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The Guardian
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A daily paper, The Guardian is on the mainstream left of British political opinion. Readership is over 100,000 people.
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When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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1997 election endorsement: Labour

2002 election endorsement: Labour
Media | Home Office
Infrastructure, Energy & Environment | Chief Whips

When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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Labour's Quiet Leadership Race (And What it all Means):

The Labour leadership race has taken the media by storm. It was always bound to, considering whoever wins becomes Britain's head of government. But the resignation of Margaret Beckett leaving things in the open has led to a power vacuum the candidates are desperate to fill.

The debate has been a clash of egos as much, if not more, than a clash of principle. Internal division and conflict has formed the perfect cocktail that has turned the media storm into a media hurricane: manifestos have been leaked to the press, barbed remarks made by anonymous sources and the leadership candidates themselves and most importantly there have been some pretty severe accusations made, including the accusation that Elizabeth Tanner has effectively bought votes with the promise of cushy Ministerial jobs (an allegation we will emphasise has been, thus far, baseless). It's worth noting most of these leaks seem to have come from the Maulty team, but the Tanner side of the leadership campaign also seems to have gotten its hands dirty. 

And then there's that socialist bloke from Wales. He's been enjoying the spectacle from the sidelines with the rest of us, I imagine.

With the furore over he-said-she-did, and the keys to Downing Street dangling in front of the leadership contenders' and the public's eyes, it's easy for us to forget Britain's quiet leadership race: no, not the Conservative Party race, but the race to become Labour's second-in-command.

We have two candidates: Christian Socialist Belinda MacDonald, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and MP for the Western Isles and Callum Finch, Minister for Defence and MP for Burton. Both were elected in 1992, meaning that they're new blood.

But what does it mean?

A worthy question. The Deputy Leadership now isn't significant because it shows who'll be the Prime Minister's second in command, but it more importantly reveals details about the more important race: the one for Labour leader. Usually the two are relatively separate affairs, but by having both Deputy Leaders run on joint tickets with the two perceived frontrunners of the leadership campaign this already tells us this race is going to be much more Presidential than tradition dictates; considering the media storm and the personal element of candidates' attack, that is not going to be a surprise, but it will certainly be fun to witness. 

But, perhaps more importantly, their pick on who to run a ticket with, we could probably have an idea of what kind of strategy the candidates are going for and what kind of platform they're running on - and that could tell us who could win.

Ben Maulty has picked Belinda MacDonald as his Deputy, this is significant because we know that the Christian Socialist Movement has decent influence on the Labour Party, which was pointed out by The Mirror late last month. Their main concern is that the successor to John Smith mostly carries through his legacy, as they owe a lot to him. This is why as a strategic move this was wise.

But it might not be enough - the CSM is notoriously a flexible and diverse faction within the Labour Party, one way that can be seen is through Sean Manning. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury was himself reportedly close to Mr. Smith and while he's not running to be Elizabeth Tanner's Deputy, he is her campaign manager and has lent his support. This could mean that Maulty's tactic has been rendered somewhat mute. 

It's clear that Maulty is shooting for all factions of the Labour Party, though. Himself from Progress, his manifesto talks of cutting out waste and cutting taxes, but also pledges billions in infrastructure, policing and in public services. This could  broaden his appeal to a wider support base candidates need to reach for - the soft left to hard left of the Labour Party. 

Unfortunately for Maulty, if he wants to be seen as the lesser of two evils to the Labour left he faces two new barriers: the first is his Progress like rhetoric could put them off and could be exploited by the Tanner campaign (we've already seen inklings of this, with briefings against Maulty accusing him of wanting to cut vital services). The second issue he faces is a new spanner in the works: Harri Pollitt by virtue of being in the Socialist Campaign Group could now easily eat up the Socialist Campaign Group vote Maulty vouched for, and if he plays his cards right maybe some disillusioned members of the soft left too.

Maulty's strategy, therefore, could push him to victory against all odds against a woman who has had more Ministerial experience than he has. Or it could be his undoing. What is Tanner's strategy?

In running with Finch, another Progress member, Tanner is clearly shooting for the Labour right. It might look a little insular, but it makes sense: Progress alone nearly makes up half of MPs. If she can get them on board while Maulty flails for the left vote, and she can get her right hand Man-ning to get a slim majority of Christian Socialists on board, the election is in the bag for her (assuming this translates to the membership, too). It's a reasonable but perhaps risky assumption, but Tanner already may be doing some damage control: her leaked manifesto is hardly regressive or any major push to the right that some pundits had expected. 

By leaking it to the press, Maulty's team (because lets be honest - who else leaked it?) may have helped more than hindered her. Whether it's 5 billion to social housing, or an expansion of early years and Sure Start, Tanner could make the case her manifesto is more left wing than Maulty's. Maybe Tribune MPs and members could buy it, but with them reported to be happy with Maulty's minimum wage policies, amongst other goodies, who knows if a reach to the left is feasible.

A prospect nobody is facing up to:

Joint tickets make sense in some political systems - in U.S politics, unless the bizarre and impossible happens (think Donald Trump managing to become President level bizarre and impossible) the President and Vice President are going to be elected from the same party and ticket. But the Labour Party face two separate elections, so despite the possible usefulness of political alliances and politicking there really is no real joint ticket.

It's likely one half of one ticket could be elected with the other half of another ticket, elected on two completely different sets of messages and principles. Both Tanner and Maulty need to realise this prospect and prepare for consolidation and cooperation if this were to happen, because otherwise we could see the division and strife we've seen in the media tenfold when government matters come into play. Should there be a lack of concordance, either Tanner or Maulty (depending) have a strong set of cards in which they can manipulate the winner.

Although considering the heated and personal nature of this campaign, it may be that even if the whole ticket is elected we will see division from within the Labour Party - John Smith held the party together in many respects, and his death may symbolise the collapse of that crucial lynchpin. This would be a major opportunity for the Tories, themselves healing from their own divisions, because we know that this division is all fun and headline grabbing during the campaign, but the public want to see the childishness end once government comes into play - if not long before.
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Guest article by John Prescott MP

The Labour Party is at a critical junction. The choice it makes in the next few weeks will determine who moves in to Number 10 and who takes our government forward. Today is not the day for me to talk about which of the candidates is best positioned for the job. But today is a day for me to speak clearly, on behalf of Labour MPs, Labour members and Labour activists and deliver a simple message: the "senior sources" inside the Labour Party, on both sides of the leadership race, should shut up and spend more time making the case for their candidate publicly and less time throwing muck in the press.

Ben Maulty's campaign has been hit with accusations of trading jobs for support. Elizabeth Tanner's campaign has been hit with the same. Ms. Tanner had the indignity of her manifesto being leaked before she had the opportunity to make it public on her own terms. Both have been smeared by "anonymous sources" who clearly have nothing better to do with their time.

The consequences of the mud-slinging, if they aren't obvious already, should be. Labour infighting has never ended in success. Perhaps in the past, people felt it was fine because we were in opposition. But that infighting kept us out of government for nearly two decades. Now, for the first time in a generation, Labour has the chance to deliver real change as the government of the day. But tainting a new Prime Minister -- whomever that is -- before they even come to office only does one thing: benefit the Conservative Party.

We are one or two years away from an election. Supporters of Mr. Maulty and Ms. Tanner should realise that, at the end of the day, we must come together as one party and continue to provide good governance. We cannot afford to hand Andrew Summer or Harold Saxon the weapons they need to make the case that we're disorganised and dysfunctional. To both sides of this race, my message is clear: stop. When the urge to leak hits you, think about who you're helping. Your candidate? No. You're helping the Conservatives.
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When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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The Angry Middle - A Tale of Labour's Leadership Election

With the conflict now at an end, Elizabeth Tanner has officially drawn to a close one of the more heated Labour leadership contests of my lifetime - and while the suggestion that it was somehow an effective Labour civil war would be exaggerating, there certainly have been a number of skirmishes throughout the campaign. With Ben Maulty, the 'also Centrist' candidate in the Labour contest barely even on speaking terms with the newly elected Leader Elizabeth Tanner, ballot papers being spoiled by members of the Parliamentary part rather than vote for either of the two candidates in the second round and a trail of leaks spanning back weeks Labour now finds itself with a broad divide. 

Many commentators have been left dumbstruck over how two leadership candidates that largely agreed with one another as a result of a campaign that was expected to be the more amicable of the two - a battle between the Conservative Left and Right logically being expected to be bloody - now will likely not even want to work together. The tale begins with the promising launch of Ben Maulty's campaign; the publication of a very polished manifesto detailing how he intended to raise the minimum wage, lower or maintain tax rates and increase spending on infrastructural and Defence projects. The manifesto was popular and put Maulty in the key second position spot ahead of the 'far left' candidate Harri Pollitt who was put on the ballot after getting support from MPs who didn't support him, however Maulty's fortunes would be cut short when the Tanner Campaign began immediately contacting union leaders and members of the party to discuss Maulty's policies. This was especially notable on the manifesto line outlining how Maulty would like to 'cut waste in Government' which alienated a significant number of members and affiliates from his campaign over the confusion of what exactly that meant. 

What would follow would be a series of confused leaks that divided and confused many in the party, the first of which being an anonymous source questioning Maulty's policy on 'cutting waste'. Rightly or wrongly, Maulty's campaign was deeply irritated by the 'leak' which they assumed to come from the Tanner campaign and in response it is assumed they leaked Tanner's own manifesto. This began a spiraling set of leaks that would include suggestions that the Tanner Campaign was 'buying' votes of key caucus leaders with promises of cabinet positions despite there being no evidence to suggest so - the result being that barely days later another unrelated backbencher to the first leak would tell the press that the Maulty campaign was offering them positions, despite their own statement also alluding to no such promises. It's thought that this rather angered the Maulty campaign, with Ben supposedly almost considering dropping out entirely, but in the end choosing to fight the campaign through to the end.

By voting day however the result was somewhat expected; Tanner had won largely due to the breadth of support she had from the Parliamentary party which stood at over 76% of MPs and MEPs, while Maulty had struggled to gain traction and been buried under the level of support being given to Tanner by other MPs. The campaign - even without Tanner's backbench supporters - too was Tanners to win after she ran a consistent and broad reaching campaign that included a significant number of canvassing operations throughout the country and within several major Labour groups that ensured that despite Maulty's solid campaign on the ground his campaign was in the end overwhelmed by Tanner's troops. For what it is worth however, Ben Maulty's campaign was a solid one in person - it merely lacked the required Parliamentary backing to win; speeches were well thought out and materials were hard hitting and effective. The result meaning that the contest largely became more of a quantity vs quality battle that Tanner heavily won.

Overall though, while Tanner may have won the leadership that did not translate well 'down the ticket' as Americans would say. This had been a bizzarely 'Primary' style election with both candidates having effective running mates for the deputy leadership - Tanner's chosen candidate Callum Finch losing out by 9% to Maulty's chosen candidate Belinda McDonald. What this says to us is that Maulty's campaign probably could have won if it were not for the most likely accidental alienation of the vast majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party - especially among groupings he failed to reach out to where Tanner succeeded such as Tribune and the Christian Socialists, both of whom would have been able to provide enough backing for him to if not win the contest at least bring it to a second round he could have won with Pollitt's support.

Overall what this contest must remind us of is that it is very easy for leadership contests to become very heated very quickly, and that heat can quickly translate into something much deadlier in party relations. Tanner inherits a party she has a large mandate to lead - but equally a party which now houses a very frustrated and angry element - one that in some cases refused to even put Tanner as second preference despite Labour MPs knowledge that the 'hard left' of Labour has been the root of all the party's problems it seems since the late 1970's electorally. The first task of Tanner's new Government must be to unite her party, look past what really ultimately were petty and unnecessary feuds and instead focus on delivering good Government for the British people or - as we expect opinion polls this week will suggest - they can expect to give way rapidly to the Conservatives. This will not be a one way thing, Tanner, Maulty and somewhat Pollitt must work together to heal old wounds, but it will certainly need to start soon or who knows - we may even get the Tories back in only five years after they ended a streak of 18 years.
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Special Advisor for the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Foreign Office, Defence and the Chief/Shadow Whip
Advisor for the Labour Party

"If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand." ~ Milton Friedman
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Fuel price 'crusade' incenses Jarrow veteran
by Seumas Milne, labour editor

The call by leaders of the fuel tax protest for a new "Jarrow crusade", in the form of a four-day convoy of slow-moving lorries from Tyneside to London, was dismissed yesterday by the last survivor of the 1930s Jarrow march against unemployment as a "ridiculous insult".

"What the farmers and hauliers are after has got nothing to do with what we were about," said Cornelius Whalen, 91, from his home in the town made famous by the march to London of 200 jobless workers in October 1936. "There's something wrong with them. For us it was a question of hardship and hunger, and the means test meant you had to give up everything that was any good to get your dole. But these people are well off - and the farmers are hardly an example to follow: they've sacrificed the country for their own gain."

The plan for the truckers' version of the crusade was announced by Andrew Spence of the People's Fuel Lobby at a meeting of hauliers and farmers in Cheshire. He said the convoy would assemble in Jarrow on December 27th, arriving in London for a fuel tax demonstration on New Years Eve. "I don't know if anyone has heard of the Jarrow crusade," Mr Spence told the meeting. "Well, it's starting again, only bigger. We want as many vehicles on the road as possible."

The Jarrow marchers left a town blighted by 80% unemployment, carrying a crusade banner and a petition appealing for the right to work. Although they caught the mood of the nation, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, refused to meet them when they arrived at Westminster almost a month later.

The contrast with the self-employed hauliers and farmers, running the campaign for a 26p cut in fuel duty, could scarcely be starker. Although some of the farmer activists have been hit by the slump in agricultural prices, evidence of other fuel protest organisers' prosperity can be seen in BMWs, Volvos and Mercedes parked outside their meetings. Although some of the most prominent fuel protest leaders are directors of several companies, most are able to avoid disclosing their profits because firms with a turnover of less than £2.8m or employing fewer than 50 workers are not obliged to publish detailed accounts.
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Harold Saxon, the Leader of the Opposition, has garnered much criticism following his exclusive Newsnight interview. Many commentators criticised the interview for being 'lacklustre'. Saxon's economic vision has been put under particular scrutiny for being 'vague' and 'uninspiring'.

LGBT campaigners and organisations were amongst the vocal critics: Angela Mason, the director of Stonewall, told the Guardian: "Harold Saxon's comments on Section 28 were completely unacceptable and show the Conservative Party is still the same old cruel, prejudiced party of old. Endangering LGBT children does not defend family values, and Saxon's stigmatising language - referring to homosexuality as a 'choice' - continues to poison the political dialogue and stigmatise LGBT people. Until the Conservatives take real action to modernise and address their prejudices they won't be getting any support from the LGBT community."

Regarding Saxon's comments of removing state University funding, academics and University Chancellors have expressed concern and have been critical. The Guardian has received a letter signed by up to 100 leading academics and University Chancellors, stating: "Harold Saxon's promise could be devastating for academia and for social mobility. He must renounce this statement or clarify what areas of wasteful spending he could remove without hurting the academic sector."

Though no polls have been conducted, reports from focus groups of swing voters have found that while there is discontent with the government - particularly on the issue of fuel - swing voters are reluctant to back Saxon following comments he made in his Newsnight interview. However, there are reports of Saxon's support from within the Conservative Party being strengthened following his defence of Section 28 and his speech on crime. 

It is clear that with discontent for the government growing, there is a space electorally for the Conservatives. And their speeches for education and transport show they could be prepared to take it - but Saxon's Newsnight interview makes it clear that Saxon has to take efforts with his party's image, his own image and his economic vision before the electorate can completely buy the Conservatives as an alternate to Labour instead of a protest vote against them.
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A ten-year-old boy dies in a stabbing attack, having been bullied, and two out of three national party leaders are in a tit-for-tat debate about who is going to raise taxes and who is going to lower taxes. And the government? They are nowhere to be found. Not a single condolence. Not a single statement of outrage. This is the state of politics in our country today. A ten-year-old boy is murdered and forgotten about. 

The story of the vicious attack on Damilola Taylor is well-known—though apparently not to anybody in Westminster—and the details need not be repeated today. When the issue came up for comment from MPs, Liberal Democrat leader Rebecca Flair rushed out to the microphones, prattling on about how the Liberal Democrats won't run a deficit and have a costed plan. Leader of the Opposition, Sir Harold Saxon, responded in turn to say the LibDems will raise taxes. From there, the two of them have argued back and forth about taxation. 

Sir Harold? Ms. Flair? A child is dead. Do you think Gloria Taylor, the young boy's mother, really cares about taxation right now? Do you think children facing bullying who hear about this attack and wonder if they will face the same fate really care about what the deficit might look like in ten years time? In the event that you do think that, let us set you straight: they do not.

Labour is not blameless on this issue either. The Home Secretary is nowhere to be found on this issue. Not a single Cabinet Minister has expressed sympathy. Or outrage. This little boy's violent end has been met with indifference from political leaders on all sides of the House of Commons, and it is shameful.

Our message, for all politicians, is simple: do better for Damilola.
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When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans. -Jean Chrétien
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A Crucial First Step

John Smith's government was stable, but that stability often came at the cost of timidity and accepting some pretty egregious policy - cuts to the benefits of single mothers being a notable one. If we were to truly honour his death, the budget had to symbolise John Smith's real vision: of stable and viable government, certainly, but crucially of a government that was bold in tackling Britain's ills.

It seemed Sean Manning wasn't lying when he said he could be one of the best torchbearers of the Smith legacy, and his budget truly reflects this: when it comes to strong public services, to keeping Britain safe and to tackling poverty - especially poverty in its most egregious form, child poverty - Manning makes it clear he'll put his money where his mouth is and will take bold action.

The Chancellor has made it clear none of this will be done at the sacrifice of stable finances. Gordon Brown during his tenure often espoused prudence with a purpose: now, with the government paying off its debts and having room to heavily invest in the country and its people, we understand that this was more than hot air. 

The Chancellor has also made it clear that the government will no longer retain a paralysis on the issues that affect Britain. Whilst government departments elsewhere seem to now be functioning to tackle many of the crises Britain currently faces, the budget takes some well needed action whether that's on crime, on the measles crisis or on other tragedies such as Hatfield.

There are still some questions and improvements than can be made, and questions that are raised. For example, a health service free at the point of use (or, in non-spin speak, scrapping prescription charges) is certainly an admirable goal which can be supported in principle - but questions can be raised if the poverty it reduces, likely marginal if any poverty at all, is worth the cost it incurs. 

Similarly, while progressive changes to national insurance have been tweaked, the problem of income inequality has never been boldly addressed by the Chancellor. Inequality comes with its own set of problems, and without addressing inequality with direct or wealth taxes the government will never truly be able to address poverty. It's time for the Chancellor to get serious and realise this: whilst there is a case for smokers to pay more because of the strain they put on the health service, increases to such regressive indirect taxes must be temperate and moderate at most going forwards.

Regardless, this is a budget John Smith and Britain would be proud of. People want a stable and moderate government - who would seriously call for chaos? But we also know that at this time they also want change. This budget is a step in that direction.
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Yet Another Delay As European Concern Rises.

With the release of the Queen’s Speech, and the Labour Government’s continued commitment to the ‘Five Tests’, there is increasing concern in Europe that the UK may never come to a decision on the Euro.

Sources within the European Commission, and member states, indicate they are now more concerned about the United Kingdom never making a decision, placing the European Monetary Union into effective limbo, than the country refusing to join.  

The Euro is currently in non-physical form such as traveller’s cheques and electronic transfers, but on 1st January 2002 the Euro will become legal tender in the form of coins and cash. It is all but impossible for the UK to meet that deadline and introduce the legal tender, meaning it will not be a full member of the European Monetary Union for a number of years – even if the Chancellor indicated Britain’s full commitment to membership tomorrow.  

The OECD has already indicated that the UK passes the Maastricht criteria on debt, inflation, interest rates and borrowing levels and is well on its way to fulfilling the Government’s Five Tests. It has, however, doubted their objectivity – an opinion now adopted by most European leaders. Most leaders believe the Five Tests are about managing the political situation, and not ensuring it is beneficial for Britain.

Sources from a number of different European countries and the European Commission itself indicate that the UK Government is squandering a substantial amount of goodwill towards the country. The refusal to decide on Britain’s membership of the Euro – and maintaining the five tests after four years – smacks of a lack of commitment to the European project and the European Union as a whole, some believe.

One source within the European Commission said: “No one in Europe believes that the results of the five tests have not been determined yet. The UK Government knows whether the UK should or should not join us in European Monetary Union. It just won’t tell either the British public or its European allies, despite frequent bilateral conversations on the matter. Everyone deserves better.”

Opinions in the UK of Europe’s distaste towards the delays are split. The Britain in Europe lobby group has suggested that “every day the Government lacks courage to join the single currency is a day that we lose out economically. It is becoming increasingly clear that exclusion from the single currency is not a cost-free option, but neither is the dithering displayed by this Government.”

New Europe, the anti-monetary union thinktank, have argued that the comments from the European Commission were “typical Brussel boy bulling, attempting to force Britain to join the single currency.” “The European Commission senses that the Government is weak and distracted by other controversial constitutional tinkering and will be able to force our hand. It is time for the Government to display some strength and say ‘no’.”

Britain remains split on the benefits of the Euro but the opinions of our European allies are clear: it is time to choose.
Liberal Democrat Adviser

Admin for Foreign & Defence, Health & Social Security, and Local Government, Regions and Devolution. 

“If socialism is a matter of total abstinence and a good filing cabinet, some of us will fall by the wayside.” - Anthony Crosland.
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Dumbledore, Churchill and Andy Cole
A conversation with Sir Harold Saxon

Getting to know the man away from the politics

Sitting and chatting in the living room of his comfortable home in a village in his Aylesbury constituency, it's immediately obvious that Sir Harold Saxon is a devoted family man. Pictures of his wife and children adorn the walls as we watch Monty the Labrador and Bernie the Cocker Spaniel bound around the garden.

"The perfect holiday for me would be taking the wife and the kids for a week away to the Algarve, or even to Centre Parks in Sherwood Forest. We've been a few times and it's nice to spend time with the family in a different location away from work and chill out." His family comes up in conversation many times as we talk, and he clearly finds it difficult when his job as Leader of the Opposition keeps him away from them. "Family time is the most important thing for me," he says.

As he tells me the story of how he met his wife, and of proposing to her on New Years Eve on a beach in Cornwall, the conversation turns to his early life. "What's the naughtiest thing you ever did?" I asked. "Oh goodness me, I mean nobody is perfect are they? I guess when I was about 11 years old, I joined the group of kids who were my age in the village and played knock and bolt on people’s doors. I also pranged my Dad’s car when I was learning to drive by reversing it up and down the drive one Sunday afternoon when I was on my own for a brief moment. After damaging by Dad’s rear bonnet and the garage door I learnt my lesson".

What about any bad jobs? "I once was a farmer’s assistant which involved shovelling manure," he describes. "Good experience for politics!" I suggest. "I used to play football for the local Sunday team but I've retired since I became Leader of the Opposition. I used to play up front, scored some goals for the team, although I'm no Ronaldo or Andy Cole."

A football fan, but a music fan too, and with an … eclectic … music taste . "I listen to a variety of bands, whether it's The Police to the great Elton John. My favourite song however, would probably be Jon Bon Jovi's "It’s My Life", although the great Eva Cassidy’s "Fields of Gold" is also a personal favourite of mine, an amazing voice that we tragically lost. I also like Linkin Park. I have quite a few songs on my iPod that I listen to on my way to and from work". Linkin Park, for the uninitiated, are a "nu metal" band from California. No, me neither.

What about books? Has he read the media phenomenon that is Harry Potter? "Yes I have. I think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite book. J.K Rowling is an absolute joy of a writer, such imagination goes into her books. I can't wait for the next instalment, when I get some time to read it!". Which of the characters does he think he's most like? "Hmm, I think that would be Dumbledore, the head of the school. Although he has to show a position of authority, you can tell when you read the books that he cares about Harry and his students at Hogwarts and would do whatever he can for them. He will stand up to anyone, including the Ministry of Magic, and do what he can to get the best for his students, even if it means putting himself on the line, he is an inspirational character."

Sir Harold humours my odd hypotheticals like that. What time in history would he travel back to, if he could? "I would go to Ancient Rome, to see what it was like. History fascinates me and I would like to have seen Pompeii before Mount Vesuvius erupted and seen Julius Caesar in the flesh." What about a historical person to meet? "Sir Winston Churchill, the man who led this country through World War II. I’ve always been intrigued to know what he was like as a person, how he lived and what he was thinking throughout World War II. He is one of this country’s national treasures. It would be an absolute pleasure to get to know him."

Aside from chatting with Churchill, Sir Harold only dropped back into politics mode when I asked about his biggest dream. "To be honest, I would be seen as mad if I didn’t admit that my dream was to become the country’s next Prime Minister, so it would be that. I want to see a country that works for everyone and a country where we can all feel safe and really achieve our own goals under a Conservative Government. Besides my career ambitions, I do want to see my children grow up and start their own family, meet their partners and enjoy life, I am a big believer in family life and I also believe that no matter what happens you’ll always have each other."

His worst fear? "Spiders, I can’t stand them"

((Note: this is a reward for the Conservative Party))
Acting Head Admin
Speaker of the House of Commons
Advisor for the Labour Party, the Cabinet Office and the Home Office
Poll wrangler and election psephologist

I forget Andy has political opinions. I always just think of him as a Civil Servant in real life - Mac
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Chairman of Care UK Endorses the Conservative Party

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The Chairman of Care UK, a large company which provides health and social care services, has confirmed that he will be putting his support behind the Conservative Party in the 2002 General Election.

"We've seen it in their words - barely anything on social care from the Labour Party, which is supposed to be looking out for the kind of vulnerable people we have to work with," he said in a recent interview. "Whereas the Conservative Party have put this prominent issue on the agenda for a while now, before the election.

The Conservative Party have also promised over a billion in funding to social care and have recognised that while we need money we need reform too, which is why they have promised a new regulatory body that can root out abuse from within the system. It shows the Conservatives have gotten to grips with the scale of the problem we face as Britain's population ages: for too long the complex problem of social care hasn't received any attention, let alone any action.

Because actions matter as well as words. While the Labour Party have penny pinched by giving a meagre sum to the most vulnerable, the kind of people our company looks after daily, the Tories have put their money where their mouth is in their recent Shadow Budget. That's why I'll be voting for the Conservatives this May and why I will encourage anyone who cares about the issue or has a loved one in need of social care to vote Conservative."
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"Shareholder Action Group" calls for compensation as Railtrack stabilises but struggles

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Disgruntled Railtrack shareholders have formed a "Shareholder Action Group" and pledged to fight the government for compensation after it placed the company into administration last year. It has said that the action was in breach of their human rights, with their assets appropriated unlawfully.

With Railtrack in railway administration, its former shareholders have yet to receive - or been told to expect - any compensation. When Railtrack was put into administration its shares were trading at around £2.80. Speaking to the press at the launch of their campaign, the Chairman of Railtrack Group (the former parent company of Railtrack plc, which is now in administration), said:

Quote:We are fighting for the 250,000 shareholders - employees, pension holders, ordinary investors - who have been short changed by this government. Had the government followed EU law and nationalised the company last year as we all know remains their intention, we would have been due well over £10 a share. As it is we have been promised nothing. This amounts to nothing less than a breach of our human rights and an unlawful appropriation of our assets more akin to Communist China than a property owning democracy like the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Railtrack's administrators - Ernst & Young - have told the government that it needs to set out a permanent solution for the company soon. Railtrack's financial and operational performance has stabilised, and the rail regulator has said that new safety procedures have improved passenger safety. However, the company now faces a significant challenge in staff retention and is seeing its performance decline slowly month on month. "We've done our job," one of the senior administrators told the Guardian, "Railtrack has been stabilised and is ready to move on to new ownership. The Government needs to set out what that is so that the company can build to a long-term vision."
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UK needs a Senate, not a Lords 2.0

Op-ed by the Chair of the Constitution and Local Government select committee, Emily Kennedy

The Labour Party in recent years has successfully built an image of a party endorsing progressive and considered reform. Whether it is taking the lead in setting a national minimum wage, ensuring greater transparency and accountability with the Freedom of Information Act, or more recently taking steps to address the gender pay gap in this country, my party falls no short of showing the boldness and courage needed to reform and reform meaningfully.

The 2002 Labour Manifesto on which we were returned as government a mere few months ago paved the way for further transforming and modernising the United Kingdom by replacing the House of Lords with a Senate of the Nations and Regions. When completed, this will be the boldest constitutional reform enhancing democracy ever since 1911. Thus, it is not an overstatement to say this is not even a one-in-a-generation opportunity to shape and improve British politics.

But if there is one potential risk to obscuring and, frankly, wasting this golden opportunity that is to not go further enough. An elected Senate of the Regions and Nations shackled by current House of Lords conventions and restricted to exercising the powers the Lords currently have, will fall short of people’s expectations. This time, in order to show the boldness we have previously shown, this will not be enough. For that reason, today I am setting out 4 tests which in my view as Chair of the Nations, Communities & Local Government Select Committee must be met if the new upper chamber of the UK Parliament is to be more than a fine tuner of legislation, more than the awkward second-rate legislature the House of Lords has become. Instead, together the Senate and Commons will be the institutions underpinning our democracy, our freedoms and our rights.

The first test, which I named “Here to stay" is that once established, the elected Senate must have a say over its own existence and powers. This means that the 1911 and 1949 Parliament Acts as well as the new Act must be refined in such way that transfers of power from and to the Senate must be agreed by the Senate itself, ensuring that a democratic chamber of the British parliament cannot be abolished by the forceful hand of an unfriendly government. Otherwise, as has happened way too often, the upper chamber will lack the strength and courage to challenge the Commons and keep the government to account without fear that, should it take a step in the wrong direction in the government’s eyes. This is why we need an elected, rather than appointed, upper House - one that fears no abolition for lacking the mandate to fulfil its duties.

This also underpins the importance of my second test “Not HoL2", namely that the Senate must be empowered and not merely copy the functions of the House of Lords. To scrutinise legislation and hold the government to account, the Senate needs greater a say as a democratic chamber. House of Lords Version 2 is simply not an option.

As important as the first two, test number three is that having been grated greater powers, the Senate should at the end of the day remain inferior to the House of Commons. The principle in our constitution that can be referred to as “Commons First" Our whole political system is built around the principle of direct representation. Constituents grant and take power from individuals serving as Members of Parliament, who in turn support, question and scrutinise the Prime Minister and government of the day. This system of direct democracy which made our Parliament the mother of all parliaments and is being successfully replicated by great nations as Canada, Australia and New Zealand among others, is absolutely fundamental to our democracy and must remain so.

Fourthly, the Senate must truly be the “Senate of the Nations" and Regions of the United Kingdom. It must allow our constituent countries to be represented differently than they currently are by giving powers and preference to the different nations of the United Kingdom, in particular to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We do not need another Commons, we need a chamber underpinning the constitutional consensus holding our United Kingdom together.

These four rules are key to making the difference between a reform for the sake of reform and acting responsibly, meaningfully and courageously upon the election commitments for which the Labour Party was re-elected into government. It will mean we have ceased the opportunity and delivered what the British people want, expect and deserve.
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UK needs to take further action to meet child poverty targets, child poverty tsar says

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Alan Milburn, the chair of the Government's Child Poverty Commission, has said that the government will need to take further action to meet its child poverty targets. The former Chancellor, Sean Manning, set those targets into law in 2000 and appointed Alan Milburn to hold the Government to account.

The targets require the government to cut child poverty by a quarter by 2004 and by half by 2010 - and to "eliminate" it by 2020, although it has not yet been established how that will be measured as it would be virtually arithmetically impossible to reduce it to 0.

The report predicts that the government has a roughly 50/50 chance of meeting its 2004 target, but that it has not taken sufficient action to meet its 2010 target. Launching the report, Alan Milburn said that "we found that government policy has significantly reduced child poverty over the past few years, but that it will need to take further action to take a further million children out of poverty."

The report predicts that the number of children in poverty will fall to around 3 million by 2005 but thereafter fall only very slowly without further policy action. Milburn said that "there has been significant policy action over the past two years, but the government would need to build on that - including much more generous welfare benefits for families with children - to meet its targets."

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Child poverty since 1994 - figures past 2002 are the Child Poverty Commission's forecasts

The report also sets out significant regional variations in child poverty. In particular, it found that:
- Compared to a national child poverty rate of just under 30%, rates of child poverty ranged from 58% in Birmingham Ladywood to 12% in Sheffield Hallam
- Child poverty is concentrated in major urban areas: 17 of the 20 constituencies with the highest rate of child poverty were in London, Belfast, Birmingham, or Glasgow.
- Regionally, child poverty is highest in the North East and has fallen since 1998 in every region except London. 

In response to the regional variations, Alan Milburn said that the government needed to use tools beyond just welfare to cut child poverty. "We are close to meeting the child poverty target in Sheffield but off by a factor of six in Birmingham: we need to tackle those differences as much as the differences between rich and between poor."

In response to the report, the Chancellor said:

"This report clearly shows how much progress has been made, and much more we have to do in tackling child poverty. It also displays the importance of transparency and accountability. 

We need to do so much more in tackling the inequalities that tear our nation asunder. A postcode lottery of poverty, and opportunity, is unacceptable. Eliminating it is why I came into politics. With child poverty concentrated in urban areas, I will be setting out a regeneration and community-empowerment strategy.

Today’s report throws sharp relief on the size of the challenge our nation faces. But it also should act as a clarion call for everyone to, before the first decade of this century is out, eliminate poverty. I am - and this Government is - ready to make the tough choices. It is time to get to work."
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