- Michael Crick
- 21 Dec 07, 04:46 PM
It happened in Blackpool, around 11am on Monday 1 October - not just the crucial turning point in the politics of 2007, but what could prove to be a decisive moment in the politics of this year, and perhaps this decade.
Until that morning Gordon Brown and Labour were riding high in the polls, with wide expectations that the Prime Minister would call (and win) a snap election in early November.
Indeed, over the summer the Conservatives were in such dire straits, following their spring row over grammar schools, that some people were wondering whether they’d really made the right choice when David Cameron was elected leader in 2005.
'Things will change'
And it was quite widely suggested that Cameron would have to move Osborne from Shadow Chancellor: Osborne was too lightweight, it was said, and Cameron should do all he could to persuade William Hague to take the job instead. Is there anything we can do to turn things round, Tories would ask me over lunch.
“Don’t worry, things will change,” I told them. “They always do. Brown’s honeymoon can’t last for ever.” And now I find myself saying the same sort of thing to Labour MPs.
George Osborne’s speech that October morning wasn’t a great oration in traditional terms - there were no great moments of rhetoric, no memorable lines. But it had an almost immediate effect on the political landscape.
His two proposals - to increase the inheritance tax threshold to £m, and to reduce stamp duty on house purchases - excited Tories in Blackpool and gave them new hope. More important, his tax plans grabbed the public imagination. Labour’s poll lead suddenly got narrower; Tory spirits rose markedly; and Gordon Brown had to announce there wouldn’t be an election, after all.
Labour has yet to recover from the-election-that-never-was.
A general malaise descended over the party; Labour ministers and backbenchers have spent the autumn in a demoralised daze, despairing about what Brown should do.
Week after week David Cameron trounced Gordon Brown at Prime Minister’s Questions; big set pieces which were trailed as a chance for Gordon Brown to set out his great “vision” fell flat - among them the autumn Queen’s Speech, and the Prime Minister’s annual Guildhall speech on foreign policy.
In politics, failure tends to breed failure. Where the opposition parties and the media sense that a government is in trouble, then small crises become big ones, and ministers spent the autumn dogged by the woes of Northern Rock, the missing Revenue & Customs discs, and a new party funding scandal.
If George Osborne is a strong contender for politician of the year, he’s not without opposition.
On the government side, my nominee would be Jack Straw, the great survivor, who has sat continuously on the Labour front bench since 1981. Well before Tony Blair finally stood down, Straw took command of Gordon Brown’s leadership campaign, and handled it brilliantly, to the extent that all possible opposition was deterred or barred from standing - including David Miliband and John Reid.
Politician of the year
So ruthless and determined was the Brown camp in collecting nominations that the only other declared contender, John McDonnell, failed to get enough MPs to back him. Indeed, a little known fact was that with nominations from 313 Labour MPs by the end, Gordon Brown could boast that, excluding Irish members and the Speaker and his deputies, he had been backed by a majority of British MPs.
Other contenders for politician of the year must surely include Alex Salmond, for his success in becoming first minister of Scotland; those other great survivors Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, for finally agreeing power-sharing (and working together like life-long chums); and of course, the Lib Dem acting leader (after Ming Campbell’s resignation) Vince Cable, whose line about Gordon Brown turning from Stalin to Mr Bean was the most memorable Commons quote of the year.
Cable impresses voters with his air of common sense of reasonableness, and in a TV studio has the disarming and attractive tactic of agreeing with about half of what his opponent says, before then gently explaining why the other half is rubbish.
There’s clearly a bit of needle in his exchanges with Gordon Brown - perhaps because Cable is a decent economist (who has excelled on Northern Rock). Maybe because the two men used to work together when they were both members of the Labour Party in Scotland in the 1970s, and they both contributed to the Socialist Red Paper on Scotland.
Nick Clegg will have great difficulty matching Cable’s performances in the Commons. The new Liberal Democrat leader launched his leadership campaign in Sheffield by saying his party’s new leader would need to take risks, but then, as front-runner, ran a campaign which did anything but take risks - nor, does his new front bench team announced just before Christmas suggest the kind of risk-taking he spoke of.
Unless Clegg does shake up his party in quite a radical way, at the cost of annoying a few Lib Dems, then he’ll find it hard to win back voters at a time when the centre ground of British politics has become exceedingly crowded. One such risk (though hardly a great vote-winner) could be to drop ‘Liberal Democrat’ in favour of plain Liberal - the term he frequently he used during his leadership challenge, not, it seems, by accident.
George Osborne and David Cameron could tell Nick Clegg a thing or two about taking risks. I’m told there was quite a debate within the Tory high command over whether Osborne should actually announce his tax measures in Blackpool.
The risk-takers argued that the Tories had to do something to win back ground ahead of a likely election. More cautious heads argued that cutting inheritance tax might backfire, and that tax cuts were no longer a great vote-winner.
Ultimately the risk-takers prevailed, Osborne made his speech, and the story of 2007 took us in a very new direction.
- 20 Dec 07, 05:50 PM
We have the first television pictures from the battle for Musa Qala. I've been talking to the British ambassador in Kabul and we 'll also be asking International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander about the other battle in Afghanistan - the one for hearts and minds.
In October Susan Watts reported on the growing doubts about one type of forensic evidence - it was called Low Copy Number DNA. Today the man accused of the Omagh bombing was found not guilty and in part that was because the judge did not find this evidence convincing. Should this type of evidence ever be used? We'll debate.
Should men who pay for sex be targeted for prosecution? Everyone agrees the idea of women being forced into prostitution is despicable, the sex trade from abroad into Britain is a key target for the police and for the government. But today Harriet Harman talked of targeting the men who pay for sex - would doing that be a good idea? And if it is a good idea, would it really have much of an impact on the trade in women forced into prostitution?
For me one of the most inspiring stories of the year is that of the BBC photographer who made a documentary about plastic pollution in Hawaii. If you saw Rebecca Hosking's documentary Hawaii: Message in the Waves you will have been appalled by the impact plastic has had on the lives of albatrosses, dolphins and other sea creatures. But when Rebecca returned home she talked to neighbours and friends in her small village in Devon ... and the result was a grassroots movement to do away with plastic bags as much as possible. Rebecca is one of our Newsnight End of the Year interviews.
- 20 Dec 07, 12:11 PM
Have British attitudes towards paying for sex changed?
This morning the leader of the commons Harriet Harman called for sex payments to be made illegal.
She's worried about the increase in the international trafficking of women.
But is outlawing paying for sex the best way of tackling this problem and is there a wider attitude towards sex and money that need to change? We want to hear your views.
- 20 Dec 07, 10:19 AM
Simon Enright is today's programme producer - here is his early email to the team.
Shake off those post-party foggy heads we've got work to do.
We hope to run a film of the battle for Musa Qala. Stephen Grey is flying back from Kandahar and we have the footage. Who should we talk to off the back?
We know today we'll get the verdict on the Omagh case. Remember Susan Watts film which looked at the evidence based on Low Copy Number DNA and asked whether this kind of evidence was good enough? Can we have a Justice minister on to defend it OR someone from the legal profession - against the Omagh defence lawyer.
Today's end of year interview is with Rebecca Hoskings who changed our perspective on plastic bags.
And then what else should we do?
Should we outlaw paying for sex - Harriet Harman calls for change in the law.
Should we not follow up on Zuma and the possible corruption charges he might face? Remember this was all first brought up in Peter Marshall's film.
There is gossip that Japan may give up hunting hump-backed whales - they are allowed to hunt some under their quota. What should we do?
What is the deal with the government and women pensioners? Should we explain?
The Red Cross are offering us their boss to talk about the Tsunami. Last year he came on the programme to admit that they'd only built 16 of the 2000 houses they'd promised. Have they now managed to spend all our money?
- 19 Dec 07, 06:14 PM
Three British residents who were being held by the US at Guantanamo Bay have been released and are due to land in the UK at any moment. British police are accompanying them on the flight. What's not clear is what will happen to them when they get here - the Pentagon insists they still pose a danger to the public, and the Tories say they are yet to receive reassurances from the government about how they intend to protect the public from these "dangers". Newsnight reported key revelations about one of the released men some years ago. Tonight - we assess how much of a danger these men are, and debate how they should be treated on their return.
It seems that a high profile exhibition of art due to open at the Royal Academy in London in January is to be cancelled. The Russian government is on the verge of making the move, claming that the art - which belongs to Russian galleries such as Hermitage in St Petersburg - could be seized to settle private legal claims. But it comes just days after Russia demanded that the British Council close its branch offices in the New Year, in the wake of the row over the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko. So the cooling of relations now seems to be impacting on Britain and Russia's cultural ties. We'll have the latest.
Only a year ago - you'd might never heard of him. The chances are that you have now. And even if you haven't, you've probably been humming his tunes without even knowing it. Mark Ronson has burst on to the music scene this year. His collaboration with Amy Winehouse and his album of covers - "Version" - have earned him a coveted Grammy nomination and a legion of fans. Our Culture Correspondent Steve Smith caught up with him for one of our End of Year Interviews. And if you want to know how Amy Winehouse's single "Rehab" came to be written - then it's a must watch.
What Happened Next?
Remember the hundreds of haemophiliacs whom Newsnight revealed had been infected with HIV in the 1980s? Remember the Iraqi translators who worked for British troops but were refused asylum here? Remember the head of a so-called "vulture fund" known as "Goldfinger"? Tonight, we'll be updating you on some of the key investigations Newsnight has worked on this year. And one or two of the lighter items too.
- 19 Dec 07, 10:26 AM
Liz Gibbons is today's programme producer - here is her early email to the team.
Brown's last press conference of the year at 11am - he's bringing Alistair Darling along. So I think he's anticipated the likely line of questioning. Should we assess the state of Brown's premiership? Who do you want to hear from?
Stephanie is trawling through the minutes of the MPC interest rates decision - published this morning.
We've got an update on some of the investigations we ran this year in the form of a 14-ish minute piece.
And - oh my god I can't believe it - an end of year interview with Mark Ronson.
Anything else we should be pursuing?
- 18 Dec 07, 06:38 PM
It’s been a fairly prized day for Nick Clegg, and not just for winning the Lib Dem leadership contest. He has won himself another title as some of the Newsnight female staff have commented on his striking resemblance to Mr Darcy, aka Colin Firth.
Frequent images of Clegg on the news throughout the day prompted one of the ladies to spark off this debate. Maybe it’s the skin colour, the slightly foppy brown hair or the suit and tie that recalls that Bridget Jones moment.
Do join in the debate and let us know what you think – would you swoon if you saw Nick Clegg walking towards you in a sodden shirt?
- Justin Rowlatt -
- 18 Dec 07, 06:22 PM
Let’s not beat around the bush: Christmas is a carbon catastrophe and the reason is our ludicrous culture of present giving.
I know I’ll be called a mean old Scrooge but here’s the Christmas manifesto of this (former) Ethical Man: if you must give, give money.
Why? Because you don’t have to want Tiny Tim to starve in the workhouse to recognise what bloated consumer nightmare the festive season has become.
Take my family, for example. We try to meet up over the Christmas period but I am beginning to wish we didn’t.
Not because I don’t enjoy seeing everyone and eating and drinking far too much before falling asleep in front of the telly. Last Christmas I couldn’t wait to tuck into Ned, the Newsnight turkey. No, the reason is that I hate giving presents.
There you go you see – you are thinking I’m an old Scrooge aren’t you?
Well I say bah humbug to that. I hate receiving presents too and here’s why.
I’ve got three children and they have ten cousins. If each of my children buys everyone a present that’s thirty-six presents. If all the cousins do the same we’re talking 13x12 presents – a staggering 156 in all.
And that is just the start. We’ve got to get presents for my folks, my three sisters and their husbands, my mother-in-law and her partner as well as my father-in-law, my wife’s grandmother and her brother. Then, of course, they’ve all got to do the same for us. So that’s another 9x8 presents – 72 more gifts - even if we assume that couples get just one present.
So my direct family alone could buy each other as many as 228 presents every single year and that’s before I’ve popped over to my cousin Xand’s for a mulled wine or two (another present plus one for my Aunt Anthea) or even begun to think about presents for friends (not that I do, you understand).
So why are these 228 presents a carbon catastrophe? That’s simple: because every single one has a carbon cost. It wouldn’t be a problem if this glut of gifts were actually useful. But be honest, when was the last time you actually got something you wanted or more importantly, needed?
Tsunami of tat
My children are too young to read this blog so I can be completely honest here. They now get so many presents that we collect up the ones we don’t like and give them to the local charity shop. I know it sounds cruel but we live in a small house and we would be engulfed in a veritable tsunami of tat if we didn’t.
The real problem is that giving presents is an inherently inefficient activity. It means guessing what someone else may want or need. Every now and then you’ll buy the perfect shirt but more often than not the ornament or tie or garden thermometer will end up in the attic or more likely in a landfill site and all the carbon that went into making it is completely wasted.
A few decades ago you probably needed the socks that your mum gave you or the saucepan she was given by her Aunt. These days it is different. Consumer goods are so cheap and plentiful that even people on very low incomes have no shortage of stuff.
Indeed, if you need proof of how corrupt our present giving culture has become look no further than the “gift” shops that have colonised every high street. You know the ones; they sell things no-one wants like scented candles, little vases and foot massage kits. Nevertheless they seem to do reasonable business.
Cash is best
Some of you may be thinking that I’m missing the point. You’re thinking that present giving isn’t about the inherent value or utility of the gift but is about the act of giving itself.
I’ll concede there’s something in that but gifts don’t have to be useless. I’ve got a rule of only buying consumables as presents: food and drink (and sometimes fireworks). At least you know someone is going to enjoy them.
But surely it would be more ethical if we all bought each other stuff that you knew we really needed. Stuff like washing up liquid, toilet paper and breakfast cereal. Or better still, cash.
I’ve never understood why giving money is considered bad form. Wasn’t that five pound note folded into Granny’s card the very best present of all? You could use it to buy something you actually wanted. Not only that, cash is completely carbon free (until you buy something, of course).
Hence my Christmas manifesto.
But by way of a post-script I’ve got a bit of an ethical confession to make. I’m still sufficiently in thrall to Christmas to feel obliged to give some gifts so direct family are getting goats (and a couple of toilets for really special people). And my daughters are getting appalling plastic dolls which shed “real tears” and giggle.
Which, I suppose, goes to prove one of the central problems of tackling global warming: it is one thing to get people worried about the issue, quite another to get them to do anything about it.
And on that note, Merry Christmas.
- 18 Dec 07, 05:50 PM
Lib Dems pick a new leader (again)
Nick Clegg has scraped through to win the Liberal Democrat leadership election. His majority of 511 votes over his rival Chris Huhne was anything but resounding, in fact it was the closest ever leadership election in the history of the Liberal Democrats. The former leader Charles Kennedy on his demise, said of his party that they had "passed on the knife to a new generation”. So will Nick Clegg be able to unite his party and make this the last leadership election for a while? Jeremy will be speaking to Nick Clegg and we will be assessing his prospects with our political panel.
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King was in front of the Treasury Select Committee this morning answering their questions on the strength of the British economy and on who was the source for the Sunday Times report on how low morale in the Treasury was hampering its response to the Northern Rock crisis. Stephanie Flanders will be explaining what it all means.
In an acrimonious contest South Africa's ruling party the African National Congress have now finished casting their votes for a new leader. The front runner is Jacob Zuma who will then be the likely President of South Africa in 2009 when Thabo Mbeki's term ends. We should have the result of the election before we go on air. Peter Marshall has been looking at Jacob Zuma's controversial past and what his election will mean for the ANC and for South Africa.
Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson was serving with the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery when he lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan a year ago. The 23-year-old sustained 37 injuries in total, including ones to the brain, spine, skull, spleen and chest, yet he was awarded less than half of the compensation available because of the way the Ministry of Defence scheme is calculated. In our series of End of Year interviews Kirsty has been talking to Ben's mother Diane Dernie about her son's ordeal and her campaign to improve the treatment and compensation given to injured soldiers.
- 18 Dec 07, 12:11 PM
"Newsnight viewers, being a sophisticated lot, have no need of translation," said Jeremy - and it appears he was right.
Because how else can we explain the fact that no one contacted us to claim a prize for "the most imaginative translation" of Fabio Capello's speech? Watch it here
Or perhaps you thought a Newsnight prize sounded pretty unappealing..
But just in case there is anyone at the back of the class who didn't understand what the new England manager said - here is the Newsnight translation:
"Being manager of a national team is very different to being a manager who can work with a team day in day out. So we have to all adjust our behaviour - manager and players. Because all of us in that moment come to represent a nation - we have an important jersey we have to wear."
- 18 Dec 07, 10:48 AM
Carol Rubra is today's programme producer - here is her early email to the team. What do you think we should cover?
There are several interesting stories around today. Let's think about which ones we can put our own stamp on.
Lib Dem leadership - the result will be announced this afternoon and we're hoping to interview the winner. Vince Cable has proved an impressive interim leader so what are the challenges for the new leader?
Mervyn King - he's giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee. We might get more details about who was warned about flaws in the regulatory framework and when. The Bank of England has also increased the amount of support they are giving to Northern Rock today by underwriting loans provided by other banks. What does this mean for the tax payer?
Immigration - under the legacy exercise 37% of asylum seekers have been given leave to remain. Is this the best way of dealing with the problem?
Honours - Tony Wright's committee has 44 recommendations about what should be done.
Turkey has made the biggest incursion into Northern Iraq since 2003. And Condie is in Kirkuk. How will this affect the stability of the region?
ANC - members have begun voting. Peter Marshall has a profile of Jacob Zuma.
And we have an End of Year interview with Diane Parkinson who has been campaigning for the overhaul of the compensation scheme for injured soldiers after her son Ben became the most seriously injured soldier ever to survive.
Please lots of ideas to the meeting for guests and treatments.
- 17 Dec 07, 06:17 PM
DATA DEBACLE 2.0
News tonight of the loss of yet more of our personal data by the government: this time it is 3m who've taken the driving theory test. That on the day that Alistair Darling informed the Commons about an interim report into the last big loss - the details of 25m people from families who claim child benefit. So how can the Government now convince us that they are to be trusted with our personal data for ID cards? We'll debate.
Continue reading "Monday, 17 December, 2007"
- Richard Watson
- 17 Dec 07, 04:55 PM
More news on the Policy Exchange story. There was a fascinating little piece in The Times this morning about Policy Exchange’s report “The Hijacking of British Islam”. It was in the form of an apology – on page 6 of the paper.
Continue reading "Sorry Times"
- Michael Crick
- 17 Dec 07, 04:24 PM
It’s not often these days that I get to do an old fashioned doorstep - not now I’m meant to be a respectable political editor. Last Thursday, however, I travelled down to Poole in Dorset to call on a man who intrigued me - one of the biggest Conservative Party donors of recent years.
Continue reading "Doorstepping in Dorset"
- 17 Dec 07, 11:42 AM
Simon Enright is today's programme producer - here is his early email to the team. What do you think we should cover?
We really are now in the run up to Christmas. But don't get too festive - we still have strong programmes to produce. Already in place we have a comprehensive review of the situation in Iraq from the BBC's Baghdad correspondent Andrew North who ends his stint in the country as the year closes. Timely piece from him as Basra is handed back.
What else are you interested in?
Continue reading "Prospects for Monday, 17 December"
- 14 Dec 07, 06:07 PM
Our recent film about Policy Exchange’s report “The Hijacking of British Islam” certainly has provoked an angry response from this influential think-tank. Policy Exchange is accusing us of bad faith and of concentrating on what they seem to be suggesting is the trifling matter of some of the documentary evidence used to underpin their findings. They say we’ve missed the main point, that extremist books were recovered in any case.
A quick reminder: In what Policy Exchange billed as the most comprehensive academic study of its kind, four teams of two researchers, not on Policy Exchange’s staff but working on their behalf, had visited 100 mosques and found that in a quarter of the locations they were able to buy or acquire extremist literature. Their report can be read here.
Continue reading "Richard Watson’s comment on the Policy Exchange row"
- 14 Dec 07, 05:26 PM
“The climate in the climate conference is good,” Germany's environment minister told reporters in Bali, with typical Germanic wit.
But we think things may be hotting up there imminently. We're expecting a deal tonight and hoping it might be finalised by the time we go to air.
The sticking point at the summit so far has been the refusal by America and Canada to sign up to firm numerical targets to cut greenhouse gases. They say they merely operate in a different way - exceeding their own expectations instead of setting targets which they fail to meet.
So does that mean that no deal is possible? We'll be live in Bali, and will talk to the US state department to figure out where things go from here.
Any day soon British troops are due to hand over control of Basra to Iraqi forces - what have they achieved there?
We have an exclusive Newsnight poll showing what the people of Basra themselves feel about the British troops and their record over the last four years. An overwhelming majority say their presence has had a negative effect on the province.
We'll be talking to the pollster himself and asking how you gauge opinion in such a challenging environment. And we'll ask whether the British military has been a force for good in Southern Iraq.
Click here to view the full poll results (PDF file)
If the global central banks thought that a one-off cash injection of 50 billion pounds was going to ease the credit crunch, they may be a little disappointed. The markets have failed to perk up. Does that mean they need the same again, or that they're recognizing - from the size of the gesture - just how serious the situation is?
And in Newsnight Review
Kirsty Wark is joined by John Harris, Natalie Haynes and Sarfraz Manzoor to discuss:
Erotic espionage in the film Lust, Caution; Channel 4’s new series Make Me a Muslim; Stephen Fry’s Cinderella at the Old Vic; and the animated film Bee Movie.
Click here for more details
- 14 Dec 07, 02:54 PM
Policy Exchange's statement is misleading in many ways and doesn't answer the simple question raised by Newsnight's film. Given that the Policy Exchange report was based on the testimony of the researchers who gathered the receipts, do they believe all the receipts are genuine?
Click here to read Richard Watson's comments on the Policy Exchange row
Click here to read the Policy Exchange statement on their website
Click here to read Peter Barron's blog entry, "Disastrous misjudgement?"
WATCH THE NEWSNIGHT REPORT
WATCH THE INTERVIEW WITH POLICY EXCHANGE
- 14 Dec 07, 10:49 AM
Today’s output editor is Dan Kelly – here’s his morning e-mail to the production team:
Road to Nowhere?
The Bali conference was supposed to produce a "Road Map" towards a global deal to cut greenhouse gases. A document is expected to be produced by tonight, but how effective will it be, and why is the American delegation so determined not to sign up to binding targets on cutting emissions for developed countries? Susan Watts and Roger Harrabin are on the case, and we have an interview planned with the State Department.
Climate talks 'heading to deal'
The handover of Basra province is due any day soon, and certainly before Christmas. Newsnight has an exclusive poll of the people of Basra - what do they think the British have achieved there, and what do they think the future holds? We need a strong interview/discussion off the back of this.
Basra handover to Iraq on Sunday
Other stories to look at include the drugs in US sport report, drugs in the army and the latest on Northern Rock.
- 13 Dec 07, 05:28 PM
We're devoting almost all our programme tonight to Boozenight.
This is not an attempt to put you off your Christmas cheer. Most of us in the Newsnight office like a glass or two. Or three. Or more. And that's where the problem comes.
Many of us have been shocked how our own drinking consumption appears to mount up. Shocked too at the state of our streets on a Friday and Saturday night.
And surprised at the findings of our opinion poll, specially commissioned for the programme, which demonstrates clearly that as a nation we are worried about booze - indeed we think it more harmful to our society than heroin or cocaine, and a majority of us want the drinking age raised to 21.
It's all very interesting, provocative and disturbing, and it kicks off with the award winning film maker Paul Watson going back to the four alcoholics he filmed seeking treatment in hospital. What has happened to them in their difficult journey - they hoped - towards sobriety?
All week we've been debating many of the issues concerning the country over alcohol - click here to join those debates or leave your comments below.
- 12 Dec 07, 05:10 PM
We're leading tonight's programme with a special Newsnight investigation.
In October the influential think tank, the Policy Exchange, produced a report which hit the headlines. They investigated 100 mosques around Britain and claimed that 25 of them were disseminating extremist literature.
Newsnight had been working on a detailed film based on this report but, as we were checking the evidence which underpinned the findings, we began to find some discrepancies which gave us cause for concern.
All will be revealed on the programme.
ROBINSON AND THE NHS
You may remember management guru Gerry Robinson's mission to "Save the NHS".
A year ago he was called in to Rotherham District General Hospital - and his findings were reported in a BBC TWO documentary.
The hospital faced an uncertain future, was struggling to cope with long-waiting lists, staff morale was low and there was a culture of mistrust between consultants and managers.
A year on, Gerry Robinson returns to Rotherham - and finds that much has changed for the better.
But he's now concerned that much of the good work could be undone by changes in government policy.
Is he right to be worried? He'll go head-to-head with David Nicholson, the Chief Executive of the NHS, on the programme tonight.
You can see the full Gerry Robinson documentary at 9pm tonight on BBC TWO.
And we'll have reaction to the Police Federation's call for the Home Secretary to resign over the police pay deal.
- 12 Dec 07, 12:01 PM
Today's output editor is Liz Gibbons. Here's her morning e-mail to the production team.
We have an investigation Richard Watson and Nick Menzies have been working on about Muslim extremism. More details later.
Gerry Robinson is still trying to save the NHS - an update of his documentary goes out tonight at 9pm on BBC2. Gerry Robinson is coming on to discuss his latest findings with the Chief Exec of the NHS, David Nicholson.
That leaves us room for one or two other stories - what do you fancy?
Brown's new Afghan policy? Police pay - could we find out who the disgruntled ministers are?
It's Brown's last PMQs of the year too.
- 12 Dec 07, 11:36 AM
The third in our series of debates this week ahead of Thursday's special programme, Boozenight:
Doctors have warned of an alarming rise in the number of patients they are seeing with alcohol-related diseases.
We spend more on treating drug-related illness than we do alcohol. But the NHS nevertheless spends a huge amount of money in this area.
Is it time to cut back or do we need to spend more? Should the NHS be paying to treat people with alcohol-related conditions at all? Should the drinks industry play a part in this treatment?
And does a patient in need of a liver transplant because of alcohol abuse deserve to get one?
The third in our series of extracts from Rain In My Heart is now online. Click here for more details
- 11 Dec 07, 05:50 PM
Return To Baghdad
Tonight we have a fascinating film from Mark Urban about the dramatic changes brought to one area of South Baghdad by the recent US troop "surge”. Seven months after his first visit, Mark Urban returns to Doura with the 30 men of 2nd Platoon, 12th Infantry of the US Army.
Where once there was chaos and frequent killings, now a degree of normality has been restored. Mark goes on patrol, sees the sectarian peace walls, speaks to Sunnis and Shias, and considers whether the security gains brought by the "surge" can be sustained. We also hear from the troops on the ground as they end their 15 month tour of duty. Was the loss of their comrades in arms worth the relative peace now secured in Doura?
As the climate talks in Bali stutter forwards, the EU is stressing that any future deal on climate change will fail unless it is seen to be fair. The new polluters India and China object to the current system of measuring emissions on a countrywide basis because they say it disguises the fact that their emissions per person are comparatively low. In the case of India, one twentieth the level of the average American.
Many delegates say that per capita emissions should become part of any final deal, so what are the facts? We have a series of films from around the world, and an interview with the environment secretary Hilary Benn, live from Bali.
We'll also look at who was behind today's terror attack in Algeria - just how big a threat is Al Queda in North Africa?
- 11 Dec 07, 10:54 AM
Today’s output editor is Dan Kelly – here’s his morning e-mail to the production team.
Seven months after his first visit, Mark Urban returns to al-Doura with US 2nd Platoon. After "the surge" of troops in Baghdad the change in al-Doura has been dramatic. Mark goes on patrol, sees the sectarian peace walls, speaks to Sunnis and Shias, and considers whether the security gains brought by the surge policy can be sustained.
We have a film from Roger Harrabin about the per capita emissions of developed and developing world countries. We have a live interview with the Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, and we hope to have a wider discussion about the chances of success at the conference.
We need to keep an eye on Afghanistan, too...
- 11 Dec 07, 10:25 AM
We continue our series of daily debates on alcohol, ahead of Thursday’s special programme, Boozenight.
Today we want to focus on whether the government has got it right with drinking legislation. Consider three areas:
24 hour licensing, which is now just over two years old. Has this brought us any closer to the drinking culture of our continental cousins, or merely aggravated the already high incidents of binge drinking and anti-social behaviour?
Consider also whether the minimum drinking age is still appropriate? In an effort to tackle teenage drinking, should the age be raised from 18 to 21, perhaps? Or should it be lowered?
And what of advertising? Should there be a threshold of, say, 9pm before we see alcohol being advertised on TV, or should it go the way of tobacco and be banned entirely?
Is it time to change the law?
You can now watch the second in our series of extracts from Rain In My Heart, Vanda’s story. Click here for more details.
- 10 Dec 07, 05:27 PM
The symbolically important town of Musa Qala has been recaptured from the Taliban by Afghan troops with a lot of support from the US and British forces. Two British soldiers have been killed in the fighting and hundreds of civilians have fled the area. The Prime Minister, who was in Kabul today, promised to follow up victory with economic assistance for an area that currently provides half the world's heroin. We'll have the latest from Mark Urban on how Musa Qala was taken and whether it can be held.
Meanwhile on a visit to Basra yesterday Gordon Brown confirmed that the province will be handed over to the Iraqis within a fortnight. But what deals had to be struck with local Shiite militias to enable the pullout to take place? Mark has been speaking to General Bill Rollo, the highest ranking British soldier in the Iraq theatre. So is he saying it'll all be over by Christmas? Well, not quite.
The erstwhile press baron will likely be sentenced to between six and a half and eight years in jail, he was told by a US judge today. But in an interview for Newsnight, recorded last week from his Palm Beach mansion Conrad Black was still protesting his innocence. He also told us that if he was sent to jail that wouldn't be the end of his battle to clear his name. We'll bring you that interview tonight.
Kosovan Albanians and Kosovan Serbs are not quite at daggers drawn yet but relations are at their worst ebb since NATO bombed Slobodan Milošević out of power back in 1999. Today was supposed to be the deadline by which a deal on the final status of Kosovo was agreed with the UN. No deal has been reached so what will happen now? Allan Little has been to Kosovo to find out if the troubled province can ever peacefully become a nation. And we'll interview David Miliband who has been in Brussels trying to hammer out the European Union stance on the way forward.
And in what many here think is the music event of the year for middle-aged headbangers, Led Zeppelin will be playing their first proper concert for 19 years. We're hoping to playout from there.
- 10 Dec 07, 11:26 AM
Britain’s love/hate relationship with alcohol has led to many headlines over the past 12 months. 24-hour licensing has been a reality in England and Wales for two years now, binge drinking stories are often in the news, and doctors have been alarmed by the rise in the number of cases of alcohol-related illnesses.
With 15 drinking days to go until Christmas, Newsnight is making ready for Boozenight. In Thursday’s programme, we’ll debate many of the issues that have been shaping our perception of the nation’s relationship with alcohol.
But we start the discussion today. Each day we’d like to address a different area of debate online…
Continue reading "The price is right?"
- 10 Dec 07, 10:00 AM
Good morning. Carol Rubra is today’s output editor – here’s her morning e-mail to the production team.
Let's talk about what we should lead on today?
The nominal deadline for international mediators to decide future status of Kosovo passed today. So what happens next? Alan Little has done a piece for us on the uncharted waters Kosovo is now entering. I'm bidding for a Foreign Office interview off the back.
Time up for Kosovo status talks
UBS have announced £5 billion of write-downs as a result of the sub prime mortgage crisis in the US. This is one of the largest write-downs of any global bank. Are there more to come?
UBS posts fresh $10bn write-down
We have an "end of year" interview with Conrad Black, recorded last week. He's due to be sentenced today.
Conrad Black awaiting sentence
Gordon Brown has said that the British will handover control of Basra within two weeks. Mark Urban has been speaking to General Rollo about the deals they struck before pulling out of Basra Palace. What about a discussion on whether the British are right to withdraw from Basra, whatever the cost?
- 7 Dec 07, 05:40 PM
This week the White House's Iran policy fell into disarray, and tonight we bring you the inside track on how it happened.
We have an insider's account of the meltdown following the US Intelligence report which said that Tehran had stopped nuclear weapons development in 2003.
Senior "Hawks" and "Doves" in the administration have told Newsnight that the strategy towards Iran is effectively in "ruins" following the report. Peter Marshall reveals the tensions and rows that have marked the administration's policy towards Tehran.
James Murdoch is now officially a 21st Century media mogul. Rupert Murdoch has carried out a huge shake-up of his media empire, and has effectively anointed his son as his successor.
The 34-year-old second son now has responsibility for his European and Asian businesses, so will he wield political influence in the same way as his father, or are we about to witness a change of strategy - Tony Blair famously jetted to Australia to address a News Corp sales conference for Rupert Murdoch ….. Would Gordon Brown do the same for his son?
Two former editors - Peter Preston from the Guardian and David Yelland from the soar away (Murdoch owned) Sun will be in the studio.
The Odd Couple
Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, known to some as The Chuckle Brothers, or the Odd Couple, are on their first joint visit to the US to drum up investment for Northern Ireland.
This afternoon they had tea at The White House with President Bush following meetings with Edward Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. It is a sign of how much Northern Ireland has changed but there is unease among the grassroots in NI at just how close the two men, sworn enemies through 30 years of the Troubles, seem to be.
And the violence in the province is not over yet, with most recently the violent death of Paul Quinn in Co. Monaghan – which many think was carried out by dissident republicans.
And we're bidding for Jonathan “I’m worth 1,000 journalists" Ross. Oh.. I can see pigs in flight outside the window, Kirsty
- 7 Dec 07, 10:21 AM
Dan Kelly is today's programme producer. Here's his early email to the team.
Some good stories today.
Peter Marshall is in Washington and has been investigating what will happen to Bush's Iran policy in the light of Monday's US intelligence report. He has interviews with key behind the scenes figures, and can reveal the tensions and rows that have marked the administration's strategy towards Teheran.
Rupert Murdoch has carried out a huge shake-up of his media empire, and has effectively anointed his son as his successor. James Murdoch now has responsibility for his European and Asian businesses. What does this mean for News Corp's global strategy, and how will James Murdoch influence the media and politics in the UK? We need some good guests on this…
Other stories today include the visit of McGuinness and Paisley to the White House, the dairy fixing confession and fines for British supermarkets and Northern Rock.
Ideas for stories, treatments and guests all very welcome.
See you at 10.30
- 6 Dec 07, 05:26 PM
It is 28 - it was going to be 90 or 56 or maybe even 58 - now 42 is the magic number. That is of course the number of days terrorist suspects could be held for without being charged. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith says the proposed extension would only be used in exceptional cases.
We'll be speaking to the home secretary about these controversial proposals on the programme tonight. And we'll be debating the civil liberties and political issues involved.
Smith plans 42-day terror limit
Secret Donors Scandal
We hope to bring you new revelations in the Labour donor story. Paul Mason is currently on the case. Watch this space.
Stephanie Flanders will give us the benefit of her wisdom on the interest rate cut - who are the winners and losers?
UK interest rates trimmed to 5.5%
Miscarriage of justice?
Imagine serving a life sentence for child murder - and being innocent. In 2005 Suzanne Holdsworth was convicted of brutally murdering a toddler - whom she was babysitting when he fell fatally ill. But now new scientific evidence given to Newsnight suggests she might have had nothing at all to do with his death. John Sweeney reports on what could be another miscarriage of justice.
Read John Sweeney's article and watch a preview of tonight's film.
- 6 Dec 07, 12:11 PM
Ahead of today's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decision to cut interest rates, last night we assembled our own MPC to discuss the underlying issues amid signs the economy is slowing - falling house prices, fewer mortgages being approved, tumbling consumer confidence and shop windows full of price reductions.
Jeremy was joined by former chancellor Ken Clarke, and expert economists Dr Ruth Lea, Martin Wolf, Dr Irwin Stelzer and our own Stephanie Flanders.
At the end we asked them all to hold up cards to show how they would vote if they were on the MPC. Stephanie, being thoroughly independent, of course declined but she did predict there would be 'no change'. The others were split, two for a 0.25% cut, two for 'no change'.
Following what had been a extraordinarily enlightening and very detailed economic debate, some people thought the vote a bit of a stunt. We rather enjoyed it but what do you think? Did the cards work for you?
- 6 Dec 07, 10:28 AM
Robert Morgan is today's programme producer. Here's his early email to the team.
There are quite a few good stories today. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has just announced plans to extend the period that terrorism suspects can be held without charge for up to 42 days. In an attempt to win over critics, it is planned to give MPs a role in any decision to let police hold suspects for more than the current 28-day limit.
There's the MPC interest rates decision at 12 noon, a new Abrahams story and the canoeist yarn continues. Do come to the meeting armed with ideas on these and other stories.
We've got a strong film on a new potential miscarriage of justice from John Sweeney and Richard Pattinson.
Doubt cast on baby death verdict - read John's story in full here
See you in a minute,
- 5 Dec 07, 05:45 PM
Tonight, what would you do if you were in the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC)?
Would you cut interest rates? And what effect would that have on the economy?
As the MPC meets at the Bank of England we've convened a committee of the great and good of our own. Jeremy will chair it, with Stephanie to advise him. But in the meantime, do play our Monetary Policy Committee game and let us know what you think.
Also tonight, Jack Straw outlines how he's going to control the prison population. Does this mean asking judges to make the punishment fit the prison places available rather than the crime? Jeremy is putting that point to Jack Straw right now.
As the former chief police officer responsible for roads it is a little embarrassing for Meredydd Hughes to be banned for driving at 90 mph in a 60 mph zone. But he's not the only police officer to have been caught on camera.
Tonight we show over a dozen photos we've obtained using the Freedom of Information Act showing police officers speeding. The difference is that none of these police officers - all members of Meredydd Hughes’s South Yorkshire force - have been prosecuted after they refused to say who was driving the car.
Finally, what has happened to the punk violinist Nigel Kennedy? Our culture correspondent, Madeleine Holt has caught up with him in his new home, in Poland.
Join Jeremy tonight at 10.30pm
- 5 Dec 07, 10:20 AM
Simon Enright is today's programme producer, returning to the Newsnight fold after a stint elsewhere in the BBC. Here's his early email to the team.
Its good to be back - please do be gentle with me on my first day back in the big chair and I will try not to over commission...
There are stories but which can and should we make our own?
- Should sentencing be linked to the number of jail places?
- Expect HMRC to get a grilling over lost disks at the Treasury Select Ctte
- We also expect the new points system for immigration to be announced
- Are we donored-out or should we keep digging? It is PMQs today
Or should we go for an Economy special? I want to hear from Stephanie Flanders ahead of tomorrow's interest rate decision. Could we have a Hawk vs a Dove in debate? Could we have a piece to remind us what the last recession was like?
We could also slip in another 'where are they now' piece. Meirion/Jackie Long have an update on the money raised to help with Tsunami. Remember that? Have the Red Cross finally spent all the money raised three years ago? (Would I be asking that question if they had?)
Finally while Polish plumbers are coming over here you might be surprised to hear who we are exporting to Poland…Madeleine Holt catches up with violinist and new Polish patriot Nigel Kennedy.
For those of you who don't know me I'm the one with the loud laugh.
- 4 Dec 07, 06:16 PM
We've just learned that the controversial paediatrician Dr David Southall has been struck off the medical register for serious professional misconduct. Last week the GMC decided he had abused his position by accusing a mother of drugging and murdering her son. John Sweeney was the BBC's investigative reporter who revealed flaws in the case against Sally Clarke. Her verdict was subsequently overturned. Tonight John will be reporting for Newsnight on where this leaves the role of expert witnesses.
As I write we are also discussing in the Newsnight office how we will cover the story of the release of a new video by the kidnappers of five Britons who have been held in Iraq since May. In the video the kidnappers demand that Britain withdraws all its forces from Iraq within ten days. The Foreign Office has confirmed that the hostage in the video is one of the British people who were kidnapped. He sat underneath a sign reading “The Islamic Shiite Resistance in Iraq”. The video has been condemned by the government.
“Very thorough and very damning" - that was the reaction of Graham Knight the father of Sergeant Ben Knight, to the report into the Nimrod crash which killed his son and 13 other service personnel when the plane blew up over Afghanistan.
The report concluded a fuel leak was probably to blame and the defence secretary apologised to MPs, victims and their families for “failings for which the Ministry of Defence must take responsibility". These planes are still flying because they are a key component of our military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and allegedly incidents of fuel leaks are continuing in their dozens. I hope to be speaking to a defence minister.
And at this time of year we return to some of the big stories and issues Newsnight has led the way on during the past 12 months. In a series of films we have examined “Broken Britain". Tonight we report from Wythenshawe a few miles south of Manchester which was built as a Garden City in the 1920s, but now this post-industrial, largely white working class community is struggling with gangs, knives, drugs and guns.
We are also keen to hear from you - do you think crime is really falling?
- 4 Dec 07, 03:37 PM
Jeremy Paxman bought me dinner last night.
Canapés, candlelight, cocktail music..? Yeah, right.
He thrusts a £20 note at me, its silver strip catching the fierce fluorescents in his office and says, “I’ll have the meal deal - and get something for yourself”.
Then with that trademark televisual twinkle in his eye he adds, ‘And don’t ever say I don’t buy you dinner!’
The 6.30 food order is something of a NN office ritual. Nearly everything we do is deadline driven and the idea of downing tools and sloping off somewhere to eat for an hour is a tad quaint.
OK, we’re not talking Victorian children snatching a scoop of porridge at one end of the loom before weaving their way back again. But you do see harried journos biting off more than they can chew while trying to craft a video package for your later consumption.
As the office junior - admittedly one of the Beeb’s more senior juniors - it falls on me to place the food order. You’d think that being the Arch-Nourisher of NN would put me in a privileged position, but a hungry man is an angry man and you can’t please all of the hacks all of the time.
Get your hands off my falafels
One might be delayed in a legal meeting while another is itching to eat before being stuck in the studio for a pre-show recording. Added to which, if you don’t keep enough people on board there’s a danger of losing the free delivery.
So many variables, so little time...
But it’s all in a 13-hour day’s work and a newsroom marches on its stomach. Plus, there’s nothing like the wonder in a reporter’s eye when those foil food parcels arrive. It’s only slightly tainted as she says, ‘Jeremy - have you got hold of my falafels?’
Which brings us back to Mr P’s proffered £20 note.
I can’t prove it, but I swear that under the glare of the strip lights, on the flip side of Her Majesty, Adam Smith’s winking at me.
- 4 Dec 07, 02:35 PM
The statistics tell us that crime is falling. Politicians tell us that we are now less likely to become victims of crime.
It’s a rosy picture – but is it accurate? Are we really safer? Or is crime still an issue which keeps us awake at night? Ahead of our special report from the Wythenshawe estate we’d like to hear from you about your experience – is crime really under control?
- 4 Dec 07, 10:26 AM
Donations - there will be an opposition debate today on party funding, and pressure is increasing on Wendy Alexander and now Peter too.
Nimrod inquiry into crash over Afghanistan in which 14 servicemen died - it was the biggest single loss of life since the Falklands.
Iran - Bush presser this afternoon. Israel disputes the US intelligence assessment. What are the implications of the report for diplomatic relations between US and Iran?
And we have Zaiba Malik's film from Wythenshawe in Greater Manchester. Once a peaceful, prosperous garden city, now like many other estates the area is facing social breakdown, crime and drug abuse. The piece explores how the white working class community there is trying to deal with its problems.
- 3 Dec 07, 05:36 PM
Gillian Gibbons has been pardoned today by the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and in a statement released by the Sudanese presidential palace she said she was sorry if she caused any distress. It's not clear when she will leave Sudan but her release from jail brings to an end Ms Gibbons’ ordeal but not the story of her conviction.
It has been alleged that the extremity of the response to her class naming a teddy Mohammed had more to do with the British government's outspoken criticism of the Sudanese government's role in Darfur than the school room incident itself.
Tonight we also report from Darfur where nearly two and a half million souls are dotted in camps throughout the area and gunman roam the settlements involved in the ever increasing number of rebel factions. In October alone seven aid workers were shot. We'll be speaking to Mia Farrow one of the most outspoken critics of the Sudanese government who have failed to agree the terms for the new 26,000 UN/ African Union peacekeeping force, possibly delaying its deployment.
We have the results of an exclusive Newsnight poll into whether the government is covered in sleaze and if it's competent. The results makes for really interesting reading.
The Labour donor maelstrom, imaginatively called "Donorgate", is still dominating the news agenda, and our political editor Michael Crick is on the case, while David Grossman is in Scotland where Wendy Alexander is fighting for her political life. She has said she won't resign as leader of the Labour Party in Scotland - she will await the result of the Electoral Commission report into her acceptance of a donation from an offshore benefactor Paul Green. Is she being kept in position as a "human shield" for Harriet Harman and even the Prime Minister? Gordon Brown's efforts to deflect interest onto his moves to reform in party funding raise more questions again - will the millions handed over by the Trades Unions dry up and if so how will Labour deal with its looming debt mountain?
We hope to be joined by a trade union leader live.
We have a fascinating film from Afghanistan, about the relationship between British officials and tribal chiefs. It's back to the Great Game - British diplomats are following the template working in the same way they did during Victorian times, including being trained to speak Pashtun, apparently with great success.
John Darwin has walked into a London police station five and a half years after disappearing in the sea in front of his house at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool. But where has he been? And does he remember the moment he went overboard from his red canoe.
Of course his family are delighted he is home safely but how did he spend the intervening five and a half years. His return is a sad reminder to others whose loved ones are still unaccounted for. Such stories of people disappearing into the sea - John Stonehouse and the fictional Reggie Perrin among them - hold a fascination for people. Tonight we'll be examining the impact such accidental and planned disappearances have on the ones they leave behind.
- Richard Colebourn
- 3 Dec 07, 10:23 AM
BEIRUT - I was passed a pretty miserable letter this week from a young Egyptian man called Abdel Kareem Suleiman. He’s currently serving time in a prison in the northern city of Alexandria.
His letter alleges abuse by the prison’s guards. “I have been subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” he writes.
For anyone who knows anything about Egypt, that's not very surprising, except for this: Abdel Kareem is 23 and behind bars for blogging.
Continue reading "Egyptian blogger alleges prison beating"
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