Lord Levy's 'persecution'

Millions have been spent on chasing e-mails ... but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before h

Never underestimate the pressures on a politician's stomach, the higher the greasy pole you climb the higher the calorific content of the diners you are invited to.

So it was that I attended the Annual Dinner of the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the Radisson Portman Hotel.

The great and the good of British Jewry had assembled to hear the next prime minister, Gordon Brown, tell them what a wonderful community they were, how he appreciated their hard work, would fight anti-Semitism and was a life-long friend of Israel. In fact exactly the same things David Cameron told them at last years dinner and the Chief Rabbi duly lead the standing ovation.

There is something incredibly charismatic about Sir Jonathan Sachs, never mind his first rate preaching and common sense contributions to "Thought for the Day" that makes me as a Christian lament the abject failure of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, with his unkempt beard and general wishy-washiness, to provide any spiritual leadership to our Country.

Oh and never underestimate the genuine affection that Lord Levy is held in by the Jewish community.

He sat at the top table with an air of nobility that has nothing to do with his title. Indeed if the organs of the state continue with their current persecution I suspect he will acquire sainthood in the not to distant future.

It seems to me a strange use of police resources that whilst a gang of armed robbers is holding up members of the Orthodox Jewish community in their North London homes, millions have been spent chasing e-mails and other political tittle-tattle: but then Lord Levy like Dame Shirley Porter before him is Jewish.

Whilst the chancellor and his wife stayed to the end of the dinner, the Israeli Ambassador Zvi Hefetz could not get away early enough. To the general relief of British Jewry he is soon returning to Israel with his poor grasp of English, having failed to present Israel's case last summer during the Lebanon war, reluctant as he was to break his holiday in Italy.

A few days later I was in Israel myself as the official report into the failures of the government and armed forces in last summer's Lebanon War was published.

At yet another dinner I sat next to the French wife of the British Ambassador to Israel, Tom Phillips (should British Ambassadors be allowed foreign wives they used not to be allowed foreign cars) and the Ambassador gave Prime Minister Olmert two months but seemed genuinely terrified at the prospect of the return of Benjamin Netanyahu. Having been on the streets of Tel Aviv on the day of the "Olmert must go" rally I can assure the Foreign Office Netanyahu will be back.

Most politicians in Israel are retired military officers, indeed even the Councillor in charge of parking in Tel Aviv is an ex-Major General but Olmert is not: hence a certain prejudice against him.

There is something to be said for the no-nonsense approach of military figures who transfer into politics. If I were Gordon Brown I would be arranging dinner with the chiefs of staff at the Ministry of Defence very soon!

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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