The Balearic government has given their full support to the action being undertaken by the United States in their campaign against Afghanistan. Balearic leader Francesc Antich has been most vocal on this front. But I hope he realises that one of the ships which is playing a key role in the war on terrorism is the U.S. George Washington. Now Antich and his government were openly opposed to the Washington when it was moored in Palma. The leader of the local government wrote to Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar saying, in no uncertain terms, that the Balearics didn't want nuclear warships docking in port. Members of Antich's cabinet even took part in the so-called peace flotilla which sailed out into the Bay of Palma, when the Washington left port. I sincerely hope that when the aircraft carrier returns from operations its crew and the vessel will receive a warmer welcome. The damage this incident caused now means that a fewer number of American warships are visiting the port of Palma. Naturally, at the moment a sizeable number are involved in operations in the Gulf region. Thankfully, the United States has warships of the capability of the George Washington. Without vessels of this type the war which is being raged at the moment would have been almost impossible. Spain, as a member of NATO, is also very much involved in operations and Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has even offered troops. If the Balearics wants to show its solidarity then it should make sure that the crews of U.S. warships get a warm welcome when they visit Palma because in our own way we will be doing our bit.
Cool it, Hilary
The job of government Chief Whip can be an important stepping stone to high office. Edward Heath had the job once and it led him to Downing Street. Hilary Armstrong, a close associate of Tony Blair, is currently Labour Chief Whip but it seems unlikely it will do her much good. As its title implies the job involves getting MPs into the voting lobbies and generally keeping an eye open to see that backbenchers pull their weight in Parliament. An effective Chief Whip has to be tough but it is not a good idea to act like a Victorian headmistress admonishing an errant pupil.
Yet this is how Hilary Armstrong came across in the remarkable published transcript of her conversation with Paul Marsden MP when she summoned him last week to discuss his less than wholehearted support for the government's anti-terrorist war policy - he suggested in a question to the prime minister that Parliament, not the PM, should decide by a vote whether to go to war. Ms Armstrong told Marsden that his attendance record was not good, that she wanted to improve his communication skills and that those that aren't with us are against us. She had a file of his articles in the local paper in his constituency and asked for an assurance that he would not talk to the media without consulting her first. He refused and when he claimed that there should be a free vote in the Commons about the war, she shouted, It was people like you who appeased Hitler in 1938. It is not necessary to agree with Mr Marsden's views to think that Hilary Armstrong needs to cool it somewhat.