Sunday, May 31, 2009

Big Ben marks 150th anniversary!

Big Ben
Big Big is being given a spring clean to mark its 150th anniversary

One of London's most famous attractions, Big Ben, is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The clock tower in Parliament Square, Westminster, is being given a spring clean following a year of activities in recognition of the landmark.

Technically Big Ben refers only to the clock's largest bell, but has become synonymous with the clock tower itself.

The bell, cast in Whitechapel on 10 April 1858, was first rung in the Great Westminster Clock on 31 May 1859.

"It's a typical piece of Victorian engineering," said Mike McCann, the keeper of the great clock.

"It will last for hundreds of years. Mainly we wind it three times a week. It is clockwork.

"A lot of people seem to think that it's some sort of electronic clock but it's entirely clockwork, driven by weights which need winding.

"So the main maintenance work really is winding it three times a week, oiling it and keeping it accurate."

The clock tower and the new Palace of Westminster, designed by Charles Barry, were built after a fire destroyed much of the old Houses of Parliament in 1834.

Last year, Big Ben was named Britain's favourite attraction in a poll of more than 2,000 adults.



Cathy Buckle's Weekly Letter from Zimbabwe

Rusty paper clip

Saturday 30th May 2009

Dear Family and Friends,

The unity government is being torn apart over the retention of the Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono. While they argue, threaten and grandstand, we look at our tattered lives.

In a box, abandoned and covered in dust and fluff, lies the evidence of my lost life savings, seizure of my home and property and destruction of my pension. I am not alone but am one of ten million Zimbabweans who find themselves in the same position, one that has unfolded in just 9 ugly years.

At the bottom of the box are the last accounts from our farm that was seized by the Zimbabwe government in 2000. The accounts show no income and there is a note attached with a rusting paper clip which says: "No compensation paid for house, fixtures, fittings, infrastructure, fencing etc." That statement remains true 9 years later.

Next in the box is a tattered orange cardboard file. Most of it's contents are still too painful to revisit. One section deals with lost life savings which had been invested in a bank that was closed down by Zimbabwe's banking authorities.

In dog eared, dirty bundles held together with melting, perishing elastic bands there are piles and piles of money. Purple 500 hundred dollar notes, olive 1,000 dollar notes and then strange things called 'bearers cheques. They are blue, red, brown, purple and green bits of paper with expiry dates and values ranging from 5 to 100 thousand dollars. They bear the signature of Reserve Bank Governor, Gideon Gono.

Then other bundles with even higher denomination 'bearer cheques' ranging in value from 1 to 500 million dollars. These too have expiry dates and are signed by Gideon Gono.

There in the box are the records of new attempts to save money - futile efforts because Mr Gono slashed three zeroes from the currency and thousands became single dollars overnight.

More bundles of money, this time they are in billion dollar denominations and are called Special Agro Cheques. they too have expiry dates and are signed by Mr Gono: purple, green, brown, blue, valued from 5 to 100 billion dollars.

Then more records of how everything was lost again when Mr Gono imposed daily withdrawal limits from the banks. We could only draw out enough of our own money to buy half a loaf of bread a day; the queues were in the thousands and our money lost all its value before we could get it out of the banks.

Again Mr Gono removed zeroes from the currency; in a single swipe billionaires became paupers. New bank notes which started at one dollar soon got bigger as mismanagement continued and again we had bank notes for 500 thousand, 1 million, 1 billion. We went dizzy as notes were issued by Mr Gono for 1 trillion, 10 trillion. When Mr Gono's presses physically couldn't print the money fast enough, all out trillions, quadrillions and septillions were lost when trading in Zim dollars was suspended and we moved into US dollars.

At the top of the box is a small newspaper cutting. It quotes Mr Gono admitting that he removed money from private bank accounts to fund government expenses.

And after all this there is cause for argument?

Until next week with a view of scarlet poinsettias, love cathy


Prince gets out and about in NYC!

By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News

Harry and Kiara Molina
The prince described his trip as 'fantastic'

Prince Harry is returning to Britain having finished his first official overseas engagement, in New York. But how successful was it?

Ten-year-old Kiara Molina chatted intently to Prince Harry in a community education centre in Harlem. He smiled, asked encouraging questions, and after the third-in-line to the throne left, she was beaming.

The prince was similarly at ease with Kiara's classmate Khalil Davis, who had cooked an elaborate dish with anchovies.

"Urgh," said the prince, much to Khalil's amusement. But he ate the fishy dish anyway, all on camera.

Harry showed he was a good sport, joining in an obstacle course the children had designed, which culminated in him sitting on a balloon and making it pop.

Royal minders beamed with approval. The New York Daily News declared that Harry had "conquered Manhattan with his caring manner, good looks and common touch".

Only 24 hours earlier ABC News had heralded his arrival in Manhattan with a jokey, "lock up your daughters" introduction. What a difference a day makes.

Harry's carefully-choreographed appearance at Ground Zero, where he laid a wreath and paid his respects to those who lost their lives on 9/11, was a poignant image, which also served as a coming of age moment.

Instead of tabloid headlines showing the partying prince coming out of nightclubs, there he was, head bowed, at a place Americans regard as sacred ground.

Harry talked to relatives of those who died that day, including Paula Berry, whose husband David was killed. Her three sons lost their father, something Paula told me she felt Harry empathised with, as he too had lost a parent.

Visiting a veterans medical centre in Manhattan was another important encounter for Harry, as it underlined his own army service in Afghanistan.

"Ouch," joked the prince as one of the veterans gripped his hand with an artificial limb. A lighter moment in a visit where Harry showed himself to be a sympathetic listener.

Palace officials say this visit achieved Harry's twin objectives of paying tribute to New York and working on behalf of his children's charity in Lesotho.

It also drew parallels with his mother Diana's visit here 20 years ago, and her charity work. She captivated New Yorkers, cuddling children with Aids in Harlem and charming her audience at a banquet.

At a polo match in Governor's Island, to raise money for the charity, Sentebale, he founded with the Prince of Lesotho, Harry said: "Prince Seeiso and I both lost our mothers when we were young.

"We set up Sentebale in their memory, and because my mother loved this city, it makes this occasion all the more poignant for me."

Harry said his trip had been "fantastic".

Asked if he thought it had changed his public image, he replied: "I do not know what the public image is of me, there's always the image that has been given to me, but you know, it is the media that stamp an image on me that really isn't me."

So Harry heads back to Britain after what has been a successful visit.

His priority now, say palace officials, is training to be an army helicopter pilot. Future overseas visits will have to fit around that schedule.

Seasoned royal watchers say if the royal family is to maintain its position in British life, then the younger royals will have to have a public profile, as that will keep the institution alive and relevant.



Australia pressed to take Uighurs!

US military guards escort a Guantanamo detainee (6 December 2006)
There are still 240 detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison camp

US President Barack Obama has asked the Australian government to accept a group of Chinese Muslim detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

The Uighurs have been cleared for release by US courts.

It is the first time Australia has been approached by the Obama administration over the Uighurs. Two requests by the Bush administration were turned down.

China has requested the Uighurs' return, but the US will not send them there for fear they will be persecuted.

President Barack Obama has said he intends to close the Guantanamo Bay prison by January 2010 and is considering what to do with its remaining 240 detainees.

The 17 Uighurs held at the prison camp are among a group captured in Afghanistan in 2001, and cleared for release in 2004. Albania took in five of the ethnic Chinese group in 2006 but has been unwilling to take more.

map locator
Ethnically Turkic Muslims, mainly in Xinjiang
Made bid for independent state in 1940s
Sporadic violence in Xinjiang since 1991
Uighurs worried about Chinese immigration and erosion of traditional culture

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the request put to Australia by the Obama administration involves six of the remaining Uighur detainees.

A spokesman for Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the request would be considered "on a case by case basis and in accordance with the government's strict immigration and national security requirements".

A US federal judge determined last year that the Uighurs should be freed, but the US has not found any country willing to take them.

On Friday, the Obama administration filed papers with the US Supreme Court arguing that the men were being lawfully held even though they are no longer considered "enemy combatants".

The Obama administration wants the Supreme Court to uphold an appeals court ruling last year that the men should not be released into the US.

China warned in February this year that it strongly opposed any country accepting them.

It wants to put the men on trial for alleged separatist activities and has said any country that takes them in would be harbouring terrorists.

Many Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang in western China want greater autonomy for the region and some want independence. Beijing has waged a campaign against what it calls their violent separatist activities.



Dancers beat Boyle in talent show!

Highlights of the finale (courtesy of ITV / Talkback Thames)

Street dance group Diversity has been crowned the winner of this year's Britain's Got Talent TV show in a shock victory over favourite Susan Boyle.

The 10-strong group, aged 12 to 25, from Essex fell to the floor and cried in surprise when told of the win.

Member Ashley Banjo, 20, said winning the contest had "changed our lives".

The group defied bookmaker's predictions to win the £100,000 prize and the chance to perform at the Royal Variety Show in December.

Diversity is made up of three sets of brothers and was only formed in 2007.

Still shocked about the victory, choreographer Banjo said: "When you said our name, honestly I'm going to wake up in a minute."

He also thanked everyone who had voted for the group.

Susan Boyle
Susan Boyle had been the favourite to win the talent show

After the performance, which included a cheeky reference to the judges' buzzers, judge Simon Cowell said: "If I had to give marks on that, that is the only performance tonight I would want to give a 10 to.

"There was not a step out of place, it was sheer and utter perfection."

Fellow judge Amanda Holden said Banjo's choreography was "second to none" and that Diversity had blown rival dance troupe Flawless "out of the water".

Throughout the competition the group had wowed the audience and received glowing comments from the judges, but the group was sixth favourite to win going into the final.

It had long been predicted that 48-year-old Boyle from West Lothian would run away with the title after gaining worldwide recognition thanks to her audition being watched by millions of people on the internet.

Gracious in defeat, she said that "the best people won" adding: "I wish you all the best."

Boyle, who sang audition song I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables again, did not appear to be too disappointed in defeat, however, as she gave a little dance on stage and hitched her dress up to show a leg.

After her performance, Cowell said: "Win or lose you had the guts to come back here and face your critics and you beat them - whatever happens you can walk away from this with your head held high."

Asked about her own plans on sister show Britain's Got More Talent, Boyle said: "I hope to get an album out - I'll just play it by ear."

Saxophonist Julian Smith came in third place behind the singer.

Although clearly disappointed, he said: "I'm just happy to have taken part - it's been phenomenal."

Apart from Boyle, none of the main frontrunners including street dancer Aidan Davis, 12-year-old singer Shaheen Jafargholi and comedy dance act Stavros Flatley, made it into the top three after the viewers' vote.

The other acts which took part included singers Shawn Smith, grandfather and granddaughter team 2 Grand and 10-year-old Hollie Steel.

It is thought the final may have been watched by as many as 20m people.

Diversity is the second dance act to win the talent contest after 15-year-old George Sampson won the show last year.



Bomb found in toilet on Iran plane!

By Jon Leyne
BBC News, Tehran


A homemade bomb discovered on board an Iranian plane has been defused, semi-official news agencies report.

According to several Iranian news agencies, the bomb was discovered on a plane shortly after it took off from the oil-rich city of Ahvaz.

Plain-clothes security guards, who are believed to travel on every Iranian flight, found it in a toilet.

The incident comes at a time of rising tension in the run up to Iran's presidential elections on 12 June.

The plane turned back to Ahvaz for an emergency landing when the bomb was discovered.

The flight resumed after the bomb was defused.

The incident follows a bomb attack on a mosque in the south-east of the country on Thursday.

In the latest incident, the plane was also flying from a border province - this time, an area that borders Iraq, and has also had problems with restive minorities.

Tension seems to be rising in the run up to the presidential election in two weeks time, particularly as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is by no means guaranteed re-election.



Tiananmen will not be forgotten!

By Kate Adie

Tourists flock in their hundreds of thousands to Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing.

Kate Adie
Kate Adie found herself playing cat and mouse with the secret police

They can marvel at history in the Forbidden City and gaze at modern China's fashionably dressed citizens dodging shoals of Mercedes.

What they will not see is any hint of the recent past in Tiananmen Square - there is nothing which commemorates the deaths of the hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in June 1989, the massacre which brought a brutal end to many weeks of demonstrations.

Twenty years later, we wanted to make a programme about what happened to those caught up in the events - the student leaders, the workers and those who were injured or knew someone who had died.

And because recent history has been re-written by the Chinese authorities, we anticipated problems.

We applied for the official "journalist visas", announced during last year's Olympic Games - offering greater openness and freedom for the foreign press.

After months of waiting - and advice from Chinese journalists that hen's teeth might be more available - we entered the country on tourist visas.

Our first two days of filming involved uniformed policemen sticking their white-gloved hands in front of the lens, while their plainclothes counterparts attempted to tail us through heavy traffic in Chengdu - with engaging ineptitude.

At one point we were followed by five vehicles, all of which appeared to have no idea how to tail anyone - especially when we abandoned our driver and hopped on a bus.

At one point we made a detour to avoid leading them to an interviewee - who is known to the police for dissident views - and I ended up in an organic farm talking earnestly to a rather puzzled man about cabbages while the police officers bobbed up and down behind a field of flowering rapeseed.

It would all seem something of a cat and mouse game for us, except for the fact that the people we were intending to interview all suffer endless harassment and surveillance - and have done ever since 1989.

As we slipped our "tail" and organised a rendez-vous in safe and discreet locations, we became ever more aware of the mammoth security system which can be brought to bear on those whom the state designates "trouble-makers".

Tourists probably don't notice that Beijing boasts 280,000 security cameras; it is rumoured that the muscular lads who offer to be guides in Tiananmen Square, sell you postcards and ice-cream, are all members of the secret police.

Zhang Xianling
Zhang Xianling founded Tiananmen Mothers after losing her son

The people we spoke to frequently find police outside their flat, cameras trained on their front door and their phones tapped.

It is no wonder that they used their mobiles (several!) to arrange to meet us.

What is surprising - and impressive - is their determination to talk about what happened, bear witness to the massacre and explain why they continue to demand that the authorities admit what they did to their own people.

They talk of being spirited from their homes every time there is a "sensitive time" - such as Party congresses or the Olympics, and being taken hundreds of miles away so that journalists cannot find them.

Many have been imprisoned for speaking out, yet they will not give up and their determination is breath-taking.

There's Mrs Zhang, founder of the Tiananmen Mothers, a group which supports those who lost their sons and daughters, killed by an army which was firing relentlessly all the way into the city.

Her son was shot - he had no idea what was happening when he went out "just to take some photographs".

She speaks with great dignity, one of the few voices among 1.3 billion who want the truth acknowledged - and who speak of their hopes for justice and more freedom.

Kate Adie Returns to Tiananmen Square will be on BBC Two at 9pm on Wednesday 3 June 2009.






Saturday, May 30, 2009


Friday 29th May 2009

Dear Friends.

Over the years, Zimbabweans have grown used to hearing half-truths and downright lies from Zanu PF and their associated hangers-on. We learned that from Zanu PF we could expect nothing but lies and propaganda.
The emergence of the MDC on the political scene was like a breath of fresh air blowing across the arid political landscape of Zanu PF hegemony. Here at last were men and women of integrity and courage, we thought. They would not lie to us or try to mislead us. Theirs was the political and moral high ground, they stood for truth and justice for all, no 'spin' or lying propaganda from them. That's what we thought. Papa Morgan was our hero. When we saw him beaten and bloody, we wept for him and all the other brave cadres who were putting their lives on the line for the New Beginning we all dreamed of for our beloved country.

Then came the Inclusive Government. The unbelievable had happened: after months of tortuous negotiations, the MDC had sat down with their former oppressors in a so-called Government of National Unity. The past was behind us, we must forgive and forget, we were told. 'National Reconciliation' was what we must all work for now. And if that meant drawing a veil over past and present horrors then that must be done. Whatever the price, we must preserve the illusion that all is now well in Zimbabwe. We must present a united front to the world - or no money would come Zimbabwe's way.

That, apparently, is the thinking within the MDC leadership team now. How else can we explain Morgan Tsvangirai's extraordinary statement this week during an interview he gave to highlight the achievements of the first 100days of the GNU. The pictures of beaten and bloodied white farmers and terrified farm workers, imprisoned and beaten, the stories of their nightmarish ordeals on invaded farms continue to be seen and heard on an almost daily basis; yet Morgan Tsvangirai chooses this moment to refer to the " so-called farm invasions" as "isolated incidents…blown out of proportion. We have investigated examples of these so-called farm invasions…we have asked the Minister of Lands to give us a detailed report of what has been happening over all these so-called land invasions and the outcry over that."

Total disbelief as we listened to the report of Tsvangirai's words; we just could not believe what we were hearing. From the farmers themselves came stunned incredulity and deep shock. How could the Prime Minister deny the truth that was staring at him from the faces of beaten farmers, farmers to whom he had promised the restoration of law and order and punishment for the perpetrators of violence? In the week when Zimbabwe earned the dubious accolade of 'the most food-aid dependent country in the world' and the Red Cross/ Red Crescent figures showed that 80% of Zimbabwe's population is now reliant on food-aid to survive, Morgan Tsvangirai chooses to deny the widespread reality of farm invasions and the subsequent loss of agricultural production. Instead, he describes the chaos as 'so-called'. Since April, Ben Freeth reports, "We have reaped absolutely nothing. 150 farm workers have been unable to work and are living in terror." In an Open Letter to the Prime Minister dated May 26 from his Mount Carmel farm in the heat of the continuing violent invasion of his property, Freeth graphically describes the horror and blatant illegality of the invaders' actions. "As you will know", he writes, "this is not just an isolated incident. In this area where approximately 6000 hectares of irrigated winter wheat used to be grown, I do not know of a single hectare of winter wheat being sown this year."

It is utterly incomprehensible that Morgan Tsvangirai should now choose to deny the reality in the light of such facts. Is this the same man who, just four weeks ago, said, "The rule of law is a moral imperative and a business necessity. The responsibility to save and protect the quality of life for all must preoccupy us in political leadership, regardless of race, colour, tribe, religion or political affiliation." What has happened in four short weeks to so radically change the Prime Minister's vision of the reality on the ground? As he goes back to SADC over Mugabe's refusal to remove Gideon Gono from the Reserve Bank, the Prime Minister denies the reality of farm invasions and says not a word about protecting property rights or even of the urgent necessity of allowing the farmers to grow food, both issues which are specifically covered under the GPA. It is hardly likely that foreign investors will accepts the validity of Tsvangirai's claim that farm invasions are just "isolated incidents blown out of all proportion" when the evidence of their own eyes tells them that the invasions are widespread and violent and the food shortages are desperately real. Today the EU stepped into the debate. The EU's argument is that all farm and conservancy invasions should cease; not, ironically, because of the human rights issue or the rampant food shortages in the country, but because of the damage to wild life and tourism. While that is certainly true, it makes little difference to the central argument which is that farmers, be they black or white, are being prevented from growing food by violent thugs with police and government connivance. So much for the 'Moral imperative'of the Rule of Law that the Prime Minister talked about so passionately just four weeks ago!

For those of us who so much wanted to believe that Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC might bring change from within when they joined this (so-called) Unity Government, this is a moment of bitter disillusion. We see no real change from Zanu PF; it is the MDC who are now changing their tune to chime with their former adversaries. The MDC would do well to remember that their courageous supporters up and down the country risked life and limb to vote for them back in March. Half-truths, expediency, spin and downright lies are Zanu PF tactics, we did not expect them from the MDC. The people are neither blind nor deaf; a disenchanted electorate is not likely to forget when it comes time to exercise their democratic right again. The more the MDC sounds and looks like Zanu PF, the less likely the people are to vote for them. That's how I see it.

Yours in the (continuing) struggle PH.



10 things we didn't know last week

10_boxes.jpgSnippets from the week's news, sliced, diced and processed for your convenience.

1. Beer mat collectors are called tegestologists.
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2. A train that arrives 10 minutes late can still be officially "on time".
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3. The word "Laodicean" means to be indifferent in matters of politics or religion.
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4. Sounds have shapes.
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5. People can overdose on chewing gum.
More details (Telegraph)

6. Only one in 10 people with Tourette Syndrome swears.
More details

7. Just two people know the recipe for Irn Bru.
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8. Stabbing in the buttocks has its own verb in Roman dialect.
More details

9. Places with slow or non-existent broadband are called "notspots".
More details

10. The world's longest recorded marriage is 86 years.
More details (Daily Mirror)


Phil Spector jailed for 19 years!

The judge ordered Spector to pay $16,811 in funeral expenses and other fees

US music producer Phil Spector has been jailed for at least 19 years for murdering an actress in 2003.

The producer, 69, famed for his Wall of Sound recording technique, was last month found guilty of shooting Lana Clarkson at his California home.

Spector had pleaded not guilty to the second-degree murder during the five-month retrial in Los Angeles. His lawyers said he would appeal.

Ms Clarkson was best known for her role in 1985 cult film Barbarian Queen.

On Friday, Spector was given a sentence of 15 years to life for second-degree murder and an additional four years for personal use of a gun.

The presiding judge at the court in Los Angeles said Spector must serve at least 19 years before being eligible for parole - by which time he will be 88 years old.

Spector was given a retrial after the jury in his original trial failed to reach a unanimous decision in 2007.

Spector sat motionless in court in Los Angeles, his eyelids drooping slightly, as the sentence was read out, the BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani reports.

Lana Clarkson appeared in cult 1980s film Barbarian Queen
Lana Clarkson appeared in cult 1980s film Barbarian Queen

There were few surprises, our correspondent says. The crime of second-degree murder of which he was convicted carries a minimum penalty of 15 years in prison, with a maximum of life.

He denied all along that he was responsible for the death of Lana Clarkson, whom he had met in a bar, but the jury decided he had shot her in the mouth at his mansion near Los Angeles.

Before sentencing, the victim's mother, Donna, gave a statement to the court, saying: "My beautiful daughter, I miss you so."

Phil Spector's work as a music producer influenced millions.

He invented the Wall of Sound and created some of the most memorable pop hits of the 1960s for acts like Tina Turner, the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers.

But for all his musical genius, Spector had a dark side.

He was often described as being a bully in the studio, a man with a liking for guns and an eccentric personality.

During the five-month retrial, five female acquaintances testified that Spector had threatened them at gunpoint in incidents dating back to the 1970s.



Friday, May 29, 2009

Makes for Interesting Reading!

Open Europe
Open Europe Bulletin: 29 May 2009
  • Open Europe publishes league table of MEPs
  • MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of up to £363,000 a year
  • Commission's proposals on banking supervision equate to "pan-European regulator"
  • News in brief
  • Open Europe in the news

1. Open Europe publishes league table of MEPs

With elections to the European Parliament less than one week away, Open Europe has published a league table of all 785 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), scoring their record on promoting transparency and reform in the European Union over the last five-year term.

Open Europe 's league table is based on 20 different categories relating to transparency, accountability, democracy, and waste. The ranking is based on a range of activities, including voting records, attendance, written declarations, and whether the MEPs themselves have taken part in wasteful activities, such as the controversial second pension fund.

In compiling the ranking, Open Europe discovered that in April 2009, a majority of British MEPs (60%) voted to keep details about their own expenses secret, as well as voting against financial disciplinary measures for MEPs found guilty of misuse of funds, and voting to keep secret demands to pay back money. Only 24% of all British members voted to make expenses public.

MEPs have been awarded points based on a 'Premier League' model, where 3 points is the highest score, followed by 1 point and 0 points. On attendance, a scale from 1 to 6 was used. A total of 58 points is available for each MEP. In addition, MEPs who have been the subject of substantive press reports of wrongdoing have been shown a 'red card' in our ranking and had 10 points deducted from their score.

UK party positions

Average score per MEP:

1. Green Party, 2 MEPs, 39.5

2. Scottish National Party, 2 MEPs, 38.5

3. Liberal Democrats, 11 MEPs, 35

4. Conservative Party, 28 MEPs, 29.5

5. Labour, 19 MEPs, 29.3

6. Independents, 4 MEPs, 26.75

7. UKIP, 9 MEPs, 24.89

Others: (Jillian Evans MEP, Plaid Cymru, 27 points; Baibre de Brún MEP, Sinn Fein, 27 points; James Nicholson MEP, Ulster Unionist Party 30 points;)

To see the full ranking, click the link below:

To read the guide to the ranking, which gives an overview of the criteria used, click the link below:

To read the UK and EU press releases, which show the top and bottom ranking MEPs and how different countries performed, click the link below:

2. MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of up to £363,000 a year

Open Europe has found that in total, MEPs are entitled to expenses and allowances of £363,000 a year, including a £261 daily subsistence allowance and £45,648 in general office expenses even though they are provided with offices in Brussels and Strasbourg . This equates to £1,816,250 per MEP over a five year term and no receipts are required. (Sun, 26 May; Times, 29 May; Open Europe blog) This comes on top of £83,282 in salary, £29,309 in pensions and £41,641 in transitional payments. In contrast, UK MPs claim up to £144,000 on average in expenses. (Telegraph, 31 March)

Swedish Left Party MEP Jens Holm has provided a candid account of how the current travel expenses system can lead to MEPs pocketing thousands of euros a year because no receipt is required to account for the actual cost of a journey. He said, "I know that until February this year, the European Parliament has paid me about €200,000 in travel allowances and I'd say that I have donated around €150,000 to charities and also to my own party." (Open Europe blog)

Under new rules, from June onwards, the travel allowance system will be reformed so that MEPs need to provide receipts for their tickets. However, for the majority of their expenditure (office expenses, daily subsistence allowance, staff allowances) MEPs will still not be required to produce receipts.

In the wake of the Westminster expenses scandal, Gordon Brown has ordered all Labour candidates for the European election to agree to publish all receipts for claims made under the MEPs' office allowance. Conservative MEP candidates have taken a pledge to disclose details of their expenses online but they will not provide receipts, while the Lib Dems have made a similar commitment to publish an audited breakdown of their MEPs' costs but also will not publish receipts. (FT, FT, 24 May)

However, it should be noted that none of the parties' manifestos mention publishing receipts. (Open Europe blog)

Meanwhile, it has emerged that more than a third of British MEPs are paying one or more relatives. The wives, husbands and children of MEPs are earning up to £40,000 a year to work as secretaries and researchers at a total annual cost to taxpayers of more than £700,000. (Times, 29 May)

3. Commission's proposals on bank supervision equate to "pan-European regulator"

The European Commission has tabled a proposal to create three new EU bodies to oversee national banks, insurances and securities. The three bodies - a European Banking Authority in London; a European Insurance Authority in Frankfurt; and a European Securities Authority in Paris - will be composed of chief regulators from the 27 member states and, controversially, will have binding powers to impose decisions on member states and overrule national regulators.

The proposal has come under heavy criticism in the UK as the three new bodies will have the jurisdiction to over-ride national authorities, marking a significant transfer of powers to the EU level in the sector. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard noted in the Telegraph, the proposal does not technically create a pan-European regulator, but might have a similar effect - crucially, the European Court of Justice is to have the final say over any appeal. The Commission hopes the proposal will be adopted before the end of the year.

The proposal comes as a recent survey by eFinancialCareers indicates that London City finance professionals are so worried about the future - due to proposed EU regulations and an increase in taxes - that nearly 30 per cent are planning to leave London for destinations such as Zurich , New York , Singapore and Hong Kong . (FT 27 May European Voice FT Irish Independent Telegraph EurActiv WSJ Irish Times: Leader Irish Times Irish Times: Jamie Smyth blog El Mundo Le Figaro El Pais Le Monde 28 May)

4. News in brief

18 "ghost MEPs" to cash in on £6m. Due to the fact that the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified, 18 MEPs elected in June's European elections will receive normal MEPs' salaries despite the fact that they will not be able to take up full political office for at least two years. The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty means that after June's election 736 instead of 754 MEPs will take office. However, 18 further MEPs will be elected under the Lisbon rules, despite the fact that the Lisbon Treaty is yet to be ratified.

Amid confusion over when and how they will take up their seats, the European Parliament has decided to give the MEPs only "observer" status from next year. These 'observer members' will receive a normal MEPs' salary, and collectively account for a £6m bill, including their salary, assistant and office allowances, as well as tax-free allowances on a daily basis. (Telegraph, 22 May; Mail, 24 May)

Conservative MEP paid husband £22k for 15-page leaflet. It has emerged that Conservative MEP Caroline Jackson paid her husband £22,500 to help her write a 15-page leaflet on waste management. Dr Jackson failed to list the fee in two of her 'declarations of interests' before finally listing it in a footnote as three payments of up to £10,000 for "consultancy fees". (Sun, 26 May)

Former Czech PM: The Lisbon Treaty "is bad and we know it". Having now relinquished his role at the helm of the Czech Republic's EU Presidency, former Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said what he really thinks of the Lisbon Treaty: "This treaty is bad and we know it...If we hadn't signed the Lisbon Treaty and had been pushed to the sidelines of the European Union we would have had no chance of promoting our national interests. That's the main reason [we signed]. It was the lesser of two evils." (BBC: Mardell blog, 18 May)

Ireland expected to have highest turnout in EP elections. 66 percent of Irish people say they will definitely vote in the European elections compared to an EU average of 43 percent, according a TNS poll of all 27 countries commissioned by the European Parliament. Ireland was the only country to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty - suggesting that the practice of holding referendums on EU treaties increases voters' interest in EU affairs and makes them more likely to vote. (Irish Times, 27 May; FT: Letters, 29 May)

Highest paid MEPs have the worst attendance at European Parliament. The worst attendance record at the European Parliament has gone to the highest-paid MEPs - the Italians. Italian MEPs currently earn €134,291 (£120,000) a year but came bottom of the 27 EU nations for turning up in Brussels and Strasbourg . (Times, 16 May)

5. Open Europe in the news

A third of British MEPs employ family members on expenses

29 May Times

Open Europe's Research Director Mats Persson was quoted in the Times arguing that even though there is no suggestion of wrongdoing the employment of relatives reinforces the public perception of the European Parliament as a "gravy train". He said, "It is not acceptable for any MEP to continue employing members of their family."

Open Europe publishes league table of all 785 MEPs, based on transparency, accountability, democracy and waste

29 May WSJ 28 May Evening Standard Limerick Leader 27 May CNBC Berlingske Yle Svenska YLE Helsing Sanomat Jyllands-Posten Dagens Nyheter Scotsman 26 May Sun Sun 2 EUobserver Kilmarnock Standard Conservative Home NRC Handelsblad Standaard STA Galloway Gazette PA Denik Svenska Dagbladet FT Trumpet ADN RP Folket

Open Europe's league table was covered on the front page of the FT, in the Sun, the Mail, the Scotsman, on the BBC Breakfast Show, on the Conservative Home website and in several regional newspapers, including the Kilmarnock Standard, the Argus and the Galloway Gazette. It also received coverage around Europe, appearing in Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad Standaard, Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, on EUobserver and several other papers in Denmark , Finland , the Czech Republic and Slovenia .

Open Europe's Mats Persson appeared on CNBC's Europe Tonight show, discussing the findings of the report, and Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally appeared on BBC Radio 4's the World at One. Mats was also interviewed on Irish radio stations RTE, Shannonside FM, Northern Sound and Ross FM.

Open Europe 's Pieter Cleppe was quoted in the Wall Street Journal arguing, "There's a slow realisation that the parliament has to become more accountable and transparent."

MEPs' expenses: the real expenses scandal is in Brussels

29 May BBC World Service 27 May Comment Is Free: Persson 26 May FT FT 2 22 May Rochdale News 21 May Daily Politics

Open Europe 's Director Lorraine Mullally appeared live on the BBC's Question Time Extra, commenting on the special 'European elections' edition of Question Time. Lorraine described the huge expenses pot available to Members of the European Parliament, who, unlike British MPs, do not have to produce receipts to claim their expenses, calling on the parties to commit to change.

Lorraine also appeared on More 4 News and live on the BBC Daily Politics show, discussing the need for MEPs to publish their expenses. The FT quoted Open Europe saying, "There's no obligation on MEPs to produce receipts for any of the money they claim [apart from travel], so it's impossible for us to see if they are spending public money in an acceptable way. The new rules coming into force after the elections do not address this fundamental shortcoming." Another FT article quoted Open Europe on Labour's decision to make their MEPs publish receipts.

In a piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free page, Mats Persson argued "the real expenses scandal is in Brussels ". Mats also appeared on BBC World Service's Europe Today.

EU referendums encourage voter engagement with the EU

29 May FT: Letters

In a letter to the FT, Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally argued that referendums on the EU stoke public interest and debate and that "national referendums on EU treaties should be encouraged, not avoided at all costs, as is the current consensus in Brussels".

How does the European Parliament impact on business?

27 May BBC Breakfast Show

Open Europe 's Mats Persson appeared on the BBC Breakfast Show discussing how the European Parliament impacts on business.

Communication Commissioner's £1.8m pension

26 May Aftonbladet

Open Europe 's findings that Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström will receive a £1.8 million pension when she leaves the Commission were reported by Swedish daily Aftonbladet.

100 examples of EU fraud and waste

26 May Varlden Idag

Swedish paper Varlden Idag cited Open Europe 's research on '100 examples of EU fraud and waste".

18 'ghost' MEPs to board the EU gravy train

24 May Mail

The Mail quoted Open Europe 's Stephen Booth saying "It is scandalous that the European Parliament could even consider paying MEPs who cannot legally do their job. Taxpayers are forking out enough on MEPs as it is - now we find out we're paying money for nothing."

The cost of EU regulation

22 May Times: Cavendish 18 May Kurier

In the Times, Camilla Cavendish questioned what MPs are paid for, given that Westminster has ceded so much power to Europe . The article cited Open Europe's research into the cost of EU regulation, which shows that EU regulation has cost the UK economy £106bn since 1998.

How the European Parliament influences your daily life

18 May Sunday Business Post

The Irish Sunday Business Post had a feature on MEPs based on Open Europe 's recent briefing on the European Parliament.

Open Europe seminar in Sweden on EU reform

18 May Kristianstadsbladet

The seminar organised by Open Europe in Sweden received coverage in Swedish daily Kristianstadsbladet. Open Europe's Lorraine Mullally was also interviewed by Swedish Radio.

6. Support Open Europe

Open Europe is a small, lean operation which relies entirely on individual donations. We produce cutting-edge research on all aspects of EU policy, targeting both politicians and the media to campaign for radical reform of the EU. We unearth high-impact stories and hold high-profile events, and, uniquely for such a small team, we are quoted and interviewed several times a week in the media.

We believe there is a better way forward for Europe , and we need your help in trying to make our vision a reality.

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Open Europe is an independent think tank campaigning for radical reform of the EU. For information on our research, events and other activities, please visit our website: or call us on 0207 197 2333.