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Archives for November 2010

Talking to MP Mike Hancock about Russian spies

Peter Henley | 14:12 UK time, Tuesday, 30 November 2010


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It is that bright pink cable knit jumper which surely gives Mr Hancock away. No self-respecting alleged employer of a spy would sport such a distinctive look. But Mike has been here before.

This is a studied casual approach. Don't forget he's a defector - from Labour to the SDP and now Lib Dems. His name has been in all sort of headlines over the years. He knows how to dress for the Sunday journalist's knock on the door.

It's been four months since the Sunday Times first told us about his research asisstant Katia Zatuliveter, when she was detained at Heathrow, returning from a holiday to Croatia with five student friends.

The link with an MP on the Defence Select Committee was too good to resist, though Mr Hancock laughed it off as a silly season story when I talked to him about it then.

Since then she's been questioned at least four times, but the MP and aide both thought deportation was unlikely. She had actually decided to stop working for Mr Hancock before she was stopped in the summer, but he says the publicity meant the job fell through, and he kept her on.

On the Politics Show today Mike told us

"I have no evidence that she is in any way a threat to the UK. If she was a threat when they stopped her in August they could have removed her then. It there was evidence then they should have done it then, but they didn't. I'm surprised that they've allowed it to go on another four months."

"She has a perfect right to appeal and she's confident of winning the appeal."

Katia Zatuliveter started working as an Assistant to Mike Hancock in 2008, after completing a masters degree at Bradford University. She'd previously been an intern at the House of Commons and at WEU in Paris.

Katia Zatulevita

Katia Zatuliveter

Miss Zatuliveter also thought she was free to return to her home in the Caucasus at any time but chose not to. Her sister is married to a UK citizen and lives here..

The security sources who spoke to the Sunday Times don't actually say that she's done any spying. It's suggested she may have been a "sleeper" - and no more proof is needed, it seems, to declare her a risk to national security.

Mr Hancock is still a City Councillor. The leader of the council Lib Dem Gerald-Vernon Jackson says he's trusted in the city and unlikely to resign over stories in a paper.

"There are people who have it in for some people in public life, and he is a Marmite politician. But Mike's been around for a long time. "

"If someone's been through all the screening that security services put people through to work in the House of Commons and they pass that then what more could anybody say that Mike should have done?"

The "Did you think she was a spy?" question is a stupid one .. duh! the point of spying is to avoid being seen as a spy...

So the better question surely is "Why did Mike Hancock continue to employ her after she was first questioned by the police?"

With politicians it all comes down to judgement. Mike may have nothing to hide (I refer you back to that jumper) but he has more than a few questions to answer.

Ark Royal Farewell Parade

Peter Henley | 10:03 UK time, Friday, 26 November 2010


HMS Ark Royal

Portsmouth will get a chance to give its flagship a proper send-off. The City Council is holding the decommissioning parade, to be held in Guildhall Square on 22 January, followed by a reception at the Guildhall.

The Leader of the City Council Gerald Vernon-Jackson anounced the event saying "HMS Ark Royal has a very special place in the hearts of the people of Portsmouth. It is only right to mark the passing of such a great ship".

The news came as tensions continue to rise in Korea, somewhere we might well need an aircraft carrier if we want to support allies. But with the demise of the Harriers we can only fly foreign planes from our ships' decks.

In a letter to The TImes Admiral Lord West had this analysis:

"What is certain is that to fail to stand by the United States, when they have supported us in Europe over some 70 years, would be a mistake. "The dispatch of a carrier, its small air wing and a Tactom-armed nuclear submarine, should any such crisis escalate, is just the sort of commitment an ally such as the United States requires. Nothing else in our military inventory has similar flexibility and 'adaptability'. "What will be the next strategic shock? I cannot predict it - nor can the Government. To lose our maritime strike capability in such dangerous times is short-sighted."

Meanwhile, Babcock who are making parts of the new Queen Elizabeth class carrier in Portsmouth say the cost of fitting the Catapult and trap system for launching planes will add at least £700m to the new ships.

What price being prepared?

For old times sake, here are the BBC pictures of the final Royal visit to Ark Royal in Portsmouth earlier this month.

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The Power of the Placard

Peter Henley | 17:16 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010


Students with placard

Get the public's attention, and make your argument... in one short sentence.

That's the challenge facing every person who's ever tried to write a placard for a protest march. It's the political equivalent of a Haiku poem.

An Ad agency might get there with focus groups and latte-fuelled brain-storms, but the student protests have shown you can do it on a budget.

The first approach is to raise a smile. How about:

"We don't need no edumacation! ... obviously..."

or brevity and rhyme combined:

"9K No way!"

There was philosophy and economics, this placard could have been an exam discussion point:

"Public Debt: Bad, Private Debt: Good?"

The Lib Dems took a pasting of course:

"Nick is a rotten Clegg"

..was one of the only printable comments.

There was even some amazing craft work - with enterprising students who'd designed cardboard scissors, and one amazing bloke dressed head to toe in bank notes with this slogan on the back:

"Do you think I'm made of money?"

A now infamous clip shows The BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson stamping on a placard that was being waved behind him when he was live on air, and there was one referring to that:

"Try to break this, Nick Robinson - you meretricious twit!"

When I bumped into him in the House of Commons Press gallery this week he confirmed that he had seen it. "I had to look that word up" he laughed.

Perhaps education standards are rising!

What slogans have you spotted? Any favourites from the past? Or ones the students might like to try? Please comment below!

Would you take a pay cut to save colleagues' jobs?

Peter Henley | 16:27 UK time, Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Labour photocall

That's the dilemma facing Southampton's 4,500 City Council employees. Cleaners, park staff, social workers are all being asked to have 5.5 percent chopped off their monthly pay and working hours. In return the ruling Conservative group say they can reduce the number of redundancies by 400.

The unions call it blackmail. Before today's full council meeting Labour councillors held the photo-opportunity pictured above, pouring 792 coins on to a piece of glass to signify the 792 thousand pounds they say could be saved if the glass ceiling was broken that they claim protects senior managers from cuts.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrats decried this as childish nonsense, saying their opponents' sums didn't add up and calling for a more responsible approach to a difficult situation.

But what should the staff make of it? On the one hand a loss of income in tough times, and possibly pension or benefits that are linked to pay or hours worked as well; on the other hand the chance to save colleagues from the dole queue and keep vital services going.

Certainly many in the private sector have seen this all before. Remember Honda sending all their staff on four months unpaid holiday?

Some would say better to keep a job of any sort in these worrying times.

But others would say stand together, don't be scared. Vital services will be needed more than ever in the economy of the future.

The whips haven't got to him...

Peter Henley | 12:42 UK time, Thursday, 4 November 2010


John Glen MP

Spot the difference between these two quotes from Salisbury's young Conservative MP John Glen seen left singing the traditional New MPs song in the city centre.

The first was in the Mail on Sunday under the headline Cameron won't make me a minister... I'm a white, married, Home Counties Christian:

"I suspected that my days would be numbered, and in my early encounters with Steve Hilton and members of David Cameron's office I sensed a lack of esteem for what I could bring to the table. I don't anticipate any early calls to Government. I'm a white, Christian, married bloke from the Home Counties so I probably don't fit the description of what the leadership wants at the moment."

The second is the interview that he's done with us for the Politics Show on Sunday:

"I think the party has changed to reflect the country that we're seeking to govern. There have been some massive, massive changes inthe Conservative Party. We've got far more women and MPs from ethnic minorities - high calibre people who've been unfairly kept out of the party in the past. David Cameron's changed all that, and that's a good thing."

He stresses that the whip really haven't spoken to him, and says that he's "happy to bide his time" on the backbenches. But maybe not too long, eh?

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