Once he was regarded as an obvious front-runner for the job of EU president, then it was pointed out that it was unlikely anyone would be chosen from a country that is not in the eurozone, not in the Schengen border-free area and which has an exemption to the bloc’s charter of fundamental rights.Ah, but if you don’t choose someone with proven political clout to fight Europe’s corner, a G2 of China and the United States will have things all their own way soon, declared Foreign Secretary David Miliband over the weekend.You need someone with a high profile who will stop the traffic in world capitals, he added.Oh no, we don’t, several EU countries say. We want someone with a lower profile who will be better able to secure consensus among members states than Tony Blair.Other detrators say they don’t want Blair because he backed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Conservatives in Britain have said that appointing him would be viewed by an incoming Tory government as a virtual act of war and that he runs the risk of being almost immediately thrust into controversy as the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war begins.The actual decision is likely to be made at a summit next month. Meanwhile Blair himself seems to be standing on the sidelines, so much so that some of his supporters are urging him to launch a more dynamic campaign.Do you believe Blair’s the man for the job?
The largest review of primary schooling in England for 40 years has said children at five are too young to start formal education and that six would be a more suitable age.The Cambridge University study says play-based learning should go on for another year. Making children start school so young was a throwback to the Victorian age when the factories wanted them to start early so they could finish early and get working on the production line sooner.Only Wales, Scotland and the Netherlands start children off at school so early, it noted. Schooling starts at the age of six in 20 out of 34 European countries, with eight nations, including Sweden, waiting until children are seven.The government disagrees. “A school starting age of six would be completely counter-productive,” says Schools Minister Vernon Coaker. “We want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday. “What do you think? Is five too young?
Fury, resentment and a general feeling of being hard done-by is reported to be the prevailing mood amongst MPs as they reconvene after the Summer break to find brown envelopes of an unwelcome sort waiting for them.These are the already infamous “Legg letters,” the latest symbol along with duck houses, moats and mole-catchers of the expenses scandal which did so much damage to all parties earlier this year.Written as a result of the inquiry headed by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg, they assess the expenses claimed by each MP between 2004 and 2008 and, where anomalies have been found, they either demand repayment or clarification.Gordon Brown is to pay back 12,415 pounds, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg 910 pounds and SNP leader Alex Salmond 700 pounds. David Cameron has been asked to provide more details about his mortgage repayments.But three things have particularly annoyed backbenchers.The first is that Legg has imposed retrospective limits on various categories of expenses that the MPs themselves obviously cannot have known about at the time. He has said the maximum allowable for cleaning for example is 2,000 pounds and that for gardening 1,000 pounds, according to newspaper reports.The second is the perception at Westminster that those MPs who made the really big claims, the ones on mortgage payments, are getting away with it. Saying “sorry” seems to be enough, as in the case of former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.And the third is that some MPs feel they have been unfairly singled out for reprisal by party leaders eager to be seen to be taking action.Do you think they have a point? Is it time to stop harassing MPs and get on with government?
After weeks of regional disruption, a national postal strike now looms.The Communication Workers Union accuses managers of bullying and harassment in the drive for modernisation. Managers accuse the workers of being obstructive and bloody-minded.Meanwhile nimbler competitors, who do not have to provide the one-price-goes-anywhere service, make gains and big clients like the Internet shopping services withdraw their custom.What’s the postal service like in your area? Do you think the union has a good case for a strike?
As the public spending axe starts swinging, attention inevitably turns northwards to the chilly waters of the Clyde where Britain’s nuclear deterrent is based.The four Vanguard class submarines which make up what is left of the UK deterrent come to the end of their lives around 2019 and their Trident missiles will need updating in the 2020s.The go-ahead for replacement, which will cost some 20 billion pounds, was given by Tony Blair in 2006.Cheaper alternatives, like having a ballistic missile system or a plane-delivered bomb or cutting the number of subs to three have been mulled over the last few years.Some people would like to scrap the deterrent altogether, arguing it was never necessary in the first place and that the nature of threats to Britain has changed radically since the Cold War.Others believe a minimum level of deterrence is vital given the proliferation of nuclear weapons into the Middle East and Asian regions.What do you think? Is the need to balance our books so great as to end the 52-year British independent deterrent?
The Mexicans have an apt rhyme for it: “Para ser presidente, hay que paracer presidente” – to be a president you have to look like a president.Maybe Nicolas Sarkozy’s advisors had something of the kind in mind when they hired a suspiciously short crowd to surround their man on a stage this week in order to make him look taller.Not a bad idea, really — better than the old stalwarts like perching on a box or having those around you standing in trenches.Sarkozy, at a mere 5 ft 5 ” is reportedly very touchy about his height, especially since he married Carla Bruni who notably wears flat shoes in the presence of her husband to disguise the four-inch gap.But French leaders have form in this n’est-ce pas? Napoleon Bonaparte himself was just 5ft 2″ by some accounts, clearly so short that the only way of compensating for it was to subjugate Europe through war and conquest.The connection between stature and success is mixed in other countries. Abraham Lincoln was the tallest American president at 6ft 4″ and James Madison the shortest at 5ft 4″ — he made up for it by largely writing the American constitution – while in Britain the great Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury was also 6 ft 4.” Not much around on who was Britain’s shortest premier. Could it have been Lloyd George?Do you think there is any correlation between height and achievement? Are there any outstanding short role models in Britain today?