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Booker column

Posted by Richard Sunday, August 29, 2004

This Sunday, Booker in his column illustrates a baleful effect of the EU’s Common Commercial Policy, which is driving Bernard McQuiggan, owner of Mac’s Models, to distraction.

McQuiggan imports collectors’ scale models of American trains and has recently become a victim of the latest trade war between the EU and the USA. The EU is requiring him to add duty on his products at a rate on one percent every four weeks, in retaliation to US action in protect its own indistries affected by dumping.

The point that Booker makes is that this situation has arisen because Britain and all other EU countries have had to hand over all responsibility for international trade to a commissioner in Brussels. Interestingly, that portfolio now held by Peter Mandelson.

Booker also takes on the report of the Electoral Commission which states that no more British elections should be held on an all-postal ballot – with the solitary exception of the very next election to be held, the North East referendum on an elected regional government, due on November 4.

Especially interesting in Booker’s own report is detail of the government's latest "information leaflet" put out in eight languages to the North East’s 1.9 million voters. Although this paean of praise for the benefits of regional government purports only to be giving "information", the game is given away by its carefully staged illustrations. These contrast young, attractive, affluent-looking Yes voters, giving the thumbs up to an elected assembly, with "typical" No voters, such as an old man with a cloth-cap and a stick, a diminutive Asian shot in shadow and an Afro-Caribbean lady.

Booker remarks that this selection so blatantly angled it should earn Mr Prescott an interview with the Commission for Racial Equality. But it is also typical of the regional campaign and of EU propaganda generally – with which it has a great deal of common. Propagandists always takes great pains to project their respective projects as "modern", "forward-looking", "dynamic", "thrusting" – a choice of "positive" descriptions that aims to wrong-foot opponents as old-fashioned and reactionary.

However, what is "modern" about regional structures that were first proposed in the 1920s, to deal with the General Strike, were actually implemented during the Second World War and then abandoned by Atlee's 1945 Labour government, is difficult to see. As my colleague might say, they are "so last century".

Also dealt with by Booker is the latest twist of the O'Brien saga, dealt with also in this Blog, and he concludes with an amusing twist on the ongoing saga of the problems faced by various enterprising firms which have been told that they can no longer use "waste" materials ranging from cardboard to sewage, as fuel to generate energy.

According to UK environment ministers such as Elliott Morley, writes Booker, this is because EC rules forbid the use of ‘waste’ products for anything other than disposal, by incineration or landfill. Thus Scottish Water, unless it wins an expensive court case, faces the closure of a plant specially built to turn sewage sludge into fuel for power stations, which cost £65 million.

But a reader points out that the Government's leaflet "Preparing for emergencies", recently sent to all households, boasts that it is made from "75 percent post- consumer waste". Perhaps, Booker suggests, Mr Morley can explain why he is not going to prosecute David Blunkett and Mr Prescott for acting in breach of EC law?