Paul Waugh   |   April 22, 2016    8:28 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Friday April 22, 2016…

barack obama


Barack Obama is in town, armed with both his bulletproof limo The Beast and a beastly attack on Brexiteers. Behind that 100-watt smile, there’s a steel to Obama and his mood today is one of ruthless determination to protect vital US national interests and to help his friend David Cameron. And Downing Street hopes that combination of his sunny optimism (he is still hugely popular in the UK) and his deadly serious assessment of the high stakes, will have a real impact on the referendum.

The President chose the Telegraph for his article setting out why the UK should stay in the EU. It was a smart choice for the op-ed, given the paper’s readers include those wavering Tory target voters who have an instinctive loyalty to the PM but worry about uppity Brussels. Writing about dead American soldiers in European cemeteries is not the sort of thing a President does lightly and there’s no question he genuinely believes the EU will be weaker without the UK.

Obama’s most eloquent case was that, in areas like Iranian nuclear talks and climate change, the UK’s influence is ‘amplified’ not muted by being in the EU. Let’s see how he delivers similar lines at the No10 press conference expected around 5pm.

On the Today prog, the doughty Brexit minister Dom Raab was unperturbed by the size of the Obama juggernaut. He cannily seized on a line by former Washington ambassador Peter Westmacott that compared Britain’s grumbles with Brussels with individual US states’ tensions with Washington. Raab said such talk reduces the UK to “little more than a North Dakota or an Alabama”. Ouch.

“US interests are not always the same as UK interests,” Raab added, with a dollop of ‘Love Actually’ defiance that once again showed how Eurosceptic Tories can sound like wizened old lefty Labour MPs. Sharp, photogenic, young: don’t rule Raab out of a 2025 Tory leadership race folks. Boris, in the Sun, is similarly punchy in attacking American ‘hypocrisy’ over sovereignty.

As for the EU debate itself, the stat attack continued. No.10 were delighted by UK Statistics Authority chief Sir Andrew Dilnot describing as ‘potentially misleading’ Vote Leave’s famous claim that we ‘send £350m every week’ to the EU.

Yet sending £175m a week to Brussels (the real net figure) is still not an easy sell to a hard-pressed British public. And on Question Time last night, there was one audience member who had his own 'back of the envelope' calculation that the Vote Leave camp should surely turn into a viral video: quitting the EU will generate enough money to repay the national debt by 2030.


Yesterday’s tributes to the Queen on her 90th birthday had some highlights and lowlights. The Telegraph’s waspish sketchwriter Michael Deacon records for posterity ‘the single most boring anecdote ever’ by an MP, as Tory Michael Ellis told a story about Her Maj and a stained glass window.

In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn pitched his own response rather shrewdly. Referring to his own age and that of the Monarch was a nice self-deprecating touch which got over just how long he’s been around too. The gag about the Queen being an Arsenal fan kinda worked (it had a kind of 1950s flavour). But smartest of all was the way the Labour leader managed to deftly (yes deftly) separate his own lifelong Republicanism from his admiration for Her Majesty’s public service. He managed to disentangle the institution from the individual and you could tell Labour MPs around him were relieved.

Yet will Corbyn pull off a similar, and possibly much harder, trick when it comes to Barack Obama? Again, he has a lifelong opposition to US ‘imperialism’ in foreign and economic policy. On the other hand, the first ever black President, a man who introduced even a mild form of public healthcare to the US and looks like closing Guantanamo, is perhaps someone Corbyn can admire - while parking his loathing of the ‘institution’ of decades of Amercian foreign policy orthodoxy. And actually on foreign policy, this year’s Atlantic interview suggests Obama is the only President to have challenged that orthodoxy, with his inimitable line ‘don’t do stupid shit’.

We still don’t know if the two men will meet at some point, or if there will be an historic pic of them together. If there isn’t, that’s surely a huge missed opportunity.

Still, while he may be getting the hang of PMQs and set-pieces in Parliament, the unease in Corbyn’s own ranks hasn’t gone away. In The House magazine, Stephen Kinnock says Labour must take ‘remedial action’ if it does not make gains in the coming local elections. And in her speech this week Alison McGovern said: “Losing control of a single council at this stage would be an unacceptable betrayal of the people who depend on this part”.


The Queen’s birthday was, as guessed here yesterday, a good day to bury some policy changes you wouldn’t normally want to get much profile. A string of Written Ministerial Statements revealed things like: a massive hike in immigration appeals fees, some backtracking on legal cuts, a refusal to take 3,000 child refugees from Europe (though that same figure will be taken from camps in and around Syria) and a U-turn on a previous refusal to part-nationalise steelworks.

Yet some of the worst news was not delivered via Whitehall. The ONS’s borrowing stats made unhappy reading for George Osborne, but worse still was Iain Duncan Smith’s interview in the Spectator in which he revealed that the Chancellor’s figure for £12bn in welfare cuts was, as everyone suspected, plucked out of thin air. "A massive cut to working-age benefits had been announced before an election, with no work done to see where the cuts were going to be found."

Still, there was one bit of good news for the PM yesterday: the Parliamentary Standards commissioner decided not to go ahead with an investigation into his shares in Blairmore, although without giving any reasons why. (Meanwhile Politico rightly raises the problems the Panama Papers cause for Jean-Claude Juncker and his record in lax tax Luxembourg, a fact I’m surprised the Brexiteers haven’t push properly yet).


This teacher’s reaction to the death of Prince went viral last night.


If you’re too fat or smoke, you can forget about routine surgery in some ares of the UK, a new FoI investigation has found. The Royal College of Surgeons has found that 31% of local clinical commissioning groups and one health board in Wales are rationing operations. This is the sort of stuff that keeps talkshow radio busy for hours.

But just as worrying for both sides in the junior docs dispute are the Health Service Journal leaked emails showing some docs have discussed indefinite strike action. BMA lead Dr Johann Malawana talked about forms of ‘permanent action’ One doctor said :”[we] should be openly mentioning this before the first [all out full walkout], even if as a casual ‘well maybe if it gets really bad all the juniors will walkout forever’.”

And as the first all-out A&E strike gets closer, ministers scent they are starting to turn the political tables for the first time in ages. Shadow Health Sec Heidi Alexander (who don’t forget got her way in telling Shad Cab ministers to avoid picket lines) will undoubtedly be very nervous of explicitly supporting the all-out action given the risk to patients.

Jeremy Hunt has written to her to ask if she “supports the withdrawl of potentially life-saving care from some of our most vulnerable patients”. It’s a question Labour will have to directly answer at some point. You can bet Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell want to give full support, but the rest of the party may not be too keen.


Schools minister Nick Gibb has a lot on his plate at the moment. Today he’s confirmed he’s scaring a national spelling test for 7-year-olds in England after it was published in “human error” on a government website. Charlotte Smiles, the primary school teacher who spotted the mistake after a pupil gave the game away, and ATL union chief Mary Bousted were on the Today prog.

But with the huge row over the plan for forced academies (which sounds a bit like ‘forced rhubarb’ in more ways than one) rumbling on, primary schools certainly are in the political front line more than in years. As I’ve written before, the looming concern for many parents, pupils and teachers in primaries is this year’s new SAT exam for grammar, an exam that English graduates say looks too hard.

Shadow Education Sec Lucy Powell has today claimed that the original concept of Free Schools is also “all but dead”. Labour says the Government has snuck out new criteria for Free School applicants that actually removes the requirement for those proposing Free Schools to conduct a survey demonstrating demand from local parents.


Our latest CommonsPeople podcast is out. Listen directly HERE (or download on iTunes HERE) to our discussion of Corbyn’s PMQs win, the Gove-Cummings tag-team, Maccy Ds and the PLP and how the House of Lords shows there are fifty shades of Government U-turn. Oh and our quiz: which stalls were NOT at Labour's conference last year?

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President Obama's Last Opportunity With the Gulf

Sayed Alwadaei   |   April 22, 2016   12:00 AM ET

When President Obama visits Saudi Arabia this week, he should dwell on the contradictions which have plagued his relationship with the Middle East throughout his presidency. His private disdain for Saudi Arabia, tribalism and sectarianism are well known, but these are at odds with his administration's continued, substantial support for these same states.

The contradiction begin with civil rights. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus in 1955, few could have predicted that an African American would be president just fifty-three years in the future. President Obama was born in 1961, into an America in the spasms of the civil rights movement. The ultimate success of American equal rights was in a future barely imaginable in a time of nuclear threat and Jim Crow laws.

Little Abdulhadi was born in 2014, into the middle of the same climactic struggle which since 2011 has swept the Arab World. Today he is in prison with his mother. The Arab Spring has led to terror - literal, evil and unimagined - but it has also sparked a flowering movement for civil rights.

His mother, Zainab Al Khawaja, is currently serving a three years prison sentence in Bahrain for daring to express herself. She tore to shreds a portrait of the King of Bahrain, in a moment as resistant to oppression as Rosa Parks' refusal to stand up. The two acts have a single commonality: they fought repression with the extraordinarily ordinary. And that is because it remains a mark of a repressive regime that ordinary actions are made illegal. What could justify segregation sixty years ago? What can justify the repression of political opinion today?

These questions go to the heart of American identity and foreign policy. Identity, because America must forever be proud in the success of the civil rights movement in the face of institutionalised racism. Foreign policy, because the United States has so frequently put itself at silent odds with the same movements abroad, when civil rights have not immediately suited its national self-interest.

It could have been different. In 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for US bombs over Libya. In return for the Arab League's support, she conceded US support for the democratic movement in Bahrain. The expanding crack in the Gulf's façade of authoritarian stability was quickly concealed, and what could have been the first successful civil rights movement in the Gulf was traded for bombs over Libya which, while they no doubt helped shorten the burgeoning civil war, served in the long run only to quicken the North African country's collapse.

With it, the opportunity for swift and peaceful democratization in Bahrain disappeared. The momentary toe-hold in the Gulf disappeared. Today, Saudi Arabia is on a violent war-path to regional hegemony: its war in Yemen, interventions in Syria, and hypocritical war against terrorism it has helped breed are all towards expanding the reach of one family. All the while, Bahrain sycophantically follows its neighbour into every new, impulsive venture: it was the first to expel Lebanese citizens from its land after Saudi Arabia's row with the Levantine state; the first to cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the execution of Saudi Arabian Shia dissidents in January; the first join Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.

Last year, President Obama sent a clear message to his Gulf allies: "Strengthen your own societies. Be inclusive. Make sure that your Shia populations don't feel as if they're being left out. Think about the economic growth." It was a positive call, but barely begins to challenge the size of these problems. Take the Shia in Saudi Arabia: it is not simply that they "feel as if they're being left out". Saudi schoolchildren are taught that Shia are blasphemers and should be punished with death. It is no wonder that the Saudi Shia are a regular target for terrorist attacks, with bombings claiming dozens of lives in January this year and May and October last year.

But the continues arms sales - $20 billion to Saudi Arabia since their intervention in Yemen - and silence on many free speech cases - Zainab Al Khawaja's is one of them - belies the rhetoric. Most alarming are the cases coming out of Saudi Arabia: the Shia youth facing crucifixion for his protest, an act of retribution aimed at his family: his uncle is Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr, whom the Saudi authorities silently executed this January past.

This is President Obama's last chance to make a positive difference. His message of hope was infectious seven years ago, when he sent a message to Cairo and the Muslim world: "You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party."

That call to democracy has been undermined innumerable times since he came to power. Whatever his private misgivings, he has allowed his Saudi Arabian Wahhabi allies to spread their creed and supported their war in Yemen - a war apparently to restore the legitimate ruler, waged by one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world.

President Obama calls Libya a "shit show". Nearly everything happening in the Arab World today could be called that. For eight years, opportunities have been squandered, and that "shit show" has spread from Iraq through Syria, Bahrain and Yemen to Egypt and Libya.

Here comes one last opportunity: don't squander it. Our own civil rights leaders are in prison. If President Obama mentions no one else, let him raise the case of Zainab Al-Khawaja, or the Saudi youth Ali Al-Nimr who faces crucifixion, and hold them up as high as Rosa Parks. Ordinary acts face extraordinary repression in the Gulf, but there remains a chance to change that.

Graeme Demianyk   |   April 21, 2016   10:12 PM ET

US President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Prince, hailing an "electrifying performer" who "did it all".

The musical icon's publicist confirmed the singer had passed away after his body was found at his Paisley Park estate in Minnesota, early on Thursday morning.

Among the many tributes was as an impassioned ode from President Obama, who said the "world lost a creative icon".

He said in a statement: "Michelle and I join millions of fans from around the world in mourning the sudden death of Prince. Few artists have influenced the sound and trajectory of popular music more distinctly, or touched quite so many people with their talent.

“As one of the most gifted and prolific musicians of our time, Prince did it all. Funk. R&B. Rock and roll. He was a virtuoso instrumentalist, a brilliant bandleader, and an electrifying performer.”


The President also remembered Prince by quoting the musician.

“‘A strong spirit transcends rules,’ Prince once said — and nobody’s spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, his band, and all who loved him.‎”

Last summer, the Obamas hosted a private concert at the White House for friends and family that included performances by Prince and Stevie Wonder.

Trying to Gag Obama on Brexit Betrays British Values

Sir Christopher Meyer   |   April 20, 2016   12:00 AM ET

On Thursday, in his last full presidential year, President Obama arrives in Britain on a farewell tour of some of America's closest allies. He will have just come from meetings with the monarchs of the Gulf Arab states. After London he travels to Germany to meet Europe's most powerful leader, Chancellor Merkel.

For those in Britain, eternally fearful of our decline as a world power and forever examining for signs of decay the so-called special relationship with America, this should be gratifying confirmation that we still sit alongside the US at the top table of international politics.

But nowadays there is nothing particularly special about the relationship. In his cool, detached way, Obama has never bothered, as did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush with Tony Blair, to foster the illusion of Britain as the indispensable link beween America and Europe. For several years Obama gave Britain a kicking for not meeting the NATO requirement that members spend 2% of national output on defence. We are told that he even threatened David Cameron with the demise of the special relationship if we did not cough up - which we duly did. The Americans have always known that they have only to invoke this venerable Churchillian relic and, like Pavlov's dogs, we will jump to attention and salute.

Earlier this year, Obama made a disparaging reference to Cameron's loss of interest in Libya after Britain, with France and the US, had in 2011 helped overthrow the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi. That had led to his assassination and Libya's descent into a chaos which is now being exploited by ISIS. Obama's rebuke was greeted over here by howls of anguish and front-page headlines. Never mind that there was more than a grain of truth in his criticism of our prime minister, and that other close allies felt the lash of Obama's tongue.

For those who believe, as I do, that the US remains our most important ally, Obama's visit is the moment to pump some red corpuscles into a relationship, more anaemic than special. And that might have happened in normal times. But these are not normal times. In truth, the President's visit risks making a scratchy relationship scratchier. If that happens, Obama will turn with relief to Angela Merkel and the Germans.

On arriving in London he will find himself thrown into the monstrous hopper of the British referendum campaign, where facts are sacrificed daily on the altar of propaganda and abuse. He has been insulted by the leading Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, for suggesting that the United States would prefer Britain to remain in the EU - declared, bipartisan, American policy since time immemorial. A group of Eurosceptic MPs have warned him off intervening in the campaign.

Yet, for all the fog of the Brexit wars, Obama's visit will vividly illuminate what is at stake for Britain on 23 June. The referendum will fix Britain's place in the world for a century or more. It will decide the nature of our relations not only with the European Union, but with all our close allies and partners beyond Europe, foremost among whom is the US.

These allies and partners have every right to express a view on Brexit. Their histories and national interests are intimately entwined with ours, from Japan with its billions of pounds invested in our car industry, to the US with its indispensable contribution to our security. What is a special relationship worth if the American president is not allowed to say his piece on Brexit? The US national interest is profoundly in play. When the American ambassador to Britain tells us that Washington wants a strong UK in a strong EU, it may be a trite phrase, but it rests on 75 years of intimate American engagement with Europe and Britain. Obama may have proclaimed a "pivot to Asia". But Europe remains an area of vital American interest, with a revanchist Putin on the march.

If nothing else, this visit may snap us out of the misty sentimentality with which we continue to view the idea of a special relationship with the US. Like any other relationship between states, it's about hard national interest not sentiment, though in the case of our two countries interests converge more often than not.

President Obama is, let us not forget, the leader of a country which saved our bacon in World War 2, kept Soviet Russia at bay during the Cold War and today provides 70% of NATO's military muscle. We should afford him the freedom of speech that we ourselves profess to uphold. So, can we, please, mind our manners and not abuse the President during his visit? If that is not a British national interest, I don't know what is.

Kathryn Snowdon   |   April 15, 2016    8:29 PM ET

Boris Johnson has warned Barack Obama not to be "hypocritical" and back the campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union.

The Mayor of London, who is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, said it would not be right for the US President "to urge us to sacrifice control" when America would not do the same.

Johnson's comments come days ahead of Obama's visit to the UK next week.

The White House has indicated that Obama - who has previously voiced support for continued UK membership - is ready to offer his view as a "friend" if asked about Brexit during his two-day visit, though he will stress that it is a decision for the British people.

The US President is due to have lunch with the Queen at Windsor Castle before talks with David Cameron in 10 Downing Street on April 22.

He will answer questions from members of the public at a "town hall" event in London the following day. 

Johnson said that the US should not encourage Britain to stick with a position it would not accept for itself, telling the Evening Standard: "I honestly don't mind the idea of him joining the debate.

"Where we do part company, and where I do mind, is that it is plainly hypocritical for America to urge us to sacrifice control - of our laws, our sovereignty, our money and our democracy - when they would not dream of ever doing the same."

Fellow Brexit campaigner Michael Gove insisted quitting the EU would free up more cash for the NHS as Vote Leave put the straining service centre stage. 

It claimed a large chunk of the UK's £10.6 billion net contribution to Brussels could be diverted to medical care if Britain quits the EU.

The Justice Secretary told Sky News: "If we stay in, if we vote to remain, then the European Union will press ahead with integration and it will drag us into that process.

"At the moment, the money we give to the European Union is spent by others, people that we have never elected, never chosen and can't remove.

"If that money is taken back, then that £50 million a day will be spent on British people's priorities and the NHS, of course, is top of the list."

Downing Street insisted that Brexit would mean "less money for the NHS", with Cameron's official spokeswoman saying: "A strong NHS needs a strong economy and the Prime Minister has been very clear that our economy is stronger in the EU."

Health unions blasted Vote Leave's figures as "spurious and outrageously misleading", insisting the NHS's financial woes were made in Whitehall and not Brussels.

Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown said: "It defies belief to think that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would do a massive political U-turn and divert billions of EU cash into the NHS – when they have supported real cuts to the NHS budget and been enthusiastic flag-wavers for the privatisation and break-up of the NHS."

And TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The reality is that Brexit would plunge the NHS into a staffing crisis, which could lead to the longest hospital waiting lists we've ever known.

"And with experts warning that Brexit would hit Britain's economy, the consequences for NHS funding would be dire."

Meanwhile, former chancellor Lord (Alistair) Darling accusing Brexit backers of offering Project Fantasy, as he warned that leaving would threaten Britain's economy.

In a speech in London, the Labour peer acknowledged that either side could win the EU contest.

"This is a very, very close vote. No one can predict with any certainty what is likely to happen," said the Labour peer.

"I hope we will win and I hope we will win well but we need to get the support of people the length and breadth of the country, no matter what their political allegiance has been in the past.

"We need every single vote. It is going to be very close. Every vote counts."

Ukip leader Nigel Farage challenged Cameron to a one-on-one debate on the claims contained in a leaflet sent out to households around the country, setting out the Government case for continued EU membership.

Handing his own copy of the document back to 10 Downing Street, Farage also took a swipe at Obama, branding him "the most anti-British American president there has ever been".

I Don't Believe in Equal Pay - Here's Why

Simon Cohen   |   April 13, 2016   10:22 AM ET

The World Economic Forum says that the gender pay gap won't close completely until 2133.

But recent events might change that. With the outcry following the tennis star Novak Djokovic saying that male players ought to be paid more (though he later apologized); Donald Trump's punishing comments about abortion (which he apparently 'misspoke'); and now with five members of the world champion US women's soccer team accusing US Soccer of wage discrimination - it seems that 117 years for equal pay is too long a wait for many.

Those who champion #equalpay say that the current disparity is a reflection of the wider inequality women experience around the world - and that's why it is so important. We pay more for what we value, and the charge is that society seems to value women less. If we really value women, they say, we should pay them the same. I don't buy it.

Women should be paid more than men. Yes, even for doing the same work. Pay them more. Here's why:

They can be trusted more

I wonder what proportion of the Panama Papers scandal involves alleged corruption by women? I'd say it's a safe bet it will be less than 50%. I'd be surprised if it was even in double digits. In the world of men, in particular white, rich men who control the majority of our economic and political systems, money and power is projected as the most valuable commodity and currency in society. This mindset naturally flows into greed, corruption, and breaking the rules at any cost to keep more for themselves.

When women are paid more, we all reap the benefits. As the head of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde said, 'Empowering women is not just about fairness - it also has macroeconomic benefits. For example, eliminating employment gender gaps could boost GDP by 5% in the US, 9% in Japan, and 27% in India.' She stopped short of spelling out the effect of GDP if women were paid more than men, but you do the math.

The equal pay debate is not just about how much we earn, but what we spend our money on. We have enough money to solve world hunger and other global issues. But our (mostly male) politicians decide that spending on defence, for example, is a better use of resources.

Women have an innate compassion beyond us men, and because of this, I trust them more to use their money in ways that benefit us all. And this brings me on to the baby elephant in the room of the equal pay debate - and why we should pay women more.

They give birth

As much as Donald Trump and others would hate to admit it, all of us - yes all of us - come from women. Women have a special role in life's drama, which us men simply can't compete with. Most women put their careers, and in some parts of the world, their lives on the line to bring new life into this world. They often return to work part-time to juggle child-care duties and take years to claw back the salary and professional standing they were used to before children. Women should not be penalised for the most natural thing in life - having a child. From an evolutionary point of view, it's what they were born to do.

Instead, we should pay women more from the moment they start earning, to offset the loss of earnings and career that they would experience by having a baby.

Anyone who has been present with a woman throughout pregnancy, or been present for the birthing process, and witnessed the grace and beauty with which women carry themselves and their children, would not bemoan receiving less salary than their female counterparts. These are walking, talking superheroes who deserve more of our respect and gratitude. An inflated salary is the least we could do.

For those women who choose not to have children, or can not have children, I trust them more to use their increased salaries to better use than men.

As a society, we seem to patronize and pity our women in business and politics with a proverbial pat on the back - or the bottom. There are sinister, degrading forces at work that warp our perceptions of women, and it's time we tackle them.

Porn pushes women back

The pornography industry is a global phenomenon that receives too little attention in the equal pay debate, considering its pervasive impact on our culture. The industry is worth $97 billion, with over 4.4 billion page views per month. The overwhelming majority of porn objectifies women, metamorphosing them into things to be enjoyed, or even humiliated, beaten or raped. Porn is ubiquitous. Children are exposed to this, learning from a very young age that what it means to be a woman is to be used or abused by a man - and not to be taken seriously, never mind considered an equal.

Women should be paid more because they need all the resources and support they can get to weave a different narrative about the role of women into the fabric of society. Porn pushes women back and in a porno culture it is impossible for this not to seep into all aspects of society - from decisions about who to invite on to the company board, acts of domestic violence, and everyday sexism. An inflated pay for women would go some way to reflect that, as a society, we understand the impact that porn has, and don't subscribe to the values that it imposes on us - and equip our women with the financial resources to craft a different story.

And for those who think porn has nothing to do with the gender pay gap, consider why, in 2016, we still need to prove we are 18 to see an adult film at the movies, yet a third of 10 year olds have watched hardcore porn online. Porn is not to be under-estimated as innocent titillation or a reflection of some perverted form of freedom. It is a form of control. It is in the money men's best interests to teach us to think of women in this way - no wonder 12-17 year old boys are a key audience. If 50% of the world's population were seen as equals, to be respected, elevated and to do business with, the current systems - and those who control them - would surely crumble.

Of course, not all men hold these values. There are some at the top of the power structures who buck this trend - and it must really annoy those business and political elites who strive to keep things as they are.

But there are exceptions

The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, is a shining light with his gender equal cabinet and feminist message; President Obama and Bernie Sanders champion women's rights, and other leading men take a more enlightened view of women's role in society. In my own little way, when I gave away my £1m company Global Tolerance (to two ladies), in order to be a full-time father, I hope I have contributed to the gender debate.

Of course, all men are capable of compassion, sensitivity, and many of our greatest social, spiritual and moral leaders throughout history have been men. Unfortunately, in the current business and political arenas they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. And even when they are at the top, they are usually cogs in a system operated by men who are greedy for money and power. For the compassionate man to have any lasting influence, we need the whole system to change: in our businesses, governments, sports - in fact, all sections of society. We need the 99% to be advocating women rights, not the 1%. And to be a real movement, it needs to start with men. Men who know that elevating women by paying them more is not a threat to manhood, but an opportunity for all of us to progress.

What next?

Even with equal pay, women would still be at a huge disadvantage in our rich, white, male-dominated world, where porn lurks behind every screen, where women are punished for having children, and there are damningly few punishments for the bankers, politicians and others who openly use their inflated pockets and egos for their own self serving interests.

It's time the equal pay debate moved on. Let's pay women more than men. Then, just maybe, we will have more of a level playing field in our society. Maybe in a few decades time, when all of our political cabinets are like Canada's, and when our board rooms around the world are 50% women instead of 12%, and when our children are exposed to the grace and beauty of womenkind, and not their objectification - maybe then I will be up for #equalpay. Until then, let's #paywomenmore.

Sanders Might Not Win the Battle, But He's Won the War

Matt Hawkins   |   April 11, 2016   12:00 AM ET


Thirty-six primaries down and 21 to go and the race to be the Democrat's presidential nominee is really hotting up. Not that you'd know it of course from the British media who seem to be reading straight from the script of the Clinton campaign. According to them every Hillary win takes her a step closer to the White House whilst every victory for Sanders is a blip in what is otherwise an inevitable story.

It takes some gall to spin this story out when the facts are saying something quite different. Sanders has won all six of the last primaries and as the elections head northwards, and away from the southern belt of America where his campaign expected to take a knock, his confidence and his brand continues to rise. It also overlooks what is going on inside the campaigns. Sanders' political strategy means his campaign can grow exponentially. It works by empowering local organisers, giving them the skills and tools they need to become self-sufficient and train more and more supporters to become local leaders and messengers. Clinton, by contrast, has relied on a much more traditional, centralised campaign with the standard mix of telephone banking and canvassing from established members. All that can really grow now is the Clinton warchest and even that is being overtaken by the wealth of the Sanders campaign.

So, whilst support for Sanders - "the movement" - will continue to grow up til June, we've already hit peak-Clinton. She has to hope that the level she is at is sufficiently high enough in enough states to tip her over the line.

Why have papers ignored this narrative? Part of the reason is down to honest maths. Although the number of states won so far by the contenders is very close (20 to 16) Clinton has the advantage of having won the states with the largest number of delegates so far contested - Texas and Florida. In contrast, Sanders has won three out of the five smallest states. This naturally puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to securing the 2,383 delegates needed for victory.

But, I think there are wider and more systematic reasons why Clinton continues to be presented as the inevitable victor in a contest which remains wide open.

Firstly, if the experience of recent events both here in the UK and over the pond in America has taught us anything it is that the media are not exactly ahead of the curve when it comes to the changing political landscape. Apparently from nowhere came the success of the Yes campaign in Scotland and Corbyn's leadership bid. The idea that a radically different alternative to the usual political narrative could be popular still takes many by surprise. Neoliberal economics is supposed to be predominate and it is hard to shake that impression.

Secondly, much of this change is coming from below the radar. Communities are building their own campaigns from the bottom up, giving members the right and opportunity to shape their own futures and to talk about the issues that matter to them. This isn't being picked up by the commentators in the media whose ears are mainly tuned into Westminster and Washington. When Sanders says his campaign is not about electing Bernie Sanders but about the people of America he means it: it's why he has been so successful.

So, whilst it is still quite possible that Sanders will not win the battle - if the battle is the Democrat nomination - he is winning the war when it comes to making a mark on the future of American politics. Like Obama before him he has fundamentally changed the way campaigning is done and enfranchised a whole community of people who will never again be satisfied with only having a voice every time a politician needs their vote at election. He has successfully raised awareness of the crooked nature of the political system and awakened Americans to the possibility of much bigger change than that being offered by Clinton. Whoever is elected President will have to deal with this legacy.

Graeme Demianyk   |   April 6, 2016    5:08 PM ET

Vagina Added Tax Is Because 'Men Were Making the Laws', Says Obama

Frances Scott   |   April 1, 2016    1:45 PM ET


Massive congratulations to the fantastic #EndTamponTax campaigners!

Headed up by Laura Coryton this campaign and petition has successfully pressurized Parliament to scrap the archaic laws taxing tampons as 'luxury items'. They also forced MPs to use the word "tampon" and "period" in Parliament, which some found quite awkward.

The story behind the removal of this unfair tax shows why we need more women MPs and Peers at Westminster, which is what #5050Parliament is campaigning for.

#TamponTax was eventually scraped because Paula Sherriff MP succeeded in changing the law by getting an amendment to the Finance Bill. Her amendment called for a zero rate VAT on "sanitary products". Having got agreement from the EU in Brussels, the Prime Minister and Chancellor decided not to oppose her amendment when announcing the Budget.

MP Paula Sherriff is the first Opposition backbencher to ever successfully amend a Government's Budget. She said it had been an "absurdity" than tampons had been classed as a luxury product when "periods are simply a fact of life" calling the tax "Vagina Added Tax"

Cameron told Sheriff that the "new epithet" for VAT will "live on in Hansard for many years to come". He also added "Getting over some of the language barriers on sanitary products in a 28-person European Council is something that is going to stay with me for a while."

President Obama's reaction to Tampon Tax on Youtube was particularly inspiring and encouraging:

"I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed."

He is absolutely right but the Tax on Tampons is the tip of the iceberg.

There are many important issues that are legislated by men but which affect women predominantly, including FGM, sexism, sexual discrimination, maternity care and domestic violence. But it is not just these issues that affect women and matter to them. Women should be equally involved in drafting policy in all areas including the economy, energy, defence, foreign affairs, environment, transport, health, education and parenting. Women are 51% of the population, 51% of the life experience, talent and skills. Women make a massive contribution to society with their paid and unpaid work, they merit fair inclusion in Parliament so they can participate equally in writing the laws, running the country and planning the future.

Women are a majority in life but a minority in Parliament. Of our 650 MPs only 191 are women. Men outnumber women by more than 2:1. There are still more men in the House of Commons than there have ever been women MPs in the whole of history. In the House of Lords only around 200 of our 800 Peers are women.

These statistics suggest that the system is not working for women. There is a democratic deficit.

50:50 Parliament is calling upon all Party Leaders for solutions to this historic problem. Parliament has the power to sort it out. We would like to see men and women running the country and planning our future, together, in more equal numbers.

Westminster needs to be attractive and accessible to women so that it draws upon the widest possible range of experience, talent and skills. We need more women in Parliament because, representation, or lack of it, shapes policy, as #TamponTax clearly demonstrated. If there were more women MPs and Peers then there might not need to be so many campaigns and petitions concerning women and gender equality. Only 134 more women MPs are needed from a population of 32 million to get gender parity in Parliament, it should not be a big ask.

Professor Joni Lovenduski from Birkbeck, University of London, writes " Evidence from more balanced legislatures than ours shows that men can act for women, but they may be more likely to do so when there are more women around."

And Prof Ngaire Woods "We know that when women are in builds more resilient, responsive, better-informed institutions." The evidence is overwhelming. She adds "These things are not about each individual woman but about the aspirations of a society."

The success of the #EndTamponTax campaign shows that petitions do make a difference and influence policy!

If you want better gender balance at Westminster with more women MPs and Peers then say so and sign the #5050Parliament petition here:! It is like a referendum on Gender Equality and every signature counts.

See President Obama's interview here at 35.54 minutes in: "I have to tell you, I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items. I suspect it's because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed" and thanks Laura Coryton for supporting #5050Parliament at our picnic last year!


Sign up here to become a #5050Parliament Ambassador




Brussels: Jihadist War on the West Closer to Reality

Dan Ehrlich   |   March 25, 2016    3:05 PM ET

Belgian authorities claim at least 200 IS operatives have infiltrated Europe to plan further terror attacks. The obvious questions are: How did they get into the EU? And from where did they come?

Was it because Turkey turns a blind eye to IS troops traveling through their territory? Or was it because there have been no EU or US troops on the ground in Syria and Iraq to keep these murderers from escaping a caliphate decimated by a massive NATO air and infantry assault?

What's happening in Europe and in the US is this regard is rests solely with the Western powers, nations that since Munich 1938 have been fearful of becoming involved in foreign wars, especially if there's no economic element attached. Bosnia pitted against Kuwait proved that.

Daesh was responsible for Paris. Daesh was responsible for San Bernardino. And now Daesh is responsible for Brussels. Who or what will be next? Because there probably will be other attacks.

What is happening now in the world might have be prevented had the Europe and America acted with unflinching resolve in Syria and Iraq, as they did in 1989's Operation Desert Storm to rescue oil rich Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. But they didn't. Instead they chose unenforced red lines and talk...the result has been the greatest humanitarian crises since WW2 and terror coming to the developed world.

The failure of the West to forcefully confront hostile states and groups has evolved into a Pandora's Box of catastrophes now and in the future. US President Barack Obama's well meaning but utterly incompetent handling of foreign affairs for the World's policeman, has been Chamberlain-esque in his naivety, highlighted by the US brokered Iran deal.

On person benefiting from the Brussels attack is US presidential candidate Donald Trump. America's most popular pompous vulgarian promises to do what wimp Obama won't do...bring America's full military force into action against Daesh. And many voters believe him. Yet, even on the slim chance of Trump being elected president, it may be too late to stop IS sleeper cells in the West and more newly radicalized youth joining the jihad.

What Western leaders have failed to understand is that unlike other Islamic jihadist groups, IS or Daesh has become a fundamentalist movement drawing in people worldwide. If it had been confronted with a united NATO style force four years ago, it might have been killed off or minimized in its infancy. But thanks to western fears of getting involved in a Middle East ground war, the evil genie is loose.

Even if a major ground war is now waged by NATO against Daesh, it won't address its growing Fifth Column in the West.. If and when Daesh is defeated in the Middle East, the worst fears of EU politicians may be realized...having to fight a jihadist terror war in Europe and even in America. And once again its because the West didn't confront this evil when it had the chance.

Paul Vale   |   March 24, 2016    2:54 AM ET

Read More: obama, tango, uk news

President Obama danced the tango with a sultry Argentine woman during a state dinner on Wednesday in Buenos Aires.

Although he initially declining several offers, POTUS eventually hit the floor with his size 12 loafers, pirouetting to the well-known score.  

Michelle Obama did likewise with another dancer. Watch the full trot below...

Owen Bennett   |   March 23, 2016   11:10 AM ET

President Obama has been branded “splendidly arrogant” by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg over plans to urge Brits to stay in the EU during a UK visit.

 The US President is set to make a major intervention in the Referendum campaign next month when he jets into London after visiting Germany.

Pro-EU campaigners believe President Obama will help persuade undecided voters to back Remain, but his planned rallying cry has provoked fury from Brexiters.

An e-petition calling for President Obama to not be allowed to speak in Westminster on the issue has attracted 26,000 signatures.

At a meeting of eurosceptic think-tank The Bruges Group last night, leading Brexit supporter Jacob Rees-Mogg tore in the US President’s plans.

He also claimed the French government's support for its country's 'dirty' film industry was harming EU/US trade negotiations. 

After describing Obama as a “funny fellow”, the North-East Somerset MP said: “I think he’ll be the greatest recruiting sergeant for the Brexit campaign.

“No true honest Briton is going to be told what to do by a Yankee president they’re just not. He can come and tell us all he likes about what we should do but we’re not an American colony and they’re not a colony of ours anymore.

“It’s so splendidly arrogant for him to think that poor little Blighty is just waiting for big old Uncle Sam to come and tell us what we should do with our European neighbours and which garden we should play in.

“I think we just have to be very welcoming to him, thank him for his kind consideration and vote against being told what to do.”

Rees-Mogg’s comments, which were met with applause by the 200 or so eurosceptics in the room, echoed those of fellow Tory MP Steve Baker when the visit was revealed.

Speaking to the Independent on Sunday earlier this month, Baker said: “Whenever a US president intervenes in our constitutional future, I always reread the US Declaration of Independence. We will solve peacefully at the ballot box the problem for which their nation fought a bloody war of insurrection.” 

Last week, Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed Obama was “the most anti-British president” there had ever been.

Speaking to LBC Radio, he said “We would be horrified if an American president got involved in a British general election campaign just as Americans would be horrified if a British prime minsiter was to say ‘vote for Hillary’.

“So he should butt out.”

Rees-Mogg drew laughter at the meeting when he claimed the French government’s desire to protect its country’s pornographic film industry was having an impact on an EU trade deal with the US.

 The MP claimed America’s decision to exclude financial services from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal was in retaliation for France not allowing the film industry into negotiations.

Rees-Mogg said: “One thing very important in terms of free trade to the Americans is the film industry. Hollywood’s a very big exporter for the US.

“The French won’t put in the film industry because they are worried about those dirty French films they like making which they need to subsidise because proper people don’t watch them.

 “They’re watched by teenagers, I think, who get excited by that sort of thing.”

Reacting to the comments on President Obama, Stronger In spokesman James McGrory said: “Jacob Rees-Mogg should be ashamed of himself for using that kind of language to describe the Leader of our closest ally. Though I doubt President Obama is losing too much sleep.

 “The leave campaigns are so scared by their lack of argument that anybody offering an honest opinion on the other side, including the President of the United States, is told they have no right to do so.

 “It’s for the British people to decide this biggest question in a generation but I’m sure they won’t mind hearing from a range of voices before they make their choice.”

Baseball and Obama Go Caribbean

Manuel Barcia   |   March 21, 2016    3:17 PM ET

1986 was the year the space shuttle Challenger exploded during take off, and the year the worst ever nuclear catastrophe occurred in Chernobyl, in the former USSR. To baseball fans, however, 1986 brings other sort of extraordinary memories. That season the Boston Red Sox came within a strike of winning a World Series for the first time since 1918, before the curse of the Bambino struck in the form of a harmless groundball that went through the legs of first baseman Buck Buckner.

In Cuba, baseball fans did not get to see the Red Sox collapse, but to us 1986 was also an unforgettable year, remembered by Agustin Marquetti's walk off homerun against league champions Vegueros in the final game of the season's play offs. That was Industriales' first national title since 1973, and the first many of us in Havana ever experienced. Impervious to the Major Leagues season in the neighboring United States, we celebrated to the tunes of Van Van's Eso que Anda, and Falco's Rock me Amadeus, turning that game into a piece of urban lore for years and generations to come.

To us Daryl Strawberry, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs were non-entities. Our heroes were Marquetti, Pedro Medina, Lazaro de la Torre and Euclides Rojas. Since 1960 the American and Cuban baseball worlds had been hurled in opposite directions, like badly controlled knuckle-balls by their respective governments. It would be decades before our paths would encounter again.

As I write these lines aboard a plane on my way out of Havana, Cubans across the island are eagerly anticipating the forthcoming visits of President Barack Obama and of the Tampa Bay Rays, hopeful of witnessing almost six decades of isolation come to an end for good. Once again the love-hate affair between the US and Cuba is about to be rekindled by the convergence of baseball and politics in a significant new historical moment.

A bit of -necessary- history
While it is true that Cuban fans, me included, did not get to see some of the most spectacular players who grazed the majors between the 1960s and 1990s, it is also true that we were spoiled for choice when it came to baseball talent. Until today I regret not having seen Luis Tiant Jr. pitch and Tony Perez bat, but to a certain extent I also feel for American fans who never watched in awe the devastating forkball of Rogelio Garcia or Luis Giraldo Casanova's raw power at the plate.
When the players of the Cuban Sugar Kings, a Triple A team based in Havana, were ordered by Major Leagues commissioner Ford Frick not to return to the island during a series of away games in the US in July 1960, one of the last bridges of contact between the US and Cuba disappeared. At once, Cuban fans were deprived of the privilege of seeing many of the best players of their time. Cuban players were dealt an even tougher hand. While a few chose to abandon their dream of playing in the big show, many others, including some of the most talented, decided to stay in the US to never go back home.
79 years-old Luis Zayas, the only remaining Cuban Sugar King still living in the island, recalled those days when I met him in his flat only blocks away from his beloved Estadio Latinoamericano, which is currently getting a huge makeover with a view to hosting the Rays and President Barack Obama. Zayas, a flashy infielder with some serious pop, was one of those who renounced to the have a Major League career, spending his last years as a player in the Mexican league instead. "It was difficult for us, but we had to adapt," he admitted.

Luis Zayas in Havana

Gone were the 12 to 6 unhittable curveball of Camilo Pascual, the magical fielding of Leo Cardenas, the brilliant screwball of Mike Cuellar and Julio Becquer's fine line drives. Gone was also the chance of watching the likes of Tommy Lasorda, Rocky Nelson, Dutch Dotterer and Art Fowler during the Cuban winter season.
It was not until another Industriales' hurler named Rene Arocha, defected during an international tournament in 1991 and signed with the St Louis Cardinals, that a new era dawned. In the following years, players like Livan and Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras and Rey Ordoñez slowly but steadily began to rebuild those broken bridges. They did so through personal sacrifices, and loosing, just as Pascual, Cuellar, Perez and others had before, their right to return to Cuba.

By the time Evan Longoria, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and the rest of the Tamba Bay Rays land in Havana, they will encounter a much-changed landscape. Although still immensely popular, baseball is not what it once was, after losing ground to the appeal European football and stars like Leo Messi and Luis Suarez. Historian Felix Julio Alfonso, whose book Beisbol y Nacion (Baseball and Nation) was launched only a few days ago during the annual International Book Fair of Havana, explained that a lack of investment, ever-increasing defections, and a National Series that is but a ghost of those of the 1980s have dented the interest of the new generations in the sport.

Professor Felix Julio Alfonso

17 years have passed since a Major League team last played in the island. When I asked around in Havana's Parque Central esquina caliente -a place where baseball fans go to scream their profound and often philosophical knowledge of the sport in each others' ears- every one of them seemed excited by the visit, but even more excited about the possibility of witnessing a revival of Cuban baseball in the short term.

With his broad and contagious smile and surrounded by photographs from his time as a player, Zayas agreed, reassuring me that Cuban fans will receive the Rays and Obama with their usual welcoming attitude.

It is a symbolic coincidence that the Rays will visit Cuba at the same time Obama will. Back in 1960 baseball was the last open line of communication between Havana and Washington, and it seems that as the two former foes come together, baseball may again be a centerpiece for this new relationship.

Gunship Diplomacy

Chris Terrill   |   March 20, 2016    2:51 PM ET

Gunboat Diplomacy.

The Untold story Behind Obama's Historic Visit to Cuba

President Obama's historic visit to Havana starting on March21st marks the end of a 55 year diplomatic standoff between uber-capitalist USA and uber-communist Cuba. In fact so 'uber' has each country's opposing political ideology been that Cuba's decision in 1962 to allow Soviet ballistic missiles to be deployed on its soil almost led to a full scale nuclear war between the super powers.

From then until now the US and Cuba, living cheek by jowl, have been at daggers drawn economically, politically and ideologically. It makes it all the more remarkable that, imminently, with the whole world watching, the leader of the free world is to be greeted as an honoured guest by one of the last remaining socialist countries to follow a Marxist-Leninist credo.

How then, from the political deadlock that followed the Cold War, has this sudden warming of relations, referred to as 'The Cuban Thaw', come about? Some say it is the result of secret negotiations in Canada and the Vatican City with the assistance of Pope Francis. Well, that may have facilitated the opening of a US embassy in Havana last July but it is not what first initiated the conciliation and accord we are now witnessing.

Astonishingly, the diplomatic ice was first broken six years ago not by consular officials, religious leaders or heads of state but by an ageing Royal Navy Destroyer on her final deployment. In November 2010 HMS Manchester and her 270 exhausted ship's company had just finished a gruelling seven months of counter narcotics and hurricane relief duties in the Caribbean. I had been on board for the entire period making a documentary and, along with everyone else, was looking forward to going home for Christmas. Before crossing the Atlantic, however, Commander Rex Cox, the Commanding Officer, had one last extraordinary duty to perform. His orders were to sail to Cuba on a five day diplomatic visit, something that had been carefully but secretly planned between Whitehall, Washington and Havana for over a year. This
was a very big deal for no British or American warship had entered Cuban territorial waters in over half a century.
On Monday 15th November at 0800 HMS Manchester, a sleek Type 42 Destroyer, known affectionately as the "Mighty Manch", passed the ancient battlements that mark the entrance to Havana's main port. Everyone on board was excited but nervous about how the Cuban people were going to react to the arrival of an "enemy" gun-boat?

"Here we go ladies and gentlemen" said Rex Cox from his captain's seat on the bridge. "Take us in please Officer of the Watch"

"Blimey" said Leading Hand Paul Bailey, standing on the starboard bridge wing. "Talk about 'into the bleedin' lion's den'!"

Until that day revolutionary Cuba had been a no-go area for any British warship due to its enduring hostile relations with our closest allies, the Americans, who refused, as they still do, to trade with the island. The US trade embargo of communist Cuba is long lived and uncompromising. Even smoking Cuban cigars is branded unpatriotic throughout the Union and US cruise ships visiting Caribbean islands are still not allowed into Cuba. At that time even foreign cruise ships were penalised for stopping there. To do so meant an instant six-month prohibition from stopping at any American port, a financially crippling penalty for any cruise-line.

HMS Manchester was no cruise ship but a ship of war and as she sailed ever closer towards the inner harbour Rex Cox was in no doubt about how vital his mission was.

"Normalising relations after so long will require careful handling on both sides so the best thing will be to establish common ground from the start".

The official line was that HMS Manchester was visiting Cuba for talks about drug interdiction and hurricane relief work in the Caribbean. Certainly Cuba had and continues to have a great interest in both but none of us doubted that our presence there, even if shrouded by diplomatic obfuscation, was to forge relations with a country that for a long time has been ideologically and politically beyond our reach and, more crucially, that of our American partners.

"We are playing a big part in history" observed Able Seaman Kelly Hamon. "Just by being here we can start to mend things and show the Cubans that they can trust us".

The Royal Navy is good at these things", said Cox. "As a warship under the White Ensign HMS Manchester is British sovereign territory and, as such, a fantastic diplomatic and political platform from which we can, quite literally, fly the flag."

The original orders were that this visit should be 'low key' especially as far as the press was concerned so I found myself in a very privileged position. Perhaps the need to be understated is why our arrival in the harbour was not greeted by the 18 gun salute that had initially been planned and one that, by protocol, we would have had to return. At the last minute the ship received orders from the Foreign Office that the gun salute had been "turned off" as it was felt it was a gesture too far at this stage.

Guided by two Cuban tug boats "The Mighty Manch", battered and sea-worn after seven months of chasing cocaine smugglers and battling hurricane driven seas, glided gently to her allotted berth at the Terminal Sierra Maestra in old Havana. Suddenly, as we came alongside, there was an explosion of music and cheering.

The ship's company, lining the upper decks in white tropical rig, stood proudly to attention as crowds on the jetty cheered and a military band played Viva la Revolution followed by God Save the Queen with determined gusto. One hundred Cuban sailors saluted smartly as a Union Jack, unfurled from the ship's bow, billowed in a brisk off-shore breeze. The crowds cheered all the louder.

So much for understatement. The protocols seemed to be writing themselves.

I crossed the gangway as soon as I could to film the excited crowds eager to see the British destroyer secured alongside. "Incredible!" said Maron Rivera Gonzales from his vintage Chevrolet taxi. "I never thought I'd see the day that a western warship would be allowed into Havana and that we'd welcome it like this". I was surrounded by waving, whooping Cubans clearly delighted to welcome the "buque de guerra Británico".

In front of me on the key-side Her Excellency Dianna Melrose, the British Ambassador to Cuba, introduced Rex Cox to the Cuban Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Carlos Alfonso Duque Ramos.

"This is an extremely significant visit", acknowledged a delighted Melrose. "Not only to the Cuban Government but to the Cuban people. They feel quite isolated on this island. They can't travel abroad with out permission. So to see the British destroyer in the harbour is very special for them. It's a sign that things are changing"

The last British warship to have come alongside in Havana was the frigate HMS Bigbury Bay in 1957. Since then the Royal Navy had not been welcome in a Cuba that increasingly distanced itself from any Western power sympathetic to the American cause. In the classrooms school children continued to chant eternal loyalty to the political martyr Che Guevara, the "Guerrillio Heroico" or "Knight without flaw and without fear" and vowed to "die in a hail of bullets like Che" if duty demanded. But since the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 Cuba, along with many communist states, has had to reinvent its socialism and explore more pragmatic and less rigid ways of running its affairs - both at home and abroad.

Ramos Jose Emmanuel, a retired history teacher, watched HMS Manchester arrive from his tiny second floor apartment overlooking the old harbour. "This was a special moment for Cuba" he told me, sucking on the stub of a fat cigar. "Now that a British ship has come it might not be long before an American ship arrives. And we need that to happen. The world has new problems with terrorism, global warming and recession that means that old enemies need to start working together."

One thing not widely known about Manchester's visit was that among our crew was an eight strong contingent of US Coastguard that joined as part of our counter narcotics operation. The US military are forbidden to set foot on Cuban soil unless it is in Guantanamo Bay or as part of a diplomatic delegation and so our US Coastguards assumed they would either have to stay on the ship or else be transferred to another vessel before entering Cuban territorial waters. But, in the end a special dispensation was made and the Americans were allowed ashore with their British shipmates. (If they bought any Cuban cigars they would have to smoke them there because it was still illegal to import them into the States)

So, for the first time in a long time, US military personnel were walking the streets of Havana. Their weapons, of which they had enough to start a small war, were a mere stone's throw away on HMS Manchester where, of course, they stayed.

Over the next few days the men and women of HMS Manchester embarked on a range of practical and symbolic diplomatic initiatives. Rex Cox had private talks with Cuban Navy big wigs and the drug interdiction and hurricane relief teams on HMS Manchester briefed their counterparts from the Cuban Navy and Coastguard. The ship provided a guard of honour to pay respects at the statue of the great national hero of Cuba Jose Julian Marti Perez who was instrumental in breaking away from Spain in the 19th Century. This was of particular significance because some years ago an American sailor was caught urinating at the base of the statue - something the Cuban people have never forgotten or forgiven.

The public were invited on board HMS Manchester for a ship's tour which generated massive queues from dawn to dusk. There were formal receptions on shore given by the Cuban Navy and also at the Ambassador's residence but perhaps most importantly a cocktail party was held for VIPs, dignitaries, foreign diplomats and business people on the ship herself. The Royal Navy is famous for its cocktail parties, invariably held on the helicopter flight deck of visiting ships and, whilst quite formal with speeches and toasts, they also provide an opportunity for people to interact informally and it is often what is said 'in the margins' that is most effective in promoting understanding and consensus. Being a working warship and British sovereign territory the cocktail party ended, as all do, with the nightly Sunset Ceremony when the colours, the White Ensign at the stern and the Union Jack at the bow, are lowered as a bugler plays the Last Post. Sailors call this "Putting the Queen to bed" and visiting foreign guests always love it.

Rex Cox had one other cunning plan to promote Anglo-Cuban relations - and very much his own idea. 'The Mighty Manch', when she got home was to be decommissioned so the visit to Cuba was the old ship's last hurrah. Accordingly, Cox ordered that the ship's company's nightly knees ups or "runs ashore" should be traditional "rig runs" - meaning that all sailors would not, as usual, wear civilian clothes but their No 1's - white tropical rig. Cox reckoned this would go down a storm with the people of Havana but the sailors needed convincing. "S'posing they have a go?" said Leading Hand Stuart "Moffs" Moffat, worried that military uniforms on shore might antagonise. Cox was gently persuasive "Go ashore in rig on the first night and see how it goes". It was an occasion I will never forget as I accompanied the unwitting envoys from ship to shore .

The evening was warm, redolent of tropical Jasmine and echoed with the rich sound of rumba, conga and calypso emanating from the multitude of bars that surrounded the Plaza de San Francisco immediately adjacent to the ship. Guitar, trumpet, maracas and flute combined in an Afro-Latin blend of rhythms and, just as Cox had expected, we were welcomed wherever we went - that night it seemed everybody wanted to meet and greet a British sailor. It was not long before we were throwing back rum infused Mohitos and puffing on Cohiba Lanceros - Che Guevara's cigar of choice. We were drawn gladly into the fun, mirth and musicality of Cuban nightlife and everywhere we were greeted as long lost friends. The crisp white naval uniforms marked the sailors out as something special and greatly increased their prospects, not only of free rounds in the bars, but also, and most importantly, with the girls!

The rig run was a diplomatic master stroke.

Four days later a military band struck up as port workers unbuttoned our securing ropes to release us for departure. HMS Manchester was heading back to the UK. To mark the occasion the band played neither national nor revolutionary anthems but swinging, up beat Latin jazz.

"Bloody fantastic!" enthused Paul Bailey. "Them Cubans are ace. Really friendly. I want to come back here for my honeymoon next year"

Rex Cox's task of gently nudging open the doors of rapprochement between Cuba and the West had been completed - not in an overtly political way but in a peculiarly naval way.

"This was really about two navies coming together as representatives of their nations. We have common enterprises and a shared nautical culture so, as brothers of the sea, we can commune in ways that other's cannot. Sailors can often break down barriers that politicians are unable to".

And do not underestimate the size of those barriers. Just consider the recent history that formed the background to HMS Manchester's probing diplomatic mission: A communist revolution; a martyred revolutionary called Che; another, who survived and thrived, called Fidel; a failed CIA sponsored invasion of the island; a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of annihilation; a protracted Cold War.

Quite a challenge for the sea pummelled, weather beaten old warship on her final mission.

"We have spent the last seven months chasing drugs runners and providing help to hurricane hit islands. Said a proud Rex Cox as we headed back to sea. "But diplomacy is always a duty for us wherever we go. We have done what we came to do and now it is for the politicians, on both sides, to build on what my ship's company has achieved".

Over to you Mr Obama.