The United Nations finally voted to take action against Colonel Gaddafi last night, authorising the imposition of a no fly zone and supporting military action in defence of the Libyan people.
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“Authorises Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
In response, the Libyan regime said it was ceasing fire – yet no one, no one will surely believe a word of it. As the prime minister, who along with President Sarkozy has led the world in pushing for action while others dithered, made clear today:
“We will judge him by his actions not his words. What is absolutely clear is the U.N. Security Council resolution said he must stop what he is doing, brutalising his people. If not, all necessary measures can follow to make him stop. That is what we agreed last night, that is what we are preparing for and we’ll judge him by what he does.”
Tonight, there are reports of a Libyan surge towards Benghazi – ‘ceasefire’ or no ceasefire – with Gaddafi’s forces looking to take the town before the no fly zone and allied air patrols are up and running.
On Left Foot Forward today, former Army Captain Patrick Bury outlined the military assets available to the allies:
“Firstly, and following the blueprint from the Iraq invasion, ‘decapitation’ missile strikes could be used against Gaddafi’s reinforced command bunker in the Bab Al Azizia area of Tripoli, something the rebels have called for. These could be delivered by Tomahawk missiles fired from a US submarine stationed off the coast…
“Before committing their air forces, the military will aim to suppress Gaddafi’s limited air defences, including launch sites and radar facilities. These include old, but long ranged, Soviet built SA-2 and SA-5A missile batteries and mobile, shorter ranged SA-6s and SA-8s. While modern ground attack fighter aircraft are equipped with an array of missile counter-measures, the destruction of these air defences will pave the way for strikes on the Libyan air force.
“These strikes are usually synchronised to attack immediately after the destruction of the surface-to- air missile threat, and will concentrate on destroying the bulk of the Libyan air force on the ground.
“They would most likely be launched by squadrons of F-18 and Rafale ground attack fighters operating from the US aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and the French Charles De Gaulle, supported by aircraft flying from US bases on Sicily, and French bases in the Mediterranean. British Tornado and Typhoon jets could forward-mount in these bases and their own in Cyprus and possibly Malta’s airport.
“Facing them are probably about 150 combat effective Libyan aircraft, including French built Mirage F-1s and Soviet-era MiG variants. If, as seems likely, the French and British are first to strike, their superior pilots and technology should easily outclass the Libyan air-to-air threat.
“Once air superiority has been secured, Gaddafi’s artillery pieces and tanks could be attacked with relative impunity, but is not yet clear if these would have to be engaging civilians, or rebels, to allow pilots to fire. The ceasefire declaration could further complicate pilots’ rules of engagement and raise questions about the definition of civilians. Threats would remain from loyalist attack helicopters, which are harder to detect, and from shoulder-launched missiles.
“As such, a no-fly zone, or air strikes, will need considerable support from specialist radar aircraft, air-to-air refuelling platforms and search and rescue helicopters in case pilots are downed. Ground-air tactical teams may also be deployed, pushing the boundary of the ‘no ground forces’ resolution…
“Depending on the decisions of Gaddafi’s forces in the coming days, the rebels may have to fight again to re-capture the towns they have lost over the last week. If this happens one would expect Gaddafi to pursue a ‘scorched earth’ policy, destroying the oil infrastructures around Ros Lanuf and Brega to deny them to the rebels. The rebels will be loathe to accept Gaddafi’s ceasefire offer as acceptance would signal the de facto partition of Libya and would abandon much of the population.
“Continuing the fight, even with supporting air strikes, will most likely be bloody and lengthy.”
• Japan observed a minute’s silence today, at 0546 GMT this morning – exactly one week on from the tsunami and earthquake that devastated the country, killing an estimated 25,000 people.
The alert level at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has been raised, and is now regarded as having “wider consequences”, with the UN describing it as a “race against time” to prevent a nuclear catastrophe, while snow has hampered rescue efforts.
Prime minister Naoto Kan told the nation today:
“This is a great test for the Japanese people… We will rebuild Japan from scratch – we must all share this resolve.”
“Japan is unlikely to undergo economic meltdown – but it must increase its public spending to offset the likely contraction in private demand regardless of what the financial markets think about its national debt. In particular, it will need to be innovative in moving quickly towards renewable energy sources. Such a response would be the one positive outcome of this dreadful tragedy, not just for Japan but for the world.”
Ed Miliband accused David Cameron of “threatening the fabric of the NHS”, and said the government was “wrecking” Labour’s legacy:
“This [health and social care] bill shows everything people don’t like about the government. Broken promises, arrogance, incompetence, and ignoring people who know something about the health service… What is his answer on the NHS? It is a bill which creates a free-market free for all and threatens existing NHS services.”
On Tuesday, a special British Medical Association conference delivered a stinging rebuke to the government, with doctors calling on the health secretary to withdraw the bill. Motions were passed accusing Lansley of using “inaccurate and misleading information to denigrate the NHS” as part of his suggestion that UK cancer and heart disease survival rates compared unfavourably with the rest of Europe.
One delegate said:
“If someone tries to strangle you there’s only so long you can say would you mind only using one hand or would you mind using a breath freshener because your breath is making me sick. At some point you are going to have to give them the old Glasgow kiss.”
Among those backing the reforms, Left Foot Forward revealed, were Dr Paul Charlson and Dr Helen Evans. Charlson is a spokesman for a lobby group called Doctors for Reform, which is supported by the free-market think tank, Reform. Funding for Reform has come from the UK’s largest private hospital group – General Healthcare Group – and other private health companies set to benefit from Lansley’s reforms.
Evans, meanwhile, is the director of Nurses for Reform. Its funding is more opaque, but it does have ties to many free-market think tanks that favour privatisation. These include the Adam Smith Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, a think tank that promotes “the opening up [of] state monopolies” in health. Evans has labelled the NHS a “Stalinist, nationalised abhorrence”, and written:
“Britain can do musch [sic] better without its so called ‘principals’ [sic].”
Last year, it emerged that Andrew Lansley had accepted a £21,000 donation from a private health firm boss, John Nash, chairman of Care UK – which makes 96 per cent of its money from the NHS.
Progressive of the week:
Green party leader Caroline Lucas, who yesterday tabled a new Tax and Financial Transparency Bill in Parliament to tackle Britain’s £16bn tax evasion scandal. She said urgent measures were needed to stop companies that are formally dissolved from trading fraudulently – and undermining honest businesses who pay their taxes.
Earlier this week, a report (pdf) by Tax Research UK revealed around 500,000 companies had ‘disappeared’ from the UK’s Register of Companies in the year to March 2010 – resulting in at least £16 billion of tax lost to the Exchequer – while today Ed Balls described the cuts to HMRC as “rock and roll” time for tax avoiders.
The shadow chancellor said:
“There are two issues: tax evasion which is illegal and tax avoidance… Companies involved in tax avoidance employ thousands of highly skilled people working all the time to find ways round our tax system. The only way to stop them is for HMRC to employ lots and lots of highly skilled people to work to try and anticipate and second guess what these people can do to avoid tax.
“Now if I was working for a company involved in this and I saw George Osborne cutting workers from HMRC I would think this is a real opportunity; I would think rock and roll, this is my moment… An incentive to good behaviour can sometimes also be an incentive to bad behaviour.”
Regressives of the week:
Local councils up and down the land, who are vastly increasing rents for ‘Big Society’ groups like the Scouts. Thousands of Scout groups across the UK are being subjected to enormous rent increases by local councils threatening the future of the movement and the voluntary work it does in communities – in total, at least 2,000 groups are vulnerable to rent increases with many warning that they will have to reduce outdoor activities, increase subscriptions for parents or even close as a result.
Traditionally, councils have only charged nominal rents for the land on which Scout buildings are based, or for the use of local authority buildings by Scout groups; however, many rents are set to spiral in 2011.
As Bear Grylls wrote in yesterday’s Times (£):
“Don’t let town hall rent demands kill off the Scouts – Scouting teaches kids self-esteem and how to help other people…
“There are 500,000 Scouts in the UK, including adults. Scouting costs the public purse next to nothing, yet the benefits to local communities are immense. Imagine the loss to the communities and kids involved if their Scout group has to close… In fact, it would cost the Government around £380 million to pay for the time and expertise of the adults volunteers who run the Scouts. Those leaders give up a total of 37 million hours a year to teach the next generation the lessons of life in a safe and responsible environment…
“The best thing that we can do is to provide the young people of this country with purpose, direction, a love of community and adventure. Young people I meet don’t lack ambition, they just lack opportunities to get out there and live a bit. And that’s what the Scouts provide. It’s one of the greatest youth movements in society, a giant force for good, with a sworn allegiance to be kind and helpful.”
Evidence of the week:
Lee Savage, research and policy analyst at the Resolution Foundation, wrote about the main findings on Left Foot Forward:
“The findings show that mobility improved marginally in the 2000s compared to the 1990s. Upwards mobility that involved a substantial improvement in earnings increased by 22 per cent – though from a very low base, which meant that the absolute increase was just 3 percentage points.
“At the same time as this improvement in mobility, the research also shows that the rate of inequality did not increase as rapidly over the 2000s as it did over the 1990s (in absolute terms average earnings over this period grew between 1991 and 2002 before levelling off and stagnating between 2003 and 2008).
“So, does higher mobility mean we can stop worrying about inequality? The short answer is ‘no’. As ever, aggregate statistics can hide a world of important detail… Little is known about the characteristics of the most socially mobile individuals in society and this will be the focus of the next Resolution Foundation report on the issue.”
Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:
“If these figures are correct then Labour, which has positioned itself as the party against the cuts, will be just short of a majority at Holyrood. The apparent collapse in support for the Lib Dems means we are unlikely to see a coalition.”
Meanwhile, ahead of the Celtic v Rangers League Cup Final on Sunday, Scotland’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini QC, reminded the police that footballers were not above the law.
“Sportsmen cannot be regarded as exempt from compliance with the criminal law.”
Northern Ireland: The BBC reported that the Treasury was preparing to allow Stormont to lower its corporation tax rates to attract inward investment. Speaking during a trip to Washington, Northern Ireland deputy first minister Martin McGuinness explained:
“It’s an economic disadvantage for us in the North that we have a situation where south of the border corporation tax is 12.5%.
“What’s quite clear from the (Washington) economic investment conference we were involved in in October last year, is that there are a number of multinational companies who would be very keen to invest in the North if corporation tax were lowered.”
Meanwhile, as if to highlight the challenges faced in Northern Ireland – in the week that figures showed a further rise in the number of unemployed – PriceWaterhouseCoopers Northern Ireland chief economist Dr Esmond Birnie warned:
“Northern Ireland has been more dependent on the cross-border overspill of Irish economic prosperity than has previously been realised. And while Ireland and the UK are beginning to recover, a combination of an inward-focused private sector and declining public spending are impacting on the North’s recovery.”
Wales: The government seemed to indicate support for reforms to the Barnett Formula, Wales Office minister David Jones telling MPs:
“I think it’s fair to say everyone recognises that the Barnett formula is nearing the end of its life. However, it is necessary that there should be stabilisation of the public finances before we consider the issue of the formula.”
Meanwhile, former Labour Leader Neil Kinnock urged voters to resist voting against AV in order to give Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems a kicking.
“My conviction goes back to the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher’s Conservative government was elected with 43% of the votes and had 100% of the power… I knew it was time for a change.”
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