Allegations of a funding scandal within Britain’s Conservative party have barely been reported in France. That intimate soirées chez David and Samantha Cameron may have been worth hundreds of thousands of pounds towards the prime minister’s career fund is considered trivial in a country where a master of the political backhander was president for 12 years. Jacques Chirac was rightly – if extremely leniently – finally given a two-year suspended sentence in December for embezzlement, abuse of trust, and an illegal conflict of interest. All of his dirty money related in some way to party funding, yet Chirac was still allowed to postpone the ignominy of court appearances until well after his retirement from the Elysée palace in 2007.
Rather than ending the problem of illicit funding, the Chirac convictions merely exposed how institutionalised it was. Cash-filled brown envelopes and secret slush funds dominate French political life in a manner that makes the Tories’ troubles appear pedestrian. How many people in the UK are aware, for example, that Alain Juppé, France’s current foreign secretary, is also a convicted criminal? Juppé received his own (14 months) suspended prison sentence in 2004. A damning judgment said it was “regrettable that Mr Juppé, whose intellectual qualities are unanimously recognised, did not judge it appropriate to assume before justice his entire criminal responsibility and kept on denying established facts.”
Such judicial politesse will be on the mind of Juppé’s current boss, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is now facing a number of devastating inquiries in the run up to the presidential election in April/May. As allegations against Cameron were being published, an examining magistrate said that Liliane Bettencourt, the L’Oréal heiress and France’s richest woman, may have contributed two payments of €400,000 (£335,000) each to Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign. Both were traced to Swiss accounts, and one was allegedly received by Sarkozy in person.
Serving presidents cannot be prosecuted in France. Chirac added this useful measure into the constitution when his own legal problems started to emerge. Sarkozy has steadfastly refused to comment on l’affaire Bettencourt, but he did at least say a few short words on national TV about claims that he had also been on the payroll of deposed Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The colonel is said to have funded Sarkozy’s 2007 presidential campaign to the tune of €50m (£42m). “It’s grotesque and I am sorry that I am being interrogated about declarations of Gaddafi or his son on an important channel like TF1,” Sarkozy snapped.
The Gaddafi accusations are closely linked to the so-called “Karachi affair“, which involves illegal arms sales to Pakistan and the murders of 11 French workers in a bomb attack. It is a crucially important saga and one also centred on party funding. Sarkozy was the campaign spokesman for Édouard Balladur when kickbacks from Pakistanis were said to be secretly paying for Balladur’s own presidential campaign in 1995. In which case, Sarkozy should have answered questions about the scandal with dignity and clarity.
There is so much evidence being massed against Sarkozy that Eva Joly, a former anti-terrorist judge who is now standing against him as Green party candidate for the presidency, said he should waive his immunity from prosecution immediately. This demand may sound like the words of a ruthless political opponent, but remember that Sarkozy’s former treasurer, Eric Woerth, is just one of numerous close associates currently under judicial investigation. Joly said “we now have proof”, pointing towards the “illicit financing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign in 2007″ and that this was “very serious for democracy”. Ségolène Royal, Sarkozy’s Socialist rival five years ago, was even more mischievous, saying the main reason Sarkozy was desperate to remain in office this year was because of Bettencourt, Gaddafi and Karachi. Royal suggested that the once sacred office of president was effectively being used to harbour an alleged criminal.
Sarkozy has denied all wrongdoing, but when you consider that his immediate predecessor and one-time mentor used his position as head of state to hide from justice for more than a decade, it is worth taking seriously. Anybody who wants to underplay party funding scandals, whether in France or in Britain, should certainly acknowledge this stark reality.
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The Foreign Office has changed its travel advice to Britons in Mali, urging all but those with urgent business there to leave.
The new advice follows an attempted coup in the west African country on 21 March and specifically warns those in the capital, Bamako, to be cautious.
In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “We advise against all travel to Mali and you should leave if you have no pressing need to remain.”
The Foreign Office said a curfew that had been imposed from 6pm to 6am had now been lifted, but added: “We continue to advise British nationals in Bamako to exercise caution and stay away from crowds and demonstrations when travelling around the city.
“There have been reports of some shops beginning to run low on supplies and of long queues forming outside some banks.
“Given ongoing instability in the country, and now that the airport has reopened, you should leave if you have no pressing need to remain.”
Heavily armed separatist rebels entered the northern Mali town of Gao on Saturday as army troops sought to respond with helicopter gunships, according to Reuters.
The attack came a day after rebels seized the town of Kidal which, along with Gao and the city of Timbuktu, is one of the three main regional centres of Mali’s north.
The rebels have capitalised on the chaos caused by last week’s military coup in Bamako, pushing their campaign for a homeland in the vast desert region of Azawad, a territory larger than France.
“I saw them entering the town itself and putting up their Azawad flags,” Reuters reported.
Regular army troops stationed in the town have retaliated, he added. “Helicopters have started to take off.”
Earlier, heavy gun fire was heard around the main military camp to the west of Gao, which also serves as the biggest garrison for the north.
Mid-ranking officers behind last week’s coup accused the government of giving them inadequate resources to fight the rebels. But the coup has emboldened the rebels to take further ground.
Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo on Friday pleaded for foreign help to preserve the territorial integrity of the former French colony, a major gold and cotton producer.
But neighbouring countries have instead given Sanogo until Monday to start handing back power to civilians or have the borders shut.
Scotland Yard is facing a racism scandal after a black man used his mobile phone to record police officers subjecting him to a tirade of abuse in which he was told: “The problem with you is you will always be a nigger”.
The recording, obtained by the Guardian, was made by the 21-year-old after he was stopped in his car, arrested and placed in a police van the day after last summer’s riots.
The man, from Beckton, east London, said he was made to feel “like an animal” by police. He has also accused one officer of kneeling on his chest and strangling him.
In the recording, a police officer can be heard admitting he strangled the man because he was “a cunt”. Moments later, another officer – identified by investigators as PC Alex MacFarlane – subjects the man to a succession of racist insults and adds: “You’ll always have black skin. Don’t hide behind your colour.”
The Independent Police Complaints Commission referred the case to the Crown Prosecution Service on the basis that three officers, including MacFarlane, may have committed criminal offences.
The CPS initially decided no charges should be brought against any of the police officers. However on Thursday, the service said it would review the file after lawyers for the man threatened to challenge the decision in a high court judicial review. MacFarlane has been suspended.
The inquiry began after the victim handed his mobile phone to a custody desk in Forest Gate police station and told officers he had been abused.
Earlier, he had been driving through Beckton with a friend when he was stopped by a van containing eight police officers from Newham borough. London’s streets were flooded with police who had been drafted in to contain the rioting.
The officers arrested the man on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs and told him he was being taken to a police station to be searched. After being taken into the van, the man was also arrested for missing a previous magistrates court appearance. No further action is to be taken in relation to the suspected driving offence.
It was once inside the van and handcuffed that the man said he was assaulted by police. He described having his head pushed against the van window and said one officer placed his knees on his chest and began strangling him. “I couldn’t breathe and I felt that I was going to die,” he said.
The man said he decided to turn on the recording facility of his phone after MacFarlane allegedly made sexually explicit references about his mother and telling him he would be “dead in five years”.
In the recording, the man sounds agitated; he raises his voice to complain about his treatment and in places insults the arresting officers. The verbal exchange lasts several minutes.
When the man tells an officer: “you tried to strangle me”, the officer replies: “No, I did strangle you.” The officer adds that he strangled him “‘cos you’re a cunt” and that the man had been “kicking out”. In relation to the strangling, the officer says: “Stopped you though, didn’t it?”
Minutes later MacFarlane, who is white, begins abusing the man. After a period of silence, he can be heard telling him: “The problem with you is you will always be a nigger, yeah? That’s your problem, yeah.”
The man reads out MacFarlane’s badge number and complains that he had subjected him to racist comments: “I’ll always be a nigger – that’s what you said, yeah?”
MacFarlane replies: “You’ll always have black skin colour. Don’t hide behind your colour, yeah.” He adds: “Be proud. Be proud of who you are, yeah. Don’t hide behind your black skin.”
Shortly before the recording ends, the man can be heard saying: “I get this all the time.” He then tells the officer: “We’ll definitely speak again about this … It’s gonna go all the way, it’s gonna go all the way – remember.”
The man’s lawyer, Michael Oswald, said: “By his own efforts our client has put before the CPS exceptionally strong evidence and we share his astonishment that the CPS have reached a decision that no police officer should be prosecuted on the basis of that evidence. We do welcome their agreement to review that decision and we now await the outcome of that review.”
The CPS initially said charges should not be brought against MacFarlane because the remarks did not cause the man harassment, distress or alarm.
Grace Ononiwu, deputy chief crown prosecutor for CPS London, said: “Lawyers for [the complainant] have written to the CPS and asked us to review our decision. I have considered the matter personally and directed that all the evidence should be reconsidered and a fresh decision taken by a senior lawyer with no previous involvement in this matter.”
Speaking to the Guardian, the 21-year-old was visibly shaken when recounting the ordeal. “It’s hard to explain, but it makes you feel like a piece of shit – it makes you feel not even human,” he said.
“I was glad that I had it on the recording. I knew that if I had it saved I could show that I had been abused.
“It’s not right. We’ve just got different skin colour – underneath it we’re all the same.”
The Metropolitan police confirmed in a statement that it received a complaint on 11 August about alleged “racial” remarks and oppressive conduct.
“These are serious allegations; any use of racist language or excessive use of force is not acceptable.”
The force said it had referred the case to the IPCC and that one officer had been suspended.
MacFarlane’s solicitor, Colin Reynolds, said: “The officer has been the subject of an investigation, has co-operated in that and been advised he is not to be the subject of criminal proceedings.”
Estelle du Boulay, director of the Newham Monitoring Project, said: “Sadly, the shocking treatment of this young man at the hands of police officers – both the physical brutality he describes and the racial abuse he claims he suffered – are by no means unusual; it compares to other reports we have received. What makes this case different is the victim had the foresight and courage to turn on a recording device on his mobile phone.”
She compared the incident to the case of Liam Stacey, a student who was jailed for 56 days for posting offensive comments on Twitter after the on-pitch collapse of the Bolton Wanderers footballer Fabrice Muamba.
On Friday Swansea crown court rejected an appeal from Stacey, who used racist terms against other Twitter users.
When the student was sentenced in a magistrates court on Tuesday a senior lawyer at the CPS, Jim Brisbane, said: “Racist language is inappropriate in any setting and through any media. We hope this case will serve as a warning to anyone who may think that comments made online are somehow beyond the law.”
David Cameron sought to reassure motorists that petrol supplies will not run out after a serious fire involving a woman decanting petrol in her kitchen cast doubt on the government’s decision to encourage stockpiling.
Diane Hill, 46, was in a critical but stable condition in hospital with 40% burns after pouring petrol from a jerry can into a jug in her kitchen in York because her daughter needed fuel for her car.
The accident happened on Thursday night, a day after Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said the proposed tanker drivers’ strike meant that “a bit of extra fuel in a jerry can in the garage is a sensible precaution to take”. Some Labour figures blamed Maude personally for the accident and called for his resignation.
Cameron described the kitchen fire as “a desperate incident and a terrible thing” and he said that his heart went out to Hill and her family. Speaking after chairing a meeting of Cobra, the emergency committee, he insisted the government and fuel companies were doing all they could to address the shortages that have been caused by panic buying in some areas.
“The fuel companies are working flat out to resupply petrol stations,” he said. “It is frustrating, I know, when petrol stations have queues. Everything that can be done is being done, but it will take some time.”
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said on its website that there was no need to queue at petrol forecourts. “There is no urgency to top up your tank – a strike will not happen over Easter,” it said.
A No 10 spokesman said: “The pressure has been reduced so there’s no urgency, but the threat of strike action has not yet been lifted. It remains vital we take the necessary steps to keep the country safe in case there is a strike.”
Cameron also welcomed the announcement from Unite, the union representing the tanker drivers, that there would be no strike over the Easter holidays. Unite said it would enter “substantive talks” with haulage companies under the aegis of Acas, the conciliation service.
But Cameron appealed to Unite to lift the strike threat entirely. “It is vitally important [Unite] enters these talks on Monday constructively. The most constructive thing they could do would be to call off the strike entirely,” he said.
His comments were notably less provocative than those used by Maude about Unite earlier in the week, suggesting that ministers had been shocked by the accident in York and its possible link to the government’s decision to encourage people to buy up fuel.
According to the fire service in York, Hill was decanting petrol in her kitchen from a green jerry can into a jug while her gas cooker was on. The vapours caught light, and in the ensuing panic she spilt petrol on her clothes and they also caught fire.
Hill was putting the petrol into a jug because she wanted to give it to her daughter who had run out of fuel, the fire service said. It is not clear whether this is related to the fuel crisis, although some garages in York had run out of petrol.
The Labour MP for Bassetlaw, John Mann, blamed Maude for instigating the fuel panic and said that he should “do the decent thing and resign”. Toby Harris, a Labour peer, also called for Maude’s resignation, labelling his conduct disgraceful.
Officially Labour were more cautious about blaming the government for the York petrol fire, but Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, suggested that Maude was at least in part responsible.
Balls told BBC Radio Leeds: “I think the prime minister woke up on Monday morning and thought, ‘I’ve got the worst weekend I’ve had in government’, because of the Tory donation scandal after a budget which had been judged by the country to be deeply unfair, and he thought, ‘Why don’t I try to divert attention?’
“So suddenly, we had government ministers talking up a strike which wasn’t even called.
“[Cameron] sent out his minister to say, ‘Fill up your jerry cans’ and we’ve ended up with these queues, even though there’s normal petrol deliveries. It was a political invention, the panic of the last couple of days, and the nation and some people are paying a very, very heavy price.”
In Downing Street, it is now accepted that some of the language used by Maude earlier this week was regrettable. But, according to one insider, Cameron does not believe that he should be held responsible for an accident in a kitchen.
Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the government should issue safety advice about petrol “as a matter of urgency”. He said the public should be told how dangerous petrol can be “before we have another incident, perhaps with far worse consequences”.
At the Cobra meeting, ministers discussed the contingency plans for a tanker drivers’ strike after Easter. Hundreds of military personnel are being trained to drive trucks.
To make it easier for petrol stations to be restocked, the rules governing the maximum number of hours drivers can work have been temporarily relaxed. Until next Thursday, drivers will be allowed to work 11 hours a day instead of nine.
For a result which seemed to knock the major parties for six, you didn’t need to spend too long on the ground in Bradford to see that George Galloway was capable of giving Labour yet another black eye in Thursday’s byelection.
The clues were all there. The first-time voters shimmying up trees to hang Respect banners at the perfect height for anyone sitting on the top deck of a bus. The taxi drivers competing to see who could cancel their Labour party membership first. The queue of students waiting patiently to have their picture taken with their arms around his shoulders as if he was Brad Pitt. All this and more suggested that writing Galloway off as a narcissistic has-been would be a dangerous mistake in this particular electoral contest.
And so it proved, just after 2.30am on Friday, when the returning officer at the Richard Dunn sports centre announced the result Labour had never really accepted could become a reality: seven years after humiliating Oona King by demolishing her 10,000 majority in Bethnal Green and Bow, Galloway had done it again, and by no small margin. He called it the “Bradford spring”. The Respect politician had annihilated the Labour vote, winning a 10,140 majority. More than 18,000 people in Bradford West put a cross next to his name; more or less the same number who voted for the incumbent, Marsha Singh, at the last general election. It made Friday one of the most difficult days of Ed Miliband’s leadership. Labour had held the seat since 1974.
When Galloway eventually emerged from the leisure centre at 3am, he was greeted by more than 100 supporters who had been waiting out in the cold for hours for a glimpse of their new MP. After loudly booing anyone wearing a Labour rosette, they scooped up Galloway – whose small stature belies his enormous personality – and carried him aloft like a football captain who had taken his team to an FA cup triumph.
“RE-SPECT! RE-SPECT!” chanted his patient fans, adding, “George for prime minister!”
He was then driven into town in a Hummer – the armoured car favoured by Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was governor of California – where hundreds of supporters had been waiting for him since the polls closed at 10pm. Car horns honked to celebrate his arrival at the campaign HQ in Grattan Road. Galloway climbed on top of a grey car and was handed a megaphone to preach to the assembled faithful.
“All praise to Allah!” he yelled, to jubilant cries of “Allah Allah!” And on it went. “Long live Iraq! Long live Palestine!”
Those who voted for Galloway tended to have a number of things in common. They were either a first-time voter or a disaffected Labourite, and all wanted to congratulate him on his robust stance against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many said they watched him on Press TV, the English language Iranian-controlled channel – until it was taken off air by the government earlier this year.
More still had watched YouTube clips of Galloway ripping into his detractors, whether in front of the US senate in 2005 or in a classically adversarial interview with Sky News about Gaza. Galloway proudly refers to these as his “greatest hits”. Only a handful recognised him primarily from his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, when he dressed in a red unitard and pretended to be Rula Lenska’s pussy cat.
“He is the only politician who tells the truth and fights for justice,” said Saeeda Naz, a trainee teacher who was one of the army of Muslim women who worked around the clock for three weeks to persuade their “sisters” to vote. It was thanks to them that a stream of veiled, headscarved women could be seen heading into polling stations across the city, many voting for the first time.
“Yes, he is a professional politician and yes, he is not from Bradford,” said one man waiting outside the count. “But they all are. The difference is that this man will represent the views of the ordinary people here. He will address corruption and impotence in Bradford – cynics, thieves, robbers like you get in cowboy films.”
As his victory sunk in on Friday morning, Galloway said his triumph was a sign of “massive dissatisfaction with the political system in this country and the main political parties and their leaders”.
Using a metaphor he employed repeatedly during the campaign, he said: “If a backside could have three cheeks then they [the main parties] are the three cheeks of the same backside. They support the same things, the same wars, the same neoliberal policies to make the poor poorer for the crimes of the rich people. And they are not believable. Nobody believes what they say. Whether people agree with me or not, I have all of my life said the same things. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. I think people are looking for political leaders like that.”
A common theme on the stump was frustration at clan politics in Bradford, known by the Urdu word Bradree or Biradiri, meaning brotherhood or family, which here has become a byword for exclusivity.
Many felt that too many important decisions were taken in Bradford by a small number of Pakistanis who came from Mirpur, a small town in Kashmir, who had carved up the most important Labour party positions between them over the years.
The Labour candidate in the byelection seemed to many to fit exactly into that mould. Imran Hussain, a 34-year-old barrister from Bradford with Mirpur heritage, was following in his father’s footsteps when he became involved in the local Labour party, rising two years ago to become deputy leader of the city council.
When the Guardian joined him on the stump in the Allerton ward last week, the contrast between the reception he received and the way Galloway was hailed on the university campus could not have been starker. He didn’t appear to be converting any voters but was instead preaching to the converted: those who had voted Labour all their lives and always would.
Galloway, meanwhile, was unleashing all the charm in his substantial armoury to win the hearts and minds of Bradford, lavishing particular care and attention on the younger voters, especially those who had never bothered going to the ballot before. Outside the count, dozens of men told the Guardian they had voted for the first time that day. “I’ve never voted in my life – I’m 32. I didn’t believe in ‘em. They’re just after the cheque. They just want the cash. End of,” said one, as his friends yelled, “He didn’t know how to vote!” and “He didn’t even know whether to put a cross or a tick.” The man nodded. “It’s true! But George said, here you go, put a cross by number 2 [on the ballot paper].”
While Galloway turned up to every hustings, guns blazing, his Labour counterpart shied away. The Labour spin machine swore blind it was because they felt Hussain could shore up support better wearing out his shoe leather on the streets of Bradford. But, like almost anyone else in the world, their man, far from your typically silver-tongued barrister, would be no match for Galloway in a debate. The one time the two did meet, on the Sunday Politics show, Galloway wiped the floor with his opponents. “Do you want a local councillor, or an MP?” he asked.
The 57-year-old repeatedly denied he was a divisive figure stirring up racial and religious tensions – “It was Labour who put up a Pakistani Muslim candidate, not us,” he said after his victory. He told anyone who dared suggest that he opportunistically targeted Muslims that they were being racist, or at least discriminatory.
“To suggest all Muslims vote for me is to suggest they are second-class citizens who vote like herds of sheep,” he said. But he clearly played to the 38% of Muslims who made up the constituency at the last count (in the 2001 census). He caused outrage by sending out a letter addressed to “voters of the Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage in Bradford West” appearing to suggest he was somehow a “better” Muslim than Hussain. “God KNOWS who is Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for,” he wrote, giving a series of four reasons which included “I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate in this electioncan say that truthfully.” Galloway has never converted to Islam, though lots of his supporters in Bradford West appeared to be under the impression he had.
Yet in the early hours of Friday morning as he celebrated in the street with hundreds of young supporters, Galloway made a slip-up which would suggest to any practising Muslim that he was not one of them: he invited them to join him at noon for a tour of Bradford on an open-top bus. It was only when someone called out “what about Jumu’ah?” that Galloway realised his victory parade clashed with Friday prayers. The tour was duly postponed until 2.30pm.
But he never held back on the religious imagery. Reflecting on his victory in the early hours of Friday morning, he said we had witnessed something “miraculous” – in the biblical sense of the word. “And as a religious man, I have to believe that there is some divine intervention in this – the retribution of the main parties for the treason against the country and against their supporters that they have visited is something sacred. Justice has been done.”
Galloway may have won 56% of the vote, but a sizeable minority of the city viewed his victory with horror. As he was about to board his victory bus on Friday afternoon, one young white man pelted him with eggs. He missed his target but could be heard denouncing Galloway as a “parasite in this city”.
Another of his new constituents, an unemployed white woman called Sally, gave him the finger as his bus passed her stop by the town hall. “I think he is more interested in raising his own profile than helping Bradford,” she said.
She admitted to taking drastic measures to register her disgust at the ballot box: she was one of 111 Bradfordians who voted for Howling Laud Hope of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
30 March 2012
Last updated at 14:25
An Easter strike by fuel tanker drivers has been ruled out by the Unite union.
It is to join conciliation talks but said a strike could be called for after Easter if those broke down.
The government welcomed the announcement but said Unite should withdraw the threat of a strike. Fuel sales have risen sharply this week after government warnings to motorists.
In York, a woman suffered 40% burns on Thursday when petrol ignited as she was decanting it in her kitchen.
The union announced on Friday morning that there would be no strike over Easter.
In a statement, assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “We do still retain the right to call strike action for after Easter should those talks break down.”
A Downing Street spokesman responded: “Its obviously good news that people are not going to have their bank holiday ruined. But it’s time Unite withdraw their totally unacceptable strike threat.”
Prime Minister David Cameron is currently chairing a meeting of Cobra, the government’s civil contingencies committee.
Some 90% of UK forecourts are supplied by the Unite union’s 2,000 or so members at the centre of the dispute.
Unite’s drivers, who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages and supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have called for minimum working conditions covering pay, hours, holiday and redundancy.
Following the Unite announcement, conciliation service Acas said it would be meeting the employers involved in the dispute on Monday and that it hoped formal talks also involving the union could start as soon as possible after that.
‘Pressure at the pumps’
RAC Foundation director Stephen Glaister said: “This news will be a great relief to all those who thought their holidays were going to be severely disrupted.
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It is for the employers and unions to resolve their issues by getting around the negotiating table and talking”
“It should give everyone breathing space and ease the pressure at the pumps.”
Queues formed at many petrol stations across the country on Thursday as demand for fuel rose.
Some garages ran dry but retailers said they were coping and normal deliveries would ensure supplies were replenished.
Anticipating a strike they describe as “completely wrong”, ministers have called for motorists to keep their cars “topped up” but urged people not to queue.
On Thursday, Energy Secretary Ed Davey advised that people “just need to do the sensible thing… get a full tank of petrol, not a half-tank”.
Demand for petrol rose 172% on Thursday, and diesel by 77%, according to independent retailers’ group RMI Petrol.
RMI Petrol chairman Brian Madderson accused ministers of “making a crisis out of a serious concern” and said they should have sought industry advice “weeks ago” on how to avoid fuel shortages.
The Petrol Retailers Association, which represents about 5,500 garages, said: “This is exactly what we didn’t want – people panic-buying.”
But Conservative Party co-chairman Baroness Warsi defended the government over its advice in the face of a possible strike.
“I want a government that’s prepared to say to people ‘use your common sense and let’s be resilient and make sure there’s fuel built into the system’.
“I don’t want a government that’s sat on its hands, waits for the crisis to approach us and then looks like it’s caught in the headlights,” she said.
The accident in York on Thursday happened as a woman in her 40s was transferring petrol between containers in her kitchen because her daughter had run out of fuel.
The cooker was on and the petrol fumes ignited. The woman has been treated for her injuries at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
The day before had seen controversy over Cabinet Minister Francis Maude’s suggestion that people could store petrol in jerrycans at home – advice later withdrawn as a mistake.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has called on the prime minister to apologise for “presiding over a shambles on petrol” and accused the government of diverting attention from criticism of the Budget.
The Conservatives hit back at Labour for failing to condemn the stance of Unite – the party’s biggest donor.
Mr Davey met hauliers on Friday to discuss plans in the event of a strike, telling the BBC that the talks were aimed at building “detailed and robust” contingency plans.
One of the issues discussed at the meeting was ways to store fuel to ensure that emergency services had enough supplies in the event of industrial action.
A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokeswoman said the meeting was “productive” and focused on contingency planning, as well as covering the training of more military drivers should a strike be called.
30 March 2012
Last updated at 18:00
Ed Miliband met union bosses and donors like Lord Sugar, the list reveals
Labour leader Ed Miliband has revealed details of 43 meetings and dinners he has had with union bosses and donors who have given Labour more than £7,500.
Lord Sugar and Ken Livingstone are among those included on the list.
Mr Miliband has met Unite union boss Len McCluskey eight times since 2010.
David Cameron published details of private dinners at No 10 for Tory supporters who gave more than £50,000 after a row over alleged “cash for access” to senior ministers.
He came under pressure to release the information after former Conservative Party Treasurer Peter Cruddas was filmed suggesting big donors could get access to dinners at 10 Downing Street with the prime minister and gain influence at No 10′s policy committee.
Mr Cruddas quit after making the remarks and the Conservatives launched an inquiry into their procedures for handling donations.
The list of Mr Miliband’s engagements since November 2010 – which he promised to release earlier this week – is dominated by meetings with trade union leaders, whose members all contribute money to Labour.
As well as Mr McCluskey, Mr Miliband met Unison boss Dave Prentis and GMB boss Paul Kenny on several occasions as well as Billy Hayes, who represents postal workers, and the leaders of the USDAW, TSSA, UCATT and Community unions.
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This is damning proof the Labour Party is the political wing of Len McCluskey’s Unite trade union”
Businessmen featuring on the list include Labour peer Lord Alli, George Iacobescu – head of property firm Canary Wharf – and Henry Tinsley, former chairman of chocolate makers Green and Blacks.
Among those to have had dinner at Mr Miliband’s house are Ken Livingstone, the Labour candidate for mayor of London and Andrew Rosenfeld, the property tycoon who is one of Labour’s largest donors and is advising the party on their fundraising activities.
Mr Miliband had “gone further” than the prime minister in disclosing the full extent of his links with key financial supporters, Labour said.
“We promised openness and transparency and we have delivered,” a party spokesman said.
“David Cameron should match this by publishing his own list of all meetings and dinners with donors who have given more than £7,500.”
But the Conservatives hit back, saying Unite had donated £5m to Labour over the period in question or “£630,000 for every meeting and dinner” between Mr McCluskey and Mr Miliband.
“This is damning proof the Labour Party is the political wing of Len McCluskey’s Unite trade union,” said Conservative co-chair Baroness Warsi.
David Cameron’s list revealed he had hosted three dinners at his private Downing Street flat since becoming prime minister, welcoming a number of prominent party backers, as well as a post-election reception at No 10.
Mr Cameron said he had paid for all of the dinners himself and he had known most of those attending for many years.
30 March 2012
Last updated at 15:13
George Galloway has said his surprise victory in the Bradford West by-election showed the “alienation” of voters from the main political parties.
The Respect Party politician said his win also reflected concerns about jobs and the economy – and was not just based on the support of Muslim voters.
Labour’s Ed Miliband said the loss of the seat was “incredibly disappointing”
He said “local factors” were partly to blame but pledged to “learn lessons” from the defeat.
But the BBC’s chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the poll, coming at the end of a difficult week for the coalition government, should have been a “stroll in the park” and that there were questions whether the Labour leadership could connect with its core supporters.
Mr Galloway, expelled by Labour in 2003, won the by-election by 10,140 votes, in the process of overturning a Labour majority of more than 5,000 at the 2010 general election.
He told the BBC that his win represented a “peaceful democratic uprising” against the established political parties and their leaders.
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George Galloway was carried out of the sports centre where the votes had been counted, on the shoulders of his supporters.
“Galloway! Galloway!” they screamed jubilantly.
A small convoy of cars, covered in Respect posters and flags, then completed a celebratory lap around an otherwise deserted football field, at 3am.
Why did George Galloway win here?
Firstly, he appears to have galvanised some who feel ignored, even disenfranchised by the main political parties.
An element of that is due to a specific local issue, the regularly delayed renovation of the city centre.
For others, in a multi-ethnic constituency, the call for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was appealing.
For others still, this was a mid-term by-election.
It wasn’t about choosing the next government, but sending a powerful message, selecting a noisy, high profile advocate to represent them.
Handing George Galloway a 10,000 vote majority certainly does that.
“It was a bit of tidal wave and it was one waiting to break all over the country,” he told Radio 4′s World At One.
“There are very large numbers of people completely disenchanted and alienated from the political process and from the mainstream political parties…There is no difference between the Tories, the Lib Dems and New Labour, or at least not a sufficient difference for anyone to notice or care.”
He said he had focused his campaign on tackling Bradford’s economic problems, suggesting the city had “gone backwards” during Labour’s years in government.
“There is a great deal of concern about mass unemployment, poverty, poor educational statistics, poor health and a general sense of abandonment in post-industrial cities like Bradford,” he said.
Other parties have suggested Mr Galloway depended on support from Asian voters in the city, with many Muslim voters attracted to his opposition to the war in Iraq and his call for troops to withdraw from Afghanistan immediately.
Turnout in the by-election was just over 50%, compared with 64.9% in the general election.
Lib Dem MP David Ward, who represents neighbouring Bradford East, has claimed white voters in the constituency “washed their hands” of the campaign.
He told the BBC the by-election came down to a “straight fight” between Mr Galloway and his Labour opponent for votes in inner-city areas, which have a larger Asian population.
But Mr Galloway said the 50% turnout in the ballot “belied that”.
“We won in virtually every area,” he said. “We got support from all kinds of people.”
He rejected claims that he had focused his message on just one section of the community.
“It was Labour who put up an Asian candidate who campaigned that he was a Pakistani Muslim,” he said. “I don’t think that is a charge that can be laid at us.”
Mr Galloway said Respect, which was formed in 2004 in opposition to the Iraq war, would be campaigning vigorously during the upcoming council and mayoral elections and suggested it was “the start of something big” for the party.
Labour, whose share of the vote fell by more than 20% as it was pushed into second place, have said the result was totally unexpected.
Opposition leader Ed Miliband said it was “incredibly disappointing” and he would be visiting the constituency in the next couple of weeks.
“Clearly there were local factors, but I also say only four out of 10 people voted for the three mainstream political parties,” he said.
“We’ve got to understand the reasons why that happened in Bradford.”
He added: “We need to be engaged and rooted in every community of this country. We need to show to people that our politics, that Labour politics, can make a difference to people’s lives.”
The party’s deputy leader Harriet Harman said the result did not reflect a lack of confidence in Mr Miliband’s leadership as the party had performed strongly in other by-elections and council elections over the past year.
The Conservatives, who came third in the by-election with 2,746 votes, also saw their vote fall by more than 20%.
The party’s co-chair, Baroness Warsi, said governments tended not to win by-elections and the result was more damaging for Labour.
“If Labour can’t win one of their safe seats in these tough economic times and in a tough week for the government, how can they win anywhere?
“Not in half a century has an Opposition come back from such an appalling result to win a majority at the next general election.
“This tells you everything you need to know about Ed Miliband’s weak leadership.”
The Lib Dems came fourth and lost their deposit.
Thursday by-election was triggered by the resignation of former Labour MP Marsha Singh, who resigned on health grounds.
Labour had held the West Yorkshire seat since 1974, except for a brief period in the 1980s when the sitting MP defected to the SDP.
31 March 2012
Last updated at 01:01
The move makes permanent a pilot scheme which has been running since 2009
A scheme to help migrants forced to leave relationships as a result of domestic violence is being made permanent, the Home Office has said.
The move follows a pilot project that has provided support for 1,522 people, including 738 women with children.
The initiative assists victims who would otherwise be destitute or have no access to public funds.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said domestic violence affected people of all ages and backgrounds.
The scheme helps spouses and partners, who are foreign nationals and the victims of domestic violence, with access to support services.
The government said the project would assist an estimated 500 people a year in the UK.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: “Domestic violence is a terrible crime affecting people of all ages and backgrounds and this government is determined to tackle it.
“No one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship and this scheme helps victims in genuine need escape violence and harm and seek the support they deserve.”
The scheme will become permanent in April following a pilot called the Sojourner Project which has been running since 2009.
The government said that in many cases victims were afraid to seek help because they lacked financial support and feared they would be removed from the UK if their relationship failed.
Those eligible for the scheme will be granted a limited period of exceptional leave to remain by the UK Border Agency.
Victims would be able to access financial and support services, such as a refuge, and be allowed to apply for UK residency.
Jo Clarke, from refuge charity Eaves Women’s Aid, who co-ordinated the pilot, said: “The Sojourner Project pilot has been a huge success, enabling in excess of 1,000 people, 12 of them men, to escape abusive relationships and secure indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
“Victims of domestic violence with no recourse to public funds are among the most vulnerable and badly abused so the Sojourner funding has, quite literally, saved many lives.
“Our findings have demonstrated the need for this escape route and I welcome the introduction of the government’s long-term solution which will mainstream the provision of financial support to this group.”
31 March 2012
Last updated at 08:01
Supplies of petrol have been diminished after panic buying by motorists
The government has changed its advice to motorists after two days of panic buying at petrol stations.
Ministers now say there is no urgent need to top up petrol tanks, after the Unite union ruled out a strike by tanker drivers over Easter.
Some Labour MPs have called for Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude to resign for earlier suggesting that people should store petrol in jerry cans.
A woman in York suffered severe burns while decanting petrol in her kitchen.
Earlier this week Prime Minister David Cameron said it would be sensible for drivers to top up with petrol because of potential strike action.
Others in government suggested that motorists should keep their tanks two-thirds full.
The government is now advising motorists not to queue at filling station forecourts.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change said: “There is no urgency to top up your tank, a strike will not happen over Easter.”
Senior Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said he thought the government may have been trying to divert peoples’ attention away from a difficult week for the Tory party and the coalition.
“Really there should not have been any move to encourage people to buy more than they normally buy without consulting the industry first, and I think that was the mistake,” he said.
John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, Karl Turner, MP for Hull East, and Labour Lord Toby Harris are among those who have called for Mr Maude to resign if it turns out his comments contributed to the burns accident suffered by 46-year-old Diane Hill.
She was seriously injured after petrol ignited as she poured it from one container into another in her kitchen.
The cooker was on and the petrol fumes ignited. She has been treated for 40% burns at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield.
Mr Mann said Mr Maude “should now be considering the consequences of his actions and do the decent thing and resign”.
Mr Mann said: “This is precisely what the fire brigade warned against and the current panic is a direct result of Francis Maude’s rash and foolish reaction to negative press on pasties and Number 10 dinners.
“We are now in a position where a woman’s life has been placed in danger.”
Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi responded angrily to the suggestion that Mr Maude should stand down.
She told BBC Two’s Newsnight programme: “I think what’s deeply irresponsible and, frankly, sickening, is that the Labour Party want to make political points out of this personal tragedy for this lady.”
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said the government had mishandled the row between the tanker drivers and their employers.
“It’s been a spectacular failure. The beginning of this week there was no date for a strike, seven days notice was needed. The prime minister should have been saying to both sides to talk,” he said.
“Starting to say instead fill up your tank, causing panic, getting out the jerry cans, has led to the queues, to the shortages, to the running out of petrol.”
Diane Hill remains in hospital after suffering severe burns while decanting petrol at home
Firefighters confirmed that the container Ms Hill was decanting from was a green jerry can.
Adair Lewis from the Fire Protection Association told the BBC Ms Hill’s accident was a “wake-up call to us all”.
He said: “Petrol should only ever be bought in proper containers made for that purpose. There is no place for petrol inside your home.”
Allan Davison, from petrol firm Hoyer, called on motorists to stop panic buying.
He said: “The strike has not been called and in fact the union have said quite clearly that there won’t be a strike over the Easter break and that’s really, really encouraging.
“We are in the middle of replenishing stocks, we’ve got 15 to 20 extra vehicles and drivers out on the road every day.”
Brian Madderson, of the Retail Motor Industry, blamed the government for creating a “fuel crisis”.
Unite and the seven distribution companies involved in the dispute are in contact with conciliation service Acas but no firm talks will be held until next week.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “We will not be calling Easter strike action as we focus on substantive talks through Acas.
“We do still retain the right to call strike action for after Easter, should those talks break down.”
The rules on fuel tanker drivers’ hours have been temporarily relaxed to help the transport of supplies to filling stations.
Under EU rules, drivers are limited to nine hours on the road each day, but this has now been raised to 11 hours.
The new rules will apply until Thursday and have been introduced after requests from the fuel supply industry.
Unite’s drivers, who deliver fuel to Shell and Esso garages and supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have called for minimum working conditions covering pay, hours, holiday and redundancy.
Some 90% of UK forecourts are supplied by Unite’s approximately 2,000 members involved in the dispute.
Demand for petrol rose 172% on Thursday and diesel by 77% according to independent retailers’ group RMI Petrol.
Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the government’s civil contingencies committee, Cobra, on Friday afternoon.
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