Tuesday, 22 December 2015

What Liberal Democrat members believe the party stands for

The Federal Policy Committee of the Liberal Democrat party recently ran an essay competition as part of its Agenda 2020 exercise. The competition closed in November. A total of sixty entries was received. Duncan Brack, for the FPC, wrote:
we’d like to put on record our thanks to all those who wrote them. Their standard was generally very high. Unsurprisingly, most chose ‘freedom’ as the focus of their essay, but how they defined ‘freedom’ varied quite considerably. Some described it conceptually, some used concrete examples, some stressed more what we are against than what we are for.

A final shortlist of nine will be voted on by members who respond to an invitation to the entire party in the New Year. More details here.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Blogging will be light

... in the run up to Christmas. I hope my reader is not too stressed out before the festivities begin.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Fair votes (continued)

Jonathan Reynolds (Labour, Stalybridge and Hyde) introduced a ten-minute rule bill in Parliament yesterday with the aim of extending the additional member system, with which we are familiar in Wales, to Westminster elections. He drew attention to the inequitable representation of the parties in the House as a result of the 2015 general election. Usually these Bills are allowed to go forward in the knowledge that there will not be parliamentary time to consider them further, but the reactionaries in the Commons made the point of voting it down by 164 to 27. Their ignorance was personified by Jim Spellar, responding to the motion, who seemed unaware of the differences between the alternative vote system voted down in a referendum in 2010 (which would anyway have made little difference to political balance in 2015), the FPTP run-off system of elections in France and the current proposals. The progressive 27 were:

Allen, Mr Graham (Lab)
Barron, rh Kevin (Lab)
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben (Lab)
Brake, rh Tom (LD)
Burden, Richard (Lab)
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair (LD)
Carswell, Mr Douglas (UKIP)
Creasy, Stella (Lab)
Cruddas, Jon (Lab)
Davies, Geraint (Lab)
Dowd, Jim (Lab)
Durkan, Mark (SDLP)
Edwards, Jonathan (Plaid Cymru)
Flynn, Paul (Lab)
Hodge, rh Dame Margaret (Lab)
Lamb, rh Norman (LD)
Lucas, Caroline (Green)
Mactaggart, rh Fiona (Lab)
Mulholland, Greg (LD)
Reynolds, Jonathan (Lab)
Ritchie, Ms Margaret (SDLP)
Saville Roberts, Liz (Plaid Cymru)
Smith, rh Mr Andrew (Lab)
Streeting, Wes (Lab)
Twigg, Stephen (Lab)
Umunna, Mr Chuka (Lab)
Williams, Mr Mark (LD)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Negotiation beats grandstanding

The prime minister continues to claim that he single-handedly cut the EU budget. My recollection is that at the time in 2012/2013 he gained headlines by charging in and put in jeopardy cuts which had already been negotiated in the European Parliament. Liberals in the EP had consistently argued for cuts or at worst a standstill, only to be blocked by socialists who wanted to increase the capacity of the gravy-boat. In early 2013, rationality prevailed only for David Cameron to claim the credit.
In 2012, Liberal Democrat Voice reported on the results of an independent opinion poll:

A new survey by European news portal Euractiv has ranked Sharon Bowles MEP as the most influential Brit in EU policy-making, eight places ahead of David Cameron and thirty-three above Nigel Farage. TheUK40survey also features Lib Dem MEPs Andrew Duff and Sir Graham Watson in the top sixteen. National politicians such as Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg make the top twenty, but often lose out in the ranking to less well known Brits in the EU institutions.


What has changed of late is the ability of the British government and national politicians to influence EU policy, one of the clearest conclusions in this ranking. David Cameron's grandstanding over the EU budget and Nigel Farage's phoney crusade to throw off an imaginary European yoke cut little ice in the real world of EU policy-making. Sir Stephen Wall, Britain's former ambassador to the EU, put it succinctly: "Carrying on about Europe is not the same as carrying influence in Europe."
The real way to influence the EU, from financial services to fisheries reform, is to engage constructively and work hard from within - something which most of our MEPs and officials quietly do day in, day out. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Disappearing public art

English Heritage is on a quest to find publicly-funded sculpture which has been removed and not replaced for various reasons. The usual story is that art-works have been created or donated to decorate a public space which has since been redeveloped, so that the statue or whatever has to be put into storage. Rarely, if the statue is of bronze or other metal of intrinsic value, it has been stolen in order to melt down.

Some might wish the latter fate on the statue of Howel Gwyn in Neath's Victoria Gardens (see correspondence in the Ferret) but instead it has been cleaned. However, Neath stands to lose another work of public art if the county borough is not vigilant. Just over fifty years ago, BP presented the town with a metal statue representing a crystal lattice. In the reorganisation before last, I think it was, the statue was displaced and put into storage. Keith Davies and I, then county borough councillors, were assured in 2009 by the officer in charge of Neath Port Talbot's estate that it was still there. We await confirmation that it will feature in the completed Neath town centre redevelopment, as a reminder of what prosperity the now-departed BP brought to the region.

There have been some famous rescues in south Wales. The romance of Old Nick's adornment of Swansea Market has been extensively documented. More typical is the story of the aluminium sculpture by Peter Nicholas, representing a flight of gulls, which was put up when the terminal building of Cardiff airport was first built near the village of Rhoose. When the terminal was expanded and moved to the other side of the airfield, ignorant demolition contractors threw the art-work into a skip. I am fairly certain that the sculpture was recovered, renovated and reinstalled in the new terminal, but it is practically impossible to find a reference on the Web.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Government's spin on Shaker Aamer fails to convince

The government's PR department was swift to rebut Shaker Aamer's assertion that not only was he tortured when in the hands of the United States, but also that his treatment was witnessed by a British official. In a statement to the BBC the government said it "stands firmly against torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment".

However, in its bid for our re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, Philip Hammond's Foreign Office is not quite so firmly against torture - or judicial homicide, for that matter - as Chris Green's article in last Friday's Indy explains. There was an earlier indication from the FO that it put trade above human rights concerns. One wonders whether the Cameron/May Bill of Rights which they intend to replace the Human Rights Act will contain some weasel words permitting the use of torture in the defence of the realm.

See also http://www.alexsarchives.org/2015/12/executive-unchecked/ for yet more on the executive removing rights.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Propitious thirteenth

One hundred and fifty years ago,the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was declared to be in effect. De jure, slavery was abolished in the US.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Refugee goals in perspective

Contrary to the impression which UKIP and their more reactionary cousins seek to create, the United Kingdom is not the most sought destination of refugees to the EU. It is not even the second or third but the eighth, ranking between Belgium and the Netherlands. As the graphic shows, by far the most refugees seek sanctuary in Germany, Sweden coming third. The high showing of Hungary reflects the fact that it is the first EU nation which many refugees strike, and stands in contrast to that nation's decidedly regressive attitude to asylum applications.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Political blogs

At the risk of upsetting my more partisan colleagues, I should like to place on record my appreciation of the blog by Neath MP Christina Rees. To my mind, it is just what a representative's report to her constituents should be, mixing local activities with explanations of what is going on in Westminster. It is also a contrast to those of most MPs who believe they are in safe seats and take their constituents for granted, using any Web presence for no more than an occasional blast of party propaganda. I would put her predecessor's blog in that category. Ms Rees's explanation of her vote in the Syria debate is here.

The most assiduous Westminster blogger is probably John Redwood, who posts practically every day, more often than not several times a day. Some might point to self-obsessiveness, but he does also address his constituents' concerns.

As a class, though, Liberal Democrats are models of communication through on-line media, as befits the heirs of Paddy Ashdown, the first member to bring personal computing in to the Palace of Westminster. Although we have lost so many through the general election bought by the Conservatives earlier this year (Stephen Williams and Stephen Lloyd were among my favourites), we still have in Wales the long-running (possibly the longest running?) political blog by Peter Black.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Lord Lawson: let's see the evidence

Much as I would like to skewer Nigel Lawson with evidence of financial interests dictating his public contesting of the scientific evidence for climate change, Wednesday's cover story in the Independent does not provide it. All it shows is that one of the advisers to Lord Lawson's Global Warming Policy Foundation is prepared to write for money independently of his academic post, and that much of the GWPF's funding comes from people who also contribute to the Conservative Party.

Indeed, it is difficult to find any financial ties binding the GWPF board of trustees. Peter Lilley MP has held a directorship in a small player in the energy field, Tethys Petroleum and is an unpaid director of Facor Energy Ltd, a Guernsey company which does not yet trade; Lord Donoughue has shares in Canadian Western Bank NPV, which judging by its home location is used by companies exploiting the Dominions tar sands; and Sir Martin Jacomb was twenty years ago chairman of Barclays Bank which was more recently helped out by the Qataris. It is all rather tenuous.

The advisers comprise well-known climate change sceptics - perhaps the only scientists who are? - but surely it is only natural for a foundation which starts from a sceptical point of view to commission advice from like-minded experts. Of course, if it could be shown that GWPF actually generates income from its advisers, it would be a different matter, but the article does not even claim this.

Of course, there may be personal and informal contacts between the GWPF founders and the fossil fuel industry. If there are, we would expect investigative journalists to winkle them out, not present a brittle chain of innuendo.

A remnant of sexist language?

In this article profiling Tom Stoppard and the revival of his spy thriller play Hapgood, one sentence brought me up short. In previous times, "he has four sons by his two previous wives, Josie Ingle and Miriam Stern" would have been unexceptionable. Now that simple preposition "by" rather than "with", jars. There is a faint implication of women as carriers of the blood-line - almost like the horse-breeding usage "out of".

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Cruz v Trump in the outrage stakes

In the United States, senator Ted Cruz and speculative developer Donald Trump seem to be trying to outdo each other in a race to make the most outrageous statement by a Republican figure. Since neither is likely to be nominated as their party's presidential contender, as either one would be swept away by any of the Democrat favourites, we on this side of the Atlantic can laugh at the performances. The laughter might be a little uncomfortable, though: rather like enjoying a set by Bernard Manning.

So far Cruz is winning. In the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, in response to president Obama's measured address to the nation during which he again asked for gun laws to be looked at, Cruz said:
You don't stop the bad guys by taking away our guns. You stop the bad guys by using our guns.

Trump tried to outdo him in religious bigotry. The New York Times reported:
Donald J. Trump called on Monday for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric aimed at voters’ fears about members of the Islamic faith.

But Cruz had been almost as forthright:
If my father were part of a theocratic and political movement like radical Islamism that promotes murdering anyone who doesn’t share your extreme faith or forcibly converting them, then [his anti-immigration stance makes] perfect sense.
though talk-show host Seth Meyers had this great counter.

There have been earlier pearls of wisdom from Donald Trump:
  • on global warming; The concept of global warming was invented by and for the Chinese in order to make the United States uncompetitive;
  • On his doubts over Barack Obama's birthplace: Three weeks ago...I thought he was probably born in this country. Right now, I have some real doubts. (Trump still professes to be unconvinced that Obama is a Christian.)
  • On Mexican immigrants: They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists, and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards, and they're telling us what we're getting.
Perhaps Cruz does not have that range, but in his zealous campaign against any form of national health service in his homeland, he branded those who accepted the inevitability of Obamacare as appeasers in the Neville Chamberlain mode.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The good and bad of Aruba

Aruba, a self-governing Netherlands dependency off the coast of Venezuela, has a reputation as an offshore banking centre, but according to a report today it is on target to be self-sufficient in energy by 2020.  It is also on the way to paying off the loans necessary for the construction of the green infrastructure.

Monday, 7 December 2015

What's wrong at the Liberty?

Not the relationship between manager and players, it seems. Local reporters say that Garry Monk has not "lost the dressing-room" of Swansea City. However, he needs to impress upon his players, who were lacklustre against Leicester City on Saturday, that every league match is like a cup-tie from now until safety is ensured. He clearly does not have the abrasive style of a Ferguson to frighten his team out of their complacency so he will have to call on other qualities of persuasion.

I believe part of the trouble lies with the board in not giving the manager and team something to aim for in the current season. Having set their faces against participating in European competition, they needed to give Monk an alternative worthwhile target. (Breaking Cardiff's record of eight consecutive seasons in the top division would be a start!) Added to the aimlessness was complacency bred by early successes against fancied sides. Now the problem is to avoid a spiral of despondency.

I am glad that Moyes has ruled himself out as a replacement candidate. His management style did not work when Manchester United were in difficulties. If the Swans get into real danger - and I think they are not there yet - then an obvious candidate to guarantee safety would be Nigel Pearson.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Antarctic ice

One cannot criticise UKIP's Jane Collins on Any Questions? for raising the recent extension of Antarctic sea ice as an argument against most reasonable people's perception of global warming. Since the late 1970s, the Antarctic ice cover has increased by about 1% according to that NASA research.

However, those data should not be read in isolation. At the same time, Antarctic ice shelves have been shrinking and glaciers have been flowing faster. The latter process appears to this non-scientist to be a likely contributor to the increase in sea ice, so that the length and breadth of ice cover may be increasing, but the depth and therefore the volume and therefore the volume are probably decreasing. This article summarises the relevant reports and predicts the malign effects.

The Williams diaries

The Indy is making a big thing out of the rudery in Kenneth Williams' diaries, shortly to go on exhibition at the British Library. This is hardly news. It would be easier to name the people not on the wrong end of a Williams insult. I know of only two: the late Hugh Paddick, whom it seems everybody loved, and Maggie Smith, happily still with us, the one woman Williams admired.

And surely it is justifiable to criticise the longueurs in the work of David Lean.

Friday, 4 December 2015

A welcome Liberal win

I have just read in the latest Liberal International newsletter (needless to say the good news did not rate a mention on BBC or even al-Jazeera) of success for Egypt's LI affiliate in the recent elections there:

Egyptian liberals emerge as the largest party in parliament
Thursday 3 December 2015 13:12

LI full member Free Egyptians Party (FEP) emerged as the winner of the elections for the House of Representatives in Egypt. With the announcement of the results of both rounds of a complicated parliamentary vote* the Egyptian liberals will have the largest parliamentary group with total of 65 seats.
Besides becoming the largest parliamentary group, the FEP leader Dr. Issam Khalil announced that the party has won a majority of votes in the national capital Cairo. Underling that in the new parliament the FEP will be represented by many young people and extraordinary women, the party leader added “We have women like Mona Jaballah, and Inas Abdel Halim, and they are among the final number of Egyptian Liberals who entered in the parliament in the second round with 21 individual seats and 3 on the party list, in addition to 36 individual seats and 5 on the list in the first stage.”

Dr. Khalil congratulated the new Honourable members of House of Representatives who were successful whether from the FEP, from other parties, or as independents, stressing that “it is noticeable that the [Egyptian] people chose young men and women in addition to the new faces that will be present in parliament… This is what we expected,” said Dr. Khalil.

The leader of the Free Egyptians addressed the party members saying: "Congratulations to the Egyptian Liberal Party. We wish good luck to our parliamentarians who will work hard always being optimistic and always thinking of the future.”

Now, stop me making the rest of my speech, Mr Gove

The draconian criminal courts charge was one subject of a motion against pricing poorer people out of justice, which for one reason or another was prevented from being put to a Liberal Democrat conference in October. A revised version has been put together and will be submitted by Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats to the federal conference in York next spring. While discussing how to polish the motion with some Liberal Democrat lawyers in Bournemouth, I came out with the old chestnut that "the doors of the English courts are always open, like those of the Café Royal" which was swiftly topped by Graham Colley to the effect that now one was liable to be mugged, dragged inside and forced to pay £5 for a cup of coffee. Well, now neither of us will be able to crack that joke from the podium in York because Michael Gove has shown more sense than his predecessor and announced that the charge will go from Christmas Eve. One hopes that it is not too late to bring back into the fold those magistrates who resigned rather than enforce the iniquitous charge.

That still leaves the cuts to the legal aid system, started by the Blair-Brown government, aggravated, regrettably, by the coalition and continued by the new Conservative administration. Progressive lawyers have lobbied the department of justice with proposals to streamline the administration of courts. These savings would go a long way to restoring the cuts which bear down heavily on those with low incomes who find themselves on the wrong end of civil action through no fault of their own. Nor is it only the poorest who suffer, as this example shows. Restoration of these cuts forms the largest part of the Aberavon and Neath motion. It would be great if it could be withdrawn as being overtaken by events, even though that would prevent my federal speaking debut.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A dramatic debate

Yesterday's day-night event in the Commons on the extension of UK action on Syria was the most dramatic since the great Falklands debate nearly a generation ago. If the standard of speeches did not quite hit the heights of that occasion, it is because there were still giants of oratory around then. There were some good speeches yesterday, especially those against the government motion. As one who was broadly in favour, following most Liberal Democrat MPs (though in a minority among local members, it seems), I was disappointed in the quality of argument on the "pro" side. It was as if, knowing that the resolution was in the bag thanks to the assiduousness of government whips, the supporters felt that no great effort was needed. "Pro" speeches were high on emotion but generally did not address the serious arguments against. I would except those made by members of the TA and former members of the armed forces, who could speak from experience of counter-terrorist action. To be fair, there were speakers against the motion from those groups, too. Indeed, it was noticeable that sentiment for and against cut across interest groups as well as party lines. In particular, some of those strongly in favour of Trident renewal were among the signatories to the major amendment aiming to negate the government's motion.

Those who see the resolution as more than a quantum leap and as carte blanche for a military adventure on the lines of the Bush-Blair Iraq invasion should read the terms of the whole motion. In particular, it stresses the compliance with United Nations resolution 2249, determining that:

ISIL [DAESH] constitutes an 'unprecedented threat to international peace and security' and calls on states to take 'all necessary measures' to prevent terrorist acts by ISIL and to 'eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria';

It further

notes that military action against ISIL is only one component of a broader strategy to bring peace and stability to Syria; welcomes the renewed impetus behind the Vienna talks on a ceasefire and political settlement; welcomes the Government's continuing commitment to providing humanitarian support to Syrian refugees; underlines the importance of planning for post-conflict stabilisation and reconstruction in Syria; welcomes the Government’s continued determination to cut ISIL’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons; notes the requests from France, the US and regional allies for UK military assistance; acknowledges the importance of seeking to avoid civilian casualties, using the UK’s particular capabilities; notes the Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; welcomes the Government's commitment to provide quarterly progress reports to the House; and accordingly supports Her Majesty's Government in taking military action, specifically airstrikes, exclusively against ISIL in Syria; and offers its wholehearted support to Her Majesty's Armed Forces.

I agree that the supposed liberal army of 70,000 souls (based on a figure provided by the Saudis, apparently) who will sweep in to follow our air strikes is largely illusory. I also question the assertion that Daesh is uniquely a threat to citizens on the streets of Britain and that "cutting off the head of the snake" will remove that threat. It seems to me that any well-organised and tech-savvy psychopath, based anywhere in the world, can mastermind an attack like that on Paris - which was carried out not by Syrians or Iraqis, it should be remembered, but by Belgian and French citizens. Nor was enough made of the need to constrict the economic lifelines to Daesh. But even if total elimination of Daesh will not be achieved by our military action, anything we can do to degrade the evil organisation is worthwhile.

The most realistic speech in my opinion was that by Yvette Cooper:

I do not believe that the Prime Minister has made the most effective case, and so I understand why many in this House feel that they are not yet convinced, but I also feel that I cannot say that the coalition airstrikes that are already under way in both Syria and Iraq should stop. If they are not going to stop, and France has asked for our help, I do not think that we can say no. I think that changes need to be made to the Government’s approach, and I will argue for them. I think that there are more limits in the approach they need to take, but I will also vote with the Government on the motion tonight, even though I recognise how difficult that is for so many of us.

The whole House, I think, agrees that we need a strategy that delivers peace and defeats ISIS/Daesh, but I disagree with any suggestion that this can be done as an ISIS-first, or Daesh-first, approach, because that simply will not work. In the end, we know that the Vienna process —the process to replace the Assad regime, which is dropping barrel bombs on so many innocent people across Syria — is crucial to preventing recruitment for ISIS. If we or the coalition are seen somehow to be siding with Assad or strengthening Assad, that will increase recruitment for Daesh as well.

I disagree with the suggestion that there are 70,000 troops who are going to step in and that the purpose of the airstrikes is to provide air cover for those troops to be able to take on and defeat Daesh, because that is not going to happen any time soon. We know that there are not such forces anywhere near Raqqa. We know too that those forces are divided. The airstrikes will not be part of an imminent decisive military campaign.

But I also disagree with those who say that instead of “ISIS first”, we should have “Vienna first”, and wait until the peace process is completed in order to take airstrike action against Daesh. I think the coalition airstrikes are still needed. We know that ISIS is not going to be part of the peace process: it will not negotiate; it is a death cult that glorifies suicide and slaughter. We know too that it has continuous ambitions to expand and continuous ambitions to attack us and attack our allies—to have terror threats not just in Paris, not just in Tunisia, but all over the world, anywhere that it gets the chance. It holds oil, territory and communications that it wants to use to expand. The coalition cannot simply stand back and give it free rein while we work on that vital peace process.

Coalition airstrikes already involve France, Turkey, Jordan, the US, Morocco, Bahrain and Australia. If we have evidence that communication networks are being used to plan attacks in Paris, Berlin, Brussels or London, can we really say that such coalition airstrikes should not take place to take out those communication networks? If we have evidence that supply routes are being used by this barbaric regime to plan to take over more territory and expand into a wider area, do we really think that coalition airstrikes should not take out those supply routes? If we think that coalition airstrikes should continue, can we really say no, when France, having gone through the terrible ordeal of Paris, says it wants our help in continuing the airstrikes now?

I have continually argued in this place and elsewhere for our country to do far more to share in the international support for refugees fleeing the conflict. I still think we should do much more, not just leave it to other countries. The argument about sanctuary also applies to security. I do not think that we can leave it to other countries to take the strain. I cannot ignore the advice from security experts that without coalition airstrikes over the next 12 months, the threat from Daesh — in the region, but also in Europe and in Britain — will be much greater.

I think we have to do our bit to contain the threat from Daesh: not to promise that we can defeat or overthrow it in the short term, because we cannot do so, but at least to contain it. It is also important to ensure we degrade its capacity to obliterate the remaining moderate and opposition forces, however big they may be. When the Vienna process gets moving properly, there must be some opposition forces; the peace debate cannot simply involve Assad and Daesh as the only forces left standing, because that will never bring peace and security to the region.

If we are to do our bit and to take the strain, we need more limited objectives than those the Prime Minister has set out—to act in self-defence and to support the peace process, but not just to create a vacuum for Assad to sweep into. That makes the imperative to avoid civilian casualties even greater. Where there is any risk that people are being used as human shields to cover targets, such airstrikes should not go ahead however important the targets. It makes the imperative of civilian protection even greater, but that is not mentioned in the Government’s motion. It should be the central objective not just for humanitarian reasons—to end the refugee crisis—but to prevent the recruitment that fuels ISIS.

I also think there should be time limits, because I do not support an open-ended commitment to airstrikes until Daesh is defeated—the Foreign Secretary raised that yesterday—because if it is not working in six months or if it proves counterproductive, we should be ready to review this, and we should also be ready to withdraw. We will need to review this. I think we should lend the Government support tonight and keep it under review, not give them an open-ended commitment that this should carry on whatever the consequences.

Finally, I say to the Government that I accept their argument that if we want coalition airstrikes on an international basis, we should be part of that, but I urge them to accept my argument that we should do more to be part of providing sanctuary for refugees fleeing the conflict. There are no easy answers, but I also say, in the interests of cohesion in our politics and in our country, that the way in which we conduct this debate is immensely important. However we vote tonight, none of us is a terrorist sympathiser and none of us will have blood on our hands. The blood has been drawn by ISIS/Daesh in Paris and across the world, and that is who we must stand against.

As anybody who has read previous entries on this blog will know, I do not feel that Assad and his generals have any more blood on their hands than representatives of repressive régimes who our prime minister has been glad-handing in recent months. However, even the Russians seem to have accepted that Assad's removal should be part of a post-conflict settlement, so I yield on this point too.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015


“Foreign military intervention can become part of the problem and not part of the solution,” Algeria's foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra told The Independent in a recent interview.“It increases the likelihood of having more terrorist activity and of having more destabilisation in the countries that are opposed to foreign intervention.”

As the Indy article explains, Mr Lamamra knows whereof he speaks. A career diplomat, he was for five years the African Union’s Commissioner for Peace and Security. “His attempts to push for a peaceful solution through dialogue in Libya in 2011 were, he felt, ignored by Nato powers intent on helping the rebels to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi by military force. 'Foreign intervention may have prevented the Libyans themselves from going into the kind of solution that the African Union was proposing at the time, which was a peaceful transition,' he said, adding that many armed groups had taken advantage of the chaos since the intervention.”

I contend that having created the anarchy in Libya of which al-Qa'ida and other terrorist groups have taken advantage, it is incumbent upon NATO and its allies to work, with other regional powers, to restore peace and stability. If that means breaking up Libya along traditional fault lines into Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, then so be it. The important thing is that a successor state or states should be economically viable and stable. This is not only for the sake of Libya's people but also to eliminate the threat to the one success story of the "Arab Spring", Tunisia.

It would also help Tunisia if EU and NATO nations kept their word over promised economic aid. This would enable Tunisia to keep her well-educated young people at home and working for the well-being of the democratic state. From the point of view of British citizens, a safe Tunisia would return to its position of a favoured holiday resort.


Just as it would have been right to keep out of Libya but, having interfered, western powers should finish the job, regrettably the same logic applies to Syria. If we had regarded the Assad regime as an unfortunate necessity, rather than a live enemy, Da'esh would not have gained the foothold it has. Da'esh has become a malevolent power, so I agree with Liberal Democrat MPs that the UK should add what support it can to anti-Da'esh forces. But the tactical initiatives must come from locals who know the ground. It is equally important to break the Da'esh economic lifeline. Moreover, we must look beyond military action to a future regional settlement, preferably under the auspices of the United Nations, even if it means redrawing boundaries. These were after all largely artificial, drawn up in secret by France and the United Kingdom in their own interests. It is appropriate that France and the UK are part of the current coalition, with the USA which has its own history of involvement in the unsatisfactory post-Great War settlement.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

BBC Welsh orchestra makes overdue breakthrough

Jessica Duchen has the story: Xian Zhang has been named principal guest conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. This is the first time ever that a conductor who happens to be female has been given a titled post with one of the BBC's five orchestras.

Now how about offering Jane Glover or Odaline de la Martinez* a post with the BBC nationally?

* or even one of the less high-profile people named by JD two years ago: http://jessicamusic.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/fanfare-for-uncommon-woman-conductor.html