Read my blog at Huffington Post

I also blog at Huffington Post's new UK site; please click here to read my posts there.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Boris Johnson and the "If not" trap

London's Conservative mayor has made this well-publicised speech about elitism, equality and greed (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25135225), which I have not read in full and on which I therefore cannot really comment, in which he referred to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth".

Now, if I said to you: "I want your essay handed in by Sunday, if not sooner," it would be clear to you what I meant. If I said: "It is a good restaurant, if not as good as it might be," then you'd know clearly what I meant.

But these two "if not"s have contradictory meanings; one means "it is" and the other means "it isn't". So it is a dangerous form of words for a controversial speech about a complicated political issue - a speech in which the meaning of words matters.

I know that when Boris Johnson says "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth", he is referring to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, despite their obviously being of equal spiritual worth."

But the words on the page sound as if he could have meant: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, and indeed far from equal in spiritual worth," which sounds like a passage from Brave New World as re-written by Sir Keith Joseph and is not what Mr Johnson meant at all.

I am surprised, if not very surprised, that his speechwriters let this line slip through.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Brief Encounter with SSP, Upper Crust and Ritazza

SSP (the "food travel experts" behind such railway station brands as Upper Crust and Ritazza) has an unintentionally funny website: http://www.foodtravelexperts.com/uk/.

Who knew that SSP was adapting global food and travel trends to distinctive UK and Ireland local market needs?

I thought that they were just heating up over-priced sausage baguettes - or not as the case may be, as, some weeks ago, I was asked in Upper Crust if I would like mine heated up, said yes and received a somewhat cold sausage, complained and was sent a compensatory £5 promissory note (for which thanks), which I spent in Ritazza on a coffee and a sausage and bacon baguette (yes, alright, I know) which turned out to be full not only of sausage and bacon, but also of gucky chunks of tomato.

I don't like tomatoes at the best of times (and this, in any case, was not the best of times, as I was waiting for a delayed train to Sidcup in a branch of Ritazza) and I am not alone in this - I know of many people who ask for their sandwiches, etc, without tomatoes; nor was it merely tomato ketchup (the unsolicited presence of which I would not have welcomed either) - it was actual chunks of tomato, with an off-sweet taste that I found frankly emetic.

Had it said "Bacon, Sausage and Tomato" I would not have ordered it, but it simply said "Bacon and Sausage".

To the willing tomato-eaters among you, I would say: how would you like it if you ordered a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich and it also contained an entirely unadvertised sausage?

So I complained again and was sent a further £5 (for which again thanks - having not had a response to my complaint about the tomatoes, I had contacted SSP's chief executive's office, and the £5 voucher was actually then delivered to me the next day by a man who asked me to sign for it; if this escalates any further, SSP's next communication will presumably arrive in a briefcase that is handcuffed to the arm of a uniformed security guard).

I this morning returned with this £5 to the very Upper Crust in which the first sausage mishap had occurred, in the hope that by travelling back in time to the moment of tragedy, I might be able to do it differently this time and so change the course of history.

Alas, having ordered the same sausage baguette, I again said yes to having it heated, and again was then handed a heated sausage that was actually quite cold.

The staff offered me my money back and the manager apologised in some detail (and it was none of these people's fault - I don't blame SSP's staff), but I declined the money and the possibility of having a hot sausage substituted for the cold one, as I have had enough of this whole sorry affair.

Cold sausages, I have nothing against at all - I yield to no-one in my willingness to often eat cold sausages.
My objection, Mr Speaker, is not to a cold sausage being cold; rather, it is to a heated sausage not being properly heated - does the public health of the nation not demand that such re-warmed delights are served, as the marketing people would have it, "piping hot"?

It is all so unlike the restaurant on the railway station's platform in Brief Encounter. I am in fact writing the script for SSP's long-awaited remake of that very film, a few sample lines of which include:

Laura Jesson: [thinking to herself while looking at her husband, Fred] Fred, dear Fred. There's so much that I want to say to you. You're the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand. If only it was somebody else's sausage and not mine.


Laura Jesson: This can't last. This cold sausage can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither tomatoes nor sausages. Not even breakfast lasts very long. There'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was.


Dr. Alec Harvey: [hearing a trio playing in the restaurant] There should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sausages.


Laura Jesson: I had no thoughts at all, only an overwhelming desire not to feel tomatoes ever again.


Dr. Alec Harvey: Could you really say goodbye? Never see Upper Crust again?

Laura Jesson: Yes, if you'd help me.

Dr. Alec Harvey: I love sausages, Laura. I shall love sausages always until the end of my life. I can't look at you now cause I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of my loving sausages but the end of them being heated properly. But not quite yet, darling. Please. Not quite yet.

Laura Jesson: Very well. Not quite yet.


Laura Jesson: Isn't it awful about people meaning to be kind by hiding tomatoes in sandwiches?


Laura Jesson: Do you know, I believe we should all behave quite differently if we ate warm, scrummy sausages all the time. We shouldn't be so withdrawn and shy and difficult.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Matthew Harris, Matthrew Harris and Brian Coleman - the plot thins

Page 8 of today's Barnet Press includes a round-up of comments made by readers on the paper's website, one of which (attributed to "Matthew Harris") is: "Brian (Coleman) really must try harder to overcome the temptation to behave like Hyacinth Bucket." In the microverse that is Barnet and its local politics (a microverse in which, as one colleague used often to reiterate, "No-one knows who any of us are"), there might be someone who thinks that I made this comment - I didn't, and nor would I ever say anything like that about Cllr Coleman or anybody else. The comment was made by someone signing in as "Matthrew Harris, Barnet" - doubtless a typo rather than an exciting political conspiracy. Although, as I never tire of saying, the film Paper Mask is a thriller all about someone pretending to be Matthew Harris. Or is it about a Matthew Harris pretending to be somebody else? Beyond it starring Paul McGann and (I vaguely recall) involving a plot point about a rather lovely hip flask engraved with the name of Matthew Harris (surely a hip flask that is rightfully mine, and mine alone), I forget the details...Coming soon to a cinema near you, David Mitchell is Matthew Harris in "The Man Who Taunted Himself". 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Great Simon Hughes piece on Israel/Palestine

Very pleased to see this Jewish News article (http://jewishnews.co.uk/opinion-its-incumbent-on-israel-to-show-that-its-serious-about-peace/) by Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes about his recent visit to Israel/Palestine with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (also well-covered in the Jewish Chronicle: http://www.thejc.com/node/112280) - definitely worth a look if you're interested in what leading British Lib Dems have to say about the situation.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nick Clegg meets Palestinian President

As a pro-Israeli British Liberal Democrat, I am very pleased that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas this week met Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/deputy-prime-minister-meeting-with-president-abbas?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=news-story-deputy-prime-minister-meeting-with-president-abbas), on a four-day visit that also included meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/foreign-secretary-and-palestinian-president-discuss-peace-process).

The President was mainly in London for a three-hour meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry re:- the latest Israel/Palestine peace talks (http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jpdJWfpElqPinV6o8Fz8ZGB6CkwA?docId=CNG.b2c46b2c12bf49fcc8f4f2ddbddb6643.c1), and it's good to see that Mr Clegg "underlined to President Abbas the UK's support for the courageous and decisive leadership he has shown, together with (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu, by returning to talks on the Middle East Peace Process."

However tough that process is proving to be (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/world/middleeast/1967-border-is-a-source-of-strain-in-the-israeli-palestinian-talks.html?hl=en&q=israel%20palestine%20peace%20talks&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&channel=browser&), I have to ask sceptics: what is the alternative?

What, for Israelis and Palestinians, is the alternative to talking about how best to peacefully resolve their differences? Whatever one thinks of President Abbas (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/binyamin-netanyahus-one-liner.html?m=1, and I think many things, not all of them printable), he is 'it' and the Israelis are currently negotiating with his proxies and that's got to be better than the politics of shouting, which often seems to be the preferred mode of discourse for some of Israel's more heated British detractors.

So, whatever hurdles remain, I am very pleased, as a British Lib Dem friend of Israel, that the UK's Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is doing what it can to support the Israel/Palestine peace process, including talking to Palestinian leaders here in London.

After all, one reason that many Lib Dems supported our Coalition Government's reform of the law on universal jurisdiction (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/07/lib-dem-leadership-on-universal.html?m=1) was precisely so that Palestinian and Israeli leaders could visit London for peace talks without fear of being arrested on charges generated by publicity-hungry British political activists (does anyone think that it would have been useful for President Abbas to have this week been arrested in London for the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians by Mr Abbas' own PA regime? I don't).

President Abbas' London talks are only the latest in a series of such activities since the Coalition took office in 2010, with Nick Clegg often at the forefront: http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2012/01/nick-clegg-and-president-abbas-video.html?m=1, http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/lib-dem-friends-welcome-cleggabbas.html?m=1, http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/nick-clegg-meets-palestinian-prime.html?m=1.

I have heard it argued that the UK's current government has not prioritised Israel/Palestine in foreign policy terms, and that is not remotely true (http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/1199873). As Nick Clegg said yesterday to President Abbas, "the UK stands ready to do all it can to reach a negotiated agreement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state".

Anyone who disagrees with that statement of Mr Clegg's must explain what political future they intend for the Arab people who live on the West Bank and in Gaza if they are not eventually to live in a viable and sovereign Palestinian state? Are they to live forever in a stateless limbo in No Man's Land?

They must also explain why any Israeli citizen (Jewish or non-Jewish) would sign up to any peace deal in which they are not safe and secure - and unless both sides sign up to any deal, then forget it. Although, if you want my honest, instinctive opinion, I think that this current round of talks actually will produce an outline deal of some sort.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Radio debate on Israel/Palestine peace talks

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=L12u0j-JESA&client=mv-google&gl=GB&hl=en-GB&guid= is the link to a radio discusson show that I did the other day about the Israel/Palestine peace talks - have a listen if you're interested in what we all said, including many things that I disagree with, and no, I didn't know the programme's title when I went on, nor do I accept the premise of the question which that title asks.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Nick Clegg right on David Ward

I am immensely saddened that it has become necessary for the Lib Dem whip to be removed for two months from David Ward MP (http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-23361380). This could so easily have been avoided, if Mr Ward had properly understood and apologised for the offensive connotations of the language that he has continued to use about Israel, the Holocaust and "the Jews", and if he had clarified his meaning to remove the likelihood that an antisemitic or inflammatory inference could be drawn from his words.