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Monday, 24 October 2016

Leaving the Liberal Democrats

I could make this a longer piece, but I'm not going to. My Liberal Democrat party membership lapsed last month, at the end of a period in which my party had bombarded me with increasingly manic emails from the Reader's Digest playbook, saying how much the Lib Dems have "loved having me in our family", or ghastly words to that effect. To paraphrase Boston Legal, "It's not a family; it's a political party".

They say that the family that plays together, stays together, but - in Lib Dem terms - I'm not playing any more. To be a member of a political party is to proclaim that party as one's positive favourite among them all, and that is not how I feel about the Liberal Democrats (or any other party) at present. Are they even the party with which I disagree the least? Maybe. But I'm not sure.

There are many fine people in the Liberal Democrats; to paraphrase Danny Kaye (the actor, not Jacqueline's brother), "Some of my best parents are Liberal Democrats". I am proud to have campaigned as a Liberal Democrat candidate and am also proud of the record of the Coalition Government, which - thanks to Nick Clegg - was the best British government of my lifetime. I am filled with respect for my Lib Dem friends and I do think that Tim Farron is doing his best in appallingly difficult circumstances.

I promised brevity, so I shall get to the point: the final straw. It came some weeks ago, since when other straws have accumulated, but I am now about to clutch at the straw that I originally had in mind. It was, not to beat about the bush, this: It beggars belief that a person accused of sharing an article about "Jewish power" should be defended on the following grounds:

"Having reviewed your complaint, our view is that an opinion can be controversial – and even offensive – but still fall short of being racist.

"We are a liberal party that places immense value on freedom of speech…That includes the freedom to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments and the causal effects of their policies… Any desire not to offend also needs to be balanced against the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments."

Yet it is in such grounds that one of the Lib Dems' innumerable committees has defended a party member (who sits in Parliament) who has been accused of sharing such an article. Talk of "Jewish power" has nothing at all to do with "the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments". Any committee that does not understand this lacks the intellectual rigour, nous and sensitivity to do its job properly. There is no point trying to use such committees to achieve anything constructive. They are dancing round the mulberry bush in ever-decreasing circles.

This committee demonstrates the sort of muddled thinking that sadly got the Liberal Democrats where they are today. They can, of course, do what they like - but they can do it without me. Although it now turns out that I have a month after my membership lapses in which I can renew it after all - surely rendering my (former) party a cross between the Hotel California and the Village in The Prisoner - I shall not be doing so.

I write here in a personal capacity.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

My vote tomorrow

Do you like living in this country? I do. It's where I'm from, and I like it. Not that I couldn't quite happily live in many other countries and like them too, but the UK is a technologically advanced liberal democracy with a dynamic economy, strong public services and incredible arts, culture and restaurants.

Unlike those people (on the Left and on the Right) who I used to meet when knocking on doors politically who thought that the country had gone to the dogs and who automatically assumed that I agreed with them, I actually like some aspects of the modern world. They make me happy. I like the choice of wines in my supermarket, the variety of series on my TV and the EHIC in my wallet.

I look at those and other things and see that they have been achieved by the UK as a member of the EU, which has a single market that was actually designed on British lines by the Tory Lord Cockfield, and signed into UK law by Margaret Thatcher in the Single European Act. I have yet to be exposed to a single argument that has persuaded me that our country would be better off outside the EU and outside the single market - and, by the way, we'll still be "in Europe" if we leave the EU. A referendum can't alter geography. It's not about "leaving Europe", it's about potentially leaving the EU (and we'd still be in the Council of Europe - and still subject to the European Court of Human Rights - even if we left the EU).

I don't want to leave the EU. Just as I don't want to leave NATO, the Commonwealth or the UN, either. We gain immeasurably from being in these transnational bodies. So, every Commonwealth citizen living in the UK gets to vote in our elections. That's crazy, but it's not enough to make me want to leave. So, NATO's commanders can order British troops around without consulting our government, which is why France stayed out of full NATO membership. That infringes our sovereignty, but I still want to be in NATO. The UN Human Rights Council is ruled by human rights abusers, but I don't seriously want us to leave the UN. The UK has an unelected house of Parliament, which is an affront to our democracy, but I don't want London to leave the UK.

Don't believe half of what you hear about the EU. It's not true that its books haven't been audited. It is true that it has a lower level of corruption than do many other institutions, including many British institutions. It is no more true that all 500 million EU citizens are going to move to Britain than it is true that all 60 million British citizens are going to move to London. Millions of EU citizens live in the UK. More than a million UK citizens live elsewhere in the EU. That's part of having a successful, open market economy. People from other EU countries who live in the UK pay more in taxes than they take in benefits, etc. I have not in any way been personally inconvenienced by immigration from elsewhere in the EU. I have not been personally affected by a single EU regulation that has caused me any problems. Can you name one that has actually affected you? So I see no reason for the UK to leave the EU. I shall vote Remain.

When the Leave campaign suggested Albania's free trade deal with the EU as a model for the UK, that country's leader wrote an article in The Times saying: "You must be joking. We're trying to get into the EU. Our arrangement is terrible compared to yours." The EU and its single market, bringing together so many countries to trade together without tariffs, is a wonder of the modern world. We have more clout as a major member of this economic superpower than we ever would alone. We are part of the group known informally as EU5 (us, France, Spain, Germany and Italy), the major countries that, in reality, set the pace on EU decision-making. It would be lunacy to throw this away for no good reason, causing short-term economic chaos and political disruption that would paralyse the system (and don't say I didn't warn you if you vote Leave and this happens).

Yes, we would presumably flourish in the long term either in the EU or out of it, but I want us to be a civilised European country that values something other than the bottom dollar, rather than the harsh, Devil-take-the-hindmost countries that some among the Brexiteers want us to be.

I don't care, by the way, that my taxes are used to fund EU-wide projects that benefit people outside the UK. That is a price worth paying to make the whole thing work for countries including ours, and given how economically successful we have been in the EU, I am happy for my taxes to be spent in this way.

I write here in a personal capacity.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

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

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

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A petition for all Lib Dems to sign


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

Amnesty International logo

Dear Matthew

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

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

Please forward this email to a friend

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

Please share this action on Facebook and Twitter. Facebook Twitter

Amnesty International
International Secretariat

1 Easton Street
London, WC1X 0DW
United Kingdom

Copyright © 2015 Amnesty International, All rights reserved.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Nick Clegg's Chanukah Reception

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

Saturday, 20 December 2014

I love the BBC, but...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 31 October 2014

A hopeful Lib Dem speech on Israel/Palestine

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