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Thursday, 15 January 2015

Nick Clegg's very strong rebuttal of David Ward's "stupid" tweets

Crass. Stupid. Offensive. Insensitive. Just four of the words that UK Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has used to describe some comments made on Twitter by one of my party's MPs, David Ward. I completely agree with Nick Clegg's unambiguous condemnation of the tweets concerned and I cannot think of a time when an MP (Lib Dem or otherwise) has been so clearly, strongly rebuked by the leader of his or her own party. Party leaders simply do not usually speak in such terms about their own MPs and Mr Clegg's words contrast with the deafening silence with which David Cameron and Ed Miliband have greeted some equally stupid things that have been said on similar topics by the odd (sometimes very odd) Conservative or Labour MP in the past. I applaud Mr Clegg for his comments. 

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A petition for all Lib Dems to sign


Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2015 20:11:13 +0000
To: <>
Subject: Matthew, thanks for taking action!

Amnesty International logo

Dear Matthew

Thank you for taking action today. Together, our words can help get justice for Raif Badawi. Raif is one of 12 people and communities we're focusing on as part of Write for Rights, our global letter-writing campaign. Right now, their human rights are under attack. We need your support to make change happen – read their stories and take action today.

Thank you for signing "Saudi Arabia: Release blogger Raif Badawi"

Please forward this email to a friend

Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes after starting a website for social and political debate – demand his release today.

Please share this action on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook Twitter

Amnesty International
International Secretariat

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London, WC1X 0DW
United Kingdom

Copyright © 2015 Amnesty International, All rights reserved.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Nick Clegg's Chanukah Reception

On Thursday, I had the immense privilege of attending UK Deputy Prime Minister (and Liberal Democrat Leader) Nick Clegg's Chanukah reception at Admiralty House. It was a lovely occasion, on which Nick Clegg made a speech that touched upon some genuinely interesting themes, so here is a video - the speech begins about four minutes in, after the nice bit with the children singing, the rabbi, and the candles being lit (and the first minute or two of that first bit has less than perfect sound). 

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I love the BBC, but...

I am passionately pro-BBC (and the licence fee) and I am not a party to the cheesy cynicism of those right-wing campaigners who are convinced that the corporation is endemically anti-Israel. It isn't. Nor is it improperly pro-Israel, as alleged by some of the sillier elements on the pro-Palestinian left.

But when I see the headline "Israel launches Gaza air strike", I despair - because the story actually begins: "Israeli aircraft have bombed a site in Gaza, in the first such action since the declaration of a truce in August. The air strike was carried out on a Hamas facility in response to a rocket fired earlier from Gaza, a statement from the Israeli military said."

This is on the digital teletext on the red button on BBC TV, and as I used to actually write news stories for the teletext on the BBC World channel, I can say that I would have headlined the story "Israeli air strike follows Gaza rocket fire" and would have written:

"Israeli aircraft have bombed an alleged Hamas facility in Gaza in response to a missile reportedly fired into Israel earlier from Gaza, a statement from the Israeli military said. This is the first such exchange of fire between Hamas and Israel to be reported since the declaration of a truce in August."

My version makes it clear that the Israelis are claiming that Hamas acted and Israel reacted; the BBC's version reports that the Israelis acted and points out that it was the first such Israeli action since the truce started - without explicitly saying that it was a Hamas missile that appears to have triggered this latest chain of events, and allowing the reader to infer that Israel started this latest escalation of hostilities, when the reality is that if Hamas had not fired its missile, then none of this would have happened today and you wouldn't be reading this post now, as I would never have written it.

In terms of news, the BBC seems to think that the story is: "Why has Israel bombed a site in Gaza?"; I would argue that the story actually is: "What is Hamas hoping to gain by firing missiles at Israel again in the middle of a truce - and what will the Israeli response be?"

Some explanations for how and why various news organisations can get the Israel story wrong were offered in this very interesting piece here:

Friday, 31 October 2014

A hopeful Lib Dem speech on Israel/Palestine

Pleased as I am to see a de-escalation of tensions in Jerusalem (and I thought that Judaism itself prohibited religious Jews from entering the Temple Mount until after the fulfillment of their prophecy that the Messiah has come?), I was also pleased to see a great speech by Lord (Monroe) Palmer in yesterday's House of Lords debate on the Middle East and North Africa. I have rarely seen a better Liberal Democrat re-statement of the pro-Israeli, pro-peace argument. You can watch the speech here and read it here; I was struck in particular by:
Another fact that is completely overlooked is the amount of aid and goods of different types that Israel pumps into Gaza, as well as the amount of aid and goods that Israel allows others to pump in...What makes me despair is the absence of reporting in the media on the support that Israel has consistently given to the people of Gaza. Some formidable forces are lobbying against Israel in the British public arena. It is perhaps the unrelenting campaigns of such formidable forces that drown out the truth about what Israel is doing to help Gaza, even during hostilities.
I would like to give some examples. On 25 August this year, in the middle of a war in which a bombardment of Hamas missiles was forcing many thousands of Israeli men, women and children to run for cover whenever an air raid siren sounded - even in the middle of such a bombardment - 111 trucks entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel carrying 2,190 tonnes of food. On that same day, three trucks entered Gaza through the same crossing from Israel, carrying 8 tonnes of humanitarian supplies. 
On 24 August, one day earlier, three Israeli taxi drivers were waiting to pick up some residents of Gaza to bring them into hospital in Israel from Gaza through the Erez crossing. And what happened? Mortar shells fired by Palestinian groups wounded the taxi drivers, with two of them being seriously hurt. Israeli soldiers had to evacuate the wounded under Palestinian fire, as Palestinian mortars continued to fall on the Israeli crossing specifically designated for the passage of Palestinians in need of medical and humanitarian assistance. These three Israeli taxi drivers, who were doing their job taking sick people to hospital, were not Jewish, but Arab citizens of Israel - Israeli Arabs being bombed by Palestinian terrorists while attempting to take Palestinians to hospital in Israel.
To paraphrase Tom Lehrer's reaction to the news that Henry Kissinger had won the Nobel Peace Prize, the world is now so satirical that it is impossible to satirise it any more. 

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Don't lump "Oxbridge" in with fee-paying schools

Re:- Alan Milburn's report on social mobility (;) can we please not lump "Oxbridge" in with fee-paying schools? Private schools are institutions at which parents buy places for their offspring; Oxford and Cambridge aren't. I have blogged on this previously at and

Oh, and if only 24% of MPs went to Oxbridge, then I have to say that that means that not enough of the UK's most academically able graduates are going into politics and that is a problem; I'd like to see comparable figures for other good universities and a report on how to persuade more of the brightest and the best to consider a career in politics. And I'd seriously like to know what percentage of MPs tried for Oxbridge, but didn't get in...

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

My Minute of Rage for Gaza and Israel

Israel's opponents regularly proclaim a Day of Rage against Israel. I am on the Tube to work and (even allowing for possible delays on the Northern Line), I therefore don't have day today to devote to rage. I only have a minute.

So, with even The Guardian (hardly a pro-Israeli newspaper) having reported yesterday ( that: "The temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas was in jeopardy on Tuesday after rockets were fired from Gaza, triggering a swift military and political response from Israel", that clear, and simple reality (that, in the middle of a ceasefire - in the middle, indeed of actual peace talks - Hamas had started firing missiles at people living in Israel, prompting Israel to respond by firing back, as what country wouldn't) had been lost by yesterday evening ( and even further lost by this morning (

We are now, already, back to "as hostilities resumed, both sides blamed the other", with parts of the media sounding like a parent saying to two children: "I don't care who started it. Just both stop it at once. And Israel, even if Hamas DID hit you, there was no need for you to hit him back so hard, especially as you're his big brother and you know you're stronger than him."

This idea that it doesn't matter who started a conflict and that doubtless both sides are to blame, with a lot of right and wrong on both sides, is well-intentioned but can be nonsense. I posted a piece by someone else saying Don't Take Sides a few weeks ago and an eminent Lib Dem colleague, one with great experience of conflict-resolution, gently pointed out that, sometimes, it actually is necessary to take sides in a conflict, on occasions when one side is clearly in the right and the other is clearly in the wrong. He was right. It is when people on each side genuinely seek peace from the perspective of their side that both sides can actually make peace.

There are three approaches that don't help. One is to say: "You're both right." Another is to say: "You're both wrong." A third is to say to one side: "You are completely wrong and the other is completely right and I condemn you."

Surely the better approach is to say to the two sides: "You have competing claims. You each accuse the other of perpetrating injustices, and some of those accusations are justified. It is possible that one of you has a bigger grievance than the other, and commentators disagree as to which of you that is. One side might claim that its arguments do not get a fair hearing and that the world is biased against it. The only way for you to resolve your competing claims is for you to find some way to negotiate an agreement based each side getting some of the things that matter most to it, with painful compromises from both sides."
That is not the same as refusing to take sides and the politics of "I don't care who started it - just both stop." I DO care who started it. The venting of anger about who started it is part of the process of encouraging the parties to make peace. So, returning to my Minute of Rage, why - why - did Hamas end the ceasefire by firing missiles at Israel? Given that Hamas knew what the Israeli response to be, why did they do it? Was it because they see a continuation of the war as being likely to bring them greater prizes than were available under the terms of the deal that was being agreed at the talks? Having started this new phase of the conflict by firing missiles at people living in Israel, Hamas bears responsibility for the deaths of anyone killed in the consequent Israeli response.

In firing its missiles, Hamas is aiming to kill as many people in Israel as possible; the fact that the missiles rarely hurt or kill anyone (partly because of good missile-defence and air-raid shelters) is beside the point. In firing its missiles and so inviting a defensive response from Israel, Hamas knows that it is prompting the deaths of so many Palestinian civilians, and that is an absolute tragedy - and it is a tragedy that, in my Minute of Rage, I lay at the door of Hamas.

I rage also at the fact that thousands if not millions of people living in Israel (including members of my own family) are now again hearing sirens and running for shelter. I've been receiving emails from people in Israel who cannot stray far from the house when out walking for fear of not being close to an air-raid shelter when a Hamas bomb falls. Thousands, if not millions, of people are living through this in Israel. Try sparing them a thought when you see pictures of the Palestinian people killed and wounded in Israel's response to the missiles fired by Hamas. And yes of course I call for Israel to continue to do what it can to minimise civilian casualties - Israel, unlike Hamas, is not deliberately aiming to kill civilians when it fires.