Blogging minister worries Whitehall

It looks like this has made some people nervous:

DAVID MILIBAND, the politician tipped as a future Labour leader, is to become the first member of the cabinet to set up a web log in which he will publish views that go beyond his ministerial brief.

The launch of the “blog”, disclosed in a leaked letter, is likely to cause concern among colleagues of the communities minister, who fear that he may encroach on their departmental territory.

The letter, circulated around Whitehall by Rory O’Donnell, his private secretary, makes it clear that Miliband intends to address “the policies of other departments” and publicise his views on a range of subjects.

Miliband, a former Downing Street head of policy, is to launch the blog next month providing he wins the agreement of cabinet colleagues.

His spokesman said yesterday that his blog would be an “innovative way” of gauging reaction to government policy, “not racey details of his breakfast habits”.

Providing he wins the support of Cabinet colleagues. It would definately be an interesting read if he gets it off the ground. [Hat tip to reader Niall]

Sir Christopher Meyer Critiques U.S.-U.K. Orchestration of Iraq War

Steve Clemons points to the first part in the serialisation of Sir Christopher Meyer, former British ambassador to the US. It looks like it might be explosive with regard to the Blair premiership. The Guardian has it as front page news. I liked this bit:

I told him [Wolfowitz] there had to be a strategy for building international support. What was needed was a clever plan that convinced people there was a legal basis for toppling Saddam. The UN had to be at the heart of such a strategy. One way was to demand the readmission of UN weapons inspectors into Iraq. If he refused, this would not only put him in the wrong but also turn the searchlight onto the security council resolutions of which he remained in breach. I also stressed the critical importance of making progress in defusing the violence between Israel and the Palestinians, to help carry Muslim opinion. Wolfowitz listened carefully, but he was noncommittal.

A similar list of conditions appears in another leaked document, drawn up following Tony Blair’s summit with Bush at the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, a few weeks later in April 2002.

This Cabinet Office note recorded that Blair had told Bush that Britain would support military action “provided that certain conditions were met”. These conditions were that efforts were made to construct a coalition, that the Israel-Palestine crisis was “quiescent”, and that “options for action to eliminate Iraq’s WMD through UN weapons inspectors” were exhausted.

He continues:

Then, in November 2002, came a breakthrough – the passage of UN Resolution 1441, demanding a full and final disclosure of all Saddam’s weapons. Saddam agreed to comply and the weapons inspectors went back in. There was a brief period of hope that Saddam could be disarmed peacefully.

Against a backdrop of intensifying military preparations, anxiety gripped the Bush administration. It feared a prolonged inspection process that failed to reveal Saddam’s WMD; troops going stale as they kicked their heels; allies going off the boil; and a once-and-for-all opportunity to be rid of Saddam slipping through American fingers. The issue of the moment became how to find the “smoking gun” that would justify action against Saddam – the irrefutable proof that he had weapons of mass destruction.

The risk was that, through impatience and excessive pressure on the weapons inspectors, America would shatter any international coalition for war before it had even got started. I no longer thought that, in the event of opposition to war from most of the UN security council, Bush would blink. Yet he would still have an agonising decision to take early in 2003. And if it was agonising for him, it would be doubly so for Blair.

The advice the British prime minister then gave the US president would never have been more important in my time in Washington. It could even be the swing vote for war or peace. The pendulum never swung back again. If the president had left himself any space to step back from war, he closed it down early with his state of the union speech on January 29 2003.

Even by Bush’s standards the speech was unusually messianic in tone. The destruction of Saddam was a crusade against evil to be undertaken by God’s chosen nation: “This call of history has come to the right people.”

Blair now paid one more visit to Washington. The meeting with Bush on January 31 2003 took place against a deeply unpromising background. Transatlantic relations were in a trough. British attempts to overcome France and Germany’s vocal opposition to war were sinking beneath the waves. The prime minister’s best hope seemed to be to ensure that we and the US went to war in the best possible company. To do this, he needed to secure Bush’s solid support for a second UN resolution, explicitly sanctioning military action.

Heck, read the whole thing.

Britain and Ireland

Just attended a seminar in Croke Park on a new website just launched, britainandireland.org. It is a very interesting idea and I will certainly be keeping an eye on it.

The launch got some coverage on Newstalk 106 this morning and on Ireland.com.

Mick Fealty from Slugger, and co-guest with me on de telly, is helping with the new site.

More on it later.

Mourners' funeral tribute to Cook

It is sad to see, after the death of Peter Jennings during the week, yet another young life is beind laid to rest. At 59, Robin Cook had potentially decades ahead of him, but his demise was due to the scourge of modern society, heart disease.

I met Robin briefly at a New Statesman/University of London event in 2003, where he was debating with his biographer and now New Statesman editor, John Kampfner. A brief meeting is not alot to go on obviously, but he gave me a wry smile and a firm handshake when I was introduced to him – and was pleasant to talk to.

If these things do come in threes, who is next…yet another Scottish Labour MP?

Huge radioactive leak closes Thorp nuclear plant

This looks like a right mess

A leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in concentrated nitric acid, enough to half fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, has forced the closure of Sellafield’s Thorp reprocessing plant.

The highly dangerous mixture, containing about 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium fuel, has leaked through a fractured pipe into a huge stainless steel chamber which is so radioactive that it is impossible to enter.

Recovering the liquids and fixing the pipes will take months and may require special robots to be built and sophisticated engineering techniques devised to repair the £2.1bn plant.

The leak is not a danger to the public but is likely to be a financial disaster for the taxpayer since income from the Thorp plant, calculated to be more than £1m a day, is supposed to pay for the cleanup of redundant nuclear facilities.

George Galloway and Paxo duke it out

George Galloway managed to walk off an interview with Paxman, just after Paxman congratulated him on winning his seat. [Via Richard].

The transcript is not entirely accurate, I have highlighted the missing words.

JP: We’re joined now from his count in Bethnal Green and Bow by George Galloway. Mr Galloway, are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?
GG: What a preposterous question. I know it’s very late in the night, but wouldn’t you be better starting by congratulating me for one of the most sensational election results in modern history?
JP: Are you proud of having got rid of one of the very few black women in Parliament?
GG: I’m not – Jeremy – move on to your next question.
JP: You’re not answering that one?
GG: No because I don’t believe that people get elected because of the colour of their skin. I believe people get elected because of their record and because of their policies. So move on to your next question.
JP: Are you proud –
GG: Because I’ve got a lot of people who want to speak to me.
JP: – You –
GG: If you ask that question again, I’m going, I warn you now.
JP: Don’t try and threaten me Mr Galloway, please.
GG: You’re the one who’s trying to badger me.
JP: I’m not trying to badger you, I’m merely trying to ask if you’re proud at having driven out of Parliament one of the very few black women there, a woman you accuse of having on her conscience the deaths of 100,000 people.
GG: Oh well there’s no doubt about that one. There’s absolutely no doubt that all those New Labour MPs who voted for Mr Blair and Mr Bush’s war have on their hands the blood of 100,000 people in Iraq, many of them British soldiers, many of them American soldiers, most of them Iraqis and that’s a more important issue than the colour of her skin.
JP: Absolutely, because you then went on to say “including a lot of women who had blacker faces than her”
GG: Absolutely right, absolutely right. So don’t try and tell me I should feel guilty about one of the most sensational election results in modern electoral history.
JP: I put it to you Mr Galloway that Nick Raynsford had you to a T when he said you were a “demagogue”.
GG: Sorry?
JP: Nick Raynsford. You know who I mean? Nick Raynsford. Labour MP?
GG: No, I don’t know who you mean.
JP: Never heard of him.
GG: I’ve never heard of Nick Raynsford, no.
JP: What else haven’t you heard of?
GG: Well, I’ve been in Parliament a long time…
JP: He was a Parliamentary colleague of yours until very recently.
GG: Well, most of them just blend one into the other, Jeremy, they’re largely a spineless, a supine bunch.
JP: Have you ever heard of Tony Banks?
GG: Yes I have, yes.
JP: Right, Tony Banks was sitting here five minutes ago, and he said that you were behaving inexcusably, that you had deliberately chosen to go to that part of London and to exploit the latent racial tensions there.
GG: You are actually conducting one of the most – even by your standards – one of the most absurd interviews I have ever participated in. I have just won an election. Can you find it within yourself to recognise that fact? To recognise the fact that the people of Bethnal Green and Bow chose me this evening. Why are you insulting them?
JP: I’m not insulting them, I’m not insulting you
GG: You are insulting them, they chose me just a few minutes ago. Can’t you find it within yourself even to congratulate me on this victory?
JP: Congratulations, Mr Galloway.
GG: Thank you very much indeed. [Waves, removes microphone]

Salam Pax vs George Galloway

Former blogger Salam Pax turned up at the manifesto launch for the Respect party and asked why Mr Galloway wanted the immediate withdrawal of occupying troops from Iraq. To which Galloway replied:

We are not going to agree on this. You are a supporter of the war. You are a supporter of the occupation and I am an opponent. Your family joined the puppet government.

Harry’s Place have more here. Eric the Unread puts it more graphically, and Norman Geras responds.

Update May 6th: Galloway has now had a run in with Jeremy Paxman – you can watch it here.