Iraq Troop Pullout May Start As Early As March 2009

10 12 2008

British forces could begin pulling out of Iraq by next March, a senior defence source has revealed to the BBC.

The UK has been negotiating the legal basis on which its forces can stay when its UN mandate expires at the end of the year.

It still has 4,100 troops in Basra but defence chiefs plan a withdrawal over the next year if Iraqi elections in January pass off peacefully.

A withdrawal could allow soldiers to be diverted to Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated that almost all British troops should leave Iraq by the middle of next year, with a few hundred possibly remaining to train Iraqi security forces.


Gordon Brown Pladegs to Do Better

21 09 2008

Gordon Brown has told the BBC he will “do better” as prime minister but says he is the man with the experience to lead Britain through tough times.

He said he was “never complacent” and had made mistakes on the 10p tax rate but had made the right decisions on Northern Rock and short selling.

“I always want to do better and I will do better,” he told the BBC.

An internet survey suggests Labour could be left with as few as 160 MPs at the next general election.

But Mr Brown said opinion polls were a referendum on the government of the day and the real choice, based on policies, would come at the next general election.

In an interview with BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Brown, who is in Manchester for the Labour Party conference, said the best way to deal with the “economic storm” was to face it, and “demonstrate judgement and demonstrate wisdom”.

Asked if his cabinet was behind him, he said: “I think we have a pretty united cabinet. I think people in the Labour Party want the cabinet to work together to deal with the economic problems we face.”

He accused the Conservatives of being “pessimistic” about Britain and said on decisions from nationalising Northern Rock to a temporary ban on short selling – where traders bet on share prices falling – the government had got it right and they had been wrong.

UK To Experience Power Cuts

16 09 2008

The UK will experience prolonged power cuts in about five years unless urgent action is taken now, a report warns.

It said a third of generation capacity was due to be decommissioned by 2020, but was not being replaced fast enough.

The report, by nuclear supporting Fells Associates, said new reactors would not be ready in time, and questioned spending on renewable energy.

Greenpeace UK said Britain had been “left behind” on climate change, and must be a leader on renewable energy.

The report was commissioned by Sheffield-based industrialist Andrew Cook, who voiced concern about a “fearful void” in energy policy.

The report – A Pragmatic Energy Policy for the UK – was compiled by Fells Associates, a network of energy and regulatory specialists.

Co-author Candida Whitmill said the so-called “energy gap” would also have severe economic consequences.

“The current credit crunch is a head cold compared to the double pneumonia this country will suffer if we don’t implement an energy policy urgently,” she told reporters.

“That is why security of supply now takes priority over everything, even climate change.

“If we are going to cope with climate change, it is going to cost money; if we want to protect the environment, it is going to cost money; and if we want to change to a low-carbon economy, it is going to cost money.”

The report identified a number of factors that would combine to create the energy gap.

It said the main impact would be the loss of 23 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generation capacity between now and 2020.

The UK’s ageing nuclear reactors, which currently provide about a fifth of the nation’s electricity, are set to be decommissioned over the coming years.

Current projections show that by 2023, the UK will have only one nuclear reactor in operation.

And an EU Directive that requires the most polluting coal- and oil-fired power station to close would result in the likely loss of a further 12GW generation capacity.

Church Offers Belated Apology to Darwin

14 09 2008

The Church of England officially apologized to Charles Darwin for misunderstanding his theory of evolution.

In a bizarre step, the Church addressed its contrition directly to the Victorian scientist himself, even though he died 126 years ago.

But the move was greeted with derision last night, with Darwin’s great-great-grandson dismissing it as ‘pointless’ and other critics branding it ‘ludicrous’.


Rowan Williams

A meeting of minds: Charles Darwin and, right, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams

Church officials compared the apology to the late Pope John Paul II’s decision to say sorry for the Vatican’s 1633 trial of Galileo, the astronomer who appalled prelates by declaring that the earth revolved around the sun.

The officials said that senior bishops wanted to atone for the vilification their predecessors heaped on Darwin in the 1860s, when he put forward his theory that man was descended from apes.

The Church is also anxious to counter the view that its teaching is incompatible with science. It wants to distance itself from fundamentalist Christians, who believe in the Biblical account of the creation of the world in seven days.

An article to be posted on the Church’s website will say: ‘Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still.

‘But the struggle for your reputation is not over yet, and the problem is not just your religious opponents but those who falsely claim you in support of their own interests.’

The article has been written by the Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the director of mission and public affairs of the Archbishops’ Council, the Church’s managing body, which is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Origin of Species

Revolutionary: Darwin’s best-known book, published in 1859

Dr Brown writes: ‘People, and institutions, make mistakes and Christian people and Churches are no exception. When a big new idea emerges that changes the way people look at the world, it’s easy to feel that every old idea, every certainty, is under attack and then to do battle against the new insights.

‘The Church made that mistake with Galileo’s astronomy and has since realised its error. Some Church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

‘So it is important to think again about Darwin’s impact on religious thinking, then and now.’

Dr Brown argues that there is nothing incompatible between the scientific theories adopted by Darwin and Christian teaching.

The English naturalist, geologist and collector, best known for his 1859 book On The Origin Of Species, scandalised Victorian society with his theory that all species of life evolved from common ancestors.

One of the most venomous clashes over his ideas took place in 1860 during a debate at Oxford University. The Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, asked the evolutionist and Darwin champion, Thomas Huxley, whether it was through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed to be descended from a monkey.

Huxley replied that he would not be ashamed to have an ape for his ancestor but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used his gifts to obscure the truth.

In his article, Dr Brown writes: ‘His [Darwin’s] theory caused offence because it challenged the view that God had created human beings as an entirely different kind of creation to the rest of the animal world.

‘But while it is not difficult to see why evolutionary thinking was offensive at the time, on reflection it is not such an earth-shattering idea.’

The Church’s move will reignite the debate over creationism. In the United States, Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin argues that it should be taught in schools.

In this country, the Rev Professor Michael Reiss, a biologist director of education at the Royal Society, provoked a furore last week when he called for creationism to be treated in school science lessons as a legitimate world view.

Ann Widdecombe

Ann Widdecombe: ‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and the Crusades. When is it all going to stop?’

Last night, the Church, which apologised for its role in the slave trade two years ago, came in for fierce criticism for its latest mea culpa.

Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe, who left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic, said: ‘It’s absolutely ludicrous. Why don’t we have the Italians apologising for Pontius Pilate?

‘We’ve already apologised for slavery and for the Crusades. When is it all going to stop? It’s insane and makes the Church of England look ridiculous.’

Andrew Darwin, a great-great grandson of the eminent scientist, said he was ‘bemused’ by the apology, which seemed ‘pointless’.

‘Why bother?’ he said. ‘When an apology is made after 200 years, it’s not so much to right a wrong, but to make the person or organisation making the apology feel better.’

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Association, said: ‘It does seem rather crazy for an institution to address an apology to an individual so long after his death.

‘As well as being much too late, the message strikes me as insincere, as if there is an unspoken “but” behind the text.

‘However, if it means that from now on the Church of England will say “No” to the teaching of creationism in school science lessons, then we would accept the apology on Darwin’s behalf.’

A less critical tone was struck by Horace Barlow, 87, from Cambridge, who is Darwin’s great-grandson.

He said he thought his ancestor would have been pleased to hear the Church’s apology.

‘They buried him in Westminster Abbey, which I suppose was an apology of sorts,’ said Mr Barlow.

‘Darwin was very concerned about offending other people as his wife Emma was a committed Christian. So I think this apology would have pleased him.’

Ray Lewis Resigns

4 07 2008

London’s deputy mayor has resigned two months into his post amid claims of financial irregularities.

Ray Lewis faced allegations regarding his time as a vicar in east London in the late 1990s and head of a youth academy scheme in 2003.

It emerged he was placed under formal Church of England disciplinary measures between 1999 and 2005.

Mr Lewis, who had special responsibility for youth, described the claims as groundless and rubbish.

London Mayor Boris Johnson appointed Mr Lewis as one of several deputy mayors with special portfolios, such as business and policing.

Mr Lewis said: “I cannot allow the things going on around me to obscure the important business of this very important mayoralty and for that reason I must step down with immediate affect.

“London faces enormous challenges and I believed in all my heart that I was best placed to do that, but it’s important to get on with the business of this mayoralty without this business hanging over Boris’ head.

“Yet today again we learn of another murder and yet so much time and attention’s been given over to something that may or may not have happened 10-12 years ago, and of course you know that I flatly deny it.”

Mr Lewis resigned the same day Mr Johnson formally opened an independent inquiry into the allegations.

Martin Narey, the former chief of the Prison and Probation Service, will be heading the probe.

It is now unclear how the inquiry will progress.