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a personal view of the week's news from Erithacus
Many financial analysts believe the London Stock Market has started a
full recovery as the FTSE 100 index climbed 113.2 points this week to
finish on 5879.8. The rise comes on top of last week’s upward movement
of 164.7 points, although investors remain nervous and worries continue
over the stability of the tech and telecoms sectors. A boost to
confidence came with the unexpected half-percent cut in interest rates
in the USA, and a report from the International Monetary Fund predicted
the U.S. economic slowdown would be short-lived. Enthusiasm was muted,
however, as the same report also predicted economic growth in the U.S.
would be 1.5% this year, a reduction of 0.2% on its prediction made last
month. Some other predictions for growth of the U.S. economy are even
less optimistic, with World Bank putting the figure at just 1.2%. The
Budget forecast by President George Bush’s administration had put the
figure at 2.4%.
A move by the UK Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to have
politicians sign a "pact" to avoid racist language and to
"ensure that all political campaigns are conducted fairly and free
from racial hatred and prejudice" has raised a political storm this
week. Despite the laudable intentions of the CRE, no doubt, they have
come under a fierce attack for "blackmail", attempting to
suppress free speech, and for mounting a "witch-hunt".
Conservative MP Dr Julian Lewis accused the CRE of tactics similar to
the McCarthy era in America in the 1950s. Dr Lewis was furious at being
asked to sign, "I am the third generation of a Jewish immigrant
family," he said, "and to ask me to sign a document saying I
am not a racist is outrageous. This pledge is doing for racism what
McCarthy did for communism." Other politicians believe the pledge
will be exploited to stifle debate on matters of legitimate national
interest such as asylum seekers and policing. Conservative Shadow
Chancellor Michael Portillo has declined to sign the pact, and has
commented that such action simply makes race an issue. In a blistering
attack he seemed to imply that the CRE pact was a ploy by New Labour,
and added, "Labour’s decision to try and make race an issue in
this election is all part of a cynical strategy to try and avoid
debating their dismal record in office, and to smear their political
A program of repairs to the M25, Europe’s busiest motorway, over the coming months is set to cause chaos for motorists. The government, through the Highways Agency, has issued a leaflet advising drivers not to use the motorway from 7am to 9.30am, and 4pm to 7pm. Motoring organisations are not impressed. A spokesman from the RAC said, "This is ridiculous. It is like a bad joke. The M25 is there precisely so that motorists can use it at rush hour or at times like Bank Holidays." The AA were no happier, "It really is a bit rich," said their spokesman, "Telling people not to use a motorway designed for cars is strange to say the least." Opposition politicians blame John Prescott’s "integrated transport policy", and Conservative transport spokesman, Bernard Jenkin, said, "He can’t even integrate the timing of roadworks to cause minimum disruption. He doesn’t care how many jams there are on the roads." Other sources blamed underfunding over the last few years for the sudden critical need to make so many repairs at once. The 117-mile motorway is expected to have many miles of speed restrictions and lane closures throughout the summer and into next year. The warning leaflets cost £4,500 to print.
With Easter just over and many (most?) parents breathing sighs of relief that their little angels will be back at school next week, thoughts are already turning to activities that might possibly amuse the children during the longer summer break . With Bob The Builder uppermost in the minds of many smaller children, an attraction near Rochester in Kent may well prove to be the ideal day out. Diggerland is a theme park with a difference. Far from being based on the usual range of myths, fairytales and fantasies, Diggerland has taken its inspiration from the mud and muck of the average building site. Here, children from 5 years old can operate a range of earth-moving machinery, while two eight-ton tractors provide an informative sight-seeing tour – or should that be "site-seeing tour"? Although the majority of the machines are scaled-down versions of their real-life counterparts, the excitement of the youngsters seems to match or even surpass anything to be seen at a conventional theme park, and matched only by the inevitable queues for each of the rides.
21st April 2001