And in other news. . .

Five news stories you might have missed this week as phone-hacking continues to dominate the agenda.

1. Famine in Somalia

The UN has officially declared two areas of southern Somalia to be in famine, amid the worst drought to hit east Africa for 60 years. The UN said that the humanitarian situation in southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle had deteriorated rapidly. An estimated 11 million people have been affected by the drought in east Africa, but Somalia has been worst hit as it is already plagued by decades of conflict. The UN and the US have said that aid agencies need more safety guarantees from armed groups in Somalia so that aid workers can reach people in need.

The technical definition of a famine is as follows: a mortality rate of more than two people per 10,000 per day; acute malnutrition reaching more than 30 per cent; water consumption becoming less than four litres a day; and intake of kilocalories of 1,500 a day compared with the recommended 2,100 a day.

2. Serbia arrests last war fugitive

Goran Hadzic, the last remaining fugitive war crimes suspect, has been arrested by the Serbian authorities. Hadzic was the last man sought by the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and has spent eight years on the run, according to reports.. Of the 161 war crime suspects indicted, 131 were caught or turned themselves in. Of the 30 remaining, 10 died before being caught and 20 had their indictments withdrawn.

The 52 year old led Serb separatist forces during Croatia's 1991-1995 war. He has been charged with the murder of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs and will be transferred to The Hague shortly.

3. NHS to be opened up to greater competition

Andrew Lansley announced on Tuesday that the government will open up more than £1bn of NHS services to competition from private companies and charities. Framed as greater "choice", this has raised fears it will lead to further privatisation of the health service.

The first stage, beginning in April, will see eight areas of the NHS -- including wheelchair services for children, and primary care psychological therapies for adults -- opened up for "competition on quality not price". If this goes well, the "any qualified provider" policy will be rolled out from 2013 to cover more complicated services, like maternity.

Lansley said that this was a toned down version of the government's initial plans for competition in the NHS, which the doctor called in to review plans termed "unworkable". However, shadow health secretary, John Healey, said this move was "not about giving more control to patients, but setting up a full-scale market".

4. Lashkar Gah handed to Afghan forces

A significant step forward was taken this week in the transition of power from Nato forces to Afghan toops, ahead of the end of combat operations in 2014. British troops in Afghanistan's volatile Helmand province handed control of the city Lashkar Gah to Afghan forces.

This follows Nato handing over Bamiyan, a relatively peaceful province, and the eastern town of Mehter Lam. Maintaining order in Lashkar Gah may pose a more serious challenge.

5. Eurozone crisis hits Britain's banks

Britain's three biggest banks saw more than £5bn wiped off their value on Monday, as the deepening crisis in the eurozone impacted on global financial markets. Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays were the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, all losing at least 6 per cent of their value. This was caused by the results of Friday's stress tests on European banks, the possibility of the US losing its triple A credit rating and concerns about the political fall-out of the News International phone-hacking scandal for David Cameron.

Stocks fell heavily in Europe and North America. Meanwhile gold rose to a new record of more than $1,600 (£995) an ounce -- a surefire sign of skittish markets. This lack of confidence is being compounded by concerns that Thursday's emergency summit of EU leaders will fail to resolve the debt problems of the single currency's weak members -- again.

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Unite stewards urge members to back Owen Smith

In a letter to Unite members, the officials have called for a vote for the longshot candidate.

29 Unite officials have broken ranks and thrown their weight behind Owen Smith’s longshot bid for the Labour leadership in an open letter to their members.

The officials serve as stewards, conveners and negotiators in Britain’s aerospace and shipbuilding industries, and are believed in part to be driven by Jeremy Corbyn’s longstanding opposition to the nuclear deterrent and defence spending more generally.

In the letter to Unite members, who are believed to have been signed up in large numbers to vote in the Labour leadership race, the stewards highlight Smith’s support for extra funding in the NHS and his vision for an industrial strategy.

Corbyn was endorsed by Unite, Labour's largest affliated union and the largest trades union in the country, following votes by Unite's ruling executive committee and policy conference. 

Although few expect the intervention to have a decisive role in the Labour leadership, regarded as a formality for Corbyn, the opposition of Unite workers in these industries may prove significant in Len McCluskey’s bid to be re-elected as general secretary of Unite.

 

The full letter is below:

Britain needs a Labour Government to defend jobs, industry and skills and to promote strong trade unions. As convenors and shop stewards in the manufacturing, defence, aerospace and energy sectors we believe that Owen Smith is the best candidate to lead the Labour Party in opposition and in government.

Owen has made clear his support for the industries we work in. He has spelt out his vision for an industrial strategy which supports great British businesses: investing in infrastructure, research and development, skills and training. He has set out ways to back British industry with new procurement rules to protect jobs and contracts from being outsourced to the lowest bidder. He has demanded a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations to defend trade union and workers’ rights. Defending manufacturing jobs threatened by Brexit must be at the forefront of the negotiations. He has called for the final deal to be put to the British people via a second referendum or at a general election.

But Owen has also talked about the issues which affect our families and our communities. Investing £60 billion extra over 5 years in the NHS funded through new taxes on the wealthiest. Building 300,000 new homes a year over 5 years, half of which should be social housing. Investing in Sure Start schemes by scrapping the charitable status of private schools. That’s why we are backing Owen.

The Labour Party is at a crossroads. We cannot ignore reality – we need to be radical but we also need to be credible – capable of winning the support of the British people. We need an effective Opposition and we need a Labour Government to put policies into practice that will defend our members’ and their families’ interests. That’s why we are backing Owen.

Steve Hibbert, Convenor Rolls Royce, Derby
Howard Turner, Senior Steward, Walter Frank & Sons Limited
Danny Coleman, Branch Secretary, GE Aviation, Wales
Karl Daly, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Nigel Stott, Convenor, BASSA, British Airways
John Brough, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
John Bennett, Site Convenor, Babcock Marine, Devonport, Plymouth
Kevin Langford, Mechanical Convenor, Babcock, Devonport, Plymouth
John McAllister, Convenor, Vector Aerospace Helicopter Services
Garry Andrews, Works Convenor, Rolls Royce, Sunderland
Steve Froggatt, Deputy Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Jim McGivern, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Alan Bird, Chairman & Senior Rep, Rolls Royce, Derby
Raymond Duguid, Convenor, Babcock, Rosyth
Steve Duke, Senior Staff Rep, Rolls Royce, Barnoldswick
Paul Welsh, Works Convenor, Brush Electrical Machines, Loughborough
Bob Holmes, Manual Convenor, BAE Systems, Warton, Lancs
Simon Hemmings, Staff Convenor, Rolls Royce, Derby
Mick Forbes, Works Convenor, GKN, Birmingham
Ian Bestwick, Chief Negotiator, Rolls Royce Submarines, Derby
Mark Barron, Senior Staff Rep, Pallion, Sunderland
Ian Hodgkison, Chief Negotiator, PCO, Rolls Royce
Joe O’Gorman, Convenor, BAE Systems, Maritime Services, Portsmouth
Azza Samms, Manual Workers Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Dave Thompson, Staff Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Tim Griffiths, Convenor, BAE Systems Submarines, Barrow
Paul Blake, Convenor, Princess Yachts, Plymouth
Steve Jones, Convenor, Rolls Royce, Bristol
Colin Gosling, Senior Rep, Siemens Traffic Solutions, Poole

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.