Category Archives: Op-eds

Opinion: Cherish the independence of elected members

House of Commons. Crown Copyright applies to this photo - http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/4642915654/I was alarmed initially by the title of Mark Pack´s piece “Lessons from Rennard #4: who gets the party whip is a matter for the whole party”. As it turns out I find myself in agreement with much of it.

Rightly he points out that the smaller the group the more disproportionate influence one person will have. I like his suggestion of referring decisions of removal of the whip to the Federal Appeals Panel. Some scrutiny of the decision from outside parliament will be beneficial to Party and the individual. If adopted, I hope this would apply only to cases of personal misconduct.

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Opinion: If an NHS Tax is a step too far, let taxpayers make an optional “NHS Donation”

nhs sign lrgLiberal Democrats have committed to protecting the NHS Budget in the next Parliament. But over the next 6 years, we will need to fill a £30 billion deficit to maintain the level of quality we expect from our NHS. Social care faces a £7 billion shortfall.

There have been recent reports that senior party figures are looking at a hypothecated “NHS Tax”.

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An email on counter-terrorism measures from a Liberal Democrat should not make me despair…

Nick Clegg has sent the following email to party members this evening about the new counter terrorism measures taken by the Government. There is no doubt that had he not been constrained by Liberal Democrats, David Cameron would have gone much, much further and what has emerged is as liberal as it is likely to get. But I don’t have to like it. Here is what Nick said:

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Opinion: Why I rejoined the Liberal Democrats

I sit here having just rejoined the Liberal Democrats. I was previously a member and considered getting active in my local area. I left because I felt dismayed by the type of politics that I was seeing happening around the country. UKIP were making gains in the European elections, every politician I hear or representative blamed other parties for the failures of the past. In 2010 I was very active within my personal capacity to do so. I delivered campaign material on the doors in all weathers. I had conversations with lifelong Conservative voters in an attempt to highlight the reasons why more Liberal Democrats in Parliament would be good for society. However, since then it seemed that even 4 years on everyone blames someone else for things not getting better.

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Opinion: How about some real fairness in our tax system?

On 27th August as a party of the new Liberal Democrat media strategy of Manifesto by a Thousand Statements, in the name of the party it was announced that The Liberal Democrats have set out plans to introduce a trio of wealth taxes which will help to cut the deficit whilst ensuring fairness in our tax system.  I fully understand the need to wipe out the deficit, and the need for the wealthiest to bear the greatest burden in achieving that, but let us not confuse that with making our tax system fairer.

National Insurance is a tax on income.  It is paid at a rate of 11% on earnings between £7,956 per year and £ 41,865 per year above which it drops to just 2%.  Surely integrating NI into Income Tax, thereby raising the basic threshold to the proposed £12,500 and reducing the rate of payment substantially (we are always told that the richest 10% pay the highest burden in tax) would be a way of  ensuring fairness in our tax system.  This is a measure that would have a direct impact on the daily lives of the majority of our citizens, rather than just playing to the politics of envy.

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Caron’s Sunday Selection: Must-read articles from the Sunday papers

It’s almost September, and, let’s face it, now that the X Factor’s back, tithe countdown to Christmas has begun, so I should probably forget all these leisurely Sunday morning lie-ins and actually start having a look at what’s in the papers again.

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When terror threats are raised, for me the first question is not “Is something awful going to happen on our streets?” It’s “Which of our precious freedoms are the Government planning to take from us?” With Liberal Democrats in Government that anxiety is considerably less than it would be if there were none, but it is still there. Scotland on Sunday tells us how David Cameron and Nick Clegg are having talks today to finalise the Government’s response. The Observer reports that Paddy Ashdown warns against knee jerk reactions, which is a good sign. We’ll cover that separately.

In the Observer, Catherine Bennett cites the recent dire Better Together commercial and Austin Mitchell’s comments to argue that it really is time for All Women Shortlists:

Without Labour’s all-women lists, parliament would resound, indefinitely, to the grunts of its Mitchells, Soameses and Fabricants. Unrecorded in the YouGov poll are people who dislike all-women shortlists but dislike yet more the reason for their continued existence: the very culture that just created the execrable, the relentlessly mocked Woman Who Made up Her Mind.

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What if… David Davis had won the Tory leadership contest in 2005?

Cameron and DavisWhat-ifs are, as Peter Snow would say, just a bit of fun: a counter-factual parlour game for historians. It is impossible to know exactly how one event ricocheting off in a different direction would have altered the subsequent reality.

This one does genuinely intrigue me, though: What if David Davis had won the Tory leadership contest in 2005, rather than David Cameron? Davis did, after all, begin as favourite. His disastrous 2005 party conference – a dud photo-op and a lacklustre speech – coupled with David “let sunshine win the day” Cameron’s triumph meant his second leadership attempt sank without trace. He was trounced 68%-32% in the all-member ballot that followed.

But what if he’d won? Would David Davis have been a more effective leader of the Tories than David Cameron has turned out to be?

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Opinion: Liberal Democrat Fairtrade Future welcomes hospital food announcement

Fairtrdae photo by nagillum

One of the things that makes me proud to be a Liberal Democrat is our belief in fairness.
The very first line in the preamble to our Party’s Constitution states ‘The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a free, fair and open society…’
I also love that we are an internationalist party.
Indeed the preamble goes on to state, ‘We look forward to a World in which all people share the same basic rights…’
For me these two elements of our founding principles come together the Fairtrade movement which I’ve long since championed.
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Reflections on Rotherham (4): Lessons were not learnt before. They cannot be ignored again.

The report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham issued this week makes tragic reading. It highlights the collective failure of the authorities to take robust action over a number of years. It is a matter of astonishment that the findings of no less than three reports were either dismissed or treated as exaggerating the situation. How many fewer victims would there have been if a more aggressive approach had been taken at an earlier stage?

Let us not forget that the real villains in this are the perpetrators of these crimes, who have committed unspeakable acts of violence and abuse on …

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Opinion: Time for change. Time for a Liberal Revival: my manifesto for Party President

I joined this party because I believe in the power of every individual to take power and use it – use it to shape their own lives and communities and to help change the world.

I joined this party because I’ve seen brave people face down threats from large powerful corporations, from their own governments, and from conformity – everything for which we stand.

And I joined this party because ours is the only political philosophy that believes in trusting, enabling and freeing people. We want to lift people out of poverty and ignorance. We want them to have a safety net so they have the confidence to take risks, to innovate and make bold decisions. And we want to create a system of governance that serves people and communities, from the grass-roots up.

We were right to adopt community politics as an ideology of social transformation in the 1970s, and we were right to re-state our commitment to it in 2011. But as I said then – to the nodding heads of Paddy Ashdown and Tim Farron – it must once again become the foundation of our identify and our approach. In 2011, Conference agreed “A renewed strategic emphasis on ‘community politics’: our role as political activists is to help organise people in communities to take and use power, to use our political skills to redress grievances, and to represent people at all levels of the political structure.”

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And the winner of the referendum debate was…….Charles Kennedy

Charles indyrefI’m sure we all remember THAT debate on Monday night between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond. It was what we call in Scotland a right  rammy. Two men standing up on stage shouting at each other has typified the independence debate has generally been going on up here. It’s not edifying. I took part in STV’s live blog of the event and you can see my take on it here.

Although Salmond is widely judged to have won the debate, the pivotal moment came when he laughed at me. Well, not actually at me, but at anyone who wants reassurance that we’re not risking higher interest rates or economic instability over the fundamental issue of the currency. When Alistair Darling, on behalf of people with those concerns, continued to question he First Minister on the risks that sterlingisation would put us under, and to challenge the wisdom of not taking a share of the UK’s debt, Salmond laughed. In a very sneery way. And then he called Darling a One Trick Pony. You know, when you’re trying to persuade people to trust you and make the massive change you want, you need to show you understand their concerns and address them, not treat them with contempt. It’s no wonder that the main theme in my Facebook was that people were fed up and were switching off.

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Reflections on Rotherham (3): Believing and taking responsibility

It was difficult to read the Alexis Jay report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham. 1400 girls and 200 boys brutally abused and exploited.

And then we have the response from the council and the police. Denial. Victim blaming. Placing children into care homes where they were more at risk than they were in the family home. Sending looked-after children to school by taxis implicated in grooming and abuse. Regarding abused children as consenting participants. Treating an abused child as a criminal. Failure to investigate crimes. Vilification of those trying to raise awareness.

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Opinion: If Putin wishes for another cold war…

Putin photo by World Economic ForumOne of the legacies of more than 10 years of conflict, including an illegal war in Iraq, is a war weariness. Weariness on a matter so crucial as war is a healthy thing. If our government had been more weary then the unfortunate consequences we see to this day may have been avoided. But we must not let weariness become blindness. NATO has confirmed that Russia has invaded Ukraine. The most recent in a long list of endeavours from Moldova to Georgia designed to expand the territory and influence of Russia; to realise Putin’s imperial project. He’s demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice money, Russia’s relationship with the West, and thousands of civilians. We need a change of policy.

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Reflections on Rotherham (2): Scapegoating one person misses the larger point

The first thing to say is that the report into child exploitation and the failures of the local authority in Rotherham are tragic and a huge stain on not just Rotherham Council but local authorities generally.

Some will argue that it is completely inappropriate to make political hay with such a story and I am inclined to agree with them. When last year some Labour politicians, including Ed Miliband, used a tragic suicide to score points over the ‘bedroom tax’ I thought it was disgusting. So it’s important to see my comments below in that context: I do not intend them as political point-scoring.

I have concerns about the scapegoating of the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright. The logic of the argument is sound. He was the chief decision-maker for Rotherham Children’s Services for a five-year period during this scandal.

However, there are two difficulties with this.

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Reflections on Rotherham (1): How one community in Rochdale took control to protect its children and young people

Initially the report on Rotherham came as a shock to me – 1400 children raped and abused in one town. Then I read the report and the figures on an annual basis are very similar to those in my home town of Rochdale. But do I believe that things are any different in Oldham, Bolton or Sheffield? These are all similar towns with similar issues. I am clear that just because a town has not identified a problem does not mean that it does not exist.

Moreover, the one lesson that many council chief executives and leaders will have learnt from Rotherham is not to commission an independent report. The second QC’s independent report into child abuse in Rochdale has already been put on hold. For the local police, social services and councillors there is a real incentive to brush things under the carpet. This alone is sufficient to justify national government intervention and leadership. Separate but related to the child abuse situation is the record number of children being taken into care. Rochdale alone has 450 now in care.

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Opinion: 19th September – now what?

imageLooking ahead: It’s 19th September, and Scotland has voted “No” to independence. Thank goodness for that! The uncertainty is over. The people of Scotland will continue to have their say in how the whole of Britain is run; will still use the pound (and still have their say in how it is managed); will, without the need for difficult negotiations, still be part of the EU and still have the whole of NATO ready to protect it; will still be both British and Scottish, without having to choose one or other; will still have representation on the UN security council. And the Union will not have to endure the pain of partition – which a century of evidence from countries like Yugoslavia, Sudan, India and even Ireland tells us can be very great indeed.

The Union has survived, but it was close, and there’s still a problem. Nearly half of Scotland’s population is so unhappy with the way that it is governed that it was willing to turn its back on the benefits of being part of a long-lasting and successful union. Clearly something needs to change, if this widespread discontent is to be contained.

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Better Together can always make a better ad. Alex Salmond can not give us a better currency option than we have being part of the UK

20 pound note. Photo courtesy of steved_np3 on Sxx.huWhat’s the last thing you would want to happen on postal voters’ polling day? How about your own side putting out a broadcast that is beyond terrible? Better Together’s latest effort, showing a woman’s two minute clumsy, contrived monologue as she makes up her mind to vote No. It was Rosie Barnes and her rabbit without the political intelligence.

I’m willing to accept that I may not be its target audience. After all, I am a thoroughly committed No voter and this will have been aimed at undecided women in the largely Labour voting central belt of Scotland. I’m not sure I’m meant to absolutely hate it as much as I do, though. There are ways of appealing to a segment of the population without really annoying a similar group of people.

Calling a broadcast “The woman who made her mind up” as if this was some flight of fancy is the first major error and it doesn’t get much better.  That it was shared more on social media by Yes campaigners than pro UK supporters tells its own story. They have made hay, contributing to a #patronisingbtlady thread on Twitter which, to be honest is just as patronising and sexist as the original broadcast.

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Opinion: Crown Prosecution Service is wrong not to prosecute undercover police officers

It is now widely-known that the Metropolitan Police Force has engaged numerous undercover police officers in covertly infiltrating various organisations which ‘might be’ dangerously subversive over many years. Several such officers have’deepened’ their cover by forming sexual and emotional relationships with memebers of the organisations concerned and have even brought up young children in these circumstances: two such officers have now been named in court proceedings and the existence of almost a dozen others has been acknowledged.
Although private civil prosecutions are proceeding against both individuals and the Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service has recently published statement that there is not sufficient evidence to obtain a reasonable chance of a successful prosecution in a prosecution for ‘misconduct in public office’ and a number of other potential offences.
Much of the evidence of the women concerned is already in the public domain and it is totally clear (and not contested) that there was no possibility whatsoever that they would ever have commenced any sexual ‘relationship’ (sic) with any person who revealed to them that they were a member of a clandestine police surveillance unit. It is also clear that there was no reason whatsoever why the police officers involved ‘needed to’ form such ‘relationships’ in order to continue to perform their covert work. The formation of such ‘relationships’ although they may well have deepened the ‘cover’ and ‘trust’ in which the officers were held, was created by the police officers concerned for their own comfort, convenience and sexual gratification after manifesting to the women concerned, over a prolonged period and in a sustained way, the premise that they had a genuine wish to create a genuine relationship with them. This latter premise is demonstrably-false:the entire persona presented to the women by each of the officers concerned was a deliberate deception. They knew that no such relationship could be sustained once the truth emerged.
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Opinion: A ringfence is not enough for the science budget

The party has recently been trailing hints of the content and priorities of the new manifesto. One released last week was an announcement touting a ringfence of the science budget. They write:

The manifesto plans include ringfencing the science research budget and introducing a green innovation arm to the British Business Bank.

It’s great that the manifesto team have chosen to flag investment in science and innovation as a reason to vote Liberal Democrat in the 2015 general election, but what a meagre and unambitious announcement this was. One worrying sign is the wording mentioning only the ‘research budget’, which raises the concern that this ringfence might be a fig leaf hiding underspending in capital investment for science, as we saw in the early years of the current coalition government – though the 2014 budget went some way towards plugging the gap in capital spending in the sector.

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The Gender Agenda #4: The Liberal Democrats are a feminist party

Feminist fist by Eva the WeaverThe Liberal Democrats are a feminist party. When I first wrote that down I knew it would be a controversial statement among a minority, but right now I think it’s going to cause a wider stir.

It shouldn’t. When I first read the Lib Dem constitution, it seemed obvious that liberalism as it is expressed there, is feminist.

Feminism as I understand it describes a movement that aims to achieve true equality of opportunity, as reflected in more equal outcomes between genders. My support for that movement is why I joined a party that rejects ‘all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.’ (Ok, so I’d prefer if that said ‘gender’ not ‘sex’, but it’s a much bolder statement than the other parties are making).

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Opinion: The argument for devolution

Yorkshire DalesThe British economy and hence the politics of Britain are London-centric. Of this there is no doubt.  Gross Value Added figures, which show the value of goods and services produced by the different regions of the UK highlight this perfectly. The Gross Value Added figure for London is in excess of £37,000 per head of the population. The only other region which gets above £20,000 is the South East.

The gap between London, the South East and the other regions of the UK in terms of economic power and hence influence, is widening by the day. Government after government have used the trickle-down economic argument for saying a strong London means a strong UK. Time after time, this argument fails.  A radical change is needed if this process is to be arrested – or even slowed. The UK needs ALL its regions to be buoyant, efficient and net contributors to its economy.

photo by: tejvanphotos
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Opinion: A hundred years ago…

Rt. Hon. H.H. Asquith  (LOC)1910 was a momentous year for Liberals in UK government, with a long-desired end to bitter struggles with the Conservatives over House of Lords reform arriving at a  triumphant conclusion. Now a House of Lords of whatever persuasion would no longer be able to resist indefinitely progress for the vast majority of democratically drawn-up Parliamentary bills, and Asquith, Lloyd George & co could take much credit for this. Only four years later, however, the country slipped into a war, the wastage of human life caused by which remains unrivalled in the history of western and of European civilisation. What could have gone wrong?

1910 also marked the beginning of  – and 1914 the near-culmination of – a slide in Liberal fortunes which within a decade of the second date would see a national institution reduced to a crowd of irrelevant backbenchers. Asquith was still leader; did he any longer have any party to follow him?

photo by:
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Opinion: Why I’m supporting all women shortlists

three_women_standing_togetherAs the dust begins to settle from the Rennard affair we must now reflect on how our party can stand up to liberal values when it comes to gender equality. It is welcome that, following a review of the procedures of the case, the party now no longer needs a criminal burden of proof in internal disputes of this kind. We can, and should, be proud of the fact that we have changed protocol in light of the failures that have occurred; not every party is so open and willing to change when things go wrong. However more still needs to be done on the wider issue of how we improve the engagement of women in the party.

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Opinion: Compulsory political education?

Ballot boxAs a 17 year old Lib Dem, who has campaigned with two local parties and experienced my first election campaign last May, lowering the voting age is obviously of real importance to me. The party’s long term support of this policy (as well as its unique opportunities for young people) were key factors in my choosing to join the party, aged just 16, last year.

The issue is about to see a bump in publicity via the Scottish Referendum next month, and with the general election approaching there’s the real potential that any government involving Labour or the Lib Dems (or both) will legislate for the change post-May. Labour have recently adopted the policy, and supporters of the campaign “Votes at 16″ include Liberty, The Co-Op, Barnardo’s and the Electoral Reform Society.

photo by: FutUndBeidl
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Opinion: Put revenge pornographers on the Sex Offenders Register

Smartphone bar.Facebook has just been served with its first revenge porn lawsuit. I can’t comment on the particulars of the case in question but it does appear that revenge porn is an issue the law has yet to catch up with. In my opinion, the law should be changed to allow those convicted of distributing revenge porn to be put on the Sex Offenders Register. This requires further clarification of the distinction between legal and illegal pornography.

Once explicit material is published it becomes pornography. If the individuals in the films or photographs do not consent to having the material published, even if he or she consented for the material to be made for another purpose, then it should be classified as illegal pornography. Illegal pornography should also include incidents where material has been accessed through devices without the explicit consent of the individual who owns the device and the participants in the explicit material.

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Opinion: The UK’s takeover laws and short-termism

London Stock Exchange photo by Jam_90s

In the rest of the world hostile takeovers are uncommon or even unknown. Britain is alone in its belief in the benefit of hostile takeovers, a belief which is not supported by the evidence of its large current account and fiscal deficits.

Vince Cable on 13th July wrote on this website that changes are needed to Britain’s takeover laws.  However, the problem is that Britain, unlike for instance Germany and the USA, doesn’t really have any takeover laws.

photo by:
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Opinion: Restructuring is important but the General Election is the priority

Liberal Democrat Conference 2011There has been a lot of talk recently about the way the Party nationally is not accountable to the members enough and also that there should be early warning systems in place to pick up on anything that could be going wrong .The Federal Executive whose members are directly elected by the Conference representatives every two years is the body that is in effect responsible for the internal administration of the Party and is chaired by the President.

As one of the candidates for the post of President I thought I would set out some initial thoughts. I believe the Federal Executive should be restructured to make it more accountable. The fifteen elected members should be given specific portfolios which cover the HQ directorates. In this way there would be a great deal more liaison between the elected executive and the Party staff. The Federal Executive member would be responsible for reporting back to the Federal Executive on key areas of concern that they have. It would be a way of not only alerting the Party quickly if there seems to be a problem but would also give support to the staff themselves.

photo by: NCVO
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Opinion: an open letter to Tim Farron – “And who made you King, anyway?”

imageIn his recent article in Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrat Party President, Tim Farron, refers to a review of the Party’s disciplinary procedures, carried out by a senior barrister, Diya Sen Gupta, and goes on to say;

She has now made recommendations to us and I am determined that we will implement these as quickly as possible.

Now call me a stickler for process if you will, but where does Tim get off making such a statement?

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Opinion: Scotland’s Future – a view from the Gallery

I’ve recently had the chance to work in the Scottish Parliament during August, and it’s been a really great experience. On Thursday, I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the final debate before recess, courtesy of Liam McArthur MSP. By the wonders of technology, you can watch it too.

It was an interesting experience. Alex Salmond took the opportunity to note all the good things the Scottish parliament had done, and attempt to be fair to other parties. He did actually manage this; however, his argument that the parliament has done some great things and made some mistakes could apply to every parliament across the world, including Westminster.

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Opinion: Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel’s “Required reading” leaves a lot to be desired

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishReaders may recall that in May, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP) aroused controversy by posting a link to an alleged anti-Semitic article about Ed Miliband on its Facebook page. LDFP was roundly condemned for posting this link which was quickly removed. An apology from LDFP followed soon after. It is with this case in mind that I am surprised at the lack of response to what the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) is promoting on its website.

Since 27th June, the LDFI site has featured a number of frankly outrageous articles. Contained within these articles are: baseless accusations of anti-Semitism; opinion pieces stating that protesters in London welcomed 9/11; interview write-ups condemning calls upon Israel to reduce civilian casualties; accusations that western journalists are feigning concern for the deaths of Palestinian children etc. At the time of writing, these articles still feature on the LDFI website. They are described collectively as ‘Required reading on the current situation in Israel and Gaza’.

photo by:
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