Jun 102017
 

As usual, the speech by Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron at the National Liberal Club after the General Election received little media coverage. The full transcript (see Mark Pack’s blog) is well worth reading. Here is the last part of it:

Nick Clegg is a giant of British politics, a friend and a hero to me and to countless others. Not only did he lead our party into government for the first time in generations, he did so in the most difficult of circumstances and for the most noble of reasons.

Our party paid a political price for joining the coalition government, but it is nothing compared to the price our country would have paid if Nick had not shown the steel and determination to do the right thing when it was needed most.

In 2010 our economy was on the edge of a precipice. Because of Nick Clegg it survived and flourished.

Theresa May called this election expecting it to be a coronation. She took each and every one of us for granted in the most cynical way possible. Like David Cameron before her, our Conservative Prime Minister rolled the dice and put the future of our country at risk out of sheer arrogance and vanity.

And now in her diminished state, she reaches out to the right to form her own coalition of chaos. Theresa May has done the opposite of what Nick Clegg did. She put her party before her country. She has been found out. She should be ashamed.

We will now have a government that is weaker and less stable at a time when we are about to embark on the most difficult and complex negotiations in our history. Theresa May promised strong and stable leadership. She has brought weakness and uncertainty. If she has an ounce of self-respect she will resign.

The Tories have taken our country for granted too many times. Whatever happens in this coming parliament, the Liberal Democrats will fight for you, your family and for your community.

And if Theresa May, or any other Conservative, approaches the Liberal Democrats and asks for our support to deliver their agenda, let me make our position clear: no deal is better than a bad deal.

There will be no deals, no coalitions and no confidence and supply arrangements. If the Government puts a Queen’s Speech or a Budget in front of us, we will judge it on whether or not we think it is good for the country – and if it isn’t then we will not support it.

This parliament faces a challenge greater than any for generations – Brexit. And yet, both the Conservatives and Labour went to great lengths to make sure this election was about anything but.

Their plans were paper thin. Their ambitions built on little more than platitudes. Now they must lay their cards on the table. Brexit is about to get very real – and its consequences will be felt by every single person in this country.

One thing that is clear from the result of the election is that the mandate Theresa May sought for her extreme version of Brexit has been rejected by the British people. It is simply inconceivable that the Prime Minister can begin the Brexit negotiations in just two weeks’ time. She should consider her future – and then, for once, she should consider the future of our country. The negotiations should be put on hold until the government has reassessed its priorities and set them out to the British public. The British people have a right to expect that our Prime Minister will explain to them what it is that she seeks to achieve.

Meanwhile, the negotiations had been due to begin on 19 June – the same day as the Queen’s Speech, in theory. This seems to be unlikely now.

Speaking on German radio, Commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the EU stands ready for Brexit talks, “but the next few hours or days will indicate if the other negotiating party can even begin talks because without a government, there can be no negotiations.”

Theresa May’s speech after returning from sharing her intention to try to form a Government with the Queen was as delusional as the promises of the Leave campaigners. Shortly after saying that she would be staying in power with the help of the 10 DUP MPs, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that they would enter talks to explore ‘how to bring stability to our nation’. Earlier in the morning, she had said that it would be difficult for Theresa May to continue as Prime Minister.

Since then, the world has been trying to work out what the DUP stands for. This is perhaps the most authentic analysis. In particular, “The DUP’s key concern is the effect of Brexit on the Irish border. Although the party is very pro-Brexit, they none the less want to allow travel and trade between the two parts of Ireland to continue unimpeded.

On 29 March 2017, Theresa May set the 2-year clock ticking on negotiating the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. It would have been less risky to have done so after having had a General Election but she decided to do it the other way around.

Ironically, the 27 other EU Member States are now more united and in a stronger negotiating position than the UK Government. Moreover, they have already put all their cards on the table (based on the broad intentions stated by Theresa May). The General Election result was a clear rejection of the ‘hard Brexit’ she had proposed.

Even with an agreement with the DUP, the Conservatives would have a tiny majority in Parliament. The chances of getting anything like a ‘Great Repeal Bill’ through Parliament as Theresa May had been proposing would seem to be remote. We should be grateful to Gina Miller’s Best for Britain campaign for contributing to preventing a Tory landslide. The question now is what all these pro-EU MPs should do.

Various things are on the horizon now for the Conservatives.

Having announced a deal with the DUP before she had actually negotiated it, Theresa May is now almost obliged to promise them whatever they ask for – including staying within the EU Customs Union to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. It is a poor negotiation strategy – one we should hope will not be applied in negotiations with the EU.

Some in Theresa May’s party already seem to be preparing to replace her. With all this going on, not to mention the possibility of another General Election after summer, it does not seem useful to start negotiating with the EU27. With the SNP, Lib Dems and Greens in Parliament all against Brexit, if they are joined by pro-EU Tories on a vote-by-vote basis, mathematically, the only way in which Brexit could happen is if Labour formed an alliance with the Tories.

Meanwhile, the Article 50 clock continues to tick. As long as a new Government is not formed, the Brexit negotiations will need to wait. And perhaps that could be an indefinite wait, in the absence of a strong and stable Government.

Let's make June the end of May

Jun 052017
 

In my previous post, I asked whether controlling immigration would make the UK and better, safer place.

The other belief stirred by certain UK politicians and media is that controlling immigration from the EU would reduce the risk of terrorism. Really? 52-year-old Khalid Masood, who carried out the Westminster Bridge attack in March, was born in Kent. 23-year-old Salman Abedi, the suicide bomber who attacked the Manchester Arena last weekend, was born in Manchester. Both had been reported to the security services for their beliefs. This analysis illustrates how Salman Abedi fitted the profile of other terrorists.

In the wake of Saturday night’s London Bridge attack, Theresa May said yesterday that “terrorism breeds terrorism“. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that extremism breeds extremism.

Most of us cannot imagine how anyone could attack fellow human beings with vans, knives or bombs. However, in Tagore’s Nationalism in the West speech a hundred years ago, he noted that:

When we are fully human, we cannot fly at one another’s throats; our instincts of social life, our traditions of moral ideals stand in the way. If you want me to take to butchering human beings, you must break up that wholeness of my humanity through some discipline which makes my will dead, my thoughts numb, my movements automatic, and then from the dissolution of the complex personal man will come out that abstraction, that destructive force, which has no relation to human truth, and therefore can be easily brutal or mechanical.

Take away man from his natural surroundings, from the fullness of his communal life, with all its living associations of beauty and love and social obligations, and you will be able to turn him into so many fragments of a machine for the production of wealth on a gigantic scale. Turn a tree into a log and it will burn for you, but it will never bear living flowers and fruit. This process of dehumanising has been going on in commerce and politics.

It seems to be time to ‘follow the money’ on this issue. Last week, Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary, called on Theresa May to publish a report into the foreign funding of extremism in the UK. He reminded her that Saudi Arabia “provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, often espousing a hard-line version of Islam”.

Tom Brake, Liberal Democrat Shadow Foreign Secretary

He said, “The Conservatives have broken their pledge to investigate funding of violent Islamist groups in the UK, seemingly because they were worried about upsetting their dodgy allies in the Middle East.” Home Secretary Amber Rudd had said during last week’s Leaders’ Debate that arms sales to Saudi Arabia were good for industry.

Tom Brake added, “This short-sighted approach needs to change. It is critical that these extreme, hardline views are confronted head on, and that those who fund them are called out publicly.

“If the Conservatives are serious about stopping terrorism on our shores, they must stop stalling and reopen investigations into foreign funding of violent extremism in the UK.”

After the Brussels attacks just over a year ago, our friend Leo Cendrowicz investigated in this article for the Independent how Saudi Arabia’s influence and a deal to get oil contracts sowed seeds of radicalism in Belgium. According to Belgian opposition politician George Dallemagne, Salafist clerics at the Great Mosque of Brussels have tried to undermine attempts by Moroccan immigrants to integrate into Belgium.

“We like to think Saudi Arabia is an ally and friend, but the Saudis are always engaged in double-talk: they want an alliance with the West when it comes to fighting Shias in Iran, but nonetheless have a conquering ideology when it comes to their religion in the rest of the world,” he said.

Mr Dallemagne has sponsored many resolutions in the Belgian parliament aimed at loosening ties with Saudi Arabia, and reducing the Salafist influence in Belgium. “We can’t have a dialogue with countries that want to destabilise us,” he says. “The problem is that it is only recently that authorities are finally opening their eyes to this.”

As Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pointed out, Theresa May rejected warnings from the police that cutting police numbers would increase the risk of terrorist attacks and that her Prevent anti-terrorism community engagement strategy is not trusted. And, of course, when all else has failed, the superficially easy solution is to propose to control the internet.

To return to Tagore’s Shyama, with which I ended in my previous post, after Shyama hears why Bojroshen has been imprisoned, the Companions sing about the oppression of the innocent:

The locking up of the good at the hands of the cruel – who will stop it? Who?
The flow of tears from helpless, distressed eyes – who will wipe them away? Who?
The cries of distressed people sadden Mother Earth.
The attacks of injustice are poisoned arrows –
Under persecution from the strong, who will save the weak?
Whose generosity will call those who have been insulted into his embrace?

Jun 012017
 

Andrew Neil “interviews” Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron

With Brexit-vision, intolerance seems to have become the ‘new normal’. Take, for example, the so-called “interview” of Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron this evening by Andrew Neil. You can read the full transcript on the Spectator blog (remembering that Andrew Neil is the chairman of the Spectator, among other things).

There was a time when interviewers used to ask questions and listened to the reply before following it up. If the reply was drifting away from the question, of course, the interviewer should intervene. Maybe Newnight’s Jeremy Paxman was the first to develop this more aggressive TV interviewing style. Even so, if the interviewer does more talking than the interviewee, maybe it ceases to be an interview?

It seems that Brexit-vision has led to the phenomenon that Tagore described in his speech Nationalism in the West: “the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anaesthetics that man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, – in fact feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out.”

Meanwhile, after hiding behind her settee last night, Theresa May emerged to present her Brexit-vision, as did Jeremy Corbyn. Considering that neither of them have a plan for Brexit or indeed any vision which acknowledges the real impact of Brexit, their ability to waffle as if life for British people will continue as normal is impressive. The BBC perceived a “clash” but the difference between their policies is fairly marginal, especially since both are playing to the now fashionably intolerant Brexiteer voters. The “clash” was rather that they just hurl personal abuse at each other – in the truly constructive tradition of Labour and Conservative politicians.

Theresa May also avoided journalists’ questions.

Of course, many on social media were asking  “where’s Theresa” yesterday evening. After Tim Farron picked up on this during yesterday evening’s debate, he asked the audience “Where do you think Theresa May is? She might be outside your house sizing it up to pay for your social care.” Labour student Christopher Knott and his friend Christian Calgie, a Conservative supporter, decided to check that she wasn’t on their doorstep.

Even the official Twitter account of the US TV series House of Cards joined in:

Of course, the US House of Cards has been struggling lately to present its viewers with something even more scary than the actions of the real US President.

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