Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Another event we forgot

Twenty years ago, there was a missile strike on Iraq. The target was Saddam's intelligence HQ, but there were as always civilian casualties. Among them was the artist Layla al-Attar and her husband.

It was not a gung-ho Republican who authorised the attack, but Democrat Bill Clinton in his first year of office.

The last pink triangle

Today is the one hundredth anniversary of Rudolf Brazda. Until his death in August 2011, he was a reminder that not only Jews, but also Jehovah's Witnesses, Roma and homosexuals had to be exterminated in order to create the master race under the Nazis' warped philosophy.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A grim anniversary

Today is the 250th anniversary of either a terrible accident or a shameful episode in the history of bacteriological warfare. Whether the British defenders of Fort Pitt deliberately infected Pontiac's besieging Indians with smallpox is still debated, but this account seems authoritative.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Tuition fees: a continuing misunderstanding

In a basically fair piece in today's Indy, Mary Dejevsky betrays a misapprehension about the tuition fees issue. She writes:

much of the criticism directed against this government has related not to any incoherence, but to the apparent closeness of the two party leaders and the sense that both have forgotten their party roots. The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has repeatedly come under such fire. It began when he dropped his election pledge not to abolish university tuition fees,

 Given the election arithmetic in 2010, it was never realistic to expect the student loans system to be abolished. Both Conservative and Labour parties went into the general election on manifestos including a continuation of the system. Indeed, Labour had commissioned a report which recommended removing a cap on tuition fees altogether. Liberal Democrats (plus Plaid and the Green Party) would have been outnumbered ten to one if the subject had come to the vote. No, where Nick and most of his fellow-ministers were to be criticised was in breaking a personal pledge (over and above the manifesto policy) to  vote against a rise in tuition fees, a pledge which most back-bench LibDems, including all the Welsh members, honoured.

She is right to point out that LibDems in government have power beyond their numbers and certainly more than Nick's predecessor, Charles Kennedy, had. The particular case she has in mind is armed intervention in the Middle East, but it is true of several other matters - such as civil liberties - too.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Inappropriate behaviour in political parties

So far, I have only skimmed Helena Morrissey's report (summary and link here) into our recent difficulties, but it seems to me that bad behaviour by some men towards women, taking advantage of their positions, is unlikely to be confined to Liberal Democrats. One trusts, however, that Ms Morrissey has little cause for complaint when she conducts her follow-up review in eighteen months time.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The RTZ connection

Guido has an accusatory posting about the business interests of Sir Robert Smith, the LibDem MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, who has taken on the interim chairmanship of the Commons Energy and Climate Change Select Committee. A new chairman has to be found because Sir Tim Yeo's conflicts of interest finally proved too much. (I don't suppose we have seen the last of Sir Tim; he has bounced back from scandal in the past.)

Sir Robert's declaration of business interests includes not only shares in Shell but also, I note, Rio Tinto Zinc stock. This continues an old Liberal connection. Former Liberal MP Frank Byers was a director of RTZ, and I have a vague recollection that Clement Davies, the party leader from the end of the war until Jo Grimond took over, was also a board member. Richard Holme (Lord Holme of Cheltenham) certainly was invited to join the board.

Tom Burke, who has been a parliamentary candidate for both the Liberal Democrats and before that the SDP, is Environmental Policy Advisor to Rio Tinto - and a contributor to The Green Book.

Are all these coincidences, or is there a chain going back to the mid-20th century here?

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Across the sectarian gap

In this month's "Oldie", Melanie McDonagh recalls an interview she conducted with George Galloway. It "ranged from teetotalism to quantitative easing" but touched on religion. This was partly because of "persistent rumours that he had converted to Islam. Anyway, he wasn't saying if was true. 'What I say in these cases is that I believe in God and try to follow God's law'." He refused to be more specific and in my view he had every right not to do so.

Jews and Christians have historically been intolerant of each other's view of the God of Abraham, but the prophet was more liberal and realistic in this respect. Muslims are enjoined to respect other "people of the book" (which makes the recent attacks on churches and synagogues in Iraq and Pakistan a crime against religion as well as the law).

This was in the back of my mind when I caught the heartwarming report on this morning's "Sunday" programme. A historic synagogue in Bradford, which had its heyday during the city's prosperity when virtually a tenth of its more prosperous citizens were Jewish, but is now suffering from dwindling congregations, has been saved by financial contributions from the present-day Muslim community. The rising entrepreneurs of the twenty-first century have come to the aid of the successors of those of the nineteenth and early twentieth. The touching conclusion to Kevin Bocquet's report was that, when the sole custodian of the synagogue needed to take time off, he handed the keys for safekeeping to his Muslim colleague.