Archive for the ‘World Politics’ Category

Tory MPs round on David Cameron and George Osborne

Conservative MPs warn the Prime Minister he must make major changes in the way he runs his Government and his party to reconnect with voters and retain public confidence.

George Osborne, the Chancellor and close ally of the Prime Minister, is also under mounting pressure from backbenchers amid continuing fallout from the Budget and criticism of how the government handled the fuel panic.

Mr Cameron is undergoing the most turbulent period of his premiership after accusations that ministers fed public fears over petrol supplies, which came amid simmering rows over new taxes on pensioners and pasties.

The Daily Telegraph has spoken to MPs from all sections of the Conservative Party who expressed concerns about the way Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne organise and run the Coalition.

But speaking both publicly and privately, MPs have identified four areas where they say Mr Cameron should make changes:

•The Downing Street machine should be overhauled amid widespread concern that Government policies are being poorly explained to voters, especially those in key marginal seats.

• Mr Osborne is under mounting pressure to end his dual role as both Chancellor and head of Conservative political strategy.

• A senior MP should be appointed as full-time Conservative Party chairman, ending the current arrangement where job is shared by two peers.

• This year’s ministerial reshuffle should be used to promote more MPs from working-class and northern backgrounds, to counter the perception of a Government dominated by privileged public schoolboys.

Downing Street accepted that last week’s events had disappointed some MPs, but insisted there would be “no big change” in the way Mr Cameron does business. “We’ve got the right policies and we’re going to get on with delivering them,” said a source.

However, Mr Cameron was directly confronted at a “robust” private meeting with members of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers, who told him he must make changes if the party is to have any hope of winning a full majority at the next election.

Several members of 1922’s executive – elected by their fellow MPs — told Mr Cameron he must overhaul his Downing Street operation. Others told him to think again on controversial policies like gay marriage.

Robert Halfon MP, a member of the 1922 executive, said he was concerned that the Government is struggling for support among the low-income workers whose votes decide the result in many marginal seats.

“We have to be able to show that we speak for hardworking couples who are working all the hours in the day just to keep their heads above water,” Mr Halfon said. “The Government needs to be better at offering voters big themes: our policies are like clothes pegs without a clothesline holding them together.”

Tim Yeo, a senior backbencher, said the Government has recently shown “a lack of sureness of touch” and criticised the way in which key policies have been presented.

“Britain’s credit rating isn’t going to be affected by pasties — it is the way in which the message is being communicated that is the problem,” he said.

At last week’s meeting, held in the Cabinet room at No 10, four members of the executive criticised Mr Cameron’s media operation, with some suggesting he needs staff better able to communicate with working-class tabloid readers.

“Maybe there is a case for an additional communications adviser who understands how to connect with the hard-working voters we need to do better with,” Mr Halfon said.

Another member of the committee raised doubts about Mr Osborne’s dual role running both the Treasury and Conservative political strategy.

“It is hard to understand how he can be both Chancellor of the Exchequer at a time of economic crisis and chairman of the Conservative Party at the same time,” the MP said. “George should be told that he can’t do both.”

Nadine Dorries, a backbench MP, launched an outspoken attack on Mr Osborne over recent controversies.

“Many people now look at the Conservative party and are reeling with the realisation that this modern party is one they don’t know, didn’t vote for and no longer represents their views. They don’t recognise the values, are confused by the policies and repelled by the elitism,” she wrote on the ConservativeHome website.

“At the root of much of the catastrophe we have become is George Osborne. He drives the liberal elite agenda.”

Several MPs said that Mr Osborne’s extensive involvement in party strategy and cross-Government operations is undermining both his effectiveness at the Treasury and the role of Conservative chairman.

The chairmanship is currently split between Baroness Warsi and Lord Feldman, both close allies of Mr Cameron. A growing number of MP believe the pair should be replaced by a single chairman from the House of Commons.

Another 1922 executive member said: “The Chairman should be a senior, independent figure, someone who can go to the PM and George Osborne and tell them: “You’re out of touch, you’re getting this wrong.”

A ComRes poll yesterday showed 72 per cent of voters believe the Government is “out of touch with ordinary voters”, and some MPs are concerned that some voters are alienated by the privileged backgrounds of senior figures like Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne.

Mark Pritchard, another member of the 1992 executive, said Mr Cameron should hold an early reshuffle to promote more ministers from state schools and working-class homes.

“The reshuffle needs to be brought forward, not delayed, to make the government a little less foie gras and a little more fish and chips,” he said.

Another senior MP said Mr Cameron governs through a “privileged clique” that should be opened up.

“The PM is surrounded by people who look like him, and that is a serious concern. It stops him getting the full range of advice,” he said. “His reshuffle should ensure that the Government looks more like the Conservative Party as a whole.”

Olympics: MI5 briefs Cabinet amid fears of attacks outside London

Terrorists could target Olympic venues outside London in a plot to attack spectators and athletes at this summer’s Games, security sources have warned.

The head of MI5 took the rare step of briefing the whole Cabinet on the terrorism threat to the UK in the run up to the Olympics.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, also updated colleagues on legislative efforts to address the threat from terrorism.

The main Olympic Park in east London will be protected by the biggest peace-time security operation ever seen, including the possible deployment of missile batteries to protect the capital from attack from the air.

However, The Daily Telegraph understands that senior security officials have become concerned that other sites around the country could also become targets.

Olympic and Paralympic rowing events will take place at Eton Dorney, near Windsor Castle, 25 miles west of the capital, road cycling will be held at Brands Hatch racing circuit in Kent, while sailing events will be based in Weymouth.

Other venues include stadiums in Newcastle, Coventry, Cardiff, and Manchester.

During a 40-minute meeting in Parliament yesterday, the MI5 director-general, Jonathan Evans, briefed Cabinet ministers on the threats facing the country in the period leading up to the Games.

It is thought to be the first time that Mr Evans has addressed a full meeting of the Prime Minister senior team.

Downing Street played down the meeting, describing Mr Evans’s briefing as a “routine” update. It was not prompted by new intelligence or a change in the assessment of the terrorism threat level, which remained “substantial”, a Number 10 spokesman said.

Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said Mr Evans had provided “an overall assessment of the current terrorist threat to the UK”.

He added: “There was some discussion of the Olympics and preparations in that context.

“It was a broad discussion about terrorism and an assessment of the current threat and a run-through of the various issues that the Government is dealing with on the legislative side, such as the fact that we have replaced control orders with TPIMS (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) and the various measures that are being considered in the context of the security and justice Bill.”

Mr Evans regularly takes part in meetings of the National Security Council – created by Mr Cameron shortly after the 2010 election to bring together senior ministers, security chiefs and military top brass at 10 Downing Street.

But the Number 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister is keen that some of those discussions that would generally happen at the NSC are occasionally brought to the full Cabinet, so that those Cabinet ministers who are not members of National Security Council are briefed and get an opportunity to discuss the issues.”

The military and police have been preparing for the Olympic security operation since London was awarded the Games in 2005.

Royal Marines have held training exercises to prepare for a possible terrorist attack using the River Thames.

During an exercise in January, security teams in speed boats practised storming a river cruiser and climbing onto its roof, with air support from Navy helicopters.

Counter terrorism officers are also facing an unpredictable threat from “lone wolf” attackers, who have radicalised themselves.

They are seen as posing some of the greatest risks to Olympics security because they are not operating under the direction of al Qaida and remain undetected before launching an attack.

Politics live: readers’ edition

I’m not writing my Politics Live blog today but, as an alternative, here’s Politics Live: the readers’ edition. It’s intended to be a place where you can catch up with the latest news and find links to good politics blogs and articles on the web.
Please feel free to use this as somewhere you can comment on any of the day’s political stories – just as you do when I’m writing the daily blog.
But it would be particularly useful for readers to flag up new material in the comments – breaking news or blogposts or tweets that are worth passing on because someone is going to find them interesting. A lot of what I do on my blog is aggregation – finding the good stuff and passing it on – and you can do this, too (as I know, because it happens every day when I’m blogging.


Policy, not politics, is the key to understanding David Cameron

Like all good theatrical productions, a prime minister’s visit to Washington should offer moments of high drama and ripe comedy. Think of Tony Blair addressing an electrified Congress after 9/11. Or the Reagan White House briefing against Neil Kinnock minutes after he’d left the Oval Office. Or the moment when Boris Johnson asked Bill Clinton about his sex life. Or that time Cherie Blair’s hairdresser was left behind at Camp David, and a helicopter had to be sent to rescue him.

Chances are David Cameron’s three days in America will produce their own memorable highlights. A trip on Air Force One, an evening of college basketball, the rare presence of Samantha Cameron, and the protocol complexities of “an official visit with a state dinner” – as the White House has defined the sumptuous hospitality afforded a friend who is Prime Minister but not head of state – mean everything is in place for another “Colgate moment” to match the toothpaste diplomacy of Mr Blair and George W Bush.

No wonder the election planners at Conservative campaign headquarters are salivating at the prospect of useful footage showing Mr Cameron striking a statesman’s pose alongside Barack Obama. The White House may view the relationship as transactional rather than special these days, but for a British politician seeking re-election, this visit is what campaign videos are made of. All sorts of small calculations have been scribbled, about how it might help the party’s standing with ethnic minorities and how Mr Cameron’s deliberate snubbing of fractious Republicans in favour of the incumbent Democrat will promote his idea of nicer, modern Tories. This week is in part about stocking up on potent political images for 2015.

In fairness, Mr Cameron has so far resisted the allure of abroad. His premiership shows no sign of matching the globetrotting frenzy that marked Mr Blair’s. He has made the ritual visits to the big players, but there is no sense that abroad has become a haven against troubles at home. One of the successes of his administration has been a willingness to leave diplomacy to the Foreign Secretary who, along with the Chancellor, has been invited to join this week’s talks with the President.

In fact, ask Mr Cameron and he will tell you that he has no insurmountable political difficulties to escape from. The policy challenges are daunting, but the politics are manageable. If anything, he faults those who are trying to inject more politics where – he believes – none are wanted. To the Prime Minister’s mind, when the voters delivered an inconclusive result in 2010, they expressed a desire to see less politics, not more. What they wanted was for politicians to put country before party and to devote themselves to solving the nation’s problems, not to compete to score points off each other. Mr Cameron has a clear sense that his duty is to stay clear of politics as much as he reasonably can.

His view is not a fashionable one. His parliamentary party is working itself into a frenzy of frustrated ambition and political expectation. He is surrounded by colleagues who want him to be more partisan. They wish he would assert his party’s core beliefs against the growing tyranny of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to become stronger inside the Coalition as their position in the country weakens.

Tory backbenchers, in particular those who are not part of the increasingly vocal and influential 2010 intake, simmer with resentment at their lack of promotion prospects. They nurse resentments against the Lib Dems and some mutter about finding ways to force a snap election in order to confront Nick Clegg with his unpopularity. Those particularly preoccupied by Europe dream of challenging Mr Cameron over additional funding for the IMF to pay for the euro bailout, if it comes before the Commons. They threaten a confrontation if he shows any sign of trying to keep the Coalition going after the next election, or if he gives the Lib Dems a free pass in the event of a by-election in Eastleigh if Chris Huhne is forced to resign. In No 10, consideration is being given to a party management challenge that is expected to become more difficult as time passes. The reshuffle, now postponed until the autumn or next year, is likely to address the issue of the Whip’s Office.

From Mr Cameron’s end of the telescope, this is small beer. He tells friends how united the parliamentary party is and how little difficulty he faces from that quarter. He relies too on his polling, which shows the wider party, its membership and Conservative voters as a whole are overwhelmingly supportive not just of his leadership but also of the Coalition and what it is trying to do. He finds little difficulty in preferring the views of the party majority over a minority of backbenchers sent “loopy” – his word – by the Westminster hothouse.

He acknowledges that he needs to find ways of delivering a distinctive message that resonates with Conservative values. The charge that he isn’t enough of a Tory hangs over him and fogs the Conservative conversation. Yet he is wary of flashing his blue rosette. It may be a function of his office, but he is more at ease as statesman than as political leader. His backbenches want red meat, but to his mind Coalition is the absence of political war. It was noticeable, for example, that the Lib Dems put themselves through a painful spring conference, whereas the Tories didn’t bother with one. Mr Cameron instead delivered a low-key address on Saturday to the party’s national convention, in which he quoted Captain Scott about never yielding and said his first duty was to deliver a government that “does its duty to the people of the country”.

That’s the theme you hear more and more from Tory members of the Cabinet, who range themselves alongside Mr Cameron in resisting the siren calls for more political violence. Ministers feel they reached a watershed with the granting of Royal Assent to the Government’s welfare reforms a few days ago (and with the Health and Social Care Bill about to follow). This administration has not marked its second anniversary and already it has put through – with education – three major slabs of public service reform whose effects will be felt for years to come. Add to that the deficit reduction programme and the first hints – just hints – of recovery and a picture is emerging of a reforming Government that is demanding to be judged by deeds, not words. This is why Mr Cameron believes the Coalition will stay the course: because a majority of what it is doing is Conservative.

One Cabinet colleague puts it another way: “We should let our policies make our politics.” What the Government is achieving will do more to tell a Conservative story come the election than any number of poses struck in Washington or at Westminster. Until then, Mr Cameron will keep his politics discreet – and continue to fill the small book he carries with distinctly Conservative ideas for a Tory manifesto in 2015.

Was Bin Laden really buried at sea?

According to emails leaked from an intelligence analysis firm, the late al Qaeda leader’s body was actually sent to the US for cremation.
The stolen messages were allegedly part of a haul of 2.7 million communications obtained by a hacker group from the company, Strategic Forecasting Inc or Stratfor.
In one of the emails Stratfor’s vice-president for intelligence, Fred Burton, reportedly speculates about what happened, saying the body was flown to “the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Bethesda (Maryland)” on a CIA plane.
Stratfor later tried to cast doubt over the authenticity of some of the mails, saying in a statement: “In December, thieves compromised Stratfor’s data systems and stole a large number of company emails, along with other private information of Stratfor readers, subscribers and employees.
In went on: “Some of the emails may be forged or altered to include inaccuracies; some may be authentic. We will not validate either. Nor will we explain the thinking that went into them.”

World UN Demands Sudan, South Sudan End Violence

The UN Security Council has demanded that Sudan and South Sudan end border hostilities, calling them “a serious threat to international peace and security.”
The statement came as an answer to the two states’ complains about each other.
“The Security Council demands that all parties cease military operations in the border areas and put an end to the cycle of violence,” the Council’s president, Mark Lyall Grant of the United Kingdom said in a statement.
The president also said that both sides should refrain from actions “that would undermine the security and stability of the other, including through any direct or indirect form of support to armed groups in the other’s territory.”
“The Security Council condemns actions by any armed group aimed at the forced overthrow of the Government of either Sudan or South Sudan,” the statement reads.
South Sudan won independence in July 2011 in a referendum that came as part of a peace deal to end decades of civil war. However, fighting still rages in disputed territory along the border with Sudan.
The two countries have also been unable to agree transit payments for South Sudan oil shipped on a pipeline through Sudan, leading authorities in Juba, the South Sudan capital, to suspend oil production until an alternative route is found. Production has been halted at more than 300 wells and reduced at 600 more.
South Sudan accused Sudan of bombing an oil well last week, an accusation which Sudan strongly denied. The two governments met in Ethiopia on Tuesday for oil transit fee discussions.

Obama, Netanyahu face struggle over Iran “red lines”

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are deeply at odds over how fast the clock is ticking toward possible military action against Iran’s nuclear program, and their talks on Monday are unlikely to change that.
Even though Obama has offered assurances of stiffened U.S. resolve against Iran before the White House meeting, the two allies are still far apart on explicit nuclear “red lines” that Tehran must not be allowed to cross, and they have yet to agree on a time frame for when military action may be necessary.
Obama wants Israel to hold off on attacking Iran’s nuclear sites, insisting there is still time for sanctions and diplomacy to work. But he also vowed in a speech on Sunday to the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobby that he would be ready to act militarily – with all “elements of American power” – to prevent the Islamic republic from building an atomic bomb.
Israeli leaders, who see Iran’s nuclear advances as a looming existential threat and reserve the right to act alone in self-defense, have made clear they are operating on a far shorter, more urgent timeline.
Their most immediate concern is that Iran be prevented from reaching nuclear weapons capability, not just from developing an actual device, and they worry that time is running out for an effective Israeli attack as Tehran buries its nuclear facilities deeper underground.
While Obama and Netanyahu – who have had a strained relationship – will share intelligence information on Monday, a source close to the administration said there was little reason to believe they would make significant progress toward bridging key differences on a common threshold for military action.
“They’ll be looking for mutual understandings and may find a few, but the biggest problem is they’re working on different clocks,” the source said.

Obama’s meeting with Netanyahu comes amid U.S. fears that Israel might opt to strike Iran on its own if it is not convinced of Washington’s determination to do whatever is needed to rein in Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran remains defiant but says it wants nuclear technology strictly for peaceful purposes.

The geopolitical drama is being played out in the midst of a U.S. presidential campaign, with Republican presidential contenders accusing the Democratic president of being too tough on Israel and not tough enough with Iran.
Israel comes to Monday’s talks with a firm belief that Iran has decided to seek to develop nuclear weaponry and is gathering the necessary components before attempting a “breakout.”
Israeli officials maintain that once Iran moves forward, it could enrich uranium to weapons grade and have a rudimentary nuclear device within months, though constructing a deployable warhead would take longer, perhaps until mid-decade.
U.S. officials do not believe the situation is that close to the brink. They say that while Iran may be maneuvering to keep its options open there is no clear intelligence that the country has made a final decision to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Both sides agree that it is impossible to know the full extent of Iranian intentions. American spy agencies are wary about drawing any categorical conclusions after an embarrassing intelligence lapse that led to erroneous accusations of Iraqi nuclear arms work, which the Bush administration used to help justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Still, Obama – in an Atlantic magazine interview published on Friday – insisted that Iran “is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.”
And Obama warned in Washington on Sunday against “loose talk” of war with Iran, saying such “bluster” was counterproductive because it has been driving up global oil prices and boosting demand for Iran’s oil exports.

That may have been a message to Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, whose have engaged in a strident exchange of recriminations with Iranian officials in recent months.
Daniel Levy, an analyst at the New America Foundation think tank, said Obama had “offered clarity and commitments on mainstream Israeli concerns without capitulating to the Netanyahu narrative, which is far more dismissive of diplomacy.”
Speaking in Ottawa, the right-wing Israeli leader ignored Obama’s appeal to let sanctions run their course and focused on the president’s insistence on keeping the military option open and backing Israel’s right to defend itself.
It was unclear whether Obama’s sharpened rhetoric against Iran and calls for restraint by Israel would be enough to delay any Israeli military plans against Tehran, which has called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Iran is approaching a “zone of immunity,” when Tehran is able to shield its nuclear facilities from Israeli air strikes. The United States, however, would still likely have the firepower for a more sustained air assault to destroy the sites.
Obama took a significant step forward in Israel’s eyes when, in the Atlantic interview, he ruled out accepting, then acting to “contain,” a nuclear-armed Iran.
While U.S. officials insist that Obama will not publicly lay down any new red lines for Iran during Netanyahu’s visit, they do not rule out the possibility that the president might try to mollify some Israeli concerns in private.
“They’re going to sit down and they’re going to talk through the tactics involved,” Obama re-election campaign strategist David Axelrod told the ABC “This Week” television program.
Still, U.S. officials doubt that Netanyahu will provide Obama with any guarantee that Israel will consult Washington – its biggest source of military assistance – before launching any strikes on Iran.
Even if Obama assures Netanyahu that the United States has the firepower to deliver a devastating blow to Iran’s nuclear program further down the line, the Israelis have made clear they cannot rely on that commitment alone.
One line of thinking within the Obama administration is that keeping it in the dark about any Israeli military plans might be best for the United States since any sign of complicity would inflame anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world.
Dennis Ross, Obama’s former Middle East adviser, suggested, however, that the “noise” from Israel over a possible strike was geared more toward pressuring the international community for tightened sanctions than foreshadowing an imminent attack.
“Now that it’s an issue of the world against Iran, Israel likes it that way and would not be inclined to act precipitously,” Ross said last week.
But others who know Netanyahu well say he is approaching the Iranian challenge with a sense of historic responsibility to ensure Israel’s survival, what some have called the “Holocaust factor.”
He has made clear that Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear weapons power, will do what it takes to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

Obama have criticized China

Why shouldn’t Obama have criticized China for not playing by the rules?  Prestowitz argues that there are no universally agreed upon rules for international trade; rather, there are (at least) two different games being played simultaneously, by different actors, with different sets of rules.  Some states embrace economic liberalism, or free-market capitalism, which emphasizes comparative advantage, free trade, and limited government intervention in economic affairs.  Others–particularly those who are not benefiting from the trend toward greater globalization and free trade–favor mercantilist policies, which emphasize national wealth and the protection of domestic industries from foreign competition through tariffs and other trade barriers.  Prestowitz spells out which parts of the world are playing each game:
“The global economy is, in fact, sharply divided between those who are playing the free trade game and those who are playing some form of mercantilism. Of course, there is a spectrum of attitudes and policies, but roughly speaking the Anglo/American countries, North America, and parts of Europe are playing free trade. Most of Asia, much of South America, the Middle East, Germany and parts of Europe are playing neo-mercantilism. It’s like watching tennis players trying to play a game with football players. It doesn’t work, and insisting on playing by the rules doesn’t help, because both sets of teams are playing by the rules — of their game.”
What do you think?  Are America and Europe really playing by their own rules of free trade?  Is free trade or mercantilism (or some combination of the two) a better approach for achieving prosperity?  Does America have the right to tell China how to play the game of international trade?

Pakistanis rally against US drones

ISLAMABAD, Oct 28, (AFP): Around 2,000 Pakistanis demonstrated outside the country’s parliament Friday to demand an end to US drone strikes, claiming they kill more innocent civilians than Taleban and al-Qaeda leaders.
Cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan led the Islamabad rally, attended mostly by members of his Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) party, which is gearing up to contest its first general election.
A few dozen tribesmen from Waziristan, where most of the drone strikes are concentrated, also attended the peaceful demonstration.
Some young people in the crowd set fire to a wooden model of a drone, dancing around and shouting “No more drone attacks”, “No to drones, no to USA”, carrying big signs saying “Stop drone attacks in Pakistan”.
On Thursday, Pakistani officials said two US drone strikes killed at least 10 militants in Waziristan, including the brother of a local Taleban commander who sends fighters across the border to fight Americans in Afghanistan.
Under President Barack Obama, the United States has drastically stepped up drone strikes, which it refuses to discuss publicly, killing footsoldiers as well as Taleban and al-Qaeda commanders active in Afghanistan.
“The USA says Pakistan is a terrorist country, but they come and kill in Pakistan: who is the true terrorist then?” said Nawad Kayani, 28, a Khan activist and businessmen in the capital’s twin city of Rawalpindi.
“We came here to support the Waziri people: 90 or 95 percent of the drone victims are innocent civilians. Our government is just a puppet directed by America, they just polish American shoes,” he added.

political in World of Sports

The race for the Republican Party nomination for President of the United States is on its way with primaries and caucuses already held in several states. Every week, there’s a new debate with candidates are stumping across the nation looking for support.

Upper Deck has joined the political fray with trading cards featuring many of the Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. In addition, UD also created a Barack Obama card to be included in this insert set that will be found in World of Sports.

World of Sports is scheduled be released on Feb. 21 with the World of Politics nine-card insert set inside. World of Politics cards should fall at an average of 1:40 hobby packs with even rarer variations of each card.

“We work hard to provide topical content in our new trading card releases,” said Jason Masherah, Upper Deck’s vice president of Marketing and Business Development. “With so much attention around the 2012 election, we thought it was only fitting to produce a set of cards that would help pay tribute to all the highs and lows of this presidential race by capturing the top candidates on cardboard.”

If you’ve forgotten who some of the earlier candidates were, the World of Politics cards has captured them too such as Herman Cain and Michele Bachman. A Sarah Palin card was even thrown in for good measure.

This isn’t the first time Upper Deck has featured political characters on trading cards. In 2008, caricatures of the candidates were made in “Presidential Predictors”, which received a lot of attention. These cards fell 1:8 packs at the time in 2008 Upper Deck Series 1 Baseball. In addition to the candidates, when Obama when the election, Upper Deck produced a special victor card.

The Presidential Predictors cards sparked attention when Hillary Clinton’s cards depicted her as Morganna, The Kissing Bandit, who would run onto baseball fields and kiss players. However, most of Clinton’s cards were pulled from production, but a few sneaked through.

Koran row

Two United States advisers who were shot dead in Afghanistan’s interior ministry by an Afghan colleague had been mocking anti-US protests over the burning of the Koran, a government source said.
The description of the shooting – which led to NATO pulling all its advisers out of Afghan government ministries – came amid renewed violence in a sixth day of anti-American demonstrations.
A protester was killed and seven US soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack on their base, as France announced its Kabul embassy was temporarily withdrawing all its civilian mentors and advisers from Afghan institutions for “safety reasons”.
Germany also said it had withdrawn its national and international staff from Afghan ministries as a “precautionary measure”.
Describing the sequence of events that led to the interior ministry shootings, the source said the US advisers were “scolding the protesters and calling them bad names” as they watched videos of protests in Kabul.
“They called the Koran a bad book in the presence of (an Afghan colleague). After all this the guy had verbal arguments with the advisers and was threatened by them. He gets angry and shoots them. Eight rounds were fired at them,” the source added, requesting anonymity.
“He then sneaks out and disappears. No-one knew about the incident for more than an hour because the room is soundproofed,” he said, adding that CCTV cameras had been viewed in the investigation of the shooting.
Asked about this description of events in the ministry, a spokesman for NATO’s US-led International Security Assistance Force said: “The investigation is ongoing.”
Government sources said police were hunting for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of killing the two Americans, while the interior ministry confirmed that “the suspect is one of the employees of the ministry and he is at large”.
Local television quoted a source which named the suspect as 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, who had studied in Pakistan and joined the ministry as a driver in 2007 before being promoted.
Grenade attack
Sunday’s grenade attack came during an anti-US protest in northern Kunduz province over the burning of Korans in an incinerator pit at the Bagram airbase, police said.
“The demonstrators hurled a hand grenade at a US special forces base in Imam Sahib town of Kunduz province. As a result, seven US special forces were wounded,” Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini said.
A spokesman for NATO forces said: “According to initial reports, an explosion occurred outside of an ISAF installation in northern Afghanistan early this afternoon.”
He said ISAF officials were “gathering details at this time”.
Local officials said one person was killed in the anti-US demonstration in Imam Sahib as some 2,000 anti-US protesters tried to march on the provincial capital but were stopped by police.
“One dead and seven wounded protesters have been brought to hospital from Imam Sahib district so far,” hospital official Mohammadullah said.
In the neighbouring province of Samangan, two protesters were wounded during a one-hour demonstration in Aybak city, provincial governor Khairullah Anosh said, but there were no reports of unrest elsewhere in Afghanistan.
The latest death brings the total toll in six days of demonstrations since the Koran burning to more than 30.
Appeal for calm
President Hamid Karzai went on television to appeal for calm.
Mr Karzai “condemned with the strongest words” the treatment of Islam’s holy book and said the perpetrators should be punished, but told his countrymen: “Now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful.”
He said he respected the emotions of Afghans upset by the Koran burning, but urged them not to let “the enemies of Afghanistan misuse their feelings”.
Taliban insurgents have called on Afghans to kill foreign troops in revenge for the incident, and claimed to have been behind the shooting deaths of the two US advisers in the interior ministry in Kabul.
NATO, which has a 130,000-strong US-led military force fighting the Taliban insurgency, has advisers throughout the Afghan government but commanding officer General John Allen ordered them all to be withdrawn.

War Is Boring

Somali pirates hijacked more than 100 large commercial vessels, provoking a massive international response. More than 40 warships from a dozen navies subsequently assembled to patrol the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. At the same time, diplomats forged consensus approaches that included U.N. declarations governing operations in Somali waters, military accords uniting formerly rival navies, and legal frameworks for prosecuting suspected pirates in various national jurisdictions. (more…)

Border scandal: failures of border controls laid bare

In the last week of June 2007, Britain was in the midst of a terrorism crisis after car bombs failed to explode outside one of London’s busiest nightclubs.

Within days, the UK Border Agency had ordered that anyone arriving at British ports and airports was checked against a database which identified those potentially posing a risk to the country.

However, the Vine Report showed that the order failed to secure Britain’s borders and millions of people were able to enter the country with minimal checks.

The Home Office’s “Warnings Index” (WI), first introduced in 1995, is the “single most important electronic check” carried out to identify undesirable people, including suspected terrorists, criminals and paedophiles.

But, almost as soon as the order to check 100 per cent of passengers arriving in Britain against the index had been issued, exclusions already began to be introduced.

Initially, European nationals travelling from French “resorts” such as Disneyland Paris and the French Alps were not checked against the index. This is thought to have led to about 500,000 people arriving in Britain who had not been checked.

In June 2008, the then head of the Border Force also extended this exemption so that school coach parties travelling through Calais were also not automatically checked.

However, it was a more wide-ranging exclusion which led to some of the worst alleged loopholes emerging.

Border Agency executives were given the discretion to temporarily suspend the checks for “health and safety” reasons.

The Vine report found that the definition of a health and safety risk was not clearly defined but it was used regularly when queues became too long.

Labour claimed that the problem became worse after the election as government cuts began to hit the Border Agency, which was reducing staff.

For example, the report found that Warning Index checks were only suspended 6 times in Calais before 2010 – but 83 times since. The report says that some of these suspensions occurred because of a “moderate number of immigration officers on desks”.

In total, the crucial checks were suspended on 354 occasions.

The report concluded: “The Agency’s records relating to the suspension of the WI were poor. We found that records relating to some suspensions had not been kept, whilst other records did not capture important information, such as whether the emergency services had been consulted before checks were suspended.

“There was a lack of effective management oversight of the frequency with which checks had been suspended, the reasons for this and which ports were suspending checks.”

The lax system for checking people against the Warnings Index soon spread to other controls within the immigration system. A second check – Secure ID – is supposed to check passengers’ fingerprints when they are visiting Britain with a visa. This is designed to stop people fraudulently arriving in this country by checking those arriving are the same as the person who applied for the visa.

However, again, as the queues built up at airports and ports, the checks were quickly abandoned. On a total of 463 occasions at Heathrow in the past two years, the checks were suspended “from a matter of minutes to several hours”.

During 2011, Border Agency executives met ministers to discuss a new approach to checking people, the so-called “level two pilot” which effectively meant that only people deemed a higher-risk were thoroughly checked.

This meant it was no longer routine to open the biometric chip contained in the passports of European visitors. Warning index checks were also suspended for European children travelling “in obvious family units or school groups”. In September 2011, a further, potentially unlawful, scheme was also introduced by immigration staff code-named “Operation Savant” which meant that foreign students arriving to study were not routinely checked.

It also emerged that on 14,812 occasions the “biometric chip reading facility had been deactivated” at ports and airports. The Border Agency was unable to explain the exact reasons for this.

The picture that emerged from the 84-page report was one of chaos and confusion, where ministers’ orders to Border Agency executives were either misunderstood or ignored, and Border Agency staff do not consistently apply directives. There were signs that the situation deteriorated significantly under the Coalition.

The result was that millions of people were allowed to enter Britain without thorough checks.

The report also alleged that Brodie Clark, the former head of the Border Force, authorised officials to go beyond the terms of a pilot scheme agreed last summer. The biometric details of non-European visitors were also not checked, although Mr Clark is expected to argue that the instructions were unclear.

Mr Clark was forced to resign last autumn when details of the scandal first emerged. He is currently taking legal action against the Home Office.

For the Conservatives, the resulting scandal is deeply embarrassing as they made political capital out of a succession of immigration errors under Labour. Similar crises caused the resignations of several Labour ministers and the Home Office was branded “not fit for purpose.”

Last night, it appeared that the positions of Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Damian Green, the Immigration Minister, were secure as the Vine report shared blame between ministers and officials.

However, this summer will see the biggest ever influx of visitors to London for the Olympics and one of the biggest security operations in Britain’s history. Any repeat of the circumstances laid bare in yesterday’s report would spell the end of ministerial careers.

Vince Cable defies Tories

Vince Cable defies Tories to appoint Professor Les Ebdon as university access tsar
Vince Cable has defied senior Conservative Party critics to appoint a controversial professor as the new university access watchdog.

Prof Les Ebdon will take up the key role as director of the Office for Fair Access later this year, charged with ensuring that working-class students are not deterred by tuition fees of up to £9,000, the Business Secretary announced.

Leading Tories, including Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, were said to be unhappy at Prof Ebdon’s appointment after he threatened universities with “nuclear” penalties if they missed targets for widening their student intake.

He has also criticised the “patchy” record of leading Russell Group institutions at increasing the number of students they take from state schools and poor neighbourhoods.

As director of the Office for Fair Access, Prof Ebdon will have the power to fine universities £500,000 or ban them from charging tuition fees of more than £6,000 a year.

Universities wishing to charge more than £6,000 must sign a contract with Prof Ebdon setting out how they will support students and attract more undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Increasing the number of working-class students has been a major challenge for universities such as Oxford and Cambridge. Critics fear government-sanctioned pressure could lead elite institutions to compromise their academic standards.

Prof Ebdon said he felt “privileged” to be appointed to the post.

“I am passionate about access to higher education and strongly believe that no one should be put off from going to university because of their family background or income,” he said.

“As director, I will respect the diversity of the sector and institutional autonomy while also working with all universities to ensure that their considerable efforts and very real commitment bear fruit.

“My role will be to provide greater challenge around outcomes but also to provide greater support through good practice and other guidance.”

Prof Ebdon, who is vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, has been an outspoken critic of the government’s higher education policy in his role as chair of the universities think-tank Million+.

He failed to convince the Commons business select committee at an official hearing and the MPs refused to endorse his appointment.

Senior members of the committee, and other leading Conservatives, called on David Cameron to block Prof Ebdon and reopen the search for a more suitable candidate.

However, Downing Street claimed Mr Cameron was powerless to intervene as the appointment was legally a matter for the Business Secretary.

Mr Cable said he was “very pleased” to confirm Prof Ebdon’s appointment.

“His considerable experience, gained through a working lifetime in higher education, will bring great benefits to the role and equip him to deal even-handedly with all parts of the sector,” Mr Cable said.

“We undertook two long, thorough searches to ensure we found the right candidate for the post.

“I have no doubt that Prof Ebdon has the qualities and determination to help those students from low-income or other under-represented groups to secure the places in higher education that their attainments and potential show they deserve.”

David Willetts, the Conservative Universities Minister, said Prof Ebdon’s appointment would help the government’s drive to improve access to degree courses to students from all backgrounds.

Cabinet ministers get restless over Andrew Lansley’s NHS bill

A trio of Tory ministers are apparently inciting rebellion over the health and social care bill – who could they be?

Now here’s a tricky challenge for David Cameron. As Patrick Wintour reports today, Tim Montgomerie, editor of the most influential Tory grassroots website, ConservativeHome, is telling him to scrap Andrew Lansley’s health and social care bill before it drags the party into a disastrous public relations defeat over the NHS. Good advice – or bad?

According to Montgomerie, who doesn’t have a cynical bone in his body (everyone should have a few), three Tory cabinet ministers have been in touch to “almost instruct” him to campaign for the bill to be abandoned. It’s the opposite of what Cameron told MPs at PMQs on Wednesday, the day after Rachel Sylvester’s column in the Times quoted an unnamed No 10 official saying that the health secretary should be “taken out and shot” for alienating the health professions quite so comprehensively.

Clearly the Downing St natives are restless – as well they might be. The NHS was already having to make an unprecedented £20bn of efficiency savings (ie to improve its performance on the same money) over five years before Lansley dumped a top-down and largely avoidable structural reform on the vital primary care sector (GPs), which is the NHS most of us mostly use.

Our reform bill will get blamed for the cuts arising from the efficiency drive that Labour instituted in 2010, says Montgomerie, who is part-activist, part-journalist. The ConservativeHome editorial made the BBC news bulletins as well as the press today. As I noted on Monday, rightwing Tories (ConHome speak for the activists) are agitating for a tougher stance against those pesky Lib Dems. Prepare for a general election, say some, which shows they’re losing the plot in this cold weather. It’s just another symptom of ill-ease.

This particular row has been rattling on since Lansley’s health white paper, fleshing out his long-pondered thoughts on creating an NHS mixed economy – regulated like a utility – in July 2010. Cameron and Nick Clegg, who either hadn’t read or hadn’t understood it, wrote a foreword. Since then the controversy has steadily deepened, despite the conciliatory consultative “pause” last spring after Dave and Nick did sit down and read the bill.

That Lansley wasted that second chance is now the agreed verdict: he’s an honest, decent man, but a hopeless politician. Cameron has had at least two chances to drop him – during the pause and during the Liam Fox/Chris Huhne reshuffles.

It’s all got so bad that the Guardian now runs a popular live blog to allow the health professions and their customers to vent their feelings. Clegg, who has been under pressure from Lib Dem activists and peers (Shirley Williams is the frontman rather than the brains behind all this), has obtained concessions in return for sticking with the bill. Lib Dem peers look like being squared as the bill resumes.

So who are the Montgomerie Three? The cabinet trio who rang the bearded ConHome guru to incite rebellion. I haven’t a clue. But this is a game everyone can play. So here’s the cabinet list just to jog your memory.

In my long experience, most members of most cabinets either “aren’t very interested in politics” (an old Frank Field joke) or are too timid/loyal to ring up troublemakers such as Tim Monty. Cabinet grandees (itself a deeply devalued word) who used to have independent status and followings have shrunk during an era of presidential politics, it’s all got worse.

Yet there is always a troublemaker or three in any cabinet, plus a special adviser or four willing to chance their arm, Borgen-style. We hacks depend on them.

All the Lib Dems – Clegg, Danny Alexander, Michael Moore, new boy Ed Davey, and Vince Cable, whose day is full – are already eliminated, along with the usual cabinet herbivores who make up the numbers. Let’s put Lansley himself, Cheryl Gillan (Wales), Lady Warsi (party chairman), Phil Hammond, our technocratic defence secretary, Justine (who she?) Greening (transport), crafty Lord Strathclyde (Lords leader), ambitious Andrew Mitchell (international development), cautious Jeremy Hunt (culture) and, almost forgot her, Caroline Spelman (environment) into that camp.

William Hague is too grand and too loyal. Ditto George Osborne, who is Dave’s buddy, though he’s also very political, so I’d keep an eye on him. He might have done it to do Cameron a favour. Stranger things have happened. Who have I missed? Ah, Ken Clarke; he’s an old-fashioned big beast, but he is not a plotter. He stabs folks in the front in broad daylight.

Besides he has been health secretary, the man who took on the saintly nurses (until they drop you on the way to the loo) and introduced the purchaser/provider split that New Labour dropped, then re-instated. He knows how hard it is to get the NHS to be more efficient. He’s spoken out in Lansley’s defence.

Not Ken, then. What about Teresa May, the home secretary? I don’t know her well enough to make a fine judgment about the way she operates. On balance, probably not. But she could easily be fed up with the political cost of a bloody battle to achieve dubious and unnecessary reforms of a much-loved national institution.

Eric Pickles (local government) is the cabinet’s token working-class member, thought to be on his way out and a man of strong and confident views; a populist, too. I’d put him on my shortlist of suspects for Hercule Poirot to take DNA samples from. IDS? You betcha. Owen Paterson, the Northern Ireland secretary? You’d expect him to be on the herbivore list, but he is confident and has views too.

He’s also on the right, which I suspect, counterintuitively, is where this trouble – like all this month’s rumblings – is coming from, even though rightwing backbenchers have made a mini-hero of Lansley for annoying so many NHS vested interests, the doctors’ trade union (BMA), the royal colleges, the nurses and patients. All whingers and communists, so they suspect. After all, even the Reform ginger group, which is pretty free market, is fed up with Lansley’s ineptitude.

My last suspect is Michael Gove. Yes, I know he’s a weekend chum of the PM, but he’s also confident – too confident, some would say – and a bit mouthy. He’s also shown how to push forward a radical agenda in the schools system without arousing Lansley-esque rage on the same scale. Yes, Gove would definitely be in the frame for this one. Take his fingerprints, Hercule!

But what will No 10 actually do? In his youth Cameron used to work for Lansley in the Tory research department and obviously feels loyal to him at a personal level, though I can’t imagine them spending New Year’s Eve together. At PMQs he said the minister’s career prospects were better than Ed Miliband’s. The remark was widely interpreted as ominous for Lansley, though I don’t see that myself.

What I still think – the rest of today anyway – is that Cameron has too much invested in the bill to back down now. It would signal disarray and weakness, undermine coalition cohesion, encourage rebellion and insubordination in the ranks. At this stage it would also cause all sorts of legal and political problems in the NHS since – quite improperly – the primary care trust network has already collapsed in many areas and GP-led commissioning a de facto reality in the making.

So they won’t back down, Dave couldn’t dare. And Lansley will probably survive the summer reshuffle to see through his Doctor Branestorm reform until Cameron sacrifices him – perhaps on a high altar in Whitehall live on TV with a disembowelling knife – just before the election.


Politicians told to stop ‘exaggerated’ criticism of human rights court

European court of human rights president Sir Nicolas Bratza says any criticism should be based on evidence not emotion The president of the European court of human rights has warned political leaders against using “emotion and exaggeration” to criticise the court’s workings.

Sir Nicolas Bratza made his comments as he released figures detailing the court’s rulings during 2011. The figures reveal that the court ruled against the UK on just eight occasions, compared with 159 violations found against Turkey, 121 against Russia and 105 against Ukraine.

Of the western European nations, Greece and Italy had the largest number of adverse rulings – 69 and 32 respectively.

Earlier in the week, David Cameron had called for reform of the court, saying the volume of cases and the triviality of some meant it was in danger of becoming a “small claims court”.

The court’s breakdown of its judgments cast some doubt on the prime minister’s claim that serious cases risked “being stuck in the queue”.

The human rights violations most frequently found by the court were in the length of proceedings (341), the right to liberty and security (241) and the right to a fair trial (211). The court found 70 instances in which the right to life had been improperly violated, 53 of them in Russia.

Russia also had the most rulings against it for inhumane or degrading treatment – 62 of 183 – and, with a total of 488, was the country with the most human rights violations in 2011.

In an annual press conference, Bratza warned that human rights should not be forgotten amid the eurozone’s financial crisis.

“Human rights, the rule of law and justice seem to be slipping down the political agenda in the current economic climate,” he said. “It is in times like these that we must remember that human rights are not a luxury and that the burden of their protection must be a shared one.

“We must continue to ensure that the court remains strong, independent and courageous in its defence of the European convention on human rights.”

In an accompanying statement, the court said the 47 countries that make up the Council of Europe had collectively failed to remedy structural problems with the court’s backlog of cases, which stands at 30,000.

In a possible rebuke to Cameron, however, the statement warned that criticism of the court should be evidence-based.

“It was also important that its [the court’s] independence and authority should not be undermined and that criticism by governments, even where legitimate, should rely on reasoned argument rather than emotion and exaggeration,” it said.

The human rights charity Liberty said Cameron’s “small claims court” comments made light of the serious cases handled by the ECHR.

“Whatever your views on the decisions, deportation to places of torture, DNA retention and the rights of rape victims can hardly be described as ‘small claims’ to the people concerned,” Shami Chakrabarti, the organisation’s director, said.

“Trivialising rights and freedoms is a real mistake: more worthy of a Bullingdon spirit than a bulldog one.”

The ECHR handed out judgment on 1,157 cases over the course of 2011, of which 19 related to the UK. Of these, the court found the UK had violated at least one human right on eight occasions.

Nine of the remaining cases were found not to have violated human rights law, while two were “friendly settlements”.

One of these cases was when the UK opted to apologise through the court to the family of Christopher Alder, a black ex-soldier who choked to death in police custody, conceding that it had breached human rights law.

It was found against for lack of effective investigation on five occasions, not to have offered a fair trial on three occasions, and to have failed its duty on prohibition of torture twice.

The majority of cases brought to the court are struck out as inadmissible without receiving a full hearing. In the UK’s case, 97% of cases filed at the court between 1966 and 2010 were dismissed during this preliminary stage.

Donald Trump accuses Alex Salmond of ‘destroying’ Scotland

DONALD Trump has launched an astonishing attack on Alex Salmond, accusing him of being “hell bent” on destroying Scotland with wind farms.The tycoon, who only four years ago described the First Minister as an “amazing man”, claimed in an angry letter that he was single-handedly threatening to do “more damage to Scotland than virtually any event in Scottish history”.

The outburst – which was hyperbolic even by his standards – followed Mr Salmond’s claim that the American billionaire would eventually “get on board” with offshore wind farms.

The businessman is bitterly opposed to plans for 11 giant wind turbines off the coast of Aberdeenshire, which he claims will ruin the views from his new championship golf course on the Menie Estate north of Aberdeen.

He has previously announced that he plans to halt all new work on the pounds750 million project – including plans for a luxury hotel and holiday homes – until the project has been rejected by ministers.

Tthe row escalated when he responded to comments by Mr Salmond at a renewable energy event on February 8, when the First Minister said wind farms were creating thousands of jobs and Mr Trump would get on board when Scotland was established as a world leader in green energy. As recently as 2008, Mr Salmond had to defend himself against complaints about his “cosy” relationship with the tycoon, whose controversial golf resort is in the First Minister’s constituency and was approved by an SNP administration.

But there was no sign of a special relationship when Mr Trump called his wind energy plans were “insane”.

He also announced that he was funding an “international campaign” against wind turbines around the Scottish coast.

He wrote: “I have read your recent statements concerning so called ‘wind power’. For the record, taxing your citizens to subsidise wind projects owned by foreign energy companies will destroy your country and its economy.

“Jobs will not be created in Scotland because these ugly monstrosities known as turbines are manufactured in other countries such as China.

“These countries, who so benefit from your billions of pounds in payments, are laughing at you.”

He added that other countries in the EU had abandoned failing offshore wind programmes, and claimed turbines at sea had to be renewed every five years because of the harsh environment.

“Who is going to pay for those new installations then?” he wrote. “Not you, for you will be long gone, but the people of Scotland will suffer forever.

“You seem hell bent on destroying Scotland’s coastline and therefore, Scotland itself, but I will never be ‘on board’, as you have stated I would be, with this insanity.

“As a matter of fact, I have just authorised my staff to allocate a substantial amount of money to launch an international campaign to fight your plan to surround Scotland’s coast with many thousands of wind turbines.

“It will be like looking through the bars of a prison and the Scottish citizens will be the prisoners.”

Mr Trump signed off by saying that he was “doing this to save Scotland and honour my mother, Mary MacLeod who, as you know, was born and raised in Stornoway”. He added: “She would not believe what you are doing to her beloved Scotland.”

The agency Marine Scotland is expected to make a recommendation on the disputed wind farm later this year.

The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre is a pounds150 million venture by a Swedish company and the Aberdeen Renewable Energy Group.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said an application for the project was under consideration, adding: “A recent study suggests that harnessing just a third of the practical resource off our coast by 2050 would enable us to generate enough electricity to power Scotland seven times over.”

David Cameron should steer clear of football

The PM’s got enough intractable problems of his own to deal with without worrying about the England football squad

As Alastair Campbell was moved to remind his followers on Twitter only the other day, I don’t know as much about football as he does. In truth, I may know less than Alastair’s garden gate, which must acquire cumulative insights whenever he kicks it after another home defeat for his beloved Burnley.

But I do know that Alastair and his old boss, Tony Blair, made idiots of themselves when they blundered into the saga of Glenn Hoddle’s dismissal as England’s football manager over crass remarks about disabled people in 1999. They rapidly tried to back out again and steered clear of such folly thereafter, even though the media pack did its best to lure them into indiscretion.

So when we hear remarks by David Cameron about the wisdom of Fabio Capello’s departure in 2012 leading the news bulletins – as they have – we can assume the prime minister will probably come to regret it. The private conduct and/or professional success of most England football managers since Alf Ramsey lifted the World Cup in 1966 suggest that elected politicians might wisely steer clear of them.

That’s one reason. It’s not the only reason. It’s not Cameron’s job to worry about the management of the England squad. He has enough intractable problems of his own without taking on the FA’s four months before the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine – without a manager or a captain, as Richard Williams writes. Who knows, one glitch in the Ukrainian software and they might not have a hotel either!

Of course, some politicians have a genuine love and appreciation for a particular sport or sports in general. John Major was – and is – passionate about cricket. He wrote a book about it. Gordon Brown was – and is – a real sports fan, of tennis and other games as well as football where he shrewdly parks his cross-border loyalties with local Raith Rovers. He once confessed he’d have like to have been a football manager. Hmmm.

They would occasionally make remarks about a particular match or controversy – as Brown did here about over-leveraged club debts, but sensibly steered clear even though they were known by fans – this bit matters – to be genuine fans.

It’s a minefield anyway. As chancellor, Brown got his shorts into a twist in 2007 by backing what turned out to be England’s doomed bid to host the 2018 World Cup – saying his ideal outcome would be a Scotland victory over England in the finals.

Two years earlier he seems to have helped water down a European commission bid to curb Rupert Murdoch’s near-monopoly grip on pay-TV football. This list goes on: fans don’t like politicians and (so I am told) often boo them when their names are mentioned at a match.

So stay clear is sensible advice, especially if the fans suspect you might be faking it for electoral purposes. Tony Blair never said he’d watched the legendary Jackie Milburn playing for Newcastle United in his childhood – that was the sort of media yarn that so incensed Alastair Campbell. But Blair wasn’t a real fan. Is David Cameron? Aston Villa’s website seems happy to accept him as the real deal and he sometimes takes his kids to QPR, his local Premier League team in west London. There again, he’s an Etonian from west Berkshire. Is that tribal enough? You tell me.

The case for Cameron’s intervention is one of wider public policy objectives. Just as the PM called recently for more black managers and coaches, so he did here to support the FA’s stance in sacking John Terry as captain over the alleged racist remarks he faces trial over.

Terry denies it and hasn’t been found guilty yet. But – as with Chris Huhne’s alleged points swap – it’s a tough old world and the FA did what it did with what looks like media support, though not Capello’s (or Chelsea’s).

But less is generally better. We never heard Margaret Thatcher’s views on 4-4-2 or which team Clem Attlee supported (he was an avid cricket devotee) and were none the worse for it. And it made a better case for pluralism and dissent in an open society when Seb Coe and the British Olympic squad defied Thatcher’s attempts to have them boycott the Moscow Games in 1980 over (irony alert) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

When sport and politics clash politicians have a duty to get involved – as they did over those apartheid bans which Peter Hain’s new memoirs recall. But if there’s a choice it’s best left alone. Harry Redknapp’s acquittal? Harry Redknapp’s appointment to be the next England manager? Prime minister, don’t go there.

English Tory MPs to campaign against Scottish

Backbench Tory MPs are being urged to join the battle to prevent the break-up of Britain by persuading the English they are better off in a union with Scotland, the Daily Telegraph can reveal.

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, has held talks with MPs with English seats who are sympathetic to Scotland about a campaign telling their constituents the benefits of the United Kingdom.

George Osborne, who is overseeing Government strategy in the referendum campaign, is understood to be concerned about English antagonism over higher public spending north of the Border.

The Chancellor fears this will be used by Alex Salmond, the First Minister, to persuade Scots they are “not wanted” and should leave the United Kingdom.

Mr Salmond has argued the solution is to make Scotland a separate country responsible for its own tax and spending, thus dispelling English anger they are ‘subsidising’ benefits not available to them.

Although only voters residing in Scotland will be able to vote in the forthcoming referendum, both sides consider winning over English ‘hearts and minds’ important to their prospects for victory.

The campaign for an independent Quebec was only very narrowly defeated in a 1995 referendum after a concerted effort to persuade voters that people in the rest of Canada wanted them to stay.

Mr Salmond has already started an English charm offensive, using a lecture in London to argue that an independent Scotland would be a progressive “beacon” for the English.

A Scottish Tory spokesman said: “We have to make a positive case for the union because it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Alex Salmond is going to try and stir up tensions on both sides of the Border.

“It’s worth people being aware of the huge support across the rest of the UK for Scotland to remain in the Union.”

Opinion polls have consistently shown that support for Scottish independence is higher in England than north of the Border, fed by anger that public spending is around £1,600 higher per head in Scotland than the UK average.

The First Minister’s decision to introduce a series of free universal benefits, including prescription charges and university tuition fees, has increased cross-Border tensions.

Although many English Tory politicians share their constituents’ frustrations over this, they remain committed to keeping the United Kingdom together.

Among the MPs who are due to be approached are several who were born in Scotland but now have English constituencies. They include Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign and Scottish Secretary and Kensington MP.

Mark Menzies, the MP for Fylde in Lancashire, was brought up in Ayrshire and has also been approached. Eleanor Laing, the MP for Epping Forest, who was born in Renfrewshire, will also play a part.

Members with constituencies near the Border have also agreed to help. They include John Stevenson, the MP for Carlisle in Cumbria, who was educated in Aberdeen and Dundee.

The Conservatives currently have only one MP north of the Border, David Mundell, a Scotland Office minister. The pro-UK referendum strategy is being overseen by a Cabinet committee headed by Mr Osborne.

Mr Salmond used last month’s Hugo Young lecture in London to argue the current constitutional arrangements are “not sustainable because they are not fair.”

“Not fair to Scotland, and not fair to England. Most importantly, these relationships will be more positive and stronger when our nations are clear and equal partners,” he said.

It is understood the SNP has also investigated taking out full-page adverts in English editions of national newspapers to persuade their readers of the benefits of Scottish independence.

Cable to defy No.10 on choice of university tsar

Vince Cable is to defy David Cameron by appointing as the new university tsar a don who has threatened “nuclear” penalties for universities that fail to recruit enough working-class students.

The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary indicated that he will ignore concerns raised by a parliamentary committee and push ahead with the appointment of Prof Les Ebdon as the head of the higher education regulator.

Prof Ebdon, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said last week that he would be prepared to hit universities with the “nuclear option” of large financial penalties if they did not open their doors to more disadvantaged students.

The decision is expected to open a rift in the Coalition. David Cameron is understood to be unhappy about the appointment and senior Conservatives said they were “appalled” by Mr Cable’s stance.

The heads of some of the country’s top universities are also thought to have privately expressed concerns to ministers about the proposed appointment. “This guy is basically against government policy and is not suitable for this position,” said one senior Conservative.

Another well-placed source added: “David Cameron has made it quite clear that he is opposed to this character being appointed. This is now quite an important battle.”

Individuals proposed for high-profile government positions have to be scrutinised by parliamentary committees which make a recommendation on their suitability for the job.

Prof Ebdon was interviewed last week by the Commons business select committee which recommended yesterday that he should not be appointed as head of the Office for Fair Access. The office ensures that universities recruit students from a wide range of backgrounds and can impose penalties on those not taking sufficient steps to widen access.

Explaining its decision to oppose Prof Ebdon’s appointment, the committee said: “While he demonstrated an all-round understanding of widening participation, we were not convinced by Prof Ebdon’s descriptions of the root causes of the obstacles to accessing universities. We are unable to endorse the appointment of Prof Ebdon as the Director of Offa and we recommend that the department conduct a new recruitment exercise.”

In a statement, Mr Cable indicated that he was determined to push ahead with the appointment. It would be the first time that the Coalition has overruled such a select committee recommendation.

A spokesman for the Business Secretary said: “Vince remains of the view that Les Ebdon is the right candidate for the role of director of fair access. He will urgently consider the select committee’s recommendation and respond shortly.”

Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative MP on the business committee said: “What we don’t want to see is a levelling downwards of university education, we want to see a levelling upwards.”

James Clappison, another Conservative MP and former education spokesman for the party, added: “I find it very disturbing that a Secretary of State is choosing to ignore the views of a select committee of Parliament.

“In any case we need a much stronger focus on encouraging more students to apply to top universities rather than penalising those who do. I think this will cause very widespread disquiet on the Conservative benches.”

Labour accused the Conservatives of “hijacking” the select committee decision after it emerged that several Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs failed to turn up to the hearing.

Shabana Mahmood, the shadow higher education minister, said: “The clear suggestion from reports over the past couple of days is that this appointment is being used as a political football as a result of internal divisions between members of the Coalition. The position of director of Offa is an important post – even more so now that the Government has decided to treble tuition fees to £9,000.”

The row over the appointment also threatens to undermine the position of David Willetts, the higher education minister, who works with Mr Cable and previously endorsed the appointment of Prof Ebdon.

Last week, Mr Willetts was embroiled in another controversy after it emerged that the head of the Student Loans Company was paid through a separate firm — an arrangement that could save tax. Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, have also decided to postpone indefinitely Mr Willetts’s proposed legislation on higher education reform.

Prof Ebdon is a long-standing critic of many Conservative positions on higher education.

In one article, he wrote: “Subjects such as media and cultural studies, fashion design and consumer software computing are far from professionally irrelevant or academically unchallenging.”

A think tank that he runs also criticised government efforts to persuade talented children from poorer backgrounds to apply to the top universities as a “narrow, Oxbridge-obsessed” approach to higher education reform.

Abu Hamza could also be bailed after Abu Qatada ruling

The release of Abu Qatada following a European Court of Human Rights ruling could pave the way for other terror suspects such as Abu Hamza to win bail, it was feared.

Six men, including the hate preacher Abu Hamza, are expected to find out within weeks whether they can be extradited to the US to face terror charges.

But after the Strasbourg judgement that ruled Qatada’s deportation could see evidence obtained under torture used against him, the terror suspects could also be bailed by British judges if European courts find their human rights may be breached in America.

Hamza, who lost his hands in an explosion in Afghanistan and now uses a hook prosthesis on his right arm, was jailed for seven years in the UK for inciting murder at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London.

Because he has completed the sentence, he would be eligible for release if his extradition case collapsed, according to the Daily Mail.

The other men include his trusted associate Haroon Aswat, who is wanted in the States for planning to start a jihadi training camp in Oregon.

Baba Ahmad and Seyla Ahsan are accused of plotting terror attacks abroad while Khaled Al Fawwaz has been in custody since 1999. He was believed to have links to Osama bin Laden.

Adel Abdul Bary is wanted in the US over bomb attacks on US embassies in Africa that killed more than 200.

Qatada, 51, could be free of security restrictions within two years despite being considered a “dangerous risk”, it emerged yesterday.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said the decision to release him lay with British judges.

He said: “This was a British judge who gave him bail. The newspapers that bash the European Court of Human Rights bash the European Court of Human Rights all the time. Actually the judgement they are objecting to was by a British judge.

“The Court of Appeal found in Qatada’s favour, the Supreme Court found against him, the Court of Human Rights found in his favour again but with further Jordanian assurances that he would not be tortured.”

Mr Clarke’s comments were apparently at odds with Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who later told MPs that “the Government disagrees vehemently with Strasbourg’s ruling”.

Tory MP Peter Bone said Mrs May would be a “national hero” if she ordered the immediate deportation of the “vicious, nasty terrorist”.

David Cameron backs Andrew Lansley

Prime minister insists health and social care bill will be forced on to statute book despite growing opposition

David Cameron is to rally behind his health secretary Andrew Lansley and insist that the coalition will force its health and social care bill on to the statute book despite growing opposition within the NHS and the Conservative party.

As the Lords return to the bill on Wednesday, the reforms are likely to dominate prime minister’s question time at lunchtime.

Cameron is expected to quash speculation that Lansley’s future in the cabinet is in doubt, after an unnamed No 10 insider was quoted as saying he should be “taken out and shot”. The briefing was described as unauthorised, but No 10 acknowledged it may have taken its eye off the ball, allowing opposition to the bill to re-emerge.

Cameron and Lansley have met within the last 48 hours to discuss tactics. There is widespread frustration inside Downing Street at the way in which the professions were brought on side, but then slipped from the coalition’s grasp over the past two months.

Cameron is to undertake a series of NHS events next week, and is said to be confident that opposition to the bill in the Lords, at report stage, will be overcome. He is determined to set up the battle as one between a bureaucrat-run NHS and a doctor-run NHS.

Some of the most controversial sections in the bill on competition are unlikely to be completed until late March, by which time the local election campaign will be under way.

The shadow cabinet has agreed to include dropping the bill and NHS closures in its local election campaign themes.

Grassroots pressure for the Liberal Democrats in government to take a tougher line may surface at the party’s spring conference starting on 9 March.

Andrew Burnham, the shadow health secretary, accused ministers of having “abjectly failed to build a political and professional consensus behind the bill”, which he believed could still be stopped.

“All around the consensus is building that it’s better for the NHS to work back through the existing structures than to carry forward with this dangerous, wholesale reorganisation,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I will work with the government to introduce GP-led commissioning, I’ve no objection to that at all, but as people from all quarters are now saying, this bill will damage the NHS at this particular time. It’s the wrong thing for the NHS, the wrong reforms at the wrong time and they should drop the bill.”

Burnham expressed concern about the potential effect of full competition on the health service. He said Labour had introduced an element of private provision to drive down waiting times, but this had been done in the context of a “planned, collaborative system”, with just 2% of operations carried out in the private sector by the end of its term in office.

“We had an NHS that was a collaborative NHS providing good standards of care and the question I keep coming back to is why on earth are the government turning it upside down. They inherited a successful, self-confident NHS and in just 18 months have turned it into an organisation that is demoralised, destabilised and fearful of the future.”

Lord Owen, the former SDP leader, took the unusual step of suggesting NHS staff had been misled into believing Cameron’s election guarantees on the NHS because his late son Ivan had been disabled.

He wrote on his blog: “David Cameron should remember the words he spoke about the NHS during the election. Most of those who work in the health service were aware of his own late son’s illness and felt that when he spoke about the NHS not having any more top-down reorganisations, he carried the conviction of someone who had real experience of what the NHS represented in British life.”

He said Cameron was the only person who could abandon the bill, saying if he did so “the NHS would heave a collective sigh of relief and next day start to implement, under existing legislation, those aspects on which there is widespread agreement”.

Cameron’s staff were privately angered by Owen’s remarks, but refused to comment.

Pressure also mounted on the Lib Dems, with Nick Clegg accused by Labour of “abject betrayal” over his support for Lansley’s bill.

The Labour deputy leader, Harriet Harman, claimed in the Commons the reforms would pave the way for NHS hospitals to earn up to half of their income from private work, putting NHS patients “at the back of the queue”.

Clegg defended the changes, saying the alternative to reform would be to “condemn a number of hospitals into outright financial crisis”.

At least nine Lib Dem MPs have signed an early day motion demanding that Lansley be forced to publish an independent risk report carried out into the reforms, which critics claim warned that the planned changes to allow GPs to commission health services on behalf of patients would lead to a surge in costs.

Senior Lib Dems expect the Lords to inflict defeats on the coalition over the bill, but even opponents are not expecting a rebellion as strong as that against the welfare reform bill last month.

Speaking to the House magazine, Clegg appeared to recognise dissent in his own ranks, saying: “Let’s be blunt: I’m asking, day in, day out, Liberal Democrat peers to vote on things that they wouldn’t do in a month of Sundays if it was a Liberal Democrat government.”

Clegg also praised Lady Williams, one of the bill’s strongest critics in the Lords, claiming that as a result of her intervention the bill was “a whole lot better than it would have been otherwise”.

The reforms have come under fire from an unprecedented coalition of critics, including the Royal College of GPs, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, and a joint editorial by three influential health journals: the British Medical Journal, the Nursing Times and the Health Service Journal.

More than 90% of those who voted in a British Medical Journal poll believed the planned health reforms should be scrapped. Of 2,947 votes cast on over the last week, 2,706 said the reforms should be dropped while 241 said they should stay.

The former Tory cabinet minister Lord Tebbit is among those with reservations about parts of the legislative plans.

But he said the NHS inherited by the coalition was in need of “urgent treatment” and many of the health unions and associations had self interests in their opposition to the bill.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Tebbit rallied to Lansley’s defence, arguing his reforms deserved “a fair wind”.

He concluded: “To do as Lord Owen would have us do, and wreck the bill and run away from the consequences, would be an irresponsible surrender to self interest masquerading as the public interest. It will be a year or two before we can reach a verdict on every bit of the Lansley bill, but his reforms surely deserve a fair wind.”

Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce charges: the full statement from CPS

imageThe Crown Prosecution Service explained how it arrived at the decision to bring charges against Chris Huhne and his former wife Vicky Pryce in a statement today.

It was read by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer, who said: “A criminal complaint was made to Essex Police in May 2011, alleging that Ms Pryce had accepted responsibility for a speeding offence committed by Mr Huhne in 2003. (more…)

Costa Concordia: ‘clothing and lingerie of Moldovan dancer found in Captain Schettino’s cabin’

imagetems of clothing and lingerie belonging to Domnica Cemortan, a Moldovan former dancer, were found in the cabin of Francesco Schettino, the captain of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, it was reported on Thursday.
Divers found the clothing, as well as a beauty case, when they searched the private cabin of Capt Francisco Schettino, 52, who faces charges of abandoning ship and manslaughter, according to La Repubblica newspaper. (more…)

Israel could launch military strike on Iran ‘within nine months’

imageisrael could launch an air strike against Iran within nine months in a bid to slow Tehran’s progress towards building a nuclear weapon, according to a former senior White House aide.
Dennis Ross, a veteran diplomat on the Middle East, said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not necessarily feel restrained by objections from President Barack Obama, despite his country’s historically close ties with Washington. (more…)

Brucie Bonus for the Prime Minister

imageMichael Deacon watches David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband indulge in some embarrassing tactics at Prime Minister’s Questions.
This week, both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have attempted to impress viewers with their mastery of the call-and-response technique made famous by Sir Bruce. As we all know, Sir Bruce will shout, for example, “Nice to see you, to see you…”, leaving his audience, as one, to supply the missing word: “Nice!” (more…)

US finds new friend in Uzbekistan after Pakistan fallout

imagePresident Obama has asked Uzbekistan to expand its role in resupplying troops in Afghanistan as Washington tries to reduce its dependence on Pakistan.

The past fortnight has seen relations between Islamabad and Washington sink to new lows over allegations that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency was working with the Haqqani network to direct attacks on American targets in Afghanistan.

The crisis, the latest in a turbulent year, has seen both countries scrambling to build up alternative regional alliances.

However, more than a third of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan pass through Pakistan, giving Islamabad a strong bargaining position.

A White House official said President Obama had discussed sending more supplies through the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan during a phone call with the country’s president, Islam Karimov. (more…)

Conservative Party Conference 2011: George Osborne unveils ‘Plan A-plus’ to get money into small firms

imageSmall companies will effectively be able to borrow money from the Government under a plan to kick-start the economy by averting a second credit crisis, George Osborne has announced.

The Treasury will spend billions of pounds buying the bonds issued by small and medium-sized companies in a move which should allow them to borrow money without dealing with banks.

The Chancellor’s “credit easing” scheme was the centrepiece of his speech to the Conservative conference during which he unveiled a series of measures to help business. Ministers are increasingly alarmed at the lacklustre state of the economy and the unwillingness of banks to lend money.

The credit easing scheme will run alongside the similar Bank of England quantitative easing programme to print money and buy government debts. The Chancellor has insisted there is ‘no Plan B’ in his recovery strategy but this is expected to be called “plan A-plus” as ministers rush to prevent a slide back into recession. (more…)

Israel partly to blame for growing isolation in region, says US

imageThe United States has delivered an unusually blunt critique of Israel’s foreign policy by claiming that Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was partly responsible for its growing isolation in the region.

Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, suggested that Israel carried a portion of the blame for its deteriorating relationship with Turkey and Egypt, two vital allies whose ties with the Jewish state have become increasingly strained in recent weeks.

Speaking as he arrived in the Holy Land on Monday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mr Panetta gave warning that Israel’s dependence on its military dominance was not a sufficient safeguard given the dramatic shifts in the Middle East’s political landscape in the wake of the Arab Spring.

“There’s not much question in my mind that they maintain that (military) edge,” he said. “But the question you have to ask is it enough to maintain a military edge if you’re isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena.

“At this dramatic time in the Middle East, when there have been so many changes, it’s not a good situation for Israel to become increasingly isolated. And that’s what happening.” (more…)

David Cameron: world on brink of new economic crisis

imageThe world stands on the brink of a new economic crisis that would leave countries like Britain “staring down the barrel”, David Cameron has warned.

The Prime Minister said that the failure of leaders in the US and Europe to tackle government deficits now “threatens the stability of the world economy”.

Mr Cameron spoke as stock markets around the world fell sharply again, with the FTSE–100 suffering its biggest drop for more than two years.

Politicians, central bankers and investors are increasingly worried that the world’s biggest economies are sliding back into a recession, dragged down by government debts. (more…)

Nick Clegg: banking reforms could come in ‘well before’ 2019

imageLib Dem leader says date of implementation of reforms could be far earlier than that recommended by Sir John Vickers’ Independent Commission on Banking

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, has said banking reforms designed to prevent another taxpayer bailout of the system could be implemented “well before 2019”.

Clegg said he thought the date of implementation for reforms of Britain’s biggest banks could be far earlier than that recommended by the Independent Commission on Banking, chaired by Sir John Vickers. (more…)

With Friends Like These …? Bachmann’s Former Campaign Manager Becoming Her Chief Critic

imageEd Rollins was running Rep. Michele Bachmann’s GOP campaign two weeks ago, but today it’s hard to find anyone doing more harm to her presidential hopes.

When Rollins gave up his post as campaign manager on Labor Day, a campaign spokesman blamed his move on health concerns and noted that he would continue working for her as “a valuable senior adviser.”

“I am grateful for his guidance and leadership, and fortunate to retain his valuable advice even though his health no longer permits him to oversee the day-to-day operations of the campaign,” Bachmann said in a statement announcing the staff shakeup. (more…)

Obama team urges swift passage of jobs bill

imageWASHINGTON – With new data showing poverty in the USA at the highest level in nearly three decades, White House officials and liberal economists say it’s become critical for Congress to quickly approve a jobs-creation package.

The data show that 46 million Americans are living in poverty. The Census Bureau released the grim numbers Tuesday as President Obama traveled the battleground state of Ohio to press for his $447 billion jobs measure.

“We are at a crossroads,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution, a think tank. “We can, through policy, make things better. or through policy. we can make things worse.” (more…)

Republican presidential debate: Rick Perry goes on the defensive

imageMichele Bachmann appeared especially eager to take Rick Perry down.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry found himself on the defensive in a Republican presidential debate here Monday night, pilloried for suggesting that states should take over Social Security, attacked for trying to mandate vaccinations for young girls and roundly criticized for immigration policies he has supported in his state. (more…)

Learn English to get a job or lose benefits, says Cameron

imageUnemployed people who cannot speak English will be forced to learn the language or risk losing their benefits, David Cameron said yesterday.

The Prime Minister said that he and Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, were to target the 70,000 people who cannot get a job because of a language barrier.

On a visit to Brixton in south London, Mr Cameron said: “We are getting rid of the old idea that you can get your welfare without conditions being put on that. (more…)

Top 20 most influential people in the Tea Party movement: 10-1

imageThe second part of our list looking at prominent figures in the US Tea Party movement.

10. Christine O’Donnell, Republican candidate for Senate in Delaware

A marketing consultant and Tea-party backed candidate for the US Senate, Christine O’Donnell burst onto the national political scene after her stunning victory over nine-term Representative Mike Castle in Delaware’s primary on September 14. The victory came after endorsements from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express and was a major shock to the Republican establishment. Over the past few weeks, O’Donnell has been relentlessly scrutinised for her controversial beliefs about sex and religion, which have largely been revealed through clips from various television shows she appeared on in the 1990s, and for her chaotic financial affairs. O’Donnell faced a near-foreclosure on her mortgage and a dispute with Farleigh Dickinson University for not paying college expenses. Previously a campaigner against masturbation, O’Donnell once said: (more…)

Republicans win New York Congress seat

imageRepublican businessman Bob Turner has won a US Congress seat in a Democrat stronghold, dealing a major blow to President Barack Obama.

NY1 television reported that Mr Turner had defeated Democratic state and city legislator Dave Weprin in the election to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Weiner, who stepped down earlier this year following an online sex scandal. (more…)

Interim Libyan leader pleads for unity as tensions rise between factions

imageMustafa Abdul Jalil battles to quell row between Islamists and secularists amid fears internal split could derail rebuilding effort

Libya’s interim leader is facing a battle between conservative Islamic groups and secular figures as he struggles to unite multiple competing factions.

Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of the National Transitional Council (NTC), sought to quell anxiety over festering internal divisions in his first speech in Tripoli on Monday night. (more…)

Turkey’s PM rallies Arab world in Cairo with call for UN to recognise Palestine

imageTurkey’s prime minister has called for the Palestinian flag to finally be raised at the United Nations, insisting that international recognition of the state was now an obligation, not an option.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a much-anticipated speech to the Arab League in Cairo to rally opposition to Israel, and promised that Turkey would stand in solidarity with those struggling for political change in the Arab world. (more…)

Ed Miliband endures rough ride at TUC after criticism of pension strike action


Labour leader urges talks to prevent confrontation while public sector unions gear up for a long-running battle

Ed Miliband survived a smattering of boos and heckles as he told the TUC that Britain cannot afford a round of union strikes over public sector pensions, and admitted he was not going to restore all the coalition’s spending cuts. (more…)