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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Justice for the Tamils

The Tamil Guardian emailed me asking for my views on situation facing Tamils in Sri Lanka. I replied as follows: "In Sri Lanka, there must be an investigation into allegations of human rights violations and war crimes. The government in Colombo will be judged by the international community on its political and judicial reforms and by the way it treats the media. The Sri Lankan government must reach out and recognise its past mistakes."

Of course, the situation in Sri Lanka is a very complicated one and groups like the Tamil Tigers must be condemned for their attacks on civilians. My Lib Dem colleague Stephen Williams has written about it in detail and I very much agree with what he wrote. When I call for an investigation into allegations of human rights violations and war crimes, I include within that the activities of the Tamil Tigers as well as the Sri Lankan government. I do not dispute the Sri Lankan government's right to fight terrorism; I do dispute some of the methods used and the government's poor handling of the post-conflict situation.

Monday, 26 April 2010

So, what do I stand for?

As polling day draws nearer (and as postal voters are already voting, as their ballot papers continue to be delivered), many people have asked me what I actually stand for, what makes me tick - why I want to be the Liberal Democrat MP for Hendon. It's a good, fair question! To avoid repeating myself, here is a piece that I wrote for the 'blog' that the Hendon Times has kindly given me on its website. I very much hope that this gives you some more insight into where I am coming from.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Is it now a two-horse Clegg/Cameron race?

The Times reports today that:
"Gordon Brown is to gamble on a last-ditch revamp of Labour’s campaign as he fights to prevent the election becoming a two-horse race between David Cameron and Nick Clegg."
I don't often say this, but Gordon Brown is right - this is becoming a two-horse race between the Tories and the Lib Dems, with Labour third in lots of polls. This is starting to be reflected in what people are saying to me in Hendon. Lots of people say that they are undecided between my party and the Conservatives, lots say that they are planning to vote Lib Dem, and many say that they have given up on Labour. If the polls remain as they are, then I do not see how Labour can win a seat like Hendon. Some people are saying to me that they would normally vote Labour, but don't want the Conservatives to win, so are they are voting for me to make sure that the Lib Dems definitely beat the Tories in Hendon. It does feel as if the Tory candidate and I are now in what could be a tight race to the finish, although, obviously, that can change between now and polling day, so nothing can be taken for granted - least of all the voters!

I'm not standing to stop the Tories winning or to stop Labour winning - I'm fighting positively for the Lib Dems to win, so that I can be Hendon's next MP. What's good is that people now tell me that they feel that they have a choice - if they want to vote for the Liberal Democrats to win, they can, and the result is in their hands as voters. They don't have to vote Labour to stop the Tories, or Tory to stop Labour; instead, they can consider what all three parties have to offer, and then vote for the one they most believe in, because the Lib Dems have a real chance of winning this time.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Poll on Jewish News' website

I'm delighted to see that Jewish News are encouraging participation in this election by running an online poll. It asks people who they will vote for in the General Election; at time of writing, the Lib Dems are running second. Why not click here and vote yourself?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Speaking at the Shree Swaminarayan Temple

I was pleased today to speak at the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Golders Green, where many people from Hendon are worshippers. They had around 700 people there and I spoke alongside the Lib Dem councillors for Childs Hill. It was a really enjoyable and interesting event and I was pleased to have been invited.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A positive day in the sunshine

It was great this morning to be out and about on Mill Hill Broadway talking to local people. Lots of people said that they now plan to vote Lib Dem. Of course, you can't please all of the people all of the time, and lots of people had questions about my party's policies - which is as it should be, since we are seeking to win an election and form a government. I enjoy answering such questions and really discussing the issues with people. I look forward to doing a lot more of that over the coming weeks.

Last weekend's Polish tragedy

The latest weekly bulletin from my colleague Sarah Ludford, Lib Dem MEP for London, has prompted me to think further about last weekend's tragic air crash in which so many distinguished Polish people died. In the hurly-burly of the election campaign, it is important to make time to also reflect on wider issues, as Sarah does in this piece here. I extend my deepest sympathies and condolences to all those affected by this latest Polish tragedy, including Polish and Anglo-Polish people living locally. Some of my previous thoughts on Polish politics on this site can be found here.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Following the debate...

Well, I enjoyed watching the the first TV Prime Ministerial Debate, and not just because Nick Clegg has been declared the winner in the polls. I actually thought it was good television and really enhanced the election campaign. Anyway, for those people who liked what Nick Clegg had to say tonight: that's why I'm a Liberal Democrat. For precisely the reasons that Nick Clegg articulated tonight.

By the way, did Gordon Brown really say that, next year, there will be NO under-performing schools? What, none at all?! This is precisely the sort of unrealistic attitude that we DON'T need from a British government. As if we'll ever see a situation in which there are precisely ZERO under-performing schools. There are many excellent schools, but everybody knows that some schools continue to under-perform.

On a more positive note, I was pleased to hear a mention of the campaign against Territorial Army cuts - I was part of the campaign against those cuts with my Downing Street Petition against them, and we won! Oh, and also on defence, Nick Clegg is absolutely right that the UK should not spend £100 billion on a like-for-like replacement for Trident. That doesn't mean having no nuclear weapons, though. We could replace Trident with a minimum nuclear deterrent, while entering with renewed vigour into multilateral disarmament talks. That is my favoured approach, which I would pursue if elected as Hendon's next MP.

And here is the Liberal Democrats' detailed policy on the Trident issue:

The policy in brief

Liberal Democrats will not renew Trident on a like-for-like basis. Wholesale renewal is unnecessary and unaffordable. The current Trident system is able to operate for another 20 years at least. We will therefore hold a Strategic Security and Defence Review to establish the best alternative for our security. Liberal Democrats will focus on relevant security challenges. Our armed forces cannot tackle the threats of today and tomorrow if they are kitted out for yesterday's wars.

Why it is Necessary

The Cold War is over. There is no longer a major nuclear threat to the United Kingdom. President Obama is leading a bold international push for a world free of nuclear weapons. Today's nuclear threat is not from a super-power stand-off but from rogue regimes and terrorist groups. The estimated lifetime cost for Trident replacement is around £100bn[i], with at least £15-20bn on submarines alone[ii]. Given the huge spending deficit, the MOD's own budget crisis and the Government’s failure to provide our troops with more relevant equipment, this price-tag is simply unacceptable.

Policy Detail
Government Plans for Trident Renewal

Labour has proposed a like-for-like replacement of Trident based on four Vanguard-class submarines. Labour and the Conservatives supported the plan. Only the Liberal Democrats voted against.[iii]

Liberal Democrat Proposals

We do not support like-for-like renewal of this expensive Cold War system. The current submarines have many years of service left to run and will not be decommissioned until the 2020s. A decision on a replacement system need not be taken until 2014 (later if the life of the system is further extended). The Government claims there are no credible alternatives to their plans. We believe there are. We will consider the best alternative as part of a defence and security review, and in the light of the outcome of major multilateral talks in May, the negotiations on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Options include:

1. Life Extension - Experts believe that the submarines could have their lives extended by up to15 years. This would allow decisions on a replacement system to be deferred for several years.
2. Ending Continuous at-Sea Patrols - Without the Cold War threat of an overwhelming pre-emptive attack the case for continuous patrols is no longer compelling. De-alerting the system could provide savings and further extend the life of current submarines.

3. Modified Submarine Platforms - Experts argue that the Astute-class submarine could be modified to carry a small number of Trident missiles, or nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

4. Strategic Insurance Policy - Rather than building a new weapons platform, the UK would retain a certain amount of nuclear weapons know-how at the Atomic Weapons Establishment. This would provide a long-term hedge against any unforeseen threats.

5. Complete disarmament - Liberal Democrats believe that the UK should continue with a nuclear deterrent for the foreseeable future. However, if talks made significant progress, the UK could consider disarmament. Trident should be on the table for negotiation.

Secret papers have revealed that Trident was designed to destroy major Soviet cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, killing half the inhabitants and leaving devastating levels of radiation for years to come. Yet Trident never even saw service in the Cold War. It was launched in 1994 and has never been targeted since. It would be irresponsible to renew Trident on the same basis.

Costs/savings

Over its lifetime Trident is expected to cost around £100bn. The replacement submarines will cost at least £15-20bn alone. However, the savings from this policy will not fall in the next Parliament and are contingent on the choice we make about alternatives. We have not therefore costed this policy into our deficit reduction and spending plan.

Key Statistics/Quotes

  • The lifetime cost of Trident renewal is estimated at around £100bn over its whole lifetime. (£97bn according to Greenpeace, and rising to 8.5% of the defence budget.)[i] Liberal Democrat research suggests it will be even more - as much as £100bn over just 25 years.
  • Former Head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt (now a Conservative adviser) on the nuclear deterrent: “On balance - on a very narrow points decision - that is probably right for now. It might not be right in five or 10 years' time.”[ii]
  •  Former Chief of the Defence Staff, Lord Guthrie: “Is there a cheaper way of maintaining an independent nuclear deterrent? Extending the life of the existing system or exploring alternative delivery systems might save us billions, without losing the value of deterrence against aggressive small states.”[iii]
  • Field Marshal Lord Bramall, General Lord Ramsbotham and General Sir Hugh Beach: “Rather than perpetuating Trident, the case is much stronger for funding our Armed Forces with what they need to meet the commitments actually laid upon them. In the present economic climate it may well prove impossible to afford both.”[iv]
The Case Against Like-for-Like Replacement of Trident

We accept there is now a case for a minimum nuclear deterrent. But we must prioritise future spending on the threats of today and tomorrow, not the last century. That means climate change, international crime and broken countries that foster terrorism. In today’s world it is irresponsible to spend billions of pounds on a Cold War weapons system designed to flatten Moscow at the touch of a button. If we spend billions of pounds replacing Cold War weaponry we will deprive our troops of equipment on the front-line and actually make the country less safe.

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[i] p.11 In the Firing Line, Greenpeace, September 2009 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/peace/ITFL_trident_report.pdf

[ii] “Dannatt questions nuclear deterrent” PA, 23, February, 2010 http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/feedarticle/8958583
[iii] “Where Britain should cut to defend the realm”, Financial Times, 29 July 2009, Charles Guthrie.

[iv] Letter, ‘UK does not need a nuclear deterrent’, Times, 16 January 2009, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/letters/article5525682.ece

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STORY BOX: ‘Top-secret document reveals Trident was set up to kill half of Moscow’s citizens’, Sunday Herald, http://www.sundayherald.com/news/heraldnews/display.var.2487768.0.topsecret_document_reveals_trident_was_set_up_to_kill_half_of_moscows_citizens.php

[i] p.11 In the Firing Line, Greenpeace, September 2009 http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/files/pdfs/peace/ITFL_trident_report.pdf

[ii] p. 7 Government White Paper The Future of the United Kingdon’s Nuclear Deterrent http://www.mod.uk/NR/rdonlyres/AC00DD79-76D6-4FE3-91A1-6A56B03C092F/0/DefenceWhitePaper2006_Cm6994.pdf

[iii] Parliament voted in favour of the Government’s plans on 14 March 2007.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Getting out and meeting people

There's a report on the Hendon Times' website of my doorknocking activities in the constituency. Just to say that I've really been enjoying getting out and about and meeting people locally, and speaking to people on the phone. The internet is a great way to communicate, but there's nothing quite like actually talking to people for real, so that they can question me and tell me what they think. So I hope to speak to many more people as the campaign continues, and "thank you" to everyone who's made the time to speak to me so far.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Our manifesto: four steps to a fairer Britain

As reported in the Hendon Times, the Liberal Democrats have launched our manifesto. It centres on four key policies to bring back fairness:
  • Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket.  
  • A fair chance for every child.
  • A fair future, creating jobs by making Britain greener.
  • A fair deal for you from politicians.
The manifesto details what these policies mean in practice. So, what are the reviews of the manifesto so far in the national press? Well, The Times says: "They have done the best job of all the three main parties in providing a plan for cutting public spending and reducing the deficit...there is more detail than from the other parties." The Daily Telegraph says that the Lib Dems "dare to venture where both Labour and the Tories are too timid to tread. The Lib Dems set out, in detail, how they plan to start reducing the deficit..." And London's Evening Standard headlines its editorial "Refreshing honesty from the Lib Dems" and says the "manifesto launch today was refreshingly candid in its clear focus on the deficit and the recession, subjects largely fudged by Labour and the Tories in their manifestos". Remember, it's not ME saying all this, it's the newspapers!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Honoured to speak on Burma political crisis

On Sunday, I was privileged to speak at an Extraordinary Meeting in support of Burma's National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung Suing Suu Kyi. Coincidentally, the meeting took place in my constituency of Hendon, so I was invited to represent the Liberal Democrats - the NLD are members of Liberal International, a connection they take extremely seriously. I spoke to the meeting, including reading a statement from my party's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Ed Davey. This meeting was held in protest at recent events surrounding Burma's upcoming elections, which could spell the end of the NLD as a political party. While we campaign in the sunshine in Hendon, the people of Burma continue to suffer enormously under the illegal junta; there can be few more urgent foreign policy priorities than fighting for the rights of the Burmese people. It was immensely moving to speak to an audience that included many Burmese politicians in exile and other refugees. I was also interviewed for Radio Free Asia for broadcast in Burma. If elected as Hendon's next MP, I plan to take the fight for Burmese freedom into the House of Commons.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

"Patronising drivel" versus real Lib Dem help for families

Nick Clegg is right - it is nonsense for David Cameron to offer a £150 tax incentive for being married. Not only is it a daft idea to start with, it's also a derisory amount of money! I've never been married, but I hope, come the day, that my proposal doesn't centre on a £150 annual tax incentive for the woman of my dreams. Marriage has absolutely nothing to do with tax breaks. And anyone who is widowed, or left by an errant spouse, would lose this marriage tax break at their greatest moment of need! As Nick Clegg has said:
"The proposal from the Conservatives for tax breaks for marriage are patronising drivel that belong in the Edwardian age. David Cameron clearly has no idea about modern life. Every family is different, and instead of creating rigid rules or special policies that help some families but not others, we need a new approach from government: one that is flexible and doesn’t dictate to families how they should live."
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg has launched our policies for families - centring on fair taxes for families, high quality childcare, flexibility for working families, care for older people and homes affordable for all.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Thanks, but no thanks - rejecting MPAC

A deeply illiberal group called MPAC has called on people to vote Lib Dem or Tory to ensure the defeat of Hendon's Labour MP. I have been aware of MPAC for many years and I most certainly do not want anyone to vote for me for the reasons that they suggest. I am a very strong opponent of this organisation. I have posted the following on MPAC's highly unpleasant website:
"I am Matthew Harris, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate for Hendon. Just to make it clear, I do not want the support (implied or otherwise) of MPAC. I am pleased and proud to be a friend of Israel, campaigning for a two-state solution that will bring peace, justice and security to Palestinans and Israelis alike. I strongly dislike MPAC's policies and its campaigning methods. I am delighted to have the support of a number of Muslim people living in Hendon and I was very pleased to speak at last week's Barnet Muslim Forum hustings in the constituency. Everyone who was there will have heard about my record on issues that matter most to Muslims and others, and can vote for me or not - that's their individual choice. But if anyone is thinking of voting for me because MPAC has advised them to vote Lib Dem or Tory as a way of ousting Hendon's Labour MP, I would advise them to vote for someone else - I reject MPAC's support."





Which party do you REALLY most agree with?

Vote Match is a quick and simple quiz that tests your views, and then works out which which political party most shares your views! I'm relieved to say that it confirms that I am a Liberal Democrat...As well as being fun, this is a good way of digging beneath the spin to find out which party's policies most closely match your own opinions. Why not have a go? And if you turn out to be closest to the Liberal Democrats, then why not vote for us? The biggest wasted vote is a vote cast for a party that you don't really believe in.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Vote Labservative for more of the same

Somebody in my party has a sense of humour. The Lib Dems have created this website for the Labservatives, the joke being that the Conservatives and Labour are really two sides of the same coin. Since 1945, this country has endured 65 years of rule by the Conservatives and Labour - if you want more of the same, then vote Tory or Labour ("Labservative") this time around. It's a good joke, but it's also a serious appeal to think about what the Liberal Democrats have to offer. Here's a quick and simple guide to our policies, which I believe are the best being offered by any political party. If you agree with our policies, why not vote for us? That's the only way in which things will really change in this country.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Will Thameslink's 12-car trains stop at Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway?

I had my latest meeting with First Capital Connect (FCC) about Thameslink on Tuesday evening, following the misery caused by problems on Thameslink within the last few months. Based on what I heard last night, FCC does appear committed to improving the service, with a new team ringing the changes. I was pleased to hear that FCC plans to introduce some 12-car trains from December 2011, but concerned to hear that they might not stop at Hendon or Mill Hill Broadway stations! OK, so even if the new, larger trains don't stop locally, they will still reduce over-crowding on the other trains that do stop at Hendon and Mill Hill Broadway. But we really want them to stop at our local stations. I will continue to work with FCC to hold them to their promises and I will do my best to ensure that the 12-seat trains do stop locally.

If you elect me as Hendon's next MP, I plan to make public transport one of the main issues that I raise on your behalf, and I hope my campaigning on Thameslink shows what can be achieved. The attached photo is of Nick Clegg and I celebrating a local newspaper's front page coverage of my successful campaign for compensation for Thameslink passengers - the compensation may not have been enough, but it was at least a step in the right direction.

Why the Lib Dems could win Hendon

The front page of last week's Jewish Chronicle reported that, in Hendon:
"...after a series of allegations about his expenses, (Labour's Andrew Dismore) faces a tough fight with the Tories’ Matthew Offord and Matthew Harris, secretary of Lib Dem Friends of Israel."  
OK, so I'm actually Vice-Chairman, not Secretary, but who am I argue with the Jewish Chronicle? This follows the Hendon Times' declaration that my Conservative opponent:
"faces current Labour MP Andrew Dismore and Lib Dem rival Matthew Harris for the seat, which is predicted to be one of the tightest parliamentary contests at the next general election."
So that's two newspapers predicting a tough, tight outcome with three players in the fight for Hendon. Here are three facts for you to consider:

1) There are excellent, hard-working Lib Dem MPs right next-door in our neighbouring boroughs of Brent and Haringey - proving that this part of London can be fertile ground for the Liberal Democrats, so I can win Hendon if you vote for me.

2) The Lib Dems have gone from winning 20 MPs in 1992, to 46 in 1997, 52 in 2001 and 62 in 2005 - the most we've had since 1923! This includes winning some seats in one go from third place. I believe that this sharp upward trend will continue in this year's General Election, including in seats like Hendon.

3) If everyone in Hendon who says "I would vote Lib Dem if I thought you could win" did vote Lib Dem, then I could win - remember, it's your vote, so use it to vote for what you really believe in at this election.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Continuing my Thameslink campaign

So, Gordon Brown is today due to go to the Palace and see the Queen, kickstarting the election campaign. That's one meeting I'm not invited to, but I am due today to see a senior manager from First Capital Connect (FCC), to chase progress on Thameslink. Thameslink has improved after the awful problems of recent months, and FCC's compensation offer has got better, but I am still holding the company to account. It's great that they're investing £10m in improving Thameslink, but is this really new money? Are Thameslink's recent problems with the unions truly a thing of the past? I'll be keen to hear an update on all this and more. I remain very grateful to FCC for their ongoing willingness to meet me to discuss these matters. I do detect that FCC is seriously committed to improving the service - but there is a long way to go after the misery suffered by customers in recent months. I'll let you know what happens at the meeting afterwards.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Speaking at Barnet Muslim Forum's Hendon hustings

On Thursday, I spoke alongside the Labour and Tory candidates at a hustings meeting organised by Barnet Muslim Forum and a group called YouElect. It was a really lively meeting with a great question and answer session. What's nice is that even on controversial issues, such as Israel/Palestine, we managed to have a lively discussion without tempers fraying. You can see the candidates' opening speeches if you click here. I spoke second of the three candidates. I'm due to speak at at least three more Hendon hustings meetings during the election campaign and I thoroughly look forward to doing this.