America Demands That Britain Hand Over BAE EvidencePosted July 16th, 2007 by Davide Simonetti
The Guardian is reporting that there is a looming diplomatic spat between Britain and the USA over the investigation into BAE corruption in its Saudi Arabian deals.
A potential diplomatic collision with the US is looming over the corruption allegations against the arms company BAE. The department of justice in Washington has formally demanded that Britain hand over all evidence of secret payments the company made to members of the Saudi royal family to secure huge arms deals.
The department has taken over the corruption investigation after British prosecutors were forced by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, to halt it late last year on alleged grounds of national security.
The timing of this couldn't be better, coming as it did just hours after the Government went into damage limitation mode after the statements made about Britain's future relationship with the USA by the International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander and also by the recently ennobled Sir Mark Malloch Brown, the Minister for Africa, Asia and UN. Both statements by these ministers have been seen as criticism of US foreign policy forcing Gordon Brown and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband to insist that there is no change at all in the Britain's relationship with the USA. David Miliband went on air to say that:
"Our commitment to work with the American government in general, and the Bush administration in particular, is resolute," Mr Miliband told the BBC.
While this is unlikely to create a serious rift between Britain and America, it is interesting nonetheless. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, he insisted that the reason the The Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE corruption and the payments to the Saudi royal family had to be dropped was for reasons of national security. So, if that was true then we should expect a refusal to co-operate with the American investigation. Refusing to co-operate with an American corruption investigation could have negative consequences for Britain and would cause further worry in Washington about Britain's relationship with the USA. If Britain does decide to co-operate and hand over the evidence collected so far by the SFO then that, presumably, would either create 'national security' issues for Britain or expose Blair and Lord Goldsmith's assertions as a pack of lies.
Newsnight are saying that they have a big and surprising story on this, tonight 10:30 BBC2 - unless the Queen objects ; )
Gordon Brown's Foreign Policy Balancing ActPosted July 13th, 2007 by Davide Simonetti
Gordon Brown is finally getting to grips with Britain's foreign policy. As with his domestic policies, it's a mixed bag. There are some improvements over Tony Blair's approach (he could hardly do a worse job) but they don't go nearly far enough. On the positive side, Brown has done something that Blair refused to do - he has criticised American foreign policy albeit in the most gentle way possible and through a close ally rather than personally.
The first clear signs that Gordon Brown will reorder Britain's foreign policy emerged last night when one of his closest cabinet allies urged the US to change its priorities and said a country's strength should no longer be measured by its destructive military power.
Douglas Alexander, the trade and development secretary, made his remarks in a speech in America, the first by a cabinet minister abroad since Mr Brown took power a fortnight ago.
The speech represents a call for the US to rethink its foreign policy, and recognise the virtues of so-called "soft power" and acting through international institutions including the United Nations.
In what will be seen as an assertion of the importance of multilateralism in Mr Brown's foreign policy, Mr Alexander said: "In the 20th century a country's might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st century strength should be measured by what we can build together. And so we must form new alliances, based on common values, ones not just to protect us from the world, but ones which reach out to the world." He described this as "a new alliance of opportunity".
Downing Street, of course, denies that the statement was a criticism of US foreign policy, and while that message won't go down too well with the neocons there are signs that an increasing number of Republicans will be more receptive to it as more and more of them acknowledge the hopelessness of the situation in Iraq and try to distance themselves from the mess. Brown has also told the UN secretary General, Ban Ki-moon that he wants to work more closely with the UN in future.
Gordon Brown has promised the UN that Britain would try to secure a multilateral solution if the world faces a repeat of the Iraq crisis of 2003.
In another break with Tony Blair, Mr Brown assured Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, that he would seek the widest possible international support and agreement through the UN before intervening in another country.
After talks with Mr Brown at Downing Street, Mr Ban was asked whether he could envisage the Prime Minister sidestepping the UN in the way Mr Blair and George Bush did before the Iraq war. He replied: "Different circumstances will require different leadership. I am sure the new administration in the UK will have a new leadership under new circumstances." Mr Ban added: "The situation is different from three or four years ago when the international community was divided over this Iraqi situation. Now I am seeing more recognition of multilateralism and I am quite confident of the continuing strong support of the new administration of the UK."
While this is, of course, to be welcomed, we all know that Blair did try to get UN support for the Iraq war and then carried on regardless when he failed in that attempt. In the desperate effort to get a second resolution so that he could legitimise the invasion, the world was lied to; countries were bribed or bullied and ambassadors were spied on. Merely trying to secure a multilateral solution simply isn't good enough, what is needed is a commitment to abide by whatever decision is reached even if it goes against Britain and the USA. Just as worrying is the implication that Britain may seek further interventions. Foreign Secretary, David Miliband hasn't ruled out an attack on Iran, although with the current state of Britain's overstretched military and Brown's lack of a mandate I think participation in such an attack seems unlikely at present. The last thing anybody needs is a repeat of the Iraq crisis - with or without UN backing. Surely it would be far better to focus on ensuring that such a catastrophe isn't repeated instead of working on getting a consensus for a future disaster. This, for the moment at least, seems to be a step too far for Gordon.
Both Gordon and the more intelligent members of the Bush administration realise that Brown needs to distance himself from Bush and Douglas Alexander's speech will be viewed in that light. When Gordon goes to Washington to meet Bush he will play down any weakening of the 'special relationship'. In fact he already has even before the trip.
"I think people have got to remember that the relationship between Britain and America and between a British prime minister and an American president is built on the things that we share, the same enduring values about the importance of liberty, opportunity, the dignity of the individual," he told BBC Radio 5 Live. [My links added]
"I will continue to work, as Tony Blair did, very closely with the American administration," he added.
Marvellous! That doesn't exactly correspond with the "Let the work of change begin" speech he made when he became Prime Minister. As was predicted, Gordon's foreign policy changes look like being largely cosmetic. Once again Gordon has thrown a sop to anti-war left while placating the neocon faction. This ambiguity seems to be Gordon's trade mark. However, as his premiership progresses he's going to have to be a bit more straightforward than he has so far.
Hush, Hush, Nobody Cares, Ali Campbell Has A Book OutPosted July 10th, 2007 by Tom
30 Year Rail Strategy - Bad Engineering AlertPosted July 8th, 2007 by Tom
One of the nice things about regularly reading the Yorkshire Ranter's work is that he's got the measure of politician's vanity projects - from ID cards to new nuclear powers stations, generally spending money on kit to make politicians feel important is a bad way of doing things. The obvious transport example of this is maglev trains, which surfaces periodically thanks to a tiresome bunch, and has had Tony Blair (and some Scottish politicos) drooling. Maglev is one of those great ideas on paper ('cool, fast, wow') but when you start examining it as a transport strategy, huge flaws come to light, mainly around resilience and interoperability. Which brings us to the leaked reports of the Government's 30 year rail plan (a slightly more realistic estimate than Prezza's dead-in-the-water 10 year transport plan), which shows that grandiose planning is still something New Labour thinks it's for. I have reservations:
Firstly, the history of government transport plans is iffy - the Modernisation Plan of 1955 had serious flaws (like building small quantities of poor-performing diesels and building vast marshalling yards ten years before the concept become redundant). Prescott's 10-year-plan involved an alleged £180bn of 'investment' including dozens of tram schemes. No tram schemes are currently being built in the UK. The risk is that you get tied into a 2007 vision in 2037, which isn't necessarily going to be fun, or that times change and someone (Gordon via Alistair Darling, in the case of trams) cuts the budget.
Secondly, if the report's writers really think that any of the three levels of European train control can be installed across the UK in a decade, they're barking. It's just now (at Level 2) belatedly coming into use in some parts of the continent, and has invariably proved tricky - it's new, high-tech revolutionary technology. Remember that the reason for the West Coast modernisation going overbudget and underspeed was a bunch of consultants thinking that they could go straight to Level 3, forgetting that the railway was going to be used by other people's trains who weren't necessarily going to pay for installation of as yet unbuilt and untested kit. I'm not at all sure that the current continuous upheaval and sky-high cost involved in maintenance and renewal is the right environment to consider going balls-out for ETCS in the UK. I have a horrible feeling that they're talking Level 3 here, since the main point of that is running trains closer together - Level 2 merely allows you to run faster than 125 mph, the current UK maximum for driver-observed signalling, by using continuous GSM radio links to tell the driver how far ahead the line is clear instead of relying on lineside signals, which obviously come rather more often the faster you go. Better to get the current system sorted out and more efficient, then do some gradual smal-scale testing and keep an eye on equipment costs as they come down due to the larger market and operational experience elsewhere.
Thirdly, the journalists' tag lines seem to be based on quack-greenery - 'biofuels' and 'hydrogen' appear in the first paragraph of the Observer story. Hydrogen fuelled trains are something of a hobbyhorse at the DfT, sadly, despite the obvious engineering drawback that hydrogen power is just a way of moving electricity around, and the railways already do that much more efficiently using something called 'electrification'. In fact, the e-word is totally absent from the story, and I suspect based on recent Informed Sources articles that it will be soft-pedalled or ignored in the forthcoming wave of transport announcements. This is a mistake and here's why. If you wanted to set up, from scratch, the most environmentally friendly way of moving people around just at the moment you'd use high-tension AC overhead electrified railways running frequent services of standard electric trains using regenerative braking to convert their kinetic energy back into electricity and shove it into the grid. There's an example of this running at the moment - the former 'Misery Line' London, Tilbury, Southend services are run by a uniform fleet of regenerating EMUs which are obtaining startling good energy efficiency figures *now* (something in the order of 85-90% of the power produced at the power station is used for moving people around), not in 30 years time.
The key battlecry of the engineer's revolt against managerialism is 'evolution' - in the long run it's not the big ideas that matter, but the incremental improvement over the best of the previous generation (see the High Speed Train for an example). If you've already got a form of transport that can operate at 85-90% efficiency on power station generated energy, you aren't really going to beat that by using biofuels on the train or replacing copper wires with hydrogen transported around the country. The concentration should be on renewable power or other power-station end emissions reduction, since that's where evolutionary improvement will pay off best. Meanwhile, get a rolling programme of electrification up and running on the Midland and Great Western main lines. Sign here.
On a related, note, National Express having been battered in the franchising market lately, has gone into bat for the express coach against the train, on environmental grounds:
Quite apart from the maths (which NatEx have used before), getting people out of trains and onto buses? Surely not, considering the model of the 85-90% efficiency rail is capable of now on the LTS line. The operators of that model of greenery? National Express. They made quite a fuss about it.
UPDATE - Thanks to commenters for pointing out that the Edinburgh tram scheme is going ahead finally, the Scottish Nats having changed their mind about scrapping it.
Levy To Be ChargedPosted July 8th, 2007 by quarsan
According to those hovering around Tony, Lord Cashpoint is going to be charged and likely to be prosecuted.
But there's some interesting nuggets in the story:
Interesting, especially as Jonathan Powell is also on Blair's Middle East crusade. In the meantime Arise Lord Mandelson!
Did Somebody Say "Oil"?Posted July 5th, 2007 by Davide Simonetti
There is a bit of a row brewing in Australia. It seems the Australian Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, has had the bad taste to admit that his country's involvement in the Iraq war is to secure oil supplies.
"The Middle East itself not only Iraq is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world, and Australians ... need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq," Dr Nelson said.
"We need to ensure, notwithstanding the significant natural resources that our country has been blessed with, that we are able to access the energy requirements in our region and throughout the world," he said.
So it wasn't about WMD then. Prime Minister John Howard is staying firmly on message and denying that oil had anything to do with the illegal invasion.
"I had a look at what Brendan said and I think in fairness to him he didn't quite say that," Mr Howard said on Macquarie Radio.
"I haven't said in my speech that the reason we went to Iraq is oil or the reason we're staying there is oil.
"We are not there because of oil and we didn't go there because of oil. We don't remain there because of oil. Oil is not the reason."
Got that? Nothing at all to do with oil. So what was it all about then? Well Dubya is now linking it to the American War of Independence, in some twisted way, to mark the July 4 anniversary.
President Bush equated the war in Iraq on Wednesday with the U.S. war for independence. Like those revolutionaries who "dropped their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty," Bush said U.S. soldiers were fighting "a new and unprecedented war" to protect U.S. freedom.
This is just bizarre even for Bush. If anything is reminiscent of the War of Independence it's the insurgency - throwing out an imperial power and establishing self-determination as indeed General Sir Michael Rose has suggested. And Bush couldn't resist another attempt at linking his war with September 11 2001.
"a major enemy in Iraq is the same enemy that dared attack the United States on that fateful day."
Anyway, nothing at all to do with oil. So one has to wonder then why Bush would phone his puppet, Nouri al-Maliki to thank him personally for approving the draft oil law in Iraq.
Al-Maliki said Tuesday his cabinet had unanimously approved a draft of the law, raising hopes that major progress had been made. U.S. President George W. Bush phoned the prime minister to thank him.
This is, of course, the oil law which, when passed, will mean huge profits for American petro-chemical companies, notably, Exxon Mobile and Chevron. The problem however, is that Al-Maliki has a different interpretation of the word "unanimously" and is trying to push this law through without proper consultation with the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said it had not seen nor approved the draft.
"We hope the cabinet is not approving a text with which the KRG disagrees because this would violate the constitutional rights of the Kurdistan region," the KRG said in a statement.
The Sunni politicians are unhappy with this law as well and are boycotting the parliament. Even Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has rejected the draft. The delay in passing the law is causing headaches for General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq who, along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, has to present a report to Washington in September to show some sort of progress. It's likely to be a very short report.
Booting Out BlairismPosted July 4th, 2007 by Tom
More encouraging signs that the departure of Blair signals the end of Blairism - the new Health Secretary Alan Johnson has started applying the brakes to the NHS reform juggernaut beloved of our late Dear Leader.
Well, that's putting it mildly. I'm of the opinion that the NHS reforms are designed around the Thatcherite aims of privatisation and marginalising the medical professions, so it'll be interesting to see if appointing an actual medic to assess the current state of the service is a real Blair-bashing exercise (this is implied by the emphasis "less on central direction and more on patient control") or a symbolic sop to a highly hostile section of the public sector, to keep them quiet for a bit. Certainly, initial reaction is that it's not a review that's needed, but a screeching stop to the damaging policies of reform inherited from Blair and another year of them while the review is carried out isn't going to cut it.
Still, the faint breath of fresh air apparent since Blair's departure is detectable again - with Patricia Hewitt gone too the politlcal damage of admitting that things in the NHS aren't wholly wonderful isn't so great. Courage has never been a great New Labour virtue, but fortunately it doesn't need courage to blame the last guy.
Adimin - will be offline sometime in the next 24 hoursPosted July 4th, 2007 by ringverse
Hi folks, due to a server upgrade, we might fall offline for some or all of the next 24 hours.
Hold your breath and cross your fingers, and we should be back up by thursday...
Some Good NewsPosted July 4th, 2007 by Davide Simonetti
BBC reporter Alan Johnston has at last been freed after 114 days in captivity.
It seems that Hamas, who had the kidnappers surrounded, managed to apply enough pressure to secure Alan Johnston's release.
Mr Johnston said Hamas's seizure of power in Gaza and its subsequent pledge to improve security in the territory had facilitated his release.
"The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation until... a few weeks ago, when Hamas took charge of the security operation here," he said.
I'm sure the huge campaign to draw attention to the kidnapping added further incentive to get Alan Johnston freed. Quite what Israel and her allies will make of this Hamas achievement remains to be seen.
Car containing propane and accelerants catches fire in BirminghamPosted July 3rd, 2007 by Tom
Well, that's rather interesting. There are three stories on the BBC website from 2001 about this case, and nothing since, which suggests that no one was ever caught or charged with a crime and incidentally giving some idea of how such events were handled more sanely back then. This was, remember, just after 9/11 and the Real IRA campaign of real, proper, dangerous bombs in England.
The results are what we've been saying - the car wasn't subjected to any internal explosion (the doors are still shut and unbowed, the roof's still on). It's just burnt out, as you'd expect. The devices are crude incendiaries rather than IEDs capable of exploding.
It was treated as a crime rather than terrorism, but the details given are so similar to the Tiger Tiger device so as to make one stop and take notice, particularly as the timing is right in the middle of the Afghanistan War (at the time Mullah Omar was preparing to flee Kandahar). Early al-Qaeda blowback? There's a really intruiging story here to be dug into.
However, a few more things are coming across my radar about Arab medics and how the New Labour government has been treating them. First this, from last year:
The absence of postgraduate opportunities in the UAE has traditionally led to a high percentage of Arab doctors pursuing training in the UK; currently, an estimated 6,000. This number has risen in recent years, in part due to the complications associated with accessing American student visas in the wake of 9/11. Now, medical schools in the region are concerned that postgraduate opportunities for Arab students are rapidly drying up.
His concerns are echoed by the British Arab Medical Association (BAMA), which has campaigned vehemently against the new rules. Dr. Ayman Hamade, assistant general secretary of BAMA, described the laws as; "A knee-jerk reaction; discriminatory and racist."
Why so many doctors coming into the NHS from abroad? Well, it's easy to see the attraction of importing foreign labour into the NHS to the managerial freaks in Government - you get an instant boost in numbers for the press, you can pay them less, they won't complain as much (less hinterland and organisation - doctors in the UK often come from well-off middle class families with clout as we saw with MTAS), they can't leave if you make their work permits conditional on remaining employed, otherwise they get deported. It's a form of serfdom, quasi-slave labour. It also means you can control the number of people becoming consultants, which helps that old New Labour/Thatcherite obsession with breaking the power of professions and replace genuine craft and public vocation with (much more lucrative and manageable) training and privatisation. The Yorkshire Ranter (who's been onto this for a while) has an excellent article on this mode of New Labour thought.
From the BBC list of arrested suspects comes an interesting detail about one of the men arrested at Glasgow Airport:
DR BILAL ABDULLAH
He was given limited registration by the General Medical Council (GMC) from August 5 2006 to August 11 2007.
Limited registration is awarded to recent medical graduates and it allowed him to work in Britain for a year, but in accordance with standard procedure, he could not move jobs during that time and had to be supervised.
Note the dates - he had just over a month left in his job. All this isn't going to help the transient workers you've imported to settle and integrate - imagine you're in that position, from a privileged background you come to a foreign country, you'lll stay in small groups (antisocial hours mean medics often socialise with other medics) you'll be stressed from work and resentful of your lack of control over your life. Then, out of the blue, the rules switch round to apparently discriminate against you and turn your life upside down, while the same government that introduced them is complicit in murdering your compatriots back in Palestine and Iraq.
I begin to detect a picture emerging. It's no longer a question of 'why would medics behave like this?', it looks like the roots may be in blowback from neoliberal indifference to the individual, Blairite managerialism and neocon bloodlust. In the US stressed employees go postal, here they seem to go medical.
OK, there's a lot of speculation in this, but I've thrown a few pieces of the pieces of the jigsaw on the table, feel free to rearrange them in any order that makes sense, utilising Occam's Razor if you like.
UPDATE - should have done it before, but of course NHS Blog Doctor has loads of stuff of interest - here, here and here. Particularly around the confidential email that suggests that the point of the Modernising Medical Careers fiasco was to secretly discriminate against non-UK doctors applying for jobs.
Tiger Tiger, Burning Bright?Posted July 2nd, 2007 by Tom
Quarsan picked up on this quote by that extremist Murdoch-shilling taking dickhead of an ex-plod earlier, but it needs expanding on. This is the new Prime Minister's future advisor on international security matters, telling us that the complete, utter, rank amateurish, balderdash of profoundly non-terrifying non-car bombs that the press and broadcast media have been having collective fear-wanks over for the last five days are worse than 7/7, an attack run on coldly professional lines by men who knew what they were doing, killed 52 people and injured many others, physically and mentally. Now I reckon that's an insult to my intelligence, to my fellow Londoners and, I suggest, to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in 7/7. It beggars belief that this man is listened to by anyone with an ounce more sense than a jam sandwich. Oh, and I switched on my radio this morning to hear Tony McNulty in the same job sounding exactly as dull, stupid and unpleasant as he did when John Reid was in the hotseat. Plus ca change.
I was in a pleasant poolside bar in Greece when the new Cabinet was announced, and was enjoying myself ('Bye, Doctor Reid! Bye, Marge!') right up until I heard about Lord Stevens' appointment. This is a man who, let us not forget, was appointed by the football authorities to investigate corruption in the game and dutifully found it was clean as a whistle. What do we think will happen when he's appointed by New Labour to investigate whether, say, the Iraq War has led to an increase in the terrorist threat? Perhaps he can invite Lord Hutton and Lord 'What's He Doing In The Lib-Dems?' Carlile along to help out with buckets of whitewash (supplied by Halliburton, naturally). Mind you, I still think appointing Ruth Kelly to Transport is someone's idea of a sick joke, so perhaps the Stevens appointment (and that of the unacceptable fat of capitalism Sir Pigby Jones) should be seen similarly.
Actually, reading round the blogs to get some bleedin sanity back into the picture, Juan Cole points out that the known arrests are of medics from the Middle East, specifically Jordan and Iraq (I'm assuming that the people responsible are about as good at evading the polizei as they are at bomb-making here). This points to another rather ironic bit of New Labour idiocy - the import of foreign doctors into the NHS to meet targets, followed by the MTAS junior doctor job debacle where there were more doctors than jobs. If the quality of the medical care by the gentlemen arrested is anything like their apparent bomb-making ability, I'd run a mile screaming from any hospital unlucky enough to employ them. Go in to see them with an infection and they'd probably prescribe antibiotics, but be unable to work out how to get the drugs into you ('perhaps you could just, like, sit next to them and wait?'). So much for record NHS investment and making the NHS a top priority. We should send them back where they came from. What do you mean, it's a blood-stained hell hole of our creation?
However, that's not the most amusing part - that must go to our old friend 'al-Qaeda General' Dhiren Barot, the numpties' numpty, the king of the jihadi muppet wing, who spent an inordinate amount of time devising unworkable plots, which were then obligingly published by the Met to show what a cold, calculating killer they'd caught, and seem to have been taken as such by other numpties. With the Met on the case vectoring the PDFs, you don't even need to actually stage an attack to have influence. We all knew Barot was a stupid, ignorant fantasist with an inflated opinion of himself and no apparent sense of irony, but then we read SpyBlog and others and form our own opinions based on the facts. Perhaps it's a good thing wannabe jihadis watch Die Hard and read the News of the World and believe what they're told by the Met, then. Much safer than actually working out how to build real bombs.
UPDATE - More from septicisle covering much the same ground rather better.
At least we must be grateful for one thing; terrorists are becoming more incompetent with every attack. According to vast acres of press coverage, it's all down to the familiar old bogeyman - al Qaeda.
"The terror of 7/7 was awful enough, but now al-Qa'ida has imported the tactics of Baghdad and Bali to the streets of the UK. - Lord Stevens
Blair added: 'How are [we] oppressing them? You're oppressing them when you support the people who are trying to blow them up.' - Source
Speaking of blowing people up, isn't this oppression then? The civilian casualty figures climb daily in Afghanistan, in Iraq.
Our strategy to fight terrorism was derailed by the Iraq war and made the problem a lot worse. As we continue down this foolish road, terrorism will remain amongst us, and eventually the bombers will gain some technical competence and strike, causing death and injury.
The strategy needs to be urgently changed because at the moment we are not winning, we're making it easier for the terrorists to recruit, making it easier for our civil liberties to be taken away from us.
Coming soon: 90 Day detention.
Today, the junior level of officials will be announced and it will be interesting to see if Tom Watson will get his reward for his part in the botched coup that lead to Blair's long goodbye. During these events Tom, popped over to Gordon's Scottish home to
discuss the coup sit and watch a DVD with the little Brownlet.
Help Tony write his memoirs by suggesting the best title for the book.
Well we've had a lot of entries, but the one that wins captures the essence of the man and his attitude to his premiership and the public in three little words.
The winner is Tim Ireland with "I Forgive You"