Monday, March 03, 2008

Up on the Roof with Ed Davey?

Last week, along with my fellow bloggers, I had the great treat of interviewing Ed Davey. Gavin, Milly, Meral and James and James have already blogged about it, but afraid I am late as ever, but not as late as Jonny it seems, so that makes me feel better!

Ed is such an asset to our party, although I have to admit I haven’t always thought that (!) coming as I do from a different wing of the party. But it has to be said he has been growing on me for some time, particularly as I have seen him in action in FPC and his actions last week in leading the walk out of the commons, has sent him into the upper echelons of my political heroes. I tried to get a badge for him with “My Hero” on, but unable to find one I had to settle for “I’m hot”……..which I trust he will wear at conference! I have to say that when I heard that there were protestors on the roof of the Commons, my first thought was ‘must be our Ed revolting again, Go Ed!’ sadly it wasn’t Ed, however I am sure we will see him there in due course!

So, although I have seen quite a lot of Ed over the last couple of years, what struck me about our interview was his huge energy and commitment to his new job. Foreign Affairs must surely be one of the most daunting tasks, you will be expected to have an in depth knowledge on what is going on in the world from the obvious to the obscure. Ed recognises he has a lot to learn, what he clearly brings that is fresh to the role is his incredible campaigning ability, this was evident in our interview.

My fellow bloggers have given a fantastic summary of what he said, so I am going to focus and comment on a couple of issues close to my heart.

Ed spoke very movingly about his values and the huge dilemma of judging whether peace or justice is more important. His conclusion, that there is often more justice from peace, struck a chord. His reflection that as a nation we had undermined our ability to argue due to having engaged in an illegal war was a powerful one.

I particularly wanted to get a feeling for Ed’s position on Israel/Palestine. His response was balanced and reflective. I had asked him about Nick’s challenge that as a party we needed to take more risks, and wondered what risks he thought we should be taking in the Middle East. He was calling for divestment in Sudan, would he do the same with regards to Israel? His view was that we must be even handed and not risk making the problem worse in a number of disputes. He talked about upholding Human Rights, so I felt I had to challenge him about the appalling human rights record of Israel, not just in relation to the Palestinian communities within the West Bank and Gaza, but also in relation to the treatment of the 20% Palestinian Israeli citizens. I wondered if we should support the UN call for the suspending the EU Association Agreement which puts a clear responsibility on Israel to uphold Human Rights. Ed said he would be guided by the policy passed at autumn conference, a policy that had the support of both Friends of Palestine and Friends of Israel. So was I happy with his response? I understood it, but I was disappointed. I think it is the approach which sees the Israel Palestine conflict as rather like naughty boys fighting who just need their heads banging together to get them to stop, that has held up the peace process. It is not that sort of problem and I say this as someone who for most of my life was a strong supporter of Israel, it was only after visiting the country that my own quite Zionist views were challenged. I have two metaphors which I believe sum up the situation. When people talk about compromise I would say, if you come into my home, take over, push me into the back bedroom and allow me only limited access to the kitchen and bathroom, is a compromise to allow me a little more access to the kitchen and bathroom and give me another bedroom? I don’t think so. And when people talk about the need for reconciliation (which I absolutely believe in and think can happen on a personal level to a limited degree) I would argue, if you are sitting on my head – I may need you to get off my head before I can be reconciled to you. If in the process of sitting on my head you blacked my eye and broke my nose, I may think I need an apology before I can be reconciled to you. And if in the process of me trying to get you to stop sitting on my head I kicked you where it hurts, I may also need to apologise to you too before we could be reconciled. The State of Israel has a right to exist, whatever the rights and wrongs of 1948, we are where we are and we have to live with the consequences. But the occupation is illegal, plain and simple! We don’t do Israel any favours by colluding and supporting the occupation because we are supporting injustice. We don’t do the Palestinian people any favours by supporting Hamas attacks on civilian targets. So, I would like us to take a much stronger line on this. If we allow Israel to get away with violations of human rights, international law and to breach the Geneva Convention, we have absolutely no moral authority to complain about any other nation doing the same.

Thanks to the questions of my fellow bloggers I felt we began to get a real feel for the measure of the man and what he will bring to his new role. He takes a particular interest in Sri Lanka (of interest to me as my children are half Sri Lankan) and clearly has wrestled with the issue of trying to bring peace to that troubled island. Another beautiful place, torn apart by conflict, another legacy, as my ex husband would see it, of the British ability to screw up! But he recognised the lessons that we have learnt from the Northern Ireland peace process and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa.

I was interested in the position he is taking in nuclear disarmament. Of course I do not agree with our current party policy on Trident (still trying to get it brought up again) but Ed is convinced that there is now more political will on this issue, particularly coming from the US in the likes of Henry Kissinger and George Shultz in an article published in the Wall Street Journal “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons”. This was also taken up my Barack Obama later last year. And of course Ed is also spearheading our campaign on Ballistic Missile Defence, something I expect him to do extremely effectively.

1 comment:

James said...

Most interesting, particularly on the Palestine/Israel issue. I thought Paddy's documentary last year was a path-breaking programme, and I wonder if this was the influence behind the motion passed at last years' conference.
However, I am convinced that playing the issue in a 'balanced' way (as per the BBC for example!)misunderstands the issue. I have also been to the Holy Land, and the fundamental issue is: a people dispossed of their land, and now annexed in little cantons or 'bantustans'.