Anti-terror bill is a security threat says Galloway

As ever a stunning speech from Mr Galloway. Say what you will about the man – you can’t fault this argument against further extending pre-charge detention.

I can’t think of anyone outside of the Brown administration who actually support this measure.

Not the CPS, the Church of England, or the Tories.

Another parliamentary defeat and backbench rebellion awaits New Labour?

Anti-war weekend round-up

FRIDAY ~ MoD accused of propaganda in Iraq worksheets for schools [in England!]:

The children’s secretary, Ed Balls, has written to officials in the MoD asking them to investigate teachers’ claims that their worksheets for 16- to 18-year-olds provide a one-sided view on the war in Iraq.

The National Union of Teachers said the MoD was “unethically” targeting recruitment materials at schools in disadvantaged areas.

Steve Sinnott, the union’s general secretary, said: “It is propaganda, it does not present a balanced position.

“When you are dealing with something as controversial as Iraq and different events which led up to the invasion, teachers are under an enormous duty to present material which is balanced.”

One worksheet supplied by the MoD and designed by a private marketing company, Kids Connections, describes the UK force’s efforts in Iraq as mainly targeted at “helping the Iraqis to rebuild their country after the conflict and years of neglect”.

SATURDAY ~ Thousands join anti-war protests:

In London there were speeches from the leaders of a range of groups including CND and the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

As well as anger over Iraq and Afghanistan, there were also calls for no action to be taken against Iran.

Speaking at the rally in Trafalgar Square, the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tongue told the BBC that the war in Iraq had been an illegal act, supported by false documentary evidence.

“We feel that there are people who have literally got away with murder. We have people who have made an illegal war happen, and no-one has brought them to book, and it’s about time we did.”

Former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn said: “The troops in Iraq have caused devastation. It’s the same in Afghanistan.”

‘Hidden war’

Green MEP Caroline Lucas called for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to be prosecuted for war crimes.

And a spokesman for the Stop the War Coalition said: “Estimates suggest as many as one million have died violent deaths as a result of the occupation of Iraq.

Despite talk of a change of attitude to Bush’s wars, Brown is sending more troops to Afghanistan. This hidden war is fast becoming a disaster mirroring Iraq.”

SUNDAY ~ Five years of slaughter

Nick Clegg – markedly more resolute-sounding now than his party was at the start of the Iraq war – speaks for us all with his warning against “blindly” following Washington’s lead.

“On this anniversary of the greatest post-war strategic failure in British foreign policy,” he says, “both Labour and Conservatives must learn from their fateful decision to back George Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

“Never again should the objections of millions of British citizens be so lightly ignored. Never again should we blindly follow instructions from the White House. Never again should we do such untold damage to the international rule of law.”

Let’s face it, few of us would disagree with a word of that. But it would have perhaps been better if the Lib Dems had maintained their anti-war position once the war had started, not dropped it like a hot brick the moment that the invading powers commenced hostilities.

Labour, with the usual honourable exceptions, maintains a sheepish silence on the hundreds of thousand of deaths and the virtual destruction of one of the world’s older civilisations – as well it might.

Every Labour MP who voted for the war, who steamed ahead with mass killing at the behest of a devious and duplicitous prime minister, is compromised and shares the guilt of the war criminals Bush and Blair.

And Labour’s present leader, the man who announced, when chancellor, that he would fund the slaughter however much it took, maintains a guilty silence on Britain’s shame, hoping against hope that the mud won’t stick.

But the troops are still in Iraq, killing and being killed, seemingly without end. They are in Afghanistan facing the same prospects and, if Bush and his ilk have their way, they will move into Iran as well.

The Tories, as is their usual form, want the best of both worlds, at once supporting the warmongers – as they did throughout the war – and attempting to gain a cheap electoral advantage by calling for an inquiry into the war.

But, given the chance of power, they, too, will grab onto the US coat-tails and slide into war under the orders of our transatlantic cousins.

Budget responses from the labour movement

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary:

“The Chancellor billed this budget as one built on fairness, yet continues to hide behind the discredited argument that public sector pay is fuelling inflation as an excuse to drive down the wages of the people who keep this country running. The budget was a missed opportunity by the government to reach out to civil and public servants in recognising that they are the victims of inflation and deserve fair pay. With a quarter of the civil service earning less than £15,500 and thousands just above the minimum wage, the continued policy of capping pay to below inflation will create more resentment and anger as people’s wages are cut in real terms. The government can avoid the growing number of pay disputes across the civil service by recognising the injustice of their policy and by paying civil and public servants a fair wage.”

And from a man who won’t learn:

Tony Woodley, Unite the union joint general secretary, said the chancellor had gone some way to tackling the issues of fuel poverty but he had missed an opportunity to levy a windfall tax on the excess energy company profits.

“Of course we welcome the extra money for winter fuel allowances and the help for those on pre-paid meters but he could have gone further,” said Mr. Woodley. “Those price hikes are going to go through from those private companies alongside their multi-billion profits.”

Mr. Woodley also expressed his disappointment that with the forecasts for economic growth and low inflation there was nothing in the Budget to indicate a relaxation on the artificially low public sector pay limits.

“In the week that our low paid but high skilled defence workers have put in their claim for pay justice, we were listening for some positive news on public sector pay,” he said. “There was none but we’ll press the case for decent pay for public sector workers who contribute so much.”

Paul Kenny, gen sec of the GMB:

“The Chancellor has bowed to pressure from the multi-millionaire elite who run the private equity and financial institutions to enable them to continue to receive income as capital gains. He has missed the moral target of making this buccaneering elite, whose recklessness is a contributory cause of the turbulence in the world’s credit markets and the trouble that it will visit on ordinary citizens, pay the same rate of tax on their income as their cleaners.

His approach to public services pay and to those on incapacity benefit is sharply different. He wants to hold down public sector pay below inflation. This attempt to cut living standards will be met with resistance and will undermine morale.

His requirement that those on incapacity benefit must attend work capability assessments is based on the false notion that the high levels of claimants in some areas is due to the fact that these people to not want work. He fails to see it for the labour market issue that it really is. In areas with high employment rates, like Berkshire, there are low rates of people on incapacity benefits, while in places with low employment rates, in the former industrial areas like South Wales, there are very high rates of people on incapacity benefits.

The Chancellor needs to face up to the fact that in today’s labour market able bodied and fully fit workers get jobs ahead of those who are disabled and those not fully fit. The unpalatable truth is that the problem lies with the lack demand from employers for these workers. Why does the Chancellor think GMB put up such a fight to stop the Government sacking 2,500 disabled Remploy workers as they close 30 factories? Most of these Remploy workers will never work again.”

Unison‘s gen sec Dave Prentis:

“Chancellor Alistair Darling’s debut budget lacked the X factor. There were some flashes of colour in an otherwise dull budget, with a welcome green agenda containing new measures to penalise gas guzzling cars, more energy efficient homes and plans to phase out free supermarket bags.

“However, public service workers such as nurses, teaching assistants, dinner ladies, care workers, cleaners and nursery nurses are bearing the brunt of the squeeze on public services.

“The budget would have been an opportunity to boost morale by getting rid of the artificial pay cap, a move that would have demonstrated real fairness and paid dividends. World-class public services demand well trained, motivated staff, and sticking to a 2% pay limit will lead to a recruitment and retention crisis, as staff see higher pay increases in the private sector.

“Only last week, UNISON lodged its 40,000th equal pay claim, but there is no recognition in the chancellor’s budget that this blight on the public sector must be tackled. The government must ensure that local authorities obey the law and give them the means to deliver fair pay for women workers.

“Tackling child poverty is still an important part of the government’s agenda and the increase in tax credits and child benefit is a welcome plus to parents. Reducing charges for people using pre-payment meters is only a partial solution to fuel poverty. The chancellor should have gone ahead with a windfall tax on the outrageous profits announced by energy companies to help fund the fight against fuel poverty.

“Rising fuel bills are adding to the misery of low-income families and many public-service workers. However, the chancellor is right to recognise the plight of pensioners and raise the much needed winter fuel allowances.”

Mr Prentis welcomed moves to tax non doms. “This is a small step towards creating a fairer tax system which highlights the need for a wider public debate on the whole tax regime. For years the super rich have got away with not paying their fair share.”

The Green Party‘s female Principle Speaker Dr Caroline Lucas MEP:

“This Budget isn’t Green, it’s Brown. After spinning extensively that we were going to see the most environmental budget ever, the government have given us more of the same.

“It tells you all you need to know about the government’s attitude to the environment that Darling chose the section on climate change to reaffirm his commitment to expanding both Heathrow and Stansted airports. He claims he wants tougher carbon reduction targets, but if air travel expands in the way he wants, the only way to meet the cuts we need would be to sacrifice every other part of our economy.

“Under pressure from roads lobbyists, he has backed down on the already timid 2p rise in fuel duty, putting it back until autumn apparently due to high oil prices. If he really thinks oil will be cheap by October, his basic understanding of economics must surely be in doubt. Fossil fuel costs will remain high as long as demand remains high, and cowardly decisions like this will only make the problem worse, not better.

“The £20 increase in child benefit is of course welcome, but it falls well short of what is required to meet the government’s laudable targets for cutting child poverty. The £3.4bn that it would take to halve child poverty by 2010 is instead being spent on occupying Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 alone. We need a real commitment to spending on the things that matter, we need to insist that employers pay a real living wage, and we need to end the assault course of benefit traps and welfare blackmail that the government has set up on the border between benefits and work.”

The Communist Party issued this press release:

A BUDGET FOR TAX-DODGERS AND WAR

‘Chancellor Darling is like the boy standing on the burning deck, told to stay there looking heroic by his callous father’, Communist Party industrial organiser Kevin Halpin declared in response to today’s budget.

‘The budget was an exercise in deception using self-defined rules, elastic budgets, permanently revised forecasts and hidden financial liabilities’, he accused, ‘and it refuses to recognise the slide towards recession’.

‘Instead, Britain is to remain a haven for tax-dodging millionaires and multinational corporations, while public sector workers and benefit claimants are to be squeezed until the pips squeak’, Mr Halpin said.

‘The Chancellor will be raiding the £38 billion National Insurance Fund surplus to hand out more money to the banks and private contractors, while taxes on business profits are slashed and an extra

£2 billion is poured into the military supression of Iraq and Afghanistan’, he pointed out.

Pouring scorn on the Chancellor’s ‘puny’ measures to help low-income families and pensioners, he called for price controls and a windfall tax on energy and banking corporations.

‘Monopoly-dominated markets and the City of London will never solve huge problems of carbon emissions and road congestion’, Mr Halpin insisted, ‘what Britain needs are bold measures such as compulsory solar panelling of new buildings and a massive shift of freight from road onto a publicly owned railway system’.

And the Morning Star editorial:

Two views of reality
(Wednesday 12 March 2008)
MOST people know what words such as fairness mean and they are pleased when they hear that the government will tackle climate change and help hard-working families.

Their difficulty comes when they listen to the mood music and then compare it with the reality of economic policy.

Gordon Brown’s latest budget, delivered in the Commons by Alistair Darling, was a classic of its kind, promising one thing and then announcing policies that point in a different direction.

Business Secretary John Hutton had already given us a clear indication of how the government views fairness, pleading for the rich to be allowed to become even richer without risking punitive taxation.

He certainly had no problem convincing the Brown-Darling coalition, who plumped for the normal approach of subservience to big business and contempt for working people.

There was no word of a windfall tax on the utilities companies that have increased charges to consumers far above the rate of inflation even after seeing their profits zoom into the stratosphere.

The Chancellor had nothing to say about the failings of privatisation, as in the rail industry, where cowboy privateers continue to live off the fat of the land while service standards plummet.

Nor did he appear to have noticed the case made by rail union RMT to close the loophole whereby deferred tax of about £750 million over a five-year period, which had been marked for investment, was translated into shareholder dividends by train operators and rolling-stock companies.

But he had no difficulty in identifying the need for “discipline” over pay in the public sector as a means of guaranteeing “low and stable inflation.”

Mr Darling must know that penalising low-paid public-service workers by staggering below-inflation pay rises has little or no effect on the rate of inflation.

And he must also know that there is no point in playing to the gallery by announcing a showroom tax on 4×4 Chelsea tractors or proposing a flight tax rather than air passenger duty if these fly in the face of other government policies.

Caving in to the airline and construction lobbies by agreeing to concrete over much of southern England to increase Heathrow and Stansted airports exposes these proposals as ineffective fig leaves.

There is no logic in the Chancellor’s attempt to attribute inflation around the 2 per cent mark, despite the trebling of energy prices since 2002, to the “success of the monetary policy committee and resilience of the UK economy.”

If manufacturing was still a substantial part of Britain’s economy, higher fuel prices would have a substantial impact, but it is not, because new Labour has turned its back on manufacturing, accepting the EU commission’s designation of this country’s main areas of economic activity as pharmaceuticals and overseas services.

The main reason for low inflation in Britain has been low global food prices and the huge influx of cheap manufactured products from China and other Asian markets.

And, far from this being the basis for stability in Britain, it is storing up problems for an economy that has grown on the basis of consumption funded by house-price inflation and, in the long run, unsustainable personal debt.

Mehdi Kazemi and the long battle for gay liberation in England

The case of Mehdi Kazemi demonstrates the hypocrisy of the British government when it comes to gay rights…

No doubt when the US/UK coalition goes to war against Iran, it will be under the bloodstained “humanitarian” banner and lip-service will be paid to the oppression of gay people and the necessity of liberating them, while plans are made to liberate Iranian natural resources for the big oil comanies.

Seyed Mehdi Kazemi came to study in England in 2005. When he discovered his boyfriend back in Iran had been arrested, he knew it wouldn’t be safe for him to return. The UK government didn’t seem that concerned about the plight of this gay teenager, however. Kazemi was detained and facing deportation to Iran – so he fled to Holland. Having failed to gain asylum there because the British government want him back (if only to deport him to Iran) Kazemi’s life is now in danger.

A protest is planned for Saturday March 22nd to be held at 2pm opposite Downing Street. (For more details, see Middle East Workers’ Solidarity, the Hands of the People of Iran site, and Save Mahdi Kazemi) He must be allowed to stay in England, where thanks to decades of activism and labour movement lobbying, LGBT people have won significant rights.

As Patrick Orr writes in the latest issue of Socialist Appeal, the battle for gay liberation in England has been a long one, and it isn’t over yet:

Last year saw the fortieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales – it took over a decade for Scotland and Northern Ireland to catch-up.

Gay people had won the right to have sex: as long as you were both over 21, the curtains were shut, the doors closed, there was nobody else in the house and you weren’t in the armed forces. Oddly enough heterosexuals have never had to fight for this very limited privilege. The 1967 Sexual Offences Act was the first victory for a nascent gay rights movement, but there were still many battles to be fought. Gay people could still, perfectly legally be refused service in a pub or shop, kicked out of their house by the landlord, refused a hotel room or turned down for a job on the grounds of their sexuality. What’s more, gay people faced abuse and violence if they were ever to be open about their sexuality and lack of interest by the police if they were to ever report problems. These are all issues that have been faced by countless minority groups throughout history. All of them have won change by organising and fighting for their rights, and where they have achieved most success is when working with the labour movement.

This is where we see the history of the struggle for gay rights is markedly different from other civil rights movements. The Black Civil Rights movement in the USA won the most concessions from the ruling class by mass organising for strikes, boycotts and civil disobedience. This was a tactic not really open to the gay rights movement as gay people were not born into their own communities as racial minorities are, and therefore don’t have a majority in any area in which they can exercise economic power. So the movement quickly got entrenched in holding pride marches: a tactic that held some power but that could not really effect genuine change on its own. Without the option of exercising their collective labour power to improve their legal rights, the gay rights movement never had an obvious reason to make meaningful links with trade unions. There are some examples where gay rights have been furthered by links with the labour movement, such as implementation of sex education including of sexual minorities by the Greater London Council in the 1980s (a policy that was quickly scrapped by Thatcher’s section 28). But in general the lack of links, due to both the circumstances that the gay rights movement had to work within and the homophobia present in the left, was of detriment to the struggle for gay rights.

Legal equality

Although the government has made several key steps towards legal equality, in the shape of equalising the age of consent, civil partnerships and equal rights in work and in providing goods and services, it still fails to tackle the key places where homophobia takes place and often ruins people’s lives.

While parliament preaches about equality and respect working class gay people suffer continual discrimination and harassment in their local community, at work, at school, in the pub or even in their own houses. It is a horrible thing to have to worry about strangers’ reactions when you are walking down the road with another man or woman, or to have to grin-and-bear homophobic comments at school, work or just out at the cinema or in the pub. These are huge problems facing gay people today. The gay rights organisation Stonewall has said that homophobic bullying is “endemic” in Britain’s school, and although some well-meaning teachers try to combat it through education, schools tend to turn a blind eye to it. Little is done by schools and very little by the politicians. The bare truth of the matter is that bigotry serves to divide working class communities.

The constant presence of homophobia can easily create a feeling of isolation and fear, even if there is no direct threat or harassment. This can lead gay people into almost segregated lives in which their main social interactions, apart from work, are with other gay and lesbian people in gay pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Self-imposed social isolation of this type breeds further divisions and resentment among working class people, which only creates further hatred and perpetuates this cycle.

The labour movement is becoming increasingly aware of issues effecting LGBT workers, with several unions including UNISON sponsoring pride marches, the TUC highlighting the issue of discrimination at work, and most importantly, fighting for the rights of gay workers. The most notable case of which was UNISON and AMICUS among others lodging legal action against the government over pension rights for gay couples.

Discrimination because of someone’s sexuality, as because of their race, gender or nationality, can only divide the working class and play into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Gay and lesbian people must organise their own fight for rights, but this can only be successful as part of a labour movement fighting for a socialist transformation of society. And only with socialism can come the complete disappearance of homophobia and realisation of full and equal rights for gay people.

Armed Forces Day? Erm, that’d be Remembrance Sunday, then?

As David Lindsay correctly points out, we already have a day in which the armed forces are commemorated, namely the eleventh of November:

the whole point of it is that it is not a public holiday. Rather, at eleven o’clock in the morning, the ordinary routine of daily life is interrupted.

But that’s not enough for some people. (Namely, government ministers and the top brass of the armed forces.)

No, some people want to have a public holiday to legitimise the unpopular wars of occupation in the Middle East by celebrating those sent to fight said wars.

So, now we know what the Peterborough airmen affair was about: building momentum for such a public holiday to be introduced whilst at the same time innoculating against participation in the worldwide March 15 “five years on” anti-war demonstrations…

Anti-war abuse towards airmen? Or is it “yobs”?

This whole storm in a tea-cup is yet another propaganda excercise, although a more sophisticated one that the Prince Harry vs. Terry Taliban affair. (Perhaps they’re warming us up for war with Iran? Or is it just fears that there is no public eagerness for forty years of war?)

As David Lindsay points out, it is an insult to send men and women to fight in the Middle East and pretend that they are defending their homeland. Sadly, they are being sent to fight in rich men’s wars…

The Morning Star‘s editorial reveals that “yobs”, not peace activists, were responsible for the verbal abuse directed at RAF personnel in Peterborough.

Because, let’s face it, few would be so foolish as to verbally abuse members of the armed forces – who have less control over their superior officers than ordinary citizens have over the political elite, as the recent denial by Parliament of a referendum on the EU treaty demonstrates.

Patriot games
(Friday 07 March 2008)

IF patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown must be one step away from growing a pencil moustache and donning a smoking jacket.

Since he came to power, he has fallen over himself to shove his flag-waving patriotic credentials in our collective face.

With his obnoxious pronouncements about “British jobs for British workers”, his knee-jerk defence of the Proms against mild criticisms made by one of his own ministers and Friday’s demand that all Britons voice their “gratitude” for the sterling work carried out in foreign climes by our brave servicemen, you could almost believe that he’s the reincarnation of Winston Churchill.

“I encourage the local police to back up our armed forces so that not only can our armed forces wear their uniforms in public but they should have the gratitude of the British public for the work they do,” he thundered at a Downing Street press conference.

Brown was responding to reports that disgruntled members of the public in Peterborough had been giving uniformed personnel from the nearby RAF Wittering base a hard time over their supposed involvement in the Afghan and Iraq wars.

One RAF source declared that the abuse had come from “yobs,” although, if this is the case, they are unusually articulate yobs.

One unnamed Peterborough resident told reporters that, “if the armed forces really did ‘a great deal for this nation,’ they would be respected more in public.

“Working as the instrument of a lying government and doing its filthy, oil-inspired murderous deeds for it is hardly worthy of pride.”

This doesn’t sound like the beer talking. It sounds like a considered critique of the armed forces’ role in carrying out the imperialist dreams of Mr Brown and George Bush and is entirely understandable.

However, while stopping short of sharing Peterborough Tory MP Stewart Jackson’s claim that, “if an airman in uniform was to walk through the streets of Peterborough today, I think people would stop and clap and cheer,” the Morning Star does not endorse individual incidents of abuse.

The Stop the War Coalition has rightly pointed out that “anger should be directed at politicians and the government who took us into these disastrous wars” and has also made the point that many service personnel are strongly opposed to the wars – which put them at far more risk than Mr Brown – but are prevented from speaking out by military discipline.

Those that leave the services to avoid this will not escape however.

Former SAS soldier Ben Griffin, who put his career on the line to reveal Britain’s complicity in rendition and torture, has been slapped with a Ministry of Defence gagging order, which was extended on Friday until April.

His offence was to call for Mr Brown, Tony Blair and other senior ministers to face charges of violating international law.

Mr Griffin is right and so is Stop the War. The best way to voice public disgust at what has been done in our name is not to call individual airmen names, but to mobilise en masse on March 15 and let this warmongering government know that it will be held to account for its crimes.

UK government wants to deport gay Iranian youth

Mehdi Kazemi came to England to study in 2004 with the intention of returning to his homeland of Iran. In 2006 he learned that his boyfriend had been arrested and had named him as his partner before being hanged for sodomy.

An appeal to the UK government for asylum was turned down and he was detained at Tinsley House removal centre, near Gatwick Airport, to be deported to Iran. Faced with a possible death sentence, he travelled to Holland, where is now detailed and awaiting an appeal court decision on whether he will be allowed to stay there or be deported to the UK.

The Independent notes:

Last year, the Foreign Office released correspondence sent between embassies throughout the EU dating back to May 2005. They refer specifically to the case of two gay youths, Mahmoud Asqari, under 18 at the time of his execution, and Ayad Marhouni, who were hanged in public.

The Home Office’s own guidance issued to immigration officers concedes that Iran executes homosexual men but, unaccountably, rejects the claim that there is a systematic repression of gay men and lesbians.

If he is brought back to England, he should be allowed to stay. Sign the online petition. (Thanks to Stroppybird for blogging on this, and hence, reminding me to do the same.)

No doubt this story is being reported because of the need to build support for a war against Iran and cases of LGBT refugees being deported to other homophobic states will not get as much attention.

Note how a government minister hypocritically hijacked a solidarity protest for an imprisoned trade union leader in Iran:

Unsavoury elements
(Thursday 06 March 2008)
BRITISH trade unionists demonstrated the international solidarity that underpins the labour movement on Thursday when they turned out in support of jailed Iranian busworkers’ leader Mansour Osanloo.

Rail workers leafleted commuters at major railway stations and other union members joined left colleagues at the Iranian embassy to voice their anger at the reactionary regime’s repression of Iran’s trade unionists – and in particular the horrific imprisonment and torture of Mr Osanloo, who has been savagely beaten in prison to the extent that he may lose the sight in one eye.

Trade unionists mobilised in Britain as part of a worldwide action day for Mr Osanloo, organised by the International Transport Workers Federation.

As RMT general secretary Bob Crow pointed out, “trade union rights are human rights.”

Unfortunately, as happens occasionally with campaigns organised by the left, some unsavoury extremist elements attached themselves to the protest – namely the vile Foreign Office Minister “Dr” Kim Howells.

In a self-important press release from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Howells claimed to “share the international concerns about the growing repression and severity of action taken against labour rights activists who work tirelessly to defend the rights of workers in Iran.”

He urged Iran to “respect fully the right to form or join trade unions, in accordance with its commitments as a member of the International Labour Organisation and the international human rights conventions it has ratified.”

Oh dear. Would this be the same Kim Howells who was pictured on the FCO website in February grinning all over his face alongside Colombia’s High Mountain Brigades – a particularly nasty bunch of state-backed paramilitaries notorious for the rape, murder and torture of Colombian trade unionists?

At the time, Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley pointed out that “Colombia is the world’s leading slaughterhouse for trade unionists and it defies belief that British ministers should be cuddling up – literally, judging by the photographs – with the perpetrators.”

Would this be the same Kim Howells whose government persists in handing over no-strings military aid to Colombia’s far-right Uribe government, which then uses its ordnance to slaughter labour rights activists who “work tirelessly to defend the rights of workers” and ensures that Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist?

And would this be the same Kim Howells who nauseatingly sucked up to Saudi despot King Abdullah during his shameful state visit in October 2007, making the incredible claim that Britain and the medieval Islamist autocracy enjoy “shared values”?

Presumably those values also include the repression of trade unions, since they are banned in Saudi Arabia by “royal decree” and Britain persists in refusing to grant unions rights in accordance with International Labour Organisation standards.

With this, as with so many other things, Howells and his cronies seem to take Margaret Thatcher and her retrograde attitudes as a template for their own foul behaviour.

After all, Thatcher was deeply enthusiastic about free trade unions back in the 1980s – just so long as those unions were in Poland.