Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Unpublished Iraq Dossier

Our excellent Member of Parliament, John Baron, was one of the few Conservatives not to support the Iraq war in the commons vote. We disagreed at the time, albeit amicably, but I must say that he had a shrewder idea of the likely aftermath of invasion than, well, just about anyone and certainly me. John hasn't let up on the way parliament and public were convinced to war since the vote, and quite right too. That parliament and people were misled, at the very least by flawed intelligence, is a matter of record. What has never been got to the bottom of is how this travesty could have occurred and that is what John is after.

He is is calling on the government to publish the draft Iraq dossier of 9th September 2002 written by John Williams, a press officer at the FCO – which recent evidence shows John Scarlett requested prior to producing his own first draft on the 10th September. For some reason, the government is reluctant to do so despite a ruling against it by the Information Commissioner. To further press the government to do the right thing John has submitted an Early Day Motion, no. 1607, which has already received cross-party support.

That this House believes that decisions regarding British involvement in wars or conflicts must be based on reliable intelligence and accurate public information; further believes that the September 2002 dossier, Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, played an important part in making the case for military intervention in Iraq; notes the existence of an early draft of the dossier written by Mr John Williams, a press officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, at the request of Mr John Scarlett, Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, on 9th September 2002, one day before Mr Scarlett produced his own first draft; further notes that there is no evidence that this document was disclosed to the Hutton Inquiry, which examined allegations that intelligence assessments were exaggerated by press officers; further notes that the Government has refused, despite parliamentary questions and a Freedom of Information request, to publish the Williams draft; further notes that the Information Commissioner has overruled the decision of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to withhold the document, and that the Government has appealed against this ruling; further believes that the truth about the production of the dossier needs to be known; and calls on the Government to publish the Williams draft to help hon. Members and the public make an informed judgement about the influence of press officers in the presentation of intelligence before the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

We shall watch what happens with interest.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Brown Nose

Writing in the Telegraph today, Denis MacShane gave us an article that is beyond satire. The former Home Office minister was dissecting styles of government, so 'Mrs Thatcher bunkered herself away from the Treasury and Foreign Office and brought in acolytes to tell her that Europe was a plot against Britain, that the reunification of Germany should be opposed and that South African apartheid should be supported' and 'John Major lost control of events and his party early on'. Then he moves on to Tony Blair 'who did not know how to make the Civil Service work for him' and 'paid more attention to his Number 10 praetorians or to preferred junior ministers than to most holders of high Cabinet office'. Having trashed the last three Prime Ministers, at least in terms of how they worked with the civil service, we finally get to the point:

By contrast, Mr Brown, down the road in the Treasury, seemed to achieve equal political success in the economic and social field, but by working with civil servants. Mr Brown, the only intellectual in the continental sense of the word in the Cabinet, was as technically clever as they were. He could advise as much as get advice.

Now he is taking a mammoth risk. He is saying to Britain's state service professionals: "I am prepared to trust you. Will you put your talents at the service of the nation to keep economic prosperity and social investment moving steadily forward?"

His press chief will also be a professional civil servant, in contrast to David Cameron's £400,000-a-year appointment of a News of the World editor who had to resign in disgrace after his chief reporter was jailed.
As if David Cameron as Leader of the Opposition could actually employ a 'professional civil servant'. The Conservatives are in opposition, you clown. The civil service works for the government of the day, or to be more accurate for 'Edinburgh's most famous son' as Brown is buttock-clenchingly described. MacShane ignores Margaret Thatcher's commitment to cabinet government and the wide respect in which she was held by the civil service, belittles John Major, who was as collegiate as you can get, weasels about Tony Blair, and then characterises Gordon Brown as the one the civil service comes to for advice. His thesis that Brown is taking some sort of risk by asking the professionals to, you know, do their jobs is laughable. Brown is the the man who ignored officials when they told him his policies would destroy Britain's pensions and was described as having "Stalinist ruthlessness" and a "cynical view of mankind and his colleagues" by the former head of the civil service. Brown isn't taking a risk on the civil service, it is the rest of us who are taking a risk on Brown.

The only thing MacShane's article needed was 'job application' as a title.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Covert Cruddas?

There is a theory that the Cruddas campaign for Labour deputy leader is a fake. This is based on his non-campaign office and a few other things, and does raise the interesting question if this is a put up job then who benefits? Maybe it is a false rumour put out by one of the other candidate's camps in an effort to damage Cruddas or something equally Byzantine. Or maybe it could just be the joining the dots to make the picture when there is no picture. People believe much wackier things on much less evidence after all.

What did we do for rumours before the internet?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Brown Unspun

Good post and even better comments over on Iain Dale's Diary. He reveals the Brown spin operation in action over forthcoming anti-terrorism legislation where several journalists were offered the same 'exclusive' provided they wrote and did what they were told. Then some of the journalists accused of parroting Brown's press release and agreeing not to include any opposition comment pop up to defend themselves and a lively debate ensues.

I think that it is fair to say that the blogsphere has changed the dynamic of political reporting. Now the audience can answer back.

Politics Working

Basildon Town Centre regeneration is going to Cabinet on Thursday, Basildon District Council’s Cabinet that is, not the one chaired by the PM, or John Prescott, or whoever at the moment. As Cabinet Member for Regeneration, this is my thing and this item represents that start of the formal procurement process for a development partner for the Town Centre. It’s a big project, about £1Bn, for the much-needed redevelopment of a late 50s, early 60s town centre, which while not failing is not of high enough quality for a growing community. It’s also a good example of regeneration as a partnership, particularly between a Conservative Council and the various agencies of a Labour government. Labour Councillors and Labour and Conservative MPs have also been very supportive. There is no reason why that should not be the case, of course, as regeneration where it is needed is a cross-party policy.

You see, politics doesn’t always have to be a row.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Brown Hole?

Where is Gordon Brown? Since the announcement of the coronation he has evaporated like the morning mist. Now this is nothing new for the Chancellor, he has typically descended from on high, uttered his words of wisdom and then returned to his lofty peak for another period of brooding. That's fine for running a technical department like the treasury, but for PM it won't do. Britons won't like being led by an absentee landlord. Of course, it may be that when der tag arrives, and Brown becomes The Man, then all will change. Maybe he will become more ubiquitous than spoons. Then again, maybe not. His strategists may know that in Brown's case more means less. Not that this is a great strategy for a politician, but you have to work with what you've got. Basically, Gordon Brown has no charisma and the conventional approach to building prime-ministerial presence with the public may just increase the number of people who think he's a bit strange. The trouble is that there are quite a lot of them already.

Finger Painting

It's not very good, is it?

Online petition - Change The London 2012 Logo

Monday, June 04, 2007

Nice Try

Velcade is to be allowed. What is Velcade? It’s a drug for the treatment of a number of particularly nasty cancers, including Multiple Myeloma, a condition that I know rather too well. After I was wheeled into hospital and given a near-complete blood transfusion, Velcade was the drug that saved my life, so I have a bit of a soft spot for it. But my treatment was as part of a series of clinical trials and, reviewing the results, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, or NICE, decided that it wasn’t ‘cost-effective’. This decision made England and Wales just about the only places in the developed world that you couldn’t get Velcade. Of course it was possible that NICE was right and, well, everyone else, was wrong but people, especially people dying of Myeloma, didn’t really see it that way. Consultants who would have to look patients in the eye and tell them that the drug that might keep them alive was not available weren’t too impressed either. Matters were not helped by NICE’s policy of not sharing their methodology for coming to decisions. Against a background of general dissatisfaction, NICE has now relented. There is a catch though. The NHS is only going to pay for the drug if it works for a particular patient. Otherwise, the manufacturer picks up the bill for that patient’s drugs. Now, this may be a model for the NHS to fund increasingly expensive cancer treatments. If so, it rates a general policy announcement at a political level and some evidence that it has been properly thought through. Some assurance that the drug companies are on board would also be useful. Otherwise, it may end up being a bad decision made in an effort to help NICE retreat from a bad decision.

The other question is how many people died for want of Velcade while NICE went back and redid its sums?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Sun on Drugs

Interesting piece in the Sun yesterday on 'Hillbilly Heroin' or Oxycontin, to use its proper name. This is a prescription painkiller used for very severe pain that has come to be abused by people looking for a chemical high. The article was quite critical of the drug and of the company that manufactures it, and threw in some celebrates to spice things up. This is a human interest story in a tabloid after all. What they didn't do was try and find anyone who takes Oxycontin for medical reasons and ask for their opinion. Well, let me give you mine, because I take it for pain associated with my brush with cancer. When I was at my worst Oxycontin was the difference between me being able to walk and being immobilised through pain. Today it ensures that I live a pain-free life. There are no side effects that anyone can detect, and if you know anything about medication for serious pain you will know that such drugs often have nasty side-effects. Bottom line: Oxycontin is effective and, if you don't abuse it, safe.

There is certainly a problem with this stuff in the US, but this kind of article can lead to ill-informed decision-making. In this case that could mean cancer patients living, and dying, in agony.

Grammar Good

Part of the fallout from the recent grammar school debacle that has afflicted the Conservative Party was the resignation of Graham Brady MP from his post as Shadow Europe Minister. His replacement is Mark Francois MP, member for Rayleigh, who also happens to be an old friend of mine. Mark is an ex-Basildon Councillor and he grew up in Laindon and went to a local comprehensive school. He is also scarily intelligent and a thoroughly decent bloke. I know that he will make a powerful addition to the Conservative front bench and his promotion is just about the only good thing to come from the shambles of the last couple of weeks. He's already got to work, laying into the government for their lack of accountability to parliament ahead of the forthcoming EU summit.