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Mikhail Gorbachev said, "The most puzzling development in politics during the last decade is the apparent determination of Western European leaders to re-create the Soviet Union in Western Europe"

"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." -- Tacitus (A.D. c.56-c.115)

Transcript: John Humphrys and Tony Blair. Sept 29 2004 Extract:

" ..Look. - in the end with this thing, I totally understand why people have a very strong view on it and, you know, you're entitled to have a view and everyone is entitled to have a view. Just understand why I took this decision. I took the decision - I, you know, as I said yesterday - I'm as fallible as anybody else, I may be wrong in it, but I don't believe I'm wrong..."

Feb 23 2005 ~ Labour backbencher Bob Marshall-Andrews has declared the Prevention of Terrorism Bill " the greatest attack on the nation's liberty in three centuries."

February 2005 ~A spokesman for Amnesty International has said: "Just as the internet is a tool for freedom, so it is being used as an excuse for repression"

February 2005 ~ Conspiring in torture, betraying our freedom. Charles Clarke is a disaster

February 2005 ~ How even the Chief Scientific Adviser was gagged by Number 10

February 2005 ~Sir Alistair Graham: 'Tony Blair and the Government are open to the charge they want to control everything'

6/7 February 2005 ~ “What is he really saying? Provided somebody raises the words ‘national security’ you can do anything to anyone? But is that not exactly the same that any right wing dictatorship has ever said?"

6 February 2005 ~ Sir Humphrey's top tips

4 February 2005 ~ ID cards 'could fall foul of human rights law'

2 February 2005 ~ Government attacked for 'hypocritical' attitude to Freedom of Information Act

30 January 2005 ~ "the most audacious ministerial power grab ever tried in peacetime. .."

30 January 2005 ~ "..By its over- reliance on spin, its corruption of the civil service and its mendacious presentation of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the government has lost its reputation for honesty.

Without trust, many people simply will not believe that the Home Office has a case for detaining suspects when it fails to produce evidence. ..." Leading article in Sunday Times

28 January 2005 ~ "The Home Secretary's plan to intern British citizens without trial stinks. He must know it. His colleagues must know it.

27 January 2005 ~ Lord Hoffmann suggested that the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act itself was a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism.

January 19 2005 ~ "many of the measures contained in this bill, particularly relating to arrest powers and restricting protest give disproportionate power to the authorities..." Liberty.

Sept 24 ~ High Court Writ to be Served on Deputy Prime Minister by No Campaign

See Press Release from North East No Campaign "Following the notice served on the Rt. Hon Nick Raynsford yesterday and the failure of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to take any positive action to correct the factually incorrect leaflet 'Have Your Say' for all 1,900,000 voters in the North East Referendum, the North East No Campaign has been left with no choice but to launch an action in the High Court today..."

Sept 23 2004 ~"Decision-making in the Labour Party today is a closed loop.

The Prime Minister appoints the party chairman, who then ensures that the party supports the Prime Minister. The National Policy Forum recycles Downing Street's ideas through a bogus consultation process ..... All this might be tolerable if the conference was remotely entertaining..." George Monbiot on the European Social Forum taking place in the UK in mid-October ".... if you choose your seminars carefully, you will hear the world's newest thinking on everything from agriculture to xenophobia...."
But, points out George Monbiot, there is the age-old paradox...
"...We all know what's wrong with the world. We are much less certain about what needs to be done, and have only the faintest idea of how to do it. As Susan George has pointed out, unless we move on to questions two and three, we are wasting our time. And so we encounter the age-old paradox of transition. For a political movement to remain large, it has to remain diverse. For a political movement to be an effective agent of change, it has to pursue a programme. The process of choosing a programme involves a battle against diversity. In battling diversity so as to produce a set of workable proposals, you run the risk of losing the popular support on which the proposals are supposed to be founded. This is the battle the Labour Party has fought, and in which it has suffered a crushing and disastrous victory...." Read in full

Sept 21 ~ "We are being manipulated into a regional assembly up here."

An emailer from the North Eastfinds the adoption of NESNO as official opposition to the Yes Campaign in the run-up to November’s referendum deeply disturbing. She has sent two letters which should be taken very seriously indeed. Extract:Read in full

Sept 21 ~ Mr Blunkett frees the " terrorist supporter and a threat to national security.."

The Home Office is tight-lipped. Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) confirmed he was a threat to security, Mr Blunkett frees prisoner D while his solicitor, Natalia Garcia, said: "I told him this morning that he was to be released. He was absolutely choked. All he could say was 'I don't understand, I don't understand'. He feels he's been locked up for three years just on a whim."
Deputy Mayor of London and Green Party MP Jenny Jones told a rally at the beginning of April that it was a "complete injustice" that people should be held without trial in a country which prided itself on its democracy and justice system
Today's Herald: ".... even though an independent commission 11 weeks ago confirmed he was a terrorist supporter and a threat to national security.. the home secretary, announced his decision to revoke the detention certificate of prisoner "D", who was removed from his home under anti-terrorism laws brought in after the attacks on the US on September 11, 2001. Mr Blunkett said: "I have concluded, on the basis of all the information available to me, that the weight of evidence in relation to D at the current time does not justify the continuance of the certificate. I have therefore decided to revoke the certificate with immediate effect. In revoking D's certificate I have made clear that any further activities that are assessed to be a threat to national security could lead to him being certified again."

Sept 18 2004 ~ This bill would give, not Parliament but the government of the day, in times of peace, far greater powers than were ever granted to any of our coalition governments in times of real war.

Cumberland News - one of the very few papers to warn about the Civil Contingencies Bill ".....If this bill is passed in its present state, it would certainly be possible for the Government, upon a whim, to declare any strike unlawful, to ban any march or public meeting, to censor public communications (though, surprisingly, the BBC seems to enjoy special exemption from this clause) to prohibit travel between specific places or at specified times and to requisition or confiscate private property. It may also order the evacuation or relocation (to a place of its own choosing) of individuals or groups of people.The original bill was heavily criticised by a joint Parliamentary scrutiny committee, but the Government's predictably arrogant response to its report was to reject the majority of this committee's recommendations and to re-introduce those few which it did accept, albeit with different, but even more inclusive wording, in the small print of section two of that bill.Overall, this bill would give, not Parliament but the government of the day, in times of peace, far greater powers than were ever granted to any of our coalition governments in times of real war...."

Sept 13 ~ The Civil Contingencies Bill permits the government to suspend parliament and ban all rights to assembly whenever it decides that it is confronting an emergency

Wednesday's debate in the House of Lords grows closer. Legislation these days is impenetrable - except for a few wholly misleading phrases placed clearly near the beginning designed to give a false sense of security - and busy MPs and peers may well not have read the bill properly.
Michael Moore in his latest book expresses disbelief that the majority of the British people - particularly those millions of us who marched cheerfully to oppose Mr Blair's involving Britain in the Iraq war - should not have forced an election But perhaps even Moore is not aware of just how far towards the US Patriot Act we are heading - and that such a peaceful march may soon be a thing of the past. As George Monbiot says,And will - unless the peers can once again (before their powers are completely removed) ride to the rescue and raise awareness of its dangers. See Civil Contingencies Bill page

Sept 12 ~"... it is getting so Orwellian that we no longer know if we speak our minds whether we will be risking a year-long investigation or not"

Booker's Notebook (Sunday Telegraph) makes for grim reading.
On district councillors and the so-called Standards Board which prevents them from voicing concerns: "... the conduct of local councillors is being policed by the Standards Board of England (with its army of Ethical Standards Officers on £61,000 a year), it has become increasingly baffling for those prepared to serve their communities in this way to know what it is safe to say...."
On the ignorance of Ben Bradshaw: ".... Mr Bradshaw first claimed he was not aware that it existed, then said that he was "not interested in some communication by the Commission to the European Parliament which I have not seen". In fact, not only is COM130 the key text on the subject that Mr Bradshaw is paid to know about, but it was addressed last year to the EU Council of Ministers, of which Mr Bradshaw is supposed to be a member..."
On documents produced by both Government and Conservatives on the proposed EU constitution: "...Just why, as taxpayers, we should fund the Government's White Paper is a mystery. It is simply empty propaganda, and almost every line cries out for a commentary to show which bits are half-truths, which wholly false and which just laughable..." Read in full

Sept 10 2004 ~ Delete records, or profile the whole UK, says DNA print pioneer..

The Register ".. geneticist Sir Alec Jeffreys speaking at a briefing marking the 20th anniversary of DNA fingerprinting at Leicester University yesterday, also expressed doubts about current UK policy on DNA record retention. Suspects have their DNA recorded, but for several years now the police have been allowed to retain the DNA profile whether or not the suspect is subsequently charged or convicted. This make it a lot easier for them to grow their National DNA database, and indeed here we find the Home Office salivating over bigger and better DNA retention when it passed the two million mark last year.
According to Jeffreys it's now over 2.5 million, which suggests nearly one per cent of us were suspicious or worse in the last 14 months. ...
.Jeffreys' concern is that in some parts of the country retention will lead to an overrepresentation of certain ethnic groups. His solution is either for the DNA data to be destroyed if a suspect is cleared, or to extend the database to include everyone in the UK. We fear the Home Office will greet his words with enthusiasm. No prizes for guessing which option it's going to like.."

Sept 10 ~ "Public service broadcasting can and must make an important contribution to the democratic process. It can do so only if not cowed by those in power..."

"Today's Humphrys censured by BBC for continually interrupting minister - Guardian "...Humphrys became increasingly frustrated with her (Hazel Blears') refusal to accept that the Home Office bore sole responsibility for some of the failings identified in the Bichard report following the murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman. Focusing on the Home Office's failure to fund a computer project, he asked pointedly: "How much money are children's lives worth?"
In response to another question, Ms Blears replied: "We take this really seriously." Humphrys interrupted and said: "Pity you didn't take it really seriously at the time."
......Humphrys declined to comment yesterday, but in the MacTaggart lecture in Edinburgh last month he warned that BBC staff could, quoting a phrase from the Hutton report, be "subconsciously influenced" into shying away from difficult subjects. He said he would quit if he was ever told to tone down his interviews. "The idea that tough questions prevent politicians from giving answers, and gentle chats seduce them into candour is, frankly, risible. We need more, not less, investigative journalism. We need much more straightforward political analysis. Public service broadcasting can and must make an important contribution to the democratic process. It can do so only if not cowed by those in power." .."

Sept 8 2004 ~ "Government ministers who want to dodge awkward questions from MPs

are being given powers from this month to put the queries in the bin.....Adam Price, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: " It takes long enough to get answers as it is. This would simply allow ministers not to give them at all."
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "Even when you get an answer after a long delay it is often unsatisfactory. I am planning to take one cabinet minister, Margaret Beckett, to the parliamentary ombudsman for failing to provide an adequate reply." .....The changes followed protests from MPs about the huge increase in ministers' promises to write to them during the recess and put the answer in the Commons library. These answers are never published in Hansard - and are sometimes never deposited in the library. Such cases have jumped from 432 in 2000 to 1,556 last year. The worst offenders are the Home Office and Ministry of Defence, the latter partly because of the Iraq war." Guardian

Sept 8 2004 ~ Independence of the BBC?

In the Independent today Director General Mark Hudson ".. is phlegmatic about the increasingly active role played by the BBC governors and is reconciled to the fact that there may be "bumps" along the way. "This is going to be a different relationship than for previous DGs," he said, adding that two of the last four director generals were dismissed by the governors."
There may well be bumps if the BBC tries actually to earn its reputation for being objective and uninfluenced by the powerful.
The "two posh ladies" referred to by Greg Dyke in the Observer, it seems, were those who bayed most loudly for Mr Dyke's removal. They are still BBC Governors.
Baroness Sarah Hogg served as head of the Prime Minister’s Policy Unit between 1990 and 1995.
Dame Pauline Neville-Jones DCMG, is a career diplomat who served in various diplomatic missions. She was the deputy secretary to the Cabinet office before becoming Head of the Defence Secretariat of the Joint Intelligence Committee. She is the former managing director and head of global business strategy for NatWest Markets and chairman of NatWest Markets France. She became vice chairman of Hawkpoint Partners Ltd., the corporate advisory arm of NatWest Bank. She is chairman of the Information Assurance Advisory Council and also currently the chairman of the Qinetiq group plc ( UK privatised military research/services company)
A QinetiQ webpage says, "... Although information operations are traditionally considered a military activity QinetiQ also develops information campaign strategies that can benefit governments, businesses and other organisations."
Dame Neville-Jones is a member of the Bilderbergs, the group of rich, powerful, and influential people from around the world who meet behind closed doors with no press releases and no available information on topics discussed.
See also The BBC and the Propaganda model By Alex Doherty

Sept 6 2004 ~ an Act which would in effect permit the setting up in this country of a dictatorship as sweeping as anything achieved under Hitler."

" In 10 days' time the House of Lords will be debating one of the most extraordinary pieces of legislation ever placed before Parliament, the Civil Contingencies Bill.(see warmwell Civil Contingencies Bill page) ..... Only in Part Two, after 13 pages, does the truly extraordinary nature of this legislation suddenly explode off the page, as Section 21 sets out the powers it will give to a tiny group of ministers and "regional co-ordinators" in the event of an emergency being declared.
The conditions for this could hardly be more loosely or widely defined, including anything from a terrorist incident to flooding, a chemical spill or a recurrence of foot and mouth. .......senior ministers (including whips) will be given virtually unlimited powers to do anything they think fit, virtually without parliamentary control. They will be empowered to "disapply" any law or act of Parliament they choose, simply by issuing regulations. .....
Yet when this Bill had its second reading in the Commons on January 19, MPs were only allowed time to discuss its innocuous Part One. (One or two honourable exceptions, such as Richard Shepherd and Bob Marshall-Andrews, did try to ring alarm bells on Part Two.) The Bill was then approved by 286 votes to 138.
When it first came before the Lords late on the evening of July 5, again one or two peers protested at its more extreme provisions. But unless they are joined on September 15 by enough others to provoke a real rebellion, we shall have an Act which would in effect permit the setting up in this country of a dictatorship as sweeping as anything achieved under Hitler. It would be scant consolation to know that this was sanctioned by Parliament, even if MPs had scarcely been given a chance to discuss it." Booker's Notebook Read in full

Sept 5 2004 ~ to undermine our civil liberties and live in fear because of the possible

is "a life-paralyzing agent worse than any biological or chemical weapon." Elie Shneour, a biophysicist and head of the Biosystems Research Institute in San Diego strenuously objects to the current definition of weapons of mass destruction – a term that grows looser by the day. "Chemical and biological weapons are not weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear, high explosives and incendiaries are the only weapons thus far devised that can cause real mass destruction." To think otherwise, he argues, is not only imprecise, but dangerous." Article at San Diego.com

Sept 5 2004 "... realisation dawning that John Prescott's forthcoming referendum on an elected regional assembly for the North-East could presage a mighty earthquake in England's local government."

Booker's Notebook "Speakers for both sides deplored the fact that Mr Prescott had linked an elected assembly with the reorganisation of local government, which they argued should have been kept as separate issues. The linkage was made, it is believed, on the personal insistence of Tony Blair...
...a completely new system of local government. The provision of services will be taken away from genuinely local councils, and given to a remote authority which cannot be properly accountable to local people " Read in full

Sept 5 2004 ~ "... last week's events in Italy show what happens when people are deprived of their democratic right to oppose policies with which they strongly disagree.

The only way the Government can hope to meet its obligations (to the EU's landfill directive 1999/31 ), as scores of landfill sites are declared illegal, will be for John Prescott to introduce "guidance" allowing central government to override local planning procedures and dictate where incinerators are to be built. (Mr Prescott made a similar provision last month for windfarms, in order to meet our obligation to the EU to produce 10 per cent of our energy from "renewable sources" by 2010.)
Whether British protesters will be prepared to take their opposition to the same lengths as the residents of Acerra remains to be seen. But last week's events in Italy showwhat happens when people are deprived of their democratic right to oppose policies with which they strongly disagree." Read in full

Sept 3 2004 ~Labour 'cowardly' on Whitehall reform

Yesterday's Guardian "Labour has failed to tackle Whitehall's "culture of amateurism", says a leading consultant with close family connections to the Blair cabinet and top reaches of the civil service. .." (read in full)

Sept 3 2004 ~ "We claim to be citizens of representative democracies.

Our democracies are built on a foundation of law, and our success as democratic societies stipulates adherence by all - governed and governing - to this law. For our societies to function, the means are the ends; due process must be respected. "How western we are," says another chorus member, chiding us for allowing ourselves to fall victim to the trap of putting democratic process before the elimination of a dictator. I look back at my years of defending this process and respond, with pride, "Yes, how western I am." Thank you, David Hare, for helping to remind me. .."
Scott Ritter on David Hare's new play "Stuff Happens" in the Guardian

Sept 3 2004 ~ "a deliberate attempt by the prime minister, not by Campbell, to fabricate the evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat"

Gavyn Davies on "Stuff Happens" "Hare's version of the history of 2003 wisely gave no truck to the war against the BBC waged by Campbell from Downing Street, a diversionary and irrelevant tactic that sucked in the British media but which is now laid bare for what it always was. However, Hare does have a strong view about the production of the flawed "intelligence" dossier produced by No10 in September 2002 to justify the war. This is depicted as a deliberate attempt by the prime minister, not by Campbell, to fabricate the evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat to UK interests because this falsehood was needed to make the war legal. Surely this can't be true, at least according to the gospels of their hand-picked lordships, Hutton and Butler? Presumably not, but the Olivier audience seemed disposed to view their lordships' exonerations as works of fiction, while placing credence in the Hare version of history.
And as for me? All I have learned is that, in the murky world of Whitehall politics, stuff happens."

Sept 2 2004 ~ Blunkett announces 'spy in the sky' satellites to track criminals

Big Brother's latest scheme for our protection. The Independent reports on Mr Blunkett's "pilot scheme"Children may be fitted with tracking devices "for their safety" http://library.lp.findlaw.com

Aug 30 ~ "Sir John Stevens, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has attacked the prospect of an American detective replacing him as the country's top policeman as an insult and outrage

to his British colleagues. Sir John has also criticised the fascination with US-style policing and argued that politicians and the public ought to have more pride in what the police have achieved in the UK.. David Blunkett's apparent love affair with American policing styles and officers is causing disquiet nationally among police chiefs. Last September, he appointed Paul Evans, the head of the Boston police, to run the Home Office's standards unit, which oversees national police performances. He has also paid for Mr Bratton to come to London to give British police chiefs a pep talk.... ." Independent

Aug 29 ~ "...Mr Prescott's desperation is evident in the latest "information leaflet" put out by his office, in eight languages, to the North-East's 1.9 million voters.

Although this paean of praise for the benefits of regional government purports only to be giving "information", the game is given away by its carefully staged illustrations. These contrast young, attractive, affluent-looking Yes voters, giving the thumbs up to an elected assembly, with "typical" No voters, such as an old man with a cloth cap and a stick, a diminutive Asian shot in shadow and an Afro-Caribbean lady: a selection so blatant it should earn Mr Prescott an interview with the Commission for Racial Equality..." Booker's Notebook

Aug 27 ~ Electoral Commission condemns all-postal ballots - but North East Region referendum will be 100% postal "because it is too late to make changes"

Trials in June's European and local authority polls were beset with logistical problems and claims of fraud. The Independent says: "The experiment, designed to increase turnout, saw chaotic scenes before the elections as thousands of voters failed to receive their ballot papers in time. "The Commission acknowledges that based on the evidence gathered in these pilots, and in particular the strength of public criticism of a single voting method, all-postal voting should no longer be pursued for use at UK elections," the Commission said in a report. It added it was too early to conclude whether the increased use of postal voting had led to a rise in fraud, as only two allegations leading to an arrest have so far been made across the country despite widespread allegations of abuse in the media. ...... It called for more to be done by the government to ensure postal voting was efficient and secure. ..... However, the Commission said a referendum in November on whether the North East should get its own regional assembly should be an all-postal ballot as planned because it was too late to make changes."
Telegraph: "Yesterday the commission admitted that it had made a mistake, and that in future it would be best to offer voters a choice of electoral systems, including the option of going to a polling station."

Aug 25 ~ under the draft Bill they would have the power to destroy the constitution -- to abolish judges and Parliament and create a dictatorship...

Lord Lucas commenting on the Civil Contingencies Bill.
Speaking at the second reading of the bill in the House of Lords on 5 July, he added: "Are we opening up our system to the equivalent of what happened in Germany in 1933, where it became possible for an extreme party legitimately to hijack a democracy and turn it into something totalitarian? .
Bryn Wayt sends this detailed email about the Civil Contingencies Bill. Like Lord Lucas, he reminds us of the parallels with 1933. He urges all to take some action about what he, Lord Lucas and many others who are awake, see as a real and present threat. The bill goes back to the Lords on September 15th. See warmwell's page on the Civil Contingencies Bill

Aug 24 2004 ~ Robin Cook ".. raids under the Anti-Terrorism Act which are now running, staggeringly, at 10 times the level of three years ago."

Independent ".... the "staggering" rise in numbers of anti-terrorist raids by police threatened to alienate British Muslims.
... "There were 30,000 raids under the Prevention of Terrorism Act last year, from which less than 100 individuals were charged with offences relating to terrorism."
"There's a real risk that if we continue ... we will end up alienating the very people we need for a successful multi-cultural society and a successful appeal to people around the world of a different culture." Mr Cook ... warned Tony Blair that such a military campaign could not be repeated in another part of the world. He said: "Iraq is unique, it's a one-off. It's exhausted Tony Blair's capacity to take the nation to war against any substantial resistance...If he hopes to bring back to the Labour Party all those millions who opposed the war or those who supported it on the basis he sold it to them, he's got to make it plain that he's learned the lessons from the past two years and that [he] is going to be different in the future." Read in full Remember too that the a recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. In spite of all the hype about al-Qaeda in Britain, there is little sign of terrorists queuing up to attack. ...." Important article - 'War on Terror' games

Aug 22 ~ Civil servants improperly sought advice from the Home Office about whether to delay publication of embarrassing immigration statistics to head off criticism

Reuters "...David Davis, home affairs spokesman for the Conservative Party, said the files showed that the independence of the ONS had been compromised. "It is wholly wrong of the ONS to seek instructions. It just shouldn't be offering those options. An independent statistical organisation shouldn't be seeking any views on what to publish," he told the paper. A Home Office spokeswoman was not immediately able to comment on the accusation that the department had sought to have the publication of the statistics delayed. The ONS was not immediately available for comment."

Aug 21 ~Matthew Parris quotes from a Man for All Seasons

"As Robert Bolt puts it in A Man for All Seasons (in the mouth of Sir Thomas More), we may cut down all the laws of England in pursuit of the Devil if he tries to hide behind them, but when he turns round and comes for us, we will have flattened the very protection that we need. .." Read Mob rule rules: the law now panders to primitive emotion in the Times.

Aug 18 ~" Any self-respecting judge would take one look at this tower of garbage and demand that it never darken the door of a British courtroom again.."

Simon Jenkins in the Times today asks, Why isn't your conscience torturing you, Mr Blunkett? "...Three appeal court judges inexplicably found in favour of Mr Blunkett, albeit one of them with reservations. Lord Justice Laws declared himself “quite unable to see” why the Home Secretary should not rely on evidence “gained by torture”...
..evidence against the detainees, so they claim, was based on material passed to British intelligence by interrogators in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram base in Afghanistan. Such intelligence is utterly tainted. Horrifying stories of torture are now emerging from these prisons, from jailers, soldiers and prisoners alike, and from prisons in coalition-occupied Iraq. Charges based on such material are vulnerable to a prima facie defence of duress. Three recent British detainees in Guantanamo confessed under extreme pressure to having “met Osama bin Laden”. They had not done so, and British intelligence validated their previous alibis which was presumably why there were released.
....Lord Justice Laws appears to give the Home Secretary licence to do what the Pentagon has been doing for years. He can sub-contract the gathering of intelligence by illicit methods to private agencies and less-fastidious states abroad. The removal of any “duty of inquiry” into how evidence has been gathered is a green light to British prosecutors to trawl that murkiest of oceans, for “global terrorist” accusations.." Read in full

Aug 17 ~ "The fact is that we have not had a proper discussion of the most important part of the Bill, which affects our civil and political liberties"

The Civil Contingencies Bill - now has its own page on warmwell. It is the UK equivalent of the notorious "Patriot Act" in the US. Only a few amendments have been made in the Commons. On 15 September it will be discussed on the floor of the House of Lords. Lord McNally quotes Richard Shepherd MP who said in the House of Commons: "The fact is that we have not had a proper discussion of the most important part of the Bill, which affects our civil and political liberties" [Official Report, Commons, 24/5/04; col. 1406]:

Aug 17 2004 ~ "security" triumphs over freedom and justice every time

The EU Directorate General Justice and Home Affairs is to be renamed: "Justice, Freedom and Security" It has been noticed by more than Sir Humphrey Appleby in happier days that "many good words and phrases ... are contradicted by others that undermine them. ." The current thinking seems to be that the people (including journalists) lack concentration and the will to look very far. They will latch on to a few significant sounding words and fail to notice that they are merely the sugar coating around noxious contents. Mr Buttiglione is now Commissioner for ""Justice, Freedom and Security". Tony Bunyan, of Statewatch comments: "This simply scrambles the "Area of freedom, security and justice" into a new EU acronym which changes the wrapping and leaves the same policies in place, where security triumphs over freedom and justice every time" Statewatch also links to Moderning police powers to meet community needs (pdf) The Home Office consultation paper on: "Moderning police powers to meet community needs". Includes dropping restriction on arrest to "serious offences", extending use of search warrants, allowing fingerprinting outside of police stations to establish "identity" (no requirement of an offence being suspected), "covert DNA and fingerprints", protests outside homes and powers to impose conditions on demonstrations "in the vicinity of Parliament Square" (ie: including Whitehall and No 10)

Aug 16 ~ Beware rise of Big Brother state, warns data watchdog

The Times "... Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, says that there is a growing danger of East German Stasi-style snooping if the State gathers too much information about individual citizens. He singles out .... David Blunkett’s identity card scheme; a separate population register planned by the Office for National Statistics; and proposals for a database of every child from birth to the age of 18.
...His job is to promote greater public access to official records while ensuring that the State does not collect more information about citizens than is necessary. ... “I don’t want to start talking paranoia language, but data protection has a strong continental European flavour. Some of my counterparts in Eastern Europe, in Spain, have experienced in the last century what can happen when government gets too powerful and has too much information on citizens. When everyone knows everything about everybody else and the Government has got massive files, whether manual or computerised.”
..... “I don’t think people have woken up to what lies behind this,” he says.
.... Mark Oaten, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said he was concerned about the proliferation of databases: “While the Government can sometimes justify each measure individually, the danger is that we are slipping into a Big Brother society by stealth.” Read in full

Aug 15 ~ EU orders health ID cards for all tourists

Independent on Sunday Britons travelling in Europe are to be issued with a new card to give them swift access to the health service when they fall ill. The technology for issuing the cards - which could be a forerunner to more widespread identity cards - is being prepared by the Department of Health, on instructions from the EU Commission, which wants a standard card in use across all 25 EU states. ....... Simon Davies, director general of Privacy International, warned: "We knew from the very beginning of ID cards' gestation that access to the NHS was one of their core targets. If there is an economic argument for ID cards, this is it." David Blunkett....says that all British adults should be compelled to register for the purpose of obtaining an ID card, just as they are compelled to register to vote. However, since the cards are likely to be replace driving licences and passports, they would in effect become compulsory for anyone who wants to drive, travel abroad, use the NHS, or receive state benefits.
His plans were criticised by the CBI last week, because the Government is not prepared to accept responsibility when companies use information that appears on the ID registry which then turns out to be incorrect. Another problem, which neither the Home Office nor the Health Department has yet solved, is that there are many foreign residents in Britain who would not be entitled to an ID card, even though they do qualify for free health care."

Aug 15 ~ "...Mr Prescott is railroading through the greatest revolution in local government that Britain has ever seen.

Its centrepiece is his plan to divide the UK under 12 regional governments, as part of the creation of a "Europe of the regions".
He has already given four regions their governments: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London. He hopes to embark on the final stages of the process in November, when the first referendum on creating similar governments for the eight remaining English "Euro regions" is held in the North East.
Prescott's further plan to create "sub-regions", which will override much of the existing county and borough council structure, is still largely under wraps. The starting point is four "sub-regional" bodies for London. It is a condition of the new regional governments that county councils be abolished, to be replaced by "unitary authorities". Contrary to their name, these will be subordinate to two tiers of regional government above them.
The masterstroke in the engineering of Mr Prescott's revolution has been to make sure that he never explains clearly what he is up to. .." Booker's Notebook Please do read this week's Booker's Notebook in full. It is impossible adequately to summarise the importance of what he says.

Aug 15 ~ we are faced with a new system of government, like nothing the world has seen before.

Booker "....Dennis McShane, our "Europe minister", was rightly excoriated last week for wheeling out, yet again, the tired old claim that anyone who dares criticise the EU is a "xenophobe". The point is that we are faced with a new system of government, like nothing the world has seen before. To suggest that this system is inefficient, corrupt, undemocratic and doomed ultimately to collapse, is not a matter of xenophobia. To those of us who observe its workings in detail, alas, it is simply common sense." Read in full.

Aug 15 ~ "Eurocodes": 57 incredibly complex technical manuals which by 2010 will radically change the way in which Britain's buildings are designed and constructed

Booker's Notebook "...Until now, construction has been governed by a mass of British Standards and codes of practice, refined over decades. Soon, in the name of EU "harmonisation", these standards will be replaced by a new system known as "Eurocodes": 57 incredibly complex technical manuals which by 2010 will radically change the way in which Britain's buildings are designed and constructed. Switching over to this new system will impose huge costs on Britain's engineers, many of whom fear that the new codes - patched together after years of argument between the 15 countries responsible for drawing them up - may result in structures considerably less safe and efficient than at present. .." Read in full

Aug 14 ~ The use of torture to obtain evidence against suspected terrorists was endorsed on August 11th 2004 by the British Court of Appeal.

IndependentIt was a two-to-one judgement. The dissenting judge, Lord Justice Neuberger, warned that by "adopting the fruits of torture" Britain would be weakening its case against terrorists.

Aug 13 ~ Police to get wider arrest powers - Crime is at a record low, so why does Labour talk of crackdowns?

Alarm at plan to use community support officers to tackle beggars, drinking and carrying weapons Guardian
"..The overhaul includes a new power to impose conditions on all demonstrations at Westminster and ban long-term protests in Parliament Square.... The police will also gain powers to fingerprint and photograph suspects without having first to return to the police station, wider powers to demand drug tests of those arrested, and stronger powers to use search warrants. ...
...But it is the proposals to extend the powers of community support officers - civilian patrol staff whose numbers are set to rise from 4,000 to 24,000 in the next four years - that attracted most criticism. ....Even the Association of Chief Police Officers voiced their reservations. Vice-president Denis O'Connor said there was a need to rationalise some of the powers CSOs held. "However we would sound a note of caution at any major extension of powers for CSOs before the Home Office evaluation [of them] is complete."
Crime is at a record low, so why does Labour talk of crackdowns? asks John Kampfner in this Guardian comment article ..."

Aug 13 ~ Blunkett appoints former MI5 chief

Associated Press "A former head of MI5 will play a key role in the government's new "British FBI", the home secretary, David Blunkett announced today. .Sir Stephen Lander was named chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) - the first time an ex-spymaster has played such a crucial role in British policing. "

Aug 10 ~ Blunkett faces revolt over terror powers

Nigel Morris in the Independent ".... A powerful coalition of ministers opposes the renewal of emergency powers to detain foreign terrorist suspects without charge. They also warn that measures designed to combat domestic terrorism could backfire because they cause resentment among a generation of young Muslims.
Mr Blunkett's critics include the Government's senior law officers, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. The Home Secretary has already encountered resistance among senior ministers to proposals for compulsory identity cards and a national DNA database.
Hostility has intensified as Mr Blunkett draws up a new package to replace anti-terrorist legislation of 2000 and 2001. Most contentious is his determination to keep the power to detain suspected international terrorists without trial. A total of 12 foreign nationals, including several at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, have been held under the power, rushed in shortly after the 11 September attacks in 2001.
Some ministers argue the measure is "disproportionate" to the threat faced by Britain and could even play into the hands of terrorists. They also fear the recent US Supreme Court ruling that more than 500 foreigners held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba had the right to challenge their indefinite detention could leave Britain exposed if a similar policy continues to be applied at Belmarsh. They have also noted hints that the US Democratic presidential contender, John Kerry, could act on the ruling if he wins power later this year. .."

Aug 9 ~ " Social democracy and capitalism cannot be triangulated - more of one means less of the other."

Neal Lawson and Paul Thompson in the Guardian " The job of social democratic governments is to draw and redraw the lines between democracy and the market, the individual and the collective, the public and the private. If we give in to the principle of market supremacy then we won't know where or how to draw those lines. Worse still, we end up not knowing that lines have to be drawn at all. Social democracy cannot take root in the shadow cast by neo-liberalism. Ultimately we have to define our own agenda for a realisable radical transfor mation. If others offer an alternative leadership, then we want to hear their ideas. If the party is to survive, it must relearn the habits of critical debate. Behind the scenes, the next manifesto is being posed by Downing Street as consolidators (read Brownites) v radical reformers (read Blairites). The battleground is choice, but the initial one is to be made by the party and movement. Are we prepared to risk defeat with the bogus radicalism and burned-out legitimacy of the New Labour project, or can we remarshall our forces around a genuine social democratic programme? "

Aug 8 ~ a 'Faustian bargain' between the media and politicians over terrorism.

'I am acutely aware that there is a Faustian bargain on offer for those who want it: airtime, in exchange for ratcheting the fear factor one notch higher,' Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman in the Observer

Aug 5 ~"...the Government intend to publish as much of the final report as is consistent with the need to protect any operationally-sensitive material."

Hansard Llew Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what arrangements he is putting in place (a) to make available paper copies of the final report of the Iraq Survey Group on its publication and (b) to place the text on a Government website; and what plans he has to publicise its publication.
Mr Rammell: There is no set timetable for reporting by the Iraq Survey Group, nor is there any deadline for the completion of the Group's task.
At present, the Government have not drawn up any plans for publication of the Group's final report but, as with the Group's interim reports, the Government intend to publish as much of the final report as is consistent with the need to protect any operationally-sensitive material."

Aug 5 ~ the world community should be more alert to a growing trend to label as "terrorists" groups seeking to exercise the right of self-determination.

Reuters reports that a United Nations investigator has called on governments to stop whipping up exaggerated fears of terrorism among their populations, in an apparent reference to the United States and Britain. " Fear of terrorism "out of proportion to its actual risk and generated by states themselves or other actors" can be exploited to make people accept "counter-terrorism measures that unduly curtail human rights and humanitarian law," the report declared "

Aug 5 ~ Britain and the US stood accused of a shocking catalogue of human rights abuses yesterday

by three Britons who were held at Guantanamo Bay. Reuters reports that they "have published a dossier that describes systematic abuse at the U.S. Naval Base, including being beaten, interrogated at gunpoint and photographed naked.... rights lawyer Michael Ratner ... said the three men released the document to help other detainees and were not seeking monetary damages. "

Aug 3 ~ Protest is inseparable from democracy: every time it is restricted, the state becomes less democratic.

Guardian George Monbiot ".... Parliament chose to believe a string of obvious lies. The media repeated them, the civil service let them pass, the judiciary endorsed them. The answer to the age-old political question - who guards the guards? - .........we should expect those in power to seek to prevent the public from holding them to account. Whenever they can get away with it, they will restrict the right to protest. They got away with it last week. The demonstrators who have halted the construction of the new animal testing labs in Oxford command little public sympathy.....For fear of being seen to sympathise with dangerous nutters, hardly anyone dares to speak out against the repressive laws with which the government intends to restrain them. .....All protest in residential areas, in other words, could now be treated as a criminal offence. ..... The government will also seek to "suggest remedies" for websites which "include material deemed to cause concern or needless anxiety to others". As my own site has already been blacklisted by at least one public body, I have reason to fear this proposal, alongside every online dissident in Britain. If all this goes ahead, in other words, legal protest will be confined to writing letters to your MP. Or perhaps even that could be deemed to cause "concern or needless anxiety" to the honourable member. ...... By the time we have lost our freedoms, we will have forgotten what they were. The silence with which the new laws were greeted last week suggests that the forgetting has already begun." Read in full

Aug 3 ~ "... so controversial now is Mr Scarlett, the necessary element of public confidence will be lacking."

Comment by Menzies Campbell in today's Independent - which says, "The Government refused yesterday to deny an authoritative report that John Scarlett, the former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), asked the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) to include 10 "golden nuggets" in its report on weapons of mass destruction.." Read in full - and see below

Aug 2 ~ "Inclusion of Scarlett's nuggets would have been grossly manipulative of the truth. Let's face it, he wanted us to include lies.

Independent "...John Scarlett suggested that the Iraq Survey Group report should include claims about Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenals - which had already been proven unreliable, an unnamed member of the ISG was quoted as saying in The Mail on Sunday.
Mr Scarlett - who takes up his role as head of the secret intelligence service this week - sent a confidential email to the head of the ISG on 8 March with a list of 10 "golden nuggets" for possible inclusion in the report, it was claimed. His suggestions were rejected. But after pressure from the US and Britain, the ISG produced only a bland, 20-page document about the failure of their 1,400-strong team to find any trace of WMD in Iraq, rather than the expected 200-page analysis, The Mail on Sunday said. .....
"Everything Scarlett wanted in was based on very old evidence which we had painstakingly investigated and shown to be false," he said." Read in full

Aug 1 ~ Timing is all, and notice of the curtailment of John Morrison's employment did not emerge until after the House had risen

and the Prime Minister had conducted his inevitably difficult end-of-term press conference...." Brian Jones in the Observer

Aug 1 ~ Blair defies watchdog over jobs for the boys

Independent on Sunday "... Members of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, the watchdog designed to vet appointments, are furious at the move, which they say will lead to a relaxation of the rules designed to prevent corruption in Whitehall. The body has sounded a clear warning over the number of officials - particularly from the Ministry of Defence - moving into well-paid jobs with firms bidding for Whitehall contracts. ....the anti-sleaze watchdog raised concerns on at least four occasions..... The focus on the appointments will be particularly unwelcome this week, coming just days after trenchant criticism of the MoD's procurements from MPs. A report by the House of Commons Defence Committee was scathing about billion-pound cost overruns and years' delays to key projects. "The performance of the Defence Procurement Agency in 2002-2003 can only be described as woeful," concluded the report.
Nevertheless Mr Blair remains determined to make it easier for officials to move in and out of the private sector...." Read in full

August 1 2004 ~ "...The response from Mrs Beckett and Mr Morley, abetted by Tim Yeo for the Tories, is simply to threaten tougher enforcement of laws..."

Booker's Notebook in the Sunday Telegraph "An avalanche of high-minded directives have created regulatory pressures that are now in complete conflict with each other, rendering our waste management system increasingly unworkable.
On one hand, Brussels classifies ever more items as "hazardous waste" - used oil, paints, old vehicles, electrical equipment, asbestos, contaminated soil - so we now have to dispose of 5.2 million tons of these each year, a figure that has doubled in four years. On the other hand, as of two weeks ago, the number of landfill sites licensed to take hazardous waste has been reduced from 218 to fewer than 10 - so that, according to the Government's own figures, we only have the capacity to bury less than half the hazardous waste we are generating.
One entirely predictable result is an epidemic of abandoned cars, roadside heaps of paint cans and other examples of fly-tipping. The response from Mrs Beckett and Mr Morley, abetted by Tim Yeo for the Tories, is simply to threaten tougher enforcement of laws.." Read in full

July 31 ~ Playing politics with science issues

"The substitution of manipulable focus groups for House of Commons policy debate and select committee inquiry neglects the accumulated wisdom and cultural resources of the British constitution," wrote the former Labour MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, Dr Jeremy Bray. The Herald last Thursday published this article about the late Dr Bray's "devastating critique of New Labour's record" Read in full

July 30 ~ Regional Assemblies:"The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is quite clearly losing the battle for hearts and minds."

Graham Booth, UKIP member of the EU Parliament is concerned at the way he was heckled at a meeting of the "South West Regional Assembly". He had three minutes in which to give a report but was heckled by members of the chamber, while the Chairman " kept interrupting, saying my report was too political." The WMN reports:

July 30 ~ ID cards plan is "secretive" and poorly thought out

David Blunkett's plan for compulsory identity cards will be condemned by the home affairs select committee today as " improperly costed, poorly thought out, secretive and "lacking in clarity both over the scheme's scope and practical operation".
See Guardian today. As John Humphrys says, "We don't exactly have a good track record on this sort of thing do we?"
The National data base will hold an enormous amount of information about each of us. Why? And why should so many government departments have a right to see the information while we do not?

July 26 ~ "... These are people who for a lifetime have been loyal hard-working servants of the State , well used to not breaking ranks. and now they have so it is a very serious thing."

Air Marshall Sir John Walker spoke out in the Today Programme on behalf of John Morrison, (sacked it seems for saying "When I heard him using those words I could almost hear the collective raspberry going up around Whitehall") and on behalf of the "great 400 year old democracy of ours" Sir John said: The Telegraph reports that " Sir David Omand, the Cabinet Office permanent secretary, was reportedly infuriated by Mr Morrison's appearance. The ISC, unlike Commons select committees, reports to the Cabinet Office and Mr Morrison was told last week that his contract was being terminated." (Read from one year ago "All the Prime Minsiter's Men" in the Telegraph )

July 25 ~ A national database containing confidential details about every child in Britain is to be set up by the government.

An identifying number will be assigned to each child so that the authorities can access their records. Sunday Times

July 25 ~"... the information on each of us being put in the hands of the state is vast."

Observer Leader "....Last week the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, proposed that every car in Britain be installed with a satellite receiver that could track every journey it makes and charge for it. The idea is to limit traffic congestion by extending the idea of a congestion charge. By 2013 every British citizen will have to carry an identity card with a biometric imprint. The idea is to cut welfare fraud and illegal immigration. By then the mergers of the Inland Revenue and Custom and Excise will have taken place so that all tax records will be held centrally. Each individual initiative is justifiable; cumulatively, they represent a step change in the state's capacity to know where we are.
Nor is this confined to the public sector. Banks and building societies can track our record in paying off our debts to which the entire industry has access; phone companies register every phone call and mobile phone companies can identify where we are. We need a national debate about the degree to which a new Big Brother is emerging and how we can protect the most precious quality of all - individual liberty. .."

July 25 ~ "The principles of Runnymede could finally apply to the unregulated Brussels super-state."

"Magna Carta is often invoked, yet its freedoms are being violated .." writes Tristram Hunt in yesterday's Guardian "....This is perhaps the key to the enduring currency of Magna Carta down the centuries: its perpetual ability to be invested with different meanings by utterly divergent parties. Yet even as politicians eulogise its place in our national heritage, governments remain keener than ever to undermine its principles." Read in full

July 24 2004 ~ All the historic checks and balances.... disregarded or casually discarded.

From today's Guardian Leader ".....The distinguished insider was describing a situation in which a prime minister presided over a massive parliamentary majority (including a largely tame and quiescent backbench) and over a form of cabinet government which, by any conventional measure, was all but dormant.
The parliamentary opposition was as feeble as anyone could remember.
Parliament itself was treated with scorn, with information carefully channelled through favoured media outlets rather than on the floor of the house.
The security services, as we have now learned, were being treated as a district office of the executive.
As if all this was not enough, the same prime minister toyed with the notion of abolishing the office of lord chancellor while simultaneously bringing the judiciary under the tender care and control of the Home Office.
All the historic checks and balances; all the restraints of parliamentary democracy and consensual decision-making; all the traditional, if unwritten, means of separating powers - all were disregarded or casually discarded.
We know to our cost the unhappy ending to that particular story: a woefully misguided war cynically marketed to a sceptical public by the misleading abuse of intelligence and and with a total absence of effective parliamentary challenge or scrutiny."

July 24 ~ "...when the Freedom of Information Act 2000 goes into operation on January 1 2005, we shall only be marginally better placed"

Peter Hennessy in the Guardian "..... But for two contingencies - the suicide of Dr Kelly and President Bush's decision to commission an inquiry into WMD and intelligence - we would have precious little to go on as electors reaching a judgment retrospectively on what the Butler report called "the vital matter of war and peace". And, when the Freedom of Information Act 2000 goes into operation on January 1 2005, we shall only be marginally better placed. For, by my estimate, around three-quarters of the material Hutton and Butler published will be within the intelligence-related exemptions in that statute and, therefore, immune from disclosure." Read in full
See also on warmwell "Freedom of Information" by Richard Wakeford - a worrying read. "..... weaker than the voluntary Code of Practice on Access to Government Information that was introduced by John Major in 1993 "

July 24 ~ I used to think he had persuaded himself of his duff information, but after Butler I can no longer believe it

Matthew Parris in the Times "....even Mr Blair’s admirers confess that in pursuit of his goals, this is a prime minister who is careless of the proprieties, cynical in his disregard for the lies his servants tell, and ready to twist the truth.
The alternative is unthinkable. It is that before he relayed the warning to to the nation, Mr Blair honestly never thought to ask for details of the attack Saddam could launch within 45 minutes; that he honestly overlooked the word “tonight” in Jacques Chirac’s refusal to support a United Nations ultimatum; that Jack Straw honestly thought the Prime Minister did not need to hear how key evidence for his case had been kicked away; that John Scarlett brushed aside caveats, not because he knew his boss preferred to do the same, but because in his professional opinion they did not matter; that, in short, the Prime Minister is an idiot served by idiots rather than a cynic served by cynics. By accepting Mr Blair’s good faith, Lord Butler can be argued to have launched an excoriating attack on his competence.
I do not doubt his competence. I used to think he had persuaded himself of his duff information, but after Butler I can no longer believe it. Mr Blair is a playground cheat and — frankly, my dear — Britain does not give a damn. The dogs may bark but the caravan moves on. Well, this dog is still barking." Read in full

July 23 ~ " The Government has changed its position but that's good for democracy..." John Prescott

John Prescott has delayed two pathfinding referendums aimed at establishing England's first regional assemblies. Referendums in the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber, planned for 4 November, were postponed. But a poll in the North East will go ahead as scheduled, MPs were told.
Ministers cited concerns about fraud during last month's pilot all-postal European and local elections, but opposition MPs said the votes had been scrapped because ministers feared a backlash against proposed regional assemblies among their own MPs..
Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Local Government minister, said: "When you use the word postpone, you mean cancel, scrap ... consign to the dustbin of failed ideas. The truth is that nobody wants an extra layer of professional politicians leeching more tax out of the pockets of hard-working people. "The reasons you've given for pulling these referendums is a fig-leaf to disguise the real reason," he said. "The fact is a majority of Labour MPs were in covert or open rebellion in the North West and Yorkshire this week." ." Independent

July 23 ~ The prospect of creating Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool was judged a step too far, even for a rejuvenated Mr Blair

Peter Mandelson " had been expected to jump at the chance of a return to a frontline post in Brussels. But he had a last-minute wobble and asked Mr Blair to let him "sleep on it" last night. Mr Mandelson told friends he was having second thoughts about leaving Parliament, his Hartlepool constituency, the New Labour project and his role as an adviser to Mr Blair at a time when a general election was looming.
His critics at Westminster were quick to interpret this as an attempt to secure a second comeback to the Cabinet after the election, which is expected to be held next May. That was flatly denied by his allies.
Mr Blair had been expected to reshuffle his Cabinet yesterday or today but left for his Sedgefield constituency last night without announcing any changes. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, shouted across the Commons chamber: "There is no reshuffle.....
.., the Government had planned to move the writ for a by-election in Mr Mandelson's Hartlepool constituency. This would have allowed a short, sharp campaign with voting in three weeks' time....Downing Street considered moving the writ during the summer recess, but discovered that, under parliamentary rules, it could only do so if Mr Mandelson was declared dead, mad or bankrupt or was appointed a peer. The prospect of creating Lord Mandelson of Hartlepool was judged a step too far, even for a rejuvenated Mr Blair..... " Independent

July 22 - " In their disagreement, Cook and Hague exposed the leadership of both their parties.

The former foreign secretary rightly criticised the tone of his leader's speech. Struggling at first and pinned down by astute interventions, the prime minister wallowed in point scoring as he dismantled the unhappy leader of the opposition. It was a cheap performance that dug him out a hole but did him no credit. He left the chamber before Mr Cook spoke - and no other cabinet minister remained. The impression was of a government dusting itself down and grinning at a cheeky escape. The prime minister may hope that he will return after the summer and put Iraq behind him. If he thinks that, he is wrong." From the Guardian Leader July 21

July 21 ~"...the system puts almost all the cards in a single pair of hands."

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian "The four Iraq-related inquiries have only underlined the point. Reid and Blair may call them "independent", but the investigations by the Commons foreign affairs committee, the intelligence and security committee, Hutton and Butler all share one characteristic: they were led by people hand-picked by the prime minister. .....if the prime minister wants something badly enough, he gets it. In the Iraq case, his laser-like resolve to stand with George Bush burned through every obstacle: the JIC, the cabinet, parliament, British public opinion. He overcame them all. What is the solution? I have a maximalist answer and a more modest one.......
No prime minister ever cedes power voluntarily. The trick is to use politics to wrest some of it from their grasp. The lesson of Iraq, and the poll tax for that matter, should be engraved above the desk in Downing Street, for all future prime ministers to read: "You have vast power, but use it at your peril." Twice in two decades, it has brought disaster." Read in full

July 20 ~ "the media have allowed themselves to be carried away by the question of secret intelligence, and have ignored equally or even more important questions of policy.

Senator Kerry has accused President Bush and his administration of misleading the public about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and specifically about nuclear involvement. They "misled America... And they were wrong. And soldiers lost their lives because they were wrong". In Britain, now that it is clear that US and British policy has been based on a deception, it is equally clear that Iain Duncan Smith and the shadow cabinet were also deceived..." Oliver Miles in the Guardian

July 20 ~ A poll released yesterday indicates a majority of Britons believes Mr Blair lied over Iraq.

Fifty-five per cent of respondents to the ICM poll for The Guardian said Mr Blair had lied, while 37 per cent said he told the truth. Just 38 per cent of those polled said the war was justified, while 56 per cent felt it was not. Independent

July 20 ~Ten questions the Prime Minister has to answer

  • When did Mr Blair learn that some intelligence underpinning the dossier had been withdrawn? Did he learn of any doubts about that intelligence before the war?
  • What changes did Downing Street ask Lord Butler to make to his inquiry report? Did Mr Blair's office try to tone down criticism of the Prime Minister?
  • Why did Government witnesses not tell Lord Hutton that crucial intelligence on Saddam's chemical weapons production had been withdrawn?
  • Why was the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee not told the intelligence had been withdrawn?
  • Did Mr Blair challenge the fact that important caveats in intelligence reports were removed from the Government's dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction?
  • Did Mr Blair ask intelligence officers what sort of weapons the "45-minutes" claim related to?
  • When Lord Goldsmith said he needed "hard facts" to make the legal case for war, on what basis did Mr Blair reassure the Attorney General that the intelligence on Iraq warranted military action? Why will Mr Blair not publish the Attorney General's full advice?
  • Why was the Cabinet denied detailed papers on Iraq and given only oral briefings in the run-up to war?
  • Does Mr Blair accept that his statement to MPs on 24 September 2002 reinforced the impression that there was fuller intelligence behind the Government's dossier than actually existed? Will he now apologise?
  • Would Mr Blair have voted for the motion which authorised war in March last year if he knew then what he knows now?

    July 19 ~"There was never an honest debate in cabinet"

    Clare Short writes in the Independent today "Most ministers saw little intelligence and knew only what they read in the press".....
      "the report draws attention to the Prime Minister's very informal style of decision-making. It tells us there were papers written to inform cabinet discussion that were not circulated, therefore cabinet members were unable to take advice or reflect on issues in advance. However, we are told that the Cabinet discussed Iraq on 24 occasions. But most members of the Cabinet saw little intelligence, read no papers and knew only what they read in the press.
      Mr Blair raised Iraq after the summer recess of 2002 at every cabinet meeting. He would start by saying a few words, inviting Jack Straw or Geoff Hoon to speak and then intervening repeatedly to inform the Cabinet of developments. Their advice was never sought. They were kept informed and most were willing to go along with the Prime Minister but there was no collective decision which was thrashed out in honest debate and to which the Cabinet then adhered.
      In fact, since 1997, there has not been cabinet government in Britain. Power is centralised around the Prime Minister's informal entourage and patronage is used ruthlessly to keep people in line. The Prime Minister does not hold himself responsible to Cabinet or Parliament but to the media, which is why Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson have been so powerful.
      Under the Blair regime, much more than under Margaret Thatcher, British constitutional arrangements are crumbling. The votes of one in four of the people in the 2001 election produced a majority of 64 per cent in the Commons. This means almost anything can be rammed through the Commons and the only resistance comes from the House of Lords. Power has been sucked into No 10 and policy is driven by headline-grabbing announcements. It means that checks and balances have broken down, and that leads to ill-considered policy - most tragically in Tony Blair's policy towards Iraq."
    Read in full

    July 19 ~ ...cabinet members were not given a copy of the attorney general's advice of March 7 2003

    Guardian " Butler makes no reference to a rumoured January 2003 advice by the attorney general. After resolution 1441 was adopted, giving Iraq one final chance, Britain pushed hard for a further resolution that would explicitly authorise the use of force. Legal advice must have been given on whether a further resolution was needed. But Butler makes no reference to a rumoured January 2003 advice by the attorney general. ...The report suggests that Straw and the attorney general did not follow the views of the Foreign Office legal advisers, who are best placed to express views on the international law issues..
    .....we can now say this: even on the widely discredited basis put forward for the lawfulness of going to war - Iraq's material breach of its security council obligations - the use of force could not be justified. ." Philippe Sands QC Read in full

    July 19 ~ "... There was no clear response to a report that Downing Street managed to water down criticism

    in the Butler report, allowing the Prime Minister to say he acted in good faith. ..." Independent

    July 19 ~ "So Geraldine Smith MP was misled. Well, millions of us were not and we were ignored.

    We marched and we wrote and all we got was Tony Blair accusing us of being pro-Saddam Hussein, which we were not. Far from there being intelligence in this government there is an awful lot of naivity and arrogance."
    Kathleen O'Neill whose letter is one of many in today's Guardian

    July 19 ~ "...Closer inspection of Butler reveals that the processes of government were turned into something more akin to a banana republic

    than an advanced Western democracy. You do not have to be a liberal, middle-class journalist to find these contradictions frustrating and want to "get" the man responsible for it all...."
    "...Sir: That the Government lied to us to justify the war in Iraq is no longer in dispute. The shocking thing to me is that there is no consensus that this matters...."
    "...Sir: The Prime Minister and John Scarlett acted in good faith. So did Andrew Gilligan, Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davies and David Westwood. Is it then only when your misjudgement kills tens of thousands of men, women and children that you get to keep your job? "
    several letters in the Independent

    July 19 ~ How intelligence was bent to one will and purpose

    Anthony Sampson, in yesterday's Observer, assesses the faults of Scarlett and Campbell over Iraq and says both were acting for one man - the Prime Minister . Lord Butler's ... findings. ... show clearly that the blame can be shifted, in each case, to the very top - to the Prime Minister...
      It remains an unsolved mystery as to why Blair, who had no personal experience of the Middle East, became so convinced about the immediate danger of Saddam, and so determined on war, against much advice from diplomats as well as military and political colleagues. It was not just his desire to please Bush, strong though that was. Blair has described how when he first met Bush in early 2001, months before 11 September, it was he who warned Bush about the twin dangers of WMDs and terrorism. When Blair visited Bush on his Texas ranch in April 2002 some diplomats believe that he was actually stiffening Bush's resolve to go to war, if the UN route failed. Yet none of the documents quoted by Butler or Hutton reflect that same urgency about Iraq. Instead they show that Number 10 was always making the running, encouraging the JIC to provide judgments which went (as Butler says) to 'the outer limits of the intelligence available'. The crucial dossier was carefully redrafted to satisfy the Prime Minister; and when a precious piece of evidence about the 45-minute weapon was later withdrawn (as we learnt last week) he was not even informed. "
    Read in full

    July 19 ~ Only 5000 corpses uncovered - not the 40,000 quoted by Blair

    " Downing Street has admitted to The Observer that repeated claims by Tony Blair that '400,000 bodies had been found in Iraqi mass graves' is untrue, and only about 5,000 corpses have so far been uncovered. ..The claims by Blair in November and December of last year, were given widespread credence, quoted by MPs and widely published, including in the introduction to a US government pamphlet on Iraq's mass graves...." Read in full

    July 18 ~ a wilful refusal to seek the truth.

    (The Butler Report) cemented the impression that Tony Blair decided on war first and sought the justification later. But nobody expects him to admit that, not even to himself. Independent on Sunday
    "Tony Blair will stand up in the House of Commons on Tuesday and attempt, yet again, to conclude the long debate about the invasion of Iraq. This may be the last chance for Mr Blair's critics to put the questions that still remain, even after four inquiries, about his decision to go to war. ... Lord Butler revealed that both the "45 minutes" information and the intelligence from the "new source" had been withdrawn last July....the IoS has learned that MI6 discovered the untrustworthiness of its new source a lot earlier.
    .......The realisation began to dawn that he (the Iraqi military officer ) was as unreliable as MI6's other main source; it is even possible that he was planting disinformation. Be that as it may, the Butler committee found that three of MI6's five main sources on Iraq's CBW had been discredited. The two still considered accurate were painting a far less alarming picture. ....
    ...neither the Government nor the intelligence agencies thought it necessary to reappraise their views on Iraq's WMD after the UN inspectors repeatedly followed up MI6 and CIA leads and drew a blank. Butler found this omission "surprising". Others might say it demonstrated a wilful refusal to seek the truth..." Read in full

    July 17 ~ " ...a lightning flash illuminating a spectrum of failures from human and political shortcomings in the Cabinet room to the unreliability of some of the human intelligence garnered inside Iraq."

    Peter Hennessy in today's Independent "Perhaps the most surprising revelation from its nearly 200 pages is the degree to which intelligence did not pave the road to war. From the spring of 2002, when the Blair government switched from a policy of containing Saddam to one of "enforcing Iraqi disarmament" - a shift which, in Butler's words, "was not based on any new development in the current intelligence picture on Iraq" - to the very eve of the war a year later, when the Attorney General's opinion that the imminent war was legal did not rest on new intelligence, the story is one of negatives...." Read in full

    July 17 ~ "...The Prime Minister has lied when there was no possibility of justification.

    On the evidence now clear, he is also a liar. He has kept at it. He is, very likely, also more dishonourable than an open liar. He is confused about what matters most. He has dragged down democratic politics further." Professor Ted Honderich in a letter to the Independent

    July 17 ~ As late as February this year the Government was still insisting that the dossier provided a balanced view

    (Independent) "On each of the three occasions where intelligence was withdrawn, MI6 told the JIC and Mr Scarlett of its decision. According to MI6, it was up to the JIC to pass this on to Downing Street. The Cabinet Office refused to comment yesterday on whether this was done, or when MI6 informed the JIC"
    Mr Blair will be questioned about the new controversy in a Commons debate next week

    July 16 ~ "So far, four journalists and editors have lost their jobs but not a single politician or public official has been held to account for the botched road to war. .."

    New Stateman".. In his statement to MPs, Blair resorted yet again to his "What's the problem? We've got rid of a bad man" refrain. But this time he had to temper it with an acknowledgement of "full personal responsibility". He said he had searched his conscience "not in a spirit of obstinacy but in genuine reconsideration in the light of what we now know". Then he resorted to his tried and trusted tactic of triangulation. Even though it was now clear "that the evidence of Saddam's WMD was indeed less certain", he could not go to the "opposite extreme" and conclude that he posed no danger. The logic of this is utterly flawed. This was Blair's opportunity to put his hands up and say simply that - as Butler suggests time and again - he had got the intelligence wrong, no ifs, no buts.
    So far, four journalists and editors have lost their jobs but not a single politician or public official has been held to account for the botched road to war. Blair will escape not because of a lack of rigour on the part of Butler but because of a lack of political accountability. ......... Blair's lack of political accountability was also highlighted in the events immediately after publication of Butler's report. In the Commons, Michael Howard asked the right questions. Why were the caveats, the qualifications, the cautions left out of the dossier? How did qualified judgements become unqualified certainties? And the most important question for the future - if Blair had to commit British forces into action on the basis of another intelligence assessment, would anyone again believe him? Blair had no answer, but he did have the wounding riposte that Howard and the Conservatives were staunchly behind the war.
    ... In immediate political terms, Blair has been let off the hook, but such were the terms of the inquiry no other outcome was possible. Butler could not remove Blair. But he has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that, on the biggest decision of his premiership, Blair's judgement was found wanting, woefully so." Read in full

    July 15 ~ Now for the other Butler report. This is not about cooking books. It is about handling the caterers.

    Simon Jenkins in the Times "In his final chapter Lord Butler turns to Mr Blair’s style of regime. He is unequivocal. This style, he says, “lessened the support of the mechanism of government for the collective responsibility of the Cabinet”. Its “informality and circumscribed character” meant that ministers could make little input to decisions. Mr Blair’s use of “frequent but unscripted” meetings and the neglect of official papers beforehand was “of concern”. This was the more dangerous where “in the vital matter of war and peace . . . the quality of judgment is all the more important”. ........ ...... To Lord Butler, the Iraq intelligence debacle was a case history of what Mr Blair and his cronies had done to his beloved Civil Service. The degeneration of carefully nuanced intelligence as it rose up the assessment hierarchy might be no different from what happened before the Falklands. What was new in the case of Iraq was that Downing Street itself was stripped of normal checks and balances and denuded of independent-minded advice. Even the Cabinet no longer operated. ......
    Lord Butler clearly believes that no government can be run on Napoleonic lines. The Northcote-Trevelyan Civil Service was created 150 years ago to replace a corrupt and incompetent executive based on ministerial patronage, an executive for which Mr Blair seems to yearn. ..." Read in full

    July 14 ~ The most damaging fallout from Butler will be the light it sheds not on the machinery of government — but on Mr Blair’s character as leader.

    Simon Jenkins today "... Before the war Mr Blair said a dozen things that turned out to be untrue, and his staff induced others to do likewise. But this was for a specific cause. That cause was not confronting Saddam Hussein as such. It was the decision, taken by Mr Blair personally in mid-2002, to support whatever action George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld might take in Iraq.
    The Downing Street dossiers that form the raw material for Hutton and Butler were never intelligence reports as such. Such documents are always nuanced, detailed and confidential. These were pro-war tracts. In language and presentation they were the base metal of intelligence turned to media gold by the conjurers and bullies with whom Mr Blair had filled Downing Street. Even professional Washington was aghast...." Read in full

    July 14 ~ House of Lords throws out plans to abolish Lord Chancellor

    Independent "....Lord Kingsland, a Conservative frontbench spokesman, said: "The Government is risking our future with its uncontrollable obsession with obliterating our past." He told peers: "The Government wish to expunge the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from our constitution. This office still has a vital role in protecting the rule of law."
    Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a former law lord, warned: "The task of defending judicial independence in Cabinet is a task of such critical importance that it should be given to a senior judge or lawyer who is a member of the House of Lords and not a politician on his way up the greasy pole." He added: "The necessary check would be there if the Lord Chancellor is in the Cabinet. We will get rid of that at our peril."...." Read in full

    July 13 ~ "....why journalists help governments to lie to the people."

    George Monbiot in the Guardian "....When starving people find food, they don't worry too much about the ingredients. Michael Moore's film is crude and sometimes patronising. He puts words into people's mouths. He finishes their sentences for them. At times he is funny and moving, at others clumsy and incoherent. But I was shaken by it, and I applauded at the end. For Fahrenheit 9/11 asks the questions that should have been asked every day for the past four years. The success of his film testifies to the rest of the media's failure. Tomorrow the Butler report will reopen the debate about who was to blame for the lies with which we went to war - the government or the intelligence agencies. One thing the news networks will not be discussing is the culpability of the news networks. After this inquiry, we will need another one, whose purpose is to discover why journalists help governments to lie to the people.
    .....When most of our journalists fail us, it's hardly surprising that the few who are brave enough to expose the lies of the powerful become heroes, even if their work is pretty coarse. When a scruffy comedian from Michigan can bring us closer to the truth than the BBC, it's time for a serious examination of why news has become the propaganda of the victor. " Read in full

    July 6 ~ The Chinese military doctor who blew the whistle last year on China's SARS cover-up is reportedly undergoing " interrogation and indoctrination "

    The claim has been made by the Washington Post "...in late February, Jiang sent a letter to the leadership urging them to admit the party's 1989 military assault on student-led, pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square was wrong....the doctor said he wanted to use the political capital he had accumulated during the SARS crisis to speak out on behalf of the victims of the 1989 massacre and their relatives. ..".
    " When the family pressed officials to name which regulations Jiang had violated, one of the officials was quoted by the source as replying: "Not being consistent with the party's Central Committee." ... officials have shown family members at least two handwritten notes from the doctor. In one, the sources said, Jiang said he was fine, urged the family not to worry about him and made the vow to "seek truth through facts." .."

    July 6 ~ GMB Union will no longer automatically back Labour.

    With £750,000 worth of electoral funds at its disposal, the union has decided not to give it to the Labour party but to back the individual candidates that it feels best reflect the union's interest. (Channel 4 news update)

    July 6 ~ to govern better, we have to govern less; we have to let people make more decisions with less interference from politicians and bureaucrats

    Oliver Letwin in today's Telegraph "...... The desire to be seen to be active in every aspect of life has created a new logic of big government. Bureaucrats and administrators in units, boards and panels devise regulations and set conditions on specific grants in order to implement initiatives, so that compliance with targets can be monitored by inspectors in the ever-growing layers of government that control local activity.
    How can we unwind this logic? Since the Government has grown too big, we need to make it smaller.
    We cannot shrink the Government just by cutting out waste. We have to change the approach to governing: to govern better, we have to govern less; we have to let people make more decisions with less interference from politicians and bureaucrats" Read in full

    July 6 ~ "My son died because he was lied to."

    The Western Mail on the reaction of the father whose 20-year-old son Tom, from Bala, was one of six Royal Military policemen shot dead in Iraq last June. The hand-written letter he received from Tony Blair was leaked by an unknown source - Mr Keys said he did not release the information - to a Sunday tabloid.
      ".... He put pressure on Greg Dyke to go because he didn't double-check Gilligan's story; Piers Morgan was sacked because he didn't check the authenticity of the pictures allegedly showing British troops abusing Iraqi soldiers; and now Blunkett is forcing the chief of police of Humberside to resign because his force did not double-check Huntley's background.
      "The Prime Minister didn't double-check MI6 intelligence and now 60 British servicemen are dead and thousands of innocent Iraqis.
      "My son died because he was lied to." Read in full

    July 6 ~ "Some aides want Mr Blair to try to turn the Butler report to his advantage"

    Spin is so much taken for granted now that even the idea of an apology is seen merely as a possible vote-winner. All depends on what Butler actually reports. " he will accept that mistakes were made if that is what Butler concludes " See the Independent today:
      "... there is an intense debate inside Downing Street about the tone that Mr Blair should adopt when he describes what went wrong over the intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Some aides want Mr Blair to try to turn the Butler report to his advantage by issuing a frank admission that he was wrong to base the case for war on WMD. "This could be a cathartic moment - but only if we say it strongly enough," one said yesterday. Other advisers are arguing that Mr Blair has nothing to apologise for despite the failure to find WMD in Iraq....Although the Prime Minister's statement will not be finalised until he receives the Butler report, close allies believe he will adopt a middle course. "He won't say sorry but he will accept that mistakes were made if that is what Butler concludes and he will promise that lessons will be learnt," one said..."

    July 5 ~ Referendum for Regional Assemblies "The Government will not be showing the leaflet to the Electoral Commission in advance of publication."

    Hansard "To ask the Deputy Prime Minister what steps he will be taking to ensure that the content of leaflets distributed to households in regions due to hold a referendum on an elected regional assembly is objective; whether he will be consulting the Electoral Commission on their content..."

    July 5 ~ No Excuse for Denial - letter in the Washington Post

    WP "The Justice Department is reported to have denied a request made under the Freedom of Information Act for a copy of its database of foreign lobbyists because making such a copy might crash the system and destroy data [news story, June 30].
    If that's true, one might ask Thomas J. McIntyre, the official quoted, how the department backs up the database, which is nothing more or less than creating a copy.
    Only two responses are possible: Either the department backs up the database with no ill effects, in which case the original claim is specious, or the department doesn't back it up, in which case the entire information technology department ought to be fired for incompetence."

    July 4 ~" Is No 10 running scared of Butler?"

    Independent on Sunday "What will be Downing Street's reaction to the report? Unlike with the Hutton inquiry, Mr Blair is likely to know its contents at least a week in advance, since it is a report to him, not an independent judicial inquiry. He will have plenty of time to prepare what is being dubbed a "non-apology apology". ..
    ....A host of measures prepared in case Lord Hutton issued a critical report have been readied for the Butler report..." Read in full

    July 4 ~ "intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the (Butler) report before it is made public.."

    "A draft report of the inquiry by Lord Butler of Brockwell singles out the roles of John Scarlett, head of the joint intelligence committee (JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of MI6, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, for censure, insiders say..." See Sunday Times, and
    "Spy chiefs to censor hard-hitting Butler report No 10 to be rebuked over Iraq intelligence. Campbell and Scarlett may be singled out..." Independent on Sunday
    Read both articles in full and note "A senior government source admitted last night that the intelligence services would be allowed to block out passages of the report before it is made public on 14 July."

    July 4 ~ Blunkett plans EU criminal database

    Sunday Telegraph "A European Union criminal database to store DNA and fingerprint records from hundreds of thousands of suspects will be proposed by the Government this week. David Blunkett,..... envisages a central database, probably controlled by Europol but accessible by national police forces. .....
    ....Barry Hugill, a spokesman for Liberty, the civil rights group, criticised what he saw as an obsession with and over-reliance on technology, which he feared was flawed. He suspected errors in Britain's existing crime database and said: "If it becomes a European-wide system, this seems to be a recipe for muddles, confusion and mix-ups." The new proposals are also expected to anger the Liberal Democrats, who lead the opposition to wholesale storage of biometric records in Britain."

    July 4 ~ Mr Blair must now decide which way Britain will jump.

    Booker's Notebook ".....The US is so worried by this threat to its military security that it is discussing a plan to spend $3 billion on a jamming system, and even to put up satellites that could blow Galileo out of the sky.
    Britain is helping to foot the bill for Galileo, which will be under the personal control of the EU's "foreign minister", and the US is sufficiently alarmed by our support for the project that, as is now being openly stated in Washington, this could prove the end of any "special relationship". Mr Blair must now decide which way Britain will jump." Read in full

    July 2 ~ "Power is at the centre, and that's where the political classes like to keep it"

    Home Secretary David Blunkett won a High Court ruling suspending David Westwood.Jon Snow's Channel 4 update comment " Poor chap, once he might have been Sir David, now he's suffering public suspension in the face of failures in his force. Failure in particular to spot that Ian Huntley, convicted of the Soham murders, was a serial sex offender. So he's gone and the Home Secretary has proved what we've all known - power is at the centre, and that's where the political classes like to keep it."

    June 30 ~“I intend to keep under review the question of whether those who make limited or no use of covert activities should continue to be entitled to authorise them.”

    Scotsman "Public agencies such as Government departments mounted more than 6,000 surveillance operations on staff and members of the public last year, it emerged today.
    It was the first time data had been disclosed on the scale of surveillance by non-police organisations.
    Standards in some Government departments which use the controversial techniques were condemned as “consistently poor” by watchdogs. ........
    .......... Twelve Government departments and quangos were inspected during the year – including DEFRA, the Home Office’s Immigration Service and Prison Service, the National Assembly for Wales and the Financial Services Agency.
    The group was singled out for particular criticism, although individual organisations were not named and shamed by Sir Andrew.
    “It is unfortunate that a few remain consistently poor,” said his report. “I intend to keep under review the question of whether those who make limited or no use of covert activities should continue to be entitled to authorise them.”

    June 30 ~ "Lord Butler intends to deliver his verdict on 14 July, which would probably ensure that it dominates the news agenda as the by-elections take place.

    His move is seen by No 10 as a sign that he is determined to demonstrate his independence from the Government. The timing could wreck ministers' plans to ensure public services dominate the by-elections campaign. The Treasury announced yesterday that Gordon Brown would release his three-year spending programme on 12 July, and ministers planned to follow it with a series of "good news" announcements. Some Downing Street aides want to urge Lord Butler to delay .......One minister said: "There is a lot of anxiety in No 10. Butler has interpreted his remit widely and has been asking searching questions. The expectation is that he will produce a thorough and hard- hitting report."
    The speculation is that the Butler committee will look into the way in which decisions were taken by Mr Blair's tight but informal inner circle in the run-up to the Iraq war...." Independent

    June 30 ~ "....the Pentagon should aim, by the end of this year, to release, repatriate or to put on open trial all those originally captured in late 2001.

    Times yesterday "It would also be sensible for officials of the Administration to provide more information explaining why these individuals were arrested. It is too early to tell how many, if any, of these prisoners will eventually win freedom in US courtrooms. That the ruling is a victory for the American judiciary over its misguided critics should not be doubted. The Supreme Court was described by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes as “quiet”, but only because it was the “quiet of a storm centre”. This court has correctly placed itself at the centre of this political storm and re-emphasised the importance of the rule of law."

    June 29 ~ Guantánamo detainees granted access to US courts

    Guardian "The US supreme court has ruled that prisoners seized as potential terrorists and held for more than two years in Guantánamo bay may challenge their captivity in US courts.
    The ruling will come as a blow to the Bush administration, which has argued that the so-called "enemy combatants" are not entitled to the rights provided for prisoners of war by the Geneva conventions nor the constitutional protections guaranteed criminal suspects under US law.
    The six-to-three ruling passes no judgment on the guilt or innocence of the approximately 600 foreign-born men held in the US navy-run prison camp in Cuba. Neither did the justices address the broad issues of human rights and civil liberties surrounding the prisoners' seizure and detention without trial or guaranteed access to a lawyer. ....The case concerns only Guantánamo detainees, although the US holds prisoners in numerous other places overseas.
    Central to the Guantánamo case is the definition of US control at the naval base. The detainees claimed it was under the de facto control of the United States, even though it remains a part of Cuba. .."

    June 29 ~ It is the first time the Home Secretary has used powers under the Police Reform Act 2002 to order the suspension of a chief constable in this way

    Independent. ".....Earlier in the day the authority revealed it had written to Mr Blunkett explaining why they want him to reconsider. The move comes amidst mounting criticism of the Home Secretary's own handling of the Soham inquiry.
    * Mr Blunkett said yesterday he wants to stay on as Home Secretary if Labour win the next general election. The politician said he would like to build on the foundations he has laid during his first years in the department..."

    Jun 28 2004 ~ "Mr Blunkett is exercising his powers under the controversial 2002 Police Reform Act

    which gave the Home Secretary greater powers to intervene in local policing. Tony Travers, an expert on local government at the London School of Economics, told the BBC: "There is no doubt that the law gives the Home Secretary the right to command a police authority to remove a chief constable, although it has to be done reasonably and in accordance with the legislation as it is written down."
    The local government expert added, however: "It does point to a much bigger question, which is how far do we want politicians directly to control the activities of police authorities and, crucially, police officers themselves." Independent

    June 28 ~ Holly Wells' father gives his support to Humberside's police chief but the Home Office insists he should be suspended.

    BBC "The father of murdered schoolgirl Holly Wells has given support to Humberside's police chief, who faces suspension over his handling of the murder inquiry. ...On Sunday, Humberside Police Authority chairman Colin Inglis said that Kevin Wells' support for the chief constable was "a measure of the relationship he's developed with the families". He also said he believed Mr Westwood had been the victim of bullying at the hands of the government. Mr Wells told the Mail on Sunday newspaper: "The inquiry into the murders has become a major political issue and we have found that shocking. "We have always understood Mr Westwood to have our best interests at heart and to be willing to take the blame for troubles which pre-dated his promotion. "If that brought an end to his career it would be a travesty."

    June 28 ~ "... The Patriot Act is so radical a departure from the American Civil Liberties tradition

    that if its most radical provisions are made permanent, as Bush desires, I think it would be legitimate to date from 2001 the Second American Republic. It is a much impoverished republic compared to the first, and ominously intertwined with Imperial themes. If Moore makes anyone angry about anything, I hope it is this..
    ...I thought the point that Bush spent a lot of time away from Washington in his first 8 months in office was well made, and dovetails with the revelations of former anti-terrorism czar Richard Clarke about Bush's unconcern with the terrorism threat. The way in which the Iraq war was a manipulated get-up job was also graphically and well portrayed. Likewise the cynical use of the "war on terror" to erode Americans' basic civil liberties is appropriately presented in canny and strident tones." Juan Cole reviews Fahrenheit 9/11 He admires some parts and is very sceptical of others.

    June 25 ~ Fears on postal vote fraud are ignored

    Times "....a few days ago, the Electoral Commission advised the Government not to lay the regulations until it had published its evaluation of pilot schemes in the European and local elections, in mid-September. .....The concern comes after a Times investigation which disclosed widespread allegations of intimidation and fraud in two of the biggest pilot areas — the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber. There are six police investigations continuing into alleged fraud. ....... The referendums on directly elected regional assemblies are due this autumn in three of the four areas which participated in the postal trials — the North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East. Sam Younger, the commission’s chairman, confirmed its concerns yesterday. “We recognise that the June pilots raised issues around public confidence and appropriate safeguards that will need careful consideration,” he said. ....."

    June 25 ~ "... in the end Gordon will always funk it"

    Matthew Parris in the Times contemplates Gordon Brown. " Nobody should underestimate the power which a sense of tide can have in politics and history. Nobody should understimate how fatal to a new leader’s manifesto can be the inkling that the Force is no longer with his army. Nobody should overlook how unfair, yet how unanswerable, is the feeling that it is all slipping away and nothing can bring it back. Ask John Major.
    ... The switch to his premiership needs to attract the excitement of revolution. " Read in full

    June 23 ~ The AER campaign ".. saves culture, education, health and social services from being mere commercial commodities"

    Press Release 21 June ".... It seems that Member States have finally realised that, contrary to the arguments put forward by the European Commission, international agreements such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) could pose a risk to social, educational, cultural and health services in Europe"

    June 23 ~"...the UK government believes that policies for Culture, Education, Health and Social Affairs are better off in the hands of the European Institutions"

    Press Release 15th June "... In a letter to the Assembly of European Regions (AER), UK Minister for Europe Denis MacShane, sets out the UK Government's intention to give up core decision-making powers in the fields of Culture, Education, Audiovisual, Health and Social Services during the final round of negotiations on the European Constitution. The Assembly of European Regions calls upon the Intergovernmental Conference not to support the line followed by the UK government, and to retain national Sovereignty over these policy areas..In view of the opposition of the UK Government to Qualified Majority Vote in areas such as Security and Defence and Financial policy, the AER comes to the conclusion that obviously the UK government believes that policies for Culture, Education, Health and Social Affairs are better off in the hands of the European Institutions than at the level of national and regional governments."

    June 23 ~ Fake ID cards 'openly available'

    BBC "Fake identification and qualifications are openly for sale on the internet, allowing a person to become "virtually anybody", a study has revealed. Bogus proof of age, student, national ID and employee cards are all on offer from UK companies ....."

    June 22 ~ "....a case-study in the decline of British journalism."

    Guardian comment "... Kelner's appearance on the Today programme yesterday as a pro-EU protagonist is all of a piece with the partisan approach that has marked his editorship of the Independent. Under Kelner, Independent front pages have become relentlessly engaged and committed. Yesterday's consisted of a series of rebuttals of "Eurosceptic fictions". I'm not sure that this is significantly closer to Kovach's ideal than the Mail's front pages. Whatever else the Independent may be today, it is certainly not independent.
    These are the conditions under which the EU referendum debate is fated to be argued out. It explains, in part, why Blair's decision to fight for a yes vote has a certain heroic quality. Until now, Blair's Labour party has taken it as given that the press is hostile. That is why it always preferred accommodation rather than confrontation with powerful media interests. But that option no longer exists, which is why most press people assume that Labour will lose the referendum. In the longer term, however, there has to be a better alternative to an already strident and confrontational press becoming yet more strident and confrontational. And, increasingly, there are signs this alternative is being articulated. Significant voices are beginning to be heard setting out the case for a more truthful, more aware and, above all, a better British press.
    One of the most recent is that of Onora O'Neill, the former Reith lecturer, whose 2003 lecture Rethinking Freedom of the Press has just been published by the Royal Irish Academy in Dublin..." Read in full

    June 22 ~ ".....The influence of the market is manifest in multiple ways.

    The funding of parties now moves solely to its rhythm: big business and the rich are as important to New Labour as they are to the Conservatives. The same interests fund, and therefore influence, the parties. Big money calls the tune. Nowhere is this truer than in American politics, which has become a plutocracy mediated by democracy, rather than the reverse. As the media has displaced traditional forms of discourse and mobilisation, ownership of the media has become increasingly important in the determination of political choices and electoral results. The most dangerous example is in Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi's ownership of the bulk of the private media has enabled him to transform Italian democracy into something verging on a mediaocracy, leaving politics and the state besieged by his immense personal power and wealth. ..." Guardian Democracy isn't working

    June 22 ~ "Throughout an hour-long debate in which he was accused by the Conservatives of offering "myths" about the agreement he signed in Brussels at the weekend

    the Prime Minister pointedly declined to use the word "constitution" even once, instead referring to "the treaty". The referendum must be held by the end of 2006, and the Chancellor yesterday insisted that the Prime Minister will take charge of the drive to reverse voters’ scepticism about the constitution. ..." Scotsman

    June 21 ~ The EU Referendum blogspot has received 10,000 hits in the eight weeks it has been going.

    Like warmwell, it is wholly unfunded and updated daily. Today on the EU Referendum blogspot: "....After seven years as prime minister, he has acquired that patina of arrogance that so often infects the holders of this office. He is beginning to treat his electors as if they were stupid. If I know my fellow man at all well, there is one thing which I believe they will not tolerate. The will accept being kept in the dark – on occasions – they do not particularly object to be neglected, and don’t even mind being insulted, pace "the weakest link".
    But what they will not put with is being patronised. That knowing, sneering demeanour that says "I know best" and "You're too stupid to understand so I can feed you any old crap and you'll believe it".
    As The Times pointed out today, people can read. A very large number of people are going to read the constitution – or attempt to. There, they are going to find the reality and thus identify the myth-maker that is Tony Blair. Then there will indeed be a "fascinating political battle", as Blair puts it. But he ain't going to win it. ." See also Helen's posting on "wavering red lines"

    June 21 ~ "...If he invites the British people to trust him on a matter of such magnitude as the European constitution, he will get a resounding raspberry.."

    Guardian Comment by Max Hastings "...Winning a referendum on Europe will be a huge and politically dangerous task. " To achieve victory, Britain's prime minister will need to persuade the public to a proposition that was once one of Tony's most successful: "Trust me." If Brown were prime minister, he could draw upon relatively undamaged credit to say such a thing.
    Yet faith in Blair seems damaged in a fashion that cannot be undone. If he invites the British people to trust him on a matter of such magnitude as the European constitution, he will get a resounding raspberry. Indeed, the more personal the campaign Blair conducts on behalf of the constitution between now and a referendum, the less effective it seems likely to be..."

    June 21 ~ "There is a pervasive belief in the U.S. that what happened in Nazi Germany could never happen here..."

    "Read in full this essay Creeping fascism by S. Rowan Wolf, Ph.D. from the OnlineJournal website
      " ...new legislation......All of these in the name of "security," and argued as "necessary in the war on terrorism." Wasn't it Ben Franklin who said something to the effect, "That he who gives up liberty for security gets neither"?...
      ...had their fears quieted by the Hitler propaganda machine. They blindly and unwittingly gave up their democracy to fascism because those "rules and punishments" applied to someone else—the Jew, the Gypsy, the immoral, the homosexual, the anti-Reich resister—not to them. Those extreme government actions were for "their" protection and for a greater Germany. It is more than hauntingly familiar. It is playing out day by day in front of our eyes..."

    June 18 ~ "...The danger is that information about British citizens will be shared with the Americans

    and there are very few safeguards on how this can be used by the US authorities who have a very different idea to privacy and data protection from us." Guardian report Biometrics - great hope for world security or triumph for Big Brother?

    June 18 ~ Blunkett admits diplomat was right over visas fiasco

    Independent "The diplomat who blew the whistle on the chaos over East European visas, losing his post as a result, was "substantially right" in his complaints, David Blunkett conceded yesterday. The Home Secretary's admission came as a government inquiry disclosed that nearly 23,000 Romanians and Bulgarians came to Britain under the controversial work permit system over two years.
    The investigation concluded there had been serious failures in issuing visas and widespread exploitation of the system by fraudulent applicants, but cleared ministers and senior officials of responsibility.
    The fiasco led to the resignation of Beverley Hughes as Immigration minister, while the whistleblower, James Cameron, Britain's consul in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, was hauled back to London.
    Mr Cameron, who leaked details of the visa irregularities to the Tories, is understood to be taking legal advice after being given a final disciplinary warning, a pay freeze for a year and a three-year block on promotion. ....." See below

    June 17 ~ "..... If UKIP can be said to be tapping into anything it is people’s anger at that kind of patronizing rubbish doled out by the media and the political classes.

    Still, the times they are a’changin’. On Monday evening I was asked to take part in a discussion on Radio Five Live. Its theme was unexpected. The two questions asked were: Can we get out of the EU? What will happen if we do?
    The consensus was that we can and should get out (with some demurral on the second point) and nothing much will happen if we do. By the end of the programme, it became obvious that the real question was: Why bother to stay in?..." Read in full this posting by Helen

    June 16 ~ "This weekend several sorely wounded European leaders meet in Brussels to agree a new constitution.

    They mean to do so in flat contradiction to a rising fifth of the European electorate. If I were Mr Blair I would declare the constitution unacceptable and come straight home. ..
    ...I have visited constituencies in three areas in the past two months and found hardly one Conservative who does not sympathise with the UKIP’s policy of withdrawal, whether or not preceded by renegotiation.
    They regard the Euroscepticism of Mr Howard and his colleagues as lukewarm and unsustained in practice. Did these leaders not sign the Single European Act and the (amended) Maastricht treaty? They spent 18 years handing 70 per cent of lawmaking and regulation over from Westminster to Brussels. They claimed constantly to renegotiate, but they never did. ..." Simon Jenkins in the Times "Now Howard must make peace with the UKIP"

    June 16 ~ Information Commissioner 'increasingly alarmed' by ID card scheme

    From the Register.co.uk "David Blunkett's ID card draft bill came under fire yesterday (June 8) from Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, who told the Home Affairs Committee ID cards inquiry that his views on the subject had changed from healthy scepticism to "increasing alarm." ....... he said to the Committee, he now likes it even less, and draws attention to its Sir Humphrey/Yes Minister statement of statutory purposes of the register. Clause one subsection two, for example, defines one purpose as being to provide "a record of registrable facts about individuals in the United Kingdom." That is the purpose of the register is to be a register, which is possibly not a great deal of help.
    He declined to state absolutely that the draft bill was taking us into 1984 territory, but the Committee chairman responded that the Committee could draw its own conclusions on this." Read in full

    June 15 ~ Campbell: the wages of spin

    The Independent" In this extract from a new biography, Peter Oborne and Simon Walters reveal how Alastair Campbell's skill in handling the media rebounded against him and his boss....
      ".....when the PM's plane took off, Campbell called the two journalists to the front of the plane. "I've had to do something a bit unconventional," he told them. "I have filed copy in your joint names announcing that we have nominated George Robertson to be the new secretary general of Nato."
      "You've done what?" asked an incredulous Smith.
      "Don't worry, it's a joint byline," said Campbell.
      Smith was shocked. "I thought, Christ I'm dead." He feared that if his editor discovered that the Prime Minister's press secretary had filed copy in his name, he would be in serious trouble. Smith leaned towards Campbell and said: "Alastair, you are going to have to tell me very slowly, exactly what you have done. Every detail."
      Campbell replied: "I wrote a story with the pen and paper you gave me and used the PM's secure communications to get it to Godric [Smith] at Number 10 and told him to ring Reuters and PA and file it as copy by you two."
      A seething Smith inquired: "And are we going to be allowed to see the story you have filed in our name?"
      ... a classic example of the Campbell media operation - so hands-on he wrote the story himself. He would say to Whitehall press officers at Downing Street meetings: "Do you know what is going to be on the front page of The Sun tomorrow? I want you not just to know, but to help me to write it." For him, it was the only yardstick that mattered...." Read in full
    warmwell note - we have never satisfactorily heard the answer to the important question - "Did Alastair Campbell receive sufficient security clearance for his role in the run-up to the war in Iraq?" Despite numerous parliamentary questions - the Prime Minister refused to give an unequivocal answer.

    June 14 ~ James Cameron - immigration whistleblower says charges against him include providing " political ammunition to attack the Government".

    Independent "A British diplomatic whistle-blower whose exposure of immigration scams led to the resignation of a government minister is facing investigation over visa applications. James Cameron, the British consul in Romania, has been recalled to London to answer allegations of "misconduct" and "improper dealings" with a travel agency in Moldova. The diplomat's exposure of abuses of the immigration system resulted in the immigration minister Beverley Hughes leaving her post. Ms Hughes had originally denied any knowledge of concern among officials over the issue. But she was forced to resign after it was disclosed that she had been told about the problem by a ministerial colleague...."

    June 14 ~ "Across the EU, sitting governments were punished as disgruntled voters opted for opposition politicians, mavericks or Eurosceptics."

    Independent " ..... Few governments escaped, with the exception of recently elected ones, such as the Greek centre-right administration and the Spanish Socialist government, elected after the Madrid terror attack of 11 March.
    Centre right parties are expected to be the biggest group in the new European Parliament, with between 247 and 277 of the 732 seats.
    Michael Howard. the Tory leader, will now come under pressure from some Eurosceptic MPs to harden his party's line on Europe to win back its "lost" supporters. Some senior Tories fear another outbreak of the party's civil war over Europe.
    Eurosceptics claim Mr Howard's pursuit of a "middle way" on Europe lost votes. .....According to a YouGov survey of 7,400 people for Sky News,Tory supporters favour UKIP's policy of pulling out of the EU by 47 per cent to 40 per cent...."

    June 13 ~ Blair backs electronic border checks

    Sunday Telegraph "Britain is preparing to move to a system of electronic border controls within the next three years, reveals leaked Cabinet documents A confidential memo shows that Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, believes that a new electronic system is "unavoidable".. ... Electronic border systems, once in operation, would enable immigration officials and airline staff to check fingerprints and other biometric data, such as iris identification, on people seeking to come to Britain, rather than relying simply on passport checks.
    ......Fully integrated systems would include fingerprint-checking machines and iris-recognition devices that would operate by passengers staring into lenses.
    These could be combined with new credit-card style "passport cards" which could in time replace the traditional passport. Travellers would simply swipe their cards through a machine to be granted access to a country - so long as the information tallied with the recorded biometric data.
    It was revealed last week how the memo also contains secret plans to set quotas that would keep out thousands of black and Asian immigrants from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Sierra Leone." Read in full

    June 13 ~"..... One of the greatest mistakes made by the political establishment in assessing this phenomenon is to imagine that this revulsion against the EU is due to "xenophobia".

    What the British people have instinctively most come to resent - as I know from thousands of letters I have received in recent years from readers who will have supported UKIP last Thursday - is the realisation that we are being taken over by a wholly new form of government.
    They view this system as alien, not because it is "run by foreigners" - they are well aware that our own political class plays just as active a part in it as those of other countries - but because it is undemocratic, oppressive and because it does not work. ..." Booker's Notebook

    June 12 ~ "...Do you not get the impression, as I do, that the three largest parties in England regard the representation of the people as a kind of closed shop: theirs by right?

    We hear all three of our mainstream parties openly and without shame discussing what system of voting, weighing votes, funding political parties and requiring deposits from candidates, will be best calculated to prevent the rise of small or “extremist” parties. .." Matthew Parris in the Times.
    "...Europe poses one of the biggest questions ahead of us. We do not have to be part of the EU; it is not divinely ordained; we could undoubtedly leave. The EU does not know where it is going and we do not know whether or how far we are going with it. My own belief is that we should string along for the time being, but there is nothing mad about thinking we should not. I fail to see how a party which places one solution to these uncertainties at the centre of its manifesto can be dismissed as either pointless or mischievous..." Read in full

    May 29 ~ "... Blair has damaged the culture but I don’t think it’s irreversible. In the end British people have a habit of reasserting their anger against overbearing rulers. .."

    Open Democracy net."... Both of you, in different ways, welcomed the arrival of New Labour in 1997. Now, in different ways, you have become not just disenchanted, but seriously worried about what is happening to British government. Both of you have written books that are a wake-up call to your compatriots about how you see public life in Britain, its system of parliamentary democracy, and fundamental rights like trial by jury being threatened – all now intensified under the pressure of fighting terrorism and the way the United Kingdom was led to war in Iraq.
    Anthony Sampson: .....any government that determines its performances around a public relations effort, as Tony Blair set out to do, is also inevitably centralised. It comes from the need to control the message or “spin” delivered to the public. This sucks power into the centre, and even though you may think this is temporary in order to achieve reforms, it gives tremendous power to a very small group of people – a very serious mistake which has never really been rectified. ......
    Helena Kennedy:....I’ll have the last word, and it’s this: the leverage has to come from us, from “we the people”, that things have to be done differently. ..." Read in full

    May 29 ~ All kinds of misgivings are aroused by the experiment with all-postal voting, almost casually undertaken, and now under way in Britain.

    This particular pilot looks like a complete shambles. ...." Matthew Parris in The Times
    "....Here’s what I think we should do about declining voter turnouts. Nothing.
    We have a system, a kind of ritual, for electing our representatives in Britain; we have done it this way for a long time; it contains an element of theatre — curtain up, roll of the kettledrums, cast vote, count votes, cue returning officer, cheer, boo, curtain down. It is straightforward; people understand it; and millions do take part. Let those who opt out enjoy that luxury: they will opt back in soon enough when it matters. In our anxiety to pursue the truants, we are in danger of losing the stage, losing the curtain and losing the plot." Matthew Parris in Saturday's Times. Read in full

    May 28 ~ The arrest of Abu Hamza - .." He has been given far more coverage than he is worth. But that does not take away from his human rights, and it ought not to."

    Extremist cleric faces extradition to US over al-Qa'ida links. So is he a dangerous terrorist - or just a political pawn? asks the Independent "...Suspicions that the timing of the extradition hearing was a stunt to help focus attention away from the Iraq war were heightened when John Ashcroft, the US Attorney General, held a press conference in New York to publicise the charges. His planned arrest was also leaked to The Sun's political editor hours before it took place, ensuring a positive front page story on anti-terrorism. ..
    The grand jury indictment contains little new information about his alleged activities, adding to suspicions that the timing of the cleric's arrest has as much to do with the Bush administration's problems as anything else. Anas Altikriti, a former president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said: "I see it as a backhand way of getting through to a person who the judicial system in Britain see no reason to charge or have standing trial. The Muslim community do not see him as worthy of speaking on their behalf ... He has been given far more coverage than he is worth. But that does not take away from his human rights, and it ought not to ." ......"

    May 28 ~ Dalai Lama is back in Britain on his endless peregrination around the world's capitals and will probably hear the usual pious but insincere expressions of support.

    "As China looms ever larger in the world, European leaders are increasingly shunning the Buddhist monk and the cause of Tibetan independence grows dimmer...Alison Reynolds of the Free Tibet campaign group attacked the decision. "Given the world's pre-occupation with the 'War on Terror' it seems extraordinary that the Prime Minister would pass up the chance to meet the most prominent man of peace," she said. ..
    ....Beijing routinely threatens to punish those that deny its edicts. Chinese officials threatened to strip Liverpool of its status as a twin city to Shanghai unless it withdrew its invitation to the Dalai Lama." Independent

    May 28 2004 ~ Britain's 'red line' strategy is wearing thin as the referendum campaign stalls

    The Government has observed strict radio silence on selling the case for Europe Robin Cook in the Independent
    "Does Tony Blair have any idea how he is going to win his referendum on the European constitution? I ask this not as a rhetorical question, but really wanting to know the answer. If anyone in Downing Street does have a winning strategy I cannot spot it in the conduct of the Government since they committed themselves to a referendum. On the contrary, ever since they performed a gloriously inelegant U-turn over holding a referendum, the Government has behaved in a manner calculated to increase their prospects of losing it..."
    (This is a portfolio article which costs £1 to view for 24 hours...)

    May 28 ~ The British journalist Peter Hounam will leave Israel today under threat of deportation

    (Independent) after being detained for 24 hours over his work on a planned BBC documentary about Mordechai Vanunu, jailed for 18 years for revealing the country's nuclear secrets.
    Mr Hounam, who first broke the story of Mr Vanunu's revelations while working on the Sunday Times in 1986, was released last night by Shin Bet, the Israeli domestic intelligence agency.
    Shin Bet agents, who arrested Mr Hounam in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night on the grounds of suspected espionage have seized several versions of a videotaped interview with Mr Vanunu conducted by Yael Lotan, a leading supporter of the former nuclear technician last Saturday. Mr Hounamís release followed representations by Simon McDonald, the British Ambassador in Tel Aviv. ......
    ....Mr Hounam said last night as he left the Russian Compound detention centre in Jerusalem that the authorities had made a "terrible mistake'' by arresting him. He said they had been working on the apparent assumption seemed to think (sic) that the interview contained revelations of new secret information about Israel's nuclear programme but it had not. He said: "Mordechai Vanunu has no more secrets to reveal." He said he had been held in an excrement-smeared cell, questioned for over four hours and allowed only two hours sleep."

    May 27 ~ "tell people, tell The Sunday Times that I am being arrested".

    Independent Peter Hounam, the Sunday Times journalist who broke the story of Mordechai Vanunu's revelations about Israel's nuclear weapons programme 18 years ago, was arrested by plain clothes agents in Tel Aviv last night...he was driven at high speed back to his hotel in Jerusalem where he broke away from his captors long enough to grab a fellow guest by the hair to attract her attention and urge her to "tell people, tell The Sunday Times that I am being arrested"....Donatella Rovera, the Middle East specialist for Amnesty International, who like Mr Hounam has been staying at the Jerusalem Hotel in Nablus Road, was sitting at a table near the door of the hotel's garden restaurant at around 9.30pm. "He grabbed me and told me to tell people that he was being arrested," she said. Ms Rovera said that he was with about five men, wearing T-shirts and jeans who then ushered him upstairs to his room. When he came downstairs about 20 to 30 minutes later he seemed less agitated ....
    A government spokesman said last night that he was unable to give details of Mr Hounam's arrest and detention because of a gagging order." (See entries about Mr Vanunu)

    May 27 ~ Abu Hamza arrested on US extradition warrant

    Independent "......Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: "It is only fair and appropriate that we should wait for the full process of law to be completed. Naturally, one is innocent until proved guilty, and especially with the recent cases, where a very large number of people have been arrested and then subsequently released without any charges." (See also Amnesty reporton the Belmarsh detainees and "although 572 people were arrested on suspicion of "terrorist- related" offences, just one in five have faced charges.")

    May 26 ~ UKIP Manifesto Pledges

    European Union - Immediate withdrawal.
    Asylum-seekers - Strengthen border controls and turn away asylum-seekers who have come to Britain via a "safe" third country. Abolish detention centres and welcome genuine asylum-seekers but throw out all failed applicants.
    Local issues - Give people the chance to take part in local referenda on significant issues such as local planning decisions.
    Tax - Abolish VAT, council tax and uniform business rates and replace them with a local sales tax.
    Crime - To "do whatever is necessary to reduce crime and criminality to the levels of the 1950s".
    Defence - Use a portion of funds from withdrawal from the EU to "regenerate all three arms of Britain's defence forces".
    Healthcare - Reform the NHS to reduce central bureaucracy and allow more local control.

    May 25 ~ "Adam Ingram the armed forces minister, has turned down a demand for a public judicial inquiry into the deaths of young army recruits at the Deepcut Barracks.

    Instead a little-known outfit called the Adult Learning Inspectorate will go into all 3 forces and tell them how not to bully people and still get the best from tomorrow's soldiers. Won't please the relatives one bit...Also tonight -- for the first time, the Prisons Service is forced to admit responsibility for the suicide of a young teenage inmate. Why? Because the prisoner's mother took the service to trial under human rights legislation... " (Jon Snow's Channel 4 update last night.) In the Scotsman we read: "Deepcut families bitter as MoD rules out public inquiry" In the same edition is the report of progress for other grieving families who still want answers. "Tony Blair told families of Lockerbie victims yesterday that he would use his renewed links with Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi to press for further information about the 1988 Pan Am tragedy...".Scotsman

    May 23 ~ ID cards - The government plans for ID cards may be presented as a fait accompli but there is still plenty of opposition brewing.

    BBC "At a packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economics on Wednesday, some of its most vehement critics assembled for a debate on the proposed government legislation. The government itself declined to join the debate. Many of the speakers concluded the reason lay in the "flimsy" case the Home Office had put for compulsory biometric ID cards. ..." Read in full

    May 23 ~ "...The pity is that this may deprive us of that real national debate through which we could reflect on whether we wish to remain part of such a shambles at all."

    Booker's Notebook. "... the bid to give the EU a constitution is in far more trouble than most people have yet realised; and the problems arise, not just from Mr Straw fighting for Britain's "red lines", but from almost everyone involved.
    Last summer, when Giscard d'Estaing handed over his draft constitution to the heads of government, he warned them to approve it as it stood, because otherwise it might unravel completely - which is precisely what has happened.
    Since the first talks on the draft foundered last December on the insistence by Spain and Poland that their voting rights must not be reduced, behind-the-scenes negotiations have thrown up more and more disagreements.
    Reflecting this, the Irish presidency two weeks ago published 130 pages of amendments already agreed to Giscard's draft treaty, followed a week ago by 99 pages of new proposals.
    Spain and Poland are still banging the table on voting rights, opposing German demands that a "qualified majority" must be reduced to only 55 per cent of the EU's population, which would give the Franco-German alliance the power to call the shots.
    Poland's position is further complicated by the fact that its new prime minister, Marek Belka, recently lost a parliamentary confidence vote. This leaves him as a powerless lame duck until a general election in August, when he is likely to be replaced by a fiercely nationalist successor.
    Hungary's "red line", contradicting one of Giscard's key proposals, is that each country must still have a commissioner. The Poles, Italians, Maltese and four other nationalities have laid down another on the inclusion of "God" in the constitution.
    There are now proposals on the table for no fewer than three separate EU "presidents' - one for the Commission; another, according to a cumbersome troika formula, for the Council of Ministers; a third, chosen for two and a half years, for the European Council, which is now to be included in the treaty for the first time as a fully-fledged "Community institution" and as, in effect, the government of Europe. The council will also have the power to change the constitution without further treaties.
    Compared with all this, the breaching of Mr Blair's own "red lines" over foreign policy and judicial law is little more than a sideshow.
    The fact is that Giscard's draft is dead, and the prospects of having a constitution on which Mr Blair can hold his referendum look more distant by the day. The pity is that this may deprive us of that real national debate through which we could reflect on whether we wish to remain part of such a shambles at all." Read Booker's Notebook in full

    May 23 ~ in a democracy it's not history but voters who judge the leaders

    From "A spin too far" by Geoffrey Wheatcroft, published on the Australian Financial Review ".....Most British people are discontented with the government, and yet they are mostly better off than they were seven years ago, and mostly contented with their own lives. They have been silently offered, in the famous phrase, private affluence and public squalor, and have silently accepted them. They are happy enough, but say that they neither trust nor admire the Prime Minister.
    Lately Blair has taken to using several transatlantic phrases: just as his religion makes him far more at home in US politics, so he has borrowed from American jargon of the moment. The war was the right thing to do, and "history will be my judge"; we must draw a line, and move on. But in a democracy it's not history but voters who judge the leaders, and it is also voters who decide when to move on." Read in full

    May 21 ~" Taking the pulse of our democracy nowadays, it doesn't feel very healthy, does it?"

    This story from the Seattle Weekly appears to confirm some of our own nightmares. A public-spirited woman, running her own website in America has become America’s leading critic of electronic voting. She now fears that the the government wants the names, forum messages, and computer addresses of all who visit her website. She also fears an entrapment scheme to indict her:
      "So, yesterday, they call me up and tell me they are going to subpoena me and put me in front of a grand jury. Well, let ’em. They still aren’t getting the list of members of blackboxvoting.org unless they seize my computer—which my attorney tells me might be what they had in mind.”
    Read article

    May 20 ~ Purple passage

    It's hard to find much to say about the act of utter frustration yesterday by Ron Davies. Here is Jon Snow's comment: "Bang goes the mother of Parliaments. The chucking of harmless purple powder over the personage of the British Prime Minister has triggered fantastic soul searching about security. It could have been anthrax, could have been anything, and the protestor and his cohort might have been Al Qaeda, but was in fact a chap complaining about the lack of visitation rights for separated fathers from their off-spring.
    But of such ingredients these days are great mountains made. Antediluvian place that the Commons is. The man got in courtesy of a Baroness. Lynn Golding used to be one of those perennial backbenchers in the Commons you never noticed. So perennial we thought she was still there. Not a bit of it, she was made a Peeress for life to make way for a Blairite. So there she is, in the Lords until she dies, and Bob's yer Uncle, 'fame at last'. She dishes out a pass to a 'terrorist'.
    But now it's the end of the Peer show, because from henceforth a Peer's word will no longer be his or her bond. They'll all be just like us, ie: mistrusted. Fabulous scenes of security mayhem in the Lobby, and the PM unscathed, unruffled, strangely er heroic..."

    May 19 ~ IC cards "a huge white elephant"

    The Register ".... Passport applications, including photograph, will still be accepted via mail, and the picture will then be encoded, added to the database and put onto the chip that goes in the passport. As you may note, a picture is in these terms a biometric, while a camera is a biometric reader, which they are. But don't noise it around, or you'll screw the revenues of an awful lot of snake-oil salesmen.
    Back in the UK, we are of course rather more rigorous in our interpretation of the matter, and the system and its schedule will be priced accordingly. But should we worry about losing our lead? No, not exactly. We should worry about spending a great deal of money on a system which will largely police ourselves, and which - in the event of it actually working - will probably turn out to be a huge white elephant...." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Straw softens us up

    Telegraph Leader "You can always tell when a British minister is about to sell us down the river in Europe: he first wraps himself in the flag. Jack Straw was at it again yesterday when he told the BBC and the CBI that he was "battling for Britain" in negotiating the European Constitution."

    May 19 ~ "The fudging has already started, and the red lines are suddenly turning a washy pink."

    The Telegraph: Britain yields to EU over criminal justice "...Mr Straw said bluntly yesterday that there would be no deal unless Britain got its way. "If we do not get the key red lines for the United Kingdom then we won't sign up for this constitutional treaty."
    EU officials noted the term "key" red lines, taking it to mean that lesser lines could be rubbed away.
    In the negotiating room, Mr Straw - who is adopting an increasingly sceptical approach to the constitution - complained about being bitten by mosquitoes. As they buzzed irritatingly around the room, Mr Straw suggested they were anti-British insects. Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, who earlier accused Mr Straw of using "salami tactics" to slice more concessions, said they were in fact "pro-European mosquitoes"..." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Supreme court 'will lack independence

    ' By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor The Telegraph A leading law lord has said Government plans to create a supreme court in place of the House of Lords would leave the judges open to political interference. ... Lord Hope, Scotland's most senior judge until his promotion to the House of Lords in 1996, criticised Lord Falconer over the Constitution Secretary's comment in March that he had not heard any "principled argument" against separating the country's highest court from the legislature.... Lord Hope noted that responses to the Government's consultation paper - such as his own - which went outside the paper's assumption that there was to be such a court, "were ignored and not even acknowledged" when Lord Falconer's department published its summary of responses...... Lord Falconer insisted yesterday that the Supreme Court should be established before a building was ready...." Read in full

    May 19 ~ Open debate is the only way to set the Upper House in order

    By Peter Riddell in the Times "The debate over the House of Lords is, at last, addressing the central questions of functions and powers. Yet again, however, the Government risks making a mess of reform. Since 1997 the focus has been on composition: first, the removal of hereditary peers; then, the lengthy debate that ended in the rejection by MPs of all options in February last year.
    This stalemate, just like the one over the Crossman plans in 1968, has arisen largely because most MPs did not want a significant elected element that might produce a stronger Lords to challenge the Commons. Yet hardly anyone has wanted to spell out the implications, apart from the 172, mainly Labour, MPs who voted for abolition of the Lords.
    Otherwise, everyone has hidden behind the mantra that the Commons will remain supreme and that the Lords should remain a revising and scrutinising chamber. ....... Labour risks unbalancing the relationship by suggesting an indirectly elected House with members chosen (it is unclear how) in proportion to the votes cast for parties at a general election. This ghastly hybrid would be worse than now. ..." Read in full

    May 18 ~ Watery eyes fail the iris ID card test

    Telegraph (last week) "Trials for a planned ID card have shown that long eyelashes, hard contact lenses or watery eyes can make it difficult to scan the unique iris patterns on which identity will be based.
    Members of the Commons home affairs select committee who tried out the new technology yesterday were told that up to seven per cent of scans could fail...."

    May 17 ~ "plans for a new supreme court are to be put into "cold storage"

    for up to ten years after the failure of efforts to find a suitable site." (sic) The Times
    In a move which removes a main plank of the Government2s legal reforms, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, will amend the Constitutional Reform Bill to say that the new court will not come into being until a building is ready. FLAGSHIP plans for a new supreme court are to be put into “cold storage” for up to ten years after the failure of efforts to find a suitable site. In a move which removes a main plank of the Government’s legal reforms, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, will amend the Constitutional Reform Bill to say that the new court will not come into being until a building is ready.
    The Lord Chancellor had previously indicated that plans to divorce the law lords from the House of Lords could go ahead without a new building.
    ......The delay is the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Government over the reforms, which were attacked as ill-thought-out when they were announced in last year’s reshuffle. The passage of the Bill was delayed when peers insisted that it be sent to a select committee. ..."

    May 17 ~ Reporters loyal to Piers Morgan ­ sacked as editor on Friday ­ are thought to be unhappy at the readiness of management to abandon the journalistic principle of confidentiality of sources.

    Independent The Mirror made no official comment yesterday but an insider at the paper said it would be a matter for the acting editor, Des Kelly, to decide.
    Only a handful of people at the newspaper are thought to know the identity of Soldiers A and B, the servicemen linked with the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (QLR) who sold the staged photographs and who were widely quoted in the newspaper's subsequent attempts to prove their authenticity.
    Soldiers A and B first contacted the Mirror's newsdesk in mid-February offering evidence of the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners. Reporters interviewed them but the newspaper did not see the photographs until late April, a few days before they were published. ..An executive at the newspaper was reported as saying yesterday that there would be resignations and "blood on the walls" if the Mirror was forced to compromise the soldiers' identities. .."

    May 16 ~ "Before any further British troops are sent, the Government should consult with and listen to Parliament about the role they are expected to undertake."

    Sunday Telegraph Alan Simpson, a Left-wing Labour MP who opposed the war, said: "There is absolutely no case for the commitment of further British troops without a fresh political mandate. To do anything else would set up the new troops as a turkey shoot."

    May 16 ~ "Shepway council is in the process of closing down all its public lavatories in Folkestone.

    A factor in its decision has been the excessive cost of converting them to allow wheelchair access." Booker's Notebook this week

    May 14 ~ I.D cards: a top-secret military research firm/organisation, ‘QinetiQ’ (pronounced ‘kinetic’) will play a crucial role in the scientific/technical aspects

    QinetiQ is among the largest science and technology companies in Western Europe, with 42 locations in Britain...
    From the "Need to Know" website http://www.ntk.net/2004/05/07/:
      "... Sheesh - you wait all year for a public meeting on the Government's proposed National Identity Card, and then two come along at (almost) the same time. Privacy International's MISTAKEN IDENTITY (from 1.30pm-5pm, Wed 2004-05-19, Old Theatre, LSE, London WC2A, free but RSVP) currently has the best lineup - Ross Anderson and at least 3 MPs - but the BRITISH ASSOCIATION FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF SCIENCE will also be wondering whether these biometric advancements are really such a good thing at their X-CHANGE event (6.30pm, Wed 2004- 05-26, Dana Centre, near Science Museum, London SW7) in the company of UCL Professor Steve Miller and BBC Science Correspondent Christine McGourty. Adding to the overall sense of deja-vu is reader BRIAN MADEUP, who wants to know what happened to the last "six months", "10,000 volunteer", "large- scale" trial of biometric passports which we were previously told was planned to run from "January to June 2004"? (Go to site)

    May 13 ~What is the crime of being "anti", and why are "suspects" kept indefinitely in prison?

    An emailer writes, in response to the WP article below, "There is also an interesting characteristic shared with an earlier Republican administration: keeping (what they thought were) private records of their wrong doings. If the Watergate tapes led to the downfall of Nixon, the Abu Ghraib photos should surely lead to the downfall of Bush since they reveal far more sinister behaviour. Nixon was obsessed with having power and control of the American voters. Bush is obsessed with a fundamentalist crusade to have power and control of the world. Blair shares his missionary zeal but apparently has no desire to keep records (or even minutes of important meetings). "Anti-coalition suspects" are still be thrown into Iraqi prisons. What is the crime of being "anti", and why are "suspects" kept indefinitely in prison?"

    May 12 ~ OLAF chief to be questioned over Tillack case

    EUobserver"The supervisory committee of the EU anti-fraud office (OLAF), is to ask the director, Franz-Hermann Brüner, a number of questions over a recent case of alleged bribery which resulted in an office raid of a Brussels-based journalist....Belgian police are still sifting through the seized materials of Mr Tillack. Mr Tillack's lawyers claim this is a breach of article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights and have called on the supervisory committee to ensure that the investigation takes place in compliance with human rights. .." See below

    May 12 ~ Poor Management at the top

    The Washington Post article today on War Management Follows the Wrong Corporate Model By Steven Pearlstein could surely apply equally to Number 10
    "... the same characteristics at the top: an overemphasis on hierarchy and orderliness; a penchant for secrecy and keeping decisions closely held; an instinct to discount information or dismiss views that don't comport with the company line; a habit of pronouncing rather than engaging intellectually with those outside the inner circle; an unhealthy arrogance and sense of entitlement.
    When something goes wrong, the all-too-typical corporate response is to downplay its importance or bury it in bureaucratic processes. And if that doesn't work, the next line of defense is to pin it all on a few "bad apples" and move aggressively to "put the issue behind us," without ever really admitting serious error.
    That should sound familiar to anyone who has watched Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld ....or heard what Richard Clarke told the 9/11 commission about warnings of terrorist attacks that fell on deaf ears. It also describes to a T the process by which the administration has dealt with Iraq, from the original decision to go to war to the handling of the prison scandal. ..."

    May 12 ~ UKIP ".. insists the country should say "no" to EU rule, corruption, unlimited immigration and bureaucracy."

    Robert Kilroy-Silk: "They are not listening to us. They are not taking any account of what we want. They are not representing our interests..." and that people he had met "want their country back and this campaign is about doing that. I want my grandchildren to grow up in a country called Britain - I don't want my grandchildren to grow up in a country called Europe," he said. Mr Kilroy-Silk then rounded on journalists, accusing them of talking in "the same language as the politicians". (The BBC report contains the extraordinary sentence - which has no connection with anything else - "while UKIP concedes it does not have many women or ethnic minorities standing in the election, the party's leader Roger Knapman insists it is not associated with the British National Party". This is a disgraceful piece of loaded writing to discredit UKIP. Mr Kilroy-Smith's criticism would appear to be justified as far as the writer of the BBC article is concerned.)

    May 11 ~ Tillack has also raised the ire of many within the European Commission, OLAF and the Belgian police for consistently breaking EU fraud stories.

    A letter from lawyers representing Hans-Martin Tillack, a correspondent for Germany’s Stern magazine, alleges the original suspicions that the journalist had paid officials for sensitive information, emerged from the European Commission’s press service.
    The bribery accusations, which OLAF transmitted to the Belgian authorities, prompted a police raid on Tillack’s home and offices, the seizing of his documents and computers, and a ten hour detention without legal representation.
    .... The Stern correspondent was responsible for originally exposing the scandal at the EU’s statistical agency, Eurostat, which saw millions of euros siphoned off into secret bank accounts. ....... Tillack’s lawyers have pointed to the “extraordinary vagueness” of the case, which seems to have been entirely on allegations, suspicions and rumours. ..." EUpolitix.com

    May 10 ~ The Constitutional Reform Bill, as drafted, would abolish the Lord Chancellor, create a supreme court and reform the system by which judges are appointed. "That would be a major constitutional amendment, though no one has proposed a referendum to approve it.."

    William Rees-Mogg in The Times "...... it could be carried — or, indeed repealed — by a simple majority of both Houses of Parliament.
    The theory of the British constitution is still that sovereignty belongs to the elected House of Commons. Yet for considerable periods of time, a strong prime minister may become the effective sovereign......not all Labour prime ministers would have gone to war over Iraq.
    .....Mr Blair may well suffer Mrs Thatcher’s fate, either at the hands of his colleagues or of the electorate.
    The supremacy of the elected House of Commons may still be the central doctrine of the British constitution, but it is being undermined by the overmighty Prime Minister. It has little to fear from the House of Lords, but much from the whip system. It could be wholly destroyed by the European constitution, though that is likely to be rejected in the referendum even if it is accepted by the Government. But the rule of Parliament is also challenged by the growth of judicial interpretation, which amounts to legislation by judges. If Parliament does agree to create a separate supreme court, this process will be accelerated. The danger is one of cumulative interpretation. ....
    ..... I believe that free speech is the foundation of democracy...." More (the article deplores the Naomi Campbell ruling) "Three of the Lords of Appeal, with two dissenting, have made a new law which means that the principle of free speech has been eroded. That is constitutional amendment by judges. It has been a bad thing in the US, despite its occasional benefits. It will be bad for British democracy."

    May 10 ~ Police 'sorry' for Iraqi Kurd terror revelation

    Three weeks ago 400 officers took part in "anti-terror" raids in Greater Manchester, Warwickshire, Staffordshire and South Yorkshire arresting 10 people. The detainees were stunned by their arrests and at least one of them was not told during their interrogations what they were supposed to have done. All 10 were released without charge the following week. The headlines such as "Soccer suicide carnage averted" News.com.au 20 April 2004 became "Man U bomb plot probe ends in farcw" Observer, 2 May 2004 ( See Josie Appleton's article below)
    The police have now apologised - not for the fiasco of the raid - but for ".. revealing that some of those detained in anti-terror raids last month were of Iraqi Kurdish origin." See report in Manchester Online

    May 10 ~ BBC chiefs cleared by 'kangaroo court' - but fury remains

    Independent "......The manner of the interrogations is still an open sore at the BBC, and has exacerbated the resentment felt against Mr Byford - particularly in the news and current affairs departments - over his handling of the post-Hutton fallout.
    Serious concerns have been raised about the length of the inquiry and the failure of those conducting it to set out clearly what, if anything, people were accused of.
      "Not to know what you're supposed to be accused of and for it to go on for so long is quite unacceptable," said John Fray, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Journalists.
    In February, a group of senior BBC journalists including Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, political editor Andrew Marr, Today presenter John Humphrys and world affairs editor John Simpson, wrote to the acting chairman of governors Lord Ryder to express their concern at the inquiry. The group were planning to write a follow-up letter this month, but held fire when they learned the process was drawing to a close..." (See also item for February 15)

    May 9 ~ "...another attempt to speed up the creation of a European super state."

    Sunday Telegraph "...Among the amendments are moves to greatly strengthen the powers of the proposed EU "foreign minister" - an unelected commissioner - enabling him or her to give orders to the foreign ministers of member countries, including Jack Straw, and to control the EU corps of diplomats.
    The ability of Britain and other member states to veto the appointment of the president and vice-president of the European Central Bank also comes under renewed threat, as does the independence of the bank itself.
    The powers of the European Parliament in rejecting the Commission's budget - itself a contentious issue - would be greatly increased and there are even possible threats to Britain's right to levy taxes independently.
    More decisions across a range of areas should, according to the proposed amendments, be taken by qualified majority voting, effectively removing the ability of Britain and other countries to wield a veto...." Read in full

    May 9 ~ "Voters have to believe that politics is about the issues that matter to them. As things stand, not nearly enough of them do"

    Sunday Times "....Ministers believe that using voting techniques pioneered by popular television programmes such as Pop Idol will encourage more young people to participate in polls...." See also Sunday Times Leading article: E-vote gimmick
      ".The Electoral Commission, the government’s own watchdog, says that pilot schemes involving e-voting made no difference to turnout..... Politicians love gimmicks but increasing political participation requires more than making it easier for today’s fast-fingered young folk to vote. Voters have to believe that politics is about the issues that matter to them. As things stand, not nearly enough of them do."

    May 7 ~ Scarlett runner

    Leader The Guardian ".... his appointment verges on the hubristic.
    ....... Sir John emerged as a Downing Street insider, part of the sofa culture that makes policy not at the cabinet table but in the prime minister's den. Even Lord Hutton's exceptionally cautious report concluded that Sir John may have been "subconsciously influenced" by Downing Street's desire for the strongest possible case against Saddam Hussein...... Six months ago, it struck us that Sir John's reported ambition to be the new head of MI6 would be an uncomfortable development. The confirmation of that appointment now - by the foreign secretary - pre-empts the Butler review and leaves the impression, once again, that leading figures in government can be dangerously offhand about respecting the views of the ordinary voter. "

    May 7 ~ What is happening at Belmarsh raises fundamental questions of law, justice and liberty.

    It is a melancholy fact of political life that such ministers, whatever their history and previous commitments, tend once in office to become routinely impatient of legal processes and hostile to civil liberties concerns which they come to see as obstructive. ..."
    An article by Geoffrey Bindman on the opendemocracy.net website explains the history and function of SIAC and concludes, "The Siac bail decision should have led the Home Secretary to act swiftly to implement the changes recommended by the committee of Privy Councillors. Unfortunately, David Blunkett’s reaction was to condemn the Siac judges in abusive language and threaten to change the law to prevent future releases on bail. He should think again – or he should be replaced. Fundamental liberties must be cherished."

    May 6 ~ John Scarlett - in the real world. Promotion to head of MI6

    Richard Norton-Taylor wrote in September "..The 45-minute claim was inserted at the last minute on the word, we now know, of an MI6 informant - whether a defector or not remains unclear - talking to a senior Iraqi armed forces officer. MI6 allowed Scarlett to include that "intelligence" despite opposition in an intelligence community concerned - as much now as it was before the war - about how its work was being abused. This is the most damaging episode for MI6 since the Falklands. But then it was about complacency. Now its integrity is in question. As long as Scarlett remains in his post, that damage will not be repaired. ..."
    In the same Hutton-filled month Henry Porter wrote, " the analysts in Room 243 of the Cabinet Office and the committee under John Scarlett's chairmanship do look a bit like courtiers, trying to conform to the current mood in Number 10.
    A novelist might suggest that Scarlett was playing the long game, perhaps nurturing an ambition to succeed Sir Richard Dearlove as 'C' at MI6, a post he has already been passed over for once. Can we seriously suggest that the JIC's chairman would go so far as to manipulate the evidence in a matter of war and peace to suit his plans? That is certainly the stuff of thrillers, but it seems highly unlikely in the real world..."

    May 6 ~ "A recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. "

    "While fantasy terrorism booms, real terrorism seems to be on the decline. After Madrid, Europe's capitals were all expecting that they would be next - but it is more likely that Madrid was the exception rather than the rule. A recent US State Department report into patterns of global terrorism found that terrorist attacks are at their lowest ebb for years. There were 190 in 2003, compared to 440 in 1995 and 665 in 1987. Moreover, the bulk of the attacks over the past five years occurred in Latin America and Asia, rather than North America or Western Europe. In the main, terrorist attacks tend to be sporadic, and are carried out by small isolated groups to varying degrees of success (8). And in spite of all the hype about al-Qaeda in Britain, there is little sign of terrorists queuing up to attack. Although Dr Magnus Ranstorp's report won headlines such as 'Britain will be target of terrorism attack "sooner or later"', the report actually concluded that the danger from Islamic suicide bombers was small, and arguably little different to that posed by the IRA. ...." Important article

    May 6 ~ After 11-year battle, CPS dashes last hope Lawrence family had of jailing son's killers

    Independent "... Mr Brooks (Duwayne Brooks, who had witnessed the murder): "This is a day of shame, but I am not surprised. The police investigation was doomed from the start at the scene of the attack."
    Imran Khan, the family's solicitor, said that despite the CPS announcement they were still hopeful that there would be a prosecution in the future. But because of the damage caused by the past bungled inquiries into the case, the collapse of a private prosecution and the weight of prejudicial publicity, the chances of anyone being charged are remote. The Lawrence family's legal team is now considering whether it can - or should - challenge the CPS's decision with a judicial review.
    .... " The Independent, along with other newspapers, names the men suspected of the murder. The Guardian says, "Detectives investigating the murder of Stephen Lawrence gathered evidence that two of the main suspects bragged of their involvement in the racist attack that killed the talented student" The Telegraph concludes its report: "Sir Ian Blair, the deputy commissioner of the Met, said: "We will not close this file. But for the time being we have given it everything we know how to give."

    May 6 ~ Iraq Families Shown 'Contempt' Claims Lawyer

    PA News The Government has shown "contempt" for the principles of human rights and democracy in its actions towards relatives of those killed by British forces in Iraq, it was claimed today.
    Solicitor Phil Shiner, who lodged today's application for a judicial review at the High Court, claimed troops had not been properly trained to deal with the situation in southern Iraq.....
    ..."We are doing these cases for nothing and we are doing these cases because as human rights lawyers we believe that human rights apply on each side equally. There's no such thing as victors' justice whereby those who lose the war find themselves facing allegations of war crimes and those who win get away scot-free."

    May 6 ~ EU fraud doubles in a year to cost £700m

    Scotsman " ...Last year, the Court of Auditors provoked anger when it sacked a Scottish whistleblower, Dougal Watt, after he exposed a culture of nepotism and misconduct. Mr Watt, who joined the court in 1995 from the NAO, had accused senior members of securing jobs for family. He also accused it of dragging its feet on investigating corruption at the European Commission in the Nineties.
    In a letter, he wrote: "Since external controls upon the court are absent and the court’s internal control environment is very weak, there is consequently a high inherent risk of abuse." Frauds identified by member countries in 2002 include bogus expenses claims, customs duty avoidance and fraudulent claims for work. Up to £300 million of the cases involve the Common Agricultural Policy, while aid programmes to the third world accounted for another £14 million of fraud. ..... The European Commission placed Neil Kinnock, its vice-president, in charge of bringing in measures to tighten up financial probity, but today’s report suggests that there is still a long way to go. .."

    May 5 ~ ID card trials put back by technical glitches

    Times "A pilot scheme for the proposed national identity card system is beset with technical difficulties even before it has started, MPs were told yesterday. Problems with the project forced officials to delay its launch by three months because of difficulties with the hardware and software. .... As a result, the planned length of time the pilot will operate has been cut from six to three months. A briefing paper from the Passport Service, which is testing how the public react to having iris, facial and fingerprint recognition, ran into problems even though the equipment had been fully tested by the contractor, ATOS Origin, before its delivery. There had been “a series of hardware, software and ergonomic problems leading to inconsistent enrolment”, the paper prepared for the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said. ..... The trial, involving 10,000 people at four sites in the United Kingdom, had been due to start on February 2 but did not begin until last week. ... .ATOS Origin had to make a number of improvements to the pilot project’s testing booths, known as “enrolment pods”. ... .."

    May 4 ~ the Government's decision to block state support for asylum seekers from the ten new EU members has been attacked as "unlawful and discriminatory" in two test cases at the High Court.

    Mr Blunkett hoped to order two and half thousand asylum seekers from the newly joined European states thrown out of their homes on the grounds that anybody who was an asylum seeker whilst the new countries were out of the union can no longer deemed to be so now. The judges decided today that they do not agree.
    No doubt there will be more "modernisation" - as in the clause rushed through last week - (see below - to ensure that the Home Secretary is not stymied by such judicial impediments in future.

    May 3 ~ "The appointment of 46 new life peers, half of them Labour, is a reminder of just what a hash Tony Blair has made of Lords reform.

    Telegraph "Though the new list includes a handful of people of real distinction who will adorn the second chamber, the wheat is greatly outnumbered by the chaff.....the sheer scale at which the Lords is being packed with placemen is breathtaking. Lloyd George was never so brazen. .....Not long ago, it was still a real honour for a former Governor of the Bank of England, say, to sit in the Lords, alongside other robust individualists, most of whom owed their presence, like him, to merit, or at least to the accident of birth, rather than to prime ministerial patronage. Now only a sense of patriotic duty could impel the genuinely great and good to accept a peerage, thereby joining the ranks of the political has-beens and never-wases. How the Upper House has come down in the world. .....
    That expertise is irreplaceable, least of all by Mr Blair's entourage in the Labour Party, the bureaucracy and the quangocracy. A takeover bid for the Lords by the very people who have least respect for our delicately balanced unwritten constitution is not in the interests of the shareholders - the British people." Read in full

    May 2 ~ we have discovered a pattern of torture in the British zone as well.

    Scotsman "... Amnesty International leaders...complained that the British commanders were unwilling to investigate all the alleged breaches of law and military discipline that had been brought to their attention. "It comes as no surprise to us that there are allegations of torture involving British forces in Iraq," said Nicole Choueiry, AI's Middle East spokeswoman. "It is true that the Americans are in general involved in more incidents of brutality than the British, but we have discovered a pattern of torture in the British zone as well. "We welcome the fact that they have ordered an inquiry into this incident but we do not think it should be for the coalition forces themselves to investigate their own behaviour."

    May 1 ~ New Lords - "Among the party faithful rewarded...

    are Prof Anthony Giddens, the inventor of the so-called Third Way; Garry Hart, Lord Falconer's special adviser; the ex-union leaders Richard Rosser, Margaret Prosser and Margaret Wall; and Jan Royall, a former aide to Neil Kinnock...
    Paul Drayson, the founder of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals, who donated £100,000 to Labour, will join Philip Gould, Mr Blair's favourite pollster, and Margaret McDonagh, a former party general secretary, on the red benches. ...." Telegraph

    May 1 ~ Prune the shrubbery to expose a terrorist, says spooked MI5

    The the Guardian reports the latest "advice" from supposed intelligence with scepticism.
    That we can no longer trust the probity of those in whom we used believe is self-evident now. Having just finished it, we think it is highly significant that a writer of the stature and insider knowledge of John le Carré should have ended his latest novel with a sham terrorist siege in which a set-up complete with planted hand grenades, guns and terrorist literature is used both to instil increased fear in Western populations and to justify the unjustifiable. Le Carré, (like the 52 diplomats and today, Douglas Hurd), pulls no punches in his opinions of the situation in Iraq. His suggestion of what may lie behind is terrible and plausable. On World Press Freedom Day, it is interesting to note that the press reports and reaction from the White House and Downing Street at the end of this novel about gross deception at the highest levels should sound so familiar. Read "Absolute Friends" and see if you share our grief at what is so blatantly obvious and - in Britain at least - can be suggested clearly only in the pages of fiction. (The book is magnificent and life-enhancing - but the fate of its good-hearted protaganists is inevitable. Especially interesting is the reaction of the British intelligence official, a decent man throughout but, at the end, beset by terrible doubts.)
    America - paradoxically - seems more open. Comment from the Independent on the list of books now appearing in the US for those who have eyes to read.

    See The Great Deception: The SECRET History of the European Union

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