism Act to stop them demonstrating.
Liberty has called on the Commons select committee on home affairs to investigate alleged breaches of the European convention on human rights at RAF Fairford, used by American B-52 bombers during the Iraq conflict.
Liberty's report, Eight Weeks of Counter Terrorism in Rural England, says there was a policy of serving section 44 orders against demonstrators to stop protests. The orders give police absolute powers to stop, search and disperse people they believe are terrorists or are about to take part in terrorist acts. ..."
(An emailer comments: "I think the funniest thing that happened on the "Flowers for Fairford" demonstration in March, where we were met by 1000 riot police (some apparently armed) was the middle aged woman driving a friend's old banger, who picked out the most aggressive, padded up policeman she could see and asked him for directions to the other side of the base, just to remind him that he was infact a public servant and a "British Bobby". She got her directions, and in the most civilised manner .")
July 16 ~ Another Shadow Home Secretary once said when opposing the restriction of jury trial that,
"Fundamental rights to justice cannot be driven by administrative convenience".
Those are the words of the present Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, then Shadow Home Secretary. I was there and I heard those words. He is now Prime Minister. I am in total and complete agreement with him. ." Lord Hunt of Wirral during yesterday's Committee Stage debate on the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Lords.
" Lord Mayhew of Twysden .....I am not arguing for an unchanged system of jury trial because to retain it is to retain a fundamental human right. I believe that we should retain it because it is what the people want, for the reasons that I have outlined. At the moment, the system has the people's confidence in a way in which the alternatives proposed in the Bill, in my judgment, do not.
People see the jury system as an institution that is well tried and well approved, and one that carries valued advantages that would be lost by the suggested alternatives. Its replacement has not been electorally demanded. .."
The debate may be read in full here.
July 16 ~ The most dangerous home secretary we have ever had
From Guantanamo to jury trials, the government cares little for liberty
in the Guardian yesterday. "Guantanamo Bay, a place of torture and systemic injustice, is also an apt symbol of the state of British politics. It's the place where the two most luridly deforming strands of the Blair government are twined together. The first is these ministers' subservience to American power. The second is the absence of any liberal instinct from their political makeup. Around Guantanamo such deplorable traits tellingly merge. But the retreat from liberalism, once as important an element of centre-left politics as public spending, stretches further..."
July 16 ~ The Tories and Liberal Democrats have promised a five-month campaign against plans to curb the right to trial by jury.Peers snub Blunkett on jury trials (external link to Guardian) "....The government's hopes of a trouble-free week before Westminster's summer break were dashed last night when peers delivered a thumping defeat on already-modified plans to reduce the right to trial by jury.
The 210-136 vote against David Blunkett's blueprint for restricting trial by jury in cases of complex fraud or likely jury tampering amounted to another rebuff to Labour's modernising ambitions on what peers declared is a fundamental point of principle - "this very touchstone of our liberty".
The 74-vote defeat for Mr Blunkett's watered-down version of a proposal blocked three times under both Labour and Tory governments came despite clumsy hints from Whitehall that the entire bill - much of it widely welcomed - might be lost if peers defied the home secretary's will.
To the surprise of reporters Tony Blair's spokesman twice warned before the vote that Downing Street wanted the bill passed "in its entirety". The package includes tougher sentences for murder, gun crime, violent and sexual offences as well as for dangerous driving. ...
....Ministers once hoped to save £100m a year by curbing the right of defendants in theft and other cases. But Mr Blunkett scaled his ambitions down to cases of daunting complexity and those where professional criminals seek to intimidate juries.
The Metropolitan police alone spend £3.5m a year countering intimidation, officials say. But Lord Hunt, a former Tory cabinet minister and himself a lawyer, who led last night's attack, stressed "the fundamental importance of jury trial to our democracy" and quoted Tony Blair, then shadow home secretary, arguing that "fundamental rights to justice cannot be driven by administrative convenience"...."
July 16 ~ "Under Lord Haskins' proposals, a string of quangos, from the countryside agency to English Nature and the forestry commission, would be merged into one organisation.... From Peter Hetherington's article in the Observer on July 13
" It would also have overall responsibility for 10 national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
Lord Haskins' review, which began last September, has set alarm bells ringing in parts of Whitehall because he is likely to recommend that many centralised services should be devolved to the regions." Centralisation is the bane of farming , of the police, of all legal professions, of teaching and all aspects of education and all the medical professions. It is the reason why common sense has been knocked out of the way by an unstoppable juggernaut - that usually begins its ponderous and insane journey in Brussels.
"...Lord Haskins' concern has been underlined by another report from three leading rural academics, to be published shortly, which accuses the government of failing to learn the lessons of the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak by continuing to support farming at the expense of the rural economy.
It says neglect of this wider dimension in the continuing debate about farming is a "worrying indication" that the government has yet to come to grips with the state of the countryside."
July 15 ~ EU Daft Constitution
Brought to our notice by Peter Troy who writes," 'Many a slip' Section VII, page 28, line 7 from the official Commons guide to the EUs new constitution
' on 23 April, the praesidium published the daft constitution' . With thanks to the 'Mail on Sunday' 13 July Page 25"
July 15 ~ plans to enable people to go on to the bench without
having to serve their time beforehand as leading barristers or solicitors."A fast-track system to appoint talented barristers or solicitors as judges
will be announced today in what is being billed as the biggest shake-up of
the judiciary for a century.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary and Lord
Chancellor, will unveil plans to enable people to go on to the bench without
having to serve their time beforehand as leading barristers or solicitors.
He wants to encourage more young people, women, and ethnic-minority
candidates to join the judiciary.
In a series of consultation documents, Lord Falconer will also propose the
creation of a Supreme Court to replace the House of Lords as the highest
court in the country.
The proposals are being announced today as a consequence of Tony Blair's
decision to seek to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor in his reshuffle
July 15 ~ "Hospitals will grind to a halt when European rules on young doctors' working
hours come into force next year, the British Medical Association has warned
Thousands of hours will be lost to the National Health Service when 40,000
junior hospital doctors switch from a 72-hour week to a 58-hour week in line
with the European Working Time Directive (EWTD) which comes into force in
July 14 ~ They (the Labour rebels) feel they have been elected to fulfil ideals, not to practise the art of the possible. W.F Deedes column in the Telegraph today.
" If you took a poll among Mr Blair's back-bench MPs today on which name in Labour's history ranks big with them, the name coming out of the hat would not be Attlee, Blair, Wilson or Keir Hardie. It would not be Bevin or Gaitskell - and certainly not Ramsay MacDonald.
It would be Aneurin Bevan, creator of the National Health Service, best parliamentary speaker of his time and a born rebel.
By rebelling against his own government's decision to put a modest charge on dentistry and spectacles, he led to its downfall in 1951. It was Bevan's ghost that cut the Government's majority on its innocuous proposal for foundation hospitals to 35; and it will haunt Blair's chances of a third term."
July 13/14 ~ " Sir John Krebs of the Food Standards Agency was publicly confronted last Thursday by representatives of a £20-million-a-year industry that faces extinction at his hands. They wanted to know why he was prepared to to close it down on the basis of a scientific test rejected as hopelessly flawed by every other country in the EU.
At the agency's board meeting in Kensington, London, Sir John was asked by Dr Peter Hunt of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, flanked by two of the three biggest employers in the UK cockle industry, why the FSA still relies on a toxin testing procedure which has been so comprehensively discredited.
Booker's Notebook also considers today how the HSE's Control of Asbestos at Work regulations - supposedly to implement an EU directive - were so badly and unscientifically drafted that the contractors anticipated a bonanza worth billions of pounds (the HSE's own original estimate of the cost of the regulations was £8 billion) Mr Duncan Smith must explain what supranationalism means: namely Brussels's power to dictate to nation states what they must do, against their wishes. The GM confusion is a good starting point.
The need to comply with Eurostat rules has rendered virtually unusable such publications as the Blue Book, which records UK Government spending - and no one could be more aware of this than the Office of National Statistics itself.
July 13/14 ~ Blair seeks new powers to attack rogue states
Tony Blair is appealing to the heads of Western governments to agree a new world order that would justify the war in Iraq even if Saddam Hussein's elusive weapons of mass destruction are never found.
It would also give Western powers the authority to attack any other sovereign country whose ruler is judged to be inflicting unnecessary suffering on his own people.
A Downing Street document, circulated among foreign heads of state who are in London for a summit, has provoked a fierce row between Mr Blair and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. More from the Observer
July 12/13 ~" Sir, The Home Secretary is considering a report which proposes major
change to police leadership (details, June 7) and strikes at the heart
of locally delivered, locally accountable, community-based policing.
Many recommendations aimed at improving the number and quality of
leaders are welcome, but some are illconceived and threaten the core of
British policing..." Letter to the Times on Friday
July 12/13 ~ Compulsory ID "entitlement" cards. There is concern in Whitehall that the technology is too untrustworthy for such a massive undertaking."... Although it will not be compulsory to carry the card at all times, anybody who is challenged may be required by police to produce it within a few days.
Ministers claim that consultation has shown strong support and they propose to sell the move as a measure that will help combat crime, illegal immigration and terrorism. Opponents say it will make no impact on any of these areas and will be an affront to civil liberties." Telegraph 'Magic eye' ID cards clear Cabinet hurdle
July 12/13 ~ IDS's hidden agenda
Dr Richard North says, "
Reform of the EU to make it democratic is impossible. To demonstrate why, it
is instructive to refer to a book written in 1980 by Nobel Prize-winning
economist, Milton Friedman, and his wife Rose. ....
...in a subsequent column, entitled 'Barking
Cats' (19 February 1973), which has singular relevance to the European Union.
Part of the column read as follows:
What would you think of someone who said, 'I would like to have a cat
provided it barked'? ......
There lies the answer to those who argue that the European Union can be
'reformed' to make it 'more democratic'. What the history of the European Union
tells us is that is was set up in a certain way, to do certain things. It
embodies at his core the supranational Commission. All the other institutions were
designed in such a way that they would either present no challenge to the supremacy of the Commission, or help it in its task of acquiring power. Given
the structure and relationships of the institutions, as indeed do dogs bark and
cats meow, so does the European Union necessarily act in an anti-democratic
To expect the European Union to become democratic, or to change the structure
of its institutions, is to confound the very purpose for which it was set up.
........As Thatcher said, long after she had retired from active politics, 'Europe
as a whole is fundamentally unreformable'.
Here, and in the IDS speech lies the sting. The EU he wants to create is an
EU in name only. (read in full)
July 6 ~"... likely to provoke anger among voters, who will object to being forced to pay for a new arm of state control. ""David Blunkett has decided that everybody in Britain over the age of 16 will have to buy an identity card at nearly £40 each, a leaked cabinet document reveals.
The move will spark outrage from Britain's civil liberties lobby, which has long campaigned against ID cards. It is also likely to provoke anger among voters, who will object to being forced to pay for a new arm of state control.
The home secretary has rejected voluntary "entitlement cards" and instead will require all citizens to have identity cards. Each card will contain biometric data, such as an image of a person's iris or fingerprint, so police and other authorities can confirm the holder's identity. ...The government will hold information about the population on a central computer database - a move that will further alarm civil liberties groups.
Blunkett wants to make an announcement to parliament this month and intends to bring in legislation later this year. His decision follows a consultation exercise which found strong public support for ID cards in the wake of terrorist alerts....
ID cards for all to cost £40
David Cracknell, Political Editor
of the Sunday Times (external link)
July 6 ~ "When people talk about "losing our sovereignty" it can sound remote and abstract. What it means in practice is that our politicians agree to obey laws which they themselves oppose as being against our interests." ... ministers such as Lord Warner must argue the precise opposite of their previous case. The best the poor man could offer was that Britain will not have to put this nonsensical law into effect until 2010. Peers had voted 132 to 79 against Britain having to accept legislation which the Government told them was wholly unnecessary (since the safety of these products is already upheld by British law).
Now that the UK has been overruled by Brussels, the Government must obey, and ministers such as Lord Warner must argue the precise opposite of their previous case. The best the poor man could offer was that Britain will not have to put this nonsensical law into effect until 2010.
When people talk about "losing our sovereignty" it can sound remote and abstract. What it means in practice is that our politicians agree to obey laws which they themselves oppose as being against our interests. The Food Supplements Directive is the latest chilling example..." writes Christopher Booker in today's Sunday Telegraph
July 2 ~ Lord Warner said the vote would make no difference, as the UK was obliged to implement the directive. Telegraph Peers push for vitamin curbs rethink
" (external link) Pressure is being put on the Government to renegotiate European Union curbs on the sale of vitamins and mineral food supplements, after the proposals were rejected in a House of Lords vote.
Peers voted by a majority of 53 last night to call upon ministers to revoke regulations due to implement the EU's Food Supplements Directive in August 2005. But Health Minister Lord Warner said the vote would make no difference, as the UK was obliged to implement the directive....Earl Howe said the result of the vote sent "a powerful message to the Government that the Food Supplements Directive is unacceptable". (In March this year, an EU Directive was passed to "harmonise the sale of vitamin and mineral supplements"; lists were been drawn up of" permissible" supplements and their sources which excludes more than 300 items available in Britain.
Two months later, the FSA reported that several of the most popular supplements could have "long-term health implications".Matt published a cartoon in the Telegraph the same day. A worried man tells his doctor, "I still drink and smoke but I've completely cut out the vitamin tablets." ..)
July 1/2 ~ The voters do not like bullies says Roy Hattersley in Monday's Guardian. "Whoever put the order out to go on the attack over Iraq was a fool ...
The government's standing and the prime minister's reputation stand or fall not on details but by the impression that the representatives of the rival groups create. And ministers create a bad impression - not so much because of their behaviour as their demeanour. Say "Iraq" and they look shifty. .....
....Someone decided that the best way to deal with Iraq was to get the retaliation in first. Yesterday on The World at One Margaret Beckett played Lady Bracknell. last week on Newsnight, Phil Woolas was a brave member of the resistance being interrogated by the Gestapo.
Mr Woolas does not lack confidence. But I doubt if even he would have thrown his weight about so foolishly if he had not been under orders from a higher authority.
The change of tactic from reasonable to rebarbative happened when John Reid became leader of the House of Commons. Even in private conversation, Mr Reid gives the impression that he is about to hit you in the teeth with a brick. But he took part in two Today interviews in which he was bellicose to the point of absurdity......
A couple of weeks ago Ben Bradshaw - then Reid's deputy and Woolas's predecessor in the House of Commons job - gave almost conclusive evidence that the order had gone out to attack. Mr Bradshaw's normal public persona gives the impression that he is auditioning for the juvenile lead in an Ivor Novello musical comedy... But, questioned on Newsnight about Iraq, he went berserk. He sounded as if he had been besieged in the New Labour bunker for longer than his nerves could stand.
It is of course possible that I am wrong and that three ministers, of different rank and vastly different temperament, made independent individual decisions to go on to the mindlessly offensive. The tragedy of Labour's present position is that, even if Alastair Campbell said so, nobody would believe him.
June 30 ~ " I can see Blair taking their power to judge impartiality away and giving it to Ofcom" Telegraph's article yesterday Gunfight at the BBC Corral
"BBC managers also recognise that it has become too serious to be dealt with by Mr Sambrook alone. "There is absolutely no doubt that it [the Gilligan case] will go to the governors," said one senior BBC figure. Only the most serious matters go to the BBC's board - whose chairman, Gavyn Davies, is a long-term Labour supporter and is married to Sue Nye, the private secretary to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor - but senior BBC managers are aware that the stakes are now giddily high.
A senior figure in BBC News told The Telegraph "If the governors don't deal with it satisfactorily, I can see Blair taking their power to judge impartiality away and giving it to Ofcom [the new regulatory body]"...." A Cabinet minister said last night that the issue was now "tribal" and added: "This is a line in the sand. We are standing behind Alastair Campbell and if the select committee finds the BBC claims are unfounded, there will be BBC heads on the block."
June 30 ~" it has little to do with Iraq. What is really at stake here is not the case for the removal of Saddam, or the conduct of the BBC, or Mr Campbell's position, but the trustworthiness of this Government. The Prime Minister and his colleagues may win this particular battle with the media. But they are losing the greater battle to recover the public's trust which brought them to power, and which they have so unnecessarily squandered." Telegraph Opinion The mother of all apologies (external link)
June 30 ~".. this law has less to do with health than with power and money."Telegraph Leader on the proposed ban to implement the EU's directive on higher-dose vitamin supplements
"It is being pushed by large pharmaceutical corporations, which have seen the opportunity to squeeze their smaller competitors out of the market.
These proposals should make you angry, whether you are a regular user of alternative medicine or whether you have never been inside a health shop in your life. Whatever the efficacy of the substances concerned, there is no evidence that they are dangerous.
The issue is not one of science, but of freedom. Here is a horrible demonstration of how the EU system can work, elevating corporate interests over individuals, and tossing aside all considerations of liberty and fairness in pursuit of harmonisation. "
June 30 ~ Regions of unreasonChristopher Booker on the departure of Tony Flynn
"At the unadvertised annual general meeting of the unelected North-East Assembly last Wednesday, Tony Flynn, the leader of Newcastle council, resigned as chairman. This was a remarkable victory for the doughty Neil Herron in his battle to expose the unlawful way in which the NEA was using taxpayers' money to campaign for an elected assembly.
The departure of Mr Flynn, however, seems only a token gesture to acknowledge the district auditor's judgment that the NEA was in breach of the Local Government Act. As the only outsider at the meeting, Mr Herron confirms that the NEA is as committed as ever to fulfilling John Prescott's desire for a "yes" vote in the forthcoming referendum on an elected regional government....." Read in full
June 30 ~ it is left to a handful of fringe voices to speak out for Americans who are angered and disgusted at the state of their nation. From the Sunday Herald's article: "Rage. Mistrust. Hatred. Fear. Uncle Sam's enemies within"...
"...This month the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-wing think tank umbilically tied to the Bush administration, declared open warfare on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) deemed too left-wing and set up an organisation called NGOWatch to monitor these liberal pressure groups. NGOs that have fallen foul of its wrath include groups promoting human rights, women, the environment and freedom of speech; among its targets are the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International, Greenpeace and the World Organisation Against Torture. Only this February, George Bush boasted that 20 AEI members were working for his administration. AEI fellows include Lynne Cheney, the vice- president's wife, and Richard Perle, the most influential of all neo-conservative hawks. ...The Bill Of Rights Defence Committee has been supported by more than 114 legislatures in cities, towns and counties, as well as the states of Alaska and Hawaii. They have all passed resolutions opposing draconian legislation: that accounts for 11.1 million people.
Still, with massive donations rolling in from corporate backers, many fear it is unlikely Bush will be dethroned in 2004. With a supine Democratic Party, save a few maverick voices, and a craven media, it is left to a handful of fringe voices to speak out for Americans who are angered and disgusted at the state of their nation.
|"Despite being the cradle of parliamentary democracy and the source of the Magna Carta, many of our personal liberties are under threat at the moment. Jury trials, for instance, are something that the present government would like to limit and eventually get rid of. If we go deeper into the European Union as is being seriously suggested at the moment, then many other liberties will go, too, because we will eventually come under European Union law, which doesn't even recognize jury trial or habeas corpus ....."
Peter Hitchens - author of "The Abolition of Britain: From Winston Churchill to Princess Diana,"
"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary." - H.L. Mencken
NATION ON BRINK OF LOSING IDENTITY
This authoritative open letter to Mr Blair is from Vice-admiral Louis Le Bailly and published in the Western Morning News. "His wartime service and a career in international affairs and intelligence have given him an unrivalled view of world issues".