The organisation – which has in the past antagonised MPs of all parties with its high-volume round robin email campaigns – persuaded 3,652 of its members and followers to pay for independent legal advice on the implications of the bill. Solicitors Harrison Grant and barristers Stephen Cragg and Rebecca Haynes gave their legal opinions on two key aspects of the bill – the removal of Secretary of State for Health’s Duty to provide or secure provision of NHS services and the impact of competition and procurement law on the NHS. The full details are available on the group’s website www.38degrees.org.uk, but in short the group’s fears the legislation heralds “privatisation by stealth” were heightened by the legal advice it received. It believes the legislation removing the Health Secretary’s statutory duty to provide or secure provision of health services – a core element of NHS legislation since 1946 – will also curtail the Secretary of State’s influence over delivery of services rendering the NHS “little more than a series of quasi-independent commissioning entities and providers” consisting of unelected commissioners accountable to an unelected quango. That lack of accountability to local authority of parliament also increases the risk, or persistence, of postcode lotteries as the Government will not be in a position to try to ensure a statutory right for everyone to receive the best care possible, the group argues. Opening up the NHS to free market competition law – just like utilities providers – also poses particular threats to the NHS as we know it, the group argues. The changes increase the likelihood of NHS services being found by the courts to be bound by British and European Union competition law. This prospect is further increased by the extension, announced in July 2011, of the right of any qualified provider to be given a contract to deliver health services and the fact new commissioning groups will be subject to EU procurement rules when they commission local health services. This could mean, it warns, that the NHS ends up spending a lot of time and money fighting legal action instead of investing in patient care. Companies that bid unsuccessfully for NHS contracts will be able to challenge commissioning decisions in the courts. The group has one of its e-petitions on its website to lobby Parliament but if you want your MP to not to immediately hit the delete button in a blue, red or yellow fury, it is probably advisable to personalise it.
On the subject of targeting your message, so to speak, MPs were invited to test their accuracy – and their differences – in a different way to usual when they lined up on Speaker’s Green to try archery. The event, organised by Welsh Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies to mark the British archery team’s 150th anniversary and promote the sport ahead of next year’s Olympics, was attended by Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and several MPs. The prospect of several consecutive by-elections caused by MPs’ unfortunate aim was avoided by the supervision and tutelage of Commonwealth archery double gold medallist Nicky Hunt.
The site of one of Rupert Murdoch’s greatest “victories” a quarter of a century ago, in which he transformed this country’s national newspaper industry – News International’s 15-acre fortified site at Wapping near the Tower of London – was this week put up for sale – again. The site ceased to be a printing works in 2008 when distribution shifted to a state of the art works on the M25 near Watford, and since 2009 editorial and commercial staff of The Times, Sunday Times and The Sun – and, until its demise this summer, the News of the World – have been working out of offices on Thomas More Square. Plans for a brighter, friendlier Google-style campus on the Wapping site were scrapped by US-based parent News Corp in 2008 and a sale of the site fell through as the property market collapsed. Reports say the sale this time could realise a much-appreciated £150 million for the British newspaper arm that has been feeling so unloved by its US parent.
Her father was the Tory Attorney General – nicknamed Sir Reginald Bullying-Manner – who advised Anthony Eden that his illegal Suez invasion would clearly breach international law. A fact she took pains to tell her audience. So when former MI5 chief Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller made clear her own criticisms of the Iraq invasion in her recorded Reith lecture, broadcast on Radio 4 this week, she not only proved, in the words of Time magazine’s London correspondent, that “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree”, she earned considerable kudos for the crisp concision of her apparently even-handed and realistic analysis. She was, she suggested, always disdainful of the term “war on terror” and insisted Britain had eschewed it, she acknowledged that intelligence professionals openly admitted to each other in the immediate aftermath of September 11 that the Israeli-Palestine conflict is an “open sore” that fuels aggression towards the West. Above all, the Iraq invasion, whose validity she opposed, only hindered the pursuit of al Qaida in Afghanistan. Echoing her former employers’ lessons in Northern Ireland she told her handpicked audience that: “Terrorism is resolved through economics and politics, not through arms and intelligence”. To that end, would she support negotiations with al Qaida, she was asked. “Yes”, came the reply. “It is always better to talk to the people who are attacking you then attacking them, if you can.”
So Tony Blair is godfather to Rupert Murdoch’s nine-year-old daughter, Grace. Confirmation of such a close familial relationship between the former Labour leader and the party’s favourite bête noir has already caused some people in the party he once led to express their unease. But others, who have noted Mr Blair’s occasional messianic self-belief (especially in his recently published memoirs) have seen cause to be struck by the rare display of humility – at the spring 2010 event (featured sans Blairs in the April 5, Easter Monday issue of Hello! magazine) on the banks of the River Jordan, the site of Christ’s own baptism by John – in that while the former Prime Minister (so often accused by critics of being Rupert Murdoch’s own John the Baptist, or even his “representative on Earth” while in Downing Street) is said to have worn a white robe, like every other guest, he did not apparently attempt to carry out the Christening himself