Kamis, 28 Februari 2008

Harry - Did the BBC lie to us?

According to the MoD, Harry has been in Afghanistan for 10 weeks - which (according to my maths) means he went before Christmas).

Now, I can't remember what the BBC and other news organisations said when covering the Royals going to church at Christmas, but I'd be interested to know what they said, if anything, about Harry not being there.

As I understand it, the news organisations knew that he had gone but accepted the request not to report this.

Fair enough to many people's minds. But I bet the public wouldn't be so understanding if they thought that had been positively lied to.

Harry - would you have published? (Meme)

Just a thought, but how many British bloggers would have published the news about Harry serving in Afghanistan as Matt Drudge did?

We're not party to the agreement apparently concluded with the UK-based press not to publish until he returned from active service or the D-notice if there was one. So would we have held the line?

Clearly there will be different answers to that question for different bloggers. But for my part I have to confess it's a difficult one. I suppose I could cop out and say that it's not the sort of topic I cover and so I wouldn't have done so for that reason. But on a deeper basis I believe absolutely in freedom of speech and the freedom of the press and so I can see no reason why the news should not be made public. It's clearly a matter of public interest, not simply from a prurient interest but because any person who joins the armed forces should be treated equally, even if they are a Royal. Full marks to Harry on that score. He made it known that he desparately wanted to go to Iraq when his unit went and I presume he held the same view on this posting. He clearly has not asked for special treatment and earns my respect for that. I'm a republican in that I don't believe that people should earn a special position purely because of birth. (I don't think the royals should be lined up against a wall).

On the other hand, it is a fact of life that public knowledge of his presence in Afghanistan would increase the risk to him and to others serving with him. So would my desire to see freedom of the press outweigh my concern for the safety of another human being.

Clearly there will be those who believe we should not be in Afghanistan at all but I don't think anyone seriously wishes to see our troops killed in order to further that point.

After all the um-ming and ah-ing I'm probably going to conclude that I wouldn't have posted the news myself. But I wouldn't condemn anyone who did (Is that woolly liberal enough for you?)

I'm going to turn this into a meme because I am genuinely interested to know the views of others. So I tag my friend Alex Wilcock (who will write longer, but more cogently), Iain, Guido, the Burbler and James Graham

Rabu, 27 Februari 2008

Dons back to winning ways

Being in London yesterday gave me the chance to watch the mighty AFC Wimbledon in action. My friend Paul was away and so I was doing photos of the match against play-off chasing Margate.

The Dons managed to hold out for the first ten minutes during which Margate missed two open goals and had a third shot bravely saved by keeper James Pullen.

All the scoring came in the second half with Wimbledon scoring through the excellent Romone Rose and a winner from captain Jason Goodliffe who complained that he missed seeing the ball crossing the line as he was flattened by the keeper. Still, he made up for it with the celebration.

It's five months since I've seen a home game and so there were a number of players on show who I haven't seen before, but the core of the side remains the same - a credit to manager Terry Brown who has not been tempted to jettison good players who have simply gone through a bad spell. For once my man of the match was the one chosen by the sponsors. Tony Finn had a magnificent game and is surely one of the best wingers in non-League football.

Pics: Marcus Gayle plants a smacker on Jason Googdliffe after he scores the winner; Man of the Match Tony Finn in action; Romone Rose after scoring the first goal

Paddick in Islington

All go yesterday as Brian Paddick made a series of visits in Islington. One of the big campaigns there relates to the proposal by the Government to close several local Post Offices. Among them the Essex Road Crown Post Office which seems to be very weel used by local people. The logic behind some of the proposed closures completely defeats me.

Brian also met up with local police officers for a chat. The Met seem to be interpreting the rules about photos differently in different areas. Yesterday they sent along a press officer to make sure that I wasn't taking pics of officers. I can understand their worries - clearly it is difficult when one of the candidates is a former colleague - but I wish they would be consistent both in their treatment of us and their treatment of Brian as opposed to the other candidates.

Apparently, one of Brian's former duties was to direct the traffic on the Seven Sisters Road when the traffic lights broke down (which was fairly often). He was very keen to re-create the image for posterity yesterday. Luckily, the phasing on the lights (which were working) gave him the chance to do so safely!

We also made a visit to a housing estate in Islington. Brian was shown the difference between the blocks built under the previous Labour administration (which are already having to be torn down) and the new blocks being built by the Lib Dem controlled council. It is saying something that any Council is able to build new social housing these days - so well done to Islington for finding a way of meeting the pressing need.

Pics: Brian with Islington Council Deputy Leader Lucy Watt and GLA Candidate Merel Ece outside the threatened Essex Road Post Office; Brian re-creating his traffic directing days; Brian with demolition workers outside an old Labour built block which is being knocked down

Minggu, 24 Februari 2008

Photos from Mozambique

Meeting the President

A workshop session featuring delegates from Tunisia, Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo

Senegalese Minister Mamadou Lamine Ba speaking to the press after meeting the Mozambique President

The flag of the meeting

The closing Press Conference

Our hotel, the Holiday Inn in Maputo

Raul Castro is a reformer

There is an old joke about liberals marching on Parliament chanting

"What do we want? Gradual Change! When do we want it? In due course!"

Well I think the decision by the Cuban Communist Party to adopt Raul Castro to replace his brother Fidel fulfils that wish. In the 16 months that he has already held the effective reins of office, Raul Castro has introduced a number of significant changes that have set Cuba on a path towards a more enlightened regime. It's not democracy and the rule of law by any means but it is a welcome start.

There are, I suspect, many people like me who hate the idea of the totalitarian regime such as the Cuban one, but also have a secret (or perhaps not so secret) admiration for the way that this tiny impoverished state has thumbed its nose at the USA for so long. We would like to see the Fidel regime replaced and the Cuban people freed, but we don't want the island to become yet another haven for US cruise ships and drug cartels.

So the prospect of a continuing gradual change is perhaps the right one. Raul may be almost as old as his brother, but he has shown a marked difference of approach and the choice of the 78 year old Machado Ventura as Vice President may not be the slap in the face for the next generation that it is perceived as being. It just may be that Raul is not yet ready to annoint a chosen successor and wants the possible candidates to show him what they are made of first. Just as in the USA, we can be sure that the current Vice President is not the one who will take the top job next.

Mozambique - was it worth it?

It's clearly not a cheap operation to organise a conference such as the one I've just got back from, but in my mind it was well worth it:

- I know from the feedback forms and conversations with most of the participants after the end of the session that they got lots out of it. Lots of the feedback forms praised me (which is, of course, nice) but also talked about the bonds they have made with their fellow participants from different countries. We were able to put people from different ends of the continent in touch with each other - especially where they share a common problem - so that they can keep in touch about their means for addressing the issue.

- For the smaller parties, it was fantastic to be able to chat at length with the likes of Minister Lamine Ba from Senegal and David Pierre from the Seychelles National Party - one of whom is in power and the other gets 46% of the vote. It goes to show that a Liberal Party can make it in Africa and to carry on campaigning even when they might only have received 3% or so at the last election. In case anyone doubts the true Liberalism of, for instance, the PDS in Senegal, have a look at the party's website (warning - it is in French).

- It got a lot of good publicity for our hosts, the PDD of Mozambique. They deserved praise from us for all their hard work and it was nice to be able to catch up again with my friend Joachim de Castello who is the General Secretary of the Party. But more than this, as President Guebuza said during our meeting with him, Maputo became the capital of African Liberalism. We got lots of favourable press and tv coverage which gets both the cause of liberalism and the policies of the PDD more coverage in a country which reporters without borders classifies as not necessarily the strongest free press in the world.

Sabtu, 23 Februari 2008

Another Iain Dale copycat blog

Following the shameless Iain Dale copycatting from yesterday, here's another - a list of my TV appearances.

There were a few TV cameras present during our meeting with the President yesterdaym but we thought no more about it. Then, when we were out in Maputo for dinner last night there was a TV in the corner of the restaurant. One of my dinner companions suddenly pointed at the TV and said 'That's us!'. And indeed there we were, meeting with the President.

I don't know what passes for a standard item on Mozambiquan TV News, but we were on for at least 5 minutes.

And no, we didn't get a discount on dinner.

Leaving Mozambique

It's been a fascinating trip to Mozambique. I've got to check out of the hotel in half an hour before the trip back via Lisbon.

The event was a workshop and Assembly of the Africa Liberal Network, an alliance of parties from around the continent. They range from the PDS, the Senegalese Government (and we had Minister Mamadou Lamine Ba from the party) as well as parties such as the SNP from the Seychelles who get 46% of the vote yet still come second there. There are also developing parties such as our hosts the PDD and ANADER from Congo.

The role of the Lib Dems is to support the Network by helping them to come together. All the main parties in the UK work through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to assist the development of democracy and parties around the world. This is one of the ways we choose to provide support. So I was facilitating a workshop presenting ideas from the UK covering party structure, campaigning and policy development. Obviously we cannot and do not want to dictate what should be done but we encourage the different parties to share their own experiences and build support groups with each other. Having a Government Minister from a successful Liberal Party there helps enormously with this!

The final day was an assembly meeting of the Network to discuss future business and to prepare the Network to make an impact at the next meeting of Liberal International in Belfast in May.

A word to travellers - both intrepid and otherwise. Mozambique is a fabulous country with great weather and superb beaches. There is tons of incredible seafood and fine hotels. Can't recommend it highly enough. Regrettably we didn't get enought time to go outside the capital but I understand there are also good safaris to be had.

I've got loads of pics which I'll post when I get home

Jumat, 22 Februari 2008

Eat your heart out Iain Dale

Iain Dale recently posted claiming to be the first to post a blog from the Oval Office of the White House. Well, I've gone one better (ok, sort of).

This post is coming to you from the Office of the President of Mozambique - Armando Guebuza. And the President is in the room meeting with the members of the African Liberal Network.

More soon...

Selasa, 19 Februari 2008

Offline for a while

I'm off to Mozambique for a short trip to take part in a workshop organised by the African Liberal Network and the Friedrich Neumann Foundation.

We've got about 32 representatives from a dozen or more different countries attending so it promises to be interesting.

Will blog updates if I can find a plug adaptor that works - apparently different parts of Mozambique use three different sorts of plug - one of which is almost unique to the country.

Senin, 18 Februari 2008

Explain this one...

So the Government is pressing ahead with new nuclear power stations on the basis of a need for energy independence - ie for the UK to be able to meet all of its energy needs and not have to rely on foreign states (oh, ok - on Russian gas).

At the same time, the UK Government is cosying up to China and various other countries of dubious morality who just happen to have very large sovereign wealth funds - state run investment arms which are busy buying up large parts of the UK's Blue Chip companies.

So on the one hand we could not possibly be in a position to have to rely on Russian gas to fuel our power stations...

... but on the other it is absolutely fine and dandy for the Chinese Government (say) buy a controlling stake in E.On, for the Saudis to buy half of BAE and for Libya to invest in BP.

First Kosovo - next Scotland?

Listening to David Milliband trying to explain why Kosovo is a unique situation, not a precedent, was fairly excruciating. The fact is that the decision by the UK, USA, France, Germany and Italy (oh, and Afghanistan) to recognise the UDI will be taken as the go ahead by a number of secessionist movements around the world. I've been thinking about two of them in particular:

Republica Serpska. For those who don't know, when Bosnia Herzegovina emerged from the first stage of the break up of the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent war, it retained its former provincial borders. And so it contains a large number of Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims) a significant minority of Bosnian Croats (who live mainly in the part known as Herzegovina) and the Bosnian Serbs. These last are mainly based in the South and East of the country.

On the ground, the former province of Bosnia is divided into two sections - the part with the Bosniacs and Bosnian Croats and a separate entity known as Republica Serpska where all the Serbs live. RS is incredibly poor having not seen any of the investment that has gone into Bosnia proper. The leaders are still accused of sheltering a number of war criminals (a charge levelled with some justification) and the whole place operates with an air of unreality.

But the similarities to Kosovo are striking - this is a state within a state whose ethnically different population seek separation from the main part of the country to which they officially belong. So will Milliband et al now recognise their right to secede or will they give convincing reasons why Kosovo really is unique?

The second such quandry is Scotland. Now, I don't think that there is a majority in favour of independence but it is clearly a viable question to put. After all, a secessionist party has won the most recent election and seeks to hold a referendum on full blown independence. A referendum which Gordon Brown opposes. Where is the consistency in that position then? Let me be clear - I think that anyone (including the PM) should be able to campaign as vociferously as they wish against independence for Scotland. I would do so if I lived there. However, if, like Gordon Brown, you have just spoken up for the right of Kosovo to declare UDI, then you don't have a leg to stand on in denying the right of Scots to at least have a vote on the issue and to become independent if the majority so wish.

Minggu, 17 Februari 2008

Kosovo - an unviable state

Others have welcomed the announcement by the Parliament in Pristina of 'independence' for Kosovo. I don't. I fear hugely for the state and worry that it will necessitate an even more lengthy engagement for UK and other international troops as well as significant cash injections.

I cannot pretend to have very many answers, but at least allow me to pose the questions that come to mind:

In welcoming UDI, what thought did Bush and Brown give to the rights of the remaining ethnic Serbs in the province? Yes, they are a minority, but they are a significant number and the region does have a history of large ethnic groups trying to squash smaller ones. You may well point out that the Serbs were the ones who did quite a lot of this in the 90s but that does not mean that they can be trampled on now.

How can an independent Kosovo be viable. It has a very weak economy and few exports of note. It was a drain on the resources of Serbia and Yugoslavia before that. Are we, the western taxpayers, expected to subsidise UDI?

What further plans do the leaders in Pristina have? Not a few commentators worry that there is a movement to become a part of Albania proper.

Kosovo was a part of Serbia for a very lengthy period. Within the borders are a large number of historic Serb monuments - mostly dating from the middle ages. What access will Serbs (both Kosovar Serbs and Serbians) have to these and what protection will be offered them?

Why have Bush, Brown et al so fervently welcomed this announcement. Promise me that it wasn't simply a way of getting at Putin. And if it was a matter of principle, what about Euskadi (the Basque Country), Northern Cyprus, the Russian provinces and so on ad infinitum? Can someone please define self-determination please.

And finally, can anyone who supports this UDI please point to viable non-nationalisitic politics in Kosovo. For years parties have divided on the fault line of independence. Have the Western powers who encouraged this move looked at who is now going to be running the state and what their deeper politics are? (Clue: they ain't pretty)

Jumat, 15 Februari 2008

Binge drinking the Tesco way

Sam Coates on the Times blog says that anyone trying to fathom the Competition Commission's report on Supermarkets should 'follow the money'. He highlights the amount spent by Tesco on the party conferences as an example.

I was reading Public Affairs News recently in which there was an interview with a former Tesco lobbyist who, after a spell working I think for BAA, was now joining Asda Wal-Mart. He described the activities by lobbyists at party conferences as disgraceful with PA professionals falling out of bars at 11pm or even noon.

But what do Tesco spend their money on at conference - sponsoring receptions for the great and the good. Obviously the lobbyists want to make sure their firm's money is being spent well.