Something stirring in the heart of England

Newbury public meetingNewbury, Berkshire, is a relatively prosperous place which tends to mind its own business. “O little town of Newbury, how still your ruins lie”, goes the song in the Liberator song book. Occasionally the town has been at the heart of protests, such as those at Greenham Common and against the Newbury by-pass.

There is nothing more British than the public meeting. It is a great expression of our democracy. If three people and a dog turn up, it is clear that people care more about “Emmerdale” than they do about the item under discussion. But, occasionally, an issue hits a nerve and people turn up for a public meeting brimming with passion and, yes, outrage, to make clear that this (the subject for discussion) is something up with which they will not put.

We get accused of being very insular in this country. So it was very gratifying to see standing room only (with additional people turned away for safety reasons) at a public meeting called, at shortish notice, in Newbury Town Hall this week to discuss the situation in Gaza.

This may be something happening 2,270 miles away, but there appears to have been a sea change in the mood of the UK. No longer are people prepared to give the state of Israel the benefit of the doubt. There was a remarkable outpouring of outrage on behalf of the Palestinians at the meeting. Many speakers had personal connections to the situation. A couple of people spoke briefly and bravely in favour of Israel. But the overwhelming message of the meeting was: this has to stop.

One lady, quoted by said:

I consider my best friend someone who comes to me and tells me a difficult truth. Sometimes it’s difficult but that’s what you do. There comes a point when you say to your friend, ‘you are becoming a pariah and you are putting us all in danger’.

It weakens our credibility if we are not prepared to acknowledge good work done by our political opponents. This meeting was organized by Richard Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury, and also attended by Judith Bunting, Liberal Democrat candidate for the constituency, who spoke in the debate. Richard spoke with great passion, eloquence and knowledge in defence of the Palestinians, calling the Israeli response “disproportionate” and saying that we should not sell any arms to Israel. On this issue, Richard is at the enlightened end of Conservative party thinking.

An ICM poll, published yesterday, found that a majority of British voters, 52%, believe Israel acted in a disproportionate manner during the recent Gaza conflict. It found that 19% thought Israel had acted proportionately while 29% of those polled did not know.

Goodness knows what will happen next, but the message from middle-England is clear: The Israeli actions are disproportionate and there needs to be an immediate restoration of dignity of life for the Palestinians.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Jonathan Pile 14th Aug '14 - 9:00am

    For once Paul in am in complete agreement with you – well said.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '14 - 10:26am

    Well said Paul.

    Unfortunately I was unable to get to the meeting in Newbury as I was held up discussing these very matters elsewhere, but the community groups that I work with via All2gether – West Berkshire Minority Ethnic Forum that attended were pleased with Richard Benyon’s responses, although some of these groups would like to hear a louder definitive message supporting the cessation of violence being heard from the British Government.

    If we are to attract BME communities to our Party, we need to fast realise that although these communities may share concerns about ‘pot holes’, they also consider international relations and our international policies before they join.

    Personally I believe that within our own Party much more could be done via the ‘Friends of …’ groups to reduce the tension that exists within our own Party as well as within wider society. If we internally cannot sit together and speak of peace, whilst we have the luxury of not facing injury and death as a result of rocket, bombs and bullets, then how on earth do we expect others in Israel and Palestine who do face these dangers to engage in meaning talks?

    We ultimately in our Party are meant to share a belief in similar principles so we have an immediate advantage so please lets start the healing process internally.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • David Evershed 14th Aug '14 - 1:19pm

    Should the ‘proportionality’ of the Israeli’s defence against rocket and other attacks be judged by

    1. The extent of the attacks (1000s of rockets)
    2. The deliberate intention of Hamas to kill Israeli civilians
    3. The success of the defence (only 10s of Israelis killed)
    4. The the number of Gazans killed in the Israeli counter attacks
    5. A combination of the above or
    6. Some other measure?

  • Of course Israel’s attacks on Gaza were disproportionate. The game was given away in the backdrops to news reports. When Israeli government commentators were on it was against a backdrop of well lit office blocks, busy traffic, bustling shopping malls and well attended Tel Aviv beaches.

    In contrast the scenes from Gaza were of flattened housing, ruined hospitals, demolished schools, the one and only power station destroyed and the bodies of dead children on the beach.

  • David Cooper 14th Aug '14 - 5:35pm

    Paul, I’m sorry I missed this meeting!

    The last time Britain fought a major war, our leader Churchill said of our enemies, “they have sown the wind; they shall reap the whirlwind”. Would this now be regarded as disproportionate hence a war crime? This shows how absurd international law has become.

    When a state fires missiles into a neighboring country, its neighbor has the right to do whatever is needed to protect its population and prevent further attacks. Gaza today is reminiscent of Cambodia in the late 70’s, when a crazed leadership attacked Vietnam. Although they only managed to destroy a few villages, and were militarily no match , Vietnam was quite justified in mounting a full scale invasion and driving the Khmer Rouge out. Disproportionate perhaps; but utterly necessary and justified.

    The key difference is that in Gaza today, the crazies are democratically elected and enjoy widespread support.

  • Even if you double that number of Israelis killed by rocket attacks, Matthew, it’s still disproportionate. And when you add in the bombings of three UN schools being used as shelters, it is hardly surprising people are outraged.

  • A Social Liberal 15th Aug '14 - 2:24am


    I suggest you consider examining proportionality a different way. Count the number of explosions caused by Hamas since 2006 which occured within the borders of Israel, then consider the numbers of explosions within the Gaza during the same time frame which can be laid at the feet of Israel.

    Proporttionality is all well and good so long as it is viewed objectively – I suggest you do not do so.

  • What sort of twisted morality equates explosions with human lives?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 15th Aug '14 - 8:10am

    Dear Liberal Democrats,

    Whilst we within the Party debate like ‘armchair warriors’ who is more at fault, people are being killed by bullets, rockets, bombs and most of all shrapnel. The vast majority of these deaths are not of combatants who chose their direction, but innocent members of the public. It is pretty obvious to me that many of the pro-antagonist’s in our Party have never see up close what damage a high velocity round does to someone head, or even mutilated bodies, and long my they remain in innocence, but if they did they would not be so keen to see the mutilation continue.

    The killing whether it is done defending Palestine or Israel has to stop NOW, for ‘hatred only begets hatred’ as the saying goes, and the more who die, the more there will be a blood lust for vengeance.

    As a Liberal Democrat I cannot condone the slaughter that is going on that so many people seem to be happy to see continue. There are a minority if people who are controlling and directing this tragedy, who I am sure are quite safe themselves and care little for the deaths of even their own people’s for they will believe that the ‘ends justifies the means’. It never does!

    Please, let’s cease the entrenched dialogue within this Party which many of us joined because of its stance on Peace and join together to bring about a peaceful resolution. It deeply saddens me that this ‘tit for that’ debate has continued as long as it has in our Party. I do not believe that I have joined the wrong Party, but perhaps some people have forgotten why they did?

    Only ‘love begets love’!

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

  • Matthew

    I was just trying to say that the British people have historically felt support and sympathy for Israel, hence the strong feelings – see the lady quoted talking about best friends.

    In your example, I am not aware of recent occasions when the French have bombed UN schools being used as shelters.

    200+ Palestinian children killed in the last month compared to about 30 Israeli citizens killed in the last twelve years by Hamas rockets.

    I respect your view Matthew but we are never going to agree re: proportionality, and that was the gist of the public outrage in the meeting described at the start of this.

  • David Cooper 15th Aug '14 - 11:25am

    Dear Paul,
    About 30 Israelis have been killed by rocket attacks in last 12 years. By your doctrine of proportionality the appropriate response by Israel would have been to grab 30 random Palestinians off the street , execute them , and call it quits! With respect, your idea of “proportionality” is absurd.

    The moral response by Israel is to stop attacks on their own civilians, where possible minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza. This requires them to attack UN schools being used as shelters, when (as the UN admits) they are used by Hamas. Israel faces a death cult that rules Gaza with popular support, and is acting responsibly in impossible circumstances.

    Dear Ruwan
    Your appear to be advocating pacifism . Pacifism is a luxury for those that live in a well armed and well defended country. I imagine there are very few pacifists remaining alive in Northern Iraq. I am proud that one of the greatest leaders ever, Winston Churchill, served as a Liberal, and led us to victory in a just and vigorously prosecuted war.

  • I find these excellent points Matthew. We’ll have to agree to disagree. I am just a little concerned that you change the subject quite often. In Afghanistan, to my knowledge, we are not blockading the people and actively reducing them to appalling conditions, we are supporting them.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 16th Aug '14 - 8:34pm

    @David Cooper

    “Your appear to be advocating pacifism ”

    Well that would be novel, so yes I suppose I am suggesting a non-violent approach no matter the provocation.

    Naturally the ‘armchair warriors’ on both sides who seem to so love the thought of more deaths, will find the idea of non-violence objectionable, but they have this luxury sitting at home here in the UK totally safe.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Liberal Democrat English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrat (EMLD) – Vice Chair

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