THE RURAL rich's club, the Countryside Alliance, was due to march in London on Sunday to demand the right to hunt foxes. One of the march's slogans is 'The countryside works - keep it working.' This is a cruel comment on the life and death of a 54 year old gamekeeper, Anthony Wensley.
Wensley was employed by the head of New Labour's Countryside Agency, Ewan Cameron, on his estate in Somerset. Cameron got the job after years as president of the farming bosses' group, the Country Landowners Association.
Cameron employed Wensley for ten years rearing 18,000 pheasant chicks a year. The gamekeeper contracted bird fancier's lung, a serious disease contracted from working in a closed environment with the birds' feathers and droppings.
Wensley was diagnosed with the disease in 1993 but wanted to keep on working. Cameron allowed him to carry on rearing the chicks for another seven years. Wensley died last December after being forced to use a portable oxygen unit for over a year. Is this the rural life that the marchers will be celebrating this weekend?
Suffer the children
A SIKH schoolgirl has been refused free bus travel to school because of her religion. Mandeep Ladhar, aged 13, has just started at a Catholic school in Bedlington, Northumberland. She had been expecting a free place on the school bus as she lives more than three miles away. But the local education authority has ruled she is not entitled to free travel because she is not a Catholic.
Her parents have now received a bill of £70 a term. They have also been told that if a Catholic family moves into the area and needs Mandeep's seat on the bus then she will not be allowed to travel.
THE MURKY world of elections took a new twist in Ecuador last week. Football referee Byron Moreno allowed 12 minutes of extra time in a game between a team from Guayaquil and their opponents from Quito. At the end of normal time the Quito team were losing 3-2. By the end of the match they were winning 4-3.
Referee Moreno is standing next month for a seat in the Quito city council. As well as bending his watch hands, Moreno awarded two penalties, sent two players off, awarded a goal and then disallowed it.
No frills? No sleep
Pilots could be forced to fly more than the permitted maximum annual hours. The British Airline Pilots Association said the company had told pilots that a new way of counting hours had been agreed with the aviation authorities. The authorities denied this. There have already been allegations that Ryanair pilots fly more than the 900 hours a year limit.
In 1998 Ryanair took on its baggage handlers at Dublin airport over union recognition. Workers returned without getting their union recognised. That defeat has opened the way for other groups of its workers to be attacked.
BP baked Alaska
In another blow to BP's 'green' image, the company admitted last week that it failed to conduct comprehensive tests on a well that exploded recently in Alaska. The incident seriously injured an operator and caused a spill.
The company had previously said it had conducted the required test on the A-22 well prior to restarting it after it was shut down for recording high pressure. Hours after it returned to service on 16 August the well exploded, hurling an operator 50 feet, breaking bones and burning him. 'There apparently was some miscommunication or misinformation regarding a test prior to start-up,' admitted Paul Laird, spokesperson for BP in Alaska.
BP workers provided the Financial Times with copies of logbook entries showing no signs of proper testing on the well. A lawyer for BP workers said in a letter last week, 'BP Alaska appears to be engaged in a cover-up of its operations violating regulations and safe industry standards.' He claimed that BP had produced about 60,000 barrels of oil from wells over recent months, operating improperly and/or illegally.
Welch's on good deal
Divorce papers concerning the former chief executive of the US firm General Electric have exposed just how much he got from the company. General Electric had already stated that Jack Welch's bonus and salary were $16.7 million (£11.7 million) in 2000, his last full year before retirement. It also disclosed that he would remain a consultant on $86,000 a year.
Now the company has admitted that Welch also has a number of perks throughout retirement. These include access to corporate aircraft, the use of a palatial Manhattan apartment, front row seats at top sporting events, satellite TV for his four homes and all the costs associated with his New York apartment from wine and food to laundry, toiletries and newspapers.
MICHAEL Portillo, the failed Tory leadership challenger and sometime media presenter, joined the board of arms firm BAe Systems this week. Portillo will grab £30,000 a year as a non-executive director for turning up at one meeting a month.
The Financial Times comments, 'The company is hoping Portillo will use his political skills to smooth its rocky relationship with the Ministry of Defence.' Portillo was Tory defence secretary from 1995 to 1997. During that time he gave the go-ahead for the Eurofighter jet, which is now one of BAe's most profitable projects.
Things the say
'DAMN the fainthearts and the naive. Bomb Iraq, and if necessary take on Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia too!'
Melanie Phillips, right wing commentator
'THE IMF has a lot to learn about managing financial crises.'
Horst Koehler, managing director of the International Monetary Fund
'IN LUKE Chapter 1 Jesus compares Herod with a fox, so perhaps we can assume he would have been happy to hunt them. Certainly he was very pro-fishing.'
Father Leo, supporter of Sunday's Countryside Alliance pro-hunting march
Lawrence Lindsey, head of the US National Economic Council on estimates that war against Iraq would cost $200 billion
'ALL politicians are upper middle class, well paid people. I am, Neil Kinnock is, and John Prescott is - and he would say the same.'
Charles Clarke, Labour Party chairman
'HE HAS two golden rules - a woman must do everything at home, and you should not praise a woman otherwise you will spoil her.'
Yudmilla Putin on her husband Vladimir, the Russian president
'I DIRECTED it. I don't like the idea of our planes being shot at. The idea that our planes go out and get shot at with impunity bothers me.'
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the US and British bombing of Iraq's air intelligence HQ last week
'WE'VE MADE it clear that we are not in the business of negotiating with Saddam Hussein.'
White House communications director Dan Bartlett rejects Iraq's offer to allow UN weapons inspectors in