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The Knights of Eruin by Miles Goodenuff


News Comment
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%.
The nervousness remaining throughout the stock markets was particularly evident this week, as many of the gains in share prices following the U.S. interest rate cut were lost again when investors sold to take the profits while they had the chance.

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 opponents."
The fury of some politicians increased as the CRE published the names of three MPs who refused to sign. Former cabinet minister John Gummer said that naming the MPs implied they were racist, and was nothing less than blackmail. "This is not the way we do politics in Britain," said backbench MP Julie Kirkbride, and former Minister Nicholas Soames described the CRE document as "loathsome and offensive". Mr Soames went on to say, "The CRE has yet again grossly exceeded its role in life. The CRE....does not serve any useful purpose." He added, "We are not going to play ball. The CRE can go to hell." Indeed.

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                        


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