Saturday, May 31, 2008

Humouring Mark Oaten to hang on in Winchester?

Mike Smithson has an interesting piece on Political Betting today wondering aloud whether Winchester could be our Waterloo. His advice to Nick Clegg is to give Mark Oaten whatever he wants to stay until the next election.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Why did the credit crunch?

A couple of weeks ago I got interviewed about the credit crunch by a journalist from the New Statesman I am quoted in this article "Drowning in Debt" pontificating on one of my favourite subjects, passive consumerism and its impact on young people. A comment left on the article by a young person reinforces my point:

"I currently find myself staring down the barrel of £18,000 worth of debt; £13k student loan and the rest in overdrafts, credit cards and bills. I, like many my age, have consigned myself to a lifetime of debt in an almost fatalistic fashion; without the means to own anything of real value privately and with a collapsing economy there seems little reason to care. Despite having an excellent credit rating still I cannot help but toy with the idea of declaring myself bankrupt as to allow myself a clean slate for my future. Again, many my age also feel like they have been forced into this situation. We are products of our time; with little depth to the world past the consumerist façade we find ourselves living in and stuck in a quagmire of insurmountable debt that we will realistically never lose there is little hope left for the generation that will soon be in charge."

The position many young people find themselves in, particularly those who are most vulnerable, arises from a number of reasons. Not least that the benefits system often leaves them destitute and unable to meet even their most basic needs. But that is not the whole story as the quote from the young person above indicates. Our young people are growing up in a very different landscape, certainly from the one I did. Not only has consumer choice exploded, but so also has the availability of credit. Young people are starting out in life often saddled with student debt, in a housing market that virtually excludes them and a looming pension crisis. In such a climate, credit (which research shows many young people do not regard as debt so long as they pay their minimum payment), appears a seductive solution. Centrepoint (the youth homelessness charity) published a report a couple of years ago "Too much too young" criticising the targeting of young people with credit offers, of most concern was that a significant number of young people had been targeted after they became homeless and were living in hostels. And the peer pressure young people face also contributes to their need to be seen to be wearing the "right" trainers for example, regardless of other financial commitments.

A couple of years ago I was at a Foyer in East London, involved in a session on money management. I had said how much I resented buying something and then going into the shop a couple of weeks later to see the same item reduced. One of the young women said that didn't bother her, when I asked why she said "because I would have had it first".

The reasons for the credit crunch are multiple, but no-one can surely deny that an I want it and I want it now - throwaway consumerism contributes to over indebtedness. I am old enough to remember the days when a designer label was something you only saw in Vogue and shops had at most 4 changes of clothes collections a year - now it is every couple of weeks!

In my work on the FSA Financial Capability Strategy, we are training those who work with young people to support them to be more financially capable. Like trying to deal with teenage pregnancy the greatest challenge is that of changing behaviour, you can know everything, have the skills to do everything, know why you should....but if that doesn't result in behavioural change it is meaningless.

Tony Blair - don't you just luv 'im?!

Well, you just couldn't make it up could you? This man is just such good entertainment value. The man who has conspired with others to lie and deceive, to engage in an illegal, immoral and unjust war, a man with so much blood on his hands you would think he would go and find a hole to crawl into..........................not a bit of it, he thinks he has the credentials to act as a catalyst for world peace.

His "Faith Foundation" launched today in New York is his contribution to bringing the world's religions together. I don't object to the idea particularly, but I am dumbstruck that the man doesn't seem to see the irony? Perhaps such a initiative headed up by someone like Martin Luther King or Ghandi or Mother Teresa may have had some integrity - but a war criminal? A man who has been a major contributer to fuelling discontent and disaffection in much of the Muslim world? As I commented when he got his Middle East envoy job, it's like putting Osama bin Laden in charge of airport security.

Perhaps if his attempts at promoting religious unity and world peace were accompanied with a smidgen of humility and a dollop of remorse they would strike more of a chord. As it is..............

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What future for Israel

The news today that leader of the Israeli Labour Party, Ehud Barak, is calling for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to step down, is the latest crisis to hit Israel. It comes at a time when one of Israel's leading intellectuals, Amon Rubinstein a former minister of education and justice recently went on Hebrew Radio to say he anticipated that the Israeli state would not survive. His view is shared by a number of intellectuals who fear that the external threat, lack of confidence in the state's future and severe polarisation amongst society's components may all lead to Israel's demise.

Abraham Tayrosh wrote in February that one of the signs of collapse is that the Jewish Agency has stopped trying to convince Jews around the world to migrate to Israel. Rovi Rivlin (Likud) reports that an increasing number of Israelis are working to obtain European passports to be used in fleeing Israel if they need to. Muli Beilig sees that Ben-Gurion's vision of a "melting pot" society has failed miserably with ethnic and cultural polarisation. Nahom Burnei believes that although Israel is strong militarily and economically, it is unable to provide security for its citizens and is also the only state in the world whose mere existence is a source of doubt.

The full text of the article "This state cannot survive" is available here.

The tragedy for me is that it doesn't have to be like this. A true commitment to a viable state for the Palestinians (whatever happened to the roadmap?) and a true commitment to equal rights for all her citizens, would contribute to Israel's future security. I am increasingly drawn to the view that perhaps the only hope now is a one state solution, with some sort of Northern Ireland type power sharing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Taking on the Religous Right

There is no doubt that the religious right in the States were pivotal not only in Bush's election but also in the development of his foreign policy, particularly in relation to Israel/Palestine. So I have been delighted to hear how the movement headed by Jim Wallis is beginning to wield so much more influence.

Sunday night I went to hear him speak (hat tip to Paul Burgin of Mars Hill for telling me about this). He has been a strong voice against the war in Iraq from the beginning, telling us of his visit to Blair pre the war to try and persuade him not to support it and having a previous book "God's Politics" endorsed by Gordon Brown. Jim is married to Joy Carroll, the inspiration for the Vicar of Dibley and was back in the UK for a family event so had taken some time out for a book tour to promote his book on faith and politics "Seven Ways to Change the World".
His call for a change of emphasis in the church is clearly touching a chord in the States and is likely to have an impact in the upcoming elections. He is attracting a swathe of particularly young Christians to a message that is based on social justice, human rights, equality, concern for the environment and community. He is vilified in some quarters as a progressive liberal, but sees himself in the tradition of the likes of Wilberforce and Finney.

Now, by bringing up the subject of the relationship between faith and politics I am no doubt going to get the likes of Laurence B into a lather. But so be it. As Jim Wallis pointed out, many of the great movements that have changed the world and changed politics have their roots in religion. Yes, religion can rightly on occasions be be blamed for conflict and evil, but it has also been a force for good. The same may be said about atheistic belief systems such as Communism, though no doubt there would be some debate about the Communist contribution for good. Arguments that religion and politics don't mix are meaningless to those who believe they do, which is why I applaud the work Jim and others are doing to challenge the religious right in the States. As Desmond Tutu says "I wonder which bible people are reading when they say religion and politics don't mix". I have no truck with those of faith who think it is purely personal and should have no impact on what they do to try to make a difference to the lives of others.

Jim Wallis believes that the obsession with abortion and gay marriage by the religious right has totally skewed the message of the gospel. As he says, Jesus said nothing at all about homosexuality but an awful lot about poverty and justice. Similarly he criticises the position on abortion, as he points out, despite the rhetoric, abortion rates have remained steady, dropping slightly under Clinton and actually rising slightly under Bush. He argues that is the result of social policy and that the emphasis should be on reducing the number of abortions, not on criminalising abortion. He decries the polarisation of the debate between pro life and pro choice - a topic to which I will return (having not had time to join in the abortion debate last week).

His challenge to the church is about taking the issues of poverty and justice seriously and asserts that politics is groping to find solutions to some of these great world issues. His position is that faith has been and can be a catalyst for action, reminding us of former campaigns against slavery, child labour, the Civil Rights movement in the US and Jubilee 2000. He told us that the origin of the "alter call" popular in so many evangelical churches, was the call to sign up for the anti-slavery campaign.

I applaud him for what he is doing and his contribution to changing things in US politics, to quote from his book "We have now entered the post Religious-Right era. That doesn't mean the Religious Right is dead, or won't still be an influence in Republican party politics. But its "era", the peak of its influence and its monopoly over faith and politics are now gone. Although religion has been given a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be surprisingly shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that helps make needed social change possible. I have always been a progressive evangelical. "Progressive evangelical" has seemed to be a misnomer in recent years, but now it is becoming a movement."

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A response to Chris Rennard on Crewe & Nantwich

Chris Rennard has responded to my recent blog on Crewe and Nantwich making some interesting points and I trust they will spark off further debate on our future campaigns. I am interested in what the learning points are for us as a party in the aftermath of C&N. Chris refers to the ratio of support (Con:Lab:Lib Dem was probably 4:2:1). Now that is a fascinating ratio, I would be interested to know how it compares with other by elections. If there was a drop off in traditional Lib Dem support I wonder why, or is this the normal ratio?

I don't accept that most of the criticism has come from armchair critics, but there has to be consideration of the alienation created by some of the campaign techniques. I have heard from a couple of people, one of whom is one of the best campaigners we have, who were very disturbed that whilst in no way competing with Labour, some of our literature in the campaign appeared to pander to anti immigrant sentiment. I trust this won't happen again.

I do accept a lot of the points Chris makes though, not least that not to have fought hard would have attracted further criticism of the party, but sometime we do have to consider the changed landscape and how we should respond to it.

I also acknowledge his points about the successes we have had (and all credit to him!) BUT that doesn't answer the point I made about a resurgent Tory party. Let's not forget this is their first by election victory in 30 years - if they maintain their momentum the world is a different place isn't it?

One issue Chris doesn't respond to is that of PR. Next year in the European elections we have another opportunity to develop our techniques in PR elections. Sadly these elections are left to the regions to fund and fight - yet the outcome will have a wider impact than just regional - this after all is likely to be the last national election pre the next General Election.

Yes, the Tories have learned from us bigtime - the difference being they have copied the packaging with none of the substance. Sadly, in a passive consumer age we are dealing with a situation where people don't often get beyond the packaging before it is too late. That is my real fear with what is happening and why I believe we must learn and learn fast, from the results of the past few weeks.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lib Dems on tour and other stories!

I have had a hectic couple of weeks, with little time for blogging - but it's all gone quiet now so time to catch up. Before the trip to Belfast for Liberal International Congress I was invited to the British Legion Parliamentary Reception. It was over populated with Tories so it was good to see Lib Dem MPs Jeremy Browne (my hero!), Andrew George, David Heath and Don Foster there. I was amused when Jeremy introduced me to someone as a "top Lib Dem Blogger with a blog full of lively opinions, frequently expressed!" (now you know why he is top of my heroes list!) Andrew George commented that either I was stalking him or vice versa as I had bumped into him the day before when attending the launch of a Rainer report on young people and debt (a very important report which I will return to).

Later that afternoon I attended the launch of the Lib Dem friends of Sri Lanka, hosted by Lord Dholakia and addressed by Ed Davey, Andrew George (!), Tom Brake, Don Foster and Simon Hughes. My children (who are half Sri Lankan) also came which I am proud to say resulted in Lara (far right in the pic) joining the committee.

And then off to Belfast for Liberal International Congress. As I have already posted the highlight had to be hearing Morgan Tvsangarai, but I was also very moved by Maung Maung, General Secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions in Burma. A summary of his speech is here. What moved me most was when he was asked if he still lived in Burma. No, he had to flee in 1988 and he hadn't seen his wife or son since. He said it so matteroffactly, someone else who challenged me about how much I would be prepared to sacrifice in the fight for freedom.

There is a full report of the Congress here. And eventually I will get round to putting up all (well nearly all!) the pix here.

The Lib Dem contingency consisted of Jo Hayes, Julie Smith, Robert Woodthorpe-Browne, Phil Bennion, Chris le Breton, Jonathan Fryer and Simon Hughes. We were also joined by Ed Davey for a reception at Stormount on Friday evening, followed by a team Lib Dem meal and enjoying the delights of Fibber Magees live traditional music (even if it was so crowded it felt like being on the Northern Line!).

Another highlight for me was meeting Rosie Odinga, daughter of Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya - who described her relationship to her father as a "biological technicality"! Rosie is not only an incredibly inspirational woman, she is also a lot of fun and we had a great evening dancing in Morrison's in Belfast Saturday night.
Having a meeting in Belfast on Monday I took the bus down to Newcastle and went walking in the beautiful Mourne mountains on Sunday. The weather was glorious and the walk up Slieve Donnard spectacular..........tho seeing all the people in their proper walking boots with sticks, made me feel rather daft in my Dune pumps - carrying a handbag! Having dropped and broken my son's camera the night before I took some lovely pix on my phone, tho all to no avail since I then went and lost it :-(

On Tuesday I was part of an "expert" panel speaking at a House Magazine "Westminster Briefing" event. I had received a flyer to this event looking at financial inclusion some time ago, reading down the list of prestigious speakers - James Plaskitt MP, Brian Pomeroy (Financial Inclusion Taskforce), Angela Knight (BBA), thinking "hmmm this looks interesting" I was shocked to see Linda Jack with "invited" in brackets after my name! So, it was a great honour to be regarded as an expert and a great opportunity to bang the drum about an issue about which I feel passionately.
The rest of the week it has to be said, in contrast, has been rather like an episode of Eastenders..........but of course, on that, my lips have to be sealed!!!

Gordon, let's admit it, you don't cut the mustard

Listening to Gordon this evening I felt that horrible cringy feeling. Oh please stop, you sound pathetic. He may have been a sound Chancellor, but, as with others, he has surely been promoted to his level of incompetence. His total lack of self awareness has lead to him applying for.......and getting........a job for which he is not qualified. He is clever, has an eye for the big picture and the detail, a political heavyweight. BUT he totally lacks any ability to communicate, where are his people skills? Whatever anyone says about Blair (and regular readers will know I am not exactly a fan), he understood about connecting with people. Brown is failing because he doesn't.

Now, at the risk of upsetting the boys, I do think there is a gender issue. In my experience men apply for jobs whether or not they think they can do them, women tend to only apply for jobs they know they can do. So, Gordon has taken on a job, maybe arrogantly believing he can do it, but without the package to deliver. But, I do believe he is motivated by a sense of wanting to tackle poverty and injustice. In which case perhaps it is time to sacrifice his own personal ambition for the greater good. But..........I am not convinced, despite the events of the last few weeks, he can see that.

Friday, May 23, 2008

C&N - Not so much a disaster, more a wake up call

Last night's result, though disappointing, was quite predictable. With a resurgent Cameron, the Tories with their tails up, Labour rapidly falling into the hole of their own making, us in a poor third place, we were in for a classic squeeze. So why did the party insist on continuing to "big it up"? OK, don't be despondent but be measured. Last night will not be a disaster if it leads to some clear headed re thinking about the whole of our campaigning strategy. What worked in a different political climate (and all credit to Chris Rennard) may not work now. I fear we are in a post Rennard era, the techniques of the past may be past their sell by date. Most telling were the London Assembly results, a clear demonstration that the party of PR hasn't a clue when it comes to fighting PR elections!

What happened last night demonstrates that people are hungry for change, the innate optimism of the people believes that any change has to be better. The perennial cry of "you're all the same" is replaced with "well anyone's better than that lot". So the natural inclination is to look to who has the most chance of delivering change. When the Tories were all over the place (and let's not forget, it was only last summer Cameron was really shaky) we did well, now we have a different animal to contend with.

So, what to do? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I want to return to my "Risk" analysis. If you have a small army the stupidest thing to do is to try and take over the world - it ain't gonna happen! But, if you are prepared to consolidate, to lose some battles for the sake of greater gain elsewhere, to play a long game, to identify and exploit your opponent's weaknesses...........

I hope this will push us in the direction of really taking some chances, of living up to the promise of a radical alternative and to have a far more distinctive message. Chides of Cameronlite or Blairlite are very unfair on Nick Clegg, but until and unless the electorate understand what distinguishes us from the other two Tory parties, we are in danger of having reached our high watermark. I applaud James Graham's optimism, I want to believe him, but at the moment I need convincing that his analysis is sound.

Vince Cable - Cit Ad Parliamentarian of the Year!

(Pic from Federal Conference LGA Reception)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Morgan Tsvangarai - Hope: The Fuel that Drives and the Glue that Binds

In Belfast for Liberal International Congress and the highlight so far has to be Morgan Tsvangarai addressing us yesterday. I am always challenged when listening to activists for whom their activism often costs them their liberty, their health and for some ultimately their life. When the worst that can happen to me is a scolding from Paul Walter or Alex Wilcock, I am challenged to think firstly, would I put my life on the line for what I believed and secondly, if I did, would I have the wisdom and wherewithal to avoid being taken out almost immediately. So, listening to Morgan Tsvangarai was indeed a humbling, challenging and uplifting experience.

He started by expressing his commitment to democratic development, but said it was hard to convey what this meant to the people of Zimbabwe, a dream that must not be allowed to be destroyed. He lauded the people who had dared to cast their vote for change, even though that meant them facing having their homes burnt, bones broken and worse. Their commitment was to dignity, hope and freedom - based on a devotion to democracy.

He reminded us of the recent elections and the violence of a party that had lost legitimacy. No Zimbabwean was safe, thousands had been targeted and many were having to flee, but the truth was that democracy often comes at a terrible price. He reflected that just as Northern Ireland had witnessed a new beginning, so a new beginning was inevitable in Zimbabwe. The regime was weak, supported by a few greedy countries, the people were facing not only broken bones but broken promises.

He expressed his belief that an African solution was needed for an African problem, a solution based on human rights and democracy. Mugabe won't surrender power, but all needed to stand up for what they believe in. He spoke movingly of his sadness that Robert Mugabe, once his hero as the liberator of his country had turned his back on his people. He had hardened his heart against them and the complacency of the people had lead to him acquiring more and more power. He reminded us that this wasn't a civil war, there was only one warring party, a party motivated by greed and power.

He closed with an upbeat messages, the MDC were a government in waiting, the country was in crisis and they must implement a new legislative programme and instigate a new form of governance based on a new constitution. They would engage stakeholders to promote economic recovery and consult on a new constitution based on fundamental human rights and the rule of law - prosperity cannot be isolated from democracy. Despite even recent losses of two of their party members, Morgan was strong in his assertion that democracy must and will return. The MDC will promote inclusion and tolerance, they will never stop hoping as he said "hope is the fuel that drives and the glue that binds."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The curse of the moderator......on or off?

Alex Wilcock has had a bit of a go at me this evening for leaving my moderator on having lit the blue touchpaper and then swanned off for the day. Well Alex, it has to be said it is a while since I have upset you, so I guess it was gonna happen sometime (!) and I take your point. But, it tends to be when I am saying something controversial I get in as much trouble with comments as I do with what I said originally. But, given I am on a major swan off tomorrow until Monday night, to the wonderful city of Belfast, I will risk it. On the understanding that all commentators refrain from the temptation to drop me in it by making defamatory et al comments. Deal?

Man Woman Woman Man...........its all of no consequence in a by election, isn't it??????

Thanks to Jane for alerting me to the news that whereas last week we had an "attractive young woman" replacing a presumably not quite so attractive older man..........this week we have the reverse and all the associated fallout.

I made my views clear on Crewe and Nantwich selection and they apply here. If we think a candidate isn''t good enough why on earth do we select them???? But, the other interesting issue here is that at a time when we are banging on about a more representative party we have yet again missed a trick. Whilst Cameron et al are cynically ensuring they have women and BME candidates even in the most unlikely places (and I say cynically because I know from inside that this is motivated by image rather than a real commitment to diversity), we are yet again missing a trick. Are we really saying we have no women approved candidates able to cut the mustard in a by election? I can't believe that.

So yet again we will have dissent in the party which could so easily have be avoided. Let's get these by elections out of the way and then I will say what I really think!

Is Cameron in the wrong party?

A couple of years ago when Cameron started describing himself as a liberal, my immediate thought was, so what are you doing in the Tories then mate? At the time much was made of his invitation to some of our, shall we say, more right wing front benchers, to come and join his expanding tent. Maybe now is the time for Nick Clegg to make a similar approach the other way?

The news (hat tip to Darrell) this week that he has for the fourth time voted with the minority of his party perhaps is an indication that eventually (perhaps when he has to actually get some policies down on paper) there are likely to surface some real tensions between him and the mainstream. At the moment we are all distracted with the car crash that is the Brown government, but as some point the Tories will have to say what it is they stand for - and my hunch is - liberalism it ain't!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Playing footsie with Labour on the GLA

After my last post about Nick Clegg refusing to play footsie with the other parties, imagine my shock and horror to learn that our GLA members are doing just that! Newly elected Liberal Democrat members Dee Doocey, Mike Tuffrey and Caroline Pidgeon have supported Jeanette Arnold as Chair. This is the same Jeannette Arnold, who was quoted after the elections last week saying “I think Emily (Thornberry) is right to suggest that it will be Labour versus the Conservatives in Islington. The Lib Dems were fourth in the party vote. That is cause for concern for them. This was a bad week for Labour, but not in North East.” Clearly this has an impact on the local parties, with two target seats and no representation on the GLA to ensure their views were considered before this decision was taken. I do hope it doesn't come back and bite them in the bottom.

Obama on Israel

An interesting piece on Obama's website on Israel's 60th Anniversary, not much mention of occupation or the plight of the Palestinian's who were and continue to be, dispossessed. Does not bode well for a change in US policy post Bush.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Nick Clegg - I won't play footsie with the big boys

Thanks to the kind heart of Millenium's daddy I got an unexpected bite at the cherry at the Bloggers Bash with Nick Clegg this evening. I was a sub and since everyone turned up I really shouldn't have been there - but since I was in the building I got a special dispensation! I thought I would be clever and try out the voice recorder on my brand new all singing all dancing phone.........sadly it wasn't all it was cracked up to be! So, I am left with my memory and a few sketchy notes.

Nick looked and sounded incredibly fresh and upbeat following what must have been a gruelling few weeks. He was asked a range of interesting questions, but for me what was music to my ears was his response to a question from Paul Walter on electoral reform. He reminded us that this was one of Labour's promises in 1997 that had not materialised. Nick's response was that he wasn't about to do deals with a weak Labour Party in order to achieve that reform, nor did he have any appetite for doing deals with the Tories, his view, that there was "little merit in playing footsie with either party" - glad to hear it Nick!

As for the rest of the interview, more later!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Blogging - perfecting the art of procrastination!

I know, it's obvious really, I am having a procrastinating interlude.......Blogging is preferable to sorting out my paperwork! OK, I have caught up with email, done a bit of reading about child poverty, watched Andrew Marr and the Politics Show, listened to the awesome A Dance to the Music of Time (so disappointed I missed the first couple of episodes), made some Thai Basil Lemonade, cleaned up the kitchen...........but that's about it really. At every opportunity I have found myself distracted, drawn back to putting in me tenpenneth on this or that issue. But, it will all be back to normal from Tuesday when I start three totally manic weeks............with a week off at the end. You have been warned!

Tough Love for Israel

Henry Siegman is director of the US/Middle East Project in New York and is a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program at SOAS. He is a former executive director of the American Jewish Congress and of the Synagogue Council of America. Like many Jews he is exasperated at the lack of any real progress and the gross negligence of the Quartet in pandering to the notion that it is Israel who is the victim. This article is full of profound observations, not least his reflection that "The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jews seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people."

Here is a copy of his article, published in The Nation tomorrow:

We now have word that Tony Blair, envoy of the Middle East Quartet (the UN, the EU, Russia and the United States), and German Chancellor Angela Merkel intend to organize yet another peace conference, this time in Berlin in June. It is hard to believe that after the long string of failed peace initiatives, stretching back at least to the Madrid conference of 1991, diplomats are recycling these failures without seemingly having a clue as to why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is even more hopeless today than before these peace exercises first got under way.

The scandal of the international community's impotence in resolving one of history's longest bloodlettings is that it knows what the problem is but does not have the courage to speak the truth, much less deal with it. The peace conference in Germany will suffer from the same gutlessness that has marked all previous efforts. It will deal with everything except the problem primarily responsible for the impasse. That problem is that for all the sins attributable to the Palestinians--and they are legion, including inept and corrupt leadership, failed institution-building and the murderous violence of rejectionist groups--there is no prospect for a viable, sovereign Palestinian state, primarily because Israel's various governments, from 1967 until today, have never had the intention of allowing such a state to come into being.

It would be one thing if Israeli governments had insisted on delaying a Palestinian state until certain security concerns had been dealt with. But no government serious about a two-state solution to the conflict would have pursued, without letup, the theft and fragmentation of Palestinian lands, which even a child understands makes Palestinian statehood impossible.

Given the overwhelming disproportion of power between the occupier and the occupied, it is hardly surprising that Israeli governments and their military and security establishments found it difficult to resist the acquisition of Palestinian land. What is astounding is that the international community, pretending to believe Israel 's claim that it is the victim and its occupied subjects the aggressors, has allowed this devastating dispossession to continue and the law of the jungle to prevail.

As long as Israel knows that by delaying the peace process it buys time to create facts on the ground, and that the international community will continue to indulge Israel's pretense that its desire for a two-state solution is being frustrated by the Palestinians, no new peace initiative can succeed, and the dispossession of the Palestinian people will indeed become irreversible.

There can be no greater delusion on the part of Western countries weighed down by guilt about the Holocaust than the belief that accommodating such an outcome would be an act of friendship to the Jewish people. The abandonment of the Palestinians now is surely not an atonement for the abandonment of European Jews seventy years ago, nor will it serve the security of the State of Israel and its people.

John Vinocur of the New York Times recently suggested that the virtually unqualified declarations of support for Israel by Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are "at a minimum an attempt to seek Israeli moderation by means of public assurances with this tacit subtext: these days, the European Union is not, or is no longer, its reflexive antagonist." But the expectation that uncritical Western support of Israel would lead to greater Israeli moderation and greater willingness to take risks for peace is blatantly contradicted by the conflict's history.

Time and again, this history has shown that the less opposition Israel encounters from its friends in the West for its dispossession of the Palestinians, the more uncompromising its behavior. Indeed, soon after Sarkozy's and Merkel's expressions of eternal solidarity, Israel 's Ehud Olmert approved massive new construction in East Jerusalem--authorizing housing projects that had been frozen for years by previous governments because of their destructive impact on the possibility of a peace agreement--as well as continued expansion of Israel 's settlements. And Olmert's defense minister, Ehud Barak, declared shortly after Merkel's departure that he will remove only a token number of the more than 500 checkpoints and roadblocks that Israel has repeatedly promised, and just as repeatedly failed, to dismantle. That announcement shattered whatever hope Palestinians may have had for recovery of their economy, as a consequence of $7 billion in new aid promised by international donors in December. In these circumstances, the international donor community will not pour good money after bad, as they so often have in the past.

What is required of statesmen is not more peace conferences or clever adjustments to previous peace formulations but the moral and political courage to end their collaboration with the massive hoax the peace process has been turned into. Of course, Palestinian violence must be condemned and stopped, particularly when it targets civilians. But is it not utterly disingenuous to pretend that Israel 's occupation--maintained by IDF-manned checkpoints and barricades, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, targeted assassinations and military incursions, not to speak of the massive theft of Palestinian lands--is not an exercise in continuous and unrelenting violence against more than 3 million Palestinian civilians? If Israel were to renounce violence, could the occupation last even one day?

Israel's designs on the West Bank are not much different from the designs of the Arab forces that attacked the Jewish state in 1948--the nullification of the international community's partition resolution of 1947. Short of addressing the problem by its right name--something that is of an entirely different order than hollow statements that "settlements do not advance peace"--and taking effective collective action to end a colonial enterprise that disgraces what began as a noble Jewish national liberation struggle, further peace conferences, no matter how well intentioned, make their participants accessories to one of the longest and cruelest deceptions in the annals of international diplomacy.

New Labour, New Labour Message..........can it work?

Have just heard Harriet Harman on the Politics Show, following on from Gordon Brown this morning. Apparently now they not only have to listen but also to communicate their message more simply to the (presumably uneducated) masses.

Yes, of course, in a soundbite, instant gratification age, messages need to be sharp and memorable. But in my humble opinion the problem Labour has is that the message they are trying to convey (change for the better) is discordant with the reality (more of the same tired old government). The Tory's message is very simple and exactly the same - change for the better. The advantage they have is that, despite not a shred of evidence that their change would be for the better, they certainly offer change! Enough water has passed under the bridge in the last 11 years for people to forget the dying days of John Major's government and Cameron's great gift to be able to speak without saying anything, means that the electorate may be forgiven for believing there is a chance his Tory government will be different from the last one. After all, they now care for the poor don't they?

So, bring in the spinners, buy in the marketing consultants, come up with a new message if you must, but it will be totally useless if that message is totally at odds with the reality on the ground.

Should Hillary admit defeat?

As much as I would love to see a woman in the Whitehouse, I have admit to having doubts about Hillary, not least because of her support for Iraq and her recent comment about obliterating Iran. But, Democrats are now beginning to worry about the impact dragging out this contest will have on their party, not least if the final decision is made by the "Super Delegates".

One such person is David Swanson from After Downing Street where you can read his interesting analysis.

Brown on the ropes, should we be wishing him well?

Gordon Brown has just had a grilling, well perhaps a couple of seconds in the microwave, with Andrew Marr. He argued that Labour would be helping people through putting in place a number of building blocks, he was offering a strong sense of direction, but he didn't say what that direction was.

Frankly he looked terrible, very uncomfortable, a sense of a deep underlying misery. He is a man on the ropes, promising to fight but his body language says quite the opposite. I am someone who really believes in the power of humour when you are under attack, it disarms and diffuses the situation and gives you a chink to get your counter attack in. There was none of this, all Brown did was reinforce the image of himself as a dour man who had lost control.

He confessed to having made a mistake over the 10p rate, but said the government were intervening locally and internationally to help the economic problems around the price of food, petrol and housing. He said that he would intervene whilst the Tories would walk away. He argued that Britain was better prepared because of his sound management of the economy in the past. He admitted that he had allowed speculation about the General Election to go on too long. Andrew Marr challenged him that he was too obsessed with the fine detail and consequently had no big picture. His argument was that he was responding to a desire for fairness.

On Boris - he wished him well and congratulated him but questioned where was the substance. He assured us that he would be taking the fight to Tories, for the sake of "hard working families". He questioned whether the party had really changed, where was the substance, where were the policies?

On the prospect of a challenge to his leadership he insisted that it was not there, he did not accept he may not be the right man to lead and was not prepared to step aside. He acknowledged that he was a more private person, but he wanted to solve the country's problems, he felt our pain, understood our problems -he was the right person to do it. So he plans to be getting out more with his clear plan.

AM suggested he was seen as a bit strange, not like other people, a workaholic. Again Brown argued that he had an ordinary background that mean he understands people hurting and their worries. He was not the same as Blair but he was committed to better opportunities for hard working families.

He believed that leadership was tested in the worst of times and he was resolute and determined enough to face the test and build a stronger and fairer country.

When challenged on the 42 days detention he insisted this was the "right thing for the country" but he was someone committed to defending civil liberties.

So, some very contradictory comments. Commitment to opportunity and fairness and helping people in need, but is he really telling us that a man of such intellect and economic capability never understood the consequences of the removal of the 10p rate - even after Ming had pointed out the problem? Telling us he is listening, except of course in those extraordinary (OK everyday) circumstances when he knows what is right for us - 42 day detention for example. And all the chat about "hard working families" what about those who are not part of a family?

But I find myself with a dilemma, do I really want Brown to fall over completely and allow another Tory government in? With the smoke, mirrors and spin of the Tory party reluctant to come up with a single policy - no sorry - one policy on inheritance tax for the very rich - would a future Tory government really be any different from the last one? Maybe the silver lining of a Boris mayoralty will be that we begin to get a feel for the sort of policy direction a future Tory party would be heading in............but then again, maybe not! Brown is right on this, if nothing else, that the Tories lack substance, but as we have seen in the last few days, that is in no way an impediment to electoral success! If a BNP candidate can get elected merely on the basis of "Grown Up Politics" and "putting the needs of people first", Brown may be in a position of King Canute telling the waves to stop, but, unlike Canute, having miscalculated the tide!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

London..........where did we go wrong?

So what has gone wrong in London for us? The results do not paint a pretty picture. Brian's vote squeezed to 9.63% and a poor 11.22% in the assembly resulting in a loss of 2 seats. In a city that should be instinctively liberal, should we not have expected to do better here than the rest of the country? It is not as if we don't have a strong presence both in inner and outer London. I trust someone will do some analysis, we need to fully understand what went wrong if we are not to find ourselves totally left out in the cold again next time.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Flippin Ada..........It's Boris!

I didn't get a vote today, though as someone who spends most of her working life there, I do have a bit of an interest in what happens in London. I worry about what will happen to London Transport since that will have an impact on my life, but I worry more about what will happen to those who are marginalised in London.

Boris has clearly demonstrated his credentials, racist, classist (is there such a thing?!), homophobic. Apparently at the LGBT hustings he said ....L..G..B..T is it? Yes yes I am all in favour of it! Right, this is the man who greeted civil partnerships by suggesting that next we would be supporting the union of 3 men and a dog. Now don't get me wrong. He is a character, I enjoy reading him, but he has NONE of the qualities necessary to run anything, let alone a city like London!

So, fasten your seatbelts.............remember, he will also be in charge in the run up to the Olympics......what was that about the last one to leave switching off the lights?

Campaigning Virgins

It's all about blisters really, isn't it? I was chatting earlier to our local master of the campaign trail Dave Hodgson. He had decided that he would have spent less money paying someone to do all the delivery he did in Milton Keynes, than he had ended up spending on blister remedies!

At the other end of the scale was my dear son Ravi. Given our passing like ships in the night over the past week, this evening was the first chance I got to chat to him about his trip to help in..........let's not say where, but somewhere where help was needed! I was in Norwich when I got a text from him saying "don't ever ask me to do this again!" Now Ravi was perfectly happy to help me delivering when he was a little boy, but like most little boys he sadly grew out of it. Anyway, he ended up going to another region to help for a couple of days - the first time for probably 10 years he has done anything useful (in political terms of course!) Sadly the experience appears to have ruined him for helping me next year.

He was not impressed with the organisational skills of our party, and also, unfortunately ended up getting sent to deliver in a white housing estate, where apparently everyone stared at him. Most disturbing was when it was pouring with rain and he asked someone where the nearest bus shelter was. The person he asked was extremely aggressive and swore at him, the bus shelter it turned out was only a few hundred yards away.

The following day he was asked to go back to the same estate, he tried to explain that he had felt the people there were quite racist in their attitude to him, to which the response was "you're a big lad, you can look after yourself". He came home completely disillusioned. He said he couldn't vote for another party because his views are clearly liberal, but he didn't know why he would vote for us. He had also had no thanks for his voluntary efforts and felt completely unappreciated. So, if he feels like this, how many other potential canvassers, deliverers, helpers, candidates, have left this campaign feeling the same way?

We have some great examples of good practice across the country, but it is patchy. We have done OK this evening, but we must bite the bullet and recognise that in some areas we frankly have to get a grip. Or maybe I am being unreasonable?

A painful reminder - the ghost of Tories past.......

Its funny isn't it, how defeat can often lead to a modicum of humility. I hate to admit it, but I had been lulled into a false sense of security. Michael Portillo, almost rehabilitated. William Hague, quite a cheeky chappy. Even Michael Howard's irritating tones had stopped having quite the same cringe effect on me.

And there have been times over the last 11 years when I have surprisingly found myself applauding various Tories as they tore into Labour, over Iraq in particular. That nice Mr Clarke and sharp Mr Rifkind.

But today has brought back all those horrid memories of 18 years of Tory rule. The arrogance, pomposity, sneering of a political class who generally believe they are the rightful heirs to the ruling classes and we serfs should know our place. OK, they have learned some lessons from Mr Blair about packaging and spin - but scratch the surface and underneath are the same attitudes that have always permeated the party. A little of the gilding came off today. To be honest they remind me of those Dr Whoish creatures who, having successfully masqueraded as normal human beings and infiltrated human society, suddenly metamorphosises into have been warned!

Nick Clegg talked today of the problem of the Labour Party having lost touch with their values. With the Tories I wonder if it is not that they have lost touch with their core values, but they have developed a rather cunning technique to hide them from the naked eye? Rather as the BNP candidate on the radio today who admitted he had won his seat by promising nothing and with no declared policies (except "grown up politics" ah yes, the BNP are very good at that!) the Tories are relying on the same wheeze. By suddenly discovering their concern for the poor and their opposition to the cut in the 10p rate, with NO PROMISE to replace it, they have pulled the wool over countless thousands of eyes. Unable at this stage to say whether or how they would replace it, they are more than happy to say whether or how they would cut inheritance tax - funny that.

Funny, I had forgotten just how much I loathe the Tories, looks like the country did too.

Are we getting slaughtered on the GLA?

I just had a comment left on my blog about the GLA, suggesting that we are getting slaughtered, down to 3 seats at most. Hope this isn't the case, I had high hopes for Meral.

The Candidate Trap.........Crewe and Nantwich

The news that previous PPC for Crewe and Nantwich, Marc Godwin has quit the party after having failed to be shortlisted for the by election raises another thorny issue for the party in terms of candidates.

Clearly, Elizabeth Shenton is an excellent and formidable candidate. And of course it is not unusual for sitting PPC's to be ousted in the event of a byelection, that after all is how Simon Hughes became the candidate in Bermondsey. But, the process should be seen to be transparent and fair shouldn't it? When I was selected for Luton North there was no caveat that in the event of a byelection I may find myself ousted. Maybe Marc Godwin was also unaware and I am sure if any of us had found ourselves in that position we would have been equally miffed.

So, perhaps we need an equivalent of a list system. Anyone who has been through the approval process will know there is no distinction on the quality of candidates. You either pass, pass with a recommendation for further training, fail with the opportunity of doing training and trying again, or fail completely. This results in the kind of problem we now have. I don't buy Marc's complaint that he failed to be shortlisted because the party wanted an attractive woman, (heavens if that were the case why are our candidates still so predominantly white men - some far from attractive (!)?) but if, as in an interview for a job, he knew that he hadn't reached the standard expected for a target or byelection candidate, it would have been a less bitter pill for him to swallow.

The Candidate Trap ....... London

Later today we will hear how Mr. P has done in his battle with Messrs L and J. No doubt this will be followed by some picking over the bones of what we could or couldn't have done better. I trust that my elders and betters will learn some lessons.

My initial thoughts are as follows........firstly, can we please start thinking about a candidate for next time now, instead of scrabbling around at the last minute? We do it in target parliamentary seats, why not London? With a prospective candidate in post, a London Spokesperson could spend the next term building support, challenging the incumbent, developing workable and robust policies.

Secondly, can we have a candidate who has a commitment to and an understanding of, our party? Brian was a reasonably good candidate, extremely good on crime, but I was rather disappointed with some of his attitudes, the "I am not a politician" mantra, subtext "politicians are dreadful people". If you are not a politician what are you doing standing for a political position? Also his comment that he "would not toe the party line" er........what's the point of being in a party then, why didn't he stand as an independent? Now that is not to say that there may not be occasions where he disagrees fundamentally with a position and takes a stand, but stating it as a kind of badge of honour demonstrates to me his lack of understanding, as did apparently making up policy on the hoof, particularly policy that would have an impact on areas outside London, without consultation. It was then left to Simon Hughes to hint about second preferences, whilst Brian refused to say. Given the potentially enormous influence second preferences will have, frankly whatever my doubts about another Ken term, a Boris term is truly terrifying! All of this may just be down to his lack of experience and involvement in the party, but as a party should we not take some responsibility for ensuring that our candidates are fully trained, briefed and properly advised?

Thirdly, can we do some thinking about how we ensure the electorate understand voting systems? Given that some 38% of people have said that they would vote for us if they thought their vote would count, there are many who clearly haven't understood that message, otherwise our first preferences would surely be far higher?

Other ideas, or is it just me that thinks we need to learn some lessons here?

Looz Muze Blooz?

Despite my best attempts to stay awake, I confess I dropped off about 3am so all my plans to continue blogging failed miserably. So, what about last night? Should we be dancing in the streets or crawling under the covers?

Well, it was clearly going to be a Lib Dem squeeze night. People are fed up with Labour and given our unfair voting system, the clearest way to send a message was voting Tory. I for one was surprised at the number of soft Tories I encountered this time, many who had always voted Tory but now weren't so sure. So it isn't all sweetness and light and I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere along the Tory road of the next couple of years the bubble begins to burst. As I have already pointed out, look on the Tory website, if you find a policy cunningly hidden in some dark corner, please let me know!

But, as ever, what this highlighted for me was our need as a party to be more disciplined, more organised and more evangelistic. Now being as discipline and organisation could not be seen to be my strong points.......I am one of those who needs help in this department!

Where we have lost ground it has often been as a result of internal squabbles, poor candidates who sometimes also get elected (!) very local issues and poor organisation at a local level. Complacency (often a complaint levelled at the Labour Party in their heartlands) can sometimes be a problem for us too. Councillors who are trying to get their long service award, "60 years if it kills me!" unable and unwilling to encourage and nurture new talent. Any organisation that doesn't develop will die, as the saying goes, change is the only sign of life.

So, my verdict? It was OK. Even if we had lost a few more seats it would still have been OK. To use my done to death Risk metaphor. It's no good trying to take over the world all in one go, especially with a miniscule army! We need to consolidate. Nick Clegg needs more time to find his feet. We need to do what he urged at hustings across the land last year, namely become a truly radical anti-establishment party and that means taking risks and in some cases losing ground to gain in the long run. After all, we are all in it to win it aren't we?

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster...........

Well, maybe not quite either, but it does seem it is going to be a mixed night for us. Given that this is the first year in living memory (well my living memory since I came to Bedford 17 years ago!) that we haven't had an election here, it has been interesting for me to have the luxury of getting out into the region.

One thing I have learned is that you don't get flogged quite so hard in other areas as wot u do in Bedford! Our taskmasters have us up at 5am with not so much as a bowl of I was relieved to learn that I didn't need to get to St Albans until 7.30. This worked well, as it broke my journey to Southend, where I learned they do not have to knock up until 2 minutes before the close of poll!

I am disappointed that we didn't make any gains in Brentwood.They have a young and enthusiastic team and deserve to do well. I am convinced they will do so in the future. But thrilled to hear the news from Southend, winning 2 seats in spite of their laid back approach to knocking up til close of poll.......(only teasing!)

So now anxiously waiting to see what happens elsewhere across the region.

HELP.....How do I do this?!

I am just back from Southend - with a dilemma. I can listen to the radio and blog. I can listen to the radio and watch the telly. I can't watch the telly and blog. What am I to do???? More by luck than judgement I just caught the bloggers spot and thought Alix was a star, certainly a rose between two thorns.......but, short of carting up the telly from downstairs I am stuffed. Any ideas?