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Sunday, 31 July 2011

The reality of Islamophobia

I agree with large parts of this article by Melanie Phillips. But I do not agree with her when she writes: "While some people of course have a baseless and hateful prejudice against Muslims, most of what is labelled "Islamophobia" is instead an all-too-rational concern about Islamist extremists." It is the word "most" from which I demur; had she replaced "most" with "much", I might not be demurring. It reminds me of those people who, quite mistakenly, would write: "While some people of course have a baseless and hateful prejudice against Jews, most of what is labelled "antisemitism" is instead an all-too-rational concern about Israeli government policy." It is, of course, not Islamophobic to express a rational concern about Islamist extremists, just as it is not antisemitic to express a rational concern about Israeli government policy. However, when I talk about Islamophobia or antisemitism, I am not talking about rational criticism of Islamist extremists or of Israeli government policy, I am talking about hatred of Muslims or hatred of Jews. 

I'm talking about the friend of mine who once said to me, quite casually, "I just think there are now too many of these mosques and synagogues and things." I'm talking about the London-based Israeli who told me: "England has been taken over by Arabs." I'm talking about the drunk yobs who think that it's funny to spit and throw beer cans at people who dress differently from them, including people who are visibly Jewish or Muslim. I'm even talking about people who have desecrated Jewish and Muslim cemeteries and set fire to mosques and synagogues. So, no, Melanie, I don't think that "most of what is labelled "Islamophobia" is instead an all-too-rational concern about Islamist extremists". I think that most of what is labelled Islamophobia actually is Islamophobia, and that, quite separately from that, there is a rational debate about Islamist extremists.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Baroness Falkner's OTHER trip to Israel/Palestine

Some of you will have read the JC's account of a cross-party visit to Gaza by some British Parliamentarians, including the Liberal Democrats Lorely Burt and Baroness Falkner. I am quoted in the story as supporting the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government's policy of (as a government) not engaging with Hamas until it meets certain conditions. That is indeed the case; I support the Government on this (and if the policy were to change as circumstances change, I could presumably support that as well). Individual Parliamentarians can make their own decisions on whether, and if so how, it is useful to talk to groups like Hamas. As it happens, I have known Baroness Falkner for years and I know her to be someone with a deep knowledge of the Middle East, who is always willing to engage positively with Israel's side of the argument. In particular, I was pleased to read this report of a visit that she made to Israel/Palestine with a German liberal group, when she met Israeli and Palestinian liberals - yes, they do exist - and others. Baroness Falkner remains someone who has a lot to contribute towards debates on Israel/Palestine.

Extremely disturbing - have a look at this

I was going to headline this post "I am not human and I want your blood", but I decided that, whatever the circumstances, that might be a little strong. However, according to major media outlets in several countries in recent years, it is indeed the case that I am not human and want your blood (and your children's blood as well). This is being broadcast on television, including on educational programmes for children. Have a look at this and draw your own conclusions about the serious problem presented by the broadcasting of such bile.

OneVoice and the PSC

The self-proclaimed Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is by no stretch of the imagination a liberal organisation. Its catch-all name has enabled this organisation to corner the market in pro-Palestinian campaigning, although I know many Liberal Democrats who have realised its true nature and so chosen not to actively engage with it. In stark contrast to the charmless PSC, I was delighted to receive an email from OneVoice, an Israeli/Palestinian conflict-resolution group whose approach is surely that which should most recommend itself to Liberal Democrats. There is an alternative to the politics of anger, shouting and one-sided denunciation. I reproduce the email below in full:
OneVoice Leaders Encourage Grassroots Drive for Peace at UK Events

OneVoice’s Tal Harris and Samer Makhlouf engaged a broad cross section of British society on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the power of civil society to drive the peace process at events throughout London in July.
At the Royal Society for the Arts, Samer and Tal joined the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denis MacShane MP and Dr. Claire Spencer of Chatham House to debate lessons of the Arab Spring and the potential for mobilizing the grassroots as a force for peace. Listen to an audio stream of the event. Read more »

Samer and Tal were among several noted guests invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams and Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols to discuss the situation of Christians in Israel and Palestine at the International Conference on Christians in the Holy Land.
Listen to Samer deliver his opening remarks at Lambeth Palace. Read more »

“How can you not have your demonstration feel like just a castle in the sand washed away by tomorrow’s headlines,” Tal asked the participants of the conference. “Our mission now is to set our feet down and get our hands dirty and [build] peace practically, not with words, but with legislative actions and with campaigning around specific issues.”

Watch Samer and Tal speak about religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
OneVoice youth leaders similarly spread the importance of grassroots mobilization to effect real change in British schools, using the popular software Skype.

Three time zones and over 2,000 miles separate the UK from the Holy Land, but distance and time need not apply when different peoples with similar passions can be in one room at the same time with the help of the aptly named World Wide Web.

OneVoice Europe conducted five school sessions in Manchester, London, and Birmingham with 10 youth leaders – one from OneVoice Israel and one from OneVoice Palestine per session – in June and July. OVE is already booking sessions for the next academic term.

OneVoice is an international grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

The truth about plastic bags

One thing I've learnt in life is that nothing is true. So many of the assumptions that one has about life, art and politics turn out not to be true after all, once you subject them to much analysis. I then end up talking about these things with friends who, when I question an assumption, always say "But I thought...". A classic example of this is plastic bags. I used to think (or, rather, not think - that's the point) that plastic bags were definitely bad news and so we should presumably have a tax on them like Ireland's. Then I was exposed to the other side of the argument and I realised that it is much more complicated than that. In light of the latest news about this, I urge you to consider the facts, and make your own minds up. A tax might or might not be merited, but this certainly isn't a simple argument. I should, by the way, declare an interest, as I am a former employee of the British Retail Consortium.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

From the sublime to the ridiculous

If you go to page 13/36 of today's Jewish News, there is an excellent article about Jerusalem by my friend and Lib Dem colleague Fiyaz Mughal. I don't have to agree with every word before saying that this piece really deserves to be widely read. It's not about the detail, it's about the principle of someone in Fiyaz's shoes writing an article like this one - good for him. Elsewhere, the Jewish Chronicle reports the depressing fact that many conspiracy theorists are blaming Israel for the murderous actions of Anders Behring Breivik. Many readers of this blog will laugh that off as being ridiculous, but history proves that extremists' willingness to believe in such 'ridiculous' conspiracy theories can cost lives. A good analysis by Mike Whine shows that this latest drivel has been widely disseminated in recent days. 

David Cameron and the verb "to bicycle"

I cannot contain my delight at David Cameron's having used the verb "to bicycle". The Prime Minister told the Standard: "If my protection team let me bicycle, I'd happily bicycle." This is in contrast to "to cycle", and follows his having said recently, in relation to phone hacking, "I think everyone in this House [of Commons] and indeed this country will be revolted by what they have heard and what they have seen on their television screens." For the first time in some decades, we have a British Prime Minister who speaks English - with verbs, and everything. Goodbye, "the principle of subsidiarity". Farewell, "endogenous growth theory". Shut the door on the way out, "a pretty straight sort of guy". Hooray.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Bordering on sanity

I cannot claim to be an expert on Israel's borders, the technicalities of which are key to the currently-stalled Israel/Palestine peace process. The same, however, cannot be said of the senior, former Israeli army officers and diplomats who have just discussed those borders (and offered some new thinking) with the people who matter in Washington. One of the group, the (retired) Major General Natan Sharoni, has said, of Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement that Israel's pre-1967 borders are 'indefensible': 
"The 1967 borders are defensible, we just need to define – defensible against what? It's true they are indefensible against rockets from Iran, but so is all the territory of Israel...They are indefensible against terror and Hezbollah rockets...But to say that the strategic depth of the Jordan Valley will save Israel, that is a deception...Iraq doesn't have the capacity to send ground divisions against us; we have peace with Jordan, and Syria won't go to war against Israel by herself."
I do not know if he is right, but this is still a profoundly interesting contribution to the debate - it's good to see people like this engaging seriously with issues such as this.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Multi-party democracy in Syria?

Is the Syrian Government for real in its claim that it will soon allow the formation of political parties other than the ruling, dictatorial Baath party? It is difficult to feel very optimistic about any promise that comes from the mouth of President Assad's regime. Is it possible that the regime has been left with no alternative but to embrace reform, however little it really relishes the prospect of so doing? Given how many of its own people the regime is happy to kill, one really has to wonder - let's just say that the proof of this particular pudding will be very much in the eating. It would be marvellous if President Assad was Syria's answer to Mikhail Gorbachev or FW de Klerk, but I'm not exactly holding my breath.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Re-claiming the l-word

Apropos nothing in particular, I've been thinking a lot about definitions of liberalism of late - English liberalism in particular. A near universal-sloppiness has become the practice of using the word "liberalism" to mean any approach to life that is at least vaguely progressive. Ed Miliband's Labour Party likes to use the l-word because they don't want to call themselves socialists or even social-democrats. In political terms, a liberal is someone who believes in individual freedom. That can obviously mean different things in different contexts, but it certainly doesn't mean Labour. Edward Skidelsky has addressed this problem interestingly in Prospect. What we do about it, I don't know.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Netanyahu, peace, settlers and Iran

As I have written previously, I hold no brief for Binyamin Netanyahu. Israel's prime minister is a right-wing conservative and I am a liberal, so I doubt that I would vote for him if I was an Israeli citizen. That said, we have to start from where we are - and where we are is with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was therefore very pleased to read this transcript of an interview that Mr Netanyahu has given to a TV station called Al Arabiya. Ask yourselves this question: Which would you rather have - a Prime Minister Netanyahu who says these things, or a Prime Minster Netanyahu who doesn't say these things? I strongly prefer the former. He is talking here about his desire to start peace talks with President Abbas now, without pre-conditions, and - however aware one must be of the difficulties that lie ahead - I applaud him for saying that. I wish that the Palestinian President would take him up on it immediately.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Do the British know their own history?

Whilst having my hair cut by a Cypriot barber in Southgate a few weeks ago, we got to talking about Cyprus, and I remarked that most British people today know little or nothing of the Cyprus Emergency of the 1950s and 60s, involving as it did so many British troops. Basically, we British do not know our own modern history, including the bits that reflect less well on us. I thought of this again today upon hearing the news that the High Court has given four Kenyans the right to seek damages from the British Foreign Office in relation to the events of the 1950s and 1960s. If you think that this is far away and long ago, then I would invite you to consider how you would feel if you (or someone close to you) were yourself one of the people who had been tortured, raped or castrated. I'm glad that these people will have their day in court.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Latest on the Met from Brian Paddick

Brian Paddick has written an excellent piece on Lib Dem Voice about the latest developments in the fast-evolving story about the Metropolitian Police; it is well-worth reading. Brian remains my favoured contender in the race to be the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor, for reasons that I have previously outlined; here is his manifesto.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Custard pie erodes Parliament's teeth

Watching a recording of the Murdochs' Select Committee appearance, I was all set to blog about Parliament finding its teeth. I was going to say that this is particularly fascinating for students of Anglo-Australian cultural relations and those of us who find that cultural interactions are most interesting at the cutting edge where different cultures meet (here we have an Australian-American media magnate - a former leading light of Oxford University Labour Club - whose father was a knight and whose mother is a dame, appearing before a Select Committee of the mother country's Parliament, with his Austramerican-accented son - it doesn't get more interesting than that). I was also going to say that Tom Watson needs to be choosier with his use of the phrase "found guilty of", as Select Committees (and civil suits for breach of privacy) don't find anyone "guilty" (or "not guilty") of anything.

Then I decided to try to Google the man with glasses who is sat behind the Messrs Murdoch - who is that? I've seen him somewhere before. It surely can't be as boring as his simply being an MP who is not on the committee? Hang on, is it Lord Wilson, yes of course it is, that explains it - and this led me to discover that someone calling himself Jonnie Marbles had attempted to attack Rupert Murdoch with a custard pie. For goodness sake, why? If you're going to be funny, then be funny, or don't bother. Splatting someone with a custard pie is about as unfunny and uninteresting as this Marbles guy's previous failed attempt to become famous on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square

It's so easy to be cynical and anti-system, isn't it, especially when your name is actually Jonathan May-Bowles and you are presumably, therefore, a Trot Sloane from what I imagine might be a deeply privileged background? As for the suggestion that he is "a comedian and activist", then, as Peter Cook might have put it, "neither am I." Oh, it's just too annoying. Some things are just silly (and ugly) rather than being either clever or funny. After all, why allow people to have their say in front of Parliament, when you can instead attack them with a custard pie? Why get to the truth forensically, when you can instead throw food at octogenerians?

Monday, 18 July 2011

Rabbi Aba Dunner and Vic Lyon

I am very sorry to hear that Rabbi Aba Dunner has died. Rabbi Dunner was a Conservative councillor in Barnet for many years, being exactly the sort of thoughtful, dignified and compassionate person that one wants in local government. This sad news follows the recent announcement that a former Leader of the Council, the Conservative Victor Lyon, has also died. Vic Lyon was another person who devoted years of his life to public service and who was always reasonable, good-humoured and willing to listen to the views of others. A great many people in Barnet will have gained immeasurably from the work of these two men, including some who don't even realise it; they both made an immense contribution to local life.

UPDATE on Tuesday 19 July 2011: I have just been informed that another long-standing former Conservative councillor, Leslie Sussman, has also very sadly died. He was another person who always appeared to sum up the best qualities of local politics: good humour, courtesy and a commitment to public service.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

"On my watch" - just how annoying is that expression getting?

Picture the scene. You are a senior figure at an organisation that's messed up. There is no hard evidence that you are responsible for what has gone wrong, so you hope to evade personal blame. So what do you say? You say: "I am very sorry that these problems, of which I was sadly unaware, happened on my watch, and I therefore wish to take ultimate responsibility and resign." Is there a more annoying expression than "on my watch"? It is a way of saying: "I don't want to admit that that this is all my fault, but I have no choice but to resign before I am sacked or arrested, so I shall attempt to appear noble by resigning quickly while it looks like I still have a choice." Funny, isn't it, that it's only bad news that happens "on my watch"? When the team wins, nobody says: "I can claim no credit for this success. Yes, it happened on my watch, so I am ultimately responsible, but, actually, I knew nothing about it." 

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The TA and Week in Westminster

Following my campaign against Territorial Army (TA) spending cuts, I was more than interested to read today's news about the Government's possible plans for the TA; let's see how that pans out - sounds like it could be good news. Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4's incomparable Week in Westminster, presented (sadly for the last time) by the peerless Peter Riddell, spoke more sense in thirty minutes about Murdoch and phone-hacking than other media have managed in thirty hours - highly recommended on the iPlayer.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Lib Dem leadership on universal jurisdiction reform

I am pleased to see the latest Parliamentary progress of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which includes a reform of how arrest warrants are issued for universal jurisdiction offences such as war crimes or torture. Two Liberal Democrat ministers, Lord McNally and Lord (Jim) Wallace, have led this reform's progress through the House of Lords. A rebel amendment from three Lib Dem backbenchers (which would have watered down the proposed reform) was withdrawn without a vote; Lord Palmer and Lord Carlile spoke from the Lib Dem benches against this rebel amendment. The Coalition Government's reform to this law follows Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's clear pledge that this would be done. This will mean that suspected war criminals can and will still be prosecuted in the UK, while ending the possibility, as Lord McNally puts it, of people being detained "on very spurious grounds" at the behest of people for whom "the not in the trial or the verdict but in the publicity gained by getting the individual into the situation in the first place."

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Rowan Williams on Christians in Israel/Palestine

The Archbishop of Canterbury and other Christian leaders are organising a conference on Christians in the Holy Land, that being the subject of Rowan Williams' appeal at General Synod's July 2011 Group of Sessions. "The Holy Land" is what Dr Williams and some other religious people choose to call Israel, the West Bank and East Jerusalem (although not, on this occasion, Gaza or Jordan, it appears). Christians in Israel itself enjoy a freedom of worship that would be envied elsewhere in the Middle East, although Israeli governments do sometimes get things wrong, and there is much that can be done to improve a less-than-perfect situation

Dr Williams himself says that the Christian population of Israel itself is stable; it is in the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) that he reports a fall. I understand why it matters to Christians to maintain living communities in "the Holy Land". Dr Williams recently told the BBC of his fear that Christians are becoming "a marginalised minority" in Bethlehem; Bethlehem is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, which therefore holds a large measure of responsibility for the situation faced by Christians living there. 

Critics of Israel often call for the EU-Israel Association Agreement to be reviewed. Well, the EU also has an Association Agreement with the Palestinian Authority; as one UK Government website says: "There are many opportunities for UK Business in the Palestinian Territories" and that's as it should be. If Palestinian Christians are becoming a "marginalised minority" under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, then presumably pro-Palestinian campaigners will now call for a review of the EU-Palestinian Authority Association Agreement? Or does the blade only cut one way?

UPDATE on Friday 29 July 2011 OneVoice, an excellent Israeli/Palestinian conflict-resolution campaign group, has posted a report of one of the conference's sessions, including recordings of some speeches. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A PS on the Boycott Bill

I haven't actually read the Boycott Bill and I don't have time today to trawl the Internet in search of it. I normally like to read things before commenting on them. So I haven't read it, but it appears to me that it is a stupid idea. Mature democracies often pass bad laws and this is one of them, standing comparison with the UK's idiotic past ban on the broadcasting of Northern Ireland terrorists' voices (whose words were then instead read by "the voice of an actor") and France's awful so-called burka ban. I am a clear opponent of the anti-Israel "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement, but this law restricting Israelis' right to call for a boycott is a stupid, counter-productive idea. Freedom of speech must allow Israelis to call for a boycott of settlement goods, in the same way that freedom of speech would allow me to call for a boycott of British goods (oh don't tempt me). I hope that this law is revoked as soon as possible. And how come so few of the Knesset's 120 members actually voted, on something so important?

Russia's role in Israel/Palestine stalemate

President Abbas blames Israel for the Quartet's not having issued a statement on the Israel/Palestine peace process this week; "Israeli officials" are quoted as blaming the Palestinians. I blame the Russians, whose stance on this deserves a lot more critical attention. Interesting also to see British Ambassador Matthew Gould telling an Israeli newspaper of his government's "preference to avoid" a UN vote on Palestinian statehood in September, as:
we are worried that September will be a damaging moment for the future of peace. We are worried that it will make it more difficult in the matter of the trust between the sides. We are worried that this will divert the main message that peace must come about by means of talks between the sides. It could be that this decision will also fuel the flames. For example, in the West Bank and Gaza - there is real frustration there. If you bring into there the idea of a UN resolution about the recognition of a Palestinian state, and nothing changes on the ground, this will create a dangerous situation. This will only increase the level of tension.
He adds that the UK has not decided how to vote if there is a motion and that "our preference is to avoid a situation in which we have to choose either way in a decision that we think is dangerous". 

Meanwhile, the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza continues with such regularity as to barely be reported. We British are simply too calm about things sometimes. We think that because these weapons don't often kill people or make headlines, then perhaps they don't matter very much. If these missiles were hitting houses in Britain, the response in terms of public opinion would be - well, let's just say it would be somewhat spirited. 

Nobody would be saying that it didn't matter because not much damage was being done when the things landed. Nobody, if these missiles were falling here, would be talking about anything else. Do you not think, if a de facto government in an adjacent territory was firing missiles at our houses, that we might expect the British Government to take some military action against the offensive capabilities of the people firing the missiles, as well as seeking a political solution to the underlying problems?

Liberal government and public services reform

I might have advised David Cameron to risk ridicule by postponing Monday's launch of the Public Services White Paper, once it became obvious that the launch was going to so grievously overshadowed by the day's other news. Anyway, in the wake of that launch comes this interesting article by Danny Alexander and Oliver Letwin, which reminds me why I (still) like this Coalition Government as much as I do. This piece blends the best of Conservative and Liberal Democrat thinking to produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts; I strongly welcome the approach that it embodies and the liberal agenda at this government's heart.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Who do MPs want as London mayoral candidate?

I've just received the first email to party members from Mike Tuffrey, one of the contenders to be the Lib Dem candidate for London Mayor. He asks: "Are you frustrated at how mindlessly critical (the media) are about the Liberal Democrats, when we are trying to do the right thing after the mess the last government left the country in?" My answer is "no" - I don't blame "the media" when my party gets a bad press, especially now that we are in government and so getting the tough scrutiny that we deserve. Blaming the media is the worst possible approach to media relations. London has seven Lib Dem MPs and it will be interesting to see who they are supporting in the race to be our mayoral candidate. I am supporting Brian Paddick, for reasons that I have previously outlined, although all the candidates have their strengths and could serve us well if selected.

Huffington Post: We need more White Oxbridge Males

Please click here to read my latest contribution to Huffington Post - please do go and post comments there, as it would be great to hear your views.

Quartet diners swallow their own statement

On the radio yesterday, Michael Heseltine described a key moment in the Conservatives' victory in the 1983 General Election. It was, he said, when they stopped attacking Labour's policy of "unilateral disarmament" and talked instead of "one-sided disarmament". Unilateral disarmament had actually been quite popular in the polls, until people understood what "one-sided disarmament" simply meant, at which point there was a massive shift in public opinion against unilateralism.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Put this man on a plane to Belgium

I agree that Hissene Habre cannot be sent to Chad if he is at risk of being tortured there. The enormity of the crimes of which he is accused would not justify his being tortured. That cannot mean that he goes untried. If the Belgians are seeking to try him, then can we not find a legal means to send him there? This sums up the structural weaknesses of international efforts to try people accused of crimes against humanity. It is bad enough that we hardly ever hear anything about the 40,000 people who were killed under Habre's rule, without now failing to find a way to even bring him to trial. 

Saturday, 9 July 2011

If they can do it in South Sudan...

Huge problems remain in Sudan, after a decades-long civil war in which 1.5 million people have died (with that war obviously not being Sudan's only recent internal conflict, either). 170,000 people - 170,000 people - have been forced from their homes there just recently. So the champagne needs to be accompanied by some bitter-sweet canapes, as we celebrate the birth of South Sudan - but celebrate we must. This is a huge step forward. If they can do it in Sudan, after so many decades of war and bitterness, then they can do it in other places too. The day will come when negotiations create a state of Palestine that will co-exist in peace, security and justice with the State of Israel. Huge problems will remain after that, as well. But it will still be a huge step forward.

Friday, 8 July 2011

HuffPo: Nick Clegg's new European language

Nick Clegg is today making a major European policy speech in Paris. Click here to read what I've said about it at Huffington Post. This is another defining moment for Liberal Democrats in government.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Huffington Post: Time for a foreign policy Orange Book?

I've been asked to contribute as a blogger to Huffington Post's excellent new UK site, which launches today. My  posts will generally be on the UK Politics page and you can always find them on this link here. Please do go along and post comments there so that we can have a good debate. Do go to HuffPo and read my first post, in which I have written: 

Liberal Democrats' role in the Coalition Government offers the party a chance to re-define its foreign policy thinking, much as the Orange Book re-defined aspects of its economic thinking. The Orange Book is often seen as a rightward shift, so in what direction is Lib Dem foreign policy now moving?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Audacity of Hype and the flotilla

Alice Walker has written eloquently and compassionately about why she is on board the Audacity of Hope, one of the flotilla of boats seeking to sail from Greece to GazaHoward Jacobson has written with equal eloquence about why he thinks that Alice Walker is mistaken. Imagine for a moment that you believed that aid was urgently needed in a a disputed conflict zone. Imagine if a country next to that conflict zone said that it was checking all aid before it entered the conflict zone, to ensure that it does not include any weapons. Imagine if the Greek Government said that it would check the aid shipments concerned before themselves delivering the aid to Gaza, with Israel accepting this Greek offer. If you were on board the flotilla, and what you cared about was delivering the aid to the Palestinian people of Gaza, surely you'd accept this Greek offer?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Choosing between Brian, Mike and Lembit

As I understand it, we have to wait until 12 July before we know who has been shortlisted for selection as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, with the candidate then to be chosen in a one-person-one-vote postal ballot of all London Lib Dem party members (we don't have an eccentric 'electoral college' involving trade unions and Parliamentary blocs; we have one-member-one-vote). There are at least three contenders for a place on the short list: Lembit Opik, Brian Paddick and Mike Tuffrey. Reader(s) of this blog will know that I sometimes attempt humour, so I'd been planning to bring the house down with a post about why I am supporting "Mike Paddick" to be our candidate for London Mayor, the idea (such as it was) being that either Brian or Mike would each make a good candidate and so equally deserve support. I have now changed my mind, and here's why.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

European Liberals and the Middle East

Much of interest re:- Syria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine and the wider Middle East in the latest newsletter of LDEG, the association for UK Liberal Democrats interested in European politics. On Syria, a call for tougher sanctions from Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who leads the Liberals in the European Parliament. On Egypt, news that five liberal parties are to be integrated into the Democratic Front Party, as part of a new liberal coalition - vital in terms of creating an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and its new Freedom and Justice Party. And it's great to see the Lib Dem MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, the European Parliament's Vice-President for Human Rights and Democracy, saying, of the countries affected by the so-called Arab Spring:
The EU has the means to help. We must give it the will. EU governments can put up billions to stabilise their economies. They should find the resources to support the huge economic and political challenges the countries in our neighbourhood face. We must reinforce the reformists from Libya to Syria to Yemen or they will lose their revolutions. All types of democracy are better than despotism. Democracy is also a more secure basis for economic stability and development.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Two wrongs make a Left

I know that two wrongs don't make a right, but when it comes to the ongoing debate about how best to engage (or, indeed, not engage) with extremists, I am pleased that Labour is now being asked the same questions that my party has long been asked. In other words, this is as much an issue for Labour as it might be for my party, which honestly gives me no pleasure, as this is a difficult and disturbing issue. While I'm in the neighbourhood, why is Peter Tatchell today giving quite unnecessary hype to a man who loves publicity? The man in question being someone who might previously have merited critical attention as he temporarily appeared to be on the up, but who has since declined into something approaching irrelevance, facing as he is an acrimonious leadership battle. I'm not saying that the person concerned should be 'banned', just that there is no need for Mr Tatchell to delight him with a rare burst of publicity; Mr Tatchell should pick his battles more judiciously.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Harold Pinter's ice cream and free speech

I once sold an ice cream to Harold Pinter. Or, to be more accurate, to his wife, Lady Antonia Fraser, who bought one each for herself and Harold during my time with the Royal Shakespeare Company. My notably undistinguished career at the RSC comprised two months as a Front of House Assistant, selling programmes and ice creams, tearing tickets and directing patrons to their seats. This was thousands of years ago, when I was aged eighteen and the RSC's London base was at the Barbican. Alright, it was 1989. One of the job's many best bits was "sitting in". The law required a member of the theatre's staff to be sat on each side of the auditorium near the front, watching each performance and doing who knows what (I certainly didn't - no-one ever told me) in the event of a fire. Whenever anyone debates free speech, the most tired cliche is: "We all know that free speech has to be restricted - after all, we don't allow people to suddenly shout "Fire!" in the middle of a performance in a crowded theatre", but I was being paid to potentially do precisely that.