Government talk of returning jihadis and ‘western values’ won’t keep us safe. We need a coordinated international strategy to defeat those who threaten us
It is always easy to persuade frightened people to part with their liberties. But it is always right for politicians who value liberty to resist attempts to increase arbitrary executive powers unless this is justified, not by magnifying fear, but by actual facts.
On Friday, the government announced that the imminent danger of jihadi attack meant Britain’s threat level should be raised to “severe”. Then, from the prime minister downwards, Tory ministers took to every available airwave to tell us how frightened we should be and why this required a range of new powers for them to exercise. For the record, the threat level in Northern Ireland has been “severe” for the past four years – as it was in all Britain for many years in the 1980s and 1990s, when the IRA threat was at its greatest.
I say this not to deny the threat from returning jihadis – though as the former head of counter-terrorism for MI6, Richard Barrett said on Saturday, this should not be overestimated. But rather to make the point that this is not a new threat. It is one we have faced before and one we know how to deal with – effectively, without panic and without a whole new range of executive powers that could endanger our liberties. Indeed, when it comes to facing threats, it was surely far more difficult to cope with IRA terrorists slipping across the Irish Sea than it is to stop jihadis returning from Iraq?
Lib Dem Wales Office Minister Jenny Randerson is today visiting Portmeirion, the beautifully-crafted Italianate village and hotel in Porthmadog.
The village attracts visitors from across the globe – more than 200,000 in 2013 – and has a cult following from its role as the setting for television series The Prisoner.
The Minister will then visit the majestic Plas Newydd on the Menai Straits to tour the house and see its revolutionary marine source heat pump.
The innovative system pumps a small amount of sea water from the Menai Straits through pipes from a heat exchanger, up 30 metres of cliff face into the mansion’s boiler house. The system, installed earlier this year, will save the property around £40,000 a year in heating bills.
Baroness Randerson said:
Plas Newydd and Portmeirion are leaders in their fields and offer tourists a glimpse of something very special in the areas of architecture and science. They both draw visitors to this splendid area of Wales.
We need to encourage those visiting Wales for the NATO Summit to take the opportunity to explore all we have to offer. I look forward to promoting these and the many other fantastic venues across Wales to those I’ll be meeting at the forthcoming NATO-related events.
Civilian suffering shocked the public in the first world war, but we have become numb to it
The tragedy of the centenary we commemorate this week is that it falls as some of the most brutal and merciless wars of those same hundred years are raging. What characterises contemporary wars above all – in Syria, Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic – is that the main victims are civilians, many of them utterly innocent children. Furthermore their deaths and injuries cannot be dismissed as unintended consequences of war. Some are deliberate.
Attacks on Belgian and French civilians, including children, by Germany’s invading army in August 1914 shocked the public and politicians in Britain and elsewhere into intervening, and many individual men into enlisting – so much so that conscription in Britain was not introduced until 1916. Among those appalled by the attacks on civilians was my mother, Vera Brittain, who was to become the author of Testament of Youth, a remarkable memoir of the war. Her childhood dream had been to go to Oxford University and become a writer. But the suffering of civilians and the mounting toll of soldiers compelled her to abandon that dream and sign on as a volunteer nurse in military hospitals in England, Malta and France.
Reports of civilian and soldier deaths in 1914 were carried in Britain by local as well as national newspapers. But today’s television images of dead babies, terrified children, destroyed homes in ruined streets, while evoking outrage, also have a numbing effect: so much horror, so much violence that the traditional distinctions between civilians and soldiers, originating in Saint Thomas Aquinas’s concept of a “just war” seem irrelevant.
The Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill, currently going through report stage in the Lords, has a non-snappy title clearly not dreamt up with Public Relations in mind. It is however important as it includes creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman and reform of Service complaints system.
As we move into Report stage the Liberal Democrat team, including the valuable contributions of my Lib Dem colleague Martin Thomas (Lord Thomas of Gresford), concentrated on two amendments. One to ensure that a complaint does not disappear if the complainant dies. The second is to carry out an investigation of any allegations of systemic abuse or injustice if it appears to her/him to be in the public interest and that there should be compelling circumstances.
Martin has outlined the importance of these amendments saying: “It may very well be that, in the course of the investigation of individual complaints, it will come to the attention of the ombudsman that there is a culture of abuse or bullying in a particular area. They may well feel that they would have to investigate that on their own initiative, and not await instruction, following their annual report, from the Secretary of State.”
Lib Dem Peer Susan Kramer appeared on Friday’s Any Questions on BBC Radio 4.
From the BBC blurb:
Jonathan Dimbleby presents political debate and discussion from St James’ Church in Emsworth, Hampshire, with Chairman of the Football Association Greg Dyke, Editor of Harper’s Bazaar Justine Picardie, Conservative MEP Dan Hannan and Transport Minister Baroness Kramer.
Car clubs are set to receive a £500,000 boost to drive forward their work, Lib Dem Transport Minister Baroness Kramer has announced.
As part of a wider visit to Norfolk today (28 July 2014), the minister announced that the Department for Transport will provide the funding to support 2 pilot programmes which will promote much wider access to car clubs.
Baroness Kramer said:
Car clubs cut congestion, reduce carbon and save people money while still giving people the freedom and flexibility to use a car when they want to. Interest in car clubs is already gathering pace and we want to give that interest added momentum.
This funding will highlight their many advantages to even more people and help take car clubs up a gear.