Britain

Prime Minister Gordon Brown looks set to break Labour’s 2005 election manifesto pledge to hold a referendum before Britain signs up to a new European Union constitution. At an August 22 press conference with German leader Angela Merkel, Brown announced that there was no need to hold a referendum and that the matter would instead be decided by parliament.

One of the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling for the release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian news cameraman, Imad Ghanem. On July 5, he was shot by Israeli soldiers as he filmed them invading Gaza. A Reuters video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay on the ground. An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked.

On July 17 the British House of Commons’ standards and privileges committee recommended the suspension of George Galloway, the former Labour MP who is now an MP for the left-wing Respect coalition, for 18 days. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 because of his opposition to the Iraq war.

The head of Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has called for police to be given the power to imprison “terror suspects” indefinitely without charge.

On June 27, Tony Blair finally stepped down as prime minister, exiting Downing Street to the sound of loud jeers from anti-war protesters and families of soldiers killed in Iraq. His successor, former Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, gave a brief speech at the door of Number 10 in which he used the word “change” no less than eight times. Many British trade union leaders have been hoping that Blair’s departure and Brown’s ascendency may signal a move away from the neoliberal agenda pursued by three successive Blair governments. This was always a vain hope, as Brown was Blair’s treasurer for the entire 10 years of his reign and architect of many of New Labour’s most reactionary policies, including the infamous Private Finance Initiatives that have brought many National Health Service trusts to the brink of bankruptcy.

The following letter, signed by a range of prominent figures in Britain, calls for respect for the Venezuelan government’s decision not to renew RCTV’s broadcasting licence. Signatories to the letter, which appeared in the British Guardian on May 26, include Tony Benn, John Pilger, Tariq Ali, Nobel Prize winner Harold Pinter and various MPs and trade union and student leaders.

The proposed “anti-terror” laws would allow police to demand people’s names and addresses and question them as to where they have been and where they are going. Those giving unsatisfactory answers could be arrested and fined up to £5000 (about A$12,000). Under current British laws, police already have powers to stop and search people, but not to demand answers to questions or to issue fines for non-compliance. “Stop and question” powers are already in place in Northern Ireland.

On May 10, British PM Tony Blair finally made his long-awaited resignation statement. Blair will stand down as prime minister with effect from June 27. He will also stand down as leader of the Labour Party, and preparations for the election of the next Labour leader — who will simultaneously become PM — got underway immediately.

On May 22, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in the trial of peace activsts Philip Pritchard and Toby Olditch (known as the ‘B-52 Two’). The two were charged with conspiring to cause criminal damage at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in 2003 when they tried to safely disable US B-52 bombers to prevent them from bombing Iraq. The court heard the two men acted to prevent damage to life and property in Iraq, as well as war crimes. It was the second trial for the two; the first, in October 2006, ended with a hung jury. During the trial the prosecution accepted that even delaying the bombers would have prevented civilian casualties, as it would have allowed those fleeing cities more time to escape. Visit <http://www.b52two.org> for more information.

Official British government figures released on March 27 revealed that in the past year, the number of children in Britain living in relative poverty increased by 200,000. According to the March 27 BBC News, in 2005-06 the total number of children who satisfied the official definition of relative poverty — living in households with incomes equalling less than 60% of the national average when housing costs are included — rose from 3.6 million to a staggering 3.8 million.

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