Read my blog at Huffington Post

I also blog at Huffington Post's new UK site; please click here to read my posts there.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Tonge: A celebration tinged with sadness

My delight at Baroness Tonge's decision to stand by her illiberal principles and abandon the Liberal Democrats is immense (http://m.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/feb/29/lady-tonge-lib-dem-israel?cat=politics&type=article). Since she is clearly no liberal, why would she want to be a Lib Dem anyway? It is grotesque to contemplate the end of any country (least of all a country whose neighbours regularly call for its genocidal destruction) and Nick Clegg was right to demand that she apologise. You can be a Lib Dem Parliamentarian (representing the corporate body that is my party) OR you can say what she said (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/64307/tonge-resigns-liberal-democrats-after-israel-controversy) - you can not do both.

Subject to the law of the land, she can offend who she likes, but she cannot do that whilst standing on public platforms as a Liberal Democrat Parliamentarian. Just as I would not have been able to offend whoever I liked and remain a Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate. And to those who disagree with me on that, I say: if you don't like being a member of a disciplined, grown-up political party in which there's a limit to the extent to which senior figures choose to say stupid and offensive things on public platforms, then please don't feel obliged to remain a member of the Liberal Democrats.

So why does my champagne have an after-burp of sadness? Why can I not simply dance in the streets (or on the Tube, where currently I sit) singing Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's "Goodbyee!" song? Why am I not jumping on and off pavements like Gene Kelly in Singin' in the Rain? Actually, I am. My joy is unconfined.

Were there, however, to be a police officer hovering with a warrant for my joy's potential confinement, then that warrant would say that the whole thing is actually very sad. It is very sad that Baroness Tonge ever became the sort of person who says the things that she says, it is very sad that she associated with some of her chosen associates and it is very sad indeed that she chose to associate with those people instead of associating with those many pro-Palestinian campaigners who share the Liberal Democrats' vision of a two-state solution that will bring peace, justice and security to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

But it is not sad that she has gone. Now Liberal Democrats can campaign for the rights of Palestinians and Israelis without that campaigning being distorted by Jenny Tonge's complete misrepresentation of what our party stands for. Oh, and roll on an elected House of Lords so that I can vote for Liberal Democrat candidates to replace her in our country's Parliament. Anyway, as Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has said:

"These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats.

"I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party.

"The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue, but we are crystal clear in our support for a two state solution."

Monday, 27 February 2012

Latest drivel from TfL

From London Buses (Transport for London) a sign at Hampstead Station Bus Stop B explaining that the 268 bus will not be stopping here "from Monday 27 February 2012 until Sunday 4 February 2012". It's time travel! Locked in a loop from the end of February until the beginning of the same month like in Groundhog Day. And someone at this major taxpayer-funded organisation has proof-read this rubbish and thinks it's alright. It really stinks.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tories' away day dinner menu

Conservative MPs are just back from a corporate away day at Portcullis House. Since they work in Portcullis House anyway, that is not so much an away day as a here-we-are day. Jacob Rees-Mogg was just on the BBC explaining that he addressed the dinner at the end of the day, giving a speech in which he explained why the Liberal Democrats are his second-favourite of the two parties in the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government. As I am a Vice-Chairman of the Liberal Democrat Friends of the Conservative Party, I've had a chance to see the menu for the dinner including:

Hot Potato Soup with Croutons of Lansley

Iranian Rocket Salad (served with all options on the table)

Roast Clegg of Lamb

Budget Surprise

A selection of localist cheeses with fresh Pickles

European whines served by the glass
------------------

Thursday, 23 February 2012

FT on Lib/Con foreign policy

An interesting reflection on the foreign policy challenges facing the UK's Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government and the politics thereof, including Iran, at: http://m.ft.com/cms/s/0/e02ebdd0-5e49-11e1-8c87-00144feabdc0.html. One reads that, on Iran, Foreign Secretary William Hague "is in tune with the views of Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister, who insists there should be no attack until all other options have been exhausted". I am in tune with both of them. That kind of being the point of tough sanctions - to exhaust all other options, in the hope that military action never becomes necessary. I heard someone the other night explain why a nuclear Iran changes everything and you'd better believe it.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Health, prayers and spitting

Tory Health Minister Simon Burns is on the television saying that ConservativeHome's story about the health reforms (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-16976199) is "tittle tattle". If three Conservative Cabinet Ministers have contacted Tim Montgomerie about the bill, then he must be delighted, as it is a massive boost to his site's profile and demonstrates what excellent Tory contacts he has. And imagine the outrage if Lib Dem Voice had reported that three Liberal Democrat Cabinet ministers had been in touch to say that they oppose a flagship piece of Coalition Government legislation. People like me would be calling it an outrageous act of indiscipline and would be urging all Lib Dems to borrow the secret weapon of the Tory Party - loyalty! It would appear that the Tories' latest version of that secret weapon does not come with batteries included. David Cameron has clearly been appointing Tory Cabinet Ministers who lack what his party's whips would once have called 'bottom'. There is a distinct lack of bottom if Tory Cabinet Ministers are speaking out of turn to Tim Montgomerie in this way.

As a secular agnostic, I must ask what the National Secular Society is doing by backing this atheist chap who claims to have been terribly upset by the recitation of prayers at the start of local council meetings in Bideford in Devon. I used to sit in the public gallery at Barnet Council meetings (it was a simpler era, in which we made our own entertainment) and full meetings of the council always started with a prayer, led by that year's mayor's chaplain - be that year's mayor's chaplain a rabbi, a vicar or possibly a Greek Orthodox priest. It was all over in about a minute and I simply stood, bowed my head, closed my eyes and muttered "Amen" at the end. I refuse to accept that such an act of worship could in any way be offensive to anyone. I'm sorry, but I think that this case is a ridiculous waste of time and I hope that it is over-turned on appeal. It is surely very sixth-form to say "I'm completely secular, so it is an abuse of my human rights if I am at a meeting that begins with a one-minute mumbled prayer - you're forcing me to take part in religion!"

And I heard on the wireless that my neighbouring London Borough of Enfield is proposing to ban spitting in the street. Quite right too. I'm not being sarcastic. I hate seeing people spitting in the street. Unless someone really is ill and cannot help it, then it is wrong to spit in the street. Where this issue can become edgy is that, while spitting is taboo among some groups of people, it is arguably less taboo among some other groups of people. And you could say that some of those latter groups genuinely don't realise (like noisy kids on buses) that other people might find their behaviour annoying.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Tragedy beyond parody in South Sudan

On a purely abstract level, there could almost be something funny about people killing each other at a peace meeting. Like the old joke about being late to deliver a speech at an efficiency conference. But what has happened in South Sudan (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/world-africa-16873273) is simply tragic: "At least 37 people have been killed in South Sudan during a shoot-out at a peace meeting aimed at ending recent violence, officials said." I don't know what to say. It's as if nationalist and loyalist terrorists had massacred each other at peace talks in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. Why does this not get the same publicity as there is for the killings in Syria? Why was Egypt's murderous football riot the UK's top news story, when South Sudan is barely reported at all? Is it because our media is so middle-brow that it only highlights events in countries that it thinks audiences have particularly heard of? Like reporting the death of a famous movie star more prominently than the death of a less famous one? Such an approach works logically for reporting on dead film actors - but not so much for covering conflict zones. Could we not perhaps agree that the conflicts in which the most people are dying should be top priority for reportage? Or am I being simplistic?