THURSDAY'S elections in Britain for the European Parliament and for some local authorities seem destined to be a lacklustre affair, with the obvious and much commented-upon exception of Ken Livingstone's re-election as Mayor of London. I enjoyed the Conservative candidate Steven Norris's quip that Livingstone must be the only person to have joined the Labour Party this year, but such witticisms will not be enough to dent the Mayor's reputation as someone with the ability to think in big terms about big issues and actually do something about them - the congestion charge being the outstanding example. Elsewhere in the country it will be surprising if Labour finds much encouragement in the results but unless they are quite awful I do not expect them to affect the broader issue of Tony Blair's longevity at No 10 or Michael Howard's prospects of succeeding him. Local elections are notoriously poor indicators of the national political mood. The expected low turn-out for elections for the European Parliament is another matter. It is ironic that they come within a few days of the 60th anniversary of D-Day and all the showy speech-making about peace in Europe. What no one seems prepared to acknowledge is that the principal force for the peace we have had in Europe for the past half-century has been the movement towards European unity, started by those two French visionaries Maurice Schuman and Jean Monnet, which first brought France and Germany together and then six nations and then fifteen and now twenty-five. Why do we care so little about the European Union when it is so important and so successful? Are the Queen's head on a coin and straight cucumbers more important than peace?
IT will probably be some time before we know the real reason for George Tenet's resignation last week as Director of the US Central Intelligence Agency. Indeed, we may never know it if Mr Tenet proves to be as discreet as someone holding his position should be and refuses to write a book or spill the beans on the Sunday TV talk shows. But, just in case, President Bush's campaign team is probably already seeking advice from publishers on how long it might take for a tell-all book to be written, edited and printed - specifically, whether it could be got to the political commentators and the buying public by early October, ahead of the final stages of the presidential election campaign. Someone else who will be keenly interested in whether George Tenet goes public is Tony Blair. The relationship between the CIA and the British government and its intelligence services in the run-up to the Iraq war was close. Mr Tenet's assurance to President Bush that the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was “slam-dunk” would have been passed to London in terms that did not require a prior understanding of the game of basketball. The assurance was given to the President in the Oval Office on December 21, 2002 and must have provided the basis for the certainty with which Mr Blair spoke on the subject thereafter until the invasion of Iraq was launched some four months later. There is another reason why the Prime Minister must be worried about Mr Tenet's sudden departure. Although there are many differences between the structures of the American and British intelligence services, Mr Tenet's directorship of the CIA can be compared with the role of John Scarlett as chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in the British government. Mr Scarlett, it will be recalled, had “ownership” of the controversial Downing Street dossier on weapons of mass destruction which included the misleading claim that these could be launched in 45 minutes. Although he emerged relatively unscathed from the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly, who had allegedly spoken in critical terms about the dossier to the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan, it was clear from the evidence that he had agreed to a “strengthening” of the claims in the dossier with changes suggested by Alastair Campbell, then No 10*s head of communications, and by Jonathan Powell, Mr Blair's Chief of Staff. A FURTHER similarity between Mr Tenet and Mr Scarlett is that they both face serious criticism about the quality of intelligence provided to their respective governments in 2002 and 2003 from separate enquiries currently being concluded in Washington and London. A review of the intelligence on Iraq undertaken by the US Senate Intelligence Committee has already been completed and its report is understood to be highly critical of the CIA's performance - indeed some observers think that sight of an advance copy may have been the cause of Mr Tenet's decision to resign. In Britain, following the Hutton inquiry, and in response to Parliamentary and other concerns about the performance of the intelligence services over Iraq, the government appointed the Butler Inquiry which is due to report next month. Whether its report is positive or negative - or a typical British government fudge - there is no question that Mr Scarlett will be a central figure in it. So there was considerable surprise when a month or so ago he was appointed to succeed the retiring director of MI6. The appointment seemed to imply either that the Butler inquiry was of little importance or that the government wanted to pre-empt its findings by showing its confidence in Mr Scarlett. Whichever it was, it is difficult to understand why the choice of the new “C” of MI6 could not have waited for a couple of months until Lord Butler's report is published. IT is always instructive to examine the differences in how the British and American systems of government work and the Tenet and Scarlett cases provide an example. With the separation of powers between the administrative and legislative arms of government in the United States it is often easier for the elected Senate and House of Representatives to call members of the administration and their senior officials to account through committee hearings than it is for the elected House of Commons, from which ministers are chosen, to exert a comparable pressure. In the case of Mr Tenet in Washington, he may well have decided to resign because of the impending critical report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the case of Mr Scarlett in Whitehall, he is promoted by the government before an inquiry looking into intelligence activities for which he had a central responsibility gives its verdict.