Susan Kramer MP
Liberal Democrat Richmond Park & Overseas Development
apologised profusely for the confusion over the planned meeting with Kingston Peace Council/CND of March 8th.
She explained it had been necessary to cancel our meeting because of
parliamentary work schedules and personal commitments connected with serious
family illness. Unfortunately rules of staffing for constituency offices don’t
allow for full-time experienced staff and the message hadn’t been passed on.
Conscious of the disappointment and adverse impression created she generously
agreed to see a small group on Saturday 25th March. Noel &
Michael Southgate attended. We used the 6 points I had previously suggested as
the basis for our discussion.
Susan said it had been
Party policy to oppose the invasion from the outset and numerous spokesmen,
including the party leader, had joined demonstrations and spoken at rallies.
She fears that a ‘Vietnam Moment’ is approaching when the invaders will be so
distrusted and disliked that they become part of the problem, not the solution.
The gung-ho invasion mentality that anticipated floral welcome was stupidly
naïve and there was demonstrably a total lack of planning beyond bombing and
invasion. Evidence of any significant improvement in the state of the country –
water, electricity, hospitals, etc – is woefully lacking despite Bush promises;
yet $billions, including Iraqi oil-for-food money, has disappeared. Susan says
there is urgent need for a properly planned withdrawal before troops become
enmeshed in a quagmire which benefits no one. She is concerned that a hasty
exit could herald utter chaos. She plans a fact-finding visit.
Susan worries about an impending crisis. Starving the Hamas Palestinian authority of funds to run the
administration could lead to collapse and anarchy; benefiting no one. It can’t
be legal for Israel to withhold customs money. Other Middle
Eastern states might feel obliged to step into the breach, with political
consequences. Provoking Palestinian outrage is a serious possibility. Hamas was elected for its integrity and constructive work in
Palestinian communities. It is everyone’s misfortune that Hamas
is only represented to us as a terrorist organization. She is baffled that Israel can not see that harassing and
ill-treating Palestinians can never lead to peace and security. She accepts Israel is widely mistrusted and disliked by many
in the Middle East yet bullying behavior
does nothing constructive for its image. The “Wall” doesn’t mark a boundary
between Israel and Palestine. It annexes large areas of Palestine including massive illegal Israeli
settlements. It is clearly part of the problem, not the solution, and current
boundaries do not hold out good prospects for a viable Palestinian state. The US is not acting as an honest broker, and
Susan is wary of the influence of Christian fundamentalism which represents a
large body of US votes. Susan plans an early visit but is wary of using
partisan organizations. She is considering approaching Christian Aid.
Trident. We briefly reviewed points I had previously
made about Trident – there being no useful purpose; it not being independent;
the possibility of it being used on US orders; the cost and the burden of
cow-towing to the US for the sake of the Mutual Defence Agreement. I had
previously sent her CND ‘Lobby’, Parliamentary Newsletter dealing with Trident
argument, and I now submitted copies of current Newstatesman
articles referring to Dan Plesh’s report, “The Future
of Britain’s WMD”. Susan sympathises with many points but insists that Lib/Dem
party policy is for full in-depth analysis and debate. Lib/Dems
are committed to multi-lateral negotiation towards disarmament. Susan questions
the apparent haste to revue the possibility of Trident replacement urgently now
since it could be 20 or 30 years away. I very strongly recommended that the
Lib/Dems invite Kate Hudson to talk to them if they
are seriously interested in debate. It is easy to find experts with vested
interests in nuclear weapons but an alternative view from an authoritative
speaker would assist their debate. The point was accepted.
rendition, the “War on Terror”, Terrorism Acts, the fashion for suspension of
long-standing human rights. Susan says civil liberties are a core passion of hers. Blair it seems
doesn’t have a civil liberties bone in his body. What is happening here and in
the US is completely contrary to what most people regard as
core values of our western societies. She is dead opposed to what she sees as
serious erosion of established liberties to win which blood has been spilled in
past generations. Security is important but; suspension of habeus
corpus, imprisonment without trial, secret evidence, ‘evidence’
obtained under torture, deportions? Blair’s assertion that “the rules have
changed” is baloney – his rules have changed; not for the better. I
thanked her for earlier correspondence on torture and rendition and advised
that further revelations of government knowledge and collusion are emerging.
Susan reported a success in respect of volunteer prison visitors who were
unexpectedly ‘required’ to sign the Official Secrets Act. Turned out it wasn’t
‘required’ after all and thanks to her intervention it stopped.
Islamaphobia. I explained that after ‘Tabloid’ response to the July 7th
bombings we were concerned that all Muslims were being branded. My enquiries
had shown that fundamentalism was a Muslim problem dating back centuries which,
without western interference, could be happily contained. Events in Afghanistan over decades, Palestine and Iraq were provoking fundamentalists whilst
‘Tabloid’ criticism here was hurting the mainstream Muslims who had been
‘holding the ring’ for generations. Susan maintains regular contact with Rashid
Laha and Kingston Mosque where she has found
worshippers to be fairly laid-back about the fuss, which has passed them by.
She accepts there are various streams of thought in Islam and has had civilized
dialogue with several. She is however very concerned about racism motivating
misuse of power by police and immigration, particularly at ports and airports.
Following the Stephen Lawrence report she sees optimistic signs generally
Iran and another possible war. Susan agrees that there is genuine concern
at Bush rhetoric which appears to be being ramped up much like in the prelude
to Iraq invasion. It is difficult to assess the situation but
it is clear that the recent Bush visits to India and Pakistan effectively bestowed a seal of approval on
them and their nuclear weapons, in stark contrast to Iran where he claims everything from press
freedom to democracy is wrong. All noticed that serious offenders like Saudi Arabia weren’t mentioned because they are allies.
Susan recounts her own experience of middle America where outside news is hard
to come by and national TV channels spew out government propaganda with little
objectivity or analysis. Many Americans are easy meat for Bush’s rants against
places like Iran of which the know zilch. She wonders if it
isn’t the same for ordinary Iranians. She wouldn’t favour a further Middle East war and believes that hawks wouldn’t
Susan talked about
climate change and insisted that Lib/Dems favour a
much more pro-active approach to tackle the issues through targeted taxation,
international negotiation and targeted grants and support – unlike the derisory
gestures of New Labour. She thinks the public is ahead of government and would
respond to encouragement and sensible coercive measures. She is opposed to any
move towards wholesale nuclear power as a means of reducing carbon dioxide – it
is not carbon neutral as so much energy is expended in construction,
maintenance, uranium extraction and refinement, and in
safe disposal afterwards – a problem yet to be solved!
As part of her
overseas development brief she expects to be traveling
on fact-finding missions. She is interested in globalization, poverty and
third-world debt. She plans a visit to Darfur this year to help understand a conflict
which the world now largely ignores.
Susan spent 2
hours discussing and explaining her policies and views. I extended grateful
thanks to her for sparing the time.