The week in review: Home News

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The Independent Online
THE Government was praying that politically it had buried Baroness Thatcher about 2,000ft underground with a stake through her heart. But she is one of the politically undead and came back to haunt them again.

John Major, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and the cautious calculating people at the Foreign Office thought they had got away with persuading the nation that nothing could be done about the massacre of the Bosnian Muslims.

Lady Thatcher, who may be calculating but is only occasionally cautious, was having none of it. On Tuesday she went on the offensive, demanding the arming of the Muslims and air attacks by the West to support them.

This thrust the Balkan nightmare to the centre of the political stage, which was just what the Government did not want. An anguished debate about what could or should be done gripped the country.

But ministers were not alone in their embarrassment this week. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Group 4, the security firm that is transporting prisoners, had a particularly bad time.

The EBRD was set up two years ago to channel money to east European nations trying to switch to free-market economies. People in the ex-Communist countries may be struggling to make ends meet but officials at the bank enjoy a wonderful lifestyle.

They spent pounds 750,000 on changing the marble in the entrance hall of their London headquarters, pounds 600,000 on hiring aircraft for Jacques Attali, the EBRD president, and pounds 52,000 on a Christmas party. Twice as much was spent on overheads as was handed out to projects in eastern Europe.

As the bank blustered and tried to defend itself, an equally hideous public relations disaster was overtaking Group 4, which has signed a pounds 9.5m contract with the Government to transport prisoners in some parts of England.

In the first week of operations, three prisoners escaped and a fourth was released by mistake, and when the company called a press conference to allay public concern it emerged that two more had gone missing. The wags are already calling it the Government's answer to prison overcrowding.

John Patten, Secretary of State for Education, does not blush easily, which is lucky given the things that teachers say about him. The list of his ongoing disputes with the teaching profession seems endless.

There are the tests for 7-and 14-year-olds, class sizes, teachers' appraisal, performance-related pay, and the national curriculum. Two teachers' unions debated these at their national conferences and were united in blaming Mr Patten for everything.

Finally, British Rail did everyone a favour and ceased operation yesterday because of a one-day strike by its staff. The bad news is that services resume today.