Friday, 31 August 2007

31 August 2007

Sometimes, you lot really do surprise me. To be honest, I did not expect many of you to be tuned in last Monday … it was a Bank Holiday, the sun had been shining in much of the country, and I thought you’d all be out sipping refreshing what-nots with friends and family. But no, came the witching hour and you were glued to your radios. Your loyalty does you immense credit.

How do I know you were listening? Well, no sooner had we started our discussion about the housing crisis – where should we build all those new homes that the government says we so desperately need? – and your emails started flooding in. It is clearly an issue about which many of you feel very strongly indeed.

Dr S in Coventry, for example: “Unrestricted development is madness. Water shortages, more pollution from cars and electricity, more traffic on the roads, more flooding. Where will it end?”

Or, at the other extreme, Owen in London: “It is nice to hear someone like Austin Williams [one of our panellists] advocating unrestricted development without fear of consequences. All this environmental nonsense is just political correctness gone mad.”

And there were plenty more. Some of you blamed immigration for the housing crisis; others thought we should be building on at least some of the Green Belt, to relieve the pressure on towns and cities.

I know, of course, that most of you didn’t send an email. I don’t for a single moment think that those of you who did write in are necessarily representative of all our listeners. But I do find it interesting to get some idea of what you feel strongly about – and last Monday, I learned that many of you feel strongly about housing.

Briefly, a mention of two long-running international stories. First, you may remember, if you’ve been paying attention, that three months ago I warned you to keep an eye on Pakistan. If you heard my interview with the former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto on Wednesday night, you’ll realise why.

There are big things afoot in Pakistan: and it’s just possible that after eight years in power, the military ruler General Pervez Musharraf may be about to accept demands that he put in place a process of transition back to democratic rule. (Ms Bhutto’s arch-rival, Nawaz Sharif, says he’ll be returning from exile within the next couple of weeks. Expect sparks to fly …) The next few months will be crucial -- and don’t forget, Pakistan is a nuclear power which neighbours Afghanistan and where many Taliban and pro-Taliban fighters are based.

Second, Iran. There are whispers in Washington that the Bush administration may be planning a propaganda offensive within the next few weeks to prepare US voters for the possibility of military action against Iran’s nuclear research facilities. Some anti-Bush bloggers think the strategy will be the same as it was before the invasion of Iraq. Barnett Rubin of the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, for example, cites President Bush’s remarks in a speech last Tuesday: “Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late.” And that, says Rubin, is remarkably similar to the language that was being used five years ago about Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

By the way, we’ll be reporting from Iran in tonight’s (Friday’s) programme to see what effect President Bush’s “axis of evil” speech nearly five years ago had on the country itself. Do tune in if you can …

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