Thursday, June 22, 2006

Brown stymies Trident debate

Hours after Tony Blair dodged the issue at question time, promising a full debate in Parliament before any decision is made, Gordon Brown, whose position as PM in waiting is so far unchallenged, announced his commitment to Britain's retention of her independent nuclear capability.

We may ask ourselves, however, where the line is drawn between "retention" and "proliferation".

Treasury sources have made it clear that, while Brown spoke of retaining the nuclear deterrent, he is prepared to set aside £20bn to replace Trident.

Is this not "proliferation" by any other name?

Labour at the crossroads

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Gov. buried bad news?

The number of properties left empty, sometimes for years, when the UK faces a chronic shortage of affordable homes, is a scandal.

But the government has been accused of "sneaking out" the anouncement of its Empty Dwelling Management Orders legislation under cover of the England V Trinidad and Tobago World Cup Group match.

Under the new powers local authorities will be able to seize empty dwellings and put them to use for social housing.

This is a radical move towards social justice.

Why should property developers be allowed to "store" assets during fallow periods and then sell for huge profits when the climate changes, when thousands of families are homeless?

The legislation may force them to consider short-term renting, which would go a long way towards alleviating the problem, if only temporarily.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blairforce Two

The British PM is to get two dedicated jets for official visits.

Fantastic: now he'll be able to globe-trot in the style US presidents are accustomed to.

Until now Blair has used ageing military planes or has chartered commercial aircraft.

Last week there was embarrassment when he turned up at the EU summit in a plane with Austrian insignia on it.

Political opponents have accused the PM of wasting tax-payers money at a time when public services are seriously underfunded, implying he is overly fond of the perks of his job.

However, since the fleet, already dubbed "Blairforce Two" by the media, will not come into service until late 2007 or 2008 - Blair is expected to step down before the next election - it's likely to be of more benefit to his successor.

The planes will be leased and are expected to cost about £12.3m per year.

This is between £1.2m and £1.5m more expensive than the current arrangement, but the extra cost, said a spokesman, will be met by other departments and not the treasury.

Terror web

Tony Blair has rejected calls for an investigation into intelligence lapses surrounding the July 7 suicide bombings in London last year.

According to a book written by US intelligence specialist, Ron Suskind, Mohammad Sidique Khan, who led the bombers, was banned from the US three years ago.

British intelligence agencies judged that he constituted only a low-level risk.

Now it has emerged that Sidique Khan may have had a connection with the al Qaeda cell recently broken up in Falls Church, Virginia.

British agents trace 7/7 terror links to smalltown America By Daniel McGrory in the Times.

UK borders unprotected

Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Government's anti-terror watchdog, was presented with a moral dilemma when he arrived at Heathrow from a trip to South Asia in March.

He wanted to pay duty on gifts for his family but there were no customs officers on duty in the red channel.

He told the Times:

"In the circumstances I decided I had given the authorities a chance, I was there to declare the goods and was on closed circuit television. I decided I was not going to be held up unnecessarily so I left."

I wonder what would have been the consequences for me, had I been in that position and did likewise?

Read the story by Richard Ford, Stewart Tendler and Fran Yeoman.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Genentech keeps eyes on profit

A major drugs company is using UK licencing rules to block the UK use of a drug that has cheaply saved the sight of thousands of patients around the world.

The drug, Avastin, a colon cancer treatment, has proved effective in arresting wet macular degeneration, when injected in tiny quantities into the eyes of patients.

But Genentech, the company holding the patent, doesn't want it used that way.


Because it can make more profit by licensing an element of Avastin, Lucentis, for the same purpose.

Here's the story by Sarah Boseley.

Top Cop honoured by the Queen

Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Andy Hayman, the cop in charge of a heavy-handed anti-terror raid in which an innocent man was shot in the chest (see previous post), has received a CBE for services to policing.

What's next?

A Nobel Peace Prize for George Bush, maybe?

Or a seat in the House of Lords for Abu Hamza?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Muslim brothers

The red cross of St George flies on Lansdowne Road in Forest Gate and around the Emmanuel Church in the London borough of Newham, where an extraordinary media conference took place today.

Mohammed Kahar, visibly taumatised, and uncomfortable in the constant flash camera flicker, told for the first time how he was awakened by the sound of his brother screaming.

Thinking their home was under attack from armed robbers, he got out of bed to investigate and, as he descended the stairs, was shot in the chest at close range (not the shoulder, as has hitherto been reported) by a policeman who gave no warning and had not identified himself.

He was then told to “Shut the f**k up” and kicked and slapped in the face as he lay wounded, before being dragged downstairs by his feet, handcuffed, and thrown to the pavement outside his front door.

His brother, Abdul Koyair, was also beaten and dragged outside, where he too was cuffed and made to lie face down in the road as his mother and other members of the family were taken screaming and crying from the house.

Until they saw the police van they had no idea that they were the subject of a police operation; they all thought they had been attacked by armed robbers and were going to be killed.

“It’s ruined my life from that day, from the time they entered my house,” said Mr Kahar, “I have lived there for 20 years, I was crawling up and down that staircase when I was a baby, and that night I thought I was going to die there.”

At one point breaking down in tears, he described some of what occurred later.

He told how he was taken to the London Hospital under armed guard to be treated for the gunshot wound to his chest, and how police officers put pressure on medical staff to discharge him.

They complied within less than 24 hours and he was transferred to Paddington Green police station, where he and his brother were held under the anti-terrorism act and interrogated over a period of 8 days.

During that time he was questioned about his family and connections to extremist organisations.
Interrogating officers suggested the names of various illegal organisations to him and asked if he was a member or whether he knew anything about them.

When he told them he had heard of al Qaida he was asked if his name was Abu Hamza, despite the fact that the officers must have been aware that that person is currently serving a prison sentence.

On several occasions, incongruously, he was questioned about membership of the Klu Klux Klan.

The brothers, who both have short cropped hair and sport long Islamic style beards, insisted that reports of a struggle at the scene of the raid were fictional.

Neither man was present at the Islamic protest marches against the publication of cartoons depicting Muhammad as a suicide bomber, and neither has a criminal record, as had been previously alleged.

“We are English,” said Abdul, who recently applied to be a community police officer, “we were born in Newham, went to school here, everything.”

A spokesman for their solicitors said the brothers are honest, ordinary and hardworking citizens and that the only grounds the authorities had for the raid were unchecked intelligence and their outwardly Islamic appearance.

After the operation, which involved 250 officers and a no-fly zone around the area, the house at Lansdowne Road was thoroughly searched; every item was gone through minutely and bagged up; holes were drilled in walls to check for cavities and all that remains of the garden is a mound of freshly dug earth.

No trace of an alleged chemical device has been found.

In Newham’s racially mixed community there exists now a climate of fear and apprehension: Muslim residents fear that what happened to the brothers’ family could happen to theirs; the others fear a backlash; and relations between the police and the community are in danger of breaking down.

In that sense Islamic terrorism is succeeding at its main task, which is to spread alienation and mistrust, to cause upheaval and turn society against itself.

Of course the police and MI5 must react to “specific intelligence”. That is why they exist.

However, there must be another way; and in the meantime the police must either deny the brothers’ version of events or confirm and apologise.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Death in Cuba

They were “smart”; they were “creative” and “committed”; they had “no regard for life…”

Now they are dead.

They used bed sheets and torn clothing to hang themselves.

But they did not commit suicide, according to Rear Admiral Harry Harris, Guantanamo Bay internment camp commander.

No. These were not desperate, despairing human beings seeking an end to intolerable suffering; they were soldiers of terror performing an act of “asymmetric warfare” against the American people, making a “good PR move to draw attention”.

Get real.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The four Johns

There is suspicion in some quarters that the Labour Party is grooming John Reid for the deputyship.

That’s a job I wouldn’t wish on Satan (although he’d probably be more than well suited for it, if he existed).

Some would compare Reid with the current holder of the poisoned chalice, John Prescott; others say it’s an injustice to mention them both in the same breath.

As for myself, well, I couldn’t possibly comment.

An acquaintance, who knows slightly less about politics than my daughter (aged 6) knows about John Locke, remarked that Reid is “pure John Bull”.

He was unmoved when I reminded him that the gentleman is a Scot.

Enough with the “Johns” already; bring on the dancing girls…

Margaret Beckett for P.M. anyone?

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