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Thursday, 28 June 2012

What are Treasury ministers for?

As the BBC tells me that Tony Blair wants to come back (did he ever really leave? Actually, it's been blindingly obvious for ages that he'd like to come back, and if I was the Labour Party...), a video of Tory Treasury minister Chloe Smith is floating around the Internet.

On Newsnight, Ms Smith says repeatedly that decisions about tax are made by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor (and, I seriously imagine, by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and sometimes also the Deputy Prime Minister). If the PM, Chancellor, Chief Secretary, etc, are making the decisions, and the civil servants are doing all the admin, then what do junior Treasury ministers like Ms Smith actually do? Given that they are, I believe, paid a ministerial salary on top of the salary that they get for being an MP, what are these ministers for?

http://youtube.com/watch?gl=US&hl=en-GB&client=mv-google&v=bddWaHuxTzc is Ms Smith on Newsnight, if you go in by around six minutes. And before anyone objects to Jeremy Paxman grilling a minister like this, come on - this is the government of the country that we're talking about here, so it is reasonable to have some tough, forensic questions about what is going on.

It's only television, and the minister is a volunteer, not a conscript - much harder things than this Newsnight interview happen in many ordinary people's lives every day. Incidentally, if you think the way Mr Paxman questions Ms Smith is very tough, then you've clearly never delivered an essay, and been questioned on it afterwards, at a one-on-one tutorial at university.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

From petrol to pints?

Obviously, as a Vice-President of the Liberal Democrat Friends of the Conservative Party, I welcome the fuel tax freeze (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/news/9356947/Freezing-fuel-tax-must-be-just-the-start.html). I gather that this is something to do with motor cars - I don't actually drive. But I do get buses and I do depend, presumably, on the overall health of the British economy, not to mention deliveries to supermarkets and any other leisure emporia that I might occasionally patronise, so I am happy to assume that this thing with the fuel tax is the right decision. As I applaud vigorously from the sidelines, my mind wonders towards beer (stop it) - if we can freeze the fuel tax, what about CAMRA's petition (http://www.camra.org.uk/page.php?id=122) on freezing beer duty? I don't like freezing beer, I like bitter to be served at room temperature, but if it is true that the beer and pub industry supports around a million British jobs and contributes £21 billion to UK GDP, then it's got to be worth thinking about.

Nick Harvey on Strait of Hormuz

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice for alerting me to this speech (http://nickharveymp.com/en/article/2012/594944/maritime-security-in-the-middle-east-uk-political-will-and-military-capacity) from the other day by UK Defence Minister Nick Harvey, at this conference (http://m.rand.org/randeurope/about/news/rights-of-passage.html) on "Threats to Shipping in the Middle East". Very interesting re:- a possible British and international response to any possible Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz, with Mr Harvey (who is a Liberal Democrat) saying:

"Threats or attempts to block the Strait of Hormuz show a contempt for international law as it is seen by the majority of the states in the region, if not the world...Any attempt by Iran to do this would be illegal and [ultimately] unsuccessful..."

before outlining the British military capability that could be deployed in the Gulf. He goes on to say:

"[The] maritime security role the UK plays in the Gulf...is not the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century.

"But we can, and will, use all our unique assets - economic, diplomatic, military, political, legal, and cultural - to ensure that our citizens are secure and prosperous in this new era."

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Chief Rabbi and gay marriage

Over on my Jewish Chronicle blog, I have written:
I hope that there will be a measured, decent and respectful reaction to Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks' views on marriage equality (gay marriage), both inside and outside the Anglo-Jewish community. The views have been expressed in a statement from the London Beth Din and the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, with Lord Sacks' office having said that the statement encompasses the Chief Rabbi's views.
OK, so I and other liberals support the Government's proposed change to the law, to enable same-sex couples to have civil marriages (not civil partnerships, but civil marriages) - but a lot of people don't. That has to be allowable, in a mature liberal democracy, especially as we (the people who support gay marriage) are advocating a view that, not long ago, was only held by a small minority.
Twenty or thirty years ago, it would have have been hard to imagine a UK government changing the law to allow same-sex marriage, at a time when such a change would only have been supported by a small number of people representing 'advanced liberal opinion'. It would never be right to stigmatise people for reasonably expressing views that, until very recently, were held by an overwhelming majority of British people.
While some British faith leaders have been accused of using highly unpleasant and inflammatory language to express their opposition to same-sex marriage, the Chief Rabbi has not done that. It is eminently reasonable for the holder of Lord Sacks' office to state what he considers to be the Jewish religious view on issues such as this. I really hope that cynical sixth-form point-scorers of all ages, inside and outside the Jewish community, will not now jump up and down shouting about what Lord Sacks has said, given the perfectly reasonable way in which he has said it. After all, by way of analogy, if an Orthodox rabbi stood up (or sat down) and said that, actually, Jewish (bibical) law forbids unmarried couples to sleep together, he'd be expressing an ancient Jewish view, and if he expressed it reasonably and constructively, then what would be so terrible about his expressing it?
Of course, I disagree with Lords Sacks on this issue of marriage equality, as I personally think that Orthodox Judaism could allow for non-Jews having same-sex civil marriages that have nothing to do with Judaism, in the same way that it allows for non-Jews having opposite-sex civil marriages that have nothing to do with Judaism.
If a non-Jewish man marries a non-Jewish woman in a non-religious civil ceremony in an English register office, Jews will recognise the couple as being married under the secular law of the land; why not extend the same recognition to a non-Jewish man marrying another non-Jewish man in the same non-religious civil ceremony in the same English register office?
Also, as a Jew (I am halachically Jewish - that is, Jewish according to the Orthodox Jewish definition of who-is-a-Jew), I could already go into an English register office and marry a non-Jewish woman in a non-religious civil ceremony. In Jewish religious terms, the marriage would obviously not be recognised as being a Jewish marriage, as I'd be marrying a non-Jew, but Orthodox Jews would still accept that I was married under the secular law of the land - why extend that acceptance to my marrying a woman, but not to my marrying a man? Neither marriage is halachically acceptable, as both involve my marrying a non-Jew, so what difference does it make whether I marry a man or marry a woman? I am not gay and I therefore don't actually want to marry a man, but, in principle, what's the halachic problem with secular, same-sex civil marriages that have nothing to do with Judaism?
I respect the Chief Rabbi's view that Jewish (biblical) law defines marriage as the union of a male and a female. A great many people will agree with him on that interpretation of what the Bible says. I appreciate also that Jewish law does not always only define things for Jewish people, but can also sometimes define a vision of things that are done by the whole of humanity, of which marriage is clearly one. So my argument, advanced previously here, that Orthodox-Jewish-marriage (which can only be between a Jewish man and a Jewish woman) is one thing, while marriage in general and civil-marriage in particular are two other things, is obviously not foolproof.
It is, however, an argument that I advance quite seriously - I believe that Orthodox Jews could retain their beliefs about who they are allowed to marry, and about who can marry in their synagogues, without opposing non-religious, civil marriage for same-sex couples in entirely secular register offices.
The Chief Rabbi is obviously sincere in arguing that: "If the government were to introduce same-sex marriage through a civil ceremony, any attempt to exclude the possibility of a religious ceremony for such couples would be subject to challenge to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of discrimination."
I would obviously never support a situation in which ministers of religion were compelled to marry any two people who the ministers do not consider eligible for a religious marriage under their auspices, and the government maintains that such compulsion will never occur. My bank balance sadly confirms that I am not a lawyer, but were we not told previously that employment legislation would compel faith schools to employ religious studies teachers from outside the faith - and that never happened. Were we not previously told that equalities legislation would compel all faith groups to ordain women - never happened. Were we not previously told that race equality laws could be used by civil courts to overturn Jewish religious teachings about who-is-a-Jew - oh, OK, yes, that one did happen. Oops.
Civil marriage equality will therefore have to be implemented in such a way that it never leads to ministers of religion or places of worship being compelled to give a religious wedding to people that they don't want to give a religious wedding to. But I still support civil marriage equality.

David Cameron at doctors' demo

http://youtube.com/watch?desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DPqfacv2l54w&v=Pqfacv2l54w&gl=US OK, it was five years ago. And he clearly meant every word, delivered without notes, responding visibly to the mood of his audience. On 'Webcameron'! Nothing dates like politics. "Autre temps," Julian Critchley might have said.

Actually worth looking at, this video, given all that has happened since - at the time, some thought it noteworthy that doctors were demonstrating, and that the Leader of the Conservative Party was speaking to them. And yesterday, under his premiership, they were striking for the first time since 1975.

I speak as a medical expert, as I have a Grade Three CSE in Biology. I'll re-sit it in 2014. Or, as Mrs Thatcher said about the euro: "No! No! No!" http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18539463 Anyone else reading this get asked to sit CSEs instead of O-levels in some subjects? No, thought not. I am alone on this. This is a subject to which I shall be returning.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

LDFI trip to Israel and West Bank

Over at Jewish Chronicle, Gavin Stollar (Chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI)) has an excellent piece (http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/analysis/69079/liberal-democrats-celebrate-successful-israel-mission) about LDFI's successful trip to Israel and the West Bank (I wasn't on this one). As Gavin writes, the delegation (which included Parliamentarians) heard a range of Israeli and Palestinian opinions on this trip, not only from government, but also from the person-in-the-street (and the person-in-the Druze-village).

The Mayor and Air

Credit to Stephen Knight, a Lib Dem London Assembly Member, for asking Boris Johnson about air quality at Mayor's Question Time (http://www.london.gov.uk/moderngov/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=183&MId=4512) - and let's look at what the Mayor said in his answer.

Stephen's press release refers to the Mayor having "ruled out actively informing Londoners about the state of London's air quality...by publishing information on the GLA's website every day" (http://www.london.gov.uk/media/press_releases_assembly_member/news-stephen-knight-boris-johnson%E2%80%99s-refusal-issue-smog-alerts-exposes-his-complacen).

Stephen is right that Londoners need to be so informed. I am pleased, therefore, to discover (from the Mayor's answer to Stephen's question) that such information is already being provided here: www.londonair.org.uk. A great question from Stephen, and (for me) a satisfactory answer from the Mayor.

Here is the relevant exchange, which repays reading in full:

Stephen Knight (AM): Let's all hope that the air is cleaner and sweeter, but will you give a commitment here, Mr Mayor, to publish smog alerts daily on the GLA website, if indeed the air
pollution is bad during the Olympics?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think you are really anticipating Jenny's question, but what we do have is a very widespread --

Stephen Knight (AM): Yes or no, Mr Mayor, that is all that is needed, just a yes or no.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): The answer is no, but we have --

Stephen Knight (AM): That's fine. Stop there.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Just so you know, and that is because we already have a great deal of information out there in the public domain. There is information on the King's College website, which for your benefit, Stephen, is www.londonair.org.uk. It is a website and it is also an application that you can get on your gizmo that will give you the information that you need.

It is on the BBC website and we are also supporting and encouraging the use of the airTEXT service so that Londoners who need to know about the quality of their air, perhaps
because they are asthmatic, or for whatever reason, do get information in real time and in advance. That information, in the run up to the Olympics, is going to come 48 hours in advance, rather than just 24 hours in advance. They will be promoted particularly in Olympic boroughs.

Jonathan Ross and the Library

"In a place far from libraries, I have often read the text of Beowulf for pleasure," wrote Kenneth Sisam, presumably because he lived in Barnet and the Tories had closed all the libraries...As I wrote last year (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2011/01/burning-money-at-barnets-pledgebank.html?m=1), if people in Barnet want things like museums and libraries to be paid for with their Council Tax, then they have to consciously opt for that to happen, "unless we are now deciding that we want no museums, libraries, parks or anything else at all apart from homes, shops and pubs?"

I do not really believe that the Conservatives are 'closing all the libraries'. Such an accusation would be hyperbole. Truth be told, I am not currently active in local politics, and I don't know very much about which libraries are and are not earmarked for closure, etc. In principle, in abstract, I accept that things like libraries do sometimes have to close, as well as open.

Councils have limited resources and have to choose what to spend taxpayers' money on. Most people, I think, would want some of their taxes spent on libraries, especially when one considers some of the other things that councils choose to spend their money on (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2010/10/it-all-question-of-priorities.html?m=1).

So, when I first heard about the campaign to save Hampstead Garden Suburb Library, part of me was sceptical. In a time of 'austerity', some things might sometimes have to close. I grew up in the Suburb and rarely went to its library, as Hendon Library was my local library when I was a kid, and then Church End Library was opposite my school. But my parents told me that the Suburb's library is much-used and much-valued, so I am happy to accept that I was wrong.

The great news is that local volunteers have taken over the running of this library, which is becoming Hampstead Garden Suburb Community Library. This has taken (and will continue to take) a huge commitment in terms of local people's time, energy and hard work. I applaud the initiative of the people who have made this happen. Perhaps it can be a model for other community libraries elsewhere?

So I'm delighted to see in Hendon Times (http://www.times-series.co.uk/
news/9767318.Jonathan_Ross_to_open_community_library/
) that one local resident, Jonathan Ross, will formally open the community library on 28 June. This is exactly the sort of positive community action that we need across the country.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Radio: Russia's role re:-Iran

Ah, the sounds of summer...The thud of Leveson wilting...The clink of ice in glaciers...The sound of me and some other people talking about Russia, Iran and the wider Middle East in a radio discussion programme  yesterday, which you can hear here.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Kosher pubs, slaughter and leadership

On another site on which I also blog, someone has posted a comment that I never consciously saw, with the comment having been replaced by the glorious words: "This comment by Fred Blogs has been moderated", although it doesn't say Fred Blogs, it says a real person's name (a name hitherto unfamiliar to me, and I'm not going to Google him, as to do so would only bring trouble), but it's best not to put that real name here, as I have no desire to attract any further attention from whoever that person is.

Underneath that person's comment, somebody else has commented: "You have to wonder about someone that wastes so much time and energy stomping on poor, harmless, ineffectual Matthew." Well, yes, indeed. Another one fooled! Some way underneath that, the Webmaster has sensibly interceded to say: "Comments on this page are now closed."

This all intruded upon my purview because I was just about to blog about the Chief Rabbi's article about leadership in yesterday's Jewish Chronicle, when I turned over a new leaf (in the Jewish Chronicle), and saw a story headlined: "Fed calls time on pub".

It transpires that England's only kosher pub has lost its official kosher designation, owing to its having held a function under the aegis of a licensing authority other than the one that certified it as being kosher in the first place. I should say that the Jewish Chronicle story quotes a kosher butcher as saying: "...that although there was no licence, the food at the pub remained kosher. 'I am supplying the meat,' he said." And if any of that reads sarcastically on my part, it genuinely isn't meant to, although I do not myself 'keep kosher'.

It's a bit like going into a building that appears to be safe - there's a difference between simply doing that, and going into a building that's actually been certified 'safe' by a fire officer. It's not enough for a restaurant to be kosher; it also has to be certified kosher.

A few years ago, a well-known purveyor of tinned chicken soup paid its administrative fee to the kosher licensing authority in Manchester, but not to the equivalent authority in London (or was it the other way round?). This meant that the soup concerned was certified kosher in Manchester, but not in London, sparking much entertaining speculation as to the precise geographical point at which, were one to travel on a train from London to Manchester, one could declare a can of the soup kosher and so start eating it.

So this story about the kosher pub got me thinking about a past post of mine about said pub (http://www.thejc.com/blogs/matthewharris/im-kosher-pub), in the quest for which post I found the other stuff (by the way, who is this, another Matthew Harris? What is going on? http://www.gadflyonline.com/wpblog/?p=2538 It's Paper Mask all over again).

These kosher thoughts prompted my mind to meander towards the news that James Paice - a Tory minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - has reportedly ( http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/68792/farming-minister-shechitah-be-reviewed) said that: "Killing an animal without stunning is not acceptable in the western world. But we need to be tolerant and understanding of religious communities who want their meat produced in that way."

I am not actually aware of any "religious communities who want their meat produced in that way (without stunning)". Religious Jews (and, by extension, Muslims) believe that it is inhumane to slaughter an animal for meat unless it loses consciousness instantaneously upon being slaughtered, and unless it is uninjured when you slaughter it, so they do not eat meat from animals that have been mechanically pre-stunned before slaughter.

They do, however, practise a method of slaughter under which the animal loses consciousness instantaneously before dying, that therefore being a method of slaughter that does, in fact, stun the animal.

Mr Paice is clearly referring not to stunning in general, but to mechanical pre-stunning in particular. It is indeed the case that the Jewish (shechitah) and Muslim (halal) methods of slaughter are, in this country, legally exempted (for freedom-of-religion reasons) from the general requirement that animals must be mechanically pre-stunned before slaughter.

I welcome Mr Paice's saying that "we need to be tolerant and understanding of religious communities who want their meat produced" without mechanical pre-stunning. His saying that chimes nicely with Deputy Prime Minister (and Lib Dem Leader) Nick Clegg having said, in November 2010: "...on 'shechitah', the Jewish humane way of slaughtering animals for meat - I have always supported its continuance in this country, and I always will. The Liberal Democrats have never adopted any policy that threatens the right to shechitah, and it is my intention that we never shall."

This is, of course, presumably a 'free vote' issue of conscience for individual MPs, rather than necessarily being an issue on which MPs are whipped on party lines, although I cannot say that for certain.

I utterly respect any Liberal Democrats whose concern for animal welfare leads them to want to ban any method of slaughter that is particularly cruel. To them, I would say not only that shechitah, as a method of slaughter, is not particularly cruel (quite the contrary, say many neurologists), but also that one cannot suddenly, now, ban a method of slaughter that has been lawful and normative in this country for hundreds of years, without expecting some opposition from the British people (Jews and Muslims, in this case) who eat the meat concerned.

As a liberal, I care at least as much about religious freedom as I do about animal welfare.

My family celebrates Christmas by eating a turkey. Is it possible that, were it not for factory farming, there would not be enough turkeys to meet the needs of the many British families who want to eat one each Christmas?

Is it also possible that factory farming can be cruel? Would it therefore be reasonable for me to say: "Factory-farming a turkey is not acceptable in the western world, so it must stop. And if that means that there are not enough turkeys for people to eat at Christmas, then people can eat something else at Christmas, as animal welfare is more important than the right to celebrate Christmas in the traditional manner"? No, it would not be remotely reasonable for me to say such a thing.

As for that piece by the Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, about leadership: http://www.chiefrabbi.org/2012/06/14/seven-principles-of-jewish-leadership-written-for-the-adam-science-foundation-leadership-programme/ - well worth reading in full, even if you are, like me, not religious. Among other things, Lord Sacks writes:

"Leaders lead because there is work to do, there are people in need, there is injustice to be fought, there is wrong to be righted, there are problems to be solved and challenges ahead. Leaders hear this as a call to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. They lead because they know that to stand idly by and expect others to do the work is the too-easy option. The responsible life is the best life there is, and is worth all the pain and frustration."

Friday, 15 June 2012

London 2012 not "under budget"

The BBC tells me that Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has trumpeted the "fantastic news" that the London Olympics has come in under its £9.3 billion budget, with £476 million in contingency funding left in the pot. Whoopee! An event that was originally going to cost a mere £2.5 billion (cheap at the price!) is now going to cost less than £9 billion. Waiter, champagne! Even in 2003 - back in the boom times, when government thought it could pay for everything - even then, when public money was being thrown around like confetti, it was already being suggested that £2.5 billion was a vast amount to consider spending on the Olympics (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/2394304/Olympic-bid-would-cost-2.5bn-in-subsidies.html). I wish the Olympics well and I appreciate people's excitement about it, but let's not congratulate ourselves on the fact that a £2.5 billion budget has come in at under £9 billion. That is not a cause for congratulation. And people wonder why the general public is cynical about public spending, politics and politicians!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Midnight deadline for gay marriage consultation

The Government's consultation on its proposals to enable same-sex couples to have a civil marriage closes at midnight tonight (Thursday 14 June 2012). I just remembered and did it - it was a survey that took only a few minutes, although the facility is there for more substantial responses to be submitted. The more people who take part, the more accurate a view the Government will have on how people wish it to implement its equal marriage proposals, so please click here if you wish to take part. It's not a web poll; it's a Government consultation and they really do get read.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lib Dem Forum for Africa

Delighted to see Ed Fordham's article (http://www.libdemvoice.org/new-liberal-democrat-forum-for-africa-28945.html) launching the Liberal Democrat Forum for Africa (http://m.facebook.com/ForumForAfrica?id=259611534126646&_rdr). In Nick Clegg, we have a Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister who is central to UK foreign-policymaking, with Jeremy Browne serving as a Lib Dem Foreign Office Minister, so it now really matters what Lib Dems say about foreign policy. This forum is a great addition to Lib Dem thinking (and action) on foreign policy; perhaps there will eventually be similar forums for some other regions, including Latin America and Asia-Pacific.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Number Four in the hit parade

You'll see below that my piece about "Giving up The Guardian" (http://matthewfharris.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/giving-up-guardian.html?m=1) is Number Four in this week's Lib Dem Golden Dozen, based on clicks through from the Lib Dem Blogs aggregator. Thanks again to anyone who reads this blog.
------------------

From: Helen Duffett <postman@libdemvoice.org>
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 13:00:02 +0000
To: <ldv-dozen@lists.libdems.org.uk>
Subject: Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #277

Top of the Blogs: The Lib Dem Golden Dozen #277
By Helen Duffett

Welcome to the Golden Dozen, and our 277th weekly round-up from the Lib Dem blogosphere ... Featuring the seven most popular stories beyond Lib Dem Voice according to click-throughs from the Aggregator (3-9 June, 2012), together with a hand-picked quintet, normally courtesy of LibDig, you might otherwise have missed.

Don't forget: you can sign up to receive the Golden Dozen direct to your email inbox -- just click here -- ensuring you never miss out on the best of Lib Dem blogging.

As ever, let's start with the most popular post, and work our way down:

1. The death of David Owen's Continuing SDP by Jonathan Calder on Liberal England.
ITN footage of the Demise of the 'Continuing SDP' in 1990, marking the end of the SDP's nine year history.

2. Chris Williamson MP: sadly misinformed, or a liar? on Jennie Rigg's blog.
Why disaffected Lib Dems shouldn't join Labour.

3. Vince Cable or Tim Farron for next leader? I'm not too sure about that… by Neil Monnery on The Rambles of Neil Monnery.
It's Jo or Julian, says Neil.

4. Giving up The Guardian on Matthew Harris's blog.
Matthew hangs up his tweed jacket.

5. £200 million bill for the taxpayer – the most costly printing error ever? by Paul Walter on Liberal Burblings.
The DVLA are having to replace everyone's registration documents because of a theft of 2.2 million blank registration forms that should have been shredded due to a minor printing error.

6. Wrestler suspended for 30 days after bout which left Lembit hospitalised by Paul Walter on Liberal Burblings.
Paul suggests a safe desk job for the former MP.

7. The Truth about Tuition Fees on Neil Woollcott's blog.
Neil says graduates already pay more in taxes.

And now to the five blog-posts that come highly recommended, regardless of the number of Aggregator click-throughs they attracted. These are normally chosen using the LibDig bookmarking website for party members, the site where you can highlight blog-posts you want to share with your fellow Lib Dems. Remember, though, you're still more than welcome to nominate for the Golden Dozen a Lib Dem blog article published in the past seven days – your own, or someone else's – using the steam-powered method of e-mail ... all you have to do is drop a line to helen@libdemvoice.org.

8. Slavery - now sponsored by HM Government by George Potter on The Potter Blogger.
"Stewards at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee were unpaid jobseekers required to sleep rough and then work a fourteen hour shift." (Submitted by bplatt via LibDig.)

9. Slavery alive in Cameron's "Big Society" by Andrew Page on A Scottish Liberal.
"Andrew makes some very good points about the scandal of unemployed people being forced to work as unpaid stewards during the jubilee and also makes some wide points about the growing use of unpaid labour in our society." (Submitted by GeorgeWPotter via LibDig.)

10. Are you Out for Marriage? by Harry Matthews on The Libertine.
"Liberal Youth Scotland were fantastic and pivotal in getting a huge response to Scottish equal marriage consultation. Great to see the same happening south of the border. Now, get your response in today." (Submitted by Caron via LibDig.)

11. No leading black councillors in Britain on Lester Holloway's blog.
"The fact is, local government remains as white and old as ever."

12. A month in the merde - what it's like joining the Lib Dems! by Liam Quinn on The Libertine.
"Since leaving the Conservatives I have been made to feel very, very welcome in my new political home," writes Liam.

And that's it for another week. Happy blogging 'n' reading 'n' nominating.

Why not follow us on Twitter @libdemvoice or become a fan of us on Facebook?
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Sunday, 10 June 2012

Blogs and the blogging bloggers who blog them

Upon the historic day in 2009 when I was selected as the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Hendon, I started a campaign blog, and copied across some pages from another blog that I'd started in 2007. It was then that I became a regular blogger, blogging also on the websites of the Hendon Times and the Jewish Chronicle (JC).

Prior to that, I'd not thought much about blogs or blogging. I'd never set out to be 'a blogger'. I'd always planned at some point to do some more writing, having spent large parts of my working life in editorial jobs and having written this and that, but I had never planned to blog.

At that time, I saw blogging as often being the journalistic equivalent of amateur dramatics, and a professional pride made me think that unless someone had agreed to publish what I was writing, then it had not passed a certain quality threshold - like when someone self-publishes a novel, and I can't help thinking that they've only done that because they couldn't find a publisher, which might mean that the novel isn't very good.

Post-election, I continued to put stuff up on my Hendon and JC blogs, although not all that often, by my current standards. Last year, I started this blog, which you are reading now, and copied most of my Hendon blog across to it.

I decided that I might as well keep blogging as it's fun, easy and mostly harmless. I also wrote on my JC blog (http://www.thejc.com/users/matthewharris) quite often and I am on Twitter. Then, I guess about a year ago, I found myself blogging a lot more (and at greater length) here, and I started getting noticed a bit.

People started telling me that they were reading it, including some people for whom I have a particular respect, and some people who can make a difference to the things that I care about. I started getting invited to events, asked to do the odd guest post for a blog called Harry's Place (http://hurryupharry.org/2012/05/28/matthew-offord-and-same-sex-marriage/), that sort of thing, because of this blog.

I have continued to hear from such people and it's great that this blog is read by the people who read it. It's called 'narrowcasting', in the pretentious jargon of our age.

Then Huffington Post started its UK site last year and invited me to blog for them there (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-harris/), which is terrific, as people take HuffPo a lot more seriously than they take 'me'. It's a great platform and I should blog there more often, rather than treating it as the fine china that must only be taken down for special occasions.

So, I am now "a blogger" (all unpaid, of course), and it's part of who I am and what I do. Which is great, but not actually something that I really set out to do on purpose. Where does blogging stand in relation to other things that I might or might not want to do with my life? I'm not certain.

Also, blogging means that I am now a very noisy person. I possibly had more respect in certain quarters when I maintained a dignified silence, which is the opposite of blogging.

The most exciting things that I have done politically are things that I was asked to do before I was a blogger, although I have been asked to do some of the same things since, so I guess blogging is not necessarily problematic.

But as a blogger, I appear to be saying "Look at me, I'm dancing!", which is not always attractive. I never leak (I don't even seep), but could some people ever imagine that, as I blog, I am someone who shares confidences in public? I'm very much not, but I wonder - the people with whom I have worked at all closely know that I don't leak, but I wonder.

I mostly blog about politics, including foreign policy and the Lib Dems, while also sometimes attempting to be funny in pieces that are nothing to do with politics at all, because this is my blog and if I sometimes want to use it to write a 'column' that attempts to impersonate a blend of Unreliable Memoirs and The Smoking Diaries, then I can.

I also sometimes comment here on what other people have written elsewhere. My doing that, in what I consider to have been a reasonable and constructive tone, has sometimes generated a response that is simply vicious.

It seems that I am not allowed to so much as discuss another person's writing without being accused of having egregiously attacked that other person, prompting a response that amounts to character assassination of me, based not on what I have actually written or done, but on my alleged personal qualities (or lack thereof).

And before anyone tells me to get 'a thicker skin', one can object to unpleasant personal attacks without necessarily being 'thin skinned'; also, it is now more than two years since I ran for public office and I have no current plans to run for anything - I am a private citizen.

I recently blogged about two Barnet bloggers; there are five 'Barnet Bloggers' who play an increasing role in the politics and journalism of my local area: http://famousfivebarnetbloggers.blogspot.com/?m=1.

They claim, with some justification, to have played a part in the outcome locally of the recent London Assembly election. It is, presumably, great to have people blogging about Barnet's local politics, but if they are going to claim such influence, then it is reasonable for someone like me to write about what they have written.

Having done this (http://www.thejc.com/blogs/matthewharris/pro-palestinian-tory-and-local-jewish-community), I then discovered that two of these bloggers (Roger Tichborne at Barnet Eye, and 'Mrs Angry' at Broken Barnet) had responded on their blogs, with these pieces: http://barneteye.blogspot.com/2012/05/failed-lib-dem-candidate-attacks-barnet.html?m=1 and http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.com/2012/05/battle-for-brunswick-park.html?m=1 (if you scroll down to the bit about me).

The former piece is obviously, simply a very personal attack on me, and there is no point pretending otherwise.

I rose to the bait and responded with a couple of posts on this blog. This then extended on to Twitter, with Mr Tichborne tweeting regularly about my accent (!), my being "boring and very dishonest" and my having told "a whopping great porkie" (because I said that I had started blogging upon being selected as Hendon's candidate in October 2009, when I had actually had another, separate blog since 2007 - Mr Tichborne sees this as being very important, as it proves, according to one of his more polite comments on this blog, that I am "a proven liar").

I did respond on Twitter, and immediately felt very foolish to be having such a spat in public - that is not what I do, and it is not who I am.
Mr Tichborne will doubtless see this post and respond here and on Twitter with out-of-context quotes that 'prove' that I was as 'rude' to him as he was to me, but, actually, I really wasn't.

For example, I said that Mr Tichborne's campaigns against Tories like Cllr Brian Coleman and Matthew Offord MP are sometimes "raucous and ugly". Mr Tichborne then tweeted that I had said that he (Mr Tichborne) was "raucous and ugly", which I had not - I would never write something like that.

I simply would not, and it's hard to have a debate with someone who pounces on every little thing that I say, and on any perceived inconsistency, and start haranguing me about the detailed semantics of what I did and did not say.

Similarly, 'Mrs Angry' posted on this blog: "I can only imagine that you are working out some sort of personal issue in this continued attack on the Barnet bloggers: if so, this is something you need to address, and not project on to others." She later added: "What on earth is wrong with you?"

This does remind me of a certain New Labour spin doctor's tactic of saying that Blair's critics had "issues", and I really don't like it as a tactic.

Even when Messrs Coleman and Offord are worthy of criticism politically (which they very often are), I recoil from the sort of highly personal campaigns against such people that some bloggers sometimes engage in: http://wwwbrokenbarnet.blogspot.com/2011/05/brian-coleman-fightback-starts-here.html?m=1; http://colemansgottogo.blogspot.com/?m=1; http://barneteye.blogspot.com/2012/05/captain-useless-special-who-saved-all.html.

With respect to 'Mrs Angry', for example, I do not like her calling one Tory politician "tubby" and "portly" - as we are adults, must we really poke fun at fat people (I write as someone who is himself not the slimmest of gentlemen)?

Once we've finished laughing at fat people, shall we move on to laughing at alcoholics and people affected by depression? Mrs Angry then wrote that she'd only called him "tubby" because he's someone who's eaten a lot at the taxpayer's expense, so we're entitled to care about his weight, but surely...

There are some bloggers for whom it is all about squabbling with each other, and I can't run the risk of appearing to be such a blogger. Even when I might be 'right', I do not wish to look like someone who blogs about personal disagreements - nobody cares 'who started it', so it just makes me look petty and argumentative.

So I have deleted a number of posts (and the associated comments) from this blog, because they were posts in which I was having that sort of argument with different people. Tory Cllr Robert Rams then tweeted that my deleting these posts will make Mr Tichborne and 'Mrs Angry' "think they are right" - Cllr Rams is quite right, it will.

I am going to rise above it and be more judicious from now on in how I respond on this blog and on Twitter. I shall aim not to rise to the bait of people who are being deliberatively provocative, and any comment on this blog that is simply full of knockabout abuse might simply be deleted. Onwards!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Giving up The Guardian

I myself quit the Guardian habit ages ago. "Guardian reader" used to mean a club of which I wanted to be a member, like "Radio Four listener" or "real ale drinker". I still sometimes read The Observer, but I gave up The Guardian as I find large parts of it boring, wannabe-trendy and not for me, although it does still have some very good writers.

My friend Charlotte Henry was still a Guardian reader until yesterday, but then, like a smoker who catches sight of themselves smoking in the mirror and thinks "No more!", she decided to give it up. Charlotte and I are behind this Facebook page, Give up The Guardian: http://facebook.com/giveuptheguardian?refid=17&_ft_=fbid.10150891071116799

For me, this is not a ban or a boycott, it is just some Lib Dems and others saying: "No thanks. Include me out. I don't read The Guardian any more, and the club of Guardian readers is no longer for me."

I am, seriously, obviously not criticising anyone who still reads The Guardian and this is (obviously) not an attempt to put the paper out of business; for me, it is about the fact that "Guardian reader" used to be slang for a slightly earnest person of liberal conscience, possibly wearing a tweed jacket, perhaps drinking real ale, and maybe carrying a Penguin edition of George Orwell in the jacket pocket. "Oh," people would once say in response to my views, "You would say that, because you read The Guardian". And I used to be proud to fit that description.

The Guardian taught me to think and gave me a liberal conscience, and that conscience is now offended by The Guardian itself. The paper that used to expose cant and hypocrisy is now a leading platform for the unexpurgated exposition of the very cant and hypocrisy that it used to expose.

You may now accuse me of being anti-Guardian-reader, because the powerful pro-Guardian lobby always throw that accusation at anyone who criticises The Guardian and its leaders, in a bid to silence such critics. I am not anti-Guardian-reader (some of my best friends are guardian readers); I am merely being critical of the state of The Guardian, and its occupation of territory that bores me rigid. If I speculate as to how long The Guardian might last in its current form, I am not contemplating the paper's demise, merely warning the paper to change course for its own sake, as I only have its best interests at heart, of course. (OK, that last paragraph was me trying to be satirical - I'll get me coat).

On her blog at http://digitalpolitico.net/2012/06/08/giving-up-the-guardian/, Charlotte has written very strongly about this - well worth a look.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Life in Palestine under Ismail Haniyeh

My friend and fellow Lib Dem blogger Charlotte Henry alerted me to the piece in today's Guardian by Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the Hamas administration in Gaza (an administration which, incidentally, came to power not in an election, but in a violent coup in 2007). Writing in a personal capacity, I have just submitted the following comment on Mr Haniyeh's piece on the Guardian's website: 
Nobody would be more pleased than would I if Hamas regenerated into a body that wants Palestinians to live in peace with Israelis. It  sadly has yet to do so. 
A wise person once said to me: "In the Israel/Palestine conflict, you must ask people: do you care what happens to the people on the other side of the conflict? Anyone who is pro-Israeli must care what happens to Palestinians. Anyone who is pro-Palestinian must care what happens to Israelis." 
The people who live in Israel (Jewish and non-Jewish, gay and straight, male and female) are millions of human beings (just as the Palestinians are millions of human beings). At the moment, the people who live in Israel live in a liberal democracy that recognises the rights of women, gays and religious minorities. A flawed liberal democracy, like most liberal democracies, but a liberal democracy nonetheless. When I say "the people who live in Israel", I mean 'Israel proper', that is, Israel inside its internationally recognised, pre-1967 borders.  
Under Mr Haniyeh's vision, what would happen to all of those people who now live in Israel? Would a Hamas-ruled, single state of Palestine be one in which there is freedom of worship and a free press? Would it have the death penalty? Would it have a secret police that detains and tortures people? Would it allow freedom for LGBT people and for women? Would it be a society in which the government, once freely elected, sought re-election in regular free elections, rather than seeking to rule in perpetuity without elections? 
Hamas' track record in Gaza, under Mr Haniyeh's rule as Prime Minister, does not inspire confidence on any of these points.

Roger tweets the Pizza Hut menu

Barnet Blogger Roger Tichborne has now (below) tweeted the Pizza Hut takeaway menu next to my name and that of Tory Cllr Robert Rams. I am completely mystified - not offended, just intrigued as to what this could possibly mean? Does anybody know?
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From: Twitter <n-znggurj.uneevf=ubgznvy.pb.hx-48f99@postmaster.twitter.com>
Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2012 22:18:49 +0000
To: <matthew.harris@hotmail.co.uk>
ReplyTo: noreply@postmaster.twitter.com
Subject: Rog T (@Barneteye) mentioned you on Twitter!

Twitter

Rog T @Barneteye mentioned you:

Jun 07, 3:18 PM via web
Reply to @Barneteye
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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fascinating piece by Mudar Zahran on Jordan

I previously posted a link to the views of Mudar Zahran, a (Muslim) Palestinian-Jordanian writer who lives in the  UK. A reader has posted a link to a fascinating article about Jordan by Mr Zahran in today's Jerusalem Post - definitely worth a look.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Radio discussion on Israel and Iran

On Thursday, I did a Voice of Russia radio discussion on Israel, the Palestinians and Iran: http://youtube.com/watch?gl=US&hl=en-GB&client=mv-google&v=wdPkxKIEGwA Among the questions that I raised are: if there was a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure State of Israel, then would Iran be willing to live in peace with Israel, or would they continue to view Israel with unremitting hostility? Could the West Bank (and, by extension, Gaza) exist for an interim period under international-community rule (not Israeli rule), as Bosnia once did, prior to the creation of an independent state, a la East Timor and South Sudan? As Israel says "We will talk now to the Palestinian Authority (PA)without pre-conditions" and the PA says "We will talk now to Israel if Israel meets our pre-condition of freezing settlements", then is it really beyond the wit of the international community to bridge that gap and bring the two sides into a room to talk?