The lessons of Aleppo

lucy-aharish
https://www.facebook.com/reshet.todays.talk/videos/1876992092532433/

I saw this clip on Facebook a couple of days age.  It is from Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Muslim Arab TV presenter, talking about the massacre in Aleppo that is happening this week.  She speaks in English so the World might hear, so please watch it.  What she has to say is powerful and moving, even more so because of her, an Arab speaking on Israeli television, choice of words.

This post isn’t just to get you to hear what Ms Aharish said, although that is worthwhile in itself, it is to try to answer the question a friend posted in response to my re-posting of it on my timeline, “But what can I do?”.

That really made me think.  What can we do to stop these recurring genocides?  How do we stop the vile, senseless killing of people just because they are who they are, because they live where they live, because they want to live in a society where people are free to think, speak, love & worship as they please?

To be honest, I don’t know.  We can, as Ms Aharish suggests, take to the streets to demonstrate; we can write to our elected leaders asking for “something to be done”; we can donate to appeals to help the survivors, the refugees, the victims.  But doing any of these won’t stop the killings happening again and again and again.

The problem is, that it is far too late to do anything now to stop the killing in Aleppo.  The seeds of what is happening now were sown years ago, when the West failed to give the Syrian pro-democracy demonstrators the backing they needed because Assad’s Syria was needed to help in (or at least tacitly agree to) dealing with rebellions in Iraq.  Indeed, it is possible to go back further to the West’s failure to deal with Hafez al-Assad (the father of the present President of Syria) vicious suppression of a revolt in 1982 or to the ill-fated invasions of Iraq in 1991 & 2003 which destabilised Iraq.  Those with a longer time frame will see the results of the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire post World War I (see Sykes-Picot agreement)  which set up the current countries of Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon & Palestine/Israel mostly just as lines on a map disregarding the different ethnic groups who lived there, creating tensions & pressures that are still being felt today.

Perhaps the lesson to be learnt is to change our approach to Foreign Policy.  A lot of the problems listed above have been caused by a short-term approach, we need to sell arms to dictators to secure jobs in the UK, we need to back a tyrant as a bailiwick against another power, we must turn a blind eye to human rights abuses because we need the country to support British industry.

In many cases, this has come back to bite us, and bite us hard.  We supplied arms to Argentina’s Junta that the used to fight us in the South Atlantic, we supplied arms to Iraq that Saddam used to invade Kuwait, we now have much of our national infrastructure owned by China.  We can’t stop Saudi Arabia from killing civilians in Yemen because we need them to sell us oil & buy our weapons to keep British people in work.  We have no influence in Turkey because we need them to control the flow of refugees into Europe

Perhaps if we (along with other Western Democracies) had a more ethical Foreign Policy, where we only supported countries that respect Human Rights; where we only sold weapons to our NATO allies or other democracies; where we worked to deal with humanitarian crises not leave them to fester and generate waves of refugees; where we are prepared to use our military force to protect civilian populations threaten by dictators & tyrants

It is too late to help the civilians in Aleppo, it is too late for the Yazidi people in Iraq, it is not quite too late for the people of Yemen (although time is running out) but we must change our approach it dealing with other counties if we are to stop more and more names of peoples being added to the sad litany of the victims of a genocide.  If we don’t, then all the tears and  heartache over what is happening in Aleppo are worthless because similar acts will happen again, again and again.

The Single Market and Options for Brexit

brexitMany of our politicians (from both the Brexit & Remain camps) are calling for access to the EU’s Single Market (more properly called the Internal Market[i]) if we leave the EU as a way of minimising the damage Brexit will cause to our economy and help to protect jobs.

Unfortunately, they are wrong.  Access to the Single market is available to any country, even North Korea, willing to meet the Single Market standards for goods & services and willing to accept the tariffs & quotas that the EU will impose.

So even if we leave the EU we will be able to carry on trading with the EU and sell goods into & buy from the Single Market, just that everything we sell it will attract the basic EU 3rd part Tariff (e.g. 10% on new cars[ii]) which will make many of these exports uneconomic.

If we want to protect jobs in the UK and to mitigate the economic damage that Brexit will cause, the UK does not need “access” to the Single Market, we need to be part of the Single Market.  This is not just important to our cars makers (see above) but also to our Financial Services Industry as London’s position as the centre for Euro Clearing will be lost unless we can stay inside the Single Market.  Many other important parts of our economy also depend on being in (not just having access to) the Single Market.

Being part of the Single Market does means that we will need to accept the Four Freedoms that underpin the Single Market (Free movement of goods, Free movement of capital, Freedom to establish and provide services and Free movement of persons) as these underpin the whole arrangement.

Whatever British Politicians say, unless we accept all these Four Freedoms, the UK cannot be part of the Single Market, those leading the EU side in the upcoming negotiations have been very clear about this[iii]  Being part if the Single Market is not just important for our economy, it will also mean UK students can carry on being part of the Erasmus programme[iv] and UK Universities can continue to access EU Research funding[v].  We could however get exemptions for certain areas (as Norway has on Agriculture & Fishing[vi]) from EU rules if we so wanted through negotiation.

The other big downside is that the UK would still have to pay into the EU budget and apply EU rule & regulations (except in exempt industries) but have no say in designing these rules.

So, where does that leave us in relationship to Brexit?

The options for the UK are as follows:

  1. We leave the EU totally and, until we conclude a Trade Agreement with the EU (a process that takes years at a minimum and would need every EU members to agree), face having to pay EU trade tariffs to trade with the EU. While we will not have to apply EU regulations to UK industries & products, we will still need to make sure anything sold into the EU does meet those standards.  We will however not have to pay into the EU budget and we can control immigration into the UK rom the EU as we do currently from non-EU countries.

 

  1. We leave the EU but retain membership of the Single Market. This means UK companies can trade without tariffs with the EU but the UK must pay into the EU budget (indeed we might have to pay in more than we do currently as our budget rebate would disappear) & accept EU regulations.  We will though be free to area Trade Agreements with other counties although they will take time to be put in place.

 

 

  1. We decide on consideration that leaving the EU is not a good idea and decide dealing the political crisis this would create is easier that dealing with the deep economic crisis leaving the EU will create. We stay part of the Single Market & we keep our say in how the EU is run.

 

If the Government decide to invoke Article 50[vii], then unless there is an agreement otherwise, by default, Option A will come into force 2 years later.

If Article 50 is not invoked, Option C, the status quo, continues to be in force.

If we want to retain membership of the Single Market, then the Government must start negotiating for option B as soon as they invoke Article 50.

By saying that they want to retain membership of the Sigle Market but not allow a part of the “Four Freedoms” (i.e. Free movement of persons), the May Government is being either deluded or mendacious.   Either way that are not working in the best interests of the UK.

What we need now, before Article 50 is invoked, is a clear statement from the UK Government of which of the three possible options they want the UK.  We do not need the full details of negotiating positions, the redlines not to be crossed or the aspirations to try to get, just a simple (but realistic) statement of principle will do.  Until we do, then it seems that they have already decided on Option A but are too scared to tell the British people that they are in for an economic crisis the like of which the UK has not seen in decades

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

[ii]http://ec.europa.eu/taxation_customs/dds2/taric/measures.jsp?Lang=en&SimDate=20161107&Area=BR&Taric=87032110&LangDescr=en

[iii] http://uk.businessinsider.com/interview-guy-verhofstadt-european-union-brexit-negotiator-article-50-britain-2016-11

[iv] http://www.erasmusprogramme.com/

[v] https://erc.europa.eu/

[vi] http://www.norway.org.uk/norwayandcountry/Current-Affairs/Norwegian-Politics/NORWAY-EU-AND-EEA/#.WCDigvmLTIU

[vii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_50_of_the_Treaty_on_European_Union

Letter for Bassetlaw – August 27th 2016

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Apologies for not writing a “Letter for Bassetlaw” in the last few weeks but I have been away on a family holiday in Israel and when I got back, I had picked up a bug that left me with just about enough energy to work but little else.

However, I am back and feeling better so I will try to get back into the habit of writing weekly again.

Well, it has been such an interesting summer, nationally, internationally and locally, I hardly know where to start.  However, one story and its consequences has dominated the news, the EU Referendum result, so it is right I use this “Letter” to discuss what has & is happening.

 

While I was in Israel, I was able to speak with family members & friends who live in Israel.  Without exception, every one, whether they have a British background or not, said to me that they could not understand why the UK voted to leave the EU.  It was simply incomprehensible for them that we would even contemplate make such a move that can only end as a disaster.

It was interesting (and not very nice for my bank balance) to notice that just how much & how quickly the pound was falling against other currencies.  In the two weeks we were in Israel, the exchange rate for the Pound against the New Israeli Shekel fell 2% (from 5.01 to 4.91, although it has recovered slightly since then[i]), indeed since June 23rd,  the £/NIS exchange rate has fallen by over 10%.  This fall as been replicated across all currencies, including the major ones in which most of our trade is done, making not just holidays abroad more expensive but also all the goods we import into the UK, much of our food, electronic goods, raw materials for manufacturing, etc.

Other economic news since June 23rd has also been bad with companies delaying investment decisions, indeed quite a few smaller firms have already gone under because the orders they rely from elsewhere in the EU have dried up.

All this is happening even before the UK Government has formally launched the exit procedure.  While we are waiting for this to happen and formal negotiations over Brexit start, the new May Government seems to be at odds over what Brexit will mean and with those she has appointed to oversee the process already at each other’s throats[ii].  All they while, possible directions for the UK post-Brexit are falling apart as international partners reject them[iii].  Because of all the uncertainty, we keep hearing that the formal triggering of the Brexit process will be delayed, till the New Year, till after the French & German elections in 2017, till 2018, till who know when.

The longer the UK is in this limbo of having voted for Brexit but our Government not being willing to formally trigger it, businesses will continue to be unable to make long term decisions, the UK economy will continue to tip towards recession and we, the British public, will suffer as jobs are lost and the Pound continues it fall.

The time has come for some brave decisions to be made, to recognise the harm that the prospect of Brexit is already doing & the damage that Brexit will cause to the UK and to say that, in spite of what Gove, Farage, Johnson and the rest of the leave campaign claimed, there are no good options for the UK outside of the EU.  This will almost certainly mean we need a new vote, a second referendum or a General Election, to give a new Government the mandate to walk away from Brexit (although as the June Referendum was not binding on the UK Government, the result could simply be ignored) and admit that the British public was conned by a bunch of charlatan, opportunistic politicians many of whom only campaigned for Leave because they thought it would enhance their political careers.

 

In the weeks to come I will look at other issues, the continuing fight to oppose Fracking here in Bassetlaw & elsewhere & the shenanigans of our MP trying to use the shortage of doctors (caused in no small part by decisions made by Labour before 2010) to shroud wave about the NHS in Bassetlaw amongst them and I am sure that Brexit will also come up again.

[i] http://www.exchangerates.org.uk/GBP-ILS-exchange-rate-history.html

[ii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/13/liam-fox-and-boris-johnson-locked-in-feud-over-who-controls-brit/ and http://www.grayling.com/gb/insight/fox_and_johnson_take_note_david_davis_hire_of_a_prominent_remainer_is_a_smart_move

[iii] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5741129a-4510-11e6-b22f-79eb4891c97d.html#axzz4ITKECqW0  and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/09/norway-may-block-uk-return-to-european-free-trade-association

An American doctor experiences the NHS. Again.

Before anyone else tells us the NHS is failing or that the don’t already have a 24/7 NHS, read this post from an American doctor, especially the bits about “copayments” and what it means to those who need care ut can’t afford to pay (and those who can afford it so abuse the system).
No, the NHS is not perfect. I work in it so I know there is waste and inefficiency, but before we start tearing it to pieces we need to understand what the alternatives are, if they are any better and, most importantly, are they better value for our taxpayer money.
To judge from this story, we should be very grateful for what we have!

Dr. Jen Gunter

WIth my cousin WIth my cousin

Two years ago I wrote about my experience in a London emergency department with my son, Victor. That post has since been viewed > 450,000 times. There are over 800 comments with no trolls (a feat unto itself) and almost all of them express love for the NHS.

I was in England again this week. And yes, I was back in an emergency department, but this time with my cousin (who is English).

This is what happened.

My cousin loves high heels. As a former model she makes walking in the highest of heels look easy. However, cobblestone streets have challenges not found on catwalks and so she twisted her ankle very badly. Despite ice and elevation there was significant swelling and bruising and she couldn’t put any weight on her foot. I suggested we call her doctor and explain the situation. I was worried about a…

View original post 1,414 more words

Letter from Bassetlaw – July 17th 2016

2016-07-17 17.25.38For once, we have had good weather for our Bassetlaw & Sherwood Liberal Democrats Summer Barbecue.  In the past few years we have had to cancel as the weather turned against us but today we had glorious sunshine as met up for a few hours of chat over burgers, sausages & some drinks.

Being in the Lib Dems is not all about elections (both for public office & internal positions) and earnest policy discussion.  While we never lose sight of the serious purpose behind what we do, making the lives of those around us better, we also know that if we are not having fun being Lib Dems, then we won’t have members and volunteers willing to give up their time and energy to help us achieve our aims.

One of the features of our current spectacular growth in members has been the number of “Lib Dem Pint” (or variations on the theme) events that have been held across the country both to welcome new members and to re-enthuse existing members.  Our barbeque today was along similar lines as will our own Lib Dem Pint next Saturday afternoon (23rd July) at The Admiral Rodney in Calverton, come and join us for a drink and a chat.

In this summer of political surprises one amazing fact is that in Tim Farron, the Lib Dems now have the longest serving Leader of any national political party.  Not only do we have the doyen of party leaders, but we also have a united party, with a definite idea of what we want to achieve (keep the UK in the EU) and lots of new members engaging with us to help do justthat.

Who would have thought that after leading his party to a surprise win at last year’s General Election, David Cameron would be gone within 15 months?  Last year I published a post here on what happens after unexpected election wins (The unintended consequence of election surprises) and nothing that has happened since May 2015 has made me change my mind.

I wish Theresa May well in her new job, trying to find a way through the impasse the Brexit Referendum has left us in will be difficult.  Will she invoke Article 50 to start the 2-year countdown to leaving the EU, which will almost certainly cause a deep recession in the UK or will she find a way to renege on the Referendum decision? Either way is fraught with problems and dangers.  Perhaps the best way is to call a new General Election and get fresh mandate from the public when she has a better idea of what terms we may get if we leave the EU.

Meanwhile, Labour seem intent on pulling itself apart, with its members intent on keeping a leader who not only cannot command the respect of his party’s MPs but is just about unelectable as a potential Prime Minister.  The divide in Labour is getting deeper as each day passes and looks like it will end in a split with both sides fighting to be the ones who can keep the name & organisation of the party.  Meanwhile, they ate leaving the country with a disorganised official opposition that is not holding the government to account.

Finally, a few words about the massacre of innocents in Nice on Bastille Day.  Yet again we have witnessed an attack on people innocently enjoying themselves.  I don’t know what was in the mind of the person who drove the truck, just as I can’t know what compelled the former soldier who shot 5 policemen in Dallas a couple of week ago do what he did, or the “quiet, retiring” gardener who murdered Jo Cox in Birstall last month.  All I do know is that such violence solves nothing and only causes more hurt.

When I hear of such events (and they are occurring far too often in recent months all around the world) I often turn to a song by Nick Lowe sung by David Broza on his album East Jerusalem / West Jerusalem, called (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.  The video explains much of why this version of the song means so much to me with my connections to Israel and to the village that David Broza’s grandfather, Wellesley Aron, helped found in the Judean Hills near to the Kibbutz I lived on 30 years ago, Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salem.  The song’s title says it all, what is so funny about peace love & understanding?

 

Letter from Bassetlaw – July 3rd, 2016

EaMiLD Conf 15-A 1So a week has passed since the Referendum and, to be absolutely honest, we are no nearer working out if we should trigger Article 50 of the European Treaty or not, whether once they have been selected, the new Tory PM should call a General Election to secure their mandate or not, whether the Labour Party’s MPs is going to depose Corbyn or not or, in the event of a Brexit, the Scottish Government will trigger a second Referendum of their own to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom and into the EU.  Even UKIP seem to be on the cusp of expelling its only MP because he has had the temerity to disagree with Farage.

There seem to be two certainties in British Politics at the moment, firstly that we are in for a few months of uncertainty as to what will happen over the possibility of Brexit and secondly that there is only one national party that has a leader the party is united behind, only one party that is clear on what should happen next and only one party with the courage to stand up and say what needs to be said.

The Liberal Democrats under Tim Farron have shown the principled leadership needed at a time of crisis.  While respecting the result of the Referendum and those that voted to leave the EU, we also recognise that the Leave campaign sold the British public a false prospectus, full of misinformation, and downright lies, which is now unravelling.  It would be a dereliction of our duty to the British public is we did not carry on pointing out the perils of Brexit and demanding a General Election before triggering Article 50.

 

One effect of the vote to leave the EU which is disturbing is the rise in anti-immigrant abuse both vocal & physical.  The attack on the Polish Community Centre in West London is especially disturbing to me as it is in the area I grew up in.  The Polish community there dates back to the Second World War when many Polish airmen contributed to the war effort (there is a famous memorial to their contribution next to RAF Northolt) and were not able to return home after the war.

I am sure most people will join me in condemn this hatred towards people who have come to live and contribute to society here.  This makes the headline story in the Worksop Guardian this week “IMMIGRATION: LET’S MANN UP” (sorry not up on their website yet) all the more disturbing.  I have written a letter in response which I hope will be published in next week’s edition but, given the Worksop Guardian’s record on publishing letters from me, I am not hopeful.

I am reminded of the lines Martin Niemöller, a German pastor wrote just after World War Two

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

If we substitute in immigrants, for one of these categories, then the danger in the current wave of anti-immigrant hatred, and especially when some in the establishment continue to (falsely) blame immigration for problems in our county, become apparent.  We all must stand up and raise our voice against it.

 

Finally, a few words on the current problems in the Labour Party.

I am fed up with the cowards who make up most of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

If they want rid of Corbyn, do the deed and trigger a leadership election or simply shut up and let him get on with his job.

To me, as an outsider, it seems that they want Corbyn to go but don’t want to be seen to push him out. Instead, all they are doing by dragging the attempted coup out interminably is making the Labour Party a laughing stock and showing that it is unfit to be an opposition let alone a government.

We need a strong voice in Parliament and out of it to oppose the Tory party, especially at a time when they look to be ready to elect a new leader who will take the party even further to the right.  If Labour are not up to the job (and the evidence is that they are not) then it fall to the Lib Dems to to do it.

 

 

Letter from Bassetlaw – June 26th 2016

13537633_10153995837901773_9141542646099766789_nThere is a famous old Chinese curse that goes “May you live in interesting times!”.  Well, we are certainly living in interesting times just now.

The result of Thursday’s Referendum may look simple, given a Remain or Leave question on the EU, the British Electorate voted by 51.9% to 48.1% to Leave but as the result is not binding on any Government, the repercussions to the vote are now reverberating through our political structures.

This was not the result expected by most people, including those leading the Leave campaigns who, it now turns out, have no plans of how to proceed with Brexit as (as they now admit) may of the “promises” turn out to be groundless[i] [ii].  Also many of those who voted Leave as a protest against Cameron & the Tory Government, thinking that Remain would win any way are now regretting their vote[iii] while even those who were more committed to leaving the EU have been shocked by the reality of what Brexit actually means

Cameron has reacted by walking away from the whole mess of his own creation (see my comment on Facebook on this) although, by refusing to invoke Article 50 of the European Treaty, saying he was leaving it to his successor, he has possibly made it impossible to actually start the processes of leaving (see this post on The Guardian pages).  As I write I am hearing that Boris Johnson, assisted by Michael Gove, two former journalists with a history of telling untruths & ignoring experts, is preparing to take over the Conservative party and therefore the Government.

If Johnson fulfils his very naked ambition to become PM, then he will be faced with the wonderful alternative of starting the process of Brexit and triggering an economic collapse (just looked at what happened to the markets since the result was announced[iv] if you think I am scaremongering) or failing to trigger the process and risk the ire of all those who supported him.

 

Meanwhile, with the Tories seemingly starting an internal Civil War and a possible General Election in the offing, Labour has reacted to the need for a strong vocal opposition by going into melt down as 10 (so far) members of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet have either been sacked or resigned.  If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be a farce.

 

So, what will all this mean for Bassetlaw?

As I explained in previous post (We face a crisis in our public services, but it isn’t caused by immigrants), many of the reasons that people give for voting to leave the EU are not actually caused by the EU but by our own, home grown, British Politicians taking decisions for short term political advantage rather than long term economic gain.  Just look around in Europe, German, along with other EU countries, still has a thriving steel industry and a coal industry; shipbuilding is supported by the EU across member nations yet here in the UK all three areas are in seemingly terminal decline.  Our industries were not destroyed by the EU but by the Heath, Wilson, Callaghan Thatcher, Major & Blair governments.  Leaving the EU will not resolve this problem, if anything by cutting these (and other industries off from EU support), it will hasten their final decline.

Brexit will not help Bassetlaw.  With a failing economy for at least the next 5 years while we go through the process of Brexit & readjust to life afterwards, there will be higher unemployment, less money for public services and to support those on benefits.  I have already heard from many younger people in our area that they are thinking of emigrating as they don’t want to live in a post-Brexit UK.

There is a possibility that in spite of the Referendum, Brexit can still be avoided.  I for one will be doing all I can to make sure that we stay in the EU.

 

[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/evan-davis-newsnight-bbc-daniel-hannan-mep-eu-referendum-brexit_uk_576e2967e4b08d2c56393241

[ii] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-eu-referendum-nigel-farage-nhs-350-million-pounds-live-health-service-u-turn-a7102831.html

[iii] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3660336/We-did-vote-REGREXIT-Britons-wish-hadn-t-backed-Leave-EU-referendum.html

[iv] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36628919