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A village of the dumbed, and a new town they can’t gainsay

In Cambridgeshire, John Prescott is planning a new town for 18,000 people, Northstowe, on land owned by English Partnerships, a body run by his department. It will be the biggest single planning application ever submitted in the UK.

Yet the councillor for the community most immediately affected by these plans has been told that, under Mr Prescott’s “Code of Conduct” for councils, he cannot in any way represent the views of his electors, must leave the room whenever the plans are discussed and that it will be an offence for him even to discuss the subject with other councillors.

There cannot be a clearer example of the way the Code of Conduct is being used to stamp out democracy in our local government than this ruthless gagging of Councillor Alex Riley, who was elected to South Cambridgeshire council in 2004 specifically to voice the concerns of the villagers of Longstanton over the proposal for a new town next to their village.

Cllr Riley was astonished to be told that he would in no way be permitted to put the views for which his neighbours elected him. This has repeatedly been made clear to him by Colin Tucker, the council’s “monitoring officer” – a post which was created by Mr Prescott’s Local Government Act 2000 to enforce the Code of Conduct issued in 2001.

The Code is ultimately enforced by the Standards Board for England – an organisation that few people had ever heard of until it suspended Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London.

Mr Tucker has ruled that, because Cllr Riley lives near the site of the new town and has made his concerns about it known, this gives him a “personal and prejudicial interest”, which not only excludes him from any discussion of it in the council but bars him from even mentioning it to fellow councillors.

In his role as monitoring officer, Mr Tucker has lodged a series of complaints with the Standards Board, not only against Mr Riley but other councillors. Councillor Riley’s latest “offence”, for which he has been threatened with disqualification to act as a councillor anywhere in the country, was to email other councillors asking them for help in rectifying an inaccurate entry in the minutes of a council meeting relating to Northstowe, from which he had been barred.

Councillors have become so concerned about this issue that, in January, South Cambridgeshire’s chief executive, David Ballantyne, sought advice from David Prince, the chief executive of the Standards Board.

He explained that many people felt Mr Tucker’s interpretation of the Code of Conduct was “over-zealous” and were troubled by the fact that Mr Riley was not being allowed to represent the views of his electors. But he enclosed a QC’s opinion, commissioned by Mr Tucker, which supported Mr Tucker’s view and suggested that one option would be for Cllr Riley to resign.

Mr Prince conceded that similar concerns about “over-zealous interpretation” had been expressed “up and down the country”, but confirmed that Mr Tucker’ s reading, “far from being over-zealous”, was fully supported by the Standards Board.

Since I first reported on this issue, I have been approached by several MPs. Next week I intend to report on another case which suggests that the Standards Board is relying on a fundamental misreading of the law.

Demise of the joint strike fighter marks the end of Anglo-US military co-operation

Blazoned over the front page of the financial section of last week's Mail on Sunday was news of a meeting in January at which the Defence Secretary, John Reid, and his French counterpart, Michele Alliot-Marie, discussed the aircraft to be bought for the Royal Navy's two planned "super-carriers". It seems we are to pull out of the British-US joint strike fighter project and to buy instead French Rafales, which will also be used on a third super-carrier to be built for the French Navy.

This "revelation" will not come as a surprise to readers of, where my co-author Dr Richard North has been covering, more comprehensively than anywhere else, the radical shift in our defence policy, whereby the Ministry of Defence is stealthily steering our Armed Forces away from co-operation with the US and towards full integration with the planned European Rapid Reaction Force. Dr North not only reported the significance of that January meeting at the time but has for months been predicting that the MoD would abandon the joint strike fighter project in favour of the French aircraft.

The implications of this, as I have reported here more than once in the past year, are immense. The joint strike fighter was the last major Anglo-US defence project. The Americans have been increasingly reluctant to pass on technological secrets to Britain, knowing that we are now treaty-bound to pass them on to France.

They can then be passed on to China, which is formally a "strategic partner" of the EU, thanks to a treaty signed in Beijing last September by Tony Blair, as EU President. Britain's defences and military procurement have been locked so tightly into the European integration process that we have de facto brought an end to any serious future co-operation with America.

The only conceivable purpose for the planned super-carriers is as a major part of Britain's contribution to the Rapid Reaction Force; and it is hard to see what role that can play other than to protect the interests of France, as in President Chirac's disastrous "neo-colonial" adventure in the Ivory Coast.

The most remarkable feature of this shift in Britain's defence policy is that our Government has been able to drive it forward without ever admitting what it is up to - and with virtually no one noticing.

Whatever you do, don't mention..


The British Chambers of Commerce won handsome coverage last week for its finding that the total cost of new regulations on British businesses since Labour came to power has now hit a staggering £50 billion. It listed 69 particularly damaging regulations, totting up their costs to the UK economy as given by the Government's own estimates.

"The Government has to act," said the BCC's policy director Sally Low. But it was noticeable that no fewer than 44 of these 69 new laws, including all the most costly, emanated from Brussels, a fact the BCC failed to mention, as befits a body which campaigned for us to join the euro and has always been fervently "pro-European".

I therefore put a question to Miss Low, asking what action should be taken to stem this disastrous flood of regulations. In true "elephant in the room" fashion, the reply made no more mention of "Europe" than her original statement.

His Lordship is a profitable servant

Some readers were struck by my reference last week to the fact that, as a former vice-president of the European Commission, Lord Kinnock is entitled to a pension worth £75,000 a year, since this is a higher figure than has been quoted before.

It derives from a written answer given to Lord Pearson of Rannoch on January 11, 2005. This shows that, on reaching 65 in two years' time, Lord Kinnock will draw 45 per cent of his final salary of £165,000, and is entitled to draw most of that already. On this he pays tax at a special preferential rate for EU employees of only 11 per cent, to the Belgian government.

This is, of course, in addition to what he receives as chairman of that increasingly rum body, the British Council; not to mention the rewards received by the rest of his family - his son Stephen, head of the British Council in St Petersburg; his wife Glenys, who receives £200,000 a year in salary and expenses as an MEP; and daughter Rachel, also on the EU payroll as her mother's researcher.