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Friday, 29 November 2013

Boris Johnson and the "If not" trap

London's Conservative mayor has made this well-publicised speech about elitism, equality and greed (, which I have not read in full and on which I therefore cannot really comment, in which he referred to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth".

Now, if I said to you: "I want your essay handed in by Sunday, if not sooner," it would be clear to you what I meant. If I said: "It is a good restaurant, if not as good as it might be," then you'd know clearly what I meant.

But these two "if not"s have contradictory meanings; one means "it is" and the other means "it isn't". So it is a dangerous form of words for a controversial speech about a complicated political issue - a speech in which the meaning of words matters.

I know that when Boris Johnson says "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, if not spiritual worth", he is referring to: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, despite their obviously being of equal spiritual worth."

But the words on the page sound as if he could have meant: "human beings who are already very far from equal in raw ability, and indeed far from equal in spiritual worth," which sounds like a passage from Brave New World as re-written by Sir Keith Joseph and is not what Mr Johnson meant at all.

I am surprised, if not very surprised, that his speechwriters let this line slip through.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Brief Encounter with SSP, Upper Crust and Ritazza

SSP (the "food travel experts" behind such railway station brands as Upper Crust and Ritazza) has an unintentionally funny website:

Who knew that SSP was adapting global food and travel trends to distinctive UK and Ireland local market needs?

I thought that they were just heating up over-priced sausage baguettes - or not as the case may be, as, some weeks ago, I was asked in Upper Crust if I would like mine heated up, said yes and received a somewhat cold sausage, complained and was sent a compensatory £5 promissory note (for which thanks), which I spent in Ritazza on a coffee and a sausage and bacon baguette (yes, alright, I know) which turned out to be full not only of sausage and bacon, but also of gucky chunks of tomato.

I don't like tomatoes at the best of times (and this, in any case, was not the best of times, as I was waiting for a delayed train to Sidcup in a branch of Ritazza) and I am not alone in this - I know of many people who ask for their sandwiches, etc, without tomatoes; nor was it merely tomato ketchup (the unsolicited presence of which I would not have welcomed either) - it was actual chunks of tomato, with an off-sweet taste that I found frankly emetic.

Had it said "Bacon, Sausage and Tomato" I would not have ordered it, but it simply said "Bacon and Sausage".

To the willing tomato-eaters among you, I would say: how would you like it if you ordered a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato sandwich and it also contained an entirely unadvertised sausage?

So I complained again and was sent a further £5 (for which again thanks - having not had a response to my complaint about the tomatoes, I had contacted SSP's chief executive's office, and the £5 voucher was actually then delivered to me the next day by a man who asked me to sign for it; if this escalates any further, SSP's next communication will presumably arrive in a briefcase that is handcuffed to the arm of a uniformed security guard).

I this morning returned with this £5 to the very Upper Crust in which the first sausage mishap had occurred, in the hope that by travelling back in time to the moment of tragedy, I might be able to do it differently this time and so change the course of history.

Alas, having ordered the same sausage baguette, I again said yes to having it heated, and again was then handed a heated sausage that was actually quite cold.

The staff offered me my money back and the manager apologised in some detail (and it was none of these people's fault - I don't blame SSP's staff), but I declined the money and the possibility of having a hot sausage substituted for the cold one, as I have had enough of this whole sorry affair.

Cold sausages, I have nothing against at all - I yield to no-one in my willingness to often eat cold sausages.
My objection, Mr Speaker, is not to a cold sausage being cold; rather, it is to a heated sausage not being properly heated - does the public health of the nation not demand that such re-warmed delights are served, as the marketing people would have it, "piping hot"?

It is all so unlike the restaurant on the railway station's platform in Brief Encounter. I am in fact writing the script for SSP's long-awaited remake of that very film, a few sample lines of which include:

Laura Jesson: [thinking to herself while looking at her husband, Fred] Fred, dear Fred. There's so much that I want to say to you. You're the only one in the world with enough wisdom and gentleness to understand. If only it was somebody else's sausage and not mine.

Laura Jesson: This can't last. This cold sausage can't last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither tomatoes nor sausages. Not even breakfast lasts very long. There'll come a time in the future when I shan't mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was.

Dr. Alec Harvey: [hearing a trio playing in the restaurant] There should be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Sausages.

Laura Jesson: I had no thoughts at all, only an overwhelming desire not to feel tomatoes ever again.

Dr. Alec Harvey: Could you really say goodbye? Never see Upper Crust again?

Laura Jesson: Yes, if you'd help me.

Dr. Alec Harvey: I love sausages, Laura. I shall love sausages always until the end of my life. I can't look at you now cause I know something. I know that this is the beginning of the end. Not the end of my loving sausages but the end of them being heated properly. But not quite yet, darling. Please. Not quite yet.

Laura Jesson: Very well. Not quite yet.

Laura Jesson: Isn't it awful about people meaning to be kind by hiding tomatoes in sandwiches?

Laura Jesson: Do you know, I believe we should all behave quite differently if we ate warm, scrummy sausages all the time. We shouldn't be so withdrawn and shy and difficult.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Matthew Harris, Matthrew Harris and Brian Coleman - the plot thins

Page 8 of today's Barnet Press includes a round-up of comments made by readers on the paper's website, one of which (attributed to "Matthew Harris") is: "Brian (Coleman) really must try harder to overcome the temptation to behave like Hyacinth Bucket." In the microverse that is Barnet and its local politics (a microverse in which, as one colleague used often to reiterate, "No-one knows who any of us are"), there might be someone who thinks that I made this comment - I didn't, and nor would I ever say anything like that about Cllr Coleman or anybody else. The comment was made by someone signing in as "Matthrew Harris, Barnet" - doubtless a typo rather than an exciting political conspiracy. Although, as I never tire of saying, the film Paper Mask is a thriller all about someone pretending to be Matthew Harris. Or is it about a Matthew Harris pretending to be somebody else? Beyond it starring Paul McGann and (I vaguely recall) involving a plot point about a rather lovely hip flask engraved with the name of Matthew Harris (surely a hip flask that is rightfully mine, and mine alone), I forget the details...Coming soon to a cinema near you, David Mitchell is Matthew Harris in "The Man Who Taunted Himself". 

Monday, 14 October 2013

Great Simon Hughes piece on Israel/Palestine

Very pleased to see this Jewish News article ( by Lib Dem Deputy Leader Simon Hughes about his recent visit to Israel/Palestine with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (also well-covered in the Jewish Chronicle: - definitely worth a look if you're interested in what leading British Lib Dems have to say about the situation.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Nick Clegg meets Palestinian President

As a pro-Israeli British Liberal Democrat, I am very pleased that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas this week met Lib Dem Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in London (, on a four-day visit that also included meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague (

The President was mainly in London for a three-hour meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry re:- the latest Israel/Palestine peace talks (, and it's good to see that Mr Clegg "underlined to President Abbas the UK's support for the courageous and decisive leadership he has shown, together with (Israeli) Prime Minister Netanyahu, by returning to talks on the Middle East Peace Process."

However tough that process is proving to be (, I have to ask sceptics: what is the alternative?

What, for Israelis and Palestinians, is the alternative to talking about how best to peacefully resolve their differences? Whatever one thinks of President Abbas (, and I think many things, not all of them printable), he is 'it' and the Israelis are currently negotiating with his proxies and that's got to be better than the politics of shouting, which often seems to be the preferred mode of discourse for some of Israel's more heated British detractors.

So, whatever hurdles remain, I am very pleased, as a British Lib Dem friend of Israel, that the UK's Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government is doing what it can to support the Israel/Palestine peace process, including talking to Palestinian leaders here in London.

After all, one reason that many Lib Dems supported our Coalition Government's reform of the law on universal jurisdiction ( was precisely so that Palestinian and Israeli leaders could visit London for peace talks without fear of being arrested on charges generated by publicity-hungry British political activists (does anyone think that it would have been useful for President Abbas to have this week been arrested in London for the human rights abuses committed against Palestinians by Mr Abbas' own PA regime? I don't).

President Abbas' London talks are only the latest in a series of such activities since the Coalition took office in 2010, with Nick Clegg often at the forefront:,,

I have heard it argued that the UK's current government has not prioritised Israel/Palestine in foreign policy terms, and that is not remotely true ( As Nick Clegg said yesterday to President Abbas, "the UK stands ready to do all it can to reach a negotiated agreement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state".

Anyone who disagrees with that statement of Mr Clegg's must explain what political future they intend for the Arab people who live on the West Bank and in Gaza if they are not eventually to live in a viable and sovereign Palestinian state? Are they to live forever in a stateless limbo in No Man's Land?

They must also explain why any Israeli citizen (Jewish or non-Jewish) would sign up to any peace deal in which they are not safe and secure - and unless both sides sign up to any deal, then forget it. Although, if you want my honest, instinctive opinion, I think that this current round of talks actually will produce an outline deal of some sort.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Radio debate on Israel/Palestine peace talks is the link to a radio discusson show that I did the other day about the Israel/Palestine peace talks - have a listen if you're interested in what we all said, including many things that I disagree with, and no, I didn't know the programme's title when I went on, nor do I accept the premise of the question which that title asks.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Nick Clegg right on David Ward

I am immensely saddened that it has become necessary for the Lib Dem whip to be removed for two months from David Ward MP ( This could so easily have been avoided, if Mr Ward had properly understood and apologised for the offensive connotations of the language that he has continued to use about Israel, the Holocaust and "the Jews", and if he had clarified his meaning to remove the likelihood that an antisemitic or inflammatory inference could be drawn from his words.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Fw: Groundbreaking “Two States Bill” introduced in Knesset

The politics of hope - exactly the sort of thing that Liberal Democrats should be supporting.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

David Ward's Israel tweet

So, what did the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward mean when he tweeted the following non-sequitur: "Am I wrong or am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid state of Israel last?"

Monday, 15 July 2013

Fw: Highbury & Islington Tube station update

Another winner of the Pain English Award. I was there this morning and they were broadcasting over the intercom about how "The priorities have been reversed" in various "subways" (corridors). "The priorities have been reversed"? I'd love to have been at the meeting at which someone decided that everyone would understand what that means. Oh, and the clock on the southbound Victoria Line platform is three minutes slow. Has been for ages. Can it not be fixed? I demand a reversal of priorities. There are few things more annoying (when arriving on this platform prior to catching a London Overground train from another platform) than to see this clock and think: "Ah, good, got several minutes, don't need to rush up the stairs and lose my breath..." only to then miss one's train because London Underground's clock is wrong. Sometimes it really is the little things. "Stands the station clock at ten to three?" as Rupert Brooke so nearly put it. "Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur/ In Highbury, in Islington...

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Sir Bob Russell's Holocaust question

I strongly dissent from the opinions recently expressed about the Holocaust and Israel/Palestine by the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell. Questioning Education Secretary Michael Gove about the national curriculum, Sir Bob asked: "On the assumption that the 20th century will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?"

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Faiths Forum statement on Woolwich

Following yesterday's appalling attack in Woolwich, I am pleased to see that the Faiths Forum for London has issued the following statement (, of which one signatory is the London Jewish Forum (on whose Steering Group I sit):

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

The sovereignty of Parliament

My heart stopped when I just read the following words on BBC News ( "In the Commons on Tuesday, MPs will vote on an amendment to the Marriage Bill, put forward by the Humanist Association, to allow recognised groups to officiate at marriage ceremonies." I didn't know that there was an MP called the Humanist Association - what party is s/he? I'm all for lobbying by groups like the Humanist Association, but MPs' role is to seriously consider such groups' competing arguments and then to reflect those arguments in proposed amendments. The reference to "an amendment...put forward by the Humanist Association" is a little blatant for my liking. I know the world, but can we not at least maintain the pretence that MPs are deciding these things independently? Lobbyists must never be seen to over-reach themselves in terms of influence. My criticism of this BBC report's language is not meant to imply criticism of the Humanist Association or of its amendment. I remain a convinced supporter of marriage equality: and I would love to have been there to vote for it today.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Safe at School and homophobic bullying

Prior to reading Wednesday's Standard (, I lived in ignorance of the self-proclaimed, self-appointed "Safe at School campaign", one of whose member(s) is quoted as saying: "Parents expect a school to provide an education, not subject their children to gay propaganda."

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Litmus test for Lib Dem government

I hold no brief for the late Mr Jimmy Mubenga, who died in the midst of being deported from the UK to his native Angola after completing a two-year prison sentence for assault occasioning actual bodily harm ( We have rules about who needs to be deported and when, and that is reasonable. It is also reasonable for the deportees still to be alive when they reach their destination. I await the outcome of this inquest with interest. It is good that the Coalition Government includes Liberal Democrat ministers who can be expected to stand up for the rights of people like Mr Mubenga, however unpopular this may be. The more Liberal Democrats stand up for individuals' right to justice in all circumstances, the more people will understand what Liberal Democrats are for.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Ed Miliband's Thatcher apartheid hypocrisy

Well, maybe not personal hypocrisy, but certainly Labour hypocrisy. Mr Miliband today told Parliament that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made "the wrong judgement about...sanctions in South Africa".

Sunday, 24 March 2013

My next step politically

I am very excited and fighting to win.

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Saturday, 9 March 2013

Will BT plumb banks' depths of loathing?

On 25 January, I rang BT to say that I was moving and would no longer be a BT customer. I was told that I owed big fees for cancelling my services near to the start of a new contract. I explained that I had not started a new contract; what had actually happened is that BT had mistakenly disconnected my phone line in September, and immediately re-connected it when I complained - that is not 'starting a new contract'. They offered me six months' free broadband (or something like that) in lieu of proper compensation and I said No  to that, and I then I think they actioned it anyway - if that supposedly entailed the start of a new contract, then I never wanted it, never agreed to it, and obviously should not be charged a fee for now cancelling a service that was only given to me in the first place as compensation for a previous error - think about it! The attempt at compensation is now costing me money. 

So the guy on 25 Jan agreed with me that I owe no cancellation fees. I confirm in February that this is the case, although, typically, it turned out that BT had made no record of what had been agreed on 25 Jan, so I had to go through it all again. The guy I spoke to in Feb promised me written confirmation of the call and even gave me a reference number for the call (which I then mislaid), but, of course, no written confirmation ever came. After several weeks in which BT's website had said that my next bill was due in April, a new bill went up on 5 March (is that April?) including cancellation charges totalling £175, and with me apparently owing them £144 that must be paid by 11 March - take off the £175, and I believe that they owe me money, rather than vice versa. 

In an online chat, BT agreed on Monday to listen to the recording of my last phone call and come back to me within 36-48 hours. That did not happen, of course. Complaints about that led to my receiving an email last night saying:
Hello Harris, 
Thanks you for contacting Live Chat support about the line rental charge. 
I have listened to the call dated 04/02/2013 and I found my colleague said they there is notes on the account you would not incur cancellation charge I have spoke to the refund team removed the cancellation charge. you can keep this email as confirmation.
By BT's standards, that email is clearly telling me (Harris, which is how they choose to address me - thanks for that) that the cancellation charge (or charges) is to be removed from my bill. Of course, my bill (due to be paid by Monday - will this fiasco affect my credit rating if I don't now pay these non-existent charges?) still shows the charges as being owed, so the cancellation charge has not been removed. It is anyway, two cancellation charges, not one. A further live chat simply led to a person at BT saying "I see that there is a £144 bill outstanding..."; I explained the situation, and he went to look at my file, told me that the system was not working and kept me waiting with no response for several minutes, so I ended the chat, and he then rang me up and (if I heard him correctly), asked to speak to Harris Matthews; he certainly said: "Is that Matthews?" I asked to speak to someone in the UK (if I lived in India and got through to a UK call centre, I'd ask to speak to someone in India); he said that he was doing that, and I understood that he was ringing someone in the UK, explaining the situation to them, and then putting me through, but No, he was instead simply putting me in the queue to speak to someone at the call centre and start again from scratch, so after a few minutes of listening to music, I gave up.

In August or September, I used BT's automated system on the phone to say that I would pay my bill by 30 September. I did this because I was starting a new job on 10 September, in which I was due to be paid on the 24th of each month. Despite my having done this, BT disconnected my phone without warning on 28 September because I hadn't paid the bill (the bill that I had agreed to pay by 30 September, and which was therefore not yet late when they disconnected me). When I rang them on 29 Sep, they apologised and said that they often have problems with that automated system - in which case, why keep it going? 

Of course, BT has since denied that they said any such thing, so I advise them to listen to recordings of my calls to them on 29 September 2012. Given the amount of time and aggravation that this disconnection had caused me, I refused BT's offer of £25 standard compensation for a disconnection, and also refused the offer of not paying for broadband for six months, which I was told was worth £94 - I said that I would just like the £94, not £94 taken off my notional future bills. Actually, I was so angry that I asked for £200. A circular series of conversations then ensued, in which BT denied that much of what their staff had said to me on 29 September had ever been said, and then refused to escalate it any further, instead telling me to contact the ombudsman, sparking the farce that I previously detailed here (after which the ombudsman did ring me while I was at work to ask if I wanted to re-submit my complaint, but I haven't since made time to do that).

I do not owe these charges and have been emailed to say that the charges have been removed, and yet they are still there on a bill that I am now expected to pay on Monday. If BT wants to become as hated as much as banks were hated during the crash and MPs were hated during the expenses scandal, then they are going the right way about it. I am fed up to the back teeth of having to mess around and devote time to this stuff. And for every person like me who writes about it, how many others are there who are unable to make their complaints public in this way? The situation for BT's customers has become intolerable and Ian Livingston needs to take responsibility, apologise and sort it out.

Friday, 22 February 2013

British Gas wins Pain English Award

Yes, that's Pain English, not Plain English, a feeble joke that I essay mere moments after learning from the Standard that Gordon Brown typically earns around £60,000 per speech following his relegation from the premiership, compared to the now-that's-more-like-it figure of £200,000 reportedly commanded by Tony Blair (who presumably charges a special premium for speeches that include verbs). Surely thirteen years of a Labour Government were intended to eliminate such relative poverty from our nation's midst?

Perhaps Mr Blair or Mr Brown could speak on my behalf to an audience of executives at British Gas, who frankly would benefit from a good talking to. I'd do it myself, if only British Gas could rustle up a sum resembling the £60,375.83 paid to Mr Brown's charitable foundation to speak in Yalta to the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, Mr Pinchuk being a Ukrainian steel magnate. Although I have to say that Mr Pinchuk has been had, as I would have spoken to his foundation in Yalta for only £60,375 and would not have asked for that annoying extra 85p that, like a small cover charge in a restaurant, always makes one feel a little bit over-charged.

Indeed, given that my political significance is, I fear, no more than 0.1% of that of Mr Gordon Brown, I would have spoken to the Crimean hordes (presumably over the telephone) for a mere £60.38, an amount that would come in handy for the payment of £69.67 that I am becoming ever-more-likely to soon disburse to the Gas Board (

British Gas emailed me yesterday to say that they "have reviewed (my)electricity account", a piece of news that thoroughly intrigued me, as I have never had a British Gas electricity account and this is about my gas account. Does your heart sing with confidence at the level of attention to detail displayed by a company that, in an email about one's gas bill, refers obliquely (oh, so very bleakly) to one's non-existent electricity account?

British Gas's latest declamation does, in fact, go into such detail about my bill(s) as to demonstrate quite convincingly that I might indeed owe them sixty-nine pounds and sixty-seven pence, and I have thanked them for that (and will presumably soon be remitting them the sum in question). But - but, I tell you, but - the previous bill appeared to me to demonstrate equally convincingly that they owed me £80.92; I must, however, be mistaken, as the email below explains what has happened in simple terms, displaying as it does the acuity, clarity, fluency and accuracy-in-written-English that one would hope for in an email from British Gas about one's disputed gas bill:

Dear Mr Harris

I'm sorry that you have to contact us again enquiring about your final bill and the payments and also for the delay in my reply.
I have reviewed your electricity account and I see that your previous invoice issued on 13 February 2013 was reversed due to the returned payments on 13 February and 15 February 2013. It shows on the bill that the payment has been included but once your bank has informed us, your previous bill was cancelled a new bill was issued adjusting the payment of £150.59 and £153.02 which you can see as an adjustment of £303.61. The current balance for your electricity account is £69.67 in debit.

Below is the calculation for the previous gas bill issued on 13 February 2012 and was reversed due to return on the payments on 13 February 2013 and 15 February 2013.

Gas bill calculation:

Bill date: 13 February 2013

Bill period: 20 September 2012 to 31 January 2013.

Amount brought forward: £339.85 (debit)

Payment received: £768.61 (credit)

Adjustment: £153.00 (this payment is the one which we have requested on 13 February 2013 which is included in the credit balance, the other payment of £150.59 is also included in the credit balance but not included in the adjustment column of your bill because it was requested on 15 February 2013 and this bill was issued on 13 February 2013.) 

Balance carried forward: £275.74 (£339.85 +£153.02 - £768.61)

Gas used: £185.55 + VAT: £9.27

Closing balance: £80.92

However, both these payments was returned, therefore we cancelled the previous bill and issued a new bill.

If you're not satisfied your enquiry has been resolved, please get in touch with me and I'll be more than happy to help you further.

However, if you're happy with what I've done you don't need to do anything and I'll close your enquiry on 7 March 2013.

If you would like to review our Complaint Handling Procedure please visit our website or alternatively, reply to my email and I will arrange to send you a copy free of charge through the post.

Thank you for contacting British Gas.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dancing the hokey cokey with British Gas

Having forsaken my New Barnet penthouse and moved into my new home with the lovely Jacqueline (to whom I am to be married) in Whetstone, I recently closed the British Gas account at my former abode. Little did I know that this would involve my piloting a new TV game show format that's all about billing (it's called Test the Patience).

On 31 January, they emailed to say that I owed them £303.61. My entering a meter reading on 4 February sparked an email thanking me for said reading, followed on 7 February by an email to say "We're sorry, we couldn't process your meter reading", prompting a telephone conversation on 8 February in which I passed on the meter reading and was promised a new bill within two weeks, and lo, on 12 February came an email to say "Your gas bill is ready to view online" and "your account balance is £0.00."

Bitter experience had taught me to ignore this as a computer-generated false alarm and not really my bill after all, and so I waited patiently until yesterday morning, when I discovered an email saying that my bill really was apparently ready now and that they owed me £80.92, an idea that tickled me rather more than had the previous suggestion that I owed them more than three hundred quid.

I checked my payment history on their site and it added up and thus made sense for them to owe me the aforementioned £80.92 - but wait! Without actually sending me another bill or another email, and without saying anything to indicate that the bill on which they owed me £80.92 was not, ladies and gentlemen, the proverbial it, the screen changed to reveal that I now apparently owe them £67.97. Oh.

The previous bill (the one they had sent me that very same day and had told me was my bill) disappeared, the pdf of the new bill "isn't yet available...but will be ready for you within the next 24 hours" (it still isn't, incidentally) and my online payment history has evolved so that near-identical transactions now show not that they owe me eighty pounds, but that I owe them sixty-seven pounds - presumably because I didn't shout "Bank!" while the sum of £80.92 was up there on the screen.

A telephone call elicited the information that, yes, someone had made a mistake in calculating the bill, hence it having later been amended - without that amendment generating an email to say "Here's another new bill" or "Oops, sorry, we've made a mistake, your bill's wrong and we're very sorry; heaven forfend that such a thing should ever happen again - Andre, free drinks for the table that was given the incorrect bill!" Is it cricket for them to email me a bill and then change that self-same bill without explanation and without even alerting me to the change?

It is gloriously byzantine - £194.82 in Gas Charges was, apparently, notionally debited on 13 February, with the charges reversed on 15 February and then on the very same day debited again, all without my raising any queries about the charges concerned. The direct debit payments that I had cancelled by agreement flit between the Debits and Credits columns like - like a thing that flits a lot, very fast. If maths in schools was this exciting, then Mr Michael Gove would have far less difficulty in interesting the nation's young people in the pursuit of this most noble of academic disciplines.

I rather like British Gas, and their staff are always very pleasant and helpful, but their methods for calculating bills appear to be so complicated as to render it near impossible to ascertain who owes what to whom. Having recently found it easy to complete a tax return without the aid even of an accountant, I find it faintly enervating that the supposedly simple sorting out of my gas bill should apparently necessitate the hiring of a team of Florida election lawyers. I might indeed owe British Gas sixty-seven pounds, but I'd rather know this for certain before handing the money over.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Ward, Wiesel, Chomsky - and Carmichael

There's an old joke in which a beggar asks a distinguished gentleman for money in the street, and the distinguished gentleman pompously replies: "'Neither a borrower nor a lender be' - William Shakespeare." To which the beggar responds: "'F**k you' - David Mamet."

I am reminded of this joke by the fact that, while David Ward has called in aid a quotation in his defence from Noam Chomsky (, Mr Ward has inadvertently omitted to also inform his readers that Elie Wiesel, whom Mr Ward had previously also quoted in his own defence (, has said: "Although he (Mr Ward) quotes me correctly, I am outraged that he uses my words at the same time he utters shameless slanders on the State of Israel" (

Leaving aside the fact that Noam Chomsky's 9/11 nincompoopery has left him widely discredited (, and also leaving aside the fact that Mr Chomsky's eminence in semiotics (not that I am antisemiotic) does not especially qualify him to comment on the specifics of what is and isn't considered acceptable language in British political discourse, I note with sad amusement that Mr Ward informs us on his website that Mr Chomsky was due to speak via video link at some ghastly-sounding London conference of "Not in my name!" people, alongside a bunch of illiberal Labour MPs and Respect Party types (

As a liberal and a Liberal Democrat, I support such a conference no more than I would support a conference held by Tory right-wingers of the Bring Back Maggie variety - yes, the Lib Dems opposed the Iraq War, but that is about all we have in common with the collection of History Man stereotypes here gathered (or there gathered) to hear Chomsky last weekend.

As for Mr Ward's asking Jewish News ( if his comments about "the Jews" would have been more acceptable if he had said not "the Jews", but "the Jewish community" - I genuinely assumed, upon reading that, that Mr Ward was joking in an attempt to score a rhetorical point, demonstrating the seriousness with which he was (not) taking accusations that he has caused serious offence to some members of a minority community.

Not once did it occur to me that Mr Ward seriously thinks that, if an MP talks about "the Jews" in a manner that could imply that he might mean "all Jews, including even the Jewish community over here", then it would have been 'better' if he had said not "the Jews", but "the Jewish community". It wouldn't have been better, it (obviously) would have been worse, and I am truly astonished that Mr Ward might suggest that he seriously thinks otherwise.

All Lib Dems should read this excellent Jewish News article ( by Liberal Democrat Chief Whip (and Government Deputy Chief Whip) Alistair Carmichael, which represents the true voice of the Liberal Democrats. I write here in a personal capacity.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ward abroad (and in Guardian)

Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack writes ( that the absence of Lib Dem MP David Ward from Wednesday's Commons vote on equal marriage was the result of his being "abroad on Parliamentary business"; my own absence from the vote was the result of my "sadly not ever having been elected an MP in the first place".

It is thrilling to think that, had I not been so careless as to mislay the roughly twenty thousand additional votes that might have swept me to victory in Hendon, then I too might this week have been abroad on the same Parliamentary business as detained Mr Ward, perhaps sharing his bivouac in Borneo, Bogota, Boston or whichever foreign place it is that he has been emailing Jewish News from (, said emails presumably indicating either that Mr Ward has returned and is no longer abroad after all, or that he is the owner of a smart phone.

Anyway, before embarking on his business abroad (an expression that somehow drips with Wildean disdain: "I do not wish to hear that you have business abroad, Mr Worthington," or is it (with an exclamation mark) a Brian Rix farce, or perhaps a song by Flanders and Swann), Mr Ward found time to be interviewed by the Guardian, an organ that had, prior to Mr Ward's recent fall into the stormy teacup that has got him into such hot water (perhaps it needs more milk?)given him the same amount of attention as had other national newspapers, that being "pretty much no attention at all".

The Guardian, of all papers, asked Mr Ward the questions that needed asking, and Mr Ward's answers explain better than I ever could why his words, and the sentiments underlying them, are so utterly mistaken and wrong, so do read this piece and consider what it says about his views and what he says about himself, especially if you are a Liberal Democrat of that depressing variety which still actually likes the Guardian:

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Moving with Junk and Disorderly - never again

Friends, if you only ever listen to one thing that I say, then please listen to this: I do not recommend your ever using a Finchley-based removals firm called Junk and Disorderly. My experience of moving house with this company today was so very disappointing (to put it mildly) that I cannot (repeat cannot) stress strongly enough that I would never, under any circumstances, contemplate using these people again.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Chief Whip's letter to HET re:- David Ward

Pleased to see this letter from Lib Dem Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael to the Holocaust Educational Trust about David Ward's appalling comments about "the Jews" and the Holocaust. Hearing Mr Ward's later comments on Sky News, I wonder if I am one of the Jews who do it, or one of the Jews who don't do it? Mr Ward says: 
I'm accusing the Jews who did it, so if you're a Jew and you did not do it I'm not accusing you. I'm saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons. If you are a Jew and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I am of course not criticising you.
What would be the reaction if, in discussing traveller sites, I said:
I'm accusing the Gypsies who did it, so if you're a Gypsy and you did not do it I'm not accusing you. I'm saying that those Gypsies who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons. If you are a Gypsy and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I am of course not criticising you.
It is very nice of Mr Ward, in discussing a community of normative, law-abiding British people (in this case, Jewish people), to benevolently give them (us) the benefit of the doubt and say that he is not criticising us for...whatever it is that he is now criticising Jews or Israelis for. There was I assuming that, as an individual human being, I was not going to suddenly find myself criticised (least of all on the basis of the cultural group into which I happen to have been born) on the television by a Member of Parliament, as I was not aware of any suggestion that I had done anything wrong, but it turns out that I am wrong - as Jews, we are on trial, with various criteria as to whether or not he is "accusing" us of things.

It stinks, and it would stink just as much if said about Muslims, about British Asians, or about any other minority group. History teaches us at all costs to avoid the politics of "I blame the Jews".

Friday, 25 January 2013

David Ward talks offensive nonsense about "the Jews"

Appalled to read Lib Dem MP David Ward's comments about the things that he considers "the Jews" to have done to the Palestinians: Pleased to see a statement from my party saying: "This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable."

Does Mr Ward equally condemn "the Muslims" for atrocities committed by Pakistan in Bangladesh in 1971 ( - atrocities that actually appear to have killed far more people than have died in the entirety of the Israel/Palestine conflict)? If Mr Ward did so condemn "the Muslims" for the past actions of some Pakistani soldiers, then he would be stigmatising an entire global community for the perceived actions of one country's soldiers some decades ago, just as he is stigmatising the entire global Jewish community for the perceived actions of some Israeli soldiers some decades ago.

Has history taught Mr Ward nothing about the dangers associated with using the language of condemnation to describe "the Jews", "the Gypsies", "the Arabs", "the Bosnian Muslims", "the Tutsis", "the gays" - demonising "the other" by ascribing malign characteristics not to individual human beings, but to whole categories of human being - in this case "the Jews"?

If Mr Ward really has said: "It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated" then he is talking about me and my views on "how others should be treated". He is not talking about some Israelis; he is talking about all Jews: Israeli Jews, English Jews, Indian Jews, Guatemalan Jews - all of these people, says Mr Ward, have a problem regarding "their views on how others should be treated".

And if "the Jews" are to be portrayed by Mr Ward as being people whose "views on how others should be treated" are problematic, then does he also believe that "the Jews" should be condemned for holding such views - a belief that would be shared by those antisemites whose condemnation of "the Jews" leads them to carry out such atrocities as last year's murderous attack on a Jewish school in France (

I confidently assume that Mr Ward believes no such thing, in which case he should come right out and say so, given the appalling language that he has used. As Liberal Democrat Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg put it in a speech in 2010:

" is outrageous...that some people's feelings about a conflict in the Middle East should create a climate of opinion in which British Jews are attacked and threatened both verbally and physically. No amount of anger about overseas events can ever justify hostility, let alone hatred, towards British Jews."

Words that Mr Ward might wish to ponder as he considers the full implications of his comments about "the Jews".

As for Mr Ward's comments on the Holocaust, I'd be interested to read precise details of how, within a few years of the Holocaust, "the Jews" carried out "atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza." Upon reading the history of Arabs living in the new State of Israel (, I do not see anything about "atrocities" - perhaps Mr Ward could enlighten me? When I read Amnesty International's latest annual report on the Palestinian territories (, I read much that concerns me, but I do not read about "(atrocities) on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza".

As I have written before (, Israel's 1947-49 War of Independence involved atrocities committed by both sides, and sparked the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab people, creating injustices that remain unresolved to this day - hence the need for a peaceful, just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the creation of a viable Palestinian state that will co-exist with a secure State of Israel.

From the Sabra and Shatila massacre to last year's bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv, many people have done many terrible things throughout the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - things that are worthy of condemnation, without resorting to the language of demonisation, be one's demons "the Jews", "the Arabs", "the Lebanese", "the Israelis", "the Palestinians"; such language gets us nowhere, and actually delays the day on which peace will have been achieved between Israel, the Palestinians and their Arab neighbours.

Nothing that has happened in Israel/Palestine is so bad as to stand comparison with the genocidal murder of millions of Jews and other people in the Holocaust. To compare Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (or some Palestinians' hatred of Israelis) with what happened in Nazi death camps is to misunderstand the former and to trivialise the latter. Also, to suggest that Jewish suffering in the Holocaust means that Jews should now know better than to behave as badly as everyone else behaves is to hold Jews to a higher standard than others are held to, with the Holocaust thus becoming not a cause of sympathy for "the Jews", but another reason to criticise "the Jews" - and that stinks.