Post Offices, David Hockney and Cyprus

Lib Dem Opposition Day – which means we get to put a motion to the House in the main chamber – which means in normal speak that the Liberal Democrats get to choose the topic for debate in the House of Commons today. And as the Government won’t give the Post Office debating time – we pick the Post Office, whose network which has been decimated over recent years – denuding both rural and urban areas of a central function and social fulcrum. Thousands of sub-post offices have given up the ghost as Government has removed function after function from their stock of services.

What the Government seems completely deaf to are the consequences for villages and little local shopping parades and for the vulnerable who can just about get to a post office. Stony ground during the debate. The Government is not interested in good arguments, logic or reason – only in steam-rollering through ‘modernisation’. But genuine modernisation would be to use Post Offices to provide more services locally – not less. The Tories voted with us – but the Government can always out vote us and they did. Moral victory is not satisfying enough!

After that, I went to the opening of the new David Hockney exhibition at the National Portrait gallery – and met David Hockney. For me – a real highlight. Having been a designer and illustrator for 20 years before politics, and having grown up through the years of Hockney’s Bigger Splash and Warhol, looking at the pictures sparked many memories of my youth. Standing in front of one of the swimming pool / naked young man paintings of the Bigger Splash era, one such memory came bounding back across the intervening decades – auditioning for Andy Warhol’s play ‘Pork’ when I was about 18. They phoned to offer me the part of the understudy – but it was just before the summer hols and I was going to Greece with my friends – so I turned it down! The rest, as they say, is history. And then moving along – sure enough – there was a portrait of Warhol.

Earlier in the day I had met with two women representatives of Embargo – a lobby group who are trying to get Turkish Cypriot isolation ended – Suzanne Nuri and Fusun Nadiri. Recently the intransigent impasse between Turkish and Greek Cypriots seems to me to have become more, rather than less, entrenched. But as always on these issues of great divides of historic rights and wrongs what strikes me is the dreadful situations ordinary people have to live with for decades whilst their governments and leaders refuse to move ahead.

I don’t see the point of keeping people in dreadful situations. It’s as if somehow if the situation is eased the people will feel less like keeping to old demands and will move on with their lives thus leaders lose their rallying causes. But I don’t think ordinary people should have to suffer in this way.

Having come out of the statement in Parliament on Northern Ireland for this meeting – the (near) miracle of Northern Ireland has to be a message of hope and possibility for all of these dreadful world divides. For whether Catholic and Protestant, Palestinian and Israeli or Greek or Turkish Cypriot – it is clear where great men and women put aside the hatreds of centuries for the benefit of all futures – there is no enmity so great that peace cannot be found. That is the message of hope from Northern Ireland. And if Tony really wants an outstanding legacy – one that would erase the bitter taste of Iraq – then let him go use his skills and energies in the Middle East – that would be truly remarkable.

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