Letter from Bassetlaw – April 17th 2016

160414-002Well, this has been an exciting week!  A cameo appearance in Question Time (just before 15 minutes) and then taking part in an EU Referendum debate across in Dronfield.

 

Appearing on Question Time was very interesting.  I have been in the audience for the original radio version, Any Questions, a couple of times and the set-up is very similar, just that for a TV programme, everything takes longer to set up and there are far more crew members running around.  The big difference between the programmes is the Question Time encourages the audience to participate and takes contributions from them.

While some of these contributions were very good (the women who spoke just before me on the dangers of Brexit and later, at 39:30, another woman who spoke on the effects of the cuts to public services on Doncaster were both excellent), it was another contribution that really made me angry.    During the discussion on migration, a women said (at 25:30) “I just want my country back, I want Britain to be Britain”.  This has been the cry of some in the older generation for as long as I can remember.  Indeed, I can remember people saying it (or something similar) when I was growing up in London in the 1960s.   Do they not understand how everything changes over time?   Yes, the UK today is different from the UK of the 1960s & 1970s, just as the UK then was unrecognisable to those who grew up in the 1930s.  It is sad that some of my generation can’t accept that change happens, some for good & some may be not so good, but that is not a reason to turn our backs on Europe, opportunity, peace & a secure future.

Overall, I enjoyed taking part in the programme & though the level of discussion was very high, even though Daniel Hannan is a very slippery character and totally fixated on what he sees as the evil EU (probably because it doesn’t give him the control over us he wants).

 

So onto the debate in Dronfield.  I was in the platform against the local MP, Natascha Engel and the UKIP & Greens candidates from last May’s General Election.   I was there as to represent the Liberal Democrats.  The Tories had been invited but didn’t show up.  We were hosted by the local Methodist Church and it was run along the line of an Election Hustings, short opening statements followed by questions from the audience.

I was the only panel member who was definitely for Remain.  The UKIP gentleman was, unsurprisingly, totally opposed to the EU and what he believes to be its evil works, the Green was for a reformed EU but seemed to want a tactical vote for Brexit to attack the “establishment” and Natascha Engel seemed to be wavering between Brexit & Remain.

The level of questions asked by the well informed audience was very high and not as anti-EU as I was expecting.  From the feedback I got from talking to some audience members after we finished, I seemed to come across as well informed and that I had made a good impression for staying in the EU so I think the event went well.  My only regret is that there were not more young people there as the Referendum is far more about their future than it is about mine.

Taking part in such debates was not something I had ever done before last year’s General Election.  Quite frankly, the idea of sat on a stage and speaking in public on subjects like the EU filled me with dread.  Now I quite enjoy taking part and, at least from what other tell me, I seem to be able to hold my own even with experienced debaters like Ms Engel.  It just shows that there are hidden depths to all of us and sometimes we just have to have the courage to do things that frighten us.

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NOT SIMPLY PRO-ISRAEL OR PRO-PALESTINE, BUT PRO-SOLUTION

Solution Not SidesI have been at a very informative meeting today run by the Solutions not Sides project team, part of  OneVoice Europe.  The meeting outlined their approach to finding a solution to the conflict between Palestine & Israel.

Starting with a quick review of the background to the conflict and highlighting the complex history of the Region.  One of the main points that I took away was that while Israelis see the events of 1948 as their Independence and the end of exile, Palestinians see the same events as a Nakba (Disaster) and the start of their exile.

No history can hope to reconcile theses two views of their shared history but  it was stressed that while religion was linked to the conflict it wasn’t the main driver, that was two competing nationalist movements.

There is no “Zero-Sum” solution to this complex issue where one side wins but the other side loses.  Any solution can only be a success if it is based “win-win” where both sides feel they have a successful outcome.

No one is suggesting this is easy to achieve.  Indeed, in conversations (via Skype) we had with two young people intimately involved in working for a solution, one an Israeli & the other a Palestinian, we had the chance to explore some of the reasons that, even though most Israelis & Palestinians want a peace settlement based on a two state solution (including evacuating the settlements of the occupied West Bank) neither seems willing to trust the other side to implement such a agreement.

It was a very thought provoking event and one I am very glad I took part in.    The message it gave me was that it isn’t enough to be simply pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian, we need to be pro-solution.

Note:  If you want a presentation from Solutions not Sides for your school, college or organisationj (and it is aimed at 18 to 35 year olds) then contact the team at team@solutionsnotsides.co.uk or their web page

Letter from Bassetlaw – April 10th 2016

2016-03-12 10.29.16My apologies for not completing my Letter last week, I simply ran out of time on what was a busy weekend with family commitments.

In a way, this weekend has been just as busy with being out in Worksop yesterday morning on a Stronger In Street stall and them, this afternoon I have been out in Misterton, the first stop on our Bassetlaw Residents Survey.  I hope that over the weeks before the Referendum in June, I will get to many more parts of the District but, if you want to fill in the Survey online, you can do so here.

 

While I always enjoy knocking on doors and talking to residents, especially in parts of the District where I have not been as much in the last few years, as I always get interesting conversations and discussion about the issues of the day, I must say helping on the Stronger In stall was a lot of fun, made even more enjoyable when we were joined by a group from UKIP backed Grassroots Out who were trying to do the same as us.   After they saw us they resorted to trying to intimidate us, objecting to us having a Union Flag on our stall and denying that they are “European” (it would be better that they go and learn some geography as well as manners) but it didn’t work and we got a great response from many of the shoppers who stopped to talk with us.

 

As promised, I am returning to my discussion of the five areas that I suggest should guide your decision on the EU.  I have already discussed Prosperity and Opportunity.  This week I want to talk about Peace.

If you look back across European history since the middle ages, you will see it has been dominated by wars with many of them between the Germanic Holy Roman Empire and it successors fighting France & its allies for domination of the Continent.  These wars have often dragged the United Kingdom into the conflict on side or another.  In the last 300 years, we have had the War of Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (1756-1763), the French Revolutionary Wars (1793-1802), Napoleonic Wars (1803-15), the Franco-Austrian War (1859), the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the two World Wars (1914-18 & 1939-45).

Since then, since the founding of the European Coal and Steel Community[i] (the precursor of the European Economic Community) in 1951, Europe has been mostly at peace.  More than that, the European Countries that were under dictatorships have nearly all turned into democracies and those that haven’t already joined the EU are queueing up to get in.

This is not all down to the EU but, especially in the Balkans, it has been the EU that has been in the forefront of developing democracy, encouraging trade between former enemies, helping to find diplomatic solutions, defusing possible issues that could lead to fighting.   A good example of this is how, by both being in the EU, the United Kingdom & the Irish Republic have defused border tensions during the troubles in Northern Ireland and helped bring about a stable peace to allow leaders from both sides to discuss political solutions.

I am not suggesting that this extraordinary period of peace in Europe will end overnight if the UK leaves the EU but, if our leaving the EU damages it as much as some suggest it will, then there is a chance it will fall apart and the old enmities will re-surface.  If those enmities spill over into armed conflict, then. just as in such European conflicts in the past, the UK could well be drawn in to the fighting.

This 70-year peace in Europe (an unprecedented period) is too precious to throw away or even risk throwing away because some in the UK cannot get their head around cooperation & shared sovereignty that benefits us all.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Coal_and_Steel_Community