Friday, December 29, 2006

Kennedy.....Campbell, Hughes, Huhne..........wither 2006?

So, as the old year draws to a close - and what a year it was for us - who knows what the new one will bring..............another new leader?????? Or is that blasphemy?! I have to confess that the assassination of Charles still sticks in my gullet a bit, even as someone who was strongly of the view that we would need a new leader by the time of the next general election, but not then and not in that manner. There has been a fair bit of analysis on our performance this year on my beloved radio 4 (no not on the Archers) and it has to be said we are not coming out of it that well, even though Lembit, in his inimitable style seems to have done his bit to ensure we end the year in the headlines! It may be the conspiracy theorist gene in me, but how come Labour and Tory party chairs were interviewed for the World at One reviews but for us it was Vince Cable? Is it that our party President was unavailable……..or is it that he may have given a wee bit too honest an appraisal of our leader’s performance?

I have to admit that at the time of the election I shared the view that we didn't want to fall into the Blair/Cameron trap, going for packaging as opposed to substance. However, even though I hate to say it, packaging does have a role to play. It is what first attracts us to the product. Blair is like that old, rather insubstantial breakfast cereal which was so new season in 1997 (a la Crunchy Nut Cornflakes?) the packaging was bright and inviting in its day, but its day has now gone. Cameron is more the bright shiny hologram covered new packaging...........possibly more cocoa pops, tastes nice to start with, but you soon feel hungry again. And our Ming..........Quaker Porridge Oats? Much better for you, but the packaging needs a bit of attention. Not to compete with Cameron, certainly not, but to attract attention to the substance which is within.

I sincerely hope that this year Ming will find his feet and make the impact that is so necessary in what inevitably will continue to be portrayed as a two horse race. As a party it is imperative that we capture the imagination, that we are ahead of the game, that we anticipate the agenda, and that we offer radical alternative solutions.

So…………this year will be very interesting. The little matter of Trident…..a new Labour leader………..the possibility of a snap election……oh, and will orange be the new black?!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Two Cheers for Ming

Now......don't die of shock that I have posted two days on the trot...more a sign of a boring social life than commitment to the cause! But, it has to be said I have been inspired by our Ming today......I had been invited to his IPPR speech wearing another hat and he reminded me of why I was happy to give him second preference after Simon Hughes. He does have a genuine concern for tackling poverty and his promise to commit the party to ending child poverty by 2020 is to be welcomed. Poverty is a root cause for so many of society's ills and getting to grips with it has to be top of our agenda. His attention to the serious problem of a lack of social and affordable housing is also something to be applauded. I have always argued that whilst others talk about education education education, to imagine that children can realistically learn anything if they are living in squalid, crowded or temporary homes is to totally miss the point. So two cheers for Ming. What I was less happy about was the fact that their is still a lot of work to be done on the policies being put forward, and that he referred to a "marriage of social and economic liberalism" what's that all about??? I am sure it will end in divorce!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Civic Services.....Hypocritical Prime Ministers.....WMDs and Mad Hatters

Yesterday was our Bedford Christmas Civic Service.........organised by one of my Tory pals (yes I do have them!) current Speaker, Andrew McConnell. In his honour I broke with my tradition of refusing to be seen in something that looks like a washed out old dressing gown (why don't they do them in petite, so sizeist!) and a tricorn hat (so Dick Turpin.....). As we were "processing" into the church another pal, ex councillor Chris Whitehead came along and shocked me by revealing he read my blog..........heavens that's three of you now then!

It was a lovely service, reminding me of why I am so passionate about politics. Not only were we reminded of the reason for Christ's birth - to bring peace and justice - but singing the second verse of the national anthem (and I say this as a bit of a republican) which goes on about the Queen defending our laws, just made me think of how low we have sunk as a nation under Blair's leadership. For a man who declares his Christian faith I frankly wonder if we are reading the same bible?! "Blessed are the peacemakers...." yes that'll be killing off a few hundred thousand Iraqis and renewing our own weapons of mass destruction then.
Last week this government's cavalier attitude to truth and justice and utter contempt for the rule of law was yet again exposed. It reminded me of the time a few years ago when my boss was sacked for bullying. The local authority I worked for was so worried about her taking the case to employment tribunal they bought her off with early what message does that give? If you are over 50 and want early retirement......just go bully a few people! Similarly the BAE case just sends a clear message, don't worry about bribery and corruption if you are powerful enough, we'll drop the case in the middle and you'll have nothing to worry about. And now Blair has been questioned how long will it be before the police are bullied into dropping the cash for honours case? And all this only a few days after Blair's trumpeting of "British" values which all those wishing to come here should espouse. And now he's under the delusion that he is the right person to go and resolve the Israel Palestine situation........heaven help us! Sometimes I fear I am in an Alice in Wonderland world..........its just in my Alice in Wonderland world there seem to be far too many Mad Hatters!

Monday, December 04, 2006


Am I missing something here? Praise for our policy........a policy which has neither been ratified by the FPC nor, more importantly federal conference. I'm sorry, but I was of the belief that one of the things which distinguished us from the two tory parties was the fact that we were still a member lead organisation? Have I missed some important development? I am a Lib Dem because I am a Lib Dem.......I am proud of that, I am proud that I belong to a party which has solid values and is not in anybody's pocket. So why do I get the feeling I am being bounced into a policy? A policy which is at odds with my own beliefs (even as an ex servicewoman) and a policy which does not have the demonstrable support of my party. Clearly the party is aware that this issue is a hot potato with our membership, something that needs careful handling, so why throw petrol on the flames and ignite a conflict? We may not all agree, but we have a tried and tested procedure, one which gives us all an opportunity to express our opinions..........lets stick to that, shall we? Or am I being unreasonable???

Friday, December 01, 2006

Trident - Oh dear, has the fence just jumped up and bitten me in the bottom?

I just got my email from Ming telling me that

"It would be unwise at this time for Britain to abandon its nuclear weapons altogether. But a deterrent of approximately half the current size, and extending the life of the current submarine system, would be sufficient to provide for Britain’s ultimate security until we have more certainty about proliferation..."

Please tell me I am being a little naive here, but.......are we for 'em or agin 'em? Whilst I of course applaud the move towards disarmament outlined in this draft, why only half? If we believe nuclear weapons are wrong how can we support keeping the half we say we want to keep? If we believe they are right, why not keep the lot?

As I am such an incompetent blogger and don't know how to get a slick link up here, I have copied an article from my pal Mick Smith's blog (23.11.07 - Sunday Times) which in the light of our draft policy makes interesting reading:

The Travesty of a Trident Debate

The cabinet had its first sight of the White Paper produced to justify continuing with a submarine-based nuclear deterrent on Thursday ahead of its official unveiling in Parliament in all probability next week. Tony Blair has promised MPs a full debate on the issue sometime early next year and reportedly told last week’s cabinet meeting that he wants to launch the debate very quickly "because a decision needs to be made". It’s a good quote that isn’t it? You can actually hear him saying it, with that little bit of irritation that we just don't get it in his voice. The truth is that a decision doesn’t need to be made now at all. But whether it does or not is irrelevant, because the key decisions have already been made. So MPs from whatever side of the house can go whistle, what they say will not change a thing. Is this what passes for democracy under President Blair? I’m afraid it is and the sooner we get rid of it the better.

There are three parts to the Trident system, the 58 missiles themselves, American-owned and loaned to us each time we use them at exorbitant cost; the 192 warheads, which are at least British-made and owned; and the four British Vanguard-class submarines that fire the missile. According to the spin, it is the last part of the equation, the submarines, which make it essential to decide now.
The Prime Minister and his supporters say the procurement process is so slow and cumbersome that it is imperative that we order new submarines now. It is total codswallop. You, I and every gatepost across Britain know that the key issues here are that a) Blair sold his soul to the neo-cons and part of the deal was that Britain continued to have a nuclear deterrent, and b) he sees it as part of his legacy to leave Britain with a powerful nuclear deterrent – evidence that the old nuke-hating Labour is no more.
As for the submarines, well if you start from the prime minister’s position that we do need a nuclear deterrent – many won’t but let’s humour Blair for the moment and he did after all get voted in on that basis – the submarines are a relatively easy decision. He is right at least that a submarine-based system remains by far the best option simply because it is much more difficult for a potential target to take pre-emptive action. He hasn’t of course expressed this preference because the issue is “still to be debated”. But we and the gateposts know the decision has already been made.
The Submarines
We currently have four Vanguard nuclear missile submarines. We in fact need only three. They are due to go out of service between 2017 and 2024. The British submarine building yard at Barrow has plenty of work on its plate building the Astute-class attack submarine, at present the MoD is committed to three Astute-class submarines and negotiating heavily on the remaining four of what will be a seven-boat fleet.
The seven Astutes will take Barrow up to around 2017 before it can get down to actually building whatever replacement nuclear missile submarine we want to use to fire the missile. So the life of the Vanguards will need to be extended slightly but that is not a major issue. Once Barrow has finished building the seven Astutes, it will be able to fit in building the three new nuclear missile submarines before starting all over again on a new attack submarine to replace the Astute. That will give the Royal Navy a total of just ten submarines and building them will keep the British submarine industry ticking over nicely ad infinitum, doing no harm to the Labour cause in Cumbria of course.
The Missiles
If you take the view that we do need a deterrent, and many see that as essential for no other reason than that the French have one - yes the debate does get as silly as that - then the missiles are even less of a no-brainer than the submarines. The Trident D5 missiles were due to go out of service in 2019 but the Americans, who own the things anyway, are extending the life of their missiles so we can just earn some more browny points in Washington by piggy-backing on that project. This is ideal because Blair can say we haven’t changed a thing, we are continuing with Trident, so nothing we are doing contravenes the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Er, up to a point. But only because we haven’t come to the key issue yet.
The Warheads
The British warheads are critical to the debate. They’re the one issue where MPs – and come to that the rest of us - might just be able to have an input. I’m frankly not putting any money on it but it is the faintest of possibilities, which is more than can be said for the submarines and the missiles.
The British warhead is based on the US W76 warhead, which is known to have problems, with at least one failing to detonate properly. The reason is that it is a sophisticated two-stage warhead designed to hit specific targets like particular Soviet cities and that meant using lots of clever materials that get much less clever as time goes on. They deteriorate with age and we can’t test them to make sure they are still working because of the nuclear test ban.
The response in America has been the development of the reliable replacement warhead. This is a weapon that ignores the clever bits of the old Cold War warheads that deteriorate quickly and – based on the results of previous nuclear tests going right back to the 1940s – uses the old well-proven reliable components that never deteriorate, the bits we know will work. We don’t need sophisticated bombs that will do clever things, we just need bombs that will go bang when we want them to.Des Browne, defence secretary, has denied that we’re interested in the reliable replacement warhead. But senior defence officials let the cat out of the bag earlier this year by pointing out that we were further ahead in research into the new type of warhead than the Americans, who have been conducting an 18-month programme to design one.
That programme began in May 2005, shortly after Blair was re-elected on a mandate to continue with the nuclear deterrent, and is due to have finished this month, shortly before the British White Paper is published. Is the timing coincidental? I doubt it. The government has poured around £3.5bn into a top secret programme at Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Research Establishment to help Britain’s nuclear scientists either redesign the current warhead or design a new one.
The problem with the reliable replacement warhead is that, even if you take the current warhead apart and rebuild it using the reliable bits, it is a new warhead, and a new warhead will breach the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We are in a Catch-22 situation. We can’t be sure our old warhead will work without testing it and breaching the nuclear test ban and we can’t replace it with something reliable without breaching the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. The warhead is the weak link. It is the one point at which Blair’s determination to spend around £14bn on a weapon we don’t actually need might falter. That’s where his opponents need to focus their fire. It’s the only place they have a chance of stopping him.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The View From Port of Spain - and why don't we have public holidays for Eid and Diwali?

Just had to get that in!!!! Sitting in my temporary office at the Central Bank, overlooking the harbour, sun shining brightly on the sea following a thunderstorm, just having found out we can't get a flight to Tobago on Saturday since everyone is taking a long weekend, the public holidays for Eid and Diwali falling over the next few days. In Trinidad they love an excuse for a party and being a very ethnically diverse country that means everyone celebrating each other's festivals. Last week was a public holiday for Chinese arrival day. At lunch today they had started on the Christmas carols and tomorrow there will be lunchtime Diwali celebrations in the bank. Whilst Trinidad has other issues (political parties being largely ethnically based) it is so refreshing to be somewhere where diversity is a cause for celebration rather than moral panic. So, it occurs to me that, given we seem to be behind most other countries when it comes to public holidays, maybe we should include this in our next manifesto - at least two extra public holidays???! It may also give the opportunity, clearly needed, for us to begin to invest more in understanding one another and celebrating what unites us rather than this constant British emphasis on what it is that divides us.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

NHS - Thats Notting Hill Set to Mr Cameron

Just back from an extended council meeting. For those of us who are fortunate enough to languish under the delights of an elected mayor, some might say, a frequently frustrating and verging on pointless exercise (OK I'm in cynical mode!) tonight was brightened by an imaginative timely motion from the Tories against the closure of Bedford Hospital - swiftly matched by a ridiculously facile and disengenuous Labour amendment, countered of course by the ultimate Lib Dem piece d'resistance! Mr Speaker......aka Cllr Andrew McConnell........aka Toryboy to me and my pals.........broke with convention and offered his own views on the threat to the hospital......he is waiting to see if he is to be reprimanded.......but it is good to see the Tories sticking up for the NHS. tho it has to be said, whether that is the National Health Service or the Notting Hill Set remains to be seen. What totally stuck in my gullet was the constant concern of the so called "independents" some of them members of their own "Better Bedford Party" and many erstwhile members of other parties, banging on about this not being about politics and political point do you think we got in this mess in the first place???! decisions made by this Labour government which ultimately will determine whether or not Bedford has its own hospital are NOT POLITICAL???? And to be frank, for those who dream about a world free from party politics, lets get real about the alternative.......a bunch of independents, all with different views, all there because they are wealthy enough (or have a wealthy enough patron) to fund their own election campaigns. Rant over.............

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Lebanon remembered

Now the guns have fallen silent, the "disproportionate" bombs no longer drop indiscrimately, the katushas have stopped their deadly flights its easy to forget the madness of the summer weeks of conflict in Lebanon. But the unexploded cluster bombs remain, the lives of so many families on both sides of the border remain shattered. Paul Reynolds offers an enlightened and enlightening perspective.

The Lebanon conflict – Precursor to War or Peace ?

Prof Paul E M Reynolds

The recent escalation of the ‘Middle East conflict’ in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel may or may not provide an opportunity for a final settlement and peace. It depends on your interpretation of events. At the very least in order to save lives in the short term, it is worth considering how to make the ‘peace opportunity’ more likely to be pursued - and subsequently successful.

At one point on the compass you have the official Israel-USA version; a terrorist organization having usurped territory in Southern Lebanon, attacks an Israeli border post and captures two Israeli soldiers, and then fires hundreds of rockets indiscriminately into Israel. Israel, using its right to defend itself, attacks Hizbullah assets, fighters and Lebanese-Hizbullah ‘re-supply’ infrastructure. To all intents & purposes, Israel defeats the terrorists and agrees a Lebanon-UN military force for Southern Lebanon to ensure the terrorists cannot operate in the same way again. Israeli attacks against Gaza and armed Hamas fighters, are similarly intended to prevent rocket attacks and defeat Hamas militarily.

Under this version of events, a negotiated peace is more likely if such terrorists are defeated and Israel feels more secure – and indeed if other security measures such as the wall between Israel and the Occupied Territories (OT), and continued partial Israeli withdrawal from the OT, are completed. An Israeli-supervised peace in the OT will enable implementation of the Two State Solution, whilst keeping Israel secure, and marginalize terrorist groups and their Syrian & Iranian backers, politically and militarily. In the background in this version is the implicit military threat from both Israel and the USA against Syria and especially Iran. Also implicit is that some political regimes in the region are implacably adversarial & undemocratic and reliant on the Palestinian conflict for their ‘popular legitimacy’, thus unwilling to be genuine partners in a peace process.

A second point on the compass has Israel and the USA as partners in a long military war against the Islamic world, with the USA funding aggression against Palestine and now Lebanon, as a way of keeping the Middle East cowed. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are part of this process, as is the role of the USA against the Islamic Courts militias in Somalia, and US pressure on Iran over nuclear enrichment. The US ‘approved’ the Israeli attacks on Lebanon because any (planned) military attacks on Iran by the USA and Israel, would bring retaliatory action from Iranian-controlled Hizbullah against Israel. The Israeli attacks on Gaza - and both the Wall and lack of contiguous Palestinian territory in the West Bank – are part of a plan to encourage Palestinians to leave the OT altogether, prior to the expulsion of non-Jews from Israel. The only response for Moslem nations is a military one, and peace will come from a probable military stalemate arising from an asymmetric war, where, as with Hizbullah recently, the Israelis are in reality defeated.

At a further point on the compass is the version of events that describes Hizbullah as a local uprising formed only a year after the earlier Israeli invasion to resist and expel the Israeli military from Lebanon – which was eventually successful in 2000. Former Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, a military man, having experienced the previous defeat in Lebanon, had been wary of a full-blown conflict with Hizbullah since 2000, and small-scale skirmishes and border raids were thus ‘tolerated’ and prisoners sometimes exchanged. However, in July 2006 Prime Minister Olmert, not being a military man, was unable to resist Israeli military demands for a ‘re-match’ against Hizbullah, triggered by the next border skirmish. Olmert’s position was weakened by the Israeli military being headed by an Air Force man, who proposed an air war which would avoid the pre-2000 problems on the ground, experienced by the Israeli army. When the latest border skirmish happened the Israeli Air Force’s plan was put into effect. However, in the intervening 6 years since 2000, Hizbullah’s political and military strength (and local popularity) increased, based on their success in defeating Israel. Seeing a ‘re-match’ as an inevitability, and able to collect funds and technical support from many countries, Hizbullah were well prepared against the ground invasion, that would inevitably follow a failure to defeat Hizbullah with air power alone. They were also able to add a key negotiating factor to parallel the might of the Israeli Air Force - a large stockpile of medium-range rockets fired into Israel, as well as at Israeli tanks.

In this version of events, two defeats for Israel has fatally dented their military credibility, and given the panic re-supply of munitions from the USA to Israel (via the UK) dented the credibility of the USA too – to add to the defeat of the USA in Iraq. Thus peace will come from a humbled Israel - more willing to negotiate over Palestine and to help create a viable Palestinian state, ending the current ‘strangulation’ approach to the Two State Solution. This version also describes a strengthened Iran and Mid East Shia community, following events in Iraq, since Hizbullah is largely Shia.

In order to achieve peace in the region however, somehow these different versions of events, and other versions like them, must be reconciled. There is a small time window over the coming months to remake the path to peace.

Following the recent conflict, reconciling these different versions of the truth is difficult but not impossible. The obstacles are deep-rooted and enormously complex – but understanding them is uncomfortably necessary.

First there is the ‘victory mentality’ which has evolved over years of attrition. Any ‘peace settlement’ must now be seen in Israel as a ‘victory’. The current US Presidency has fuelled this with its amorphous political device ‘the War on Terror’. This mentality in effect ‘created’ the recent disastrous Lebanon debacle. Syria, Iran and popular street culture in Iran and many Arab states, yearn for a ‘victory’ against Israel, reflected in the absurd ‘celebrations’ of a perceived Hizbullah military victory in Southern Lebanon. Overcoming the ‘victory mentality’ requires enormous political courage amongst world and regional leaders, the US, Iran and Syria included.

Second, there is the way in which long conflicts create a life of their own. Kosovo, Southern Sudan, Chechnya, and DRC are all examples. Israel receives billions of dollars in fund flows from the USA for civilian projects, many of them unhelpful to peace efforts. In addition, the sheer size of US military support and hardware shipments has a major effect on Israeli politics and real political power in Israeli civilian life. This can be seen in the legal position of the Israeli military with respect to Arab house demolitions in the Naqav Desert. Similarly, many conduits for munitions and social projects in and around the Occupied Palestinian Territories create a major ‘industry’ which make many Arab nationals particularly affluent. Those that benefit from peace in the Mid East – the mass of the population – have weak voices relative to the politically influential and economically power conflict-fed elites that have emerged. Political Arab nationalism is a useful tool for creating ‘legitimacy’, especially in Syria and Iran. Regimes from Iraq to the Western Maghreb play the Palestine card when they need to extract themselves from political hot water.

Third, a major obstacle to the achievement of peace is the dependence on fallible ‘world leaders’ in roles both as intermediaries between competing domestic political factions and in their role as ‘communicators’ to their populations and the world at large. World leaders involved in the conflict have not toured South Lebanon, Israel and the Occupied Territories or understood local realities. They are dependent on competing military and foreign policy experts for information, most of which do not know the realities on the ground either. This gives opportunities for kleptocratic elites in the region to promote their self-serving versions of events and history. Achieving peace however requires acceptance by political leaders on all sides of some very uncomfortable truths.

The role of the USA in achieving peace has undoubtedly been weakened by their unquestioning support for Israel over the last 6 weeks. From the absence of a call for ceasefire or even restraint, to the branding of Hizbullsah as terrorists, and the statement that Hizbullah has been ‘defeated’, the US has given the impression that the USA’s current regime is now following Israeli policy rather than using its clout to ensure peace. Its role as a potential ‘honest broker’ has potentially been fatally wounded. The question hangs in the air – who will ‘achieve’ peace ? It is now likely to be the EU and the new group of countries that will comprise the UN force in Lebanon.

But still there are uncomfortable realities, which require recognition as part of the equation if a new path to peace is to be established.

One is that it is likely that a key driver of the recent conflict in Lebanon and Israel was the rapid emergence of the prospects of a new path to peace during May and June this year. The conciliatory Hamas ‘Prisoner Statement’, finally accepted by the Hamas government only days before the attack on Lebanon, implied Hamas’ acceptance of the right of Israel to exist, highly worrisome for Syria and to an extent the Syrian wing of Hamas. This was also alarming for the Iranian regime who had gained a measure of mass support in the Arab world for their call for the dissolution of a ‘Jewish State’, inter alia. It would have been peace without a ‘victory’.

In parallel, parts of the Israeli military were horrified and somewhat wrong-footed by the Prisoner Statement. Worse for them were the discussions in Beirut in April, May & June this year for the implementation of UN resolutions in Lebanon, by the integration of Hizbullah into the regular armed forces, following the exit of most of the Syrian military earlier this year. A strong Lebanese army with Hizbullah included, but Syria excluded, was a perceived political and military threat for Israel, and indeed very discomforting for Syria too.

A further uncomfortable truth is the reality of progress toward the Two State Solution in the Occupied Territories, on the ground. A Hamas/Olmert-led peace would have forced this out in the open. Heavily influenced by a politically powerful Israeli military and security sector, the Israeli wall/barrier inside the Occupied Territories has created prison-like enclaves around places like Bethlehem and parts of Jerusalem, and has effectively annexed parts of the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, where local houses have been summarily demolished. The problems have been compounded by an Israeli motorway and road tunnel network in the West Bank, (on which Palestinian access is restricted), which have enclave effects and severely reduce ‘Two State’ viability. It is very unlikely that Western political leaders have sufficient awareness of these uncomfortable outcomes, and undoubtedly progress towards a peaceful ‘Two State’ settlement would create the need to reveal and address these physical viability obstacles for a Palestinian state - obstacles created by Israel with US dollars.

It is also uncomfortable for Iran and for political Islam more generally that Palestinian politics is a three-way fight between Islamisists, secular-socialists mirroring undemocratic regimes in the region (often Moscow-educated ex-Tunis old school Palestinians – the ‘kleptocrats’ as some say), and the more liberal ‘European’ Palestinians. The more ‘European’ liberal Palestinian leaders broadly are those who remained in Palestine over the last 25 years and have much in common with the current Lebanese Government. There is much that is European about Palestinian society, and it is a fact that extreme Islam is not universally popular. The reality is that Palestinians did not vote for Hamas because of their religious fervour. They voted for Hamas because they were focused on direct benefits and communal services for their populations.

They also voted for Hamas because of perceptions that Fatah was a kleptocratic elite interested in using the mechanisms of state for self-enrichment and ‘party enrichment’, more than benefits for the populace - in the old model of Syria, Egypt, Iran and other states in the region.

The 3-way battle in Palestinian politics cuts across religious lines, and as uncomfortable as it is for both the US and for Political Islam, large numbers of Palestinian Christians voted for Hamas too, as the less kleptocratic option.

What’s more the current regime in the USA is influenced by the extreme Christian right – and now by ‘Pro-Zionist’ Christian groups. This has created another absurdity – US Christian groups supporting lawful discrimination in Israel against Christian towns and villages in the ‘Holy Land’. Peace will threaten the religious contortions which underpin the Christian Right’s political stances in the USA towards Israel, and weaken key, carefully cultivated, sources of support for the US Republican Party.

The potential net effect of recent US policy is that the current Washington regime can no longer sit at the head of the negotiating table, flanked by the Europeans. The negotiating dynamics have changed. The US in effect now sits on one side of the table with Israel as a joint party to be negotiated with. Actions of the US administration are now increasingly seen as ratcheting up the strength or their side’s negotiating position, rather than steps towards peace. It may well be true that key parts of the US administration see peace efforts as naïve – the game being all about restricting Iran’s regional ambitions. However current US policy has not been successful in this respect. Uncomfortable for some, a peace agreement over Palestine, and the economic boom in the region that will follow, (and the dramatic drop in oil prices) would clearly narrow the excesses of Iranian and Syrian leaderships.

It will now, therefore, fall to the Europeans and the new ‘Lebanon Group’ to drive a broader settlement forward. The main features are already known. UN resolutions in Lebanon are being implemented by the integration of Hizbullah into the formal Lebanese military. This is already de facto underway. Israel will implement UN resolutions and agree to a phased return to its original borders, a process with wide implications for negotiations with Syria, for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and for the wall or ‘security barrier’. Perhaps more importantly, free trade and labour movement will soften siege mentality and enclave concerns. Palestinians would be given free access to the est Bank motorway an tunnel system, and access would be extended to Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

In practice a peace settlement would consist of an overall regional economic settlement including labour movement, resource access and external/internal transport communications – which would increase economic interdependence, (not unlike the Bosnia process). It would also include several issue-specific agreements covering Golan, Israeli West Bank settlements, an refugees inside and outside the region. Some innovations may emerge such as the conditional offer of Palestinian citizenship to Israeli settlers, and the repeal of Israeli legislation that discriminates against non-Jewish citizens; Christians, Moslems and others.

The current US administration and its successor, has a choice to make too. They could take this window of opportunity to throw their weight behind an overall internal and regional settlement, an end to violence, and several problem-solving processes. This would certainly help with the problem of the sheer extent of groups with an interest in the conflict continuing. It would also save the US from the continuing fallout from the recent Lebanon debacle, which is damaging to US interests. The beneficiaries of a settlement however will be Israeli citizens, more secure and prosperous, a viable and increasingly ‘European’ Palestinan state, and a rapid reduction in regional poverty as the economic boom gains strength.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Notsolazyloosmuze.....what's Campbell got that Cameron hasn't?

That David Cameron is a sweetheart - could eat him for breakfast.............but certainly wouldn't keep me going until lunch! A bit like a glass of champagne which is all bubbles tickling your nose and making you giggle, but get to the bottom and there is nothing there.

The criticism that Dave is all spin and no substance at last seems to be getting through to the electorate. Where's the beef? No policies just fluffy cuddly words and a nice quote a pal.........he's not all that and a bag of chips! The recent YouGov poll found that 54% of those polled think it is " hard to know what the Conservative Party stands for at the moment." Maybe we'll get a bit of an idea later this week????

So, with a discredited Labour Party, a Tory Party with little to say for itself except when it's stealing our clothes, what has our Ming got that their Dave hasn't? Returning to the food metaphor - it seems to me Dave has the Turkey Twizzler whilst Ming has not only the steak but the five portions of fruit and veg as well! The challenge for him and for us is to communicate that in a way that connects with the electorate. Whether we like it or not in our instant gratification, passive consumerist age, our messages must be communicated in bite size pieces. And it must be communicated in a way which engages and inspires. Here frankly is our biggest problem at the moment. We all know our party has sound well crafted policies, now we need our leader to communicate them effectively. I say this with a heavy heart, Ming was such a credit to our party on Foreign Affairs, he was a giant on Iraq, he was a great deputy, but that has not as yet translated into his leadership.

We may despise the shallow packaging of Cameron - but its colour and sparkle are what attract the attention. At a time when the British people are as cynical as they have ever been about politics and politicians we must at least get them to look at our product.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hell hath no fury like a woman who knows she is soon going to have to pay her own hairdressing bills..........

I don't know what it is about Cherie, I've just never quite warmed to her. I've been trying to put my finger on just what it might be and today it hit me...........its her hair...........whilst those of us who are mere mortals struggle with every conceivable haircontraption known to woman, hairdryers, hotair brushes, straighteners, straightening gel..........only to have our efforts dashed by a shower of rain..........(OK I know I'm shallow) she manages to raid her party coffers (or is it coiffers?) to the tune of £7,700...............£275 per day infact. Actually, if I'd have been a Labour Pary member, contributing my hard earned cash to keep them afloat, or even borrowing a million to lend to them, I am sure I would have organised my fellow women members to submit all our hairdressing bills as election expenses - in fact....that's not a bad idea............

Monday, September 25, 2006

Reallylazyloosmuse – and why Simon is Right!

Guess its the post conference blues thats got me back to me blog............I know, probably the most occasional blogger known to man - or woman. Hey, but I have to confess to being one of the reprobates who left conference rather depressed at Ming's performance. It wasn't what he said........more the way that he said it.......and we all know "thats what gets results"! I don't agree at all with the criticism of Simon, I guess he is struggling with the same dilemma many of us do. Loyalty v Honesty. Frankly I prefer honesty in a climate where the electorate are sick to the back teeth of what they percieve as spin and deception in politics. So if I am honest.........I would award Ming 9 for content and 2 for performance. Maybe it's a lack of confidence but he has to get past all this needing to appear young. He is who he is - he must get comfortable in his skin rather than needing to surround himself with beautiful young women and faded 50 year old black and white pix of him as an athlete, this only serves to draw attention to his age rather than treat reference to it with the contempt it deserves. Nelson Mandella is a good role model. So what can he do to ensure his experience really is a plus and not a minus? Stop going on about it for a start - allow those talented front benchers he makes much of appointing to have their heads and get some real exposure in the media - repeat and repeat and repeat - as simply as possible what it is that distinguishes us from the other two tory parties - build the alliances necessary with those who share our values, to get our points across - don't get distracted with vacuous criticism. We have a real opportunity at the moment to take ground, frankly we need our “General” to have clear strategic objectives to inspire the confidence of his troops to see the battle as eminently winnable!

Friday, April 21, 2006


There’s something about a leadership election that gets the adrenalin going…………isn’t there? The problem is, when its all done it’s a bit deflating isn’t it? Well…………truth to say…………completely deflating! Hence my silence, what’s left to say?

My disappointment at my chosen candidate losing has been replaced by total despair at the incumbent. We all knew Ming would be a caretaker………….but I for one didn’t think that would mean hiding himself in the cleaning cupboard never to be heard of again!

Sorry, a bit harsh maybe, but really………..I am the only one who longs for the dulcet tones of Charles in the cut and thrust of the Today programme, who dreams about the days when his confidence and humour ensured our policies were kept in the public eye? Now don’t get me wrong, I certainly believed we would need a new leader for the next general election, but not yet and certainly not in the manner we got one. Remember all that talk about coronation? For those of us who believe we are members not subjects we ended up with the same result. Whilst Ming was never my first choice, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt – I liked what he said about social justice and tackling poverty – I have always thought he was head and shoulders above anyone else on most aspects of foreign affairs – but now he seems to have retreated into a shadow of his former self.

I am sure I am not the only one who has been met on the doorstep this past few weeks with the reaction of the electorate to the issue. The manner of Charles’ despatch has not only left a nasty taste in our collective mouths, but also in the mouths of the wider electorate. So, not quite a case of come back Charles all is forgiven, but maybe more a plea for a leader to lead, to inspire, first of all the troops and secondly those we seek to serve – the electorate. This country of ours is crying out for real leadership, for policies which spring from a desire to tackle the real issues that affect people’s lives rather than the need to keep big funders in the private sector happy. So come on Ming, us foot soldiers are armed and ready for battle………don’t keep us sitting in the barracks much longer……we may be tempted to go awol!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Back to Normal

I spent yesterday afternoon delivering........back to normal then. Excitement or despair on Thursday, followed by a couple of days pontification and navel gazing in Harrogate and then I guess we're back to the run in to local elections. Maybe we should have a leadership election every year........perhaps if we get Huhne or Campbell we will.....certainly livens things up a bit!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hack's Crap

What is it about the press in this country that they think they have the right to make decisions on our future? Maybe I am naive, but there was a time when reporters reported. Now it seems they have the right to decide for themselves what is good for us............and clearly "good" equates in LibDem terms to "one of our own!!

So, I am just back from an enlightening night out with my two pet Tories. They are on a mission to persuade me to defect to their benches - without realising that given my background in military intelligence - I am on a mission too! But it was an enlightening few hours, and I am now booked for a half hour with that dapper Mr Letwin next this space!

It is very be continued..............

Friday, February 24, 2006

London Hustings...........

My usual reason for being in Friends Meeting House is a Stop the War gathering or a Unison conference.......this was.......a bit.....different (not quite so much heckling for one thing)! I have to say it reminded me of my very first hustings, standing against SWSO candidate Tony Greenstein (who anyone of my vintage involved in NUS - circa Dave Aaronovitch, Trevor Phillips and Sue Slipman - will remember). But I think the word they used to describe me was..........fascist!

I took my friends Yasmin (she of the contraversial play "Bells" fame) and Vyv.....who had never been to hustings in their lives before, and who both, I am glad to say, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Yasmin (who Simon managed to succeed in persuading to join the party in 15 minutes where I had failed miserably for the last 15 years) not only wants to join but is planning to come to conference next week.........

So what of the event, once we got past the slight interuption. It was my third hustings, fourth if you count Meeting the Challenge (well who knows when we will get such an opportunity again - unless we get a caretaker Mr Campbell or Mr Idon'tknowifi'mamillionaire Huhne - whom I predict wouldn't last five minutes), so I was particularly interested in whether the questions would winkle out any of the hidden agendas.

The differences did emerge over Iraq, why on earth does Ming not see the reality that we are part of the problem and not part of the solution? Our forces have frankly been totally discredited and sold down the river by this government (and I say this as an ex soldier who has served on active service), we are certainly putting them and the Iraqis at greater danger by leaving them there.

My particular concern I have to say is where the party goes in its approach to public services - the only virgin territory left for the piranhas in the private sector hungry for new blood. Of course that is one of my main policy reasons for supporting Simon, only he will fight to maintain public services in the public sector, frankly Ming shows little interest and is unlikely to put up any sort of a fight, and despite all his protestations that he somehow straddles orange book and social economics I was totally unconvinced by Chris's rhetoric - the subtext is deeply worrying. Tristan, tell me why I am wrong?!

So next week it'll all be over allegedly.........but with all the twists and turns of the last few weeks, maybe there'll be that final, unexpected, sting in the tail?!

And life will return to................normal?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

10 Short Days.............................

In ten short, or maybe long, days.................we will be at Spring Conference - celebrating, or commiserating depending on who wins the leadership race. The fact that some people are voting for "whatsisname - the new one" is deeply worrying. I know I am hardly a Chris Huhne fan, but surely even he would prefer people voted for him because of what he stood for rather than because he was unknown? Or maybe I'm just naive, we all wallow in a vain hope that somehow, however how untried and tested the product is, it has to be better than what we've got...........maybe that is what Chris is banking on. However, I don't think he will win, despite the desparate efforts of his friends in the city and media.

Anyway, as I sit here listening to the Gypsy Kings and pondering my strategy should Mr "I'm not sure if I'm a millionaire" Huhne does end up as our leader.......I am comforted by the thought that regardless of the polls we electorate are a fickle lot, especially in the Lib Dems!

Monday, February 20, 2006

I've had a bit of stick from Tristan (thanks!) about what he sees as tokenism with regards to Simon's declared intention to appoint two deputies, one a woman. Of course, whenever we seek to address inequality there is a danger of it being seen as tokenism, and I agree that is not what we want. However, I have to say that where there is some recognition of the importance of proportionality it does change things.

For many years I was active in Unison where proportionality is a policy which has clearly lead to the union being far more representative. Proportionality applies across the board, including ensuring low paid workers are represented. If politics is about anything surely it is about representation of the people by the people. For too long our representation has been of the people by the elite. Yes, we need the best candidates, but who defines best and invariably chooses those candidates........white men who how ever subconsciously choose in their mould. Even now some seem to have been seduced by the charm and seductive packaging of Mr Cameron into thinking that this is what we need as a leader, Blair mark III. We make the mistake of thinking that if someone is intelligent and articulate they are also wise and able to connect with the reality of people's lives, sometimes perhaps we should be prepared to sacrifice a little intelligence, charm and spin for a dollop of wisdom and gritty reality!

But thanks at least Tristan for agreeing with my analysis that Ming didn't seem to have fully grasped the issue and Chris kept putting his foot in it. Even if you don't agree with Simon's proposals at least he has a track record of initiating debate and moving things forward, and he is the only one who seems to appreciate the urgency of the situation.

So, I have to say I would go a lot further than Simon, introduce proportionality across the board and have not only co-deputies but co-chairs of all our committees!

Sunday, February 19, 2006


"We've got a black member who hasn't come today, he's blacker than you." That was a comment made to a friend of mine at a regional training event yesterday. He was the only black face amongst a bunch of activists, around 70% male 30% women and 85% over 50(fraid that included me)! Thankfully it wasn't enough to put him off (although this was the first event he had been to outside our local party) but it crystalized for me why it is so important we take the issue of diversity in our party much more seriously.

When I talk about equality in my work with young people I use an analogy - if I want to run a swimming trip its not good enough to say anyone can come if I haven't taken a number of things into account - can they swim? are they comfortable in a mixed gender swimming group? do they have a disability which means special access arrangements need to be made? etc. And it seems to me it is no good just saying anyone can join the party if we don't honestly reflect on and seek to remove the barriers, firstly to them joining and secondly participating. Its like blaming women for not getting called to speak because they don't put their hands up, it could be for a whole range of reasons, not least because when we do, we still don't get called!

The issue of fair representation is one exercising all the major parties at the moment. I remember years ago hearing a woman speaking about Labour's all women shortlists on the Today Programme. She reflected that it was all very well but it would still only work for middle class women and that the barriers for working class women that there had always been, would remain.

Reflecting Britain isn't a good idea because we're liberals, its a good idea because frankly it is the only way we are ever going to engage the electorate in politics which touches the reality of their lives.

The Reflecting Britain hustings last week threw a spotlight on the candidates credentials in this area. Only Simon came up with radical proposals that may well be painful for some but would begin the shift in perception so necessary if we are to attract and retain a diverse membership. Ming sadly didn't really seem to have fully grasped what the issue was and Chris put his foot in it a few times, betraying his poor - no sorry - non existent, track record in this area.

So congratulations to Rabi, Suzanne and everyone else responsible for starting this important initiative, whatever the outcome of the leadership election it is vital the momentum continues to build.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beyond the packaging - Leadership - what do they bring?

Ideas, Leadership, Experience

Authority, Credibility, Unity

Energy, Passion, Experience

So there we have it - but where's the evidence - and what does it mean?

Chris has ideas, great, I have at least 100 before breakfast, does that make me a leader? They may well be good ideas, but good for who? Do they include the filched New Labour ideas of privatisation and the marketization of public services? Are they ideas that the membership will run with?

Chris has leadership. Yes, he has some business experience, but leading a party is a very different kettle of fish than leading a business, we're a bolshy lot Chris and you can't sack us!

Chris has Europe. Thats great...........for Europe. We all have experience, and it has to be said he is a clever bloke, but how quickly can he gain the experience to lead a party in Westminster?

Ming has authority, yes I would see that. He's definitely a bit scary for those of us who thought QC was a shop (only teasing!) and has been magnificent on foreign policy, but does he really cut the mustard on domestic issues?

Ming has credibility, certainly. But how far does that credibility stretch? Yes, for us political junkies he is a bit of a god..............but I wonder how he would do out with me on a detached youth work session, or really connecting with a mother who has just been told she is to be prosecuted because her schoolphobic daughter is truanting. Ming, I love what you say about wanting everyone to have your opportunities, but to connect with the reality of most people's lives you need to loosen up a bit and recognise that not everyone has been blessed with your intellectual prowess, stable family life and incredible natural talent.

Unity - well I think we are quite united as a party aren't we? Frankly there is little that divides us, apart from on the interpretation of liberal economics. However, unity is an aspiration, not a given. And Ming, you have to deal with the reality that some of us still see you as a shadowy backroom boy in the assassination of Charles - whatever we thought of his leadership.

Well, having already nailed my colours to the mast, of course I will be totally biased in my analysis of Simon!

Yes Simon has energy, no one can doubt that -he must have a speed gene where the rest of us have the one that sends us to sleep!

Yes Simon has passion, coupled with compassion, this certainly gives me confidence that his motivation will not be his own grandisement but rather the future well being of this nation.

And experience, relevant experience, as an incredibly effective constituency MP (we have still to measure Chris's prowess in this department) and leading parliamentarian.

So contest really????? Eh???!!!

Does it matter a jot who our leader is?

Last night's group meeting provided the perfect backdrop for a debate in the pub afterwards about whether it makes a blind bit of difference who our leader is..............after all........its us members who make policy, isn't it?

I have to say, I do think it makes a difference who our leader is, yes we may have some say in making policy (whenever we succeed in getting our motions accepted on to the agenda), but whether we like it or not, as far as the public are concerned we are largely defined by our leader. In a soundbite, shorthand, instant gratification age, leaders are a window on our party. If you are considering voting Labour, would Blair's leadership play no part in your thinking? And why have the Tories felt the need to change theirs so often if the man (and of course it is inevitably a man) is superfluous to voting intentions?

Yes it matters, it matters to the electorate and it matters for us as members. In this LibDem army it is the activists who are on the frontline, fighting to take the ground, ward by ward, constituency by constituency. We need to know that we have a leader who is fighting - not only alongside us, but as hard as us. We need to know that leader has a battle plan, knows where he (or a she in a different reality) is taking us. We need to know that when the going gets tough he will stay the course and take on whatever "enemy" stands in the way of our victory. We also need to know that the reason he is in the battle in the first place is because he believes in what we believe in, shares our values and will not sacrifice those values in the pursuit of power. So I for one have cast my votes (Hughes, Campbell) with those thoughts and beliefs at the forefront of my mind.

Beyond the packaging - Policy

As you can deduce it has taken me over a week and a few days in the country to consider this thorny issue.............POLICY????

I have to be honest, having attended 3 hustings, one Any Questions, watched Question Time, I am a tad frustrated that none of the questions have been forensic enough to begin to really identify where the policy differences are (except perhaps on Iraq). It's not a bad thing that there is clearly so much common ground between all the candidates, and reassuring that there is so much more that unites us as a party than divides us.

However, one of the key issues for me is how we ensure our public services remain public rather than becoming a milch cow for the shareholders of the likes of Vesper Thorneycroft and Capita. It is an outrage that the government has ensured an American company Carlyle has seen the value of its shareholding in Qinetiq increase 840% with its floatation. To quote from George Monbiot's excellent article in the Guardian this week "Carlyle, whose board is graced, among other eminences, by former prime minister John Major, bought its stake at auction in 2002 when the stockmarket had floundered. It paid £42m for a 31% share, which at close of play on Friday was worth around £351m. Last week, it flogged over half its shares. Its chairman, who paid £129,000 for his stake in the company, is now worth £27m, and its chief executive £22m." Unimaginable wealth, courtesy of the British Government selling off what belongs to us. Selling off what also belongs to the poor, the homeless and forgotten in this country in order to line the pockets of those who already have more than enough. And Lord Drayson's comment that it was a "good model for future privitisations" should send a collective shudder down all our backs.

Sorry, I got distracted........(!) My point is that in order to challenge this injustice we need a leader who is committed to policies which ensure our public services remain public. I believe that not because I am a Luddite ostrich, but rather because I believe it is a nonsense to suppose that a private company is going to be interested in anything other than making a profit, and where does the profit come from? If I can give a topical example. Some years ago, when I was Branch Secretary of my Local Authority Unison - the school meals service was sold off. This was heralded as a great example of Tory prudence, saving £1million a year. Early on I met with one of our stewards to see what difference it had made. "Well" she said, "The main thing is we now only have 30p per meal as opposed to the 33p we used to." I thought that was to be expected, however she then added "But we have been told we have to pay the full rate for food and the discounts will be deducted later by the company". The net effect of this was not only did she have less money to spend, but that money only bought two thirds of what it used to. In real terms her budget had been cut to 20p a meal! But guess what, all this information was hidden under "commercial confidentiality"!

So, whilst Simon has made his position clear on the future of public services, Ming and Chris have been a little more ambiguous - I would like to hear more on these important issues.............but clearly the hustings don't appear to provide the platform.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Is it really this easy? Must be a catch!

So, I have bitten the bullet........or the bloggit and dipped my toe into the world of bloggin.....Why? You may well ask. Mainly because when I get in at night I am usually ready to fire off a few well aimed letters to all and sundry, few of which reach their destination, so this seems like a useful alternative. I can vent my spleen, bang on about everything and nothing, and no-one's there to say I can't!