Tag Archives: middle east

Observations of an ex pat: The Middle East explained

The Cold War-like conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia is simmering quite nicely—and, like most Middle East problems, threatening to boil over. The roots, the causes, the issues and the problems are all part of that complex Middle East tapestry which closely resembles Churchill’s riddle wrapped in an enigma and perpetually shrouded in the shifting sands of Arabia.

But I will attempt to provide a guide on today’s state of play.

The Sunnis hate the Shias.

The Shias hate the Sunnis

The problem is a 1,382-year-old dispute over the religious line of succession

Iran is the dominant Shia power

Saudi Arabia is the dominant Sunni power.

Almost all the other countries line up behind either Iran or Saudi Arabia, although some try to take a middle route. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as tensions rise.

The latest problems started with the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and his replacement by a Shi-ite theocracy.

Another exacerbating factor was the demise of Iraq’s secular—but still Sunni– leader Saddam Hussein who has been replaced by a pro-Iranian Shia leadership in Iraq.

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The Independent View: Jewish opposition to Israeli policies

Since the beginning of the second intifada in 2002, there has been significant Jewish opposition in the UK, Western Europe and the United States to Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian land, and to the repressive measures Israel takes against Palestinian resistance. Jews for Justice for Palestinians, now with nearly 2,000 signatories, is by far the biggest Jewish peace group in the UK or Europe. JJP is a founder member of European Jews for a Just Peace, the federation of 13 peace groups in 10 European countries.

JJP’s core beliefs can be summarised as:

Palestinians have the right to their own state in the areas occupied by Israel in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, no less than Israel has the right to a secure existence within the 6 June 1967 borders. Israel must negotiate in good faith to withdraw to the 1967 borders, subject to an agreed, equitable land swap to accommodate the built-up areas in some of the settlements.

Violence against civilians is unacceptable, no matter who commits it.

Israel must acknowledge its responsibility for the 750,000 Palestinians who were driven out or fled in 1947/49, and who, with their children and grandchildren, make up today’s Palestinian refugees. Israel must negotiate a fair and practical resolution of the issue.

Our beliefs are based on the humanitarian values of Judaism, universal values of human rights and international law. As disquiet about Israel’s policies has grown, our beliefs have become common and are now shared by many in the community. All this was established by the meticulous City University survey “Attitudes of British Jews Towards Israel”, published in 2015.

The survey shows that Israel plays an important part in the identity of most Jews, but also that, far from there being widespread support for Israel’s policies among Jews, there is actually a wide diversity of attitudes, as one would expect to find in society generally. Depending on the question asked, responses varied from large majorities opposed to Israeli policies to significant minorities opposed.

Some examples will suffice to show the diversity: 

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Disaster of Iraq is just one chapter of a flawed British Middle East Adventure

As we reflect on the Chilcot report, it is also worth reminding ourselves that British Foreign Policy in the Middle East has been flawed and at times disastrous for the last 100 years.  Too often it has been based on colonial ambition or narrow economic self-interest or just surrendering to powerful lobbies – often ignoring the expertise of well-informed diplomats and historians whose advice would have helped to avoid and repeat mistakes.

Until shortly before World War 1 the Levant was run by the armies of occupation of the Ottoman Empire.  While this colonial Ottoman governance was exploitative and far from benign, it must be admitted that Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in relative peace and harmony, trading together, socialising and even inter-marrying.  The arrival of the French and British colonial powers was at first welcomed by most Arabs, who anticipated a less grasping and more civilised governance and some hope of eventual self-rule.  Fairly soon the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 led to a carving up of the region into French and British spheres of influence which showed little respect for natural communities and ethnic or religious difference.  Promises about self-governance were repeatedly broken or only half-implemented. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised the creation of a Jewish national home within Palestine was greeted with dismay by Palestinian Arabs, so the British government pledged that the rights of Palestinians must be protected in the implementation of this plan – a promise that was totally forgotten when the time came.

In the aftermath of World War 2, and, under pressure from Zionist terrorist gangs, a virtually bankrupt British Government could not escape quickly enough; it abandoned the Palestinians to their fate when the UN approved the partition of the country.  The resulting ethnic cleansing and subsequent Israeli –Arab wars have left the festering sore of Israel as the occupying power in Palestinian majority areas in defiance of international law and UN resolutions.

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Lib Dems and the Middle-East: are we prepared to address the obvious?

I am a “Newbie-Oldbie” and joined the Party after the 2015 elections. With a lifelong interest in international relations and career with much overseas work, I particularly wanted to find out where the Party stood on Middle Eastern affairs.

I decided to attend the York conference which had interesting fringe meetings dealing with both Israel/Palestine and Syria. What really struck was the contrast between the two cases. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a relatively straightforward clash between a settler-colonial movement and indigenous people, but that of Syria is really complicated, with many moving parts­:

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Tim Farron says UK Government should challenge Saudis over executions and human rights

Tim Farron went on Sky News yesterday to describe the execution of 47 people in Saudi Arabia as both “morally wrong and politically foolish” and to criticise the UK Government for being too soft on the Saudis and not calling them out for their appalling human rights record.

I remember being very proud when one of the first big things Vince Cable did as acting leader back in 2007 was to boycott the state visit of the Saudi King. I was not so chuffed last year when there was a chorus of silence from Liberal Democrats when flags were flown at half mast following the death of the Saudi King.

So, it’s good to see Tim Farron slamming the Saudis for their actions and the UK Government for being too soft on them. I’m also interested that he made the point that the relationships between the two governments benefit the most powerful people in both countries but don’t do much for those who aren’t well off. Watch the whole thing here.

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UN tells Israel to stop taking Palestinian resources

In a little reported step on Tuesday 22 December, the United Nations General Assembly, citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted a resolution demanding Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources under Israeli occupation and the UK actually voted in favour!

The Fourth Geneva Convention was adopted in 1949 following the Second World War and the forced migrations of many peoples that occurred during and immediately after it.    Article 49 of that 4th Geneva Convention clearly states: ““The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”   Israel ratified this Convention in 1951. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report from the Secretary-General and a Commission of Experts which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of customary international law, thus making them binding even on non-signatories to the Conventions whenever they engage in armed conflicts. 

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Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

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Opinion: Pressing Israel

Six months ago Israel was engaged in action which Nick Clegg described as ‘deliberately disproportionate’, killing over 2000 Palestinians – many of them women and children – and the lives of 70 Israelis, most of them soldiers.

During the war Nick said that nothing would be solved without talking.  And now’s a good time to remind Israel’s PM Benyamin Netanyahu about that, especially given events since then.

Like Britain, Israel will have elections, in March.  The parties are trying to outdo each other on security.  Recently the right-wing foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “A fourth operation in the Gaza Strip is inevitable.”  With views like that, the likelihood of negotiations being restarted – let alone a peace deal being achieved – is extremely remote.

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Baroness Kishwer Falkner writes: We should not repeat previous failures in Iraq in the hope that we might succeed this time

iraqEvery year, as the long summer recess approaches, those of us who cover foreign affairs speculate as to which international crisis will precipitate a recall of Parliament. This year we were spoilt for choice with Russia, Syria and Gaza dominating.  However when the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) overran Mosul, the lack of any obvious course of action prevented a recall. But now as a US strategy has been revealed, there are some clear pointers about what the UK needs to consider in its response. We need to be clear about the implications of our action and its implications.

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Opinion: The power of the state to confiscate your passport and citizenship

The British Prime Minister has explained that there is a significant risk to our security, due to Muslim residents of the UK travelling to fight with IS/ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and returning radicalised to the UK.

The remedy, supported by Lib Dem parliamentarians, is for the government to follow the USA and give itself the power to stop people travelling out of the UK, and to generate ‘no fly lists’.  In addition, it has also been explained that the UK government is seeking the power to strip people of their acquired UK citizenship, if you travel to Syria or Iraq with the potential intention to fight.

The rationale for these sweeping authoritarian powers for the state, seems pretty flaky. Why does it apparently apply to Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq and not the more numerous other religious zealots travelling to other countries to fight ? How is ‘intention to fight’ defined, even if it can be ? And are we to believe that persons travelling to countries they have no connection with to die for their religion are not already radicalised ?

The problem we are told is global jihad. But why commit people to legal limbo in countries abroad where they are prey to all sorts of folk ? If we know who they are, isn’t it better to have them identified and under watch in the UK after they return, than getting up to who-knows-what in the Mid East ? If such returnees commit terrorist acts in the UK won’t that be an intel failure ? But if they cannot be identified in the first place then all these new measures are useless anyway.

As eminent senior counsel at BIICL’s Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law have shown, such powers are routinely used more widely than intended, and in this case it is likely that they will eventually be used against those merely disagreeing with the UK’s foreign policy, rather than militarised religious extremists.

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LibLink: Maajid Nawaz: Why Islamists beat liberals in the Middle East

Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn Maajid Nawaz has been setting out for War on the Rocks why Islamism has become so prevalent in the Middle East and what those who want to see a secular, liberal society need to do about it.

First of all, he outlines some key factors that have driven the growth of Islamism:

Put simply, it comes down to five structural distinctions that make Islamist movements so potent in ways that their secular, liberal competitors are not. When combined, these tools create Islamism, this blatant manipulation of religion, an attractive ideology that will almost inevitably supersede the appeal of its secular, liberal rivals.

What are they, then? First, it is the basis of their political motivations, the idea that drives them: Islamism. Here, I am referring to the desire and perceived imperative to enforce a version of Sharia as law.

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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’.

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The Independent View: An Arab EU could be the answer the Middle East needs

The Islamic State is a symptom of a much wider and more dangerous split in the Islamic world between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities across the Middle East. Whatever action Western governments undertake to stop the Islamo-fascists ISIS, more must be done to mend an age-old split between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

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Gaza: Senior Lib Dems speak out against Hamas, urge continuing ceasefire; and Lib Dem Friends of Israel issue statement

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishThis weekend’s Guardian published a letter from five senior Lib Dems – including Sir Alan Beith MP, Lord Dholakia and Baroness Sarah Ludford – condemning Hamas and urging both sides in the conflict to continue their ceasefire in Gaza:

As Liberal Democrats, we are totally committed to the state of Israel being able to live within secure borders, and wish to see the removal of the existential threat to Israel’s security by an internationally recognised terrorist group, and the creation of a viable

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Lib Dem Chief Whip on David Ward: “I do not intend to take further action in relation to the tweet”

David WardThree weeks ago, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East David Ward tweeted: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”. The following day he issued an apology, saying:

I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza. I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise.

That wasn’t quite the end of the matter, though. The Lib Dem disciplinary process required a meeting between the party’s Chief Whip, Don Foster, and David. That’s now taken place, and it’s been decided there will be no further action. The Yorkshire Post has published the statements issued by both:

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Opinion: An Open Challenge to Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel

In recent months a number of Lib Dem Voice readers have suggested that there should be a dialogue, if not a merger, between the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. This week one person highlighted the objectives of each organisation as shown on their websites as follows:

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel:
“We exist to support and promote policies which lead to peace and security for Israel in the context of a comprehensive and lasting Middle East peace settlement”.

Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine:
“ exist to fight for the rights of the Palestinian People through the medium of the Liberal Democrat Party”

When I became Vice Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine (LDFP) last autumn I had the same thought and suggested to my (somewhat sceptical) colleagues that our common Lib Dem values should give us a fair amount of common ground – even if not complete agreement.

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Opinion: time to break the blockade of Gaza

For the last seven years, Israel – despite no legal mandate – has been imposing a naval blockade on Gaza’s sea port, leading to widespread poverty and starvation in that small coastal enclave.

The British government claims that it is doing all it can to end the blockade but, so far, its actions have proved fruitless. This is partly because the government has never pushed this matter as forcibly as they should, partly for fear of upsetting the powerful pro-Israeli lobby, both here and in the US Congress, and partly because it knows Israel will refuse to lift the blockade, as …

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LibLink: Shirley Williams on a role for Europe in solving the Gaza crisis

Many thanks to Paul Walter for bringing our attention to this piece, written by Baroness Shirley Williams for the Guardian last week.

In it, she calls for a more activist stance by the European Union, given her view that America is not, and cannot be, an effective mediator between the two sides in the Gaza crisis.

The EU, as the main financier of the Palestinian Authority, is in a position to influence the PLO and to work with the Arab League on a settlement. The US remains Israel’s essential ally, but as a mediator is hobbled by the dependence of its

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LibLink: Tessa Munt – Why I’m boycotting Israeli goods and services

Tessa Munt photo by Keith EdkinsTessa Munt, Lib Dem MP for Wells in Somerset, has explained over at her own website why she’s taken the decision to boycott Israeli goods and services:

This summer, the majority of people I meet out and about are disturbed, upset and angry. It’s clear that Israel has crossed a line. It’s not ok to drop bombs on civilians and the sight of parents carrying the remains of their small children in plastic bags is sickening. Bombed hospitals and schools, an entire population stunned and damaged is criminal. It simply cannot be justified.

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David Steel writes… Time to talk to Hamas

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishI suspect that there is growing dismay, not to say anger, among our population as they watch on television the daily slaughter and destruction in Gaza, at the mealy-mouthed statements from both our Government and the American’s in response.

Spokesmen for the Israelis regularly recount the huge number of rockets fired from Gaza into Israeli territory, but fail to tell us that the vast majority of these have been successfully intercepted without casualties. In fact, over the entire last decade they have killed …

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Opinion: Pressing Clegg on an arms embargo to Israel

In the wake of Baroness Warsi’s resignation Nick Clegg has reportedly said that he will be pushing for an embargo on arms sales to Israel. I hope this actually happens rather than what I suspect will more likely be a more diluted ‘review’. Without a robust response, and without outside pressure being put on it, it’s likely that Israel will continue to act disproportionately in its conflict with Hamas in Gaza. If the government goes for a review, then it will have no more effect than a modest ticking off.

Doubtless there will be Liberal Democrats who will apportion blame jointly to both sides. They will criticise an embargo and claim that Israel has the right to defend itself from the missiles being fired from the territory. They will no doubt claim that civilian deaths is an unfortunate side effect associated with that action.

On the Palestinian side they will condemn Hamas for using civilians as human shields, by firing missiles next to schools, hospitals and residences. They will demand that Hamas stop the rocket fire and, along with the rest of the Palestinian population, adopt a policy of non-violence instead. The assumption is that being ‘reasonable’ will encourage Israel to act similarly.

Let’s put this into context then.

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Gaza: Clegg demands UK suspends arms export licences to Israel, Ashdown writes to Warsi to discuss next steps

With the truce in Gaza in its second day, and indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian representatives taking place today, Nick Clegg has stepped up the pressure for the UK government to work more actively to secure peace in the area. The BBC reports:

The Liberal Democrats are calling for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel, adding to the pressure David Cameron is facing over Gaza. … Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Israeli military operation in Gaza had “overstepped the mark” and called for the suspension of arms export licences to Israel. He said he

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LibLink: Nick Clegg – Israel must open talks with Hamas

Clegg Speech 40Writing for today’s Guardian Nick Clegg has this to say about the ongoing conflict in Gaza:

The daily images of human torment in Gaza have been harrowing and heartbreaking. More than 1,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed. Were it not for international aid rations, half the population would be without food. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are seeking shelter in UN schools – and even these offer little safety.

It is difficult to deny that Israel’s military action appears disproportionate and, combined with the Gaza blockade, is resulting

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Opinion: It is the end of the two-state solution that will bring peace to Gaza

Israeli children visit Palestinian village of Tuwani and participate in bilingual activities together - Some rights reserved by delayed gratficationThere are many times throughout history where man has stood by and allowed inhumanity to win the day. One of few positives that can be taken from these days is that human behaviour can be observed, patterns emerge and those that are left can begin to understand, to learn. But there are times when lessons are forgotten. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is humanity’s greatest forgotten lesson. It is time to face up to hard truths and if we fail to do so we legitimise the deaths of thousands more men, women, children, Israeli and Palestinian. Liberal Democrats were strong advocates for a two-state solution, long ago when the facts was shrugged off by Labour and Conservative administrations. We should not succumb to the same mistake.

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David Ward: “if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”

A year ago David Ward, Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, had the party whip temporarily withdrawn after he accused “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel”. Though he apologised for blanket-labelling he said he would “continue to make criticisms of actions in Palestine in the strongest possible terms” and has tonight lived up to his word on his Twitter feed:

david ward tweets

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Opinion: Violence And Peace In The Middle East – There Is Something We Can Do

Gaza Burns - photo by Al Jazeera EnglishThe recent murders of the Israeli and Palestinian children were in themselves terrible crimes but they also served to ignite the latest round of brutal violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Some media commentators are tempted to suggest that this is inevitable and un-resolvable but I don’t believe that to be the case.

I was surprised recently to discover – and then to find that I greatly admired – the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine’s 9 point plan for peace and the three principles that inform …

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Tonge: Clegg acted “very hastily and ill-advisedly” in issuing apologise-or-resign ultimatum

Here’s the Press Association report of Baroness (Jenny) Tonge’s BBC interview following her resignation this week over controversial remarks about the future of Israel:

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge has claimed her party leader Nick Clegg acted “hastily” in quickly disowning her after she said Israel “would not be there forever”. She was forced to give up the party whip after the Deputy Prime Minister told her to apologise or resign hours after her comments to students at Middlesex University were revealed.

During a talk at the university, she claimed Israel would “reap what it has sown” if the United States

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Jenny Tonge resigns Lib Dem whip over controversial “Beware Israel” remarks

A quick follow-up to our story, Jenny Tonge resigns

Baroness (Jenny) Tonge has this afternoon resigned the Lib Dem whip after coming under intense pressure following the widespread reporting of remarks she made last week declaring that Israel “will reap what they have sown” once the USA gets “sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East”.

It is by no means the first time Baroness Tonge has landed herself in hot water for her out-spoken views on Israel:

  • She was sacked by then leader Charles Kennedy as the Lib

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Opinion: the dangers of a new Middle East conflagration

Storm clouds are gathering over whether Iran should be invaded as a pre-emptive strike to prevent its manufacture of nuclear weapons. Already, Israel seems to be moving pro-actively, while the subject would have been discussed by Cameron during his trip to Saudi Arabia. The US has initiated the tightening of economic sanctions against Iran and has raised its naval profile in the Persian Gulf, though it would clearly prefer to postpone any military action until after the US Presidential election in November. Meanwhile, are the various diplomatic manoeuvres around Syria a rehearsal for future action against Iran?

Very great caution …

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The coalition agreement: families & children and foreign affairs

Welcome to the tenth in a series of posts going through the full coalition agreement section by section. You can read the full coalition document here.

If you have been following this series of posts, you’ll be familiar by now with the mix of statements in the families and children section: a strong showing of Liberal Democrat policies, some amenable Conservative policies and then a couple of tricky points.

So we have policies which would happily fit in a Liberal Democrat manifesto such as maintaining “the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020”, supporting “the provision of free …

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