News & Current Affairs

September 24, 2008

No time for a novice, says Brown

No time for a novice, says Brown

Browns kiss

The Browns appeared together before and after the speech

Other than soon-to-be parents there is nothing quite so expectant as a party conference waiting to hear from its leader.

If every delegate was not full of warm excitement while queuing to get in, they certainly were once in the hall.

Upbeat pop classics boomed from the loudspeakers; a film of Labour’s achievements flashed on the big screen.

A row of women behind me started clapping in time to the music, raucous as a hen party.

Surprise warm-up

In the front row two of Labour’s elder statesmen, Lord Kinnock and John Prescott, beamed and waved. Carnival had come to Manchester.

Things could get no better. But the surprise appearance of Sarah Brown as warm-up act sent the audience into a paroxysm of happiness.

I am all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice
Gordon Brown

They rose as one and would not sit down as she stood bashfully on the stage, looking both delighted and terrified at the same time.

The hen party whooped – another uplifting film was shown – and all that was missing was dancing in the aisles. No-one would guess that this was a party 20 points behind in the polls.

It was a masterful paving the way for the big speech. As Sarah introduced “my husband, the leader of the Labour party, your prime minister” she almost forgot to say “Gordon Brown”.

But it mattered not, as the man himself did as near a shimmy onto the stage as he can muster, and gave his wife a full kiss on the lips. I can’t believe my luck – he seemed to be saying – what a wife! What a party!

The atmosphere of mutual love-in continued for several minutes. Gordon Brown’s “I’m a serious man for serious times” went down a storm.

And throughout he pushed all the right buttons – personal about how the NHS had saved his sight – political with some crowd-pleasing Tory-bashing.

‘Pro-market’

Serious about the economy – and substantial when talking about the Labour agenda.

Most ministers got a mention – including one D Miliband, although he was right at the end.

There was a small stumble over the trailed apology on the 10p tax affair – sorry clearly seems to be the hardest word – and more muted applause for his City-calming “we are a pro-market party.”

While he talked genuinely about his beliefs,Mr Brown will never be good at delivering a cheesy line – declaring that at all the polls and criticism were worth it if he made life better for just one child felt, well, unlikely.

But the end verdict was resoundingly positive. “The best he’s done,” declared a couple of people approvingly.

As the loudspeakers started to boom out a Jackie Wilson number, and Sarah joined him again onstage, the hen party started up a chant of “Gordon, Gordon” and it truly felt as if Their Love was Lifting Him Higher.

Has he done himself good? Most certainly.

Has he done enough? Who knows.

September 12, 2008

Zimbabwe rivals agree unity deal

Zimbabwe rivals agree unity deal

Zimbabwe’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe have reached a deal to share power.

After mediating four days of talks in Harare, South African President Thabo Mbeki said the agreement would be signed and made public on Monday.

Mr Tsvangirai has confirmed the deal, but Mr Mugabe has yet to comment.

The government and the opposition MDC had already agreed that Mr Tsvangirai would be prime minister with Mr Mugabe staying on as president.

Negotiations have been on-off since the end of July, but have stalled over the allocation of executive power between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai, bitter rivals for a decade.

‘Parallel governments’

Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was first to announce the breakthrough, telling reporters simply: “We’ve got a deal.”

Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks during a press conference in Harare on 11 September 2008

Later, Mr Mbeki told a news conference the two sides had agreed unanimously to form an inclusive government.

He said: “I am absolutely certain that the leadership of Zimbabwe is committed to implementing these agreements.”

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told : “Both political parties are committed, it’s our wish that the deal will be successful.”

Zimbabwe’s envoy to the UN, Boniface Chidyausiku told that the deal was a “triumph for African diplomacy”.

The UN special representative on Zimbabwe, Haile Menkerios, said the announcement marked a way forward that all sides could live with.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it was following the situation closely, adding that “our concern is the welfare of the Zimbabwean people”.

The discussions are thought to have been deadlocked over how many ministries each party should have in a unity government, and how much power Mr Mugabe should retain.

Mr Tsvangirai has consistently demanded that he should become executive prime minister, thereby taking over some of the powers that Mr Mugabe has exercised for more than 28 years.

Mr Tsvangirai may now chair a new council of ministers and control the day-to-day running of the country, but Mr Mugabe will head the cabinet, our correspondent says.

However, how two – in effect – parallel governments will work is unclear, he adds.

Aid hopes

The agreement opens the way for international donors to help to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe arrives for the talks in Harare on 10 September 2008

It is now the fastest shrinking in the world with inflation galloping to more than 11m%.

Mr Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, won a controversial June presidential run-off election unopposed after Mr Tsvangirai withdrew, claiming the MDC was the target of state-sponsored violence.

In the first presidential election in March, Mr Tsvangirai gained more votes than Mr Mugabe, but official results say he did not pass the 50% threshold for outright victory.

Earlier on Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said any power-sharing deal in Zimbabwe would be judged by how much it reflected legitimate election results.


Are you in Zimbabwe or do you have family or friends there? What is your reaction to the news of a power-sharing deal? Send us your comments

September 10, 2008

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

Narrow UK class gap, urges Harman

The class gap must be narrowed in an effort to improve people’s life chances, Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman has said.

She told the TUC annual conference that “equality matters more than ever” and “is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy”.

Ms Harman called for more “clarity of evidence” to suggest the government was making progress on the issue.

But the Conservatives accused her of re-opening the “class war”.

Union criticism

Ms Harman’s comments come after Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in an interview with Monitor magazine that “social mobility has not improved in Britain as we would have wanted”.

They will be seen by many as an attempt by the government to rally the unions to Labour, after widespread criticism over the level of public sector pay and demands for a windfall tax on energy firms’ profits.

Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader and minister for women and equality, told delegates at the TUC conference in Brighton: “Equality matters more than ever and it is necessary for individuals, a peaceful society and a strong economy.

“We have made great progress on tackling inequality but we know that inequality doesn’t just come from your gender, race, sexual orientation or disability. What overarches all of these is where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class.

“While we have helped millions of people over the last ten years through policies like Sure Start, tax credits and the national minimum wage, we want to do more.

“To advance equality through our public policy, we need clarity of evidence and focus on the gaps in society and how they have changed over the last 10 years.”

Ms Harman announced that the government’s National Equality Unit would be headed by Professor John Hills of the London School of Economics.

She said: “The robust evidence base that the panel will produce will help us properly target measures to address persisting equality gaps and build on the good work that we have already done.”

‘Sidling up’

Ms Harman accused the Conservatives of being “false friends of equality” and of “sidling up to the unions”.

For the Conservatives, shadow leader of the Commons Theresa May said: “I am astounded that Harriet Harman is dismissing the equality issues around race and gender.”

She added: “I also find it surprising that she should raise issues of social equality when she’s part of government that has been in power for over 11 years, presiding over a 900,000 growth in the number of people living in severe poverty and over a country that has the lowest social mobility in the developed world.

“Labour has made poverty more entrenched and returning to the class warfare rhetoric of 20 years ago is neither helpful nor realistic.”


Do you agree with Harriet Harman? Has your child suffered due to a class gap? Has your family benefited through policies like Sure Start or tax credits?

Send your comments

August 24, 2008

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

Beijing primed for Olympic finale

The Bird's Nest stadium hosts the closing ceremony

Plenty of fireworks are in store at the closing ceremony

The Beijing Games draw to a close on Sunday after what many have described as one of the best Olympics ever held.

China, having beaten the United States to top the medals table, will hand the Olympic flag to the 2012 hosts London at a closing ceremony from 1300 BST.

Great Britain surpassed all targets by winning 19 golds at the 2008 Games – their best haul for a century.

Kenya’s Sammy Wanjiru won the men’s marathon on the final day, with basketball and boxing finals to come.

Six boxing titles are being decided while the men’s basketball final, featuring the United States and Spain, starts at 0730 BST.

Later, the spectacular farewell in front of a packed house of more than 90,000 at the Bird’s Nest stadium is set to last three hours and will include fireworks displays at 18 locations across Beijing.

The organisers have promised a more light-hearted show than the opening ceremony, which focused heavily on Chinese history.

Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy, who claimed three gold medals at the Games, will carry the flag for Team GB at the closing ceremony.

The ceremony will also see London mayor Boris Johnson receive the Olympic flag to signal the countdown to the 2012 Games.

Team GB have been congratulated for their efforts in a message from The Queen.

“As a nation we now look forward to holding the Olympic Games in London in 2012,” she said.”The golden triumphs of the present British team can only serve as further inspiration to those who will be working hard over the next four years to make the London Games a shining example of Olympic success.”

China staged the Olympics against a background dominated by fears of pollution, worries over security and protests about its human rights record.

But the sporting action has been enthralling, with highlights including Michael Phelps swimming to a record eight gold medals and Jamaican Usain Bolt breaking three world records as he bagged a sprint title treble.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke on Sunday of his hope that a UK football team could compete in the next Olympics, will attend the closing event.

Prime minister Gordon Brown and footballer Beckham

Brown rubs shoulders with Beckham in Beijing

The London Olympics will also have a eight-minute slot that will feature a version of Led Zeppelin classic Whole Lotta Love performed by the group’s guitarist Jimmy Page and singer Leona Lewis.Footballer David Beckham will be involved as will the Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra.

The closing show will also feature a duet by Chinese folk singer Song Zuying and Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, along with a performance by a 350-strong kung-fu group.

There promises to be another spectacular show earlier in the day when the US basketball team, aka the ‘Redeem Team’, look to reclaim their crown against world champions Spain.

There are also six boxing gold medals to be decided, with Ireland’s Kenny Egan going in the light-heavyweight final.

Other finals are taking place in the men’s water polo (0840), men’s volleyball (0500), and men’s handball (0845).

In the rhythmic gymnastics group all-around event, Russia defended their title to take gold, while China claimed silver and Belarus bronze.

In total, there will be 12 gold medals won on the final day of action before the Games are handed on to London.

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