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Wednesday, 31 August 2011

King Abdullah opposes Palestinian unilateralism

I have no reason to be a particular fan of King Abdullah of Jordan, the head of state of a country that is nowhere near to being a liberal democracy. I am fascinated to learn today that he has come out against a Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood at the UN in September. In this, he echoes the Secretary-General of the Arab League. The vile extremists of Hamas, meanwhile, would not wish to recognise Israel within any borders; such recognition would be implicit in a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood in only part of Israel/Palestine - they'd be recognising Israel in the part of the territory that is not being claimed for a new Palestinian state. Indeed, any motion is likely to make such recognition explicit. It is already clear, therefore, that Hamas is not, in any simple sense, behind President Abbas' plans for a unilateral bid for statehood. I could support some upgrades to the Palestinians' status at the UN; I believe, however, that an actual unilateral declaration of statehood would not actually, legally create a Palestinian state and would set back the cause of a negotiated two-state solution. Renewed peace talks remain the best hope for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Incidentally, there is no Fatah/Hamas unity government - talks on creating one have failed, thus far.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Thus fell Rome, says Mark Steyn

Actually, I don't know if he would say "thus fell Rome", but he has an interesting book out. A friend told me that he'd seen Mark Steyn on Newsnight discussing his new book After America, about the possibility of American decline. I haven't read the book and I don't know whether or not I agree with Steyn's thesis, and this was certainly an interesting discussion. I remember reading Mark Steyn when he was first a theatre critic and he's really interesting on this now, not that I know very much about him. Including on sub-prime mortgages; he points out that government caused the sub-prime crisis, by which I guess he means that American banks were choosing not to give home loans to people who could not afford to pay them back, until government required them to start giving such loans in the name of fairness. In other words, government intervention - rather than under-regulation - caused the sub-prime crisis. On similar lines, I've always thought that banks once refused to lend to those governments that could not pay them back - and were criticised for it. So then they did start lending the money, and, lo and behold, it couldn't be paid back, so we had the "Third World debt crisis", for which the banks were criticised, when they hadn't wanted to lend the money in the first place. 

Friday, 26 August 2011

How not to pick your battles

I was horrified to hear about an American Muslim student at a Scottish university who, while not himself Pakistani, had a Pakistani flag in his room, and who was the victim of an incident that has been much-reported this week. Two drunk students entered the Muslim student's room in the middle of the night, urinated in his sink and "jumped on" him (whatever that means - it sounds awful), before one of them extracted a pubic hair from himself and rubbed it on the Pakistani flag. A court has heard that the two students shouted that the Muslim student was "a Nazi, fascist and terrorist." Except that it wasn't a Muslim student and it wasn't a Pakistani flag. It was a Jewish student and it was an Israeli flag. The student concerned (who is not Israeli and has never been to Israel) left the university immediately after the incident, as would I, had two drunk men come into my room in the middle of the night, "jumped on" me and urinated in my sink. And now some people are trying to say that this behaviour was a legitimate expression of criticism of the State of Israel, a sentiment so grotesque as to beggar belief.

A student (Paul Donnachie) has been found guilty of what the BBC calls "a racist breach of the peace" (he apparently intends to appeal). The victim, Chanan Reitblat, and his family were booed in court - not the person found guilty, but the victim. Extraordinarily, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has adopted this as a "free speech" issue, saying: "We call on supporters of Palestinian rights, anti-racists, and supporters of free speech Paul Donnachie." Has the world gone mad? What has Mr Donnachie's behaviour possibly got to do with any sensible campaign for the rights of the Palestinians? The SPSC is yet again demonstrating why it does not deserve the support of pro-Palestinian Liberal Democrats. It must be possible for someone to be pro-Palestinian (and, yes, anti-Israel) without campaigning to defend the sort of behaviour of which Mr Donnachie has been found guilty.

I agree with the Scottish University Jewish Chaplaincy, whose spokesman said of the SPSC: 
Their website campaign, presenting and purporting to justify the attack on Chanan Reitblat on the grounds of legitimate free speech and political expression, is a gross error of judgment which does not help the Palestinian cause. What freedom of speech and political expression? 
By putting the Jewish student in such a state of fear and alarm that he felt the need to leave St Andrews, stay in Glasgow with the Jewish chaplain and return to New York early?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Daily Mail and my party

I was intrigued, upon reading the Daily Mail earlier today, to see how many positive articles it included about the Coalition - not "the Conservatives", but "the Coalition". Including one piece quoting an expert saying how bad a particular thing had been under Labour, and how much better it was getting now that the Coalition is in power, and an article reporting the Deputy Prime Minister's views on Abelbaset al-Megrahi. This reminds me of the enormous opportunity open to my party, if we all choose to take it. If people approve of this Coalition Government, that means that they like what is being offered by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in government. We must continue (including at September's party conference) to be positive about what we are achieving - proud of what is an increasingly strong record in government. Nick Clegg and others are articulating a vision of what we are getting done - not just our restraining influence on the Conservatives, and not just our special liberal enthusiasms, but the whole picture. 

If this government continues to succeed, then will millions of people want to re-elect it for a second term in 2015? People say that "voters can't elect a coalition", but actually, tactical voting, etc, means that they can, if they choose. My party faces the possibility that people will decide to re-elect a government of which Liberal Democrats are a part. I can't be the only Liberal Democrat who would be quite happy if the next General Election produced another hung Parliament, potentially creating a situation in which the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might decide to continue in coalition for another five years?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

HuffPo: Nick Clegg's new thinking on Arab Spring

Over at the Huffington Post, I have written a longer piece about Nick Clegg's speech about the Arab Spring. This is another defining moment for Liberal Democrat foreign policy. I'd be really pleased to hear others' views if you want to post comments, either here or at the HuffPo piece itself.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Nick Clegg's speech on Arab Spring

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has delivered an excellent speech on the Arab Spring at the British Council today. If you are interested in UK Government policy on the Middle East and North Africa, then this speech repays a thorough reading. One striking line is: "Successful revolutions may change the world overnight. But, in many ways, it's the morning after that the real work begins...Many of the programmes (the UK is) supporting are technical, bureaucratic, but don’t ever underestimate this stage of reform. This is when you lock in a revolution. This is when you turn the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens into the institutions and practices of a well-functioning state." In saying that (and much more besides) Mr Clegg is confronting the fears of those who might ask: "What happens if a revolution produces not democracy and good governance, but despotism and a failed state?" Definitely worth a read in full.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

David Cameron and "the establishment"

I don't know who wrote David Cameron's article in today's Sunday Express, but the bit about "the establishment" sounds ridiculous. According to the Prime Minister's ghostwriter, "though it will mean taking on parts of the establishment, I am determined we get a grip on the misrepresentation of human rights." Who are the members of this "establishment" and how, precisely, do they stand in the way of our head of government and the things that he wants to do? It is a rhetorical flourish in the wrong direction, reminiscent of when Mr Cameron (in opposition) called for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to join the Conservatives in a "progressive alliance" against Labour. Yes, because the Greens and the Tories have lots in common, don't they? Nurse, the screens! 

The 'establishment' line also reminds me of stories about Margaret and Denis Thatcher sitting in the flat above the shop at Number 10 moaning over a late-night drink about the awful things that the Government was up to - that being her own government, as she was Prime Minister at the time. As a vocal supporter of this Coalition Government, I can tell Mr Cameron not to worry too much about the unseen forces of the establishment. It turns out that the office of prime minister carries even more power than is held by such "parts of the establishment" as lawyers and social workers. Phew. I'm glad we've sorted that out. Readers of the Sunday Express can sleep easy after all.

Yet more proof that I am shameless

Nominations have opened for the Lib Dem Blog of the Year Awards 2011. This blog (and postings on it) are eligible for nomination in several categories, including: Best new Liberal Democrat blog (started since 1st September 2010 - my blog started in January 2011; I copied across older posts from my previous blog), Best posting on a Liberal Democrat blog (since 1st September 2010) and Liberal Democrat Blog of the Year. So this is your chance to nominate whatever you consider to be the best blogs and postings, including mine, should you wish to do so. It's very quick and easy to do if you click the link and then send a quick email

Friday, 19 August 2011

Tory imitation sincerely flatters my blog

Last weekend, I wrote that Hendon's holidaying Tory MP Matthew Offord would achieve little by rushing back from Belize to a riot-hit London, as: "Matthew is a backbench MP...all he could have contributed was...sympathy...which...would have done little, in practical terms, to help..." Now I see that Cllr Hugh Rayner, the Chairman of Hendon Conservative Association, has written to the Hendon Times saying: "there would have been little that (Matthew Offord), or indeed any backbench MP, could do except express sympathy, which...would have done little in practical terms to help...” What a coincidence!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Fascinating stuff from Chatham House (and Brian Paddick)

Today is a day when there is so much happening that I could frankly blog about lots of things. The tragic news from Israel's border with Egypt underlines the fragility of that region's stability; right on cue, I was really pleased to get an email from Chatham House (the Royal Institute of International Affairs, as was) about their Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Programme, including the Egypt in Transition project, of which a highlight is this paper on securing a democratic process over there - essential reading for anyone interested in a democratic future for Egypt. To anyone interested in the Arab Spring more generally, I strongly recommend this interesting overview of its underlying causes. The situation surrounding 'September' is moving too fast for me to comment on it and I am now hopeful that the Palestinians might not make a full, unilateral declaration of independence at the UN next month - let's see. Moving from the international arena to London, I enjoyed this Guardian interview with Brian Paddick, my choice to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor. Oh, and if anyone wants to know what I think about the UK and Durban III (like they had to make a third one, after the first two were so bad), then I can do no better than refer you to the comments that I made some time ago.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Kurds, Palestinians and Somalia

I am many things, but an expert on Turkey and the Kurds is not one of them. I was saddened to read this story about eight Turkish soldiers being killed in a suspected PKK attack. The BBC says: "There has been an increase in Kurdish rebel attacks since July." I don't recollect hearing anything about that, which is doubtless my fault...The BBC also says that "more than 40,000 people have been killed in the violence" since 1984. This compares to 51,000 people having been killed in the Arab/Israeli conflict between 1950 and 2007. Given the numbers of deaths involved, why do we consider the (tragic) Arab/Israeli conflict to be so much worse than that involving Turkey and the Kurds? Why do we not allocate equal effort to resolving both of these conflicts? 

When I am told that the Palestinians' situation is a particular source of anger around the world, I have to ask why the conflict in Somalia (not the famine, but the conflict) is not an equal or greater source of anger, given what Human Rights Watch has said about it this week? The BBC reports that thousands of Palestinian refugees have been forced to flee a refugee camp in Syria, under attack by the Syrian Government. If Israel was attacking these same Palestinian people, the crowds would be out in Trafalgar Square in protest. I see no crowds today. Could someone explain to me why this is?

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

British aid and Palestinian terrorists

The Palestinian Authority (PA) sometimes lies in its propaganda. It has that in common with many governing authorities, particularly those which have evolved in historical circumstances similar to those in which the PA has evolved. So, when the PA claims to be paying £8 million per annum to the families of convicted criminals including terrorists, I don't know whether to believe such a claim - if I don't believe some of the other things that the PA says, why should I believe this? Nevertheless, the PA is making such a claim, and some people are connecting it to the £86 million that the UK provides to the Palestinians each year; the suggestion is being made that British taxpayers are giving millions of pounds that the PA is then paying to the families of terrorists. Assuming that these £8 million payments actually exist, then is there any evidence that they are coming from the £86 million provided by the British? I have seen no such evidence. 

Of course, it can be argued that, if the PA has so much spare cash that it can afford to pay £8 million to terrorists and other criminals, then why does it need aid from us? I understand also the argument that the PA can only afford to make these payments because international aid is paying for so many other things. I also completely understand how awful it is that the Fatah-controlled PA, so-often portrayed in the West as a relatively moderate organisation with which Israel can negotiate for peace, is engaged in the glorification of terrorists

But those are different arguments from the claim that UK taxpayers' money is being given by the PA to terrorists' families. The UK's aid to the Palestinians is broken down in great detail on the Department for International Development's website. Is the UK simply handing money to the PA, or are we funding specific aid projects of our own? If the latter, then to what extent is it true that British money is going into a PA pot from which the PA is then taking £8 million to give to terrorists and other criminals? This is not as cut and dried as some people are making out. At least some of the UK aid to Palestinians is going to things that I strongly support.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Olympic cycling goes wrong

This is not good at all about the disruption caused to Londoners by yesterday's Olympic cycling event. It sounds like the event was a great success and gave pleasure to lots of people, so that's terrific. It should, however, have been run in a way that caused less disruption. If it caused this amount of disruption, then that means that something went wrong. Transport for London (TfL) is guilty of breathtaking complacency if they think that it's sufficient to say, effectively: "Well, we warned people there would be disruption, so there." Warning people of disruption does not always make up for the annoyance caused by the disruption concerned. This event, after all, was one that only happened because someone wanted it to happen - it was not like the delays caused by unforeseen, emergency road works undertaken by a utility company. I used to work for a London utility company and I know a bit about traffic management and road closures. What happened yesterday really won't do. TfL says they will 'learn the lessons' (yawn) and I very much hope that they will.

There is no point in me being against the Olympics. Next year's events will bring enormous pleasure to a great many people and will doubtless be well-run in themselves. I don't like social engineering, so I don't like people having had to move their homes and businesses to accommodate the Olympics, with the promise that they will be compensated or get better places after moving - a promise that has presumably been made good. I don't like people losing treasured green spaces on the basis that they will apparently be given other, better green spaces instead. I hope that all of the promised improvements will be delivered. 

Non-Londoners may not realise that London residents have paid an extra chunk of Council Tax to the Mayor of London to fund the Olympics; in my borough of Barnet, residents have paid more of this Olympic tax than anybody else (because it's a very populous borough), but are not getting any Olympic events at all (a bit of cycling on Hampstead Heath was going to cross into our borough for a few yards, but the route has since been amended). When Olympic tourists generate tax revenue by spending money in shops, hotels and restaurants, that money will flow into the UK's national coffers, not London's coffers - even though it is Londoners, and not people more generally, who have paid this extra Council Tax. 

I have very little interest in sport. The Olympic emphasis on encouraging people to do sport to get fitter misses the point, as many sport-phobes will never play sport, and should be encouraged to do other forms of exercise instead - a lot of the best ways to exercise have nothing to do with sport. But it's happening, it will doubtless be a great success, and lots of people will enjoy it. So hooray for the Olympics, I suppose.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

There is no split on riot response

Why does everything have to be 'a row'? Newspapers are obsessed with reporting any signs of debate as signs of division. My party's Deputy Leader, Simon Hughes, has written a very good Observer article in which he utters not a word of direct criticism of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government and in which he says much that others (of all parties and of none) have been saying all week, as well as offering much that is original. He writes: "I said publicly that the police should be allowed to use water cannon and curfews. Liberal Democrats feel as strongly as anyone that we cannot have a free and liberal society when people are too scared to walk the streets." Much of what he writes about welfare reform could have been written by Iain Duncan Smith. And yet this is reported by a split-hungry media as a "Coalition row". If there is any division it has David Cameron and Simon Hughes (with their belief in a "responsible society"), on one side and various less cerebral people on the other. 

Also, hooray for Maureen West (whom I have never met) of Barnet Borough Watch (of which I have never heard) for her honesty in saying that we are "very lucky" that the rioting was not worse in Barnet. As she says, any rioting, looting or disorder is bad enough, but it has definitely been worse in other places and it's sensible to admit that, rather than engaging in the shroud-waving that might occasionally appeal to certain people in certain places. I note also what she has to say about Matthew Offord's holiday.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A shameless plug for my mate's new novel

If you click this link and go in by around one hour and nine minutes, you can hear Marius Brill being interviewed by Paddy O'Connell on BBC Radio 2 yesterday, about his new novel, How to Forget. I've read parts of the novel and it seems to me to be an excellent combination of a comic novel, a thriller and a literary novel, as good as Marius' critically acclaimed first novel, Making Love. I have no shame and therefore urge all of you to listen to the Radio 2 thing and then go and buy the book, which A.L. Kennedy has called: "a genuinely funny romp through some of the darker areas of the human mind and some of the more life-threatening areas of mentalism and magic. An engaging and good-hearted read."

Let Matthew Offord enjoy his holiday

I stood against the Conservative Matthew Offord at the last General Election. He got many more votes than I did, hence the fact that he (as as opposed to me) is now the MP for Hendon. I have blogged previously about how I got on well enough with him on a personal level when he and I were campaigning against each other; he was always courteous and friendly. There is now a 'row' about his being on holiday while the riots and looting have happened, and his not having come back. I care very much about the riots, but I don't care at all about Matthew Offord being on holiday. Lots of people go on holiday and then have big things happen at work while they are away, and they don't all come rushing back. Matthew is a backbench MP, with no executive responsibility for crime or policing. With the best will in the world, if he was here, all he could have contributed was words and sympathy. Words and sympathy that would doubtless have been sincerely meant, but which (through no fault of his) would have done little, in practical terms, to help the victims of these horrible crimes.

He is Hendon's representative in the House of Commons, not the House of Commons' representative in Hendon. The local MP does not deliver local services or affect how things are run locally. He is not the local  council. Had he been here to visit constituents affected by the riots, then I'm sure that they'd have been pleased to see him, but he wouldn't actually have been able to do anything, so what difference does it make that he's on holiday? And don't the police have better things to do than escort backbench MPs (ministers are another matter entirely) around to shake hands with people for the benefit of local press cameras? 

This raises fundamental questions about what we think the role of an MP actually is. They are there to legislate, to scrutinise and to hold government to account. If we want 'community champions', that's a different role - if the British people want to create that role and pay for it with our taxes (which I doubt), then let's do that, but, in the meantime, let's not pretend that's what MPs are for - it isn't, and we help no-one by pretending otherwise.

UPDATE There is now an intriguing post-script on the Hendon Times' website saying that he is not necessarily 'on holiday' anyway, but is actually out there working in some way. If we want our MPs to care about foreign policy, then they are going to do things abroad sometimes. Although (popping back into this post a day later, on Sunday afternoon) it has to be said that the paper's description of Matthew Offord's activities abroad does read a little oddly! He might well be on a fact-finding mission to learn things from Belize's government, but I would be surprised if a backbench MP with his professional background is able to advise a foreign government on counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and, er, counter-hurricanes. I guess he's out there on a social action project, volunteering with coastguards, police, etc. Unless Matthew is about to tell us that his CV includes what would be a very interesting and hitherto secret period working for some very interesting employers indeed...I thought he'd been a senior administrator at the BBC, rather than an MI6 agent?! I propose to write a thriller about an MP who is actually a secret agent. Dominic West can play him in the film.

UPDATE on 3 September 2011 It turns out that Matthew Offord was in Belize with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme - sounds fair enough to me.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Peace on a post-it note

Another excellent email from OneVoice, whose latest signatory I have become. I am aware, incidentally, what bathos there is in a British blogger like me claiming to have any special insight into how to bring peace to the Middle East...Anyway, the email from OneVoice referred me to this Facebook page, with my only quibble being that the bit about Jerusalem is a bit over-simplified. I'd be good at peace talks, wouldn't I? Reagan and Gorbachev would be about to sign, and then I'd say: "Actually, I have a quibble..." Oh. I've just noticed that OneVoice's new 'Facebook community' (but surely not OneVoice itself) "expects the United Nations General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in September. We support the action as an important step toward good faith negotiations, within a limited time frame, leading to a lasting agreement on all final status issues". Oh dear. I don't agree with them on that; I am surprised that they are saying this. It sounds like a painful compromise, if you read the actual wording. Ouch. Anyway, I like the overall sentiment behind this movement's work.

Religion and the riots - and what about 2001?

It is beyond cliche for someone like me to say: "I have enormous respect for John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York" before disagreeing with him about something. He just popped up on BBC Parliament in the Lords bemoaning the non-inclusion of "religious knowledge" in the English Baccalaureate. He is not the only person to imply that a decline in support for organised religion is a factor in these riots. However, I would argue that the proportion of these rioters and looters coming from religiously observant families might actually be disproportionately high, compared to the general population. Tottenham, for example, is a place with a lot of churches and other houses of worship. So I don't buy the idea that if more of these young people had had a religious upbringing, then it would have meant less looting and rioting. Many of them actually come from religious homes - but it hasn't stopped them from committing these crimes, has it? So let's not over-simplify the role of religion in a person's moral upbringing. There is, after all, such a thing as secular moral philosophy.

As for Rowan Williams' suggestion that schools have become focused on turning out consumers and not citizens, that is the sort of statement that has everybody nodding along until one thinks about it. Since when have schools been teaching people to be consumers and not citizens? What does that actually mean? People used to say similarly glib things about state schools when I was at one in the 1980s. There has been a massive expansion of citizenship education over the last ten years; I'm not sure that it even existed when I was at school. This was partly in response to the 2001 riots in Oldham, Burnley, Leeds and Bradford - remember them? How come, when people have been comparing this latest disorder to past instances of such problems, everybody has skipped straight back to the 1980s without first stopping off to consider the events of 2001? I appreciate that those riots were very different from those of the past week. But they were still riots.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

God and the Liberal Democrats

In what could well be a very good policy paper on A New Purpose for Politics: Quality of Life, to be debated at next month's Liberal Democrat Conference, I was intrigued to read that the paper's authors "do not seek in any way to encourage anyone to believe (or not) in God". This will doubtless come as a great relief to the many millions of British people who were on tenterhooks awaiting guidance from my party on this very question; God himself is unavailable for comment. The passage in question (which is actually quite sensible) reads:
There is good evidence that religious belief is positively associated with life satisfaction (sic) (even beyond the social effects): a belief in God does appear from the evidence to contribute to happiness. We do not seek in any way to encourage anyone to believe (or not) in God: among other considerations, it is also the case that many things have been done in the name of religion or other values systems which have reduced wellbeing, particularly of non-conforming minorities. However the wider message is that people having a clear sense of their place in the world is important to wellbeing.

Brian Paddick on Question Time to discuss riots

BBC1 have cleared the decks for an extra edition of Question Time to discuss this week's riots, tonight at 10.35.  Among the panellists is Brian Paddick, my choice to be the Liberal Democrat candidate for London Mayor. If you are a London Liberal Democrat party member who is voting to select our mayoral candidate, then tonight's Question Time could be essential viewing in deciding who to vote for. You can now watch the programme here.

UFO nonsense is wonderful fun

Another day, another story about the National Archives releasing UK government files about UFOs. This always takes me back to being nine years old and thinking that UFOs were the coolest thing on Earth (or not on Earth, I suppose). Until 2009, there was actually a section of the Ministry of Defence that people could ring to report having seen a flying saucer. It was in or near High Wycombe, and I once walked past an RAF base that I worked out must be the one where these people were based. Today's news tells me that a branch of Defence Intelligence called DI55 investigated UFOs for many years. Imagine doing that for a living. An unidentified flying object is, of course, a flying object that has not been identified, i.e. an unexplained aeroplane is a UFO, hence the Government's boring, killjoy desire for UFOs to be called UAP, Unexplained Aerial Phenomena. Plus various UK governments have been interested in the idea that foreign governments might spread rumours about UFOs in a bid to create hysteria. So when governments (from Churchill onwards) have investigated UFOs, it doesn't mean that they feared an imminent extra-terrestrial invasion. But it is still great fun.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Obama joins Romney in race to the bottom

My heart sinks at the suggestion (in this interesting article on Politico) that the Obama camp appears set on a deeply negative campaign against the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney. Given President Obama's own unpopularity, his aides apparently believe that they can only win if they render Romney even more unpopular than their own guy is. I can hardly blame them for thinking that, but it is still a shame that it's come to this.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Media reporting of the London riots

Imagine how you would feel if you were watching a BBC news programme and they referred to England's 1970 World Cup victory, when we all know it was 1966. Well, that's how I felt last night when BBC TV news referred to the "boroughs" of Tottenham and Peckham. There are no boroughs of Tottenham and Peckham. Tottenham is in the London Borough of Haringey and Peckham is in Southwark. London is divided into 32 boroughs and the separate City of London (the Square Mile itself). The names of the boroughs are common currency to anyone who ever talks knowledgeably about London. So if  senior broadcasters refer to Tottenham and Peckham as "boroughs", then they are revealing a lack of fluency in basic Londonese, which makes me think: "If they're getting that wrong, what else are they getting wrong that I'm not noticing?"

I've noticed also that nobody has commented on the religious affiliation of the rioters, which is as it should be, because it is irrelevant. My point being that there is a double standard in how these things are reported. If I suggested that some of these rioters might stem from Christian families and thus might have been radicalised in church groups, people would rightly question my perspicacity. If, however, many of these rioters were British Muslims, the media would be reporting that and we'd be hearing much islamophobic drivel about people having been radicalised, the responsibility of faith leaders to stop the violence, etc. Just a thought. 

Finally, I have to applaud The Independent for sacking Jody McIntyre as one of its bloggers. Following the Johann Hari fiasco, this is another nail in the coffin of any reputation that the paper ever had for being sensible or centrist. What possessed them to appoint Jody McIntyre as a blogger in the first place? I find it bizarre that the paper would respond to his rise to prominence by saying: "Yes, given this man's activities, he is exactly who we need as a blogger - get him on board now!" A paper's choice of retained bloggers tells you something about that paper's ethos - it tells you what the paper would taste like if it was a meal.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Lib Dem debates and London riots

Barnet Liberal Democrats had an enjoyable cream tea on Sunday. I was asked to lead an after-tea members' discussion about the general state of the party. I considered asking colleagues to close their eyes while imagining their ideal state of liberal democracy, and then running away before they'd opened their eyes again. Actually, it was great fun and a very good, constructive discussion. The consensus was that we are delivering some great things in the Coalition Government and could do well as a party if we get our message across about what has been achieved.

Later on, I was carrying out some important research into the interplay between community, commerce and the science of brewing - that is, I was in the pub - when news broke on the pub's TV set of the riots in Enfield. The pub is in New Barnet, which is not at all far from Enfield Town. I have to say that the atmosphere in the pub was somewhat sombre as a result.

Entirely unscientifically, I have recently noticed what I perceive to be more anti-social behaviour in the East Barnet Road area. More people walking around with glasses taken from some local drinking establishments, more crowds of kids behaving in an unruly manner, more cars with noisy revved-up engines, more people with dogs that are not under control, more people who appear to be under-the-influence, more people stood having noisy altercations on street corners after dark - whether any of this can be backed up statistically, I don't know (well then I should find out - I cannot work out from this whether anti-social behaviour locally is rising or falling; never mind), but I surely can't be the only one who's noticed it.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

I'm not a Mossad agent either

A complicated Irish political story in the Jewish Chronicle refers to "John Connolly, a 22-year-old Zionist blogger from Ealing" (whose blog I can't find, but never mind), "who has faced accusations that he is a Mossad agent". This is most unfair - how come he gets to be accused of being a Mossad agent and I don't? It's like when there was a row about MI5 allegedly bugging British left-wingers' phones in the 1980s, and various people were cross not to have been considered important enough to have had their phones tapped. How come the people who find Mr Connolly offensive don't also object to me? It is an outrage. Incidentally, when I read Robert Harris' novel The Ghost, with its depiction of the CIA setting up think tanks as front organisations, I must admit that there is at least one British organisation (headed by somebody quite famous) that instantly sprang to mind. The laws of libel prevent me from speculating about that any further (plus it's probably nonsense).

Friday, 5 August 2011

Saving the torture inquiry

I understand the arguments for not participating in Sir Peter Gibson's inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and rendition. Having myself campaigned for such an inquiry, I was very pleased when the Coalition Government set it up. It now needs rescuing. The Government and Sir Peter should pause for thought. I have not read the terms of reference for the inquiry, so I do not know if they are objectionable. A political animal who understands the intelligence community - maybe Sir Ming Campbell,  Lord Ashdown, Lord Owen, Lord Hurd, Lord Carlile, Lord West or Baroness Neville-Jones - must urgently be appointed to review the terms of the inquiry, to produce a compromise formula that allays the concerns of those who are not participating, while also meeting the needs of government. It's got to be as simple as that.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Justice even for Hosni Mubarak

I surely will not be the only person to question the efficacy of putting Hosni Mubarak on trial in what appears to be a hospital bed, having wheeled him into the courtroom? Either the former Egyptian president is too ill to stand trial or he is not. If he is, then he should not be in court today, and the proceedings should either not be happening or should be happening in his absence. I am well aware of the gross human rights abuses for which Mr Mubarak's regime was responsible throughout its many years in power (although, incidentally, it is not those abuses for which he is today standing trial), but everyone is entitled to justice, whatever crimes they are accused of. I'd say the same if the accused was a Nazi war criminal, including even one accused of murdering members of my own family - everyone is entitled to justice. This does not reflect well on Egypt's new government.

Absolutely Nothing At All

I have nothing to say today. Rather than saying nothing myself, I am here (in a bid to win the Johann Hari Award) re-producing nothing that Stephen Fry wrote in the late 1980s in The Listener (still on sale now in his book Paperweight):
This week I am not going to write an article, for the sad and lonely reason that my brain seems not to be working today. I hate to short-change you, but that's it. Nothing to say. For those of you reading who've never had to sit down on a weekly basis and provide 850 gleaming words of discursive prose for an imperious martinet of an editor who is expert with single-stick, fencing foil, field gun and combat sarcasm I may tell you that it isn't a breeze. A breeze is one of those things which it most specifically never is. It may be that you couldn't care a busman's burp what it is or isn't. 'It can be a breeze,' you reason, 'or it can be a hurricane. Of what possible interest can it be to us? We pay good money for these words and we don't give a monkey's god-daughter what pain the production of them may cost.' I suppose you're right, damn you; you're hard but you do have a very good point. After all, I should be most surprised if, as I was tucking into a packet of Abbey Crunch biscuits, Mr McVitie were suddenly to appear on my door-step and give me a solid quarter of an hour on how hard they were to bake, what agonies of composition the devising of the recipe gave him and how unappreciated he and his army of skilled pastrycooks were. Yet I am morally, if not contractually, obliged to give you your eight hundred and fifty whether you want them or not: and if I am going to have the impertinence to harangue you in the first place I might as well harangue you on the painful topic of how hard it is to think up subjects for haranguement.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Here we go again - peace process revs up a gear

Lots of media report that Prime Minister Netanyahu has made a big shift in policy towards the position of President Obama, when it comes to the vexed question of Israel's eventual borders with a putative Palestinian state. In other words, we're heading for another of those periods of fevered activity in the Israel/Palestine peace process, when the breathless 24-hour media will rush to report every detail of who has said what to whom when, before it dies down and we all move on to the next thing again. I am a strong believer in the possibility that something can and will be achieved - that, in the foreseeable future, a viable Palestinian state will be created to co-exist with a secure State of Israel. However, experience has taught me to be sceptical of the transformative effects of what appear at first glance to be major breakthroughs.

The latest news from Israel, Gaza and the West Bank acts as a reminder of the benefits to both sides of finally achieving peace. Although, to be more positive, have a look at Mr Netanyahu's Ramadan message to the Muslim world and this story about a Jerusalem museum that is working to bring Israeli and Arab artists together. 

Crucially, however, it must be remembered that the conflict is not remotely Israel's biggest news story at the moment; that honour goes to the demonstrations taking place on cost-of-living issues including housing. Imagine a domestic news story as big as Murdoch/phone-tapping or MPs' expenses, and you've got a flavour of the impact of these demonstrations in Israel at the moment. Israel's pre-state establishment was dominated by socialists who, through the Labour Party, headed every Israeli government from the state's creation in 1948 until 1977. Today, Labour has only eight of the 120 seats in Israel's Parliament, with Mr Netanyahu (both as Finance Minister and as Prime Minister) having 'reformed' Israel's economy on a Thatcherite model. Israel actually has a very strong, high-tech economy; do these demonstrations suggest a return to the 'social solidarity' values that were key to Israel's founders' vision?

Monday, 1 August 2011

More on Cuban human rights abuses

Aeons ago, in February 2010, the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Hendon (who was me) blogged about human rights in Cuba. Someone calling themselves Sacha last night posted a comment telling me off about this and saying that Cuba is actually far more democratic than is the UK. Since Cuba is a one-party state with an appalling record on press freedom, I beg to differ. Sacha will be disappointed to discover that the February 2010 post on Cuba was actually not my first. This is a key difference between liberals and socialists: liberals believe that individual freedom trumps 'equality' as a value and therefore consider Cuban communist oppression to be as horrible as was Chilean or Argentinian fascist oppression; some socialists romantically believe that if Cuba or Venezuela are apparently striving for greater equality, then it doesn't matter if people's freedom of expression is brutally suppressed. I shall continue to say whatever the hell I like about Cuba's appalling human rights record. That includes, incidentally, the case of Alan Gross.