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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 14:56 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

In the film Team America, Thunderbirds-style puppets are used in a ruthless parody of Hollywood liberals.

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg has made an impact with his stance on China

Stars from the Film Actors Guild - F.A.G. - are mocked for their sentimental politics.

For instance Sean Penn makes this claim about Iraq: "Before Team America showed up, it was a happy place. They had flowery meadows, and rainbow skies and rivers made of chocolate, where the children danced and laughed and played with gumdrop smiles."

Another character states: "Our job as actors is to read the newspapers, and repeat what we've read on TV, like it is our own opinion."

However naive actors' views may seem sometimes, this week there's no doubt they had a political impact.

Mia Farrow has been campaigning on the issue of Darfur for years and has been determined to use the Beijing Olympics to further the cause of bringing the civil war to an end.

China is the main supplier of aid - and arms - to the Sudanese government.

In return Sudan supplies huge quantities of oil to China to fuel its industrial revolution.

Last summer Mia Farrow wrote an article warning Steven Spielberg that if he continued to act as an artistic adviser to the games, he risked becoming the "Leni Riefenstahl" of the Beijing Olympics, a reference to the filmmaker who produced Nazi propaganda films: a particularly pointed comparison given Spielberg's past.

Her pressure worked.

Tutu interview

Spielberg pulled out this week and the story was covered around the world.

The next day in what seemed to be a co-ordinated campaign Nobel laureates, athletes and dignitaries from around the world all signed a letter asking China to take more action on Darfur.

One of them was Archbishop Desmond Tutu whom I had the pleasure of interviewing on Thursday.

While we were getting ready, I asked him how he was.

"Oh", he sighed, "getting a little older every day".

There was no sign of any slowing down in his conversation.

In fact at one point I asked whether there was any chance that the Chinese would pay any attention to the letter.


The Archbishop burst out laughing (a rare sound on The World at One) and said: "You think they will just ignore it?

"No, I'm sure they are going to be saying we've got to be careful because if we do not respond reasonably conciliatory we may face something even more serious." Some are sceptical about these campaigns.

When Parliament returns next week, one of the biggest questions facing all the parties will be how to restore confidence in political life

Former Conservative minister George Walden worked in Beijing as a diplomat during the Cultural revolution.

He did not think that many people in China would even have heard of Steven Spielberg, let alone care what he thinks.

This has been a difficult issue for the government.

Government inconsistency?

The economic relationship with China is a vital one and Britain will play an important role in the games as the country which is about to take over the Olympic torch.

On Thursday, Tessa Jowell came on the programme and said that she supported using the games as a way of casting a light on Beijing's human rights policies but said a boycott would be counter-productive.

Some discern an inconsistency in the government's approach.

She and Jack Straw both called for England cricketers not to go to Zimbabwe because of human rights abuses there. Why is China so different?

It may have been parliamentary recess this week but it was business as usual for the Treasury - in other words more bad news.

The Governor of the Bank of England gave his most gloomy prognosis for many years, warning of the twin dangers of rising inflation and economic slowdown.

Darling's troubles

In the States the Federal Reserve has made dramatic interest rate cuts and the government has slashed taxes in order to stave off recession.

Neither option is open to the government here.

Alistair Darling
Under pressure: Will Alistair Darling survive the next reshuffle?

Deep interest rate cuts are not an option while the threat of higher inflation is here and the state of the public finances make tax rises more of a possibility than tax cuts.

I put some of those issues to the Chancellor Alistair Darling on Wednesday.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said he will need to raise taxes by 8bn in the budget.

Mr Darling attempted to shrug that off.

Forecasters were always too gloomy. He preferred to point to the labour market figures which were good, showing that unemployment was down.

Reshuffle candidate?

The political predictions haven't been too kind about the chancellor.

After Northern Rock, climbdowns over capital gains taxes and non-domiciles, some critics believe that the chancellor does not have a strong enough grip on his department and is a candidate for a reshuffle.

I did ask whether he would still be in his job by the summer.

He replied that he certainly had enough problems to sort out to keep him going for a bit.

Some in government believe that Gordon Brown was wrong to claim too much credit when the economy was going well.

The other side of the coin is that when things go wrong, it is his fault.

"And things always do go wrong", one minister told me, "they're called economic cycles for a reason".

National security

So as MPs take this week's recess as a time for reflection, what is the state of play between the parties?

Gordon Brown himself believes that there has been too much concentration on issues like national security.

He wants more stress on issues which have a direct bearing on people's every day lives like family and social policy.

The national security strategy will be announced soon with a global analysis of the various threats facing the country like climate change (It has been delayed as Gordon Brown wanted changes).

But the government will be keen to promote other domestic policies too.

Cameron questions

For David Cameron, one of the most pressing issues to address - as Shaun discussed with George Osborne on Friday's programme - will be how to address the growing Conservative grassroots campaign on taxation.

The current policy is to match Labour's spending plans but many of his members want a promise on tax cuts.

He must be hoping this won't become another grammar schools row.

But when Parliament returns next week, one of the biggest questions facing all the parties will be how to restore confidence in political life.

Do the planned reforms on MPs' allowances go far enough?

Will an agreement ever be reached on new arrangements for party funding? We'll certainly be keeping a close watch.

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