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.

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September 22, 2008

Opposition leads Slovenia’s polls

Opposition leads Slovenia’s polls

Borut Pahor, leader of the opposition Social Democrats

Mr Pahor is a former young communist and one-time male model

Slovenia’s opposition is holding a razor-thin lead over the ruling party of PM Janez Jansa, near-complete results from parliamentary polls show.

With 97% of the votes counted, the Social Democrats had 30.5% of the vote against 29.2% for the center-right Slovenian Democrats, officials said.

But they said the vote was too close to predict the outcome.

Slovenia, the richest of the former Yugoslav states, is a member of the European Union and Nato.

It was also the first east European state to adopt the Euro.

Mr Jansa’s party is claiming credit for the country’s increased prosperity.

But the centre-right government has also frequently been accused of corruption.

Coalition allies

Earlier on Sunday, two separate exit polls gave the Social Democrats led by Borut Pahor a 4% lead over Mr Jansa’s party.

Election poster for  Janez Jansa's Slovene Democratic Party

Mr Jansa is hoping to gain a new four-year mandate

The outcome of the election may be determined by the performance of smaller parties which will be needed as coalition allies in the 90-seat parliament.

The exit polls suggested that two allies of the Social Democrats did well in the polls.

While the economic policies of the two main parties are similar, a left-leaning government could be expected to focus more on the redistribution of wealth to poorer parts of society, our correspondent says.

Polls opened at 0500GMT and closed at 1700GMT. Some 1.7 million people were eligible to vote.

August 30, 2008

McCain unveils ‘The Barracuda’

McCain unveils ‘The Barracuda’

There were no late night text messages and perhaps not the same build up that preceded the announcement of Barack Obama’s choice for running mate.

John McCain and Sarah Palin (29 August 2008)

Mrs Palin has been credited with bringing in reforms in her time in office

But because it was kept a secret almost until the end, John McCain’s choice did generate a fair amount of rumor and speculation.

Was he going to pick a traditional candidate, a safe bet – someone like the young governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty, or would the veteran Arizona senator go for the wild card?

The answer came on a private jet that flew in from the Alaskan city of Anchorage on Thursday night and landed outside Dayton, Ohio, apparently carrying on board a woman, two men and two teenagers.

All the journalists who were covering the story started looking up the biography of Sarah Palin, the 44-year-old governor of Alaska.

‘Average hockey mom’

She may be seen by some as a rising star of the Republican Party, but she was relatively unknown on a national level.

As he took to the stage, in front of a packed audience, Mr McCain introduced her as “exactly who I need, exactly who this country needs to help me fight the same old Washington politics of me first and the country second”.

For observers, it showed Mr McCain felt he needed to make a bold move to help change the course of the race to the White House.

SARAH PALIN

Elected Alaska’s youngest and first woman governor in 2006

Grew up in Wasilla, near Anchorage, and was voted Miss Wasilla in 1984
Studied journalism and political science at University of Idaho
Is mother of five, including a son with Down’s syndrome
Her husband Todd is an oil production operator
Likes hunting and fishing

The two presidential hopefuls have been running head to head, with Mr Obama gaining eight percentage points in the polls in recent days.

The choice of Sarah Palin is a high risk bet that could bring high rewards, but there are no guarantees.

Mrs Palin, a mother of five, is the first woman to be on a Republican presidential ticket.

Married for 20 years to Todd Palin, her high school sweetheart, she was nicknamed “Sarah Barracuda” during her college years for her aggressive basketball playing style – the name has stuck.

On stage, dressed in a conservative black power suit, her hair raised in a high ponytail, she described herself as “an average hockey mom from Alaska”.

She drew applause when talking about her anti-corruption drive, her standing up to big oil companies and even the “good old boys club”, which drew a smile from Mr McCain.

She eats moose meat and is an inveterate hunter, a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

One of her sons is heading to Iraq in September. The other, born in April, is diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

‘Exciting choice’

In many ways, her story is all American and her values will appeal to the conservative base and to blue-collar voters.

With 80% approval ratings back home, she seemed to also get the approval of the crowd she was addressing, drawing very enthusiastic cheers, as she spoke in a relaxed, accessible way.

It turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all
Sarah Palin

Mrs Palin also ticks several required boxes – she is fiscally conservative, in favor of drilling for oil and very staunchly anti-abortion.

Most of all she is a reformer and a fresh face for the Republican ticket.

President George W Bush said she was “an exciting choice” and Mrs Palin certainly adds energy and sizzle to the McCain campaign.

She also clearly reached out to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, who are disappointed their candidate did not make it on to the Democratic ticket, not even as vice-president.

“I can’t begin this great effort without honoring the achievement of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and of course, Hillary Clinton, who showed determination in her presidential campaign,” Mrs Palin said.

“It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America. But it turns out the women of America aren’t finished yet, and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.”

The Democrats for McCain group sent out an e-mail saying its supporters, especially the women, were “ecstatic” about the choice of Mrs Palin.

But other Democrats said they felt insulted that Mr McCain thought he could woo women by just putting any woman on his ticket, with one sentence making the rounds: “Palin, you are no Hillary Clinton”.

Experience questioned

It all made for an exciting day in Dayton, a city of just over 150,000 that has been hard hit by job losses in the past few years.

But the whole of the US is probably now scouring the internet for more information about Governor Palin and trying to assess her credentials.

Sarah Palin visits troops in Kuwait (24 July 2007)
What is it exactly that a VP does every day?
Sarah Palin

Many will be wondering whether she is ready to be vice-president and even lead the US, should something happen to Mr McCain if he is elected president.

As commander of the Alaska National Guard, she visited troops in Kuwait last year, but has a very thin foreign policy background.

Similarly, while she does have executive experience, the Obama campaign wryly pointed out she had been the mayor of a town with just 9,000 people.

As governor of Alaska during the past two years she has gained more experience, but even some Alaskans calling into talk shows on US network television said they doubted whether that had prepared her for the challenge of national politics.

She did herself no favors in a recent interview.

“As for that VP talk all the time, I can’t answer until someone answers me. What is it exactly that a VP does every day?” she said just a month ago on CNBC when asked about her chances of being on the ticket.

“I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that this VP slot would be fruitful type of position especially for Alaskans and for the kind of things we are trying to accomplish here for the rest of the US.”

Investigation

By choosing her, Mr McCain may have undercut his best attack against Senator Obama – if he uses the inexperience card now it will be turned against him and his running mate.

While conservatives, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh and former Bush adviser Karl Rove, hailed the Palin surprise, there were also dismayed reactions from some Republicans, who felt the choice underscored Mr McCain’s weaknesses and was too risky.

Polls in the coming days, and Mrs Palin’s performance at the Republican National Convention, will help assess the impact of Mr McCain’s decision.

In the meantime, Mr McCain and his new partner have something else to worry about – Mrs Palin is facing an investigation in Alaska for alleged abuse of power involving her former brother-in-law. Her deposition is expected to be scheduled soon.

She says she has “nothing to hide” and is “cool” about the investigation.

August 8, 2008

Israeli PM faces corruption quiz

Israeli PM faces corruption quiz

Israeli PM Ehud Olmert (03/08)

Mr Olmert had faced growing calls to resign over the claims

Israeli police are questioning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a  fifth time over corruption allegations.

Mr Olmert denies claims that he double billed charities and state bodies for overseas trips and improperly accepted donations from a US businessman.

Last week Mr Olmert revealed plans to stand down amid growing pressure over the two latest fraud investigations.

He said he would not stand in his party’s leadership elections, paving the way for a successor to take over.

But if the new leader of the Kadima party is unable to form a coalition government after the September elections, Mr Olmert could remain as caretaker prime minister until a general election is held.

In all Mr Olmert has faced six corruption investigations relating to before he became prime minister, although no charges have been filed in any of them.

EHUD OLMERT’S POLITICAL LIFE
1993: Begins 10-year stint as mayor of Jerusalem
2005: Leaves right-wing Likud party with former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to form Kadima
2006: Takes over as leader when Ariel Sharon suffers a stroke
2007: Helps re-launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after seven-year hiatus
2008: Announces plans to resign

In the most recent case, he is accused of submitting duplicate claims for travel expenses for overseas travel and using the money to fund family trips abroad.

That followed claims by a US businessman, Morris Talansky, that he gave Mr Olmert cash-stuffed envelopes.

Mr Talansky has said the money may have been used on luxury items, but Mr Olmert has said he only received legitimate funds for his campaigns for re-election as mayor of Jerusalem and for the leadership of the Likud party.

He has said he will resign if charged.

In the succession race for the leadership of the centrist Kadima party, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni leads Transport Minister Shaul Mofaz in the polls.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit are also seen as potential successors.

But the leader of the right-wing Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, has been performing well in polls for a potential general election.

The political uncertainty in Israel has cast a shadow over a faltering US-backed peace process with the Palestinians and indirect talks with Syria.

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