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Sunday, February 08, 2004

Watching the watchers

Suddenly I feel that the Liberal Democrats are really beginning to get somewhere at a UK level. A group of anonymous Labour activists have decided that we are such a threat to them that they have set up a website dedicated to exposing our every foible. I have no problem with this. Like any party we are a broad church. We have members with a wide range of views and opinions on every subject under the sun, that is why we are a serious political party, because we have that broad appeal.

Our party does however, have agreed policies, principles and objectives. Those are the official views of the party and they represent what we will do in Government. It does not matter how many quotes of individual activists are taken out of context, nor what position they hold in the party, this will not change without a democratic debate and a vote at Conference. To imply that it will is just playing at politics.

Equally, to argue that a member who is not a public representative should be purged from the party or their position within it when they say something on their own behalf and in a private capacity (in a private forum) that does not chime with the official party line, as this website does about one comment on Palestine, says more about the Stalinists who run Libdemwatch and their sort of political party than it does about that member or the Liberal Democrats. We believe in freedom of expression and we value internal debate and discussion as a means of testing our ideas and thoughts. That may be alien to the Labour Party but it is one reason why, for example, three senior Labour Party Members in Bridgend have joined us in as many weeks.

As a side issue I was interested in the words that the member allegedly wrote. The phrase that "There is no such thing as an innocent bystander" was used in a different context by Abbie Hoffman, one of the Chicago Seven who were tried for their part in the demonstrations against the Democrat National Convention in 1968. He also said that "sacred cows make the best hamburgers" and "Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it's something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles." I suspect that if he had lived to see the violence that is being waged now by both sides in Palestine, he would argue that the 'innocent bystanders' should put pressure on their governments and on their neighbours to stop and seek a peaceful solution to their differences.

That does not place the blame for terrorism or even state sponsored violence on those people, it is not their fault, they are victims. What it does is to say that they have it in their power to fight back in the same way that a group of women in Northern Ireland fought back against terrorism a few years ago. It is a big leap into the dark, it means overcoming fear and prejudice but, for the Israelis particularly, where it is their democratically elected Government that is engaging in tit-for-tat violence, it is not impossible to demand that their Ministers stop and allow the situation to cool down before actively seeking a peaceful resolution. There are two sides to this violence but it only takes one of them to change its attitudes and its actions to make a significant difference to the nature of the conflict and international opinion on it.
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