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Comment on Home Secretary Jack Straw's publication of government plans to strengthen the institution of marriage

The Daily Telegraph

THERE WAS a time when, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra, nearly everyone accepted that the family and marriage went together like a horse and carriage. But as the government's consultation paper, Supporting Families, makes clear, those days are long gone. If its authors had wanted to be frank, they might have added "and woe betide the politician who tries to turn the clock back". But being politicians they are, of course, more circumspect.

Labour's attitude to marriage, boiled down to its essentials, is not unlike its approach to enterprise. In theory it supports both, but it shies away from the problems involved in actually doing so. At least with enterprise, it now understands that the tax system has a part to play, if entrepreneurs are to be encouraged. Why can it not make the same obvious connection where marriage and the family is concerned.

the Daily Mail

WHAT IS on offer here is a ragbag of 'ology-obsessed gimmicks and politically correct palliatives - in short, anything other than the only real incentive that could work: fiscal aid for families. It is bad enough that there are not tax incentives for couples with children to stay together. Jack Straw shies away from any radical shift in the balance of taxes and benefits that would put a premium on wedlock. That contrast speaks volumes about what really makes New Labour tick.

Its leadership has constantly trumpeted family platitudes on the hustings and at party conference time. More traditionally-minded voters may begin to feel that family values come cheap from the mouths of politicians who refuse to back them with public money.

The Guardian

WHAT IS needed - and what was promised - are policies which will both reduce conflict within families (mediation, family centres, support networks) and conciliation services that will allow irreconcilable couples to separate with the minimum of acrimony and trauma. The test should be be by how much these services are extended by ministers and how seriously family poverty is tackled. All manner of help has been extended to the working poor through the ambitious welfare-to-work programme but unemployed families continue to be left behind by a benefits system cruelly decoupled from the earnings index. That, too, should be reconsidered.

The Mirror

THE PLANS put forward yesterday by the Home Secretary Jack Straw are, on the whole, a bold and brave initiative. Some - such as ending quickie marriages - are pointless. Others - like dictating over marriages - will make some young people feel patronised. Yet most are a genuine attempts to tackle a huge problem. This must not be the nanny state stretching its tentacles into people's private lives. It must be the Government offering help where it is desperately needed. Mr Straw's plans deserve to be given a real chance. They could make a fantastic difference to countless couples and, more importantly, their children.

The Financial Times

FISCAL SUPPORT should go to children, not to the institution of marriage, childless or otherwise. The alternative would be to attempt a piece of social engineering, which flies in the face of a strong secular trend while leaving the children of the unmarried, single or divorced, worse off - an outcome hardly likely to produce a more cohesive society. In practice, however, that leaves the government with a series of proposals which stretch from the faintly risible to the probably sensible, some of which may indeed help families, but few of which are likely specifically to strengthen marriage.

The Times

MOST OF the ideas in the green paper constitute a worthwhile effort to shore up family life. Yet families' stability is best bolstered when parents have jobs and children receive a good education, fostering independence from the state. The family is a bastion against an intrusive State and a shelter from the demands of modern life. In the long run, money spent on moving parents from welfare to work and improving school standards for their children may be more successful at strengthening Britain's families than all of yesterday's initiatives.

The Sun

AT LAST family values come first. The Sun welcomes Jack Straw's assertion that natural parents, preferably married, are better than gays who adopt. But we're sorry he felt he had to launch his blueprint by stressing he was not being judgmental. Why the hell not?


US opinion on the results of the mid-term elections which gave a surprising fillip to the Democrats

Honolulu Star

FOR WEEKS, the talking heads contended that the scandals swirling around President Clinton would render Democrats unmotivated to vote while simultaneously stirring up a vengeful Republican base to get out there and send a message that Clinton must go.

The opposite appears to have happened. The message was that real issues, not investigations, matter most. The probes of Clinton should proceed as the facts warrant, Republicans should heed the signal sent and remember that they must stand for more than just getting the president.

San Francisco Chronicle

PRESIDENT CLINTON, relieved as he may be by the results, also must heed the election message in this moment of opportunity for him. Americans want their elected officials to get back to work on important issues, and Clinton bears some of the responsibility for dragging out the sex scandal with his lies and delaying tactics.

The message on Tuesday was that it is time for our leaders to start leading again.



SWING VOTERS seemed much more enthusiastic about Democratic emphases on improving education and shoring up Social Security than they were about such Republican enthusiasms as tax cuts and the endless Clinton investigations.

As Republicans plan for the next Congress, knowing that the public didn't think much of the last one, they should aim for bipartisan progress on bread-and-butter issues, not renewed jeremiads against the United Nations, the right to abortion and other veto-bait. Republicans also ought to understand that most Americans are ready for the Clinton-Starr-Lewinsky soap opera to go off the air (and no reruns).

KAnsas City Star

THE STUNNING failure of GOP strategy at the national level strongly suggests the need for a serious shake-up of the Republican high command. Once again, GOP leaders have managed to extract defeat from the jaws of victory. Republicans have been placed on notice that they will face a serious brooming if they don't clean up their act. The impeachment inquiry must be seen as fair, expeditious and well-grounded in the facts.

Absent a compelling reason, the electorate doesn't want Congress using the impeachment process to second guess its judgment about who ought to lead the country. We wouldn't say the impeachment light is flashing red yet, but it's surely flashing a brilliant yellow.

Seattle Times

WHAT SOUNDS like Democrats gloating are sighs of relief big enough to inflate a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float. For the first time since the Great Depression voters were helping the party that controlled the White House increase the seats it held in Congress. Predictable off-year election losses did not materialise. Voters were tossing the Republican- controlled Legislature up for grabs. This was a hunt for a more pragmatic legislator. Voters were not rejecting government, they were getting very practical about how it's run.

Washington Post

FROM OUT of nowhere, Mr Ventura, a Porsche-driving populist running under the Reform Party banner, left Mayor Norm Coleman of St Paul, a Republican, and Hubert Humphrey 3rd, a Democrat, the state attorney general, bleeding on the mat. Mr Ventura's opponents raised $4.3m for their campaigns; Mr Ventura spent $250,000. With support concentrated among young men, he roamed the state demonstrating straight talk and regularly quoted the big deceased thinkers - Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead and the Doors' Jim Morrison.


Analysis of Chancellor Gordon Brown's projections and plans for the public finances over the next three years

The Spectator

ON THE basis of his remarks, no one in Britain has anything to worry about, least of all the Labour Party officials planning the next election campaign. But there is one little difficulty. Mr Brown appears to believe Britain can prosper in a vacuum, irrespective of world economic conditions. There is one problem with making predictions: they might not come true.

This week, Mr Brown was able to disown one set of earlier economic forecasts and still give a powerful performance. But he will not be able to get away with that again.

This time, he had better be right.

The Sun

CHANCELLOR BROWN is confident we can ride the tide of world recession. But The Sun believes he and his cabinet colleagues can - and must - make sure we do more than just survive a slump. They can help set Britain alight again as a beacon for enterprise. He took a step in the right direction this week by cutting National Insurance costs for employees and employers. But there's room for more cuts. And tax incentives to make it worthwhile for investors to take a risk funding new ideas.

Thanks to the Thatcher years, we're no longer behind the world in technology and productivity. The Chancellor can help us close the gap even faster. Let loose the shackles of red tape and taxes. Then industry can live up to his high hopes of growth.

The Economist

MR BROWN's difficulties could be more political than economic. If there does turn out to be something nasty in the woodshed, his enemies will brand him as complacent or, worse, claim plausibly that his chosen image of prudence and iron resolve was a fake. That may prove a risk worth taking, given that no chancellor wants to predict a recession. But a greater show of modesty in his forecasts now, when the world's economic trouble could have given him a perfect excuse, might have been a little more, well, prudent.

Investors Chronicle

CHANCELLOR Gordon Brown is not the only one planning to loosen fiscal policy. So, too, is the rest of Europe. In doing this, they think they are helping us all out by preventing recession. The fact is, though, they might not be.

The problem lies not with Mr Brown's plans, but with the rest of Europe's. If, however, the current rally continues, or if Mr Brown's forecast of a shallow downturn and sharp recovery is right, it might be.


Reactions to the unexpected slump in first-half profits at the High Street retailer

Financial Times

LOOKING AHEAD, few companies can match M&S's strength in adversity - strong balance sheet, unique supplier relationships, high market share and low cost base. With the sector in such a dire state, there is no hurry to buy the shares, even after their recent fall. But, if Christmas should mark a turn in fortunes, it may be time to buy.

The Guardian

AS ANY dedicated follower of fashion knows, M&S is home to some incredibly on-the-ball fashion; much of it, though, is also downright matronly. You do have to look hard. Which is why, perhaps, it's about time that Marks and Spencer started blowing its fashion trumpet a little louder, and making its sharpest looks a little more visible. The competition, after all, is hotting up. (Susannah Barron)

The Times

MARKS IS not supposed to falter, and has a track record which shows that it rarely does. A fall of nearly a quarter in pre-tax profits was worse than feared. Some of the slump can be excused as the cost of being a truly international operator, as M&S now is, but that profits in the UK should be down by more than a fifth is a genuine cause for concern.

Sir Richard Greenbury, the M&S chairman, opined yesterday that his long career had taught him that, no matter how hard up they were, women who saw something they liked would buy it. It seems fair to conclude from that observation that the retailer, and not merely its customers, is to blame for its miserable trading.

The company remains one of the greats, and even the most professional organisation cannot avoid the occasional slip-up. But it will be culpable if it fails to grow an adequate successor to Sir Richard Greenbury.


US views on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch in the southern United States and Central America

Boston Globe

When hurricanes and tornadoes bash their way across stretches of the southern United States, lower-income families in trailer parks and other lightweight housing are often first among the victims. Nature can be cruel. Combine its rampages with economic need, and the odds increase for sudden, untimely death.

Akron Beacon Journal

IT IS an understatement to call this a disaster of biblical proportions. In a region too familiar with death born of war, poverty, tidal waves and earthquakes, none has seen the likes of Mitch and its aftermath. Its winds were horribly destructive. But the rain Mitch ushered in has been the most devastating. Beyond the immediate effects of disaster and disease looms the threat of widespread starvation. In an impoverished region where infrastructure was never even adequate, help was impossible as Mitch raged. Now, however, is the time to respond. The Honduran President cried desperately for "human solidarity". Rebuilding parts of these developing countries will almost be starting from scratch. It will take years and prolonged investment. But physical reconstruction pales in comparison to calming fears that rise anew each day when rain begins to fall from the sky.

The Washington Post

FAILURE TO respect the environment has aggravated disasters. Global warming may further increase the human cost. The aftermath of such storms is far more painful in poor countries. People have no insurance; joblessness caused by the washing away of banana plantations may lead to hunger. Solutions lie in advance preparation and long-term development, not emergency relief.


Verdicts on about the Tom Wolfe's new novel, `A Man in Full'

The Times

IF YOU thought it was worth waiting a decade for the novel that does for the trapezius muscle what Basic Instinct did for the - well, you're in for a treat. It might be worth asking yourself, however, if you really were waiting, or if Wolfe's publishers just told you that you were waiting. An author who, even if he did write The Bonfire of the Vanities, defined the "Me Decade" and identified "The Right Stuff", can't be held wholly responsible for the publishers' hype.

Daily Mail

CRITICS ARE warming up for the attack. It is likely they will be as damning as they were over Bonfire. They accused Wolfe of being an adman, a self-promoter, a fraud, a racist, a man obsessed with cardboard cut- out characters, brands and labelling. A real novelist,they shrieked, ponders over the soul, not designer address books. Wolfe, however, is convinced that A Man In Full is as good as, if not better than, The Bonfire Of The Vanities. Time magazine, which recently featured a smug Wolfe on the cover, proclaims: "Those expecting another Bonfire may be disappointed - the new novel is better." Whatever the outcome, Wolfe is big enough, and rich enough,to survive.

The Spectator

APRES THE bonfire came le deluge. Did the money that rolled into his account after the bestselling success of his first novel change him or make him more greedy? Wolfe isn't saying. The only certainty is that it will take him some time to spend the money from his advance, now that he has it, so we should not expect another novel until the cash runs out. This could take some time. The asking price for the movie rights to the new novel start at $3 million.


Stories from around the world

Detroit News


A ROSEVILLE man, who let loose with a string of cuss words when he was pushed into a river, faces a hearing for allegedly violating a century- old law banning blue language in front of women and children. Some say the law should not be enforced, since it is an anachronism from a more genteel age. Others say the law can still have its uses, reminding us of our better selves.

USA Today

POLICE IN Minnesota are puzzling over the case of the serial thief who has filched up to $1,000 worth of brassieres in the past five years - all from the same store and all size 44 D. "She apparently likes them new. Most people don't buy that many that often," said Betty Schoephoerster, of Schep's Clothing. "And she only takes the good ones in the box." A customer recently confided:"That's my size. I hope you don't think it's me." Ms Schoephoerster said she does not regard every buxom customer as a suspect. But she is convinced the thief is a woman.

BC Catholic


HOW CAN anyone help but be pleased that the murders of some abortionists just might have some positive side effects? Fewer doctors are willing to face the stigma and, now, the threat of personal harm, associated with performing abortions. It goes to show that our powerful and loving God can bring good from any evil situation.

Sydney Morning Herald


MYSTERIOUS MURDERS have been occurring in Java. A persistent rumour is that they are revenge attacks directed against practitioners of black magic by the enraged victims of their spells. The resilience of the black magic rumour is revealing. Magic, it would appear, is the only credible "explanation" for Indonesia's tragic reversal of economic fortune. There is a vague sense that powerful and malignant forces are abroad. This unease has produced a kind of paranoia and accounts for the widespread perception that magic is responsible for the current killings.