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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 January 2008, 12:11 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

As the Observer journalist Andrew Rawnsley and I queued to get into Downing Street for a press reception, police outriders and a Jaguar sped past on their way out with the Prime Minister inside.

Man moves chess piece
The Russians might have lagged behind in military technology or economic competition, but over the chessboard they reigned supreme

Was it something we'd said?

In fact the PM had to go to the Commons for a vote and returned later. This was the eve of his visit to China.

So what was the trip going to be about?

"Trade, culture, sport, and, er, human rights", he told us.

Even a discussion about human rights with the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and a narrow escape from a crashing plane may have seemed preferable to the British political scene.

One minister admitted to me that it was impossible to get any serious political messages out while there was so much media focus on Peter Hain and the problems over his late declared donations.

It does seem that colleagues are losing patience with him.

On Monday's programme Ian Gibson told our Political Correspondent, James Hardy, that if he had been in the same position, he would resign.

He was voicing what many MPs are saying privately.

Some backbenchers have appeared to back Peter Hain, like Paul Flynn on our programme, but no ministers have come forward and Gordon Brown's admission of "an incompetence" and claim that Hain had "taken his eye off the ball" rather erodes his claim to have full confidence in him.

Northern Rock

Is the Northern Rock affair eroding Brown's own reputation for competence?

That was certainly the line of attack from David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.

But the Conservatives' own position on Northern Rock is not clear cut.

Shadow Cabinet member Philip Hammond came on Tuesday's programme but was not clear about what his party's Plan B would be for Northern Rock if no private solution was found.

I asked a Labour figure close to Brown whether they were concerned about the competence problem after Northern Rock, discgate and so on.

No, he replied, the real issue is the appearance of tiredness, the sense that the government is running out of steam after a decade in power.

Police pay

There has been an attempt to give a sense of long term strategy through the issue of public sector pay.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith
Jacqui Smith is not giving police recommended pay deal

The Schools Secretary Ed Balls announced this week that he would be accepting the independent pay body's recommendation on a three year pay deal for teachers which would begin at 2.4% - above the 2% government target for public sector pay.

Some teachers' unions welcomed the offer though not the largest - the NUT.

On Tuesday's programme we interviewed Ed Balls and asked whether he had made life more difficult for the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith.

She is not implementing the pay review recommendation in full for the police.

News about the teachers made the police union furious.

Russian ban

Just to add fuel to the flames, on Wednesday MPs were told their own pay offer of 2.6%.

No wonder Gordon Brown wants them to vote for less.

Lib Dem MP Matthew Taylor said all pay reviews should be implemented no matter whom they concerned.

Throughout the week we covered the story in Russia as relations worsened with the British Council's decision to reopen despite a Russian ban.

On Tuesday's programme the Russian Ambassador to London, Yuri Fedotov, told us that this was an act of provocation and there would be retaliation.

Cold War

That came the following day with the detention of Stephen Kinnock and questioning of Russian staff by the FSB, the secret service.

An MP from Putin's party defended the actions and here Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay criticised the Foreign Office for mishandling the crisis.

Russia anger, he maintained, stemmed from the failure to extradite Boris Berezovsky many years ago. We learned from one British Council source that the plan is to maintain a presence In the British Embassy in Moscow - just as they did in 1945 before having to close two years later due to the Cold War.

That was where we ended the week, discussing the long years of enmity between Russia and the West.

During the Cold War that was frequently played out on the chessboard as Brian Hanrahan discussed with Daniel Johnson, a commentator on culture and politics who came in after the death of Bobby Fischer.

Johnson has written White King and Red Queen, a book about chess and the cold war. His view is that chess provided a mega-metaphor for this psychological war, one that derived added significance from the game's important role in Soviet communist society.

The Russians might have lagged behind in military technology or economic competition, but over the chessboard they reigned supreme.

In the current Anglo-Russian row the Red Queen seems to be controlling the board.

Here is a selection of your comments:

The Russians seldom lagged behind in military technology- their technological development pattern was different from that of the West, but no less cutting edge. Remember that Russia was the FIRST nation to send an artificial satellite successfully into orbit, the FIRST nation to put an astronaut in space, and the FIRST nation to develop an automated pre-targeted ICBM launching system ('The Dead Hand'). It also had the most success with it's space station (MIR was in service for 20 years, Skylab for about 3!) Even now, the West has little to match the MiG-29 fighter jet, or the hardiness & reliability of Russian small arms. Nobody should ever deride Russian military potential, or sneer at it just because the USSR has collapsed- any nation that possesses as many nuclear missiles as Russia has, is still a Superpower as far as I'm concerned.
Owen Morgan, Malvern, Worcestershire England

Regarding the Northern Rock fiasco, if the Government(Gordon Brown, since he was claiming all the credit for reorganising BoE and FSA while devolving BoE interest rate decisions, he must take the blame for the structure giving rise to inadequate supervision), having messed up banking supervision the issues a guarantee underrighting any bonds issued to refund tranches of our money that the Government has lent (in fact equity) to Northern Rock, surely any sale of Northern Rock must be conducted by a sealed bids public auction using independent trustworthy persons not currently involved in Northern Rock and certainly not part of this Government nor its top Civil Servants. The price should include escalating fees payable to the extent the loan is not repaid and equally as any guarantee is offered as to any bond, and additionally a ten year profit share deal. The apparently cosy relations of some of the players at present is uncomfortable to see. If the 3G auction of mobile ban! dwidth was good enough so should it be to sell a bank administration shell with its cash warranted by the Government. I want the maximum back for us as taxpayers for this wild equity investment the Government seems to have needed to make and especially an obvious .
john andrews, Loxwood

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