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Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

New Britain, New Mogadon Man

As Ed Miliband is poised to take the stage to make his Leader's Speech, it really is true what the pundits have been saying: Labour is now the least interesting of Britain's three parties. For anyone who enjoys following politics (regardless of which party they support, if any), the Coalition Government is an utterly new and engrossing story. The politics of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are the only show in town. Labour may win the next General Election, Ed Miliband might be our nation's next Prime Minister, but it is very difficult to summon up much interest in what he will say today - he is a sideshow. I shall not be so childish as to deny his undoubted strengths, but oratory is surely not among them, so this speech won't even serve much as entertainment, never mind having much political substance. I doubt that anyone will even have written him many good jokes. We campaign in poetry and govern in prose; I fear that Mr Miliband campaigns not so much in poetry as in PowerPoint. 

Monday, 26 September 2011

I am about to swear in church

David Steel writes in his memoirs of a time when Russell Johnston MP publicly rebuked the revered Liberal leader Jo Grimond at a Scottish Liberal Assembly, calling this "the Liberal equivalent of swearing in church". I am about to swear in church. Or possibly swear in synagogue. Or swear wherever agnostics meet to perhaps-not-worship. Would that be in a gazebo? Or perhaps at the Mock Bridge at Kenwood? Or on the other side of the pond that the frog never finishes crossing if, with each move, he covers half of the distance remaining before he reaches the other side? Anyway, I'm going to swear in church because I'm going to say that Tony Blair was brilliant on The World At One on Friday. He offered a penetrating analysis of the Palestinians' unilateral declaration of independence at the UN. I really recommend that you have a listen and draw your own conclusions (about eleven minutes and thirty seconds in). 

When Mr Blair was appointed as the Quartet Representative, many people said that he was a terrible choice as he is hated across the Middle East because of the Iraq War. Anyone who said that was blending ignorance with wishful thinking and sour grapes. Tony Blair is enormously respected across the Middle East, because he knows everybody, is known to be extremely well-connected in Washington and across Europe and is seen as having been a strong leader when he was Prime Minister. I wonder, incidentally, what the leaders of the Arab Spring's opposition movements actually think about the war that removed Saddam Hussein as the leader of Iraq? As they now seek to remove similar tyrants and create a democracy like Iraq's, what is their view of the war? I don't know. I'd be interested to find out. 

Anyway, have a look here and see the incredible things that are being done by the Office of the Quartet Representative to prepare the Palestinians for statehood. When you couple that with what the UK and others are doing in terms of international aid for the Palestinians, you certainly can't claim that the Palestinians' problems are being ignored by the world, which is one of the odder claims that one sometimes hears being made.

Also, if you're seriously interested in what's happening at the UN, then read President Abbas's speech there and read the one that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave - read them both and make your own mind up about what you think about what they both had to say.

Oh, and a PS for those of you who like to talk about 'apartheid' in the Middle East. Might there finally be some progress towards ending the apartheid that scars the region? I'm talking, of course, about gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia. I'm certainly not talking about Israel. A glance at the region's headlines today shows that the top story is "Syrian defectors forming dissident army". Second from the top is "Saleh calls for Yemen elections"; in third place we have "Egypt's labor movement blooms in Arab Spring". A reminder, if it was needed, that there is a great deal more to the Middle East than the affairs of Israel/Palestine - not that you'd always know it from some of the media coverage here in the UK.

Glenis who?

I follow politics and am quite interested in the European Parliament. Well, forgive my ignorance, but, until today, I do not believe that I had ever heard of Glenis Willmott. Who? She is Labour's leader in the European Parliament, apparently. She just spoke at Labour's conference. My never having heard of her surely underlines the extent to which nobody reports what actually happens in the European Parliament. How often does the media tell us what MEPs have done on a particular day? Hardly ever. This means that when people vote in European elections, they often vote simply for whichever party they always vote for. Or they treat it as a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, or as a chance to cast a mid-term protest vote against the government of the day. What almost nobody does is vote for the people that they most want to be their local Members of the European Parliament, based on the powers that that Parliament actually has. Even for those of you who don't like 'Europe', I would say: If we are going to have a European Parliament, then let's elect its members sensibly on the basis of what they are actually going to do when they get there.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Let's create the first-ever Palestinian state

Nobody would be happier than I would be if the Quartet succeeded in creating a Palestinian state by the end of 2012. That is what I have always believed in: a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel. Given that Prime Minister Netanyahu has again said that he would like to talk unconditionally to President Abbas today, what is stopping President Abbas? So let the world facilitate negotiations to create a Palestinian state. 

So long as we are clear that, when it is created, this Palestinian state will be the first the world has seen - there has never been one before. Prior to the Anglo-French carve-up of the Middle East in the 1920s, today's Israel/Palestine was part of a much larger province (including many other parts of the Arab world) that was ruled for centuries by Turkey's Ottoman Empire. When that empire lost the First World War, Britain and France divided up its territories, with Britain getting a bit that was given the name of Palestine. Britain then gave 78% of this Palestine to the Hashemites as their new Kingdom of Transjordan (today's Jordan) - a kingdom which Jews were barred from living in. So the Palestine that was left, under British rule in the 20s to 40s, was only 22% of the Palestine that Britain had originally taken. 

The Arabs living in that Palestine did not call themselves Palestinians until the 1960s, at which point (in political terms) they began to develop a specific national consciousness as Palestinians (as opposed to as Arabs more generally) that they had never previously had - before the creation of Israel in 1948, Jews living in Palestine often called themselves Palestinians, while Arabs living there didn't. 

There were many proposals to divide that remaining 22% of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states (with an international zone in Jerusalem). It may sound like an over-simplification to say that the Jews accepted these proposals and the Arabs rejected them, but it happens to be true. There was then a war in 1948/9, in which the West Bank and Gaza (which were supposed to have been part of a proposed new Arab state) were instead taken by Jordan and Egypt. Jordan annexed the West Bank in 1950, with almost nobody (apart from Britain) recognising this illegal annexation. Neither Jordan nor Egypt showed the slightest inclination to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza while they had them. 

It is also true that, prior to 1950, the West Bank (which is the west bank of the River Jordan) was never known as the West Bank - it really did tend to be known by the Biblical-sounding name of Judea and Samaria, so those who call it that today are not (as many people wrongly imagine) religious nutters. For many centuries, until Jordan took over, Jews had lived with other people on the West Bank. It was only in the seventeen years of Jordanian occupation after 1950 that there were no Jews there. In the Six Day War of 1967 - a war that Israel desperately tried to avoid - Israel won control of the West Bank and Gaza, so Jews started living on the West Bank again, as they had done for centuries prior to Jordan chucking them out in 1950. 

So long as we are clear about this history? Then let's continue with the hard work of negotiation to create a Palestinian state that will live in peace and security alongside Israel.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Israel and Tibet at Liberal Democrat Conference

Well, before I get into Conference, I'm sure that all Liberal Democrats will be pleased by this JC Diary story about Lord Palmer's latest contribution to the work of the Coalition Government...So, to Conference. My highlights included being on a communal computer which posted one of my blog postings on someone else's blog, which I noticed fast enough to delete immediately. And, while I was talking to an old university friend about how neither of us remembered knowing George Osborne when we were all at the same university together, a slightly  confused woman, with whom I had hitherto been unacquainted, interrupting me to say: "You don't remember George Osborne? But he's the Chancellor of the Exchequer!" before she launched into an extended monologue about my hair, which apparently is what her granddaughter would call very modern, because it sticks up. "The worst thing to say about hair is that it is ordinary, so very well done," she said. OK...

Also, a few people have commended me for asking the Chinese Ambassador a question about Tibet at a fringe meeting on Wednesday. For which "thanks", but it didn't take much doing. I don't know very much about Tibet. The ambassador had spoken at length and with some candour about a range of topics including human rights, without any mention of Tibet. I wonder if an Israeli Ambassador could speak at such a meeting without mentioning the Palestinians? So in the Q&A, I courteously asked if His Excellency could please offer the meeting an update on how his government sees the situation in Tibet. Which he did, at some length, and that was appreciated.

The UK, EU and international community to continue their support for the fundamental human rights of both the Israeli and the Palestinian people, and to step up efforts to promote peaceful negotiation between Israel and the freely elected representatives of the Palestinian people which will lead to a comprehensive and final peace treaty between the two sides based on the legitimate entitlements of each in international law, including their right to live in peace and security
Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel actually supported this amendment, with Sarah Ludford MEP (one of our Vice-Presidents) speaking in the debate. It really is an excellent amendment, which ought to appeal to anyone who cares about Israel and the Palestinians. Having been passed by Conference, it is presumably party policy. The only qualification of my support for this amendment would be to say that the bit about "freely elected representatives of the Palestinian people" can be taken as a reference to Hamas. Israel (and the UK Government) argues that it would be quite willing to negotiate with Hamas if Hamas recognised Israel's right to exist, renounced violence and agreed to abide by past agreements entered into by the Palestinian Authority. The door is open to Hamas if it does those three things, which it arguably ought to do before it is an acceptable negotiating partner (should the Palestinians re-elect Hamas, which I very much hope that they won't).

Finally, there is obviously nothing more tedious than Lib Dem bloggers who come online to say: "I've just been on BBC Radio Finchley to talk about the mansion tax!" On which note, further to the World Service thing that I posted the other day, I was twice approached for my views by Winkball, along with many other Conference attendees. The first time, I seem to have adopted the guise of a Mr Matthew Herris, whoever he is, and the second time, you'll see that I went on at great length and was enormously controversial.

Monday, 19 September 2011

BBC World Service thing I just did on UN vote

BBC World Service just asked what I think about what might or might not happen at the UN this week. Please click here if you are interested in what I had to say.

Friday, 16 September 2011

CST Fringe Meeting on Preventing Extremism

For those of you attending Liberal Democrat Conference, there's a great fringe meeting organised by the Community Security Trust (CST), on Preventing Extremism, at which 'former extremists' will explain how Liberal Democrats can help fight extremism. The speakers include Rashad Ali (a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir) and Matthew Collins, a former member of the National Front. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake and journalist Martin Bright are also on the panel, with the CST's Dave Rich in the chair. It's in Hall 6b of the ICC, 13.00-14.00, Tuesday 20 September (the advert says that lunch will be provided). It's in the Secure Zone, so only open to those who are registered to attend Conference. It should be a very interesting discussion.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cameron/Clegg Govt calls it right on Durban III

I applaud Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to pull the UK out of Durban III, the UN-sponsored conference on racism taking place in New York later this month. This chimes nicely with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's strong, public opposition to Durban II, which he reiterated in a speech last November

Why, you might ask, would I be pleased about UK non-participation in a conference on racism? It is because Durban I and Durban II, the two previous conferences, degenerated into one-sided anti-Israel hate-fests, rather than constructive conferences on racism. Nick Clegg strongly urged the Labour Government to pull out of Durban II, but Gordon Brown refused to do so. 

Last week, I heard it suggested that the UK was indeed poised to pull out of Durban III. I also heard suggestions that this decision had the active support of senior figures from across the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition, from the Prime Minister on down. That would make sense, given what the Deputy Prime Minister had previously said about Durban II. The newspapers now say that the Prime Minister intervened personally on this matter, and who am I to ever argue with the newspapers? Either way, the Government headed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg has reached the right decision, reflecting Mr Clegg's past comments on the Durban process. 

And the reform to the law on universal jurisdiction has today reportedly got the Royal Assent, in line with a clear previous pledge from Nick Clegg (and from the Conservatives). Indeed, it was piloted through the House of Lords by Liberal Democrat ministers, and the Jewish Chronicle now reports that the Lib Dem Lord Palmer played a crucial role earlier this week...

Turkey's Global Strategy

I previously blogged about a very good event about Turkey in the World at the LSE. That event was to launch an LSE report on Turkey's Global Strategy; the LSE's Nick Kitchen has helpfully pointed out that the report itself is available to read online. I shall read the report with great interest and would urge others to do so. 

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Waging Peace in Liberator (and Iran - and Julian Critchley)

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice for precis-ing the new issue of Liberator, which apparently includes a piece by Becky Tinsley about a group called Waging Peace, of which I had never previously heard - it sounds excellent. If they ever organised a fringe meeting at Lib Dem Conference, I'd be there, especially if it was on Sudan (by which I mean "about Sudan" as in the country, not "on Sunday" with a typing error). 

Talking of fringe meetings, and for the benefit of this blog's reader, Arthur, in Cheltenham - Arthur may recall that last year I complained about a lack of fringe meetings about Iran. This year, there is more than one meeting about Israel/Palestine (one of which I am involved in organising, so I can hardly complain about that), but a search for "Iran" again produces not a single reference - no fringe meetings discussing Iran, no fringe meetings discussing nuclear proliferation. I know that the Lib Dem Ministers in this Coalition Government very definitely get the point about the challenges posed by Iran; Nick Clegg talked strongly about this in at least one of his speeches over the past year or so (about eleven minutes and fifteen seconds in). I am more than happy with the Government's approach to Iran. Does the absence of a fringe meeting on Iran (or on nuclear proliferation) reflect a lack of insight on the part of the grassroots activists who organise such meetings? I hope not. I guess I'll have to organise such a meeting myself next year.

Just listening to The Week in Westminster on BBC Radio 4. It really is the only show in town. If it was put in front of million of listeners who currently never hear it, I'm sure they'd find it interesting. Ah well. Anyway, the Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George just told the programme that the Lib Dems don't have a Tea Party wing, and implied that Mark Littlewood's support for Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government policy means that, if we did have such a wing, Mark would be on it. I'll get the kettle on and warm the pot. 

The programme also said that Mr George has been "inundated" with messages of support since voting against whatever it is that he voted against to do with NHS reform the other day. Well, of course he has. Among the Liberal Democrats' activists, those who oppose the party leadership always make the most noise. The heroic Julian Critchley wrote that he considered legalised abortion to be "a regrettable necessity", a view that he believed was shared by a majority of his constituents, but that they (that majority) didn't march on Westminster. Unlike people who are strongly pro-choice or strongly anti-choice, that majority don't lobby their MPs in pursuit of their moderate belief that regulated, legalised abortion is the least worst option (which it surely is, hence my being pro-choice myself). 

Similarly, I'm sure that most Liberal Democrat party members regard compromising with the Conservatives on the NHS as "a necessity" and are pleased that our ministers are getting on with it for the good of the country at a time when the misery caused by Labour's economic meltdown is still a fact of life for millions of people. But they (including the many very sensible 'armchair members' who make the invaluable contribution of paying a subscription, while choosing not to engage in very much Lib Dem activity) don't all send emails to the office of Andrew George MP applauding his votes against the Government. There's a few of us like me who are very pro-Coalition, a few of us who are very anti and a much larger group in the middle who are neither very pro nor very anti, but have an admirable sense of proportion about the whole affair. More power to them. 

I'm pleased that I managed to get to the end of this piece without using the tired phrase "silent majority". Or at least, I would have been thus pleased if I hadn't just used it.

Friday, 9 September 2011

I thought Gandhi was dead

I've only just seen this...Last week, it transpires, one of the Jewish Chronicle's (JC) reader-bloggers (nothing to do with the paper officially - any reader can start one) wrote this short review of my then-latest blogging activities. This might not be one of the notices that I post on the billboard above the theatre to promote the show. For reasons that remain mysterious, the JC blogger concerned hides behind a photograph of Mahatma Gandhi and calls himself (or herself) Real Real Zionist. I see...OK...I love it when reader(s) of this blog moan about how much they dislike reading it. When I was a boy, the BBC used to broadcast a television programme encouraging children not to watch television during the school holidays. It was called Why Don't You? As in "Why don't you switch off the television set and go and do something less boring instead?" I didn't like it, as it was encouraging me to play outdoors when I wanted to be indoors watching the antique Flash Gordon and Tarzan films that being shown on my television set, but I got the point, which is that, surely, if you find my blog uninteresting, then please (please) don't read it. As Clement Freud said to Victoria Gillick when she said she didn't vote for him: "I wouldn't want you to."

Now I really have heard it all

I'm sorry, but Andrew Dismore is attacking Hendon's Tory MP, Matthew Offord, for the amount of time that Mr Offord spends abroad? In a letter to Hendon Times - can't find it online. This is the same Andrew Dismore that we're talking about here, right? The one who, as Hendon's Labour MP until last year, had a passport that never exactly complained of under-use? As an MP, Andrew was renowned for taking an interest in foreign affairs, which meant that he often travelled abroad. Indeed, the circumstances of his travels proved newsworthy in the run-up to the General Election. It therefore takes the biscuit (perhaps an exotic foreign biscuit procured while on an  overseas Parliamentary delegation) for Andrew to cut up rough about it now. Why must we have this petty bickering? Andrew used to travel abroad as an MP. Matthew Offord now travels abroad as an MP. Had I been elected (cue derisive laughter in certain quarters), then I too would often be going abroad as an MP. That is what MPs do, especially in constituencies like Hendon where a lot of people care about overseas events. Can we all stop trying to score points off each other with this nonsense?

'Vatican option' for a Palestinian state?

I'm intrigued to read in the Financial Times about the 'Vatican option', which would upgrade the Palestinians' UN mission from 'observer entity' to 'observer state', "the same rank enjoyed by the Holy See. Palestinian leaders believe the upgrade would mark an important step towards formal statehood and pave the way for Palestinian membership of other international organisations – including, most controversially, the International Criminal Court." 

The UN General Assembly could vote to do this on 20 September (when it is poised to vote on Palestinian statehood), and it would then actually happen. Whereas, if the General Assembly voted instead for a full upgrade to 'member state', it would have to go to the Security Council, where the US would veto it, because they want a Palestinian state to be created through Israeli/Palestinian peace talks, not through unilateral action by the Palestinians. 

My friends to the Right would accuse me of naivety if I 'supported' the Vatican option. Some friends to the Left probably wouldn't like it either, as they don't understand why the UN can't just create a Palestinian state immediately. When it comes to the International Criminal Court (ICC), there is a technical debate among lawyers as to whether (given how the ICC works) the Vatican option would actually give the Palestinians any greater access to the ICC - I don't know, as I'm not a lawyer. 

I want the ICC's rules to be applied fairly and equally in all parts of the world, including the UK, Israel, France, India, Guatemala, Micronesia - everywhere. In an ideal world, why should Palestinians not be able to complain to the ICC about the Israelis or about anybody else? Why should Israelis not be able to complain to the ICC about the Hamas regime in Gaza? 

But I understand Israel's desire not to be bombarded with attempted court cases that are politically motivated and have little to do with justice. I understand why Israel would see the ICC as just another stick for world opinion to beat it with. So I get why that matters. I cannot, however, get too worked up about the Palestinians getting greater access to the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and UNESCO. Indeed, given that Israel (including under its current government) has worked hard with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to create the institutions of Palestinian statehood, there are circumstances in which Israel itself would have welcomed greater Palestinian access to such bodies, as a step on the way to a negotiated two-state solution. 

These are not those circumstances. This, is, arguably, none of my business, as I am neither Israeli nor Palestinian. So it's not that I 'support' the Vatican option; it's that I can imagine a situation in which the parties themselves (Israel and Palestine, with the support of the US, the EU and the world community) were themselves both proposing it as a step on the way to the negotiated creation of a Palestinian state. That is not where we are, but if the two parties return to the negotiating table, is it where we can get to? Prime Minister Netanyahu said the other day: "(Palestinian President Abbas) can come to Jerusalem, I could go to Ramallah or we could both go to Brussels" in another call for direct peace talks without conditions. Surely it would be a good thing if President Abbas said yes to this immediately?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Howard Jacobson on HuffPo

Jason Holmes has a very good piece about Howard Jacobson over on Huffington Post. I like the bit about rabbis and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and am particularly delighted by the suggestion that JG Ballard deserves to be bracketed with Ben Elton. You can just imagine what delight The Finkler Question gave to someone in my position and this is a great interview with Jacobson. I like his saying: "When I was younger I was always trying desperately to be a novelist in my head, but I never wrote anything until...I was 40. I wanted to write, but couldn't. I tried to write inappropriate things." Although in my case, it isn't novels that I haven't written. There's a long list of screenplays that I've not-written before the possibility of not having written any novels might enter the equation.

A Pinteresque pause for thought

I sniggered at the news that London's Comedy Theatre is to be re-named the Pinter Theatre. When this was first mooted some years ago, was Tom Stoppard not quoted as saying: "Wouldn't it be simpler for Harold to change his name to Harold Comedy?" I have fond memories of once interviewing Tom Stoppard for Isis, on which occasion he said: "One of the great deficiencies in life is the lack of a typeface for irony." He got that right. I'm more of a Stoppard fan than a Pinter man. Actually, for all of Pinter's undoubted, enormous stature as a playwright, I have never become a fan. I've liked some of his screenplays (particularly Reunion and A Night Out), but I've never seen a production of one of his plays that truly set my world on fire. I'm sure this is my fault. I have already recorded an account of the one time that I not-met Harold Pinter. I would like to have seen his productions of Simon Gray's plays, particularly The Common Pursuit.

I sometimes wonder whether, in three hundred years' time, Dennis Potter will be considered the greatest playwright of the latter half of the twentieth century, despite his having written more for television than for the stage. In which case, what will count as the texts of his work - the scripts, or the recordings of the original television productions? Probably a combination of the two. The National did a stage version some years ago of  one of Potter's television plays, Son of Man. Will Potter's plays enter the theatrical repertoire? Or will we watch the original versions on the screen instead? Actually, if BBC Four wanted to screen a big repeat run of Potter, Mercer, Hopkins, Exton, Owen and the others, that would be great. Not Loach, though. We can see him all the time anyway. Not the British New Wave in cinematic terms (which I also love), but the television plays of the late 50s to late 70s. Don Taylor being the only person from that world that I ever really knew, as I was assistant director on a stage adaptation of Don's radio play When the Barbarians Came. In 1994! Ancient history now. Rick Warden was in that. And Sam Dastor. And Don himself, as another of the actors fell ill and dropped out, leading Don to step in to play the part himself. I had to coach him in learning his own lines - lines that he had himself written. That was an experience.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Tunisian synagogue smashed

As a cautiously optimistic British observer of the Arab Spring, I wish Tunisia and its people well as they travel towards what ought to be democracy, good governance and the rule of law. As a liberal, however, I cannot countenance a situation in which freedom for the majority means smashed windows for minorities. This attack on a synagogue is disgusting. The UK Government has made clear that British aid for the nascent democracies of the Middle East and North Africa is contingent upon those countries' governments continuing to move (with our guidance) in the right direction. That includes respect for the rights of minorities, including Jews. Tunisia's government must uphold the rule of law and things like this must not happen again.

Nadine Dorries right about Nick Clegg's influence

I don't agree with the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries about many things. However, she is absolutely right about the great influence being exerted by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg on the policy direction of this Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. Long may such influence continue! I found this bit, incidentally, while going online to check on a reported sighting of Matthew Offord. Can it be true that Hendon's Conservative MP asked a question of the Prime Minister? What was it about? Dogs? The Human Rights Act? Belize? The parking of motor cars? I shall now go and read it with the greatest of interest.

UPDATE Go in about thirty-one minutes, fifty-two seconds, and you'll see that it was indeed about Belize, effectively, following his recent trip there with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Brian Paddick and the spirit of party unity

I'm was delighted to read yesterday's Standard interview with Brian Paddick - a great start to Brian's Lib Dem candidacy for London Mayor in the 2012 election. As the Standard said in its accompanying editorial, "Mr Paddick is a decent man with a genuine commitment to London and especially to tackling crime." As the editorial also noted, "At a troubled time, London needs fresh thinking on policing" - and who better than Brian to provide that? Indeed, I'd go further and suggest that he is likely to come up with some great ideas on other policy areas as well, including transport and housing. He'll be aided in this (reports the Standard) by his selection of London Assembly Liberal Democrat Leader Caroline Pidgeon to be his Deputy Mayor if he is elected next year. Hooray for that spirit of unity on London Liberal Democrats' next campaign. 

I've always said that if loyalty is the Tories' secret weapon, then we Lib Dems should pinch that weapon off them. Something to bear in mind ahead of the upcoming party conference. Yes, we are a democratic party and we debate policy, which means that the leadership does not always get its way - that's as it should be. But we are also a disciplined party that trusts and supports its elected leader and which never puts party before country, especially now that we are in government. When Nick Clegg says that he is going to do something as Deputy Prime Minister, making pledges to the public and to his colleagues in government, he must then be allowed to deliver on those pledges. Were the party ever to prevent him from doing that, they would risk creating the entirely false impression that the Liberal Democrats are an ineffectual, disunited party that does not trust its leader. 

Our elected Conference Reps have real power, and with power comes responsibility. When millions of people listen to five-minute Radio 2 news bulletins in the middle of other shows on every day of our conference week, I frankly do not want the second headline to always be: "In another rebuff to party leader Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrats at their conference in Birmingham have voted to reject the Coalition's flagship policy of..." What impression do you think that such headlines make on millions of ordinary people who have little interest in politics? And please don't tell me that the media will always say nasty things about the Liberal Democrats whatever we do, because that simply is not true. Anything that distracts from the positive agenda of what Liberal Democrats are achieving in government is just that, a distraction, and the country is in no mood for distractions at the moment. What the country wants is for Liberal Democrats to continue to say that, in pursuit of economic recovery at a very difficult time, we and the Tories are prepared to set aside our differences and work together. That means both parties stomaching some things that we don't like, without an excess of critical barracking from the grassroots. Discretion really sometimes is the better part of valour.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Congratulations to Brian Paddick

I have already congratulated Brian Paddick on his selection as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London in the election of 2012, and I want to echo that congratulation here. Brian is a terrific candidate. The closeness of the result demonstrates the esteem in which Mike Tuffrey (who came second in the selection) is held by many people, and it's great also that Brian Haley got such a creditable result as a candidate who was perhaps less well-established in the party than the other three. And Lembit Opik - well, he stood as well, didn't he, and he needs no words of mine, as he clearly has so very many of his own. Seriously, I don't know Lembit personally, so good luck to the guy - whatever. Brian Paddick would make a much better mayor than Johnson or Livingstone and he can now take the fight to the enemy, aiming for the best possible result and the election of more Lib Dem London Assembly Members. Of course, "the best possible result" would be a win if the people of London so decided - that's up to them and I'm convinced that Brian will be very positively received in the coming weeks and months. I'm delighted to have supported him and very pleased that he has been selected.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Lib Dem Voice: How not to further the Palestinian cause

Over at Lib Dem Voice, I have a piece about the St Andrews University 'Israeli flag' case. Do please have a read of that and comment on it over there if you want to...

Throw the Bruch at them

Although there are doubtless many people who would love to see me brought to Bruch for my many misdemeanours, nobody took me to last night's concert of the Israel Philharmonic. In fact, I boycotted it, on the principled grounds that I have extremely little interest in classical music and so would rarely want to be in the audience for this orchestra or for any other. Oh, of course I didn't boycott it, that's a joke, but I am something of a Philistine on matters musical and was therefore at home watching Torchwood while some pro-Palestinian campaigners were disrupting the Israeli orchestra's performance. 

There is actually a time-honoured tradition of making a political protest by disrupting a musical performance - didn't some of the campaigners for Soviet Jewry use to do it? Not that I'm drawing an inaccurate comparison between the historic plight of Soviet Jewry and the politics of Israel/Palestine. Plus, how is disrupting a performance of the Israel Phiharmonic any different from disrupting a performance by the comedian Ivor Dembina, as some pro-Israeli campaigners did a few weeks ago? Seriously, what is the difference? Although I suppose heckling a comedian is one thing, and heckling an orchestra is quite another - the former is an established part of the art form, while the latter is just disruption.

Nobody has the legal or moral right to stop the BBC from organising and broadcasting the concerts of its choice, be those concerts performed by Israelis or by anyone else. Equally, nobody has the legal or moral right to stop an audience from attending and enjoying a concert, be it performed by Israelis or by anybody else. Had pro-Palestinian campaigners stood outside politely handing out literature explaining to concert-goers what they (the campaigners) think about Israel/Palestine, nobody would object - least of all me. Indeed, had they done that, and had the literature been at all well-written, then they might even have influenced the opinions of some of the people reading it - and surely influencing people's opinions is the aim of any campaign?

Instead, however, they sought to prevent the concert from being enjoyed by its audience (including on the radio); in other words, they tried to stop other people from doing something that those other people were perfectly entitled to do. As a liberal, I believe in not restricting someone's freedom unless that person is acting in such a way as to in itself restrict the freedom of another person. So I think it is quite reasonable to restrict the freedom of people who want to shout at concerts. It is reasonable for such people to be removed by security guards and, if they refuse to leave when asked to do so, then it is reasonable for them to be arrested.

After all, I once refused to eat in a Chinese restaurant in London called the Cultural Revolution. When you consider what the Cultural Revolution actually was, can you think of any sicker joke than naming a restaurant after it? So I chose not to eat there. I did not, however, go in, order a meal and then stand up and start shouting during other people's meals. I can well understand why an anti-Israel campaigner would not want to buy a ticket to a concert of the Israel Philharmonic; I can understand less why they wanted to buy tickets (generating revenue for which I'm sure the Israel Philharmonic is very grateful) and then stand up and start shouting and booing during the concert. I very much doubt that their antics changed the mind of a single person or won any converts to their cause. What, therefore, do they imagine that they achieved?

I see also that the Simon Bolivar Orchestra performed at the Proms the other week without facing similar disruption. This orchestra is much-lauded (presumably justly) by people who know infinitely more about music than I do. I myself would probably never attend one of their concerts, because I find progressive opinion's lack of concern about Venezuelan human rights abuses to be nauseating and hypocritical. That is not the orchestra's fault and they are doubtless excellent, but it sticks in my craw that Israel's musicians cannot play in London without being interrupted, while no attention whatsoever is paid to what is happening in Venezuela

You can't say that Israel's music is inseparable from Israeli politics unless you are also going to say that Venezuela's music is inseparable from Venezuela's politics. So, for that reason, I'd probably not want to go to a concert of the Simon Bolivar Orchestra, and feel surrounded by people who think it's all marvellous and care nothing for what is actually happening in that country. That is my choice. But I wouldn't stand up and boo, and I wouldn't seek to stop the concert from happening for other people. If I did, then I would deserve to be thrown out by security guards.