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William Podmore (London United Kingdom)

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Nick Clegg: The Biography
Nick Clegg: The Biography
Price: £7.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very biased, far too friendly an account of Clegg, by a failed LibDem parliamentary candidate, 14 April 2015
This biography by Chris Bowers, who has stood for the LibDems as a parliamentary candidate, is an all too hagiographic account of Nick Clegg’s political career.

Bowers notes Clegg’s ‘continuing enthusiasm for Britain joining the euro at some stage. He is with Tony Blair on this …’ Bowers reminds us that soon after becoming an MP, Clegg wrote a pamphlet calling for ‘breaking up the NHS’.

The last third of the book looks at Clegg’s role in the Tory/LibDem coalition. But it glosses over much of what the coalition partners did.

Both parties wasted £3 billion on a top-down NHS reorganisation that they had both promised would never happen. They voted to end the Educational Maintenance Allowance. Both voted to close more than 558 Sure Start Centres despite promising not to. The LibDems’ tuition fees betrayal hardly needs mentioning.

Clegg said he would make life ‘fairer and easier’. Then Tories and LibDems both backed the cut in the top rate of income tax, giving 13,000 millionaires an average £100,000. Wages are down £1,500 since the election; a million young people are out of work; food bank use is soaring, as are the costs of gas, electricity and water.

There are now 2.6 million children being brought up in hardship, with more than half of them in working households. The number of children living in poverty is up by 300,000 under the coalition.

Before the 2010 election the LibDems warned us of a “TORY VAT BOMBSHELL”, and then they voted with the Tories to raise VAT to 20 per cent. Clegg said “The Mansion Tax is right, it makes sense and the Liberal Democrats will continue to make the case for it.” They said they would ‘stick to their guns’ - then they voted against it.

In opposition, the LibDems said that special advisers ‘are political jobs, and should, therefore, be funded by political parties’. Now Clegg alone has sixteen special advisers - paid for by us the taxpayers.

Not one LibDem MP opposed the government’s draconian Lobbying Bill that muzzles charities and campaigners. LibDem MPs voted in favour of Secret Courts - now they say they will repeal the Act that they voted through. They voted with the Tories to stop ordinary people gaining access to legal aid. They voted to remove workers’ rights to a tribunal and to charge them at least £1000 to bring a case.

In reality, Clegg indeed made life ‘easier’ - for the Conservative Party.

In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government
In It Together: The Inside Story of the Coalition Government
by Matthew d'Ancona
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful but over-friendly account of the coalition, 14 April 2015
This is an extremely well-informed account of the coalition. Unsurprisingly, given that d’Ancona is a political columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and the Evening Standard, this book puts all the coalition’s acts in the best possible light.

He notes that the coalition’s Programme for Government pledged to ‘stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS’. It also pledged to hire fewer spin doctors. The coalition broke both these pledges and many others too.

In 2006 David Cameron told the Conservative party conference, “Tony Blair explained his priorities in three words: education, education, education. I can do it in three letters: NHS.” But come 2015’s election campaign, the NHS was not even one of his party’s top six priorities.

Cameron had appointed Jeremy Hunt Health Secretary: before Hunt was appointed, he had written, “Our ambition [is] in effect denationalising health care in Britain” and that the NHS was ‘a 60-year-old mistake’ and ‘a fundamentally broken machine’.

The facts refute Hunt’s claims. In 2014 the Commonwealth Fund ranked the NHS the best of eleven health services, better than those of the USA, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

But governments still underfunded our NHS. We had fewer hospital beds per 1,000 people: 2.8, as against Germany’s 8.3, France’s 6.3, Italy’s 3.4 and Spain’s 3. We also had fewer doctors per 1,000 people: 2.8, as against Germany’s 4, Italy’s 3.9, Spain’s 3.8, France’s 3.3 and Australia’s 3.3.

d’Ancona notes that the Conservatives and the LibDems face a huge dilemma: if there is no recovery, their coalition has failed; if they claim that there is a recovery, then their coalition is not needed.

Against the Troika: Crisis and Austerity in the Eurozone
Against the Troika: Crisis and Austerity in the Eurozone
Price: £5.75

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant critique of the euro disaster, 14 April 2015
Economists Heiner Flassbeck and Costas Lapavitsas have written a very useful book on the eurozone crisis. As they sum up, Economic and Monetary Union is ‘a mechanism that promotes recession, high unemployment and low growth across Europe’. The cause of the problems is the financialisation of capitalism and of the EU, via the euro.

They show how Germany has caused the crisis, stating that it “has operated a policy of ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ but only after ‘beggaring its own people’ by essentially freezing wages”. Germany has then imposed wage cuts across the EU that have added to unemployment.

Greece is the worst affected country. Between 2007 and 2014 its GDP was down by 25 per cent, its industrial output down by 35 per cent and wages by 27 per cent. Unemployment was 27.5 per cent.

But Spain, Portugal and Ireland are also in trouble. Even France and Italy are in danger of being forced into slumps.

What should eurozone member countries do? The authors urge them to cancel their debts and end the destructive ‘austerity’ policies. But to do this, they have to leave the euro.

They need to rebuild their economies. They need to nationalise their banks so that the banks can fund the rebuilding of industry.

Unfortunately for the people of Greece, the Syriza government will not save them. Syriza’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis believes that “It is the Left’s historical duty, at this particular juncture, to stabilize capitalism; to save European capitalism from itself. … Those of us who loathe the Eurozone have a moral obligation to save it!”

The European Central Bank tries to blackmail member countries that only it can provide liquidity to banks. But the authors point out that countries can create their own capacity to generate liquidity by creating new national central banks that could then introduce new national currencies. Returning to national currencies would aid the ‘recovery of economic independence, defence of democracy and protection of national sovereignty’.

Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain
Dial M for Murdoch: News Corporation and the Corruption of Britain
by Martin Hickman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched study of the phone hacking scandal, 14 April 2015
Tom Watson is the Labour MP for West Bromwich East and a campaigner against unlawful media practices. Martin Hickman has worked for the Independent since 2001 and was named Journalist of the Year by the Foreign Press Association in 2009. They have written a deeply-researched and astonishing exposé of the corrupt activities of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

Murdoch has all too much power. He already has 40 per cent of all national newspaper sales. Yet the coalition, especially Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, secretly aided Murdoch’s bid to take over Britain’s biggest TV network, Sky. The European Commission also approved the bid. This would have given Murdoch 80 per cent of pay TV revenue.

Murdoch encouraged his papers, especially the News of the World and the Sun, in the illegal practice of phone hacking. A 2005 email from hacker Glenn Mulcaire “This is a transcript for Neville’ (Neville Thurlbeck, the NoW’s chief reporter) contained transcripts of 35 hacked voice mail messages. Mulcaire’s notes contained the names and phone numbers of thousands of people and named 28 journalists who had commissioned him. This proved that it was not just a rogue reporter to blame, as the NoW claimed.

The authors show how the Metropolitan Police, the Press Complaints Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service all failed to halt the hacking. In 2003 Rebekah Wade, then editor of the NoW, admitted that the paper had paid police for information – which is of course illegal. But nothing was done.

The authors note that after NoW staff were questioned by Parliament’s Culture Committee, the NoW ordered a team of journalists to investigate the private lives of the Committee’s members.

So great is Murdoch’s power that he cows and corrupts all too many politicians. For example, the Scottish National Party’s leader Alex Salmond lobbied for Murdoch’s BSkyB deal (then lied that he hadn’t), after the Scottish edition of the Sun backed the SNP in the 2010 general election. Another politician, Boris Johnson, foolishly dismissed the allegations against Murdoch as ‘a load of codswallop’.

In 2014, David Cameron’s friend and communications director Andy Coulson (ex-editor of the NoW) was found guilty of conspiring to hack phones. Rebekah Wade, now Brooks, got a £7 million pay-off from Murdoch.

Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy
Making it Happen: Fred Goodwin, RBS and the Men Who Blew Up the British Economy
by Iain Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of capitalist failure, 14 April 2015
Journalist and broadcaster Iain Martin has written an absorbing account of how Fred the Shred Goodwin destroyed the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

RBS’s rise and fall was part of the cancerous financialisation of capitalism unleashed by Thatcher’s Big Bang. As a result, “In the name of innovation, a sinister alternative universe had been created, in which customer care and ethics had been swapped for pure greed and downright treachery.” Banks’ profits rise when consumer debts rise, as they did from £500 billion in 1996 to £1 trillion in 2004.

RBS had a balance sheet of £870 billion in early 2007. By October it had soared to £1.9 trillion. Goodwin’s response? Buy the sub-prime-riddled Dutch bank ABN Amro. The SNP’s leader Alex Salmond foolishly backed Goodwin’s disastrous bid.

Then, just weeks after saying there was no need to raise any more capital, Goodwin asked for £12 billion. RBS collapsed in October 2008, losing £24 billion. Salmond tried to blame the collapse on English ‘spivs and speculators’, but as Martin remarks, “the real ‘spivs and speculators’ were actually some of those working ‘inside’ the offices of RBS and HBOS.”

The bankers tried to put all the blame for the collapse on the Labour government. The coalition government has followed suit. But RBS’s board of directors, its big shareholders, its accountants, its auditors, the rating agencies, the regulators, the Bank of England, the Treasury and the government all share the blame.

But none of them suffered. When the boom went bust, “It was the British taxpayer that was about to get royally screwed.” To save the bank, the Brown government bought £45.2 billions’ worth of RBS shares and offered billions more in credit facilities.

The collapse sank Brown’s Financial Services Authority and also sank the fashionable dogma of the ‘efficient markets hypothesis’. But unfortunately it didn’t sink the whole rotten ideology of living with capitalism.

After the collapse, RBS’s new bosses carried on paying huge bonuses, claiming that they still needed to ‘attract the best’, when ‘the best’ had caused the disaster. Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood but still draws a pension of £342,500 a year from taxpayer-funded RBS.

There has never been a proper inquiry into RBS’s fall. Nobody went to jail. It was all perfectly legal – which is an indictment of the feeble laws passed by successive governments.

No lessons have been learnt. We are still letting the banks carry on profiting from ever-rising consumer debt. By the end of 2012, the five clearing banks had balance sheets totalling £5.9 trillion (383 per cent of GDP). So a new bankers’ crisis is looming.

Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion - A Psychohistory
Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion - A Psychohistory
by Nick Duffell
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, humane study of the damaging effects of boarding school on children and the people they become, 6 April 2015
This outstanding book follows Nick Duffell’s earlier book The making of them, the first study of the effects of boarding school education on children and the adults they become.

His starting point is David Cameron’s notorious put-down ‘Calm down dear’. He said this to Labour MP Angela Eagle when she had caught Cameron out on a mistake he had made. He at once hit back to imply that she, not he, was at fault, that she was the one who had lost her cool.

Duffell describes brilliantly how boarding school survivors project incompetence, weakness and sadness onto other people, especially onto their partners. “You’re the one who is angry, aggressive, stupid, sad and dependent, and therefore to be scorned and attacked. I’m the one who is cool, in control, competent, clever and self-reliant.” Duffell shows how in all too many cases the partner feels the shame, loneliness and misery that the other has not let himself feel.

Duffell shows how boarding school teaches its survivors how to reject affection. It breaks their ties with their families so that they become loyal instead to their class and its institutions. It teaches them how to talk but not how to think or feel. He has written another book, Sex, love and the dangers of intimacy, which advises people how to relate better.

All this matters for two reasons. First, this behaviour is not unique to boarding school survivors. All too many people, usually men, use the same ploys. Second, most of our leaders – MPs, peers, CEOs, judges, etc – went to boarding schools. So their failings matter very much when they try to project these failings onto the rest of us, the 99 per cent, and onto foreign governments and peoples.

They try to make the British working class internalise the projected, rejected identities: the incompetent, the weak and the dependent. Similarly, in foreign policy, the rulers project onto official enemies their own anger, aggression and savagery.

Duffell also notes that boarding schools, like churches, have turned a blind eye to paedophilic behaviour or connived at it by moving offenders on to other schools or parishes. Reporting of child abuse has to become mandatory, as it is in other countries. The week after Keir Starmer QC left his job of director of public prosecutions he said that failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse should be made a criminal offence. But why did he wait until he had left the job?

It all raises the question, how do we stop the boarding schools endlessly repeating this cycle? Crucially, as Duffell points out, we must end the charitable, that is, tax-avoiding, status of fee-paying boarding schools.

George Bernard Shaw said that the best thing to do with Eton and Harrow would be to pull them down and sow salt on the foundations to prevent their ever growing again. Certainly we must end these schools in their present form. Duffell suggests turning them into public sixth-form colleges.

Call to Action
Call to Action
by John Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine study of our current plight and of the vital need to rebuild our manufacturing industry, 6 April 2015
This review is from: Call to Action (Hardcover)
John Mills, an entrepreneur and economist, and Bryan Gould, Vice-Chancellor of Waikato University, have produced an excellent little book on how we can improve our economic prospects.

We invest far too little, our manufacturing base is too small, we have chronic trade deficits, our debts are increasing and only the rising prices of shares and houses fuel the unsustainable ‘recovery’. These prices are again far too high, as in the unsustainable boom of the 2000s. They warn that unless we change policy, we face years of little or no growth, static or falling incomes, rising inequality, increasing debt, greater regional divisions, high unemployment and relative if not absolute decline.

A growing social rate of return from productive investment generates growth. But our ratio of Gross Domestic Investment to GDP was just 14 per cent in 2013, against an international average of 23.8 per cent in 2012. We came 142nd out of 154 countries. So productivity was static. In 2012 we consumed 87.8 per cent of our national output, compared to the world average of 75.9 per cent.

In 1972, 32 per cent of our GDP came from manufacturing, by 2013, 10.4 per cent: our trade deficit on manufactures that year was £75 billion.

In 1980 we had $43 billion more assets abroad than liabilities. By 2012, we had $873 billion more liabilities. So our income from abroad fell. Our trade deficit is only financed by selling off national assets.

In 2012, our net income from abroad went into deficit, £5 billion; in 2013, the deficit was £16 billion and in the first three quarters of 2014 £27 billion. This was largely because governments have made it exceptionally easy for foreign interests to buy our assets - shares, bonds and property. So in 2000-10, net sales of these assets came to £615 billion.

In response to this inflow of funds from abroad, the pound gained hugely in value, making our imports soar and exports slump. Many key sectors of the economy are now in foreign hands, losing us the profit streams they will produce, the control over research and development budgets, and the planning of investment.

The government deficit cannot be cut unless the trade deficit is cut through making our productive sector more competitive. That improvement will cut the debt and make the economy grow so that the deficit and the debt both fall as a proportion of GDP.

We need to reduce our dependence on borrowing from abroad and on selling off assets to foreign interests. We could discourage capital imports, increase public spending on infrastructure projects, and cut taxation. We could carry out a 30 per cent devaluation. The devaluations of 1949, 1967 and 1992 all led to higher growth and employment.

Mr Osborne's Economic Experiment
Mr Osborne's Economic Experiment
by William Keegan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.19

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant study of the coalition's disastrous 'austerity' (=poverty) policy, 6 April 2015
William Keegan has been the senior Economics Commentator of the Observer for many years. In this brilliant little book, he analyses the coalition’s ‘austerity’ (poverty) policies and compares them unfavourably to the 1945-51 Labour government’s economic record.

He points out that the crisis caused the rise in public sector debt, not vice versa. The bankers and the coalition blamed Labour for the crisis but, as Keegan asks, how could Labour’s spending possibly have caused the crises in the USA and the eurozone? Bankers caused the crisis, not Labour’s public spending plans, plans which Cameron and Osborne backed at the time.

The slump came because the private sector, business, failed to invest, so the public sector, government, had to step in, as Brown did by bailing out the banks. Then Osborne proved that the surest way to cramp growth is for government to cut public spending. His policies worsened and lengthened the slump.

Exports and investment have barely risen since 2010. By contrast, in 1945-47 the volume of exports more than doubled and investment in new plant, machinery and buildings tripled.

Keegan observes that the current ‘recovery’ depends on yet more consumer debt and on the ‘little property boom’ that Osborne recently promised the Cabinet would woo the electorate. In 2014’s first quarter, London house prices were 20 per cent above their pre-crisis level. On top of that, the current low interest rates drive up asset prices, favouring the rich.

The EU has adopted Osborne’s policies, forcing the eurozone into a slump. Keegan points out that the German ruling class saw the euro as the best way to stop other European countries, especially Italy, devaluing against Germany. The euro has benefited the German ruling class, but nobody else in Europe.

What do we need to do? Keegan quotes John Maynard Keynes, “Nothing is more certain than that the movement of capital funds must be regulated – which in itself will involve far-reaching departures from laissez-faire arrangements.” Keynes also advocated producing goods at home, controlling imports and cutting back the power of the financiers.

This is still good advice. But if the British working class doesn’t take responsibility for our country by imposing these policies, whoever forms the next government will continue with the current damaging policies.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2015 3:50 PM BST

The Blunders of Our Governments
The Blunders of Our Governments
by Anthony King
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant study of the systemic blunders of the capitalist state., 6 April 2015
This excellent book is a manual of policy-making and implementation. Sir Ivor Crewe is the Master of University College, Oxford, and David King is Millennium Professor of British Government at the University of Essex. It analyses many of the most conspicuous policy disasters committed by governments in recent decades, excluding all the many foreign policy and defence-related fiascos.

Chancellor Nigel Lawson called Thatcher’s poll tax ‘completely unworkable and politically catastrophic’. But Thatcher ignored him. (Only the USA’s South had a poll tax, and its purpose was to stop blacks voting.) It cost us more than £3.5 billion.

In 1986 the Thatcher government launched the personal pensions scheme, with no safeguards against their mis-selling. John Major’s government launched the damaging Child Support Agency.

In 1990 the Tory government took us into the EU’s Exchange Rate Mechanism. The Labour and Liberal parties backed this disastrous decision. They all claimed that leaving the ERM would cut growth and increase inflation and interest rates. When the ERM started to strangle our economy, they decided to tough it out, which was financially pointless and politically disastrous. Exit cost us at least £3.3 billion. After we left it, the economy grew and inflation and interest rates both fell. The same people tell us now that leaving the EU would be disastrous!

In 1996 Labour introduced the Individual Learning Accounts. Gordon Brown and David Blunkett backed them; Estelle Morris wisely ended the scheme, and took the flak. Brown also introduced the tax credits scheme, which fell apart. In 2003 Labour created the Assets Recovery Agency, which spent £65 million to recover £23 million. Also in 2003, Margaret Beckett failed to pay English farmers the EU monies they were owed. Responsibility for agriculture had been devolved in the 1990s. The others did far better.

Government IT projects mostly failed, costing us about £50 billion, often funded by the Private Finance Initiatives started by the Tories and extended by Brown. The NHS IT failure alone cost £20 billion.

Labour’s ‘Public-Private Partnership’ (the Private Finance Initiative renamed) for London Underground cost between £20 billion and £30 billion. The Commons Transport Committee pointed out the obvious: “when private companies fail to deliver on large public projects they can walk away – the taxpayer is inevitably forced to pick up the pieces.” Blunkett’s ID card idea – a ‘plastic poll tax’ as one MP put it - was abandoned, at a cost of £300 million.

Governments delegated the responsibility for implementation to private companies or to ‘executive agencies’. So there was a split between policy-making and implementation, between those who think and those who do. The easy bit is deciding what to do; the hard bit is doing it. Who plans it should run it.

The authors wisely recommend against using management consultants: they turn out to be self-interested, expensive and incompetent. They write of ‘parliament’s near irrelevance’.

In a June 2014 epilogue, the authors record the coalition’s many blunders. University tuition fees were ‘a nonsense from the start’. Net immigration was to be less than 100,000 a year by 2015: in 2014 it was 212,000. At the Olympics, public services personnel (the armed forces) had to bail out the failed private security firm G4S.

The coalition foolishly relied on Atos Healthcare to assess disability. It imposed the top-down re-dis-organisation of the NHS that Cameron had promised he wouldn’t do. It abolished the Audit Commission. It introduced the police and crime commissioners, the badger cull and the cruel bedroom tax. It rejected its own Leveson inquiry’s key recommendation.

It aims to privatise the Probation Service. Its Help to Buy programme helps wealthy people to get guaranteed mortgages on second homes and on properties they are buying to let. And as the authors remark, “The delivery of Universal Credit has so far been a total shambles.”

The authors note that “If anything, the rate of blundering and blunders has increased over the past four years.” This again proves that the system of government, our political institutions and political culture are at fault, not just individual parties and politicians. The problems are built in.

This is all very true, but this analysis does not go far enough. Why is the state so dysfunctional? Almost all of these disasters happened because governments, Labour, Tory and coalition, backed private interests over the public interest. Governments govern in capitalism’s interest, not in the national, public interest, and this will go on and on as long as we let capitalism go on.

Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith
Smile For The Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith
by Simon Danczuk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrifying study of Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP for Rochdale from 1972 to 1992, 6 April 2015
Simon Danczuk has been the Labour MP for Rochdale since 2010 and Matthew Baker is an experienced investigator. They have produced a very useful and horrifying account of the career of Sir Cyril Smith, the Liberal MP for Rochdale from 1972 to 1992.

Far from representing the interests of the people of Rochdale, Smith represented the interests of the directors of one of Rochdale’s biggest firms. Smith had 1,300 shares in Turner & Newall which made three quarters of the asbestos produced in Britain. When 4,500 people were dying every year from asbestosis, Smith was repeatedly claiming that “the public at large are not at risk from asbestos.” When Yorkshire TV broadcast a documentary showing the dangers of asbestos, Smith called for libel actions against the documentary makers and Yorkshire TV.

But the book’s focus is on Smith’s career as a serial abuser who carried out vicious beatings, assaults and rapes of boys. He abused boys at the residential Knowl View School and Cambridge House care home.

In 1979, John Walker, a college lecturer in Rochdale, exposed Smith’s sordid activities in Rochdale’s Alternative Paper. The police and the national media, except for Private Eye and the New Statesman, ignored the report. Walker claimed that it was unreasonable to claim that senior Liberals were unaware of what Smith was doing. He said it was because the news was ‘an inconvenient truth’ for the Liberal party.

The Liberal Party covered up for Smith, at local and national levels. In 1988, Liberal Party leader David Steel nominated him for a knighthood and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher duly obliged.

In 2008, Nick Clegg praised Smith as ‘an inspiration to the people of Rochdale’. On Smith’s 80th birthday Clegg said, “You were a beacon for our party in the 1970’s and 80’s.” In 2010, Clegg said that everyone in Rochdale knew him ‘as a friend’.

The police had 144 claims of illegal sexual activities against Smith. They investigated allegations against him as early as the 1960s. But all too many people turned a blind eye. A police investigation in 1969 was quashed – Chief Superintendents from Lancashire Constabulary took all the materials gathered. An 80-page report sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1970 was returned. Three times files on Smith were passed to the DPP and then to the Crown Prosecution Service, but no further action was ever taken.

The Metropolitan Police still refuses to answer Danczuk’s queries. In 2012 David Cameron refused Danczuk’s request to publish all the files on Smith.

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