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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

PM Hopeful Of WPC Murder Probe Help

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher is a reminder of the "horrors" of the Gaddafi regime and expressed hope that the rebel authorities would co-operate in the investigation into her murder.

Policemen attending to Wpc Yvonne Fletcher who was shot during demonstrations outside Libyan Embassy.

Only one of the three main suspects in the 1984 killing is believed still to be alive but Mr Cameron said he was sure that the National Transitional Council (NTC) would assist British police in their investigation.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also said the Government will do "everything we can" to get answers for WPC Fletcher's family.

Rebel officials in Tripoli on Tuesday night said one of the suspects for WPC Fletcher's murder, Abdulqadir al-Baghdadi, had been shot in the head. He was an official at the Libyan embassy in London at the time of the murder.

Reports in the Daily Telegraph claimed that junior official Abdulmagid Salah Ameri, who was suspected of firing the fatal shots, is also thought to have died. That left Matouk Mohammed Matouk as the last named suspect believed to be still alive, it added.

Negotiations have begun so that officers from the Metropolitan Police investigating the murder of WPC Fletcher, who was gunned down while on duty at a protest against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime outside the Libyan embassy in London, could travel to Libya once the security situation improves.

Mr Cameron said: "There is an ongoing police investigation and I am sure the new authorities in Libya will co-operate in that investigation."

He added: "The murder of Yvonne Fletcher was a reminder of the horrors that happened under the Gaddafi regime, and we should be celebrating today that that regime is coming to an end, and that Britain has played a proud part in that."

Mr Clegg said the Government would be "looking to the new Libyan administration to help" when he was asked if pressure would be put on the NTC to extradite Matouk for a trial in the UK.

Mr Cameron will on Thursday travel to Paris for an international conference on Libya aimed at providing support to the NTC.

Darling To Expose 'Volcanic' Brown Government

Former Chancellor Alistair Darling is reportedly set to detail tensions within Gordon Brown's government at the height of the financial crisis in a forthcoming memoir.

Mr Brown and Mr Darling in March 2010 ahead of the General Election.

According to extracts seen by Labour Uncut, Mr Darling will claim Mr Brown's moods became increasingly "brutal and volcanic" in 2008.

'Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at No 11' is said to detail a complete breakdown in trust between the Prime Minister and Chancellor.

Mr Darling reportedly singles out Ed Balls and Shriti Vadhera as key allies of Mr Brown, who he says were running what amounted to a parallel Treasury within Government.

He claims to have refused to have Ms Vadhera in his team, describing her as "only happy if there was blood on the floor - preferably that of her colleagues".
Alistair Darling's memoirs should give Ed Miliband some concerns about Ed Balls' suitability to be shadow chancellor.Conservative party chairman Baroness Warsi

Yvette Cooper was accepted as chief secretary to the treasury in January 2008, but Mr Darling reportedly says she was put there to "keep an eye" on him.

He also allegedly confirms the widely reported rumour that in 2009 Mr Brown tried to sack him as chancellor and offer him another junior role in cabinet.

Mr Darling threatened to walk out of government and Mr Brown, severely weakened by the economic crisis and plummeting poll ratings, relented and let him remain at No 11.

Karen Duffy, the publicity director of publisher Atlantic books, said she was unable to comment on the accuracy of the reports.

Mr Brown & Mr Balls are allegedly accused of running a parallel Treasury.

"We're not confirming or denying," she told Sky News, because the contents of the book must remain confidential because they have agreed a deal with a newspaper ahead of publication next week.

Conservative party chairman Sayeeda Warsi seized on the claims as proof that key Labour figures put party infighting above the nation's interests.

"Alistair Darling's memoirs should give Ed Miliband some concerns about Ed Balls' suitability to be shadow chancellor," she said.

"Ed Balls recently claimed that he 'did his politics on the record', but he has already been shown to have been at the heart of the plot to oust Tony Blair.

"Now Alistair Darling accuses him of running a shadow treasury operation within his own government.

"No wonder Labour left the nation's finances in such a mess when they put party political plotting above the national interest."

Gender Pay Gap 'To Last 98 Years'

Women face a wait of almost 100 years for equal pay, according to a new study which shows female executives earn £10,000 less than their male counterparts. Channel 4 News looks at why.

Men doing the same jobs as women at executive level are paid £10,546 more on average, the survey found.

Men took home on average £42,441, while women only made £31,895, according to the study by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). It means the average male executive earns 25 per cent more than his female equivalent.

It remains a significant gap, but the CMI said it is narrowing, with salaries for women increasing 0.3 per cent faster than men. If this continues at the current rate it will be 2109 - 98 years - before the gap is closed.

There was some good news for women in the survey of 35,000 executives, with junior female executives bucking the trend to earn the same as their male counterparts. The CMI said this was a sign men and women now grow up on a "more equal footing".

Its director of policy and research, Petra Wilton, told Channel 4 News: "Our hope is that this trend for both equal pay and equal representation follows this younger generation of female executives right through their careers as they climb through levels of seniority."

Unequal workplaces

However she said that the figures still showed that the workplace remains an unequal place.

The CMI figures back up the World Economic Forum's data for 2010, which found that the UK was 60th in the world in terms of gender pay equality - 17 places below Ireland, but above France, which was 127th. Lesotho and Macedonia were the top two most equal countries in terms of pay.
Why should a woman take on a director-level position when the likelihood is still that she will be paid less than the man sitting next to her at the boardroom table? Sandra Pollock, CMI

Ms Wilton said: "This year's salary survey demonstrates, yet again, that businesses are contributing to the persistent gender pay gap and alienating top female employees by continuing to pay men and women unequally.

"This kind of bad management is damaging UK businesses and must be addressed."

Sandra Pollock, national chair of the CMI's Women in Management network, added: "Why should a woman take on the responsibilities of a director-level position when the likelihood is still that she will be paid significantly less than the man sitting next to her at the boardroom table?

"Too often managers are male and aged 45 plus and we are fighting an ongoing war to ensure that professions attract people based on their talent and not their age or gender."

The research found that redundancy hit men and women across age groups equally in the last year. However the figures showed women at more senior levels were almost twice as likely to have been made redundant than men - and five times as many female company directors as male directors lost their jobs over the last year.

Christina Ioannidis experienced gender discrimination before setting up her own business, Aquitude, which helps organisations like Accenture and Barclays Bank retain their top female talent.

She told Channel 4 News: "My role was made redundant - about two months before a man had been brought in to be my manager. He stayed in the business even though I had been there a while.

"It threw me. I didn't make too much of it at the time but as I left I realised it actually happens again and again that women are on the receiving end of unfair treatment."

She said businesses need to realise the value of talented female executives - and customers. A Government report in February called for companies to aim for one in four of its board members to be women by 2015.

Why are women paid less?

The CMI urged the Government to demand more transparency on pay from companies rather than imposing mandatory quotas. Firms found guilty of fuelling the gender pay gap should be publicly exposed, the organisation said. The CMI itself offers help to women to challenge unequal pay.

And it said that as society gets more equal across the board, pay should follow. "Where representation is equal, it's easier for women to be treated, and to demand to be treated, equally," Petra Wilton told Channel 4 News.

One of the other factors often cited as a reason why women earn less than men is because women often take time out to have children. Some women never return to the corporate world ,while others take a few years before going back.

CMI said "the onus is on the Government" to change this culture.

"Until paternity laws are overhauled so they fit the modern workforce and flexible working is more widely accommodated, women will continue to have to make choices once they start families which will reduce their numbers at more senior levels," said Ms Wilton.

"The onus is on the Government and employers to ensure they start to implement the changes that mean the pay gap stays shut at junior levels and closes up at other levels of seniority."

Wootton Bassett Timeline: How The Repatriation Ceremony Came About

From 2007's first spontaneous gesture of respect to 2011 when the flag was lowered for the last time in Wiltshire town.

Crowds gather for the repatriation procession of three soldiers killed in Afghanistan – Captain Daniel Read, Corporal Lee Brownson and Rifleman Luke Farmer – through Wootton Bassett in January 2010.

Spring 2007

The bodies of fallen service personnel are to be repatriated through RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire rather than Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. This means funeral corteges will pass through Wootton Bassett en route to hospital in Oxford.

April 2007

The first repatriation takes place through Wootton. Mayor Percy Miles is told and decides to wear his mayoral robes to watch the cortege pass. The first soldiers to be honoured are Aaron Lincoln, 18, and Danny Wilson, 28.

2007 and 2008

The number of people lining the streets gradually grows. The local branch of the Royal British Legion begins to alert townspeople and veterans' groups when a repatriation is to take place. Hundreds, then thousands, many travelling from far afield, begin to turn out.

July 2009

The bodies of eight soldiers are repatriated. Three were killed as they rushed to rescue comrades injured in an earlier blast. For the first time relatives applaud and throw flowers.

Summer 2009

There is growing unease in the town over the attention focused on Wootton Bassett. Residents complain that the media is intruding and turning repatriations into a circus. Concern too at the outward shows of emotion by some family members.

November 2009

The body of bomb disposal expert Olaf Schmid is repatriated. His dignified widow, Christina Schmid, grabs headlines as she applauds the hearse carrying her husband's body.

November 2009

A particularly charged repatriation when the bodies of five soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan policeman are brought home. The BNP leader Nick Griffin appears in the crowd.

December 2009

Anger when the BBC films Question Time from Wootton Bassett. Residents have tried to keep politics out. Afghanistan dominates the show's agenda.

January 2010

The radical Islamist group Islam4UK causes outrage by announcing it wishes to stage an anti-war protest in the town. The idea is abandoned.

June 2010

The bodies of seven servicemen, killed in four separate incidents in Afghanistan, are repatriated. Two were killed in firefights, one by an explosion. Four died when their vehicle rolled into a canal.

March 2011

David Cameron announces Wootton Bassett is to become the first English town for more than a century to be granted the title "royal" to mark the way it has honoured fallen personnel.

August 2011

The final repatriation – the 167th takes place. In all 345 men and women have been repatriated through the town.

Another Minister Snapped In No 10 Document Trap

Papers make explicit the delight of government at the impending departure of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

They should really have learned their lesson by now. Andrew Mitchell yesterday became the latest senior figure to be photographed leaving Downing Street clutching sensitive Government documents in clear view of the waiting photographers.

Following in the footsteps of Caroline Flint, Danny Alexander and Metropolitan Police commander Bob Quick, Mr Mitchell was undone by the oldest trick of the modern digital camera: the ability to capture even the smallest print from yards away.

The International Development Secretary was shown leaving a National Security Council meeting yesterday morning with briefing notes on Afghanistan marked "protected".

The document made explicit the Government's delight at the impending departure of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and described British attitudes to criticism of the country's banking system by the IMF.

Confirming that the Government is pleased Mr Karzai is intending to stand down after two terms in office in 2014, the document reads: "This is very important. It improves Afghanistan's political prospects very significantly. We should welcome Karzai's announcement in public and in private."

The document also details Government concern, highlighted repeatedly by various international organisations in recent months, that foreign aid given to Afghanistan is sent to a finance ministry and banking sector that is notoriously corrupt. Some international funds to Afghanistan have been suspended, but the document suggests that this may destabilise transitional arrangements for handing over more power to the Afghan authorities.

Mr Mitchell's briefing document reads: "The World Bank have told us that the suspension of UK and other donor funds to the Afghan government will soon begin to destabilise activities essential for transition." The document adds that in the autumn the IMF will send a new inspection team to assess whether the situation has improved.

It continues: "We are hopeful that the government will have demonstrated sufficient progress towards credible reforms of the financial sector, and actions to address the Kabul bank fraud so that a new programme can be agreed over the autumn." Mr Mitchell apparently realised he had mistakenly displayed the confidential briefing papers but told an aide: "It is nothing top secret."

The Department for International Development later said the papers were "of a routine nature". A spokesman said: "They would have had a national security level marking of 'restricted' or 'confidential' if they contained anything of significant sensitivity."

Mr Mitchell could at least console himself that he is far from the first to be caught out like this. Former housing minister Ms Flint was snapped in 2008 carrying papers warning of a property crisis which could see house prices fall by 10 per cent, while last November Mr Alexander was pictured with a copy of the Government's spending review document, revealing a potential 490,000 public sector job losses.

The only person to lose their job was Met Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, who was snapped with a briefing of an ongoing counter-terrorism operation. Some raids had to be brought forward as a result and Mr Quick resigned.

A Formula For The Break-Up Of Britain

When the Barnett formula was devised in 1978, it was meant to share annual Government spending equitably between the countries of the United Kingdom according to their populations.

Unjust: Joel - now Baron - Barnett has advocated scrapping the funding formula he devised for Scotland

In the intervening decades, it has become nothing less than a grossly unfair tax on the English to subsidise lavish public services in Scotland.

This is because the formula has not changed, though the population of England has risen sharply over those 33 years, while that of Scotland has remained static.

The result is that the Scottish subsidy has grown to such an extent that even Lord Barnett, the former Labour cabinet minister who invented the formula, thinks it is unjust and should be scrapped.

New figures which we reveal today show that public spending is now £1,624 per person higher in Scotland than in England, up 15 per cent in just a year.

This equates to the average English family being forced to pay more than £400 a year to fund Scottish services, and that the figure is sure to go on rising.

The scale of the handout allows the Scots to enjoy benefits the English can only dream of – free prescriptions, residential elderly care, university tuition, primary school meals, hospital parking, and most recently cancer drugs.

The injustice is palpable and, unless rectified, it presents a real danger to the integrity of the Union.

Danger to the integrity of the Union: Scottish National Party leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond wants full independence.

Recent opinion polls show fewer than a third of Scots in favour of independence. But in England, a clear majority believe it is time for them to go it alone.

If the Barnett formula is not reformed, resentment south of the border can only grow and it may soon be the English, not the Scots who demand the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Is it too cynical to suggest that is precisely what Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond wants?

Harsh but fair

Even the leader of Britain’s prison governors has now joined the shrill chorus of liberal protest over tough punishments meted out to those involved in this month’s riots.

In an extraordinary and intemperate attack, Eoin McLennan-Murray accuses magistrates of indulging in a ‘sentencing frenzy’, likening them to ‘sharks when there’s blood in the water’.

He said guidelines were being flouted and defendants unfairly treated.

Flashpoint: Riots across London and other cities of England in earlier this month were among the worst scenes of civil disobedience in recent history.

There is no doubt that magistrates and judges have taken a robust approach. Of more than 1,400 people brought before the courts in connection with the mayhem, around 70 per cent have either been given jail terms or remanded in custody awaiting sentence — far more than is usual.

But what did Mr McLennan-Murray expect magistrates to do? Put them back on the streets to wreak more havoc?

Offences included aggravated burglary, robbery, violent disorder, assault, arson and even murder.

In their own right these are all serious crimes, but against a backdrop of indiscriminate looting, destruction and anarchy they constitute a serious danger to the fabric of society.

So, understandably, the courts came down hard on perpetrators, in many cases handing out exemplary sentences.

If punishments are deemed too harsh, there is a perfectly sound appeal court system to moderate them.

And precisely what does sentencing policy have to do with a prison governor anyway? His role is surely to contain, and where possible rehabilitate offenders, not determine how long they should serve.

Perhaps Mr McLennan-Murray should just get on with his own job and let magistrates get on with theirs.

British PM Rejects Idea MPs Partly To Blame For Riots

David Cameron and Ed Miliband clashed yesterday over whether the behaviour of politicians and bankers may have played a part in provoking last month's riots.

David Cameron has blamed the riots on Britain's 'broken society'.

Downing Street played down the findings of an academic research project suggesting lack of trust in politicians was a bigger factor in people's willingness to riot than other explanations such as lax moral values or poverty and the Government's spending cuts.

But Miliband, the leader of the Opposition, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, made clear that they were open-minded about whether alienation from the political class may have played a role.

Prime Minister Cameron, who regards the riots as a symbol of Britain's "broken society", yesterday began chairing a Cabinet review of the Government's social policies to see what changes are needed as a result of the riots. It will include state benefits, schools, parenting, family policy and whether health and safety and human rights laws prevent "common sense solutions" to social problems.

Commenting on the research by Essex University and Royal Holloway, University of London, Cameron's official spokeswoman said: "One can speculate but we are not necessarily going to know exactly what the causes were. The Prime Minister has been very clear. We have to have a very strong response in the wake of the public disorder."

The Liberal Democrats said the perception that politicians, bankers and others at the top were "getting away with it" may have been a factor in the refusal of rioters to abide by the "rules of the game" too.

Clegg is believed to be sympathetic to the academics' warning that depriving rioters of their state benefits could backfire - alienating them further and making them more likely to break the law again. Tory ministers have backed benefit cuts, but Clegg is warning Cabinet colleagues against a "kneejerk" response to the disturbances.

Labour sources said the academics' findings should be considered by the panel being set up by the Government to look into the reasons behind the riots.

Yesterday the Labour leader rejected Cameron's claim that the riots were caused by a breakdown in values. "There are issues of values but you've also got to address the issue of the values at the top of society, because the top of society sets an example for the rest and it hasn't been setting a good example in the last few years," Miliband said.

Miliband also promised to force a Commons vote on the cuts in police numbers.


Newspapers and broadcasters face growing pressure from the Metropolitan Police to hand over footage and pictures relating to the London riots.

Scotland Yard has threatened organisations with a court order forcing them to pass on material that may show "crime in action" if they refuse to comply.

Media groups have rejected the demands, maintaining that the press is an impartial recorder of events rather than an evidence-gathering mechanism for the police.

The police would have to convince a High Court judge that the police request outweighs the public interest of having a free press.

Other forces, including Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire, began approaching local and national media a fortnight ago.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

MPs Lash Out After Council Tries To Scrap The Chequebook

MPs are looking to curb the influence of the Payments Council following the recent dispute over the replacement of cheques.

A Treasury select committee report out today called for the "unfettered power" of the banking industry body to be cut back and safeguards to be put in place to ensure banks could not abandon cheques by "stealth".

Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the committee, branded the organisation lacking in "effective public accountability" and called for greater consumer representation.

"Cheques have been saved, for the moment, but we need to remain vigilant. The incentives for the industry to get rid of cheques has not gone away. Neither have we," he said.

"That is why we are making far–reaching recommendations about the future of the Payments Council as well as to secure the future of cheques."

The Payments Council had planned to replace cheques by 2018, however it had to backtrack on the plans following a surge of public pressure amidst fears of the effect on the elderly and vulnerable for whom cheques are a preferred method of payment.

Under the recommendations of the Treasury committee the Payments Council could be brought formally within the system of financial regulation.

They could also be required to obtain a commitment from banks to give them advance sight of any material related to the future availability of cheques.

Banks themselves could be obligated to write to customers stating that cheques will continue to be in use for the foreseeable future in an attempt to allay customers' fears.

Mr Tyrie said: "Banks have given many customers the impression that the abolition of cheques was a foregone conclusion. This type of behaviour is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue."

The committee has also suggested that banks consider the reintroduction of the cheque guarantee card.

Michelle Mitchell, Age UK's charity director, welcomed the potential return of the cheque guarantee card and called it an opportunity for banks and building societies to "live up to their word" and prove the future of cheques is safe.

She added: "Whatever happens, the banking industry must be clear about what it is going to do to ensure that cheques remain a widely accepted, safe and accessible option for those who rely on them.

"Cheques and other payment systems are essential services upon which the public relies – just like the provision of water and electricity.

"Their future must not be left solely to the banking industry and its representative bodies to determine."

Chris Leslie, Labour's shadow Treasury minister, welcomed the "very sensible" report from the committee.

He continued: "If the government don’t act I will be seeking amendments to the forthcoming Financial Services Regulation Bill to make sure that the needs of consumers - for instance, retaining the convenience of the cheque - are strengthened."

Savour Your Moment, Dave. But Don't Get Hooked On War Like Blair

David Cameron once famously scoffed that you don’t impose democracy from 10,000ft up.

But that is just what he — courtesy of NATO bomber jets — has done in Libya.

Having just about won the first foreign conflict he’s been involved in, the Prime Minister is now straining every sinew to avoid triumphalism.

Tough decisions: Mr Cameron, with troops, shouldn't go the same way as Tony Blair.

There will be no repeat of George Bush’s laughable 2003 made-for-TV assertion of ‘mission accomplished’, even as Iraq descended into post-war chaos.

That is the first of many lessons that Cameron hopes he has learned from that debacle.

To remove a tyrant, as Bush and Tony Blair discovered, is the easy part. It’s reconstructing countries numbed by dictatorship and torn apart by war that’s desperately difficult. Which faction is best suited to rule? What kind of political system should follow? How long should international forces be involved?

These are just a few of the questions facing the foreign leaders.

What Mr Cameron — and his advisers — must be wary about now is that this victory does not give him a taste for other foreign adventures.

Downing Street sources suggest that he spends as much as half of his day on foreign policy, and while it is right that Libya receives due attention, there is a danger in becoming too caught up in events beyond our shores.

Nearing the end? Rebel fighters gesture as they stamp on a part of a statue of Gaddafi inside the main compound in Tripoli.

When, alongside France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, he decided in January to launch air strikes to defend the city of Benghazi, the short-term aims were clear and laudable: to prevent a potential atrocity on the scale of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in the Nineties.

It was the legacy of the world’s appalling decision to turn away then that spawned the notion of ‘humanitarian intervention’ — the idea that states should use military force, where necessary, even if that meant flouting the traditional rules of sovereignty.

Blair, a man who had shown precious little interest in foreign affairs before he entered Downing Street soon found himself consumed by the idea that he could police all kinds of problems around the world and burnish his reputation on the international stage in the process.

He ended up fighting four wars in his first five years of office — Operation Desert Fox, during which Iraqi targets were bombed in 1998, Kosovo in 1999, Sierra Leone in 2000, Afghanistan in 2001, and then, fatefully, the war in Iraq in 2003.

It is easy to forget how, before the Iraq imbroglio, Blair was feted wherever he went. One high point was a trip in 1999 to Aachen, a city on Germany’s western border, to receive a prize as the world’s most respected international statesman that year.

Terror over? One of Gaddafi's men is arrested during search for the Libyan leader - but will Cameron take the credit?

The award is named after Charlemagne, the first Western emperor — and it was particularly notable that it had been given to a man who had come to see himself in that role.

Two years later, straight after 9/11, Blair luxuriated in the ovation he received from the American Congress for the support he had offered in America’s darkest hour.

He was rewarded with the unofficial title of Bush’s special emissary, tasked with winning round recalcitrant figures such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and General Pervez Musharraf to supporting Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the ‘war on terror’. At that point, Blair was in his element and succeeded in securing a broad alliance for these ventures.

He believed that the UK’s place in the world was defined by our proximity to whatever administration was in office in Washington. This was standard Whitehall practice, but Blair took it to a logical extreme.

Cameron is working in a somewhat different environment. Bush, the ‘toxic Texan’, is long gone. Barack Obama has shown a studied reluctance to become the world’s policeman-in-chief, knowing that fighting global battles no longer goes down well on Main Street U.S.

His support on Libya was cursory. In spite of the effusive words during his summer visit to London — and the perfect picture opportunity of the barbecue for service personnel on the Number 10 lawn — Obama no longer regards the British premier as the first button to press on his speed dial.

Agreement: French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to back intervention in Libya.

What little attention he does pay to foreign affairs, he has concentrated on the economic threat posed by China. It is not just the diplomatic landscape that has changed when it comes to committing British forces abroad. So have the economics.

While administering 8 per cent cuts to the defence budget, Cameron has found himself involved in two major conflicts: Libya and Afghanistan.

A recent House of Commons Defence Select Committee report pointed out glaring inconsistencies — ones that should cause any premier with a growing fascination with foreign adventures to pause for thought.

How, it asked, could the PM preside over a sudden intervention in Libya and a continued engagement of attrition in Afghanistan while cutting back the armed forces?

‘We are not convinced, given the financial climate and the drawdown of capabilities arising from the Strategic Defence and Security Review, that from 2015 the Armed Forces will maintain the capability to undertake all that is being asked of them,’ the MPs noted.

As for Cameron’s claim that the UK retains ‘full spectrum defence capability’ — that he could fight the good fight wherever he wanted — the committee was caustic: ‘We can only conclude that the Government has postponed the sensible aspiration of bringing commitments and resources into line.’ In other words, get real.

Cameron seems to have learned half the lessons of the Iraq debacle. Certainly, he was keen to avoid the duplicity and machinations of Blair and his ministerial team (although coalition ministers have been worryingly reluctant to divulge the costs of the NATO campaign in Libya).

Thus was Cameron was eager to secure the support of the UN, which approved the aim of saving Benghazi (but not the add-on of removing Gaddafi).

Dogs of war: It is hoped Cameron doesn't get as 'hooked' on war as Tony Blair and George Bush were.

Now, Libya is on the verge of erupting in celebration at the fall of the tyrant, at which point and Cameron and Sarkozy will discreetly give themselves a pat on the back. It will be worth celebrating the removal of one more despot. But many of the questions that dog interventions such as these will remain unresolved.

Blair fell in love with his own image on the international stage. It was so much more enjoyable than trying to reform recalcitrant public services, not to mention the myriad other squabbles and deal-making that make up the tedious slog of domestic politics.

During his wars, the hero worship from a small town in Germany to the U.S. went to his head. He then fell to earth with Iraq, his reputation in tatters. Cameron, as is so often said, believes himself to be the heir to Blair.

His aides have studied the speeches and read the books.

But having made a good fight of the North African venture, the Prime Minister would do well to keep his confidence in check, and to work doggedly for a coherent reconstruction of Libya.

And all the while, he would be wise to remember that ultimately prime ministers are re-elected — or not — on their performance in domestic affairs.

A Britain still recovering from the riots and in the throes of economic malaise is in need of all the care and attention that some premiers prefer to expend on countries thousands of miles from Downing Street.

Cameron Still Lacks A Foreign Policy Vision

What kind of a power do we want to be? How do we achieve that ambition? Cameron is unsure.

David Cameron greets troops after making a speech to British and American troops at Camp Leatherneck military base on July 4, 2011 in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Nato's mission in Libya looks like a foreign policy success for David Cameron, but that is not the same thing as having a successful foreign policy.

First, the obvious caveats: it is early days; the battle is not over, let alone the war. There are easily enough military and diplomatic traps ahead for the Libyan intervention to become a failure. The prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the foreign secretary and the defence secretary have all said as much. But for now, the politics of the situation are favouring Cameron. He took a big decision under considerable pressure and, after some nerve-wracking months, it appears to have paid off. "He definitely leapt before he looked," was how one senior Ministry of Defence official put it too me early on in the campaign. (The same source also said of the anti-Gaddafi rebels "the only good fighters among them are the al-Qaeda ones", a slightly wild allegation which should nonetheless be reason enough to put blind optimism for the future on hold.)

Libyans will decide whether they are better off in the long run for the UK's military partisanship in their insurrection-cum-civil war. The point is that, in the eyes of the British public, Cameron has effectively led a short war. There are usually political dividends to be drawn from that position.

But I suspect they will be limited in this case because, as with so much of Cameron's leadership, the good news story doesn't slot into a wider strategic narrative. It is worth remembering that the Conservatives came into power signalling reluctance to reshape the world - a la Blair - by military excursion. The new doctrine, as spelled out by William Hague in a series of speeches in July 2010, was a kind of bilateral mercantilism. The UK would continue to promote freedom and democracy around the globe, the foreign secretary said, but the main tool would be aggressive pursuit of trade interests. Overseas embassies would be reconfigured as pushy chambers of commerce.

Barely weeks before taking action in Libya, Cameron declared: "I am not a naive neocon who thinks you can drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000ft." The fact that Cameron then decided to use British military assets against Gaddafi doesn't signal some visionary conversion to fanatical interventionism. Libya might be a one-off; Gaddafi might just have been low-hanging despotic fruit.

To get the maximum political advantage from the intervention, Cameron has to frame the episode in terms of his vision of Britain's role in the world - and it isn't clear that he has one. The project of expanding our national influence by trade is looking trickier as the global economy falters. As an ambition it is of a pair with George Osborne's hope of rebalancing the economy and driving growth through exports - which relies on a level of overseas demand for UK goods that has not yet materialised.

A big gap in Cameron's world view (at least the publicly known portion of it) is his sense of how Britain's position in the European Union will evolve as the single currency lurches ever onward in financial and institutional crisis. As I mentioned in my column this week, this omission is stirring dissent in the party. A lot of Tories see the eurozone crisis as an opportunity to start a wholesale renegotiation of Britain's EU deal, but there isn't much appetite for that at the top of the party. (This is partly because the leadership's view of all matters EU is coloured by their "modernising" crusade in opposition, so there is an association between public expressions of fierce euroscepticism and unelectability. Then, of course, there is the problem of the stubbornly Europhile Lib Dems.)

The Arab Spring; global economic turbulence; structural crisis at the heart of the European Union - three giant themes that raise profound questions about Britain's position in the world. What kind of a power do we want to be? How do we achieve that ambition? I don't get the impression that Cameron is any closer to having persuasive answers to those questions than he was when he moved into Downing Street last year.

Britain And US Accused Of Playing Politics With Megrahi's Condition

The British and US governments were last night accused of ignoring the law and engaging in "international politicking" over the Lockerbie bomber, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi.

Alex Salmond said images of Megrahi in a coma and close to death showed why he had been released in the first place.

The Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond turned on the Foreign Secretary William Hague and on US senators who have repeatedly criticised the decision by his Scottish nationalist administration to free Megrahi on compassionate grounds.

He said images from Tripoli showing Megrahi in a coma and close to death underlined why he had been released in the first place and suggested that calls for his return to prison in Scotland had no legal standing.

Privately, government sources admit that they have no interest in pursuing the extradition of Megrahi despite the regime change in Libya. But they are anxious not to be seen as condoning the decision to release him. Macabre as it may be, ministers would like to see Megrahi die quickly and end the two-year controversy over his early release.

In his first public comments on the case since the fall of Tripoli, Mr Salmond welcomed the view of the Libyan transitional council that it would not consider extraditing Megrahi either to the UK or the US. "Perhaps if we all followed due process of law as the Scottish government has done and ceased the international politicking around this, then we could all be in a much better place," he said.

"The only people with any authority in this matter are the Scottish government who have jurisdiction on the matter – he is a Scottish prisoner under licence – and the new Libyan transitional council, who are the new duly constituted legal authority in Libya.

"We have never had and do not have any intention of asking for the extradition of Mr Megrahi. It's quite clear from the Libyan transitional council that following their own laws they had never any intention of agreeing to such extradition."

Mr Salmond dismissed the suggestion that Megrahi could be questioned further about the bombing, saying: "You've seen the CNN pictures as I have. I think the idea that he would be available for interview in any recognisable form is pretty far-fetched ... Mr Megrahi remains a sick man, dying of prostate cancer."

Mr Salmond said that the investigation into the bombing remained open as it had been for the past 20 years and could be helped by the regime change in Libya. "There are matters that still could be progressed on the Lockerbie bombing. The Scottish Crown Office have made it clear that if any other evidence emerges, any other people are available to give evidence, or any other indictments are possible, that they stand ready to follow these leads."

John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, persisted with the argument for extraditing Megrahi to the US. "Personally, I think the United States made a mistake in agreeing that he be tried under Scottish law, which doesn't provide for the death penalty," Mr Bolton said.

"I don't much think of what the Scottish government thinks. I think the United States should insist that Megrahi be tried in the United States and face trial here."


December 1988

Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York explodes over Lockerbie. The 259 people on board the Boeing 747 are killed, as well as 11 on the ground.

November 1991

US and British investigators indict Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Lamin Khalifa Fhimah on 270 counts of murder, accusing them of being Libyan intelligence agents.

April 1992

The UN Security Council imposes sanctions on weapons sales and air travel after Libya refuses to meet a 15 April deadline.

August 1998

Libya agrees to the two facing trial at a court in the Netherlands.

May 2000

The trial of the two begins, amid a large security operation.

January 2001

Megrahi is found guilty and jailed for a minimum of 20 years. Fhimah is found not guilty.

March 2002

Megrahi loses an appeal, heard by five Scottish judges.

August 2003

The families of the victims agree a compensation package with the Libyan government of £1.7bn.

August 2009

Megrahi is released after doctors say he has cancer and has only three months to live.

August 2011

Megrahi's brother is reported as saying that Megrahi is in a coma. Scottish government officials say his "condition is consistent with terminal cancer".

Ministers 'Must Not Undermine' GCSE Results

Labour shadow minister Andy Burnham has warned the government off "undermining" the achievements of young people receiving GCSE results by focusing only on the English Baccalaureate.

The English Baccalaureate has not been universally welcomed by schools.

Whilst the shadow education secretary said that today's GCSE results "reflect well" on young people, teachers and schools, he also warned that the government risks "restricting" students with the EBac.

The EBac system places emphasis on traditional core subjects such as maths, English, science, a modern language and either history or geography by measuring how many students receive A-C grades in these topics.

Mr Burnham said: "These results show young people are making sensible choices to prepare them for the modern world, with big increases in the sciences, religious studies and economics.

"Ministers should listen to the education select committee and introduce more flexibility and choice into the English Baccalaureate.

"Otherwise, they risk restricting student choice and penalising young people whose strengths and interest lies in the arts, music, ICT, engineering, business and economics."

Trends for subjects selected at GCSE level were released today and showed a slight decline in modern foreign languages, history and geography, despite the fact that these are all specified EBac subjects.

Nick Gibb, schools minister, said: "While it is encouraging to see the rising uptake in maths and single sciences, it is worrying that once again there are falling numbers studying languages.

"Through the English Baccalaureate, we want to make sure all pupils have the chance to study the core academic subjects which universities and employers demand."

Today's results also showed a growing disparity between the results of boys and girls.

The number of boys achieving top grades was 19.8%, compared to 26.5% of girls. Last year the gap was six per cent, but this year it is up to 6.7%.

Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, said that the growing divide in the performances of girls and boys was a "worrying trend".

In an improvement on last year though 69.8% of all GCSE entries were awarded at least a C, which is the 23rd straight increase on the total.

Almost one in four GCSE papers gained an A or A* grade, which is also an increase on last year.

Despite this Chris Keates, general secretary of NASUWT teaching union, criticised the "betrayal" of young people by the government.

She said: "In just over 12 months, this government has stripped away many of the opportunities available.

"Apprenticeships have been slashed, financial support axed through the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, youth unemployment has soared and university places cut.

"The coalition has ripped up the social contract between the state and young people."

Bankers Say Put Reforms On Hold Until Markets And Economy Recover

Director general of Confederation of British Industry says ploughing ahead with overhaul would be 'barking mad'.

Angela Knight, the banks' lobbyist, warns implementing reforms from ICB report could derail economic recovery.

The head of Britain's biggest lobby group will urge ministers to shelve plans for a major overhaul of banking on Tuesday, warning that they would be "barking mad" to plough ahead with it while the economy is still fragile.

Moving too quickly to separate the retail and investment arms of banks, under plans to be unveiled by the Independent Commission on Banking in two weeks, could threaten the economic recovery by stemming the flow of credit to businesses, John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, has warned.

"Taking action at this moment – this moment of growth peril, which weakens the ability of banks in Britain to provide the finance that businesses need to grow – is just, to me, barking mad," Cridland told the Financial Times.

Cridland's intervention comes a day after similar warnings from Angela Knight, the head of the British Bankers' Association (BBA) and will add to the pressure on the chancellor to slow down the reforms.

Sir John Vickers is poised to publish his final report in a fortnight's time and is expected to recommend ringfencing banks' retail operations from their investment banking functions. George Osborne will then decide whether and at what pace to implement any reforms, which are highly sensitive in coalition politics with the Liberal Democrats pushing hard for radical change.

Previous reports have suggested that the chancellor is considering radical ring-fencing, but over a lengthy timetable of up to eight years, mindful of the immediate impact on the economy.

Any suggestion of a delay would be furiously opposed by the Lib Dems. Last night, an aide to the business secretary, Vince Cable, said: "We don't want to pre-empt Vickers but we don't see that tremors in the market are any excuse to delay. We need the framework in place as soon as possible so banks recover on the right trajectory. We recognise it can't be done overnight."

In an apparent dig at the Liberal Democrats who are insisting the reforms go ahead, Cridland expressed frustration that the issue was being sidetracked by politics. "This was all about safer banks for a safer economy. It wasn't about politics," he said. "And I get a sense that there's a little bit of 'we'll do this because of political reasons'.

"We don't want to force some of our remaining world class British companies to shift away from a focus on the UK because the rules have been set unilaterally in the UK," he said. "There's an own goal here about to be scored if we get this wrong."

Knight argued that any reforms to come out of the Commission should be put on hold until the economy has recovered and taxpayers have been repaid for bailing out the banks.

"We have a high degree of uncertainty, market turbulence and lack of confidence that governments in other countries have got a sufficient grip on their economies. We are in for a very difficult autumn," she said.

"This is, therefore, the time to concentrate on economic recovery and paying back... the government and taxpayers. By all means think about new regulation but now is not the time to add that as an overlay with respect to costs, uncertainty or whether it is going to do anything beneficial anyway."

The Treasury said in a statement: "The government set up the ICB to ask the difficult questions that weren't asked before the crisis and this is exactly what the commission is doing. We look forward to receiving the final report on 12 September."

Debt Crisis: Is The Great Reckoning Upon Us?

Gordon Brown: one of the chief architects.

In response to the crisis of 2008, UK policy-makers did five key things:

1. They bailed out a number of banks that had inadequate capital.
2. They insisted that banks that were not bailed out had to raise additional capital privately.
3. They raised spending, by around £110 billion (mainly by continuing with previously-scheduled large. spending rises even though the situation had changed).
4. They enacted a temporary tax cut (around £12.5 billion).
5. They printed money (around £200 billion).

Of these policies, the first three were serious errors. The last (money-printing) was done well, and was the key reason for the growth from mid-2009 to mid-2010. The temporary tax cut was in principle a good idea, though it would have been better to have cut income tax than VAT. And if we had not done the ill-conceived spending rises, we could have made the temporary tax cut at least three times (perhaps six times) as big. Extensive academic studies have demonstrated that temporary tax cuts provide much more effective stimulus than spending rises (indeed, since spending rises may be believed to be permanent – as they often are – they can make households and businesses believe that the medium-term growth outlook is worse (as it would be if the public spending stayed up) and thus actually damage growth even in the short term.

However, although raising spending was an error, much the worst error was bailing out the banks. As of 2008, the situations in the UK, Spain and Ireland were all fairly similar: each had had a serious housing bubble; each had banking sectors of above 400 per cent of GDP; none of them had particular high government debt; all had government deficits headed towards 10 per cent of GDP. There was no intrinsic way for us to know that Ireland would be very rapidly ruined by its decision to bail out the banks, whilst in Britain it would be more drawn out, and in Spain matters would be somewhere in between. Irish nominal GDP shrank by around 20 per cent in 2008/9. (The worst recession of the past century in Britain was that of the early 1920s, when nominal GDP shrank by around 28 per cent.)

Bailing out the banks meant that the governments of Britain, Ireland, Spain and elsewhere took onto the public balance sheet the liabilities of the banking sector. (I occasionally read articles suggesting that this is true in a metaphorical sense, because of the large deficits run. No. It is true in a literal sense. According to National Statistics, the liabilities of RBS and Lloyds are UK government liabilities.) This overstretch in the government balance sheet is a key reason the government needs to cut the deficit as quickly as it does – without the commitments to the banks, we would have been able to run larger deficits for longer (especially if those deficits were the result of temporary tax cuts).

I would have opposed bailing out the banks even if I had been certain it would “work” in its own terms. It is immoral to tax poor people to keep rich people rich, despite their bad investment choices, and it destroys the functioning of capitalism. But there was always the danger that – as in Ireland – they wouldn’t work in any sense, but would simply bankrupt the governments involved. The crisis of 2008/9 was not simply a liquidity crisis. It was not the result of market irrationality. It was not even simply a matter of insolvency arising from past losses. In a number of cases the business models of financial institutions were no longer going concerns – they were value-destroying enterprises, not value-creating ones. This was not simply a matter of gambles with fancy financial derivatives. Even before the bonds market madness of 2005-7, around 30 per cent of the gross income of European retail banking came from mortgages. But mortgage volumes remain way down on their mid-2000s levels, and even when they come back the value of transactions will be much lower. The only way a number of these business could continue without significant restructuring of the sort that would occur under administration is for governments to provide an ongoing stream of subsidies.

Recent developments in financial markets suggest that we may soon face a Great Reckoning for the policy errors of 2008/9. Some bank shares are now worth less than before nationalisation; the cost of insuring the debts of some banks has recently been higher than the 2008 peaks. Governments have been arrogant in assuming themselves capable of bailing out some of these monster banks, when they had made such bad losses. They have been deluded in assuming that significant structural change was not required in the banking sector. There is now a significant risk that, around Europe in particular, many state-owned banks will go bust, despite government backing. If it happens, this is likely to bring down governments – indeed, may even lead to constitutional overthrows in two or three countries. The consequence could be another recession as bad to twice as bad as that of 2008/9.

In countries such as Britain and Ireland and Spain, that ought to have been OK. Public debt – setting aside banking sector liabilities – is not at critical levels even now. We ought to be able to cut taxes temporarily, increase deficits, and see ourselves through in the normal way. Unfortunately, because of government over-commitments in the banking sector, we will struggle to maintain solvency even by cutting spending as aggressively as is politically deliverable.

A further phase of recession (indeed, even simply tepid growth) will necessitate further spending cuts. The UK political debate is still stuck in an absurd situation in which a supposedly-serious political party, egged on by quite a section of the press, still wants to pretend that the alternative to the Coalition’s programme would be to cut spending less and cut slower. The truth is that we are likely to have to cut spending more and faster. Indeed, there is a chance that we shall yet be forced to cut spending much faster – including on sacred cows like health – because a further phase of recession could well lead financial markets to lose confidence in our government’s bonds, as they have lost confidence in the bonds of other governments.

Much of this was avoidable. We did not need to bail out the banks, bankrupting multiple governments in the process. There were alternatives, such as imposing debt-equity swaps. We did not need to whack up spending, undermining long-term growth rates. We could have kept spending under control and instead cut taxes.

Four years after the financial crisis began, in the summer of 2007, we still send tens of billions more, every few months, to bail out the banks – though these days we have rebranded our banking sector bailouts “sovereign debt bailouts”. The patience of taxpayers with such nonsense is an affront to democracy – No. More than that: democracy has failed, and in a number of European states political upheaval may (justly) be part of a Great Reckoning.

Perhaps we shall muddle through, for a little while yet, with policy errors simply leading to hidden damage and injustice – as usual. But if, despite the trillions poured into them, large government-backed banks now go bust, dragging down their states’ solvency in the process, the bailouts of 2008/9 will go down as the greatest economic folly in history. And I shall be bitter and ungracious enough to say: I told you so.

No work, No Money, No Security - What Would Life Be Like If I Lost My Job?

For Jon Robins it's a hypothetical question, but what he learns about that possible future reveals the devastating situation that an increasing number of credit crunch victims and their families are facing.

The small waiting room at Brighton and Hove Citizens Advice bureau, based in Hove town hall, is heaving. The network of bureaux is at the sharp end of the credit crunch and reports a 52 per cent rise in the number of inquiries relating to redundancy in the past six months.

Cash is here to examine the catastrophic impact that job loss can have on a family's financial wellbeing. What happens when a breadwinner suddenly loses his or her job and there are young children to clothe and feed, not to mention the mortgage and bills to pay?

'It isn't just the fact that people lose their job, but that their whole lives can unravel. Everything can fall apart - that's what is so terrible,' says Sheelagh Reid, a 61-year-old adviser who has volunteered at Brighton Citizens Advice for 15 years. The experience can be as upsetting for advisers as it is devastating for clients, she adds. 'I enjoy my work but I wouldn't want to do more than one day a week. It's draining.'

She is considering the financial fate of a fairly typical household that has been abruptly deprived of a £40,000 salary. For the purpose of this exercise, I am playing the part of a breadwinner who's been comfortable in his well-remunerated job for 14 years prior to falling victim to a tanking economy. My (fictional) family has, by today's standards, an unremarkable level of indebtedness: £80,000 to pay on the mortgage and £4,000 outstanding on the credit cards.

Even so, the prognosis is grim. A person 'like the hypothetical you', as Reid puts it, 'is unlikely to have much put by the way of savings. People just don't save any more ... so, sadly, redundancy can destroy marriages and the whole fabric of lives can fall apart.'

It is a view shared by Beccy Boden Wilks from National Debtline, who advises me over the phone before I set off. She reckons the average Briton's savings would only last 52 days if they were to lose their job. According to the Yorkshire building society, average monthly outgoings are £1,445 and the average accessible savings are £2,474. 'Losing a job leaves us incredibly exposed,' she says. 'Few of us would be immune.'

These are questions I asked Citizens Advice:
How much would my employer have to pay if he sacks me after 14 years' faithful service?

Reid wants to know if I have contractual rights exceeding the bare legal requirements. No, I don't.

People are often shocked at how little statutory redundancy pay is, she says. 'You don't get anything until you have been working there for two years and there is a maximum amount you can be paid' - one week for each year's service up to the age of 41 and then one and a half weeks per year, capped at £330 a week.

For the hypothetical me, with my 14 years' service, that adds up to £4,620. If my redundancy pay was meant to be a cushion to soften the blow, then, as Emily Ballantyne, the specialist advice unit manager at Brighton CAB, says it's rather threadbare.
How much will we have to live on?

The answer is £140.38 a week. OK, that's an estimate, but it's likely to be as little as that. According to National Debtline, we would get Jobseeker's Allowance (£94.95 for a couple), £14.08 in tax credits (because I have been working and just lost my job, they are lower than they would have been if I hadn't been working for the past two years), and £31.35 child benefit. 'From that sum you'd have to pay your mortgage, utilities, telephone, car, insurance - everything,' says Boden Wilks. 'The only thing you aren't going to pay out for is council tax' - apparently, I'm entitled to council tax benefit.
How am I going to be able to pay our mortgage?

I'm probably not. It's easy to see that without payment protection insurance (which neither I nor my fictional self have), I'm not going to be able to cover my monthly mortgage payments of £550. 'You need to contact your lender if you have no insurance. Say that you are on Jobseeker's Allowance, you can't afford your mortgage but you're looking for work and hoping to get work,' advises Boden Wilks.

From 5 January, the government will step in to help homeowners with their mortgage interest after 13 weeks of unemployment. The maximum size of mortgage qualifying for help will also rise, from £100,000 to £200,000. But although my £80,000 mortgage is the right size to qualify for help now, because the hypothetical me was made redundant before 5 January, I won't qualify for help for 39 weeks.

So what do the mortgage companies have to say? Lenders can begin court action when homeowners are two months in arrears (though the pre-Budget report wants them to wait three months at least). The sooner I contact my lender, the more options I have, Sarah Robson from the Council of Mortgage Lenders tells me. 'There's no one-size-fits-all approach. The lender will assess the individual situation the borrower is in and try to find a reasonable repayment option.'

This could mean moving on to an interest-only loan, taking a payment holiday or extending the length of the mortgage. As Ballantyne is quick to point out, an £80,000 interest-only mortgage with a 5 per cent interest rate would still cost me £333 a month. The best scenario is a payment holiday, she adds.

Unfortunately, my notional mortgage company (the Halifax) tells me that it doesn't offer them in the event of redundancy. A spokesman says they might agree 'a reduced payment or a nil payment for a period of time' (apparently not the same as a payment holiday). I have not missed a mortgage payment for 14 years; could I have a nil-payment period? That will depend on my circumstances, he tells me.
What about my £4,000 credit card bill?

Sort out your priority from your non-priority debts, advises Ballantyne - and remember that 'credit cards aren't priority debts. Most people don't understand that. Priority debts are your rent or mortgage, fuel bills and council tax. Non-priorities are unsecured loans - credit cards, store cards, and catalogues.'

Creditors with non-priority debts will scream loudest, ring you up at home and deluge you with red-letter demands, says Boden Wilks. The reason for that is that their money isn't secured against anything you own, so they're worried they won't get it back.

She recommends I start by filling out National Debtline's budget sheet which enables me to calculate my available income after we've paid mortgage, council tax, gas and electricity. If there's any money left for my creditors, we can work out what we can afford to pay and contact creditors making 'pro rata' offers.

I ring up Barclaycard: 'Will you cut me some slack on my £4,000 until I get back on my feet?' Not exactly; but, as the spokesman puts it, they can 'guarantee that we'll be sympathetic'. He goes on to explain they might use a number of options, 'such as accepting reduced repayments for a period of time or looking to agree a repayment plan'.
What about fuel bills?

Payments can be recalculated and direct debits reset on a lower tariff, says Patricia Ockenden of new watchdog Consumer Focus. 'It all depends on your level of consumption, the property and the amount of difficulty you're in. It's always possible for consumers to renegotiate their tariff and look at other ways of paying for their energy.' She warns me to stay clear of prepayment meters, which suppliers might suggest as a means of economising: 'You have to be very cautious. You could end up paying a tariff far greater than you would be if you paid by a different means and moving back to the standard meter can be costly as well.' Ballantyne agrees - she calls them 'debt recovery machines'. Consumer Focus has good advice if you are having problems paying your bills (

I ask EDF what it can do for me. For its 'most in need' customers, it offers a long-term social tariff. This would include someone on Jobseeker's Allowance if they spend more than 10 per cent of their income on their energy bills (more than likely if I'm on benefits). 'Our customers - including those on prepayment meters - can access our social tariff,' a spokesman says. He reckons that EDF's 'Energy Assist' represents an annual saving on an average bill of up to £184.90, assuming a dual-fuel tariff.
How am I going to feed my family?

Boden Wilks says the guideline for housekeeping for two adults and two children is around £500 a month, a figure agreed between the debt advice sector and credit industry: 'You're not going to be spending that much, though,' she warns. 'Your monthly income on Jobseeker's is only £608.31. You're going to shop as cheaply as possible.'
What you need to know

Is the rule 'last in, first out' still used?
Some businesses may still operate on this basis, but they have to be careful. If all the people made redundant are young, the employees could claim against their employer on the grounds of age discrimination.

How quickly can I sign on?
It depends on your particular circumstances and how your final payoff is regarded by your Jobcentre Plus. The best thing is to ring up (0800 0556688) and provide your details immediately. You will then be given an appointment to see an adviser who can determine when, and if, you qualify.

How much money will I get?
The standard Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) is £47.95 a week for people under the age of 25, and £60.50 a week for over-25s, and lone parents aged 18 or more. You may also qualify for other benefits, so check, either with your local Jobcentre Plus or Citizens Advice. If you are unable to work, you may be able to claim Income Support (the same amount of money) instead. You can claim by calling 0800 0556688 or online at In Northern Ireland, you claim JSA at a Jobs and Benefits Office or Social Security Office.

Will the money be cut off if I refuse to take a job?
It could be. To claim JSA you must be capable of working, below state pension age, available for work and actively seeking it. If you fail to take up a job offer, or follow up chances of work, you may be penalised. Your JSA could be reduced or stopped for between one and 26 weeks. You can also be penalised because of the circumstances in which you left your last job, for example, if you left voluntarily or were dismissed because of misconduct.

Will I get help with my mortgage?
If you are eligible for JSA or income support, you can claim help with the monthly interest, but not repayment of the loan itself.

When you get help depends on its size (help is only extended to loans up to £100,000) and when you took out your mortgage: if it was before 2 October 1995, you will get nothing for eight weeks, then 50 per cent for the next 18, and the full amount after 26; if you took out your loan on or after that date, you will have to wait for 39 weeks. From 5 January, the waiting period will be reduced to 13 weeks, and the maximum limit raised to £200,000.

Should I use my redundancy payment to reduce or pay off my mortgage?
It depends how much money you get. If you receive a huge amount, then why not pay off at least part of your mortgage? But if you get tens of thousands of pounds or less, you should probably hold onto a large part of the cash to meet bills and in case of an emergency.

I can't afford to pay all my bills - which ones should I concentrate on?
Mortgage or rent, council tax and utilities, and anything affected by a judgement order or bailiff action. If you fail to pay these, you could end up homeless.

I can't manage my debts now I've lost my salary - should I take out one of those plans advertised on TV?
Definitely not. Although they purport to cut your debts, they will charge a large amount to set up the plan. Instead, seek free advice from one of the debt-counselling charities, such as Citizens Advice (, National Debtline (0808 808 4000), Capitalise (in London - 020 7392 2953) or Consumer Credit Counselling Service (0800 138 1111).

School Dinners To Rise By 17%, Warns Consumer Watchdog

Parents will have to pay up to 25% more for their children’s school dinners, a survey has found.

Consumer watchdog Which? discovered the price is rising in two-thirds of schools across the country this year – while the quality of food could plummet.

Parents would rather give their children packed lunches as they believe them to be cheaper and their children do not like school dinners, according to the research. Schools in Poole are the most expensive in the country at an average of £2.50.

But Doncaster Council has increased prices by 17% to between £1.70 and £2 a meal while Lewisham has upped theirs by 14%, from £1.40 to £1.60.

Bolton saw the biggest increase at 25%, although its prices still remain the lowest in the country at £1.25.

It is estimated that 55% of students would need to take school meals in order to keep costs down.

But the research just 45% of pupils in England have them. Richard Lloyd of Which? said yesterday: “It will come as an unwelcome surprise to hard-pressed families to see some local authorities increasing prices well above inflation.

“Meals in most areas are still a relatively low-cost and low-hassle way to provide a decent lunch for your kids.

“But if schools cannot find ways to protect the extra funding that has gone to school meals and increase the numbers taking them, there’s a real risk of even more hikes or a drop in standards, undoing progress made in the past five years.”

Phone Hacking: Judge To Question Rupert And James Murdoch Under Oath

Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, are to be questioned about the phone hacking scandal under oath in the High Court.

Rupert Murdoch and his son, James, are to be questioned about the phone hacking scandal under oath in the High Court.

Lord Justice Leveson, the man who prosecuted Rose West, will hold his inquiry at the Royal Courts of Justice.

David Cameron and other senior politicians are also likely to be questioned over their links to News International, the parent company of the News of the World.

The proceedings will be held in the same court as the official inquiry into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Lord Justice Leveson is thought to be keen for the proceedings to be broadcast live to ensure they are seen to be transparent.

The prospect of courtroom evidence will increase the impression that the Leveson inquiry is an unofficial “trial” of key players in the phone hacking scandal.

Over the summer, a handful of officials from the Cabinet Office and Treasury Solicitor’s Office have been planning how the inquiry will be run.

The team will set up a full-time office in the Royal Courts of Justice before the formal start of proceedings in October. The focus of the inquiry is “the culture, practices and ethics of the press in the context of the latter’s relationship with the public, police and politicians”.

It was ordered by Mr Cameron in the wake of the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of the News of the World and held out the possibility of tougher press regulation in future.

Lord Justice Leveson has powers firstly to invite witnesses to give evidence, and then to compel them under the Inquiries Act 2005.

Sources close to the inquiry said Lord Justice Leveson would not be constrained in who he asked to testify, adding that the judge “will go where the evidence takes him”.

Dozens of letters have been sent to potential witnesses asking if they will help the inquiry. The deadline for submissions to the inquiry is tomorrow.

The Murdochs, as well as Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both former editors of the News of the World, are likely to be called.

Mr Cameron, who subsequently hired Mr Coulson to work for the Conservative Party and then in 10 Downing Street, could also be asked to give evidence. A source close to Downing Street said the Prime Minister would be happy to give evidence if asked.

The inquiry will begin with a series of seminars at the end of next month, attended by senior journalists and other interested parties. They will examine topics including the law, ethics of journalism and the “practice and pressures of investigative journalism”.

They will also look at how press regulation will protect the integrity, freedom and independence of the press, while ensuring the highest standards.

The hacking inquiry might not be complete by next summer after Mr Cameron expanded it to include broadcasters and bloggers.

Opening the inquiry, Lord Justice Leveson said he would “strive” to complete his inquiry after 12 months but said this would not happen “at all cost”.

The inquiry team, which includes George Jones, the former political editor of The Daily Telegraph, and Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil liberties group Liberty, would have to “exercise very considerable discipline and, where appropriate, restraint” to deliver the report on time.

The Travellers Of Dale Farm Face Judgment Day

There is anger and resentment on both sides as the bailiffs prepare to make their move at Europe’s largest gipsy site.

Down a narrow lane and beyond the pile of old tyres and barbed-wire-wrapped scaffolding that marks the entrance to Dale Farm, a knot of men in T-shirts are standing shaking their heads and gesticulating.

Close by, a dozen or so women, hair raked back in ponytails, toddlers at their brightly painted toes, are clustered around a silver Mondeo. All are listening intently to a local radio station that is also blaring out of almost every caravan, car and chalet on each pot-holed track of this ramshackle site, the largest traveller site in Europe, near the village of Crays Hill in Essex.

“I’m very angry,” one woman shouts, face screwed up and emotions unchecked. “Why is that lady on the radio putting out all that c--p about us? I have three children. Where am I going to go?”

The immediate source of provocation is Radio Essex, which is running a phone-in on the 10-year battle between Basildon council and the travellers who have been living here illegally since 2001.

Understandably, the travellers don’t take too kindly to the locals ringing in to say they should “go back to Ireland”, and calling them, “a bunch of people who are trying to avoid paying tax and ignoring the rules of the land’’. But the real tension is caused by the knowledge that, for many of those who have made their homes here, time is running out. Tomorrow, a 28-day notice issued by Basildon council requiring them to vacate the site will expire. Judges at the High Court will hear a plea for a last-minute injunction against eviction. If this fails – it follows a tortuous process involving a tumult of appeals and judicial reviews, pronouncements from Amnesty International and the UN, and a BBC documentary (entitled, inevitably, My Big Fat Gypsy Eviction) – the bailiffs will finally be free to move in to restore this land to green belt.

What will happen when they do?

The answer is keenly anticipated by all those who have ever had an unwanted, and illegal, gipsy or traveller camp on their doorstep, as well as anyone who lives near a temptingly empty field. Travellers have a track record of invading and colonising such spots – often over public holidays when council offices are closed – and of bringing in mechanical diggers and laying concrete bases for their mobile homes in a matter of hours and then exploiting the impossible slowness of bureaucratic procedures to stay.

The facts are these. There has been an authorised traveller site, with permission for 34 pitches, here since the mid-Nineties. Ten years ago, a six-acre plot – Dale Farm – next to this site was bought by two English gipsies who subdivided it into plots and sold them on to other travellers. Today Dale Farm resembles a small derelict estate, with tarmac and gravel tracks, brick walls, railings topped with barbed wire, caravans, chalets and gateposts sporting elaborate finials. Around 240 people live here but Dale Farm does not have, and has never had, planning permission for any of its 51 pitches.

The travellers claim that, although the land is green belt, it was never a prized beauty spot. “It wasn’t all babbling brooks and big oak trees when we moved here,” says Bridget McCarthy. “It was a broken down scrapyard.” (The council confirms that a corner of the land had been used, without permission, as a scrapyard since the Sixties).

“How long did it take us to clear it?” continues Bridget. “Three weeks,” shouts someone else in the group jostling around me.

It’s certainly true that the camp is tucked away, out of sight of most of its neighbours. Of those who live on Oak Road, which backs on to it, only one has made vocal complaints. Three other families I speak to shrug and say that they don’t notice it’s there, but two others shake their heads and refuse to comment. Their reticence may have something to do with the fact that the one local who has made a very public fuss has received death threats. “If we go, he goes,” some travellers told film-maker Richard Parry.

But that’s not to say the presence of Dale Farm hasn’t made an impact. The local primary, Crays Hill, is now almost exclusively a travellers’ school; 107 of the 110 registered pupils are from the travelling community. They don’t always turn up for class – the Ofsted report cites “significantly below average attendance levels” – and tend to lag behind their peers academically. Local parents have felt pressured into bussing their children out of the area to other schools.

The proximity of Dale Farm has also wiped tens of thousands of pounds off property prices. On a nearby street, where houses are worth £500,000 to £600,000, one resident estimates that the value of his house has dropped by “around £100,000’’.

He says: ''My wife and I would have moved by now otherwise, but we can’t, unless we take a hit and move into somewhere smaller.” Another neighbour said: “The council reclassified all our council tax bands because of it; mine went down from a G to an F.” But property prices and the eyesore on their doorstep isn’t what really antagonises the locals. What most upsets them is a deep sense of injustice.

“It’s people who flout the law of the land when it should apply equally to everyone,” says Terry, who lives nearby with his wife Pam. His words echo those of David Cameron who spoke of, “the sense of unfairness that one law applies to everybody else and, on too many occasions, another law applies to travellers.” Others tell me that they feel that letting those on Dale Farm get away with it, will, “open the floodgates to who knows what’’.

Overturning what has happened here is proving expensive: the council have had to set aside £8 million to clear the site, but there is a strong feeling this is necessary to ensure that the law is upheld both now and in the future.

Basildon council is keen to stress that, “This is a planning row.” That’s not quite how they see things over on Dale Farm. One woman tells me she has been so stressed that she smashed all her windows.

What, of your own home? “Yes, every single one of them,” says Margaret Flynn, a 29-year-old mother of three who lives in an immaculate caravan. She predicts that any clearance will bring a death: “Every time talk of an eviction starts, someone dies.”

Candy Sheridan, a member of the Gipsy Council and a Liberal Democrat councillor in north Norfolk where she now lives, is a more reasoned voice. “This is political,” she insists, “Councillors always say no to us [when we ask for planning permission], it doesn’t matter what it is, or what party they’re from. They always vote against us because they want to be re-elected.”

Candy was born on a site in Bristol and says she has lived “up and down the M4 and all over England’’. Her parents were Irish travellers who came to London in 1958. ''The difference between them and me is that I went to school. And back then they made us do speech therapy, so I have no trace of my Irish accent,” she smiles wryly, and adds that it means she makes more headway on the phone when trying to sort out a planning application or a viewing of some land on someone else’s behalf.

She feels travellers are misunderstood. “It’s not a level playing field for us,” she says. She talks about the strong sense of community that is under threat at Dale Farm. Travellers look after each other, she says. Levels of adult literacy are low, so a few must read and write for the rest. Inter-marriage means the camp is, in every sense, a huge extended family – there are a lot of McCarthys and Sheridans – so children, the elderly and the sick are well cared for. This might explain why there is so much nervousness about being split up and sent to live in “bricks-and-mortar” council flats. Ironically, there are some elements of Mr Cameron’s Big Society to be seen in action here.

The trouble is that there isn’t the same consideration for the rights and wishes of those who aren’t travellers. A wily few of the travelling community have become adept at exploiting legislation that’s intended to protect those who’ve been hard done by, and where they lead the others follow. What will happen next week? There is fighting talk from some travellers who are threatening to fill ditches with petrol.

On Friday evening I took a call from a man who said he was phoning on behalf of Candy Sheridan. He told me the travellers had examined the emergency contingency plans put in place by surrounding counties to deal with any possible fallout from the Dale Farm clearance and that Suffolk seemed to have one of the best deals.

“If everyone at Dale Farm got in their caravans and drove towards Suffolk,” he told me, “I think they would find a field waiting for them.” Suffolk, you have been warned.