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Saturday, 30 January 2010

Watch this film from BBC's Newsnight

I have rarely seen a better or more balanced BBC news item on Israel/Palestine than this film by Major Tim Collins. I have myself been to the Israeli town of Sderot and seen the same missiles that Major Collins sees in this film. As Vice-Chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, I campaign for a two-state solution that would give peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike. This film fairly depicts the suffering not only of Palestinians in Gaza, but also of Israelis coming under missile fire. I strongly urge everyone to watch this ten-minute BBC film.

Lib Dems propose GLA tax cut

The Lib Dems have proposed a 2.6% cut in the Council Tax paid to the Greater London Authority for 2010/11, saving the average Band D household 58p a week. Despite cutting overall spending, the Lib Dems would give £16.4 million more to the police – in line with Council Tax payers’ priorities. This would be done by cutting waste and borrowing. I’d like to see Labour and the Tories vote this budget through with the Lib Dems, but I’m not holding my breath! See for yourself by reading the London Assembly Lib Dems’ Alternative Budget.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Action on human trafficking

Today, human trafficking enslaves twice as many people as were in chains during the entire 350 years of the appalling African Slave Trade. This is an evil that must be fought, and politicians can contribute to this fight. I have today emailed our local police commander and children's services director with a series of questions about this issue. I want to know what the police and the council are doing to fight human trafficking. I know that much good work is being done on this by many local organisations, including the police and the council, and I want to work with them to continue the fight.

Fighting against human trafficking

The officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children have emailed me asking for my support. I am very keen to support this as human trafficking is one of the great evils of our age, and the Lib Dems have strong policies to fight it. As the all-party group says:

"Human Trafficking is one the top three most lucrative manifestations of organised crime - along with drug dealing and the arms trade.

"Human Trafficking is a fundamental assault on basic human dignity. It affects millions of men, women and children throughout the world. More than twice as many people are in bondage in the world today as were taken in chains during the entire 350 years of the African Slave Trade. Over 100 000 of which are in Europe, 1 in 8 are in the United Kingdom, some British, many European.

"Human Trafficking includes Debt Bondage, Domestic Slavery, Child Labour as well as the more well known Sex Industry and it takes place throughout the UK - often in peaceful looking suburbia. Cases of Human Trafficking have recently been identified in Worthing, Northampton, Ipswich, Dundee, Birmingham, Plymouth, Exeter, Colchester, Nottingham, Belfast, Edinburgh, Paignton and London.

"More details about modern day slavery and the work of the Group at"

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Holocaust Memorial Day in Hendon

I was pleased today to attend our local service for National Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD). My maternal grandparents were German Jews who came to Britain as refugees from Nazi opression in the 1930s, and members of my family were among those killed in the Holocaust, so this event means a lot to me. HMD commemorates not only the Holocaust, but also other more recent genocides; indeed, today's local event included a moving speech by Denise Affonco, who survived appalling treatment in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Nazi Germany sprang from the heart of the Western civilisation of which Britain is an integral part, so this does involve us, despite our country not having been occupied during World War II (apart from the Channel Islands). One British connection to the Holocaust that I only recently discovered is the presence of British POWs in Auschwitz during the war. As George Santayana said, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Thameslink: more news on compensation and the timetable

Following my positive talks with First Capital Connect (FCC) about the appalling problems experienced by passengers on the Thameslink route, FCC's Larry Heyman has emailed me with more news for Thameslink passengers. Mr Heyman writes that compensation
"...above and beyond Delay Repay...was going to take the form of five tickets equivalent to five return journeys with First Capital Connect. However, following the ongoing severe disruption to Thameslink route services due to the extreme weather conditions, we have reviewed the planned customer compensation package and now propose a revised and increased compensation deal. Details of this will follow in due course and we will advise how this can be claimed via our website."
This is good news and further evidence of FCC's desire to put things right after the severe problems.

Mr Heyman also writes:
"I am pleased to confirm that the result of the ASLEF ballot was that around 70% of our drivers voted in favour of accepting the pay offer. We intend to implement the full timetable (effective 13 December 2009 to 22 May 2010) on the Thameslink route from Monday 18 January. There are likely to be some short formations (four carriage trains instead of eight) and a few cancellations until 3 February, by when we plan that any Class 319 trains with faulty traction motors resulting from the recent severe weather will be repaired and back in service."
I appreciate that no amount of compensation can entirely recompense people for the misery caused by problems on the Thameslink route, but I do appreciate FCC's desire to improve matters, compensate passengers and communicate with me as a candidate for Hendon. I shall continue to work with FCC to ensure that they deliver on their promises.

I would be pleased to hear from local people with any other issues that they would like me to raise - not just with FCC and transport, but much more generally. Do please get in touch.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Northern Line confirms split plans

I have received an email from the General Manager of the Northern Line, confirming that the Northern Line is already split between its Bank and Charing Cross branches at certain times of the day, with plans to extend this split further by the end of the decade. I have replied making clear again that I consider this to be a bad idea and asking TfL to consult passengers before implementing it - they currently have no plans to consult!

It transpires that the line is already split northbound during what Transport for London (TfL) calls "the AM peak". TfL's plan is that, from around 4pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday:
"Southbound trains would be scheduled so that all trains from the Edgware branch serve the Charing Cross branch, and all those for the Bank branch operate from the High Barnet branch.”
This would affect anyone travelling into central London for a night out and I do not believe that most people would welcome it.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Is no news, bad news on the Northern Line?

Some readers will remember that I wrote to the General Manager of the Northern Line about the mooted proposal to permanently split the line between its Bank and Charing Cross branches. Having sent my email on 6 December, I enquired as to a reply on 19 December, and received a note on 22 December saying:
"I am currently investigating the various points you have raised. Unfortunately, this is taking a little longer than I had originally anticipated. As soon as I have all the necessary information I will write to you in detail."
I do not appear to have heard anything since. I appreciate that this is a very busy time for everyone at London Underground because of the severe weather, but I have today emailed again requesting a reply to my email of 6 December. I wonder what I wrote that is taking so long to investigate?

Tory calls me a "good candidate"

I would like to thank Richard Millett, a Conservative candidate in Mill Hill in the 2006 local elections, for writing the following on his blog:
"The Liberal Democrats have some very reasonably minded people in their party, including Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, and some good candidates, including Matthew Harris who is very active in the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel."

I am delighted to be called "a good candidate" by such a source. Richard also writes:

"If you have the urge to vote Liberal Democrat then vote for them at the local council elections. They have some interesting policies but their Middle Eastern ones aren’t among them."
Naturally, I am seeking people's support in the General Election as the Parliamentary candidate for Hendon, but I have no objection to Richard's suggestion that our "interesting policies" might inspire some people to vote for us in the local council elections.

Incidentally, honesty compels me to report that Richard wrote these words in the context of an article expressing his very strong (and in my view mistaken) criticisms of some of my party's policies on the Middle East, and he is obviously no fan of my party overall - but I am always happy to acknowledge a compliment, so "thank you", Richard, for your kind words about Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and I.