Friday, June 29, 2007

"Off the Map" will Blair consider the whole picture?

A couple of days ago, just as Mr Blair and Mr Brown were changing places, I took a taxi to Waterloo. As I usually do I got chatting the the driver about politics, Iraq, Blair's new job and the situation in Israel/Palestine. He came up with the sort of nonsense I had been brought up with as a former Zionist..........namely, there was no such thing as a Palestinian before 1967 and that before 1948 the land was an uncultivated wasteland. It got me reminiscing about my first visit to Mar Elias, when I drove with Abuna Chacour (now Archbishop) to his ruined village of Biram in Upper Galilee. On the way we drove through neglected olive groves and he was close to tears as he told this story. He told us these had been his father's olive groves. He explained that when a Palestinian plants a tree it is rather like having a baby. His father lay on his back to push the boulders to clear the land. He then dug the holes for the trees and had to bring water from the stream in heavy clay pitchers to water the saplings. He nurtured these trees until his land was stolen and his village destroyed.

In May 2003 I visited the Negev for the first time. It was a time when allegedly we had "won" the war in Iraq, when we were all having the "Roadmap" dangled in front of us to make us feel better about the travesty which was Iraq. It was a moving experience for me and I wrote an article at the time entitled "Off the Map" which reflects a little of my anger and frustration about a community who although Israeli citizens, are being treated like scum to be disposed of as quickly as possible. Israeli citizens who have occupied the Negev for centuries and yet, for those who live in the 45 "unrecognised villages" which do not even appear on the map, there is by law, no access to water or electricity. No roads and few schools or health care facilities, houses regularly demolished and crops sprayed to destroy them. Earlier this week I wrote about the latest demolitions, demolitions in order to steal land on which only Jewish Israelis will be allowed to live.

The reason I take such an interest in the Neqev is because I believe it gives the lie to current Israeli policy. There is no Intafada in the Negev, no suicide bombers, no rocket launchers. And yet, on a smaller scale admittedly, the Bedouin are suffering similar injustices to those Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. Houses demolished, land confiscated, crops destroyed.............and no excuse that it is as the result of terrorism. Let's be very clear, this is about the Judaization of the land. The Israeli government and some Israeli Jewish citizens would far rather there were no Palestinians in the land, that Israel was just for the Jews. On one of my early visits to Israel to attend a conference on behalf of the British Council, I was surprised that one of the seminars was on the demographics of Jerusalem. But of course, as someone once said, the biggest threat to Israel is not the terrorist bomb but the Palestinian womb.

In my article I quoted Moshe Shohat, the Bedouin Educational Authority Director, speaking in 2001 - "Bedouins are a bloodthirsty people who commit polygamy, have 30 children, and continue to expand their illegal settlements."

When challenged about providing indoor plumbing in Bedouin schools he responded...
"In their culture they take care of their needs outdoors. They don't even know how to flush a toilet."

And yet, there are many committed Israeli Jews who work for the human rights of the Bedouin, because as Devorah Brous from Bustan would say, that is in the long term interests of the state of Israel.

Elijah Trust, for whom I am a trustee, partners with Mossawa a human rights organisation based in Haifa. Their site contains a lot more background information about the work they are doing to challenge injustice and inequality in Israel.

So, if Mr Blair is to take his new role seriously I hope he will consider the big picture. We are inviting him to accompany us on our next visit to see for himself........I wait with baited breath to see if he accepts!

The Gordon Brown definition of change.........what you do when you have run out of loo paper..... there's a thought, it's something we all talk about, desire, in our optimistic moments believe in, in our pessimistic moments, despair of. It is something we all look for when we are unhappy with the status quo, so like most of us I wondered about the Brown definition of change. In my house I have quite a few spare loo rolls, they all look the same, they all came out of the same packet, they all do the same job........and when I run out of one I replace it with a "different" one........I "change" it. Sorry about the metaphor, maybe some of you can come up with a better one (there's a challenge Laurence!).

So, Gordon chats about change and we all feel a sense of hope that it is possible. I listened to his and HRH Harriet's on Sunday and felt physically sick. Frankly there was so much they said I would agree with, support, understand..........but one has to ask.......where have you guys been for the last 10 years? You both, and all in the new cabinet, sold your souls for the mess of pottage which was your political future. So GORDON, if change is such an imperative please tell me how come you have colluded and been at the heart of all the decisions you now decide need changing? And also, we can all spout the rhetoric of families and tackling poverty and better education and housing.........but it has eventually to add up. My view is we should have a new campaign against the new Brown government.........YOU SAY THIS (for example immigrants should learn English) YOU DO THAT........(cut funding for teaching English as a second language)...........I think we could come up with quite a few examples?

So, let's see what, if anything really changes. And if he is looking for a few quick wins maybe he could start by listening to his military advisers and getting our troops out of Iraq, abandoning plans for ID cards and 90 day detention and restoring the 10p rate of income tax.........

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

OK Mr "Middle East Peace Envoy" Blair, what are you going to do about this?

The Government of Israel have demolished 25 homes of Bedouins in the Negev, in the village of Attir Im el Hiran leaving over 150 men women and children homeless in the scorching desert.

The government of Israel moved the family of Abu el -Qian away from their ancestral lands in 1956, and placed them where they are now in the village of Im el Hiran. Now the government wants to relocate them again so that in the place of their village the government can build a Jewish village. But the people are not moving fast enough for the government authorities. Two years ago they received demolition orders. Last night the authorities were at their home, enjoying true Bedouin hospitality a lamb was slaughtered, with the understanding that this morning the people will be willing to sign a compensation agreement and move. Instead of an agreement, instead of compensation, they received bulldozers and demolitions. The government does not supply alternative accommodation, they have nowhere to go, so now hundreds are homeless in the Israeli desert.

For more information contact: Yeela Raanan, RCUV.

Defections and Resignations - What have Blair and Davies got in common?

I wonder at the surprise that a supposedly dyed in the wool Tory like Quentin Davies should defect to Labour. Blue may allegedly be the new Green, but Red has been the new Blue for some time!

Blair the Peace putting Bin Laden in charge of airport security

The news that the man who was prepared to collude, lie and condemn hundreds of thousands to death in Iraq is now likely to be appointed an envoy to the Middle East beggars belief. I remember the contempt with which Blair was regarded by Palestinians when I was there a couple of months after the Iraq invasion. The idea that Blair will do anything other than collude with US and Israeli objectives to weaken the Palestinian cause and ensure the Palestinian state remains untenable, seems to me Alice in Wonderland politics. No, the most appropriate job for Blair would be to go and work with an NGO working in Iraq with the victims of that illegal, immoral and disastrous war - maybe that will at least go some way towards his own much needed rehabilitation.

Gordon Brown Meme............

Sorry to Duncan Borrowman for the huge delay in replying to this........had to check with Colin Ross what I was supposed to do if I was tagged.........(!!!) but here we go, better late than never, and of course I may well change my mind by tomorrow......

2 things Gordon Brown should be proud of
  • Being Scottish
  • Er.........being Scottish (sorry that's a hard one to find anything he's actually done to be proud of)

2 things he should apologise for

  • Not standing up to Blair over Iraq
  • cynically cutting the 10p rate of income tax - robbing poor Peter to pay rich Paul

2 things that he should do immediately when he becomes PM

  • Withdraw from Iraq
  • Abolish all attempts at 90 day detention

2 things he should do while he is PM

  • Abolish all targets and replace with frameworks which empower local decision making - trust professionals to do the jobs they were trained to do - and liberate children from the stress of constant testing
  • Redirect funding from punitive criminalisation of children and young people and invest in youth services

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jumping into bed with Gordo.........why not?

Well, how about that - Lib Dems headlining the news two days running, can't be bad! I have read with interest fellow bloggers' perspectives on this (see Stephen Tall, Nich Starling, Paul Walter et al) so I thought I would put my tenpenneth in. Give him his due, that Gordon Brown is a shrewd operator.......a clever wheeze, tie the hands of the only party with the integrity to really hold you to account and, done and dusted, a clear road through for all your unnecessary unwanted "reforms" of everything that moves - and mark my words that is what we are in for. Its a bit like the chairing technique of sitting your potentially most difficult participant next to you - much easier to control.

Now, the question for me, as well as why not, is why? Why did Gordo think he may get anywhere with Ming? What other conversations had taken place previously? Or was it that he knew what the answer would be.........hmmmm, have to wait for one or other's diaries I guess.

So to answer the why not a climate where we are being accused of being " the awkward position of shying away from power in order to preserve a virtuous but uninfluential independence" it would be easy to think we are throwing up a golden opportunity. And on this issue I identify with the dilemma such an offer put our party in. A few years ago our directly elected mayor went behind the back of my party leader to offer me a portfolio in his cabinet. He even offered to create a special responsibility - Youth. I agonised about it, the area I cared most about, had the most expertise on and believed I could really have an impact on changing things for the young people of Bedford. party had rightly made it clear I would be thrown out if I accepted. I turned it down, for one simple reason. I joined the party because I believe in collective action and collective responsibility. If my party had accepted any seat on his cabinet they would have had to be bound to his policy agenda and his budget. I joined this party because I believed it accorded most closely with my values - as I frequently say to those on the doorstep who dare to suggest "you are all the same" - if I believed that why on earth would I join the Lib Dems???!

So - to answer my why not....................................because we are democrats, because we believe people deserve a choice (and at the moment that choice is between us and the other two Tory parties), because to do so would turn us into the worst kind of opportunist flim-flammers and because, at the moment the people have chosen a Labour government, not a Lib-Lab coalition.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Lib Dem Story part 2.....Campbell v Cameron

I have been giving a good deal of thought to the conundrum I first raised a few days ago about the relationship between a party and its leader. To be credible there has to be some sense of integrity between them. Thatcher and the Tory party of the 80s, Blair and New Labour.....but somehow it doesn't quite work the same way for Cameron. The Tory party would be much more comfortable with someone like Ming - not in terms of politics clearly, but certainly in terms of image. And so, what resonates with people is the discordance between party and leader - as demonstrated in recent polls showing that the public see the Tory party as being far to the right of their leader.

And for us, a party with a natural appeal to young people, a free thinking, forward looking radical party, we appear to have a contradiction with the persona of Ming. Now I don't necessarily think this is insurmountable, I have always been one to embrace contradictions - as a teenager I was a bit of a hippy but liked to dress in two-tone just to confuse people (apologies to those of you under 50 who don't know what I am on about)! And sometimes contradictions can actually help convey a more powerful message. But it is an issue. It has nothing to do with his age (think Nelson Mandela - has anyone ever mentioned his age as being a problem?) for me, far more to do with image. Now there are lots of far cleverer people than me working for the party, it should not be beyond them to develop a strategy for promoting Ming that deals with these contradictions. Duncan Borrowman pointed out (by the way Duncan - is there a transcript of the Saturday night Speech?) that he has seen Ming being inspiring and passionate and radical - it just needs to extend beyond the relative safety of the Bedfordshire countryside...........

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Spikey Pinstriped Radical..........some thoughts from a fellow traveller

I always seem to be the one to say what everyone else is thinking but very few want to say, I think it started with my first attempts at collective bargaining in the army……….it didn’t go down well then and I guess it still doesn’t go down well now! Well, as ever, I will grit my teeth, prepare to suffer the slings and arrows of my fellow Lib Demmers – and say my piece.

Now, it may have something to do with the company I keep but I rarely come across a party member who thinks we are on to a winner with Ming. Most people keep shtum on the grounds of loyalty. However, I think it's difficult if your first loyalty is to your party. Now, some may well argue that the leader is the party, and there is an element of truth in that. If the leader is damaged the party is damaged – but there has to come a point (and some may argue that point was reached with Charles) when the leader him/herself is doing more damage to the party by being there. So where are we when it comes to Ming?

I have to admit I voted for Ming. He got my second preference mainly on the grounds that I was not a Huhne fan. I also had enormous respect for him given his outstanding performance over Iraq. However, now, he often seems to be out of his depth as party leader. He doesn't have a broad base of knowledge and I don’t get the impression he is the sort of person who can easily ask for help. I also get the impression that he may be one to bear grudges, which then makes it difficult for people to be completely candid. All that said, we are where we are. Regardless of Ming's standing in the party or the country, he is the leader we as a party elected and we as a party have a collective responsibility for. It would clearly be a disaster if we ended up with a premature leadership election, so let's deal with it and look at making the most of our "Spikey Pinstripe Radical"!

As someone who believes strongly that one of the few benefits we have as a third party is the luxury to take risks and be radical, a radical Ming would make enormous sense. He might start with a re-examination of our tax policy, that could do with a bit of radicalism if we are really to tackle poverty in this country! Oh, and what about being radical on Trident…………now there's a thought????! And how about being radical in the delivery of public services and bringing an end to the scandal which is PFI and the role of private sector companies (including the whole army of ridiculously expensive consultants) milking the public purse til the pips squeak (sorry I do like to mix my metaphors!). We already have a radical edge when it comes to the environment and civil liberties, but we need to do a lot more to ensure our voices are heard above the cacophony of Tory spin and Labour indifference. I could go on…………..but you get my drift!

Ming is who he is, any attempt to change that and try and be someone else (remember the Arctic Monkeys?) will damage him. It will weaken his integrity and his authority. So, let's see more of the gravitas for which he was once revered, that is his strength. A combination of that gravitas and radicalism could be lethal. And.....the more spikey and radical he becomes the more comfortable and content I will become!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Greg Simpson............Really Rocking Now!

My admiration for Greg has just increased a hundredfold after reading this article in the Indy. Greg suggests Ming should be more "spikey" and portray himself as the "pinstripe radical". Greg I LOVE IT!!!!

As I suggested yesterday, our narrative has to be built around our leader, now a spikey radical, I could live with that! Yes, as Paul Walter comments, Ming is a liberal, I have never doubted that, so lets contrast that with the illiberal Labour Party. And yes he is passionate about poverty and inequality so lets contrast that with the Labour record and the Tory rhetoric. So I have my fingers and toes crossed.............

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Lib Dem Narrative, what does it have to do with Ming?

I have had a pretty manic week, augmented by a very interesting FPC meeting on Tuesday evening (I know, easily pleased me - don't get out much!). There was much debate about what our narrative should be, following the production of an excellent paper from one of our FPCers (not sure if I'm allowed to say who and you know I never say anything I shouldn't). One of the points s/he drew attention to was the importance of the leader in any narrative. Thatcher, Blair, now Cameron all have stories which coalesce around them as individuals. And so it has to be for us, whatever our story it cannot be disconnected from the leader. Love him or hate him he has to be our starting point, any story that appears at odds with who he is will lack integrity.

So, this concept has been playing on my mind all week. We have to find a way to express why and how what we stand for is different to the other parties, but it has to hook into our leader. Hmmmmmm.

For me, I think we should express ourselves in terms of three virtual worlds (actually one of them is sadly real!) what the Labour world looks like, what the Tory world looks like and what our world looks like. What would be different if we were in power? What would be happening that isn't happening now, what wouldn't be happening that is happening now? We all believe our world would be the fairest, the most just, the most green and the most free - but these are all values the other parties claim to espouse. So how can we tell our story in a way that expresses the differences clearly and succinctly? And how is that story expressed in the man we have elected as our leader?.............................

.................................and how long have we got to come up with an answer?!

(answers on a postcard please)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Bridge to Peace? - Simon Hughes, Alistair Burt and Patrick Hall host Archbishop of Galilee in Westminster

One of my particular concerns is the situation of the 20% Palestinian Arab Israeli Citizens who suffer daily discrimination in the State of Israel. Part of the reason their plight is usually overlooked is that the situation of course is so much worse in Gaza and the West Bank.

On Monday night, the charity for which I am a trustee, Elijah Trust brought Archbishop Elias Chacour from the Melkite (Greek Catholic) Archdiocese of St. John of Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and all Galilee to address parliamentarians in the Jubilee Room at the House of Commons. The event was hosted by Simon Hughes, Patrick Hall (Labour) and Alistair Burt (Conservative).

The Archbishop is a significant representative of this 20% minority community within Israel. He shared that at 67 years, he is older than the State of Israel, but has lived all his life in that tiny piece of land which has been at the heart of so much conflict and ongoing violence and insecurity. Born into the land of Palestine in the Christian Arab village of Biram in 1939, he became a citizen of the fledgling State of Israel at the age of eight years old, one of the group of Palestinians, mostly the poorest who remained in the land after 1948. Driven from Biram by Jewish soldiers at that time, the villagers were granted the right of return to their village in 1952 by the Israeli High Court. Upon approaching the village to return on Christmas Day 1952, they witnessed the military blow it up and it remains to this day a memorial to the tragedy of more than 460 Palestinian villages destroyed in or after 1948 on the land which became the State of Israel.

Elias or Abuna (father in Arabic) as he prefers to be called talked about his identity as a Palestinian, an Arab, a Christian and an Israeli. A contradiction maybe but one he embraces. As he said, he wasn’t born a Christian – he was born a baby – with no control over where he found himself.We were reminded that through the many occupations of this land whether by the Crusaders, Ottomans or the British at the time of the British Mandate the grass roots indigenous Jew, Muslim and Christian lived together in peaceful unity within their diversity.Today within the Jewish state there is no equality for non-Jewish citizens. Fakhira Halloun, board member of Mossawa the Advocacy Center for the Arab Citizens of Israel (one of the organisations supported by Elijah Trust) and Iman Abu Attar, two young Israeli Palestinian citizens present, added their life experience to affirm the Archbishop’s message. They explained that this minority community remain second class citizens in Israel suffering discrimination at all levels, including formal exclusion by law, racism, social and economic injustice aggravated by Israel’s definition as for the Jewish people.In October 2000 13 Palestinian Arab citizens were killed by Israeli security forces, one of them a pupil at the school which Elias Chacour founded, merely watching a demonstration from under an olive tree and wearing his "Seeds of Peace" t-shirt at the time. 18 more Palestinian Arab citizens have been killed by Israeli security forces since October 2000. In March 2004, Arab construction workers were required to wear helmets marked with a red “x”. As of 2003, 53% of the Jews in Israel state they are against full equality for Arabs. 57% think Arabs should be encouraged to emigrate.
Elias expressed his view that there can be no two state solution whilst the wall and daily humiliation of the Palestinian people continues. For me one of the most powerful things he said was in relation to suicide bombers. He said that they committed 3 crimes, a crime against themselves, a crime against society and a crime against God - but that if we didn't try to understand why these young people's lives were so devoid of hope to make such a choice we would never stop them. He also criticised the idea perpetrated in the Western media that part of the motivation was the idea that they would go straight to heaven and as he put it "have 70 girls to play with" - he asked the question, what about the young women who do the same?

The grim conclusion and challenge of Archbishop Elias to the gathering on Monday night was the sober reality that if Palestinians and Jews cannot make peace with justice together all will be losers – as he puts it, “We must learn to live together or we will surely die in the land together.”

Elias was also interviewed by the World Service so I will put a link up to the programme when it is aired at the weekend. His books, “Blood Brothers” and “We Belong to the Land” are must reads – anyone who would like a copy please let me know.

Friday, June 08, 2007

On Fonts and Ken Livingstone's problem with dissident bus drivers

I got a very polite request from Paul Walter asking me to reduce the size of my font, which being as I am always keen to please I have dutifully done. Sorry Paul, its what comes of ageing gracefully, eyes and ears start to fail!

Witnessed an interesting incident whilst trying to board a bus in Old Street the other night. I had arranged to meet Yasmin W-K for a "quick" drink after work. We decided to eat something and ended up with a platter that included fizzy hummus - yes fizzy hummus. Ever tried it??? We sent it back twice and then got something which tasted hummus decided to move on to Upper Street (yes my definition of quick stretched rather). Anyway we ran for the bus.............which was stationary. Stationary because an altercation was going on between the bus driver and a man in a motorised wheelchair. The bus driver was refusing to let him on because he said his training said he couldn't allow motorised wheelchairs on. The man was remonstrating that he had caught the same bus down to Old Street so how come he couldn't take this one back? The people on the bus were getting angry. Most of them didn't give a **** about the man in the wheelchair, why couldn't he get another bus so they could get home? One guy agreed that it was important to protest but asked why couldn't we take our protest somewhere and sometime else? One guy was really upset as now he was going to miss Prison Break. So........into the fray come Linda and Yas.........never ones to knowingly miss an opportunity in the fight for truth and justice! We of course dived straight into the argument, but the driver wasn't going to be swayed. I'm not racist says he, I'm black too. No says I we aren't saying you are racist - but you are discriminating against him on the grounds of his disability. No says he, its the grounds that he has a motorised wheelchair. Bus Driver calls the police. Yas calls the number displayed on the bus for London Transport - they are very rude.............London Transport must know about this problem because under this number is another number - please ring this number if you are not satisfied. Very clever, especially as they are now closed until morning! Police arrive. Yas declares to everyone she will call her pal who is the disability adviser to Ken. That should do it. Yas gets him to speak to police. Ken's adviser asks said man to call him in the morning. Police are exceptionally understanding, also ask the driver to take the man home. Driver refuses, anyway says he, I'm out of service now. End up having to put him on the next bus where that bus driver has no problems whatsoever allowing the guy on.Well????! One day maybe, people will really get a handle on what equality is all about. In the mean time I guess we will have to put up with self interest and jobsworth attitudes.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

So will it be fisticuffs with Ming at Conference?

In an attempt to catch up with the threads of debate on the blogs I happened upon Jeremy Hargreaves piece on getting into fisticuffs with Ming at conference. As you might imagine I couldn’t quite let that go without comment.

I am still, it has to be said, learning the ropes on FPC – however, I think I have attended enough meetings now to begin to get a handle on things. Firstly, I know of members of the said committee who despair as they see it as nothing more than a rubberstamp for the Shadow Cabinet. Secondly, there is a view, which has been expressed (but as you know under Chatham House Rule my lips are sealed as to who by), that goes something like this. FPC is the policy making body of the party, so, should conference get above itself and vote against FPC policy (let’s say on something like Trident), that is very damaging to the authority of FPC and we should all be jolly glad it hasn’t happened.

So, the implications………….Shadow Cabinet may well take an opposing view to the leader, but loyalty means they are unlikely to push it, FPC similarly may (although I have not yet witnessed it) take an opposing view to the leader, but they may also feel constrained by loyalty/emotional blackmail, so that just leaves conference to tackle to ensure the leader always gets his way. Hence, the same implied disloyalty, damage to the party, emotional blackmail line – enhanced by an appeal to the fact that the press are always looking for stories of splits and challenges to the leadership. The irony is, whatever my beliefs about whether Ming should or should not be leader, I don't see him as someone who insists on having his own way, maybe it is our insecurities as a party that lead us to worry about being at odds with him.

The logical conclusion of Jeremy’s argument is that dissent should be suppressed to enable the leader to appear to have the support of the whole party on absolutely any and every issue. Sound familiar? If this is the road we are being corralled towards I think far from strengthening the party and the leader, it will weaken both. What will be the point of conference? And fairly soon after that what will be the point of FPC? Don’t want to sound like a broken record, but dissent surely is the lifeblood of democracy. Ming’s best approach to dealing with it is to say “Bring it on”. Sometimes (rarely if previous experience is anything to go by) he may lose, but more often than not he will win. This is about his confidence, not only in himself but also in his party. What boxer goes and sits in the corner and sulks every time he gets a bloody nose or loses a round? The mark of a fighter is their ability to get up and go right back to the battle. (Sorry about the fighting/military metaphor but I couldn’t think of a better one!) And frankly, what’s that saying about all publicity being good publicity? Let’s get real - we have enough of a problem attracting the attention of the media as it is, if there was no debate on contentious issues at conference we would receive even less.

So Jeremy, I understand your concerns but don't share them. The media will always be peeping round the corner for the next leadership contest, regardless of party. We have to continue to make a virtue of the fact that we are the party that actually allows the membership a voice and consequently has more chance of making policy that is in touch with the grassroots of our country. And Ming has to take the high moral ground in this and show he is able to take the odd sling or arrow of healthy dissent amongst his troops. (whoops that's my army background leaking out again!) Those battles he wins will make him stronger and those he loses, wiser.