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Issue No. 1770

BIG BUSINESS is making every effort to woo New Labour ministers. The profit-hungry were particularly targeting health ministers during the shortened Labour Party conference last week. Health secretary Alan Milburn addressed a fringe meeting on 'Will the NHS deliver?' on Monday of last week, where wine and snacks came courtesy of drug giant Merck, Sharpe & Dohme. Milburn was also on the platform for the 'Towards stakeholder healthcare' meeting sponsored by Norwich Union.

This is one of the firms that stands to make a profit from further moves towards private insurance systems inside the NHS. The busy health secretary also had a date at the 'Reforming the NHS' meeting paid for by drug and genetic modification giant Aventis. Health under-secretary Hazel Blears was in the line-up for the meeting on 'Lifestyle-can government alone reduce health inequalities?' sponsored by Boots the chemist.

Among the other corporate horrors at the conference were:

Conference organisers put the stand for private mail firm DHL, which looks forward to Post Office privatisation, directly opposite the stand for the postal workers' Communication Workers Union.

The British Nuclear Fuels stand gave out Chinese fortune cookies. Each contained the same message: 'The development both of renewable and of the nuclear option should be pursued with vigour. Only by doing so will future generations have appropriate choices available.'

Patriot attack

US LEADERS are taking no chances with the name of their new anti-terrorism law. It is called the Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, which of course spells out PATRIOT.

Who, except for a non-patriot, could possibly object to provisions that would permit indefinite detention of someone ordered to be deported to a country that would not accept them? The act will also reduce current curbs on electronic surveillance by law enforcement authorities and allow intelligence agencies to spy on US citizens.

LORD Ashcroft, the Tory famous for financial dealings in Belize, has just been appointed chancellor of Anglia University. The choice had nothing to do with the planned business and management studies centre. A large slice of the funding, £5 million, has come from that generous benefactor Lord Ashcroft.

T-shirt target

US government trade representative Robert Zoellick supports bombing Afghanistan because they don't like McDonald's. He argues that trade 'promotes the values at the heart of this protracted struggle', and that the greatest blow possible against terrorism is to clear the way for more sales by the multinationals.

Zoellick is backed up by Robyn Mazer, a top US trade lawyer. She has used the deaths of 11 September to call for an international crackdown on counterfeit T-shirts. She wrote, 'Many of the governments suspected of supporting al-Quaida are also promoting highly lucrative trafficking in counterfeit products capable of generating huge money flows for terrorists.'

Matter of cost

QUESTIONS continue to be asked about the design of the World Trade Centre towers and how well they were prepared for fire. Harry Seidler, a winner of the Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal, visited the twin towers while they were under construction.

He says, 'It was the lightest thing I ever saw. I was almost speechless when I saw the elevator shaft and staircases were lined with plaster. 'They told me they were fireprooof. The World Trade Centre was little better off than if it had been built out of cardboard sheets.'

Seidler points out that the New York Port Authority commissioned the towers: 'They built on their own property and at the same time issued all the permits to themselves. The whole thing was a matter of cost.'

In disguise at Qatar

THE WORLD Trade Organisation is trying to persuade everyone that it is 'reforming' and 'opening up' to wider society. To this end it has given credentials to 647 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to attend the ministerial conference in Doha in Qatar in November.

Among them are critics of the WTO such as Oxfam and the World Development Movement. But a look at the whole list shows who has really been invited. It includes:

  • The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations.

  • The Confederation of British Industry.

  • MEDEF, the French equivalent of the CBI.

  • The National Pork Producers of the USA.

  • The US Rice Producers Association.

  • The National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

  • The Intellectual Property Owners Association.

    At least two thirds of the 'NGOs' are not what people think of as NGOs at all. They are corporate lobbyists and industry associations.

    CRIME minister Keith Bradley, MP for Manchester Withington, was guest of honour at a 'presentation evening' held last month at Parrs Wood School in his constituency. He hailed the school, now one of New Labour's 'technology colleges', and raved about the brilliant standards achieved. Bradley did not mention that he removed his son from the school last year to send him to the fee-paying Manchester Grammar.

    Things they say

    'THE MEDIA has a responsibility not to do the terrorists' work for them. Presenting rumour as fact is just what our enemies want. Downing Street was right to criticise some papers-not the Sun-for stating that a chemical or biological attack was imminent.'
    SUN, 26 September

    'BIN LADEN could be planning biological or chemical weapon attacks using crop-dusting planes.'

    SUN, 24 September

    'IT'S rather clever. By the time the PFI chickens come home to roost, John Prescott will be in the House of Lords, Tony Blair will be writing his memoirs somewhere in Tuscany, and PFI will be someone else's problem.'

    DAVID TAYLOR, columnist for Construction News

    'ALL BLAIR'S fine words and decent sentiments were for what? To make it easier to accept that when a missile goes astray and some Afghani children are killed it's worth it, that when winter comes and villages are cut off and people are left starving it's worth it.'
    SUZANNE MOORE, Mail columnist

    'WHAT IS clear is that we need some blood in the sand by 22 November.'

    'NOBODY writing this stuff has the least idea what is going on. If your auntie once knew someone who had a story about what desperados these desperados are, you could find an editor to print it.'
    MATTHEW PARRIS, columnist and former Tory MP, on media coverage of the war

    'A TEAM of Taliban interrogators trained by the CIA is understood to have questioned Yvonne Ridley, the Express journalist.'
    WALES ON SUNDAY newspaper

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    Article information

    Inside the System
    Sat 13 Oct 2001, 00:00 BST
    Issue No. 1770
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