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Page last updated at 07:20 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Today: Wednesday 24 December 2008

PLEASE NOTE: We are unable to offer transcripts for our programme interviews. Today is broadcast live and the running order is subject to change.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said he is ashamed of South Africa for failing to take stronger action against Robert Mugabe. An investment manager who lost millions in the Bernard Madoff fraud scandal has been found dead in his New York office. And we return to Watford to discuss the economic downturn.

A proposal from former minister Chris Leslie would see councils offering mortgages to those having trouble getting them from banks and building societies. He says the scheme could help to close the gap in mortgage lending left by the struggling banking sector without risking council-tax payers' money.

GP and women's health expert Dr Sarah Jarvis has attacked a pilot scheme that would allow pharmacists to give women the contraceptive pill without a prescription, saying it would not reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies in the UK.

Army officers in the West African state of Guinea have staged a coup attempt, but civilian and military leaders say they failed to overthrow the government. Alex Vines, head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, says the instability could impact heavily on the whole region, and on UK and US business interests in the country.

In all, 135 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since 2001. The latest funeral will be for that of the 27-year-old Damian Davies, a former Royal Marine. The Rev David Wiley, chaplain of Royal Marines' 3 Commando Brigade in Helmand reflects on Christmas in Afghanistan.

Sports news with Rob Bonnet.

Following the Archbishop of Canterbury's comment on this programme that it "wouldn't be the end of the world" if the established church were to disappear, the Bishop of Liverpool highlighted the role played by Anglican Church in inner cities on Thought for the Day. The Bishop returns with religious commentator Theo Hobson to discuss the purpose served by the Church.

A French investment manager who put money into Bernard Madoff's scheme has committed suicide in his New York office. Matthew Price reports from New York on the death.

Today's papers.

A Christian website has mounted a campaign against what it claims is a surreptitious attempt to change the words of Christmas carols to make them more politically correct. Ship of Fools claims that a sinister campaign to change the public perception of Christmas lies behind the stripping of gender specific words from some of the nation's favourite carols. Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Pigott has been studying the corrected lyrics.

Thought for the day with Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor

The newspaper industry has seen dramatic changes over the last year as a result of the economic downturn, with huge cuts in both editorial staff and resources across a number of papers. Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian and Andreas Whittam Smith, the first editor of The Independent, discuss what 2009 might have in store.

The Today programme has reconvened a group of ordinary consumers from Watford to discuss how they see the next year unfolding. Six of the original 12, who met John Humphrys back in October, discuss how they see the economic downturn unfolding in 2009.

There's been another voting shambles on Strictly Come Dancing - this time on its pre-recorded Christmas special. Why does it keep going wrong? Professor John Curtice is an expert on voting and has some sage advice for the producers of the BBC One show.

Sports news with Rob Bonnet.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said the international community should consider using force to get rid of the Zimbabwean leader, President Mugabe. The Nobel peace-prize winner and veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle says South Africa has lost the moral high ground and betrayed its legacy of freedom by failing to take firm action against Mr Mugabe.

BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool has reached Bethlehem, having retraced the journey made by Joseph and Mary 2,000 years ago. And he's gone through a few donkeys along the way.

Business news with Nick Cosgrove

2008 has been a year in which the economy has dominated the news. The question is how the UK gets out of the economic mess in 2009. The government's approach so far has been to borrow and try to get us to keep spending. But is that right? Jim O'Neill, the chief economist at Goldman Sachs, thinks the theory may be correct - but that it does not go far enough- while economist Liam Halligan calls it a 'giant Ponzi scheme'.

British troops in Iraq are preparing for their last Christmas in Basra, as the forces will withdraw by July next year. There are currently more than 4000 soldiers in southern Iraq. Caroline Wyatt speaks to two of them, a father and son in the Queen's Royal Hussars.

US President-elect Barack Obama has been photographed on holiday showing off his muscly torso, as have many other world leaders, including Tony Blair, Nicolas Sarkozy and Vladimir Putin. Cognitive Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis and political commentator Tony Howard consider the importance of physique to a politician or businessman.


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