It must be something in the water

LABOUR'S foreign secretary and the new leader of the Opposition voting on the same side in the Commons? Well, no real surprise there.There is "something of the night" – something Hammer horror – about both Michael Howard and Jack Straw.

LABOUR'S foreign secretary and the new leader of the Opposition voting on the same side in the Commons? Well, no real surprise there.

There is "something of the night" – something Hammer horror – about both Michael Howard and Jack Straw. Howard would be perfectly cast as Dracula, while Straw is the embodiment of Christopher Lee.

But what's really spooky is not that they're both right wing, but that on this occasion they're both right.

It makes me uncomfortable to agree with either of them, almost to question my own judgement. But both were among the "noes" – the defeated side, as it turned out – in this week's vote on fluoridation of tap water.


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Four former health ministers, two from each side, were among the victorious "ayes". And you might expect them to know what they're talking about.

Except that the whole point about politics is that it gives people power to make major decisions about things they know next to nothing about.

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To be frank, I know almost nothing myself about either the chemistry or the biology of putting fluoride in drinking-water.

But my view was summed up perfectly by Plaid Cymru MP Simon Thomas, who said he was opposed to "compulsory medication". (I'm not sure I'm quite comfy agreeing with a nationalist, either, but there you go.)

There is something sinister, in a Big Brother way, about chemicals of any kind being added to our water supply.

Those in favour say it could cut by up to 15 per cent the number of children at "unnecessary risk" of tooth decay.

The risk is certainly unnecessary. But there is a much neater, safer, easier and saner way of saving your children from the dentist's drill.

It will also, as it happens, help save them from the more serious – and growing – menaces of obesity and malnutrition.

Stop giving them sweets.

***

SADDAM Hussein was visiting a village in Iraq when he stopped for a photo opportunity. Taking a small child on his knee and smiling broadly, he asked the youngster: "Do you know who I am?"

The child was not yet versed in the dissembling that is the way of life in a totalitarian state. Tragically, he spoke the truth.

"Yes," he said. "Whenever you come on TV my father spits on the floor and turns it off."

As soon as the cameras were turned away, the whole family – including the child – disappeared.

This chilling tale, from the latest book by BBC war junkie John Simpson, illustrates one crucial fact. Saddam was not the sort of person you want running your country. Any country.

Whether or not he had chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, his regime was evil. A cheeseknife or a piano wire can be a weapon of mass killing if you choose to use it that way.

The horror that is Iraq today – and the worse horror that could be Iraq tomorrow – are not totally the fault of Bush and Blair's invading armies. Saddam and his cronies bear much of the responsibility too.

But before you start praising the Americans as liberators, remember this: Saddam's Iraq was a client state of the US, encouraged, supported, funded and armed by them until the first Gulf War.

Even then Saddam was left in place until America's greed for both oil and world supremacy became the driving factors in Republican foreign policy.

I do hope that when George W Bush visits the UK next Wednesday he won't be made to feel welcome.

I hope it is made clear to Tony Blair, too, that his fawning support of the most aggressive, right-wing government in US history is not a vote-winner.

Saddam was a bad man to have running a country. Bush is a bad man to have running the world.

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