A Leader of the Opposition without ministerial experience is at a disadvantage when criticising the conduct of government policy. The Conservative Party had the choice of two experienced former ministers as leader but instead chose Iain Duncan Smith who had no such experience. It is true, of course, that Tony Blair had none either when he became leader, but Labour had been out of office for 18 years. Mr Smith's inexperience shows up all the time. His proposal that the government should appoint a Cabinet minister with sole responsibility for national security may have seemed a good idea in theory but anyone who had ever worked in Whitehall would have known that in practice it was a non-starter.

The corridors of Whitehall are haunted by the ghosts of people appointed as overlords or czars who have quickly discovered that sitting in an office with small staff of what John Prescott calls “teenybopper” advisers gets you nowhere in the complex and intricate Whitehall machine. Mr Smith's inspiration came from the new American Department of Homeland Security. But the United States is a vast nation with a federal structure; Britain could not be more different. At Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday Mr Smith bored on about his idea while totally overlooking the vulnerable position the Prime Minister had been put in by Admiral Boyce's words about the state of the armed forces earlier in the day. It was left to Charles Kennedy to pick this up, which he did to great effect.

Ray Fleming

The Prestige cas

Despite the generally cordial relations between Britain and Spain that exist at the moment it is clear that the wild accusations made by the EU's Spanish Commissioner for Transport, Loyola de Palacio, about the responsibility of Gibraltar for the oil leak from the Prestige tanker, have angered the British government. Yesterday London accused the European Commission of failing to check its facts and demanded public confirmation that neither Britain nor Gibraltar was responsible for the disaster.

Refuting the claim that the tanker had called frequently at Gibraltar and should have been inspected there, the Government said that it had anchored at Gibraltar once in five years and then only outside the port. The records showed, however, that in the same period Prestige had put into Algeciras and Las Palmas in Spain, and had also called at Cork, Dunkirk, Kalamata, Rotterdam and Wilhelshaven. On the issue of inspection, Britain pointed out that 27 per cent of ships that enter British ports each year are inspected - just above the 25 per cent required by EU legislation, which Denmark, France, Greece and Ireland do not achieve. (Interestingly, the British research also showed that Prestige passed its annual survey in Dubai in May of this year and had its fiveyearly survey in May 2001.)
After Loyola de Palacio's unwise outburst earlier in the week she made a sensible move by writing to all EU Transport Ministers urging them to accelerate the process of phasing-out single-hull tankers like Prestige which is due to start in 2005 and be completed by 2015.


Israeli election is a complete farce

Dear Sir,
The upcoming election commented upon by Ray Fleming in Israel will again be a farce. It is a shame that President Bush who is ever so eager to introduce democracy into Iraq does not insist upon it being given a chance in Israel. What exactly do Americans get for their $5'000'000'000.000 plus annual infusion of aid into that nation? The state of Israel is presented to the world as a democracy. It is not. It is a theocratic state with some democratic trappings. It has no constitution and its election laws are designed to maximize the influence of extremists. First it has two election registers; one for Jews, one for Christians and Muslims. The 20% of the population of the latter are assigned 9 out of 121 members of the Knesset. This is gross under representation. This was also true when the Christian and Muslim population was upwards 33%. After the election these members are ignored. The Jews agree to form a government without reference to the Christians and Muslims. Fifty–four years of Israeli “democracy” have never produced a prime minister who has ever had to consider opinions of a single member of the Knesset who has had a single Christian or Muslim constituent. This is the crudest sort of religious bigotry. It is not democracy.

Second the election uses national lists rather than single member district. In a first past the post system each member has to vie for votes across a wide spectrum. The candidate must seek the rational center. Governance is moderate. But in Israel any fruitcake who can get 1% of the Jewish vote gets in. This enables fanatics and criminal cultists to hold undue sway over the Knesset. How else can you explain the election of known terrorists such as Begin, Shamir and Sharon as prime ministers? The center is strangled. It is moved towards fascism by the elimination of Christians and Muslims and the enabling of fringe groups. Were members elected by single districts each member of the Knesset would have to consider the interests and human rights of Christians and Muslims. Trade offs would be made and a moderate peace would have a chance. As it now stands there can be no peace because a premium is put on hate mongering.

Ralph McGaughey