Sudan arrests

I am contacting David Miliband to ask him to make urgent representations to Sudan about the arrest of 51 women activists in front of the court in Khartoum this morning. This is completely unacceptable. According to an email forwarded to me three of those women have been injured and had to be taken to hospital.

And what were these activists protesting about? The trial of Lubna Hussein. Lubna Hussein is a Sudanese woman faces a flogging and lashes for wearing trousers. She resigned her UN job which would have afforded her immunity so that she could fight for Sudanese women’s human rights.

The Times has a fuller version:

I suggest anyone reading this should email David Miliband immediately to call for the release of the 51 women and the ending of such archaic and repressive laws.

Lockerbie: shades of Alexander Litvinenko

When Alexander Litvinenko was murdered (in Muswell Hill), poisoned – I challenged the Government and then Home Secretary John Reid to pursue his killer without fear nor favour, however close the trail got to the Russian establishment.

That is the promise I got from him – but in the end – and despite taking Mrs Litvinenko for a private meeting with David Miliband in which he also promised to bring this to the European table to put pressure on from that angle – justice has never been done.

And it will never be done – because not only is there definitely fear and favour – but it would seem that real justice will always take second place to trade deals and arms deals, with political expedience coming way above the justice that ordinary folk believe in.

If the Libyan bomber had genuinely been released for genuine compassionate reasons because he was genuinely going to die within three months and we are a compassionate country and there were genuinely no other considerations – then we could argue the genuine debate about whether he should have died in prison or be released.

As it is – we have been duped again. It is quite clear, after all the leaks and all the published papers of correspondence and the contradictory statements (contradicting themselves usually)that Straw and Brown have made, how justice gets treated as an expendable add-on. The size of the tragedy at Lockerbie highlights throws into sharp relief that expendable face of justice.

Government’s death sentence for Iraqi employees: a first-hand account

The reality of the Government’s death sentence to Iraqi employees has been really brought home to me by an email sent to me because of my activity on this issue by an Iraqi translator working for the British in Iraq. Because I want to protect him I can’t give too many details but here’s a bit of the email:

I read about you on the internet that you are supported the interpreters asylum matter, so I decided to write about our suffering to you and I appreciate that you are a very busy woman but I trust you to do your best for us and I wish that from you.

He describes his length of service and the job titles (not given to protect). He goes on:

In 2006 I have threatened by militia that hated me because I work and help coalition forces in Iraq, I told my bosses about that but they said we can’t do anything for you because we have nothing to do with civilian and we don’t have any army rules or orders to help you, then I continued my daily work with British army, few days later the militia attacked my house trying to catch me but I was at the work at that time, they beaten my family and told them: we want your son or we will kill all of you!!!!

Since that day I decided to leave my job and change my home place but until this moment the militia trying to find and kill me, I’m always changing my place trying to hidden from them, they know that I left my job but they don’t care, they just want to kill me they called me collaborator and traitorous and they asked everybody know me about my place, they told them: anyone know anything about XXX should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch XXX.

He goes on to say that the Prime Minister’s statement actually attracted more attention by the militia and now they are trying even harder to catch the Iraqi workers; that it is asylum in Britain that they need – not money; and that the British Government processes are too slow and they are facing terrible situations in Basra and could be killed any time.

He goes on with the chilling words:

Madam, I live in a very dangerous situation (it’s like the hell) until this moment the militia keep looking for me trying to kill me because of the kind of my job with British army; they think its VIP job. I can’t even get a job because the militia, I’m jobless since I left my job with British, I’m hidden now but I’m sure one day they will find me because they have many people work under cover for them.

I adjure you to help us, please pass my voice to the British government and please try to put a pressure on the government to do something for us as a quick as possible.

I’m ready to provide you with any thing you need from me.

Well – David Miliband published a Written Ministerial Statement elucidating a bit more and moving a bit on what we Brits are going to do to help those Iraqi workers who worked or are working for us in Iraq and consequently being killed and hunted down for doing so.

The Labour government have behaved appallingly and only after lots of effort on many parts have moved to grudgingly give a package (inadequate) to those in danger. But it doesn’t include their families and it didn’t allow them to come to Britain.

This further statement says they can come – but doesn’t deal with the families, the need for proper contracts with those who work for us, with a webiste, with the slow speed of any package reaching them etc etc.

British forces lives have dependant on the intelligence and work of these Iraqis – the least we can do is repay the favour. The Government is treating these people like they are applying for means tested benefit – not like people who are fleeing for their lives. The 12 months service eligibility criteria is ridiculous. Assessed risk, rather than length of service, should be the main criterion for granting asylum or resettlement packages. The death squads in Iraq don’t stop to ask how long interpreters served for us, so why are we?

Needless to say I will be taking the whole of the email to David Miliband and the Home Secretary to make the case!

(If you want to take action yourself on this – see Dan Haride’s blog and also the Lib Dem Iraqi interpreters site).

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Tradition turns sadistic in Parliament

Lynne Featherstone with Marina LitvinenkoToday was the meeting I had squeezed out of the Foreign Secretary about the death of Alexander Litvinenko (Pollonium 210 radiation poisoning case). This was so that Marina Litvinenko could get an update on efforts to extradite suspect Andrew Lugovoi from Russia to stand trial for killing her husband.

David Miliband had come to the House of Commons to make a statement on the situation previously – including the expulsion of the Russian diplomats – and I had managed to catch Mr Speaker’s eye. Given the opportunity, I asked David M if he would meet with Marina as she had so many questions to ask that were unanswered. So – today was the day.

As it was a private meeting, I won’t go into the details of what took place, other than to say that during the meeting a vote in Parliament was unexpectedly called. So – David M and I ran, jumped into his car and ran again to get to the Chamber to vote.

We were voting opposite ways – and I reached the door from the Chamber to the voting lobby (MPs vote by physically walking through the yes or no lobby) as the shout went up ‘lock the doors’.

The officer of the house actually closed the door on me as I scooted through and really hurt my hand. I understand that you have to have a cut-off point for voting and close the doors – but I would have thought it inappropriate to push it closed with me in it. That is tradition turned sadistic!

Anyway – back we jumped into the car and back to the meeting. Too much excitement for one day.

Criminal investigations at home and abroad

Ealing bright and early – everyone seems very jolly this morning. Think that is probably the aftermath of the news that broke yesterday about the Tory Tony Lit (and Tory must be a loose description) who gave £4,800 to Labour just before he became Tory candidate.

Then back to Parliament, where suddenly see on the annunciator (TV screens around Parliament that tell you what is happening in the Commons and Lords) that there is a statement to be made – an update from the Foreign Secretary on Litvinenko.

I seize my opportunity, as I have been waiting for the new Cabinet to be in place before trying to arrange for Marina Litvinenko and myself to meet with the Foreign Secretary. I get called – compliment (genuinely) David Miliband on his proposal to take a hardish (but proportionate line) with the Russians – expelling diplomats in response to their refusal to extradite the murder suspect in the case – and then ask him if he will agree to meet with me and Marina. He basically says yes – him or if not him – his official. So – a good ask!

Then straight into the BAE corruption debate. It is a Liberal Democrat Opposition motion. What struck me most was the Government’s absolutely vitriol towards us for raising the issue. Very telling! They didn’t like it one bit. I expect it is because the Government has used the smoke screen of ‘national security’ to hide the reason for the dropping of the investigation into BAE by the Serious Fraud Office. They wanted the contract for jobs and commercial reasons – but that is not a reason that can be used for dropping an investigation – only national security is. Hence – it is about national security and I’m the sugar-plum fairy! I didn’t catch Mr Speaker’s eye sadly – despite bobbing up and down for a few hours. I had to satisfy myself with a few interventions instead!

Gordon Brown

So – it’s to be a coronation! Guess the clunking fist from the future Prime Minister and the spineless consent from the ranks of Labour MPs (the same spineless ones that voted through the war) will deny members their say, the party a proper debate and Gordon a mandate.

It would have been so much better if David Miliband or Charles Clarke or anyone had had the balls to fight Gordon. Even John McDonnell would have been better than nothing and no one. It feels wrong and will do so unless and until there is a General Election. And Gordon (middle name cautious) is unlikely to go for it immediately. Unless he really is new Gordon!

Gordon’s first (and only) hustings saw him present himself as ‘new’ Gordon, for a ‘new’ Britain, with ‘new’ ideas and ‘new’ challenges, etc. etc. ‘Scuse me for thinking he was the bloke what was there all along, hiding head below parapet whilst signing the cheques. Iraq, tuition fees, cutting benefits for the disabled, tube privatisation, and on and on. He was there, at the centre of power, all the time. Not so new Gordon!

What can we expect under Gordon? More announcement, re-announcements and then announcement for a third time of the same pots of money – and a dark, brooding, master pulling the central strings from behind closed doors. I hope I’m wrong, but …

My views on the stories that don't matter

Pile of newspapersDeath of Anna Nicole Smith: tragic, but not an international news story that needs live coverage on rolling news channels.

Miliband’s “gaffe”: plenty of politicians I can think of have had a bounce in their popularity after they stood down – so his comment that in a future with Brown as PM people might be pinning for Blair was really just a statement of the extremely likely. About as newsworthy and gaffe-like as if he’d said there’ll be some sunny days this summer.

Politics and the media would all be much better off if we just grew up a bit and realised that stating the obvious or listening to views and changing your mind are normal, human, sensible things to do – not shock horror gaffes or embarrassing u-turns.

Al Gore success!

I Al Gorenote with great pleasure that the Government has announced that they are now going to send the DVD of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ to every secondary school.

Given that this was my suggestion in the Climate Change debate on 12th October 2006 (even praised in the debate by the Tory spokesperson in his closing remarks as a jolly good idea) and which I followed up by a letter from me to David Miliband – I am well-chuffed! Of course, I heard it on the news – not in reply to my missive!

You can still watch my own YouTube clip about Al Gore’s film here.

Political bloggers

Speech to the Government Smart Forum. It was a bit like walking into the lion’s den to give the Liberal Democrat position on ID cards (against) because – as the Chair pointed out – most of those in the room stood to gain financially from the relentless march of the ID and smart cards.

In the event it was good fun – and seemed to go down well. And given what the Chair said, I though it was a moral victory that in the straw poll vote at the end the room was pretty evenly split – only marginally in favour of database and ID card! But as the Chair also pointed out – those who voted against may not have been against the card or database – just the idea of this Government implementing and administering it!

Straight on to interview with Channel 4 for a package on blogging. There is a small, but definitive band of us who the media come to for stories about political blogging. Guido Fawkes, Recess Monkey, Iain Dale, me and David Miliband – on the whole. The blogs are all quite different and we all have a different approach and purpose with our blogs.

Ben Cohen, the interviewer, asked me which blogs I read – and I had to confess very few. To be frank as an MP I don’t get any time (although I would love to spend my time doing so) to enter the blogging community in that way. He asked me what I thought of David Miliband’s blog, and I had to confess I had never been onto that site – although I have heard it is pretty bland. Hey – he’s a Labour Minister – what did you expect?

The interesting point Ben brought up was that both Tories and Lib Dems are encouraging their troops to get involved in blogging but Labour isn’t – and therefore is missing out on this movement which is at times breaking news itself. But an army of bloggers saying whatever they wish – Labour nightmare! Especially at a time like now … (Though they shouldn’t be scared. At the time of my party’s leadership travails earlier this year, it was tricky to blog at times – but being able to communicate via blog helped me explain to people what I was thinking and why and things were better for that).

The Lib Dems are taking blogging more and more seriously – indeed I’ll be handing out a “blog of the year” award at this year’s party conference. (If you are a Lib Dem blogger going to conference, see the blogging tips on the party’s website).

And lastly – Blair’s ‘announcement’. I thought it was masked incandescent anger. As for Gordon – he did what Blair forced him to do: give him support. If Labour have any sense (and judging from early rumblings after the announcement sense isn’t their strong card at this moment in time) they will now shut up and concentrate their fire on the Tories. But that would mean breaking some very ingrained habits. We will see!

Any Questions

Surgery ’til lunchtime and then – after a bit of paperwork – off to Norwich for Any Questions. I catch the 4pm train from Liverpool Street with newspapers, briefings and blank paper and pens and spend the journey trying to work out what the questions might be.

When I get up to get off, I discover my co-panellist, Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty, is in the seat just in front. A car is there to meet us and take us to the restaurant – where Jonathan Dimbleby and John Bercow (Tory) are already seated for dinner. He now bears the ‘moderate’ tag in the Tory party and is a keen Ken Clarke supporter. David Miliband (Labour, minister) is not yet there. About three quarters of an hour into the dinner – Miliband arrives with assistant in tow. We are all strictly told not to bring assistants to the dinner – but Ministers and power and status you know. The atmosphere changes immediately. There is something quite chilling about Labour automatons – natural conversation diminishes and careful phrasing and tones take over. Strangely enough, in the anteroom when we arrive at the venue for the show, the coldness disappears just briefly and the human being can be glimpsed – completely charming.

Anyway – there is a warm up question on Pinter (not broadcast, but done to get us all into the swing of things) and then we are on. First up is the judgement on the Zimbabwe asylum seeker. Although he lied in his application, the courts have found the Government wanting and in neglect of their duty as they returned people to places without worrying enough about the human rights situation in the place they’re returning them to. Shami, John and I all welcome the decision – and Milliband mutters about a rethink. Jonathan Dimbleby asks me if I am encouraged by the Minister’s concession to ‘rethink’ and I say I am always encouraged when the Government says it will rethink. Of course – later I thought of a much better retort, as one does.
Drugs and Cameron! My take was that David Cameron should have just admitted whatever he had done at college and left it there. The BBC license fee (not surprisingly) was on the menu and we all paid tribute to the hand that fed us and then went onto the real heart of the matter on civil liberties. I am not going to bang on through the whole program (because you can listen to it on the BBC’s website for the next week – and because readers of this blog will know my views well by now!).

The show always finishes with a quirky question. On the train up and looking at the papers I thought it might be who would the panel choose to play the new James Bond. I carefully hone by answer (settling on Jonathan Ross in the end) but sadly – this isn’t the question that comes up!