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London Friends of Music Fund - Events for Spring and Summer 2015

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Fri, March 06, 2015 06:07:57

Greetings to Music Fund friends and supporters, old and new!

We’re delighted to announce several exciting events in the UK to build support and contribute to the work of Music Fund. There are two special fund-raising concerts:

* A Chamber Concert by the Conchord Ensemble. Friday 17th April
* A Choral Concert by the City Chamber Choir. Tuesday 12th May

See below for full details. Please come and bring your friends and family. We look forward to seeing you there!

We are also very pleased to inform you about two other forthcoming events.

* a BBC TV documentary on the work of Music Fund in Gaza (on air from 26 March) including a special story about a piano…..BBC plans a broadcast on BBC World, also to be shown on the BBC News Channel in the UK, a radio documentary for BBC World Service (on 26 March), and an online feature on the BBC website as from 27 March. We will try to give more detail in due course.

* a Musical Instrument “Amnesty” at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Saturday 6th June. Do check if you are harbouring an unused musical instrument - jazz or classical! .This will be a first collection of musical instruments for Music Fund in the UK. (More details in due course). Note that Ronnie Scott’s is also planning to give jazz and improvisation workshops for Music Fund, starting in Ramallah in August.

Keep in touch with Music Fund on
Email us at the London Group .
Tell your friends and help to grow the number of UK supporters of Music Fund.


Chamber Concert by the London Conchord Ensemble. Friday 17th April, 2015. 22 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NR. £25 including drinks and canapes.

We are delighted that Elisabeth and Bob Boas will devote one in their celebrated series of charity concerts to Music Fund. Artists all give their services free of charge. These concerts, held in their splendid Marylebone home, supplemented by food and drink, and surrounded by beautiful art, keep alive a vibrant tradition of informal salon music by showcasing the best of chamber music talent on the London scene.

7.00 pm Welcome drinks
7.30 pm Concert
Duruflé - Prelude, Recitative and Variations, for flute, viola & piano, Op. 3
Loeffler - Rhapsody for Oboe, Viola and Piano
Faure - Piano Quartet
9.00 pm Drinks and canapés after the concert, and an opportunity to mingle with the performers

Julian Milford (piano), Emily Pailthorpe (oboe), Daniel Pailthorpe (flute), Daniel Rowland (violin), Rachel Roberts (viola), Thomas Carroll (cello).

Recognised as a leading chamber ensemble, Conchord was founded by principal players from the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Royal Opera House and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and has won over audiences with its fresh, communicative style. It has recently celebrated its 10th Anniversary. See

It is essential to book in advance by email to mentioning that you come recommended via “Friends of Music Fund”. If you do not have email then phone 020 7436 0344 or write to 22 Mansfield Street, London W1G 9NR


Choral concert by the City Chamber Choir and City String Ensemble. St Paul’s Church Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church), Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ED. Tuesday 12th May 2015, 7.30 pm. £15

Handel - Dixit Dominus. Cantata for choir, soloists and chamber orchestra.
Handel - Nisi Dominus. Cantata for choir soloists and chamber orchestra.
Handel - Concerto Grosso Op 6 no 7

Conductor: Stephen Jones. Katherine Boyce, Rosemary Zolynski (Sopranos), Tim Morgan (counter-tenor), Nick Pritchard (tenor), Nick Morton (bass).

An evening of master works from the beginning and end of Handel’s extraordinary career. The City Chamber Choir was founded in 1987 by its musical director Stephen Jones. Performing to professional standards, this amateur unpaid choir has won many accolades for its music-making, including reaching the semi-finals of the Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition. A recent review in the Church Times said: “A whole evening of unaccompanied music of considerable complexity was delivered with panache and elegance.”

50% of the proceeds from all tickets prepaid through the following web link will go to Music Fund.
Tickets bought on the door will NOT benefit Music Fund. However, there will be a retiring collection totally in aid of Music Fund. The concert will also be an opportunity to meet Music Fund founder Lukas Pairon. Wine and soft drinks are on sale in the interval.


About Music Fund and the London Friends Group

Music Fund ( ) supports young musicians and music schools in impoverished countries and areas of conflict, believing music can enrich lives and contribute to the cultural development of local communities. Music Fund collects musical instruments in Europe, repairing and then delivering them to music schools in countries such as Mozambique, DRC, Morocco, Palestine and Haiti. It trains local musicians in instrument repair and maintenance. In UNWRA schools in Gaza, it also supports a role for music in general education.

Music Fund is based in Brussels with a London Group of Friends and many partners across Europe.

Music Fund’s London group was inaugurated in late 2013 with a launch meeting at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It is building active partnerships with other organisations, including the Angel Orchestra, the string auction house Amati, Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, and El Sistema UK. It has an active steering group,involving both musicians and professionals from a range of walks of life, who are always looking for new enthusiastic and energetic people to join them. The group’s current chair John Sloboda ( would be delighted to hear from you if you are interested in helping the group practically.

To be kept in touch more generally with the activities and events of the London Group, please email and check out the facebook page at .

Donations to Music Fund may be made at any time by bank transfer to “Friends of Music Fund (London)” Triodos Bank, account number 20488459, sort code 16 58 10

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The Charlie Hebdo killings must widen our vision, not narrow it.

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, January 10, 2015 17:56:55

The traumatic events of the last 4 days in France have wiped almost all other news off the headlines. But gross daily suffering and death did not abate elsewhere in the world.

On the same day that 12 people were killed in Paris in or near the Charlie Hebdo offices, 35 people were killed by a massive car bomb outside a Police Station in Yemen’s capital Sanaa (, and 53 civilians were killed in 9 separate locations across Iraq (

In one of the Iraq incidents, four Iraqi doctors and three Iraqi lawyers were executed in Mosul by ISIL for collaboration with the Iraqi security forcesداعش-يعدم-سبعة-أطباء-ومحامين-لاتهام.

By a strange twist of fate, Wednesday was the first day in the three-year Syrian war when no-one was reported killed by violence, according to Human Rights monitors there. The reason? A fierce snow storm that made fighting impossible simply brought a different kind of suffering to the dispossessed of the conflict, trying to survive without homes or heating.

And in the remaining days of last week, when another 5 Parisian hostages were killed in at a Kosher Supermarket, an estimated 2000 civilians were killed in and around Baga, Northern Nigeria, by Boko Haram militants (

The sheer enormity of the Nigerian tragedy has briefly jostled with Paris for some recent headlines, but, for the majority of other violent incidents this week, such as those in Iraq and Yemen, the attention of the world’s media has been negligible.

Of all this week’s victims, only those connected to the high-profile Charlie Hebdo magazine have been widely named. Even the victims of the kosher supermarket siege are yet hardly visible, named only in one or two obscure places. Because Yohan Cohen , Yossef Siboni, Dominique bat Sarah, Sarah bat Louna, and Noa bat Sarah are not public figures, few seem interested in who they were (see:

In a powerful and challenging commentary on the week’s events, Teju-Cole, a Nigerian-American historian writing in the New Yorker sheds some light on this skewed attention when he points out that “when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks” (

The killing sprees at the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Kosher Supermarket were atrocities, for which no justification or defence is possible. But that judgement not absolve us of our wider responsibilities. Other people’s wrongdoing does not change the moral character of our own responses, even when we are the injured party. For instance:

1. It is a matter of significant regret that the Paris perpetrators are now dead and therefore cannot face justice in a public court according to French law. They have, in effect, received a summary death penalty in a country that has abolished the death penalty – and I regret that I saw no indication that the French authorities were strenuously seeking to terminate the hostage situations without any further loss of life, including that of the killers, or that any section of the French society was urging this. It seems to have been just somehow assumed that, of course, the hostage takers would be killed, thus denying them any of the rights or opportunities offered in France to defendents of all, including the most heinous, crimes. The justice of the courts has, sadly, been replaced in this case by the justice of the bullet.

2. There are many highly questionable killings perpetrated or supported by Western governments, such as the British and American killing in captivity of prisoners, the USA’s use of drone strikes against civilians in Pakistan and Yemen, and the killing of women and children in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces. The Charlie Hebdo killings cannot and should not turn attention away from these other tragedies and misdemeanours, nor be used to justify our role in them. If they were wrong or illegal before this week, they remain so now, and justice for these and other victims must continue to be sought.

3. Although they may not have been breaking any law, many of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are - in many eyes including my own - vile, infantile, prejudiced, and entirely destructive in their intent. Their main purpose seems to be to foment hatred and misunderstanding of their targets among members of French society. For others to demand that these cartoons be widely reproduced and circulated as an act of solidarity with the victims or an act of defiance against radical Islamists, is unacceptable and counterproductive, and I applaud those who refuse to comply with what amounts to societal bullying – particularly where their refusal is not out of fear of the consequences – but out of principle. We can and should respect the right of the publishers of Charlie Hebdo to publish their cartoons. They, and others, need to recognise other people’s right to have nothing to do with the cartoons, and to actively oppose their use or circulation if they so choose, by any means other than violent means. Such opposition does not mean that we view the brutal death of their staff with anything other than the utmost horror and condemnation.

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Advertising Standards Agency response to Sainsbury/British Legion complaint

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Wed, November 26, 2014 21:01:50
This is the response from the Advertising Standards Agency to the 700 or more citizens, including myself, who felt moved to complain about the "Christmas in the Trenches" ad.

The widespread complaints were reported in the press, although the number of complaints was eventually far higher than early reports indicated.

ASA have decided not to uphold the complaint.


Dear Mr Sloboda,


Thank you for contacting the ASA and for your patience.

Our role as an organisation is to help ensure that advertising is responsible by, in essence, being legal, decent, honest and truthful. We can intervene if an ad appears likely to be in breach of the Codes of Advertising by, for example, being likely to cause serious or widespread offence, being materially misleading or risking causing significant harm.

In this case, we decided to put your concerns, along with a number of similar complaints we had received about this ad, to the independent ASA Council for consideration, rather than simply using the delegated responsibility of the ASA Executive’s staff. The ASA Council is the jury that decides whether advertisements have breached the Advertising Codes.

They have now carefully considered the ad, in the context of its appearance on TV, in the cinema and on YouTube, and the issues raised by all complainants, but have concluded that there are insufficient grounds for further ASA intervention on this occasion. Although we acknowledge the particular resonance this ad may have for those who lost family in the First World War, or any other conflict, we can only intervene where there has been a specific breach of the Codes we administer.

I should explain that the ASA does not intervene where advertising is simply criticised for being in poor taste. The Code requires that ads must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence, but ads may be ‘distasteful’ without necessarily breaching this rule. Complaints about offence often require difficult judgements. Apart from freedom of speech considerations, even well-intentioned and thoughtful people will have different and sometimes contradictory opinions about what constitutes ‘bad taste’ or should be prohibited. We can only act if the ad, in our judgement, offends against widely accepted moral, social or cultural standards.

I should also make clear that the ASA has no influence over the wider creative decisions taken by advertisers (or the agencies that work on their behalf) to use a particular character, situation, music or theme in their ad campaigns. We consider the particular content of specific ads and as long as the content of the ad does not breach our Code, it is really up to the advertiser what they want to put in it and what theme they choose.

In this case, we received over 700 complaints about this ad and the ASA Council considered four main issues;

1. Whether the ad was offensive because complainants had found the use of an event from the First World War to advertise a commercial company insulting, demeaning, disrespectful, insensitive and exploitative;

In terms of this first issue, the Council noted that the only reference to the advertiser was the brief inclusion of their logo at the end of the ad and that the only identifiable product was a bar of chocolate, the profits from the sale of which were to be donated to the Royal British Legion, with whom the advertiser had partnered in making the ad. It was understood that the ad had been made, at least partly, as a celebration of the 20 years of support that the advertiser had given to the charity and that they had worked to ensure historical accuracy by basing it on original reports and letters, as well as working with historians throughout the development and production process.

Although the Council acknowledged that some would find the use of an event from the First World War for advertising purposes distasteful under any circumstances, they considered that viewers in general were likely to see the specific depiction in this ad as respectful to both sides of the conflict, relevant to both the First World War Centenary and Christmas, and a poignant reminder of the historical event which inspired the ad.

Despite the fact that it had clearly divided opinion and some had found it to be in poor taste, the Council did not consider the content of the ad likely to cause serious or widespread offence in breach of the Code.

2. Whether the depiction was too "sanitised" and that the ad therefore trivialised and undermined the tragedy and glamorised, glorified and romanticised war;

With regard to the second issue, while the Council noted that the ad was not as graphic as the real events would have been, they considered that viewers were likely to be aware of the horrors of war and understand that the reality would have been very different. They did not consider it likely that viewers would require overtly graphic or explicit imagery of violence and death in order to appreciate the message, or to remember the sacrifices made in the First World War.

The Council considered that viewers generally would see the portrayal in the ad as emphasising the positive nature of the event shown and the message the ad aimed to convey rather than as trivialising or undermining the tragedy of the First World War, or glamorising, glorifying or romanticising war generally.

3. Whether it was inappropriate for broadcast given that this year marked the First World War Centenary and the ad appeared shortly after Armistice Day;

In relation to the third issue, the Council noted that the ad had first been broadcast the day after Armistice Day but that no specific complaints had been received about the ad being broadcast around programmes specifically dedicated to the First World War or Remembrance. Although they understood that some consumers had found the timing to be distasteful, they considered that the ad was likely to be seen as topical and relevant and, given the content, its broadcast around this time was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence.

4. The objection that the TV version of the ad did not make immediately clear that it was an ad for supermarket.

Finally, in terms of the fourth issue, the Council understood that the ASA had not received any complaints suggesting that the ad had been shown around programmes specifically dedicated to the First World War or Remembrance and that complainants had believed it to be either a charity ad or a trailer for a programme or film before the advertiser's logo appeared. It was noted that the Code required that ads were obviously distinguishable from editorial content to avoid confusion between the two and that the audience should quickly recognise the message as an ad. The Council considered that the TV ad, in the context of the scheduling they were aware of, was obviously distinguishable from editorial content and given that the complainants had quickly recognised the message as an ad, albeit not one for a supermarket, they considered that it did not breach the Code on this point.

For these reasons, the ASA Council have concluded that there are no grounds for further investigation on the issues raised and that the ad does not breach the Code for the reasons suggested. As such, we will not be taking any further action on this occasion.

I appreciate that this may not be the outcome you had hoped for, but we have passed a summary of the issues raised to the advertiser (without revealing anyone’s identity) so that they’re aware of views such as yours. We will also continue to monitor the response to this ad.

Although we are not taking further action on this occasion, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with us. If you would like more information about us or our work, please do visit our website,

Yours sincerely

Emma Smith
Senior Complaints Executive
Direct line 020 7492 2203

Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn
London WC1V 6QT
Telephone 020 7492 2222

Follow us on twitter: @ASA_UK

Legal, decent, honest and truthful

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Advertising Standards Authority (Broadcast) Ltd will use the information you have given us to deal with your complaint. If your complaint falls under the remit of a different regulatory body, we will normally pass it on to that body. If you are seeking suppression from an advertiser’s database or have not received goods or a refund, we will pass the details of your complaint to the advertiser so it can take action.

We would like you to be available to take part in the ASA’s customer satisfaction research. On our behalf, an independent research company contacts complainants by email. If you did not opt-out when completing our online complaint form, or made your complaint in writing or by phone and do NOT want to participate in this research please email or write to Advertising Standards Authority, Freepost LON20659, LONDON, WC1V 6BR. We will not contact you for marketing purposes unless you have given us permission to do so. You can register on our website for communications you would like to receive from us, and can amend your choices at any time. We will not sell, rent or exchange your details with any other organisation. Our full Privacy Policy can be found at

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The Peckham Multi-story car park project: a new model for classical music audience engagement

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Sun, July 27, 2014 11:38:52

Last night I attended a brilliant performance of Shostakovich’s cello concerto played on the upper floors of the main car-park in Peckham town centre, South London. Matthew Barley was the soloist, and the conductor Christopher Stark drew passionate and committed playing from his young professional players.

Putting on classical music in unconventional venues is not a new idea. My first experience of this was 15 years ago, when Graham Vick’s Birmingham Opera Company started staging major operas in disused factories, redundant aircraft hangers and the like. It was a revelation, not least because the audience became participants in the drama, moving around the set, and adopting semi-theatricalised roles at different points. I still vividly recall the revelatory impact of these productions.

Since then, taking classical music to buildings not customarily used for this purpose, has become commonplace, and – in the eyes of some – almost a cliché.

As in any other area of artistic endeavour, non-traditional venue work can be good, mediocre or bad. There is still much to discover about how “going outside the concert hall” can encourage or facilitate new and productive forms of audience engagement. The work only becomes clichéd when it unthinkingly repeats a formula without care and attention to the artistic and contextual opportunities that a specific combination of work, artist, place, and audience afford.

On those grounds, the Multi-Story project, conceived and directed by Composer Kate Whitley and conductor Christopher Stark, must be recognised as a very significant contribution to this field.

Before identifying the really innovative elements which justify this judgment, I’ll just mention some features which, while important elements in the overall experience, are more standard in this emerging field.

There is a set of choices that concert promoters can make which are more likely to attract a predominantly young audience. I would estimate that the average age of last night’s 1000-strong sell-out audience was no more than 30. As someone over 60, I was in a tiny minority.

Peckham is fast becoming a trendy mecca for the social and professional life of the culture-rich but money-poor under-30s, with some of the edgy vibrancy that characterized Shoreditch and Hackney before gentrification took hold. A whole range of cultural and artistic enterprises are springing up in the disused factories and warehouses, not least the now iconic Bussey Building which faces the Peckham Car Park across the railway lines. These rails carry the newly-enhanced circular Overground Line which allows experience-seekers from all around London’s inner suburbs to disgorge from its sleek air-conditioned carriages in their thousands into Rye Lane. Multi-story is less than a 5 minute walk from Peckham Rye Station – a very important consideration for the traveler to this hitherto “out of the way” and “exotic” (even threatening) location.

Almost every warehouse and alley nearby now seems to have a pop up (often outdoor) bar, packed to the gills with a young white middle-class constituency for whom alcohol seems to be the stimulus to and accompaniment for the kind of animated but relaxed conversation that has long characterized gatherings of young adults in the bars and cafes of Paris, Berlin, and Milan – and very far from the more aggressive and carnal encounters that alcohol tends to be associated with in town centres around the UK. [An analysis of how this influx is affecting or impacting on the predominantly black indigenous population of the area, while important, is beyond my scope. These locals were not in evidence at the concert!].

In other words, Multi-Story is tapping into exactly the same young educated and eclectic demographic that already flocks to such offerings as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s (OAE) “Night Shift”.

And Multi-Story replicates some of the tried and tested features of the OAE experience. People are free to wander in and out of the space, check their mobiles, talk quietly to their neighbours, buy alcohol (from bars that stay open doing business throughout the performance). There are no reserved seats, and people sit or stand where they choose. So far, so standard.

What Multi-Story brings, which is new (at least to me), is an educational element that is fun, interactive, and very appropriately enhancing to the performance itself.

For around 40 minutes before the main performance began, groups of the players spread themselves over 5 or 6 different locations, and each offered a mini-tutorial on some element of the music, its performance, and its social and historical background. Each tutorial lasted about 5 minutes, and was repeated at regular intervals, so you could pick up four or five of them in the time available.

Each tutorial was a semi-scripted opportunity for audience engagement, entirely choreographed and delivered by the players themselves, each of whom stepped forward and engagingly spoke, played, invited questions, and – in one case – invited audience members to come forward and conduct them for a minute or so.

In this way there was no “invited expert” pontificating on the music, but a narrative which was woven out of the perceptions and enthusiasms of all of the 70 or so young performers. By the end of the tutorial period, I felt I knew, and had connected to, more than half of the orchestra as individuals, and had learned quite a lot I didn’t know about the music, about Shostakovich, and about the Stalinist context in Soviet Russia in which he had to work.

I took the opportunity to speak to one of the groups of performers, inbetween two repeats of their “show”. I learned that all the performers were either conservatoire students, or recent graduates from them. They told me that they had been given a broad area around which to devise their tutorial, but had then been given an hour during rehearsals to go away together and work out the precise script, and who would do what.

This worked brilliantly well, so that by the time we all assembled in one part of the venue for the actual performance, we all had key themes and moments buzzing round our heads, and so the sense was of meeting fully a person to whom we had already been briefly introduced.

It would be really great to be able to find out a bit more about the experience of this young audience, and how, and to what extent, their engagement with the players last night might have helped create lasting and committed enthusiasm for classical music in all its various presentations both live and recorded. How many of last night’s audience will be hunting out performances of this piece on Spotify or Youtube? How many will hunt out other performances by Matthew Barley, or by these players? What would make them more likely to do this? These and other related questions are the ones that the classical music profession needs urgent answers to. Building committed younger audiences for classical music is the only way to ensure its future survival. And for that we need a deeper and fuller understanding of what motivates these young adults, and what works to secure their lasting commitment (both in time and money) to the art form.

That’s one of the reasons why I am delighted that the Guildhall School of Music & Drama (where I work) has invested in a long-term programme of experimentation and investigation on the very issue of “Understanding Audiences”, in collaboration with a number of forward thinking artistic and academic partners. Visiting Peckham last night has reminded me again of why this work matters!

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Simon Bolivar Choir at the RFH: Redeemed at the Last Moment

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Sun, April 06, 2014 15:28:27

Is it a good concert experience when the event really only catches alight in the encores? That was exactly my experience at London’s Royal Festival Hall last night when the Simon Bolivar National Youth Choir gave a concert as part of two concurrent festivals, the “Pull Out the Stops” festival celebrating the restoration of the hall’s magnificent 8,000 pipe organ, and the “Chorus” festival “celebrating the power of singing together” and involving participatory workshops running over a week.

The conjunction of these two festivals could possible explain a rather unusual, even bizarre, piece of programme planning which involved no less than three full settings of the Roman Catholic Mass sung consecutively, each for full choir and organ accompaniment. The rarely heard Requiem Mass setting by Venezualen composer Juan Batista Plaza was followed by settings of the Missa Brevis by Britten and Kodaly, with Mendelssohn’s “O for the Wings of a Dove” based on Psalm 55 thrown in for good measure.

This is a group of 100 magnificent full-throated voices, yet I got the experience of struggle, as if they were trying to inhabit an ill-fitting suit. Part of it might simply have been under-rehearsal. The choir is on a UK tour with a punishing schedule, and involving other concerts which don’t include these particular works. There were a few ragged moments in the ensemble, and signs of vocal exhaustion, particularly from some of the soloists drawn from within the choir. Part of it also might have been the Royal Festival Hall’s notoriously punishing and clinical acoustic. I have sung on that stage several times and it is – to say the least - a challenging vocal experience. The hall offers no warmth or resonance to a singer at all, and one can feel exposed, unsupported, and “out on a limb”. In that context the frequent application by the choir’s director of a detached “portamento” approach, which in a more generous acoustic might have come across as highlighting the articulation and the line, came across as ugly and unmusical.

But deeper than these specifics was a strong sense I got that much of this music was simply not “in the bones” of these singers, that they were struggling to inhabit a musical world which was not familiar to them and didn’t allow them to shine. There was a huge amount of tension manifest, which resulted in a stiff and unyielding effect, both aurally and visually. Director Lourdes Sanchez seemed ill-at-ease and offered very few expressive cues for her singers, concentrating on large and somewhat inflexible beats, as if she was worried that without this the performance would go adrift. This reflected itself in the singers’ demeanour. Many of them simply looked (and sounded) worried for much of the time.

Thank goodness that the sympathetic audience gave enough support to encourage four short encores – which I didn’t recognize but seemed drawn more from an Latin American folk ambience. For me, the real concert began then. It was as if shackles had dropped, and everyone became themselves. The organ was switched off, a female choir member stepped from the ranks, sat down on a stool, and played a guitar accompaniment with direct effectiveness. Sheet music was set aside and the pieces were sung from memory. Choir members smiled – made eye contact with the audience and each other, and began to fully inhabit their bodies. For the last two numbers Ms Sanchez stopped conducting, joined the front row of the sopranos, and sang along with them, looking happy and relaxed. Ensemble difficulties melted away (even in complex poly-rhythmic sections sung without a conductor), and voices became mellifluous and seductive. The audience responded in kind, with whoops and cheers, and people getting up out of their seats, and in those last 20 minutes the hall “rocked”. That was - at last - live choral music making at its best.

This choir is one of the many manifestations of the vast El Sistema empire that has received huge international attention and support for its groundbreaking work with the disadvantaged youth of Venezuala, now being replicated in “franchised” projects around the world. This choir is the pinnacle of a complex multi-levelled pyramid of local youth choirs around the country, with last night’s choristers having been selected as being the best of the best, city by city, and having being supported into burgeoning careers as young music professionals. What El Sistema has achieved in transforming the lives of thousands of young people is uncontestable. However, whatever the personal background, and however deep the early disadvantage, when a choir of experienced young adult performers (and I estimated ages being from 18 to late 30s) show up on the stage of London’s premier symphony hall to perform pieces from the mainstream European classical repertoire, they have to be judged by what they bring on the day – and judged in comparison with who else might have been heard on that very stage performing those very works.

It’s pretty hard to bring something special or distinctive to either Britten or Mendelssohn choral music in a country and continent that majors on both. The performances we heard last night were competent but unremarkable. Many British and European choirs could have done as well or better. What could not have been approached by most English choirs, however, was the spirit of solidarity, warmth, even passion, which shone out from this choir when allowed, finally, to be itself in the music which it has taken to its collective heart.

London’s South Bank shares with El Sistema many characteristics. They are both huge state-invested juggernauts, with an incredibly complex mix of public and private stakeholders, patrons, and multi-dimensional economic, political and artistic priorities and expectations. They are both no doubt hugely over-committed and over-invested. The sheer variety of events and initiatives that involve the South Bank, even in a single month, is dizzying and overwhelming. And lots of what they try is innovative, experimental, out-on-a-limb, magnificent. And bravo to them for that. Any adventurous and experimental organisation will have successes and failures, a mixture of the fabulous and the unmemorable. Ditto for El Sistema.

But it is still sad to see a situation which apparently sets up a world-class choir to be less than world-class by shoehorning it into the demands of programming priorities which seemed more to do with allowing the hall to show off its undoubtedly magnificent organ rather than being designed to reflect the nature of this remarkable choir, or reflect the interests and expectations of those who booked to attend, drawn mainly I would imagine – as I was - by the allure and reputation of the Simon Bolivar brand, as exemplified through the stunning and world-class achievements of the Orchestra of the same name under its director Gustavo Dudamel. I had no idea, until I showed up in the room, that there was even going to be organ music at this event.

It was also – to me - a rather sad visual symbol of the cultural contradictions inherent in this concert that the choristers were wearing clothes that represent the most conservative and establishment-oriented portion of the performing arts world: dress suits and white bow ties for the men, black ballroom gowns for the women. This is garb that many contemporary choirs (particularly youth choirs) are finding elegant ways to evolve from or leave behind. It just doesn’t make sense for a choir from a country with its own rich and vibrant culture of dress and body language to attempt, unsuccessfully, to adopt a “frozen in time” European stage persona whose heyday was half a century or more ago. Such decisions become more and more culturally and artistically problematic as the years pass.

I love the European classical music tradition and want it to survive and flourish. But this will only happen when musicians from the contemporary cultures that interact with it are encouraged and enabled to approach it from a secure and authentic grounding in their own artistic and cultural heritage which breathes new and authentic life into it. Sadly, this choir somehow left its musical soul at the door last night, whether at the behest of South Bank artistic management, internal politics within El Sistema, or both. It isn’t easy to know how to be culturally authentic in an age of globalization and post-colonialism. But there is one sure barometer of success, and that is audience reaction and engagement. During the pre-announced programme the character of the audience could be described as polite, cool, and a little "absent". During the un-announced post-concert, we became as involved, engaged, and “fully present” as the singers finally did.

By the simple expedient of changing the frame, the same people in the same room created two very different events; the first being ordinary and the second being remarkable. What an object lesson that is for all of us who think and care about making live music as good as it can be !

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Tony Benn and the politics of hope: RIP

PoliticsPosted by john sloboda Sat, March 15, 2014 09:18:01

An extraordinary sense of bleakness has descended on me at the news of the death of Tony Benn. It feels to me, and I hope I might be proved wrong, that he was the last authentic manifestation of the politics of hope in this country, and that we are now a bereaved people, whether or not we fully realise it.

Whenever Tony Benn spoke, the thing which always shone through for me was his absolute commitment to human welfare and fulfillment, to the exclusion of any other consideration. Whether some of his specific policy proposals were workable was not the point. In everything he said and did, he upheld the principles which must guide humanity if it is not to self-destruct – people and their fundamental needs come first – systems power-structures and policies exist to serve people, not the other way round.

There is much talk about “conviction politics” but this elides a hugely important distinction. Conviction is often destructive, when it is rooted (as it so often is) in fear, prejudice, or hidden agendas (such as the preservation of special interests). Hitler was a conviction politician, so was Stalin. There’s a surfeit of “conviction” in the dreary recitation of fixed positions which substitutes for political debate in most of the world’s media. Only when explicitly guided by principle, morality, and a complete absence of self-interest, does conviction become fruitful. Tony Benn was compelling to, and respected by, millions precisely because he so obviously pursued his deeply held beliefs wherever they took him, with depth and oratorical genius. His loss of institutional power within the Labour Party and parliament gave him a different – and probably much deeper - power in his later years, a power to win hearts and minds across the political spectrum by encouraging people to take hold of and reflect on fundamental truths about the purpose of society and the politics which serve it.

It is sad that the more generous and clear statements about Benn have often come from outside the Labour Party. Too many within the Labour Party are unable, even now, to see him as anything but the person who (in their eyes) kept them out of power for so long and split the party. That is a narrow and small-minded response from people besides whom Benn was a giant.

For being a tireless crusader particularly against the havoc that British militarism has wreaked around the world, I salute his memory, and hope that I may remain as tireless in this cause as he was in his late eighties. In common with millions of others, I was present at the massive demonstration against the Iraq War on February 15th 2003. Tony Benn was, for me, an essential voice at that demonstration, who epitomized and manifested – not only in London but across the world - the deeply held values that brought us there.

This short documentary about February 15th 2003 contains a number of appearances by Benn, including an extract from his speech of that day. It is a suitable testament to his legacy:

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60 years of Spode Music Week – a hidden gem of English Catholic life

Art and MusicPosted by john sloboda Thu, December 05, 2013 21:11:16

August 2013 saw the 60th Spode Music Week take place, including special celebrations for its Diamond anniversary. Most English Catholics know nothing of this unsung success story. The week has never sought wide publicity, but has just got on quietly with the business of enriching all who have come into its orbit, over more than two generations. It is fitting in its anniversary year that the spotlight falls briefly on it so that those interested can get a sense of who is involved, what happens there, and what the importance of this for the wider church might be.

[Note: an updated and slightly edited version of this article was published in the July 11th 2014 edition of The Catholic Herald, on page 8, under the title "English Catholicism's secret musical treasure"]

In August 2013 around 80 people, mainly lay, ranging in age from 1 to 85, gathered in the Worcestershire countryside for a week of intensive music making, much to a very high standard, with the Catholic liturgy at its heart, but with much secular music in the mix.

Every day of the week, a full sung mass was celebrated, and compline was sung: to different settings almost every day. This anniversary year was particularly graced by two new commissions, an 8-part setting of the Mass by the composer Matthew Martin, and a setting of Panis Angelicus for children’s choir by the composer Alexander L’Estrange.

On the secular side, among other offerings the week saw a spirited staged performance of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde (in honour of his centenary), a Prokofiev Symphony, and a medley of light classics including the celebrated Knightsbridge March by Eric Coates, in an arrangement by one of the many talented younger musicians that give their time and energies to the week.

And on top of all this came the multitude of informal and out-of-hours opportunities for chamber music of all sorts, amounting in total to what a former course chaplain, Fr Chris McCurry, once described as “an orgy of music making”, one further enriched by food, wine, and friendship!

What is the secret of Spode Music Week’s success, and what can Catholics learn from this?

The week was in fact the brainchild of the late Conrad Pepler, OP, much loved Warden of Spode House, a Dominican Conference and Retreat Centre in the grounds of Hawkesyard Priory, Staffordshire, sadly long since closed. His behind the scenes manifold self-effacing acts of nurturing, praying for (and probably subsidizing) the week over nearly 30 years up until his retirement in 1981 has proved one of the spiritual wellsprings of the week.

Pepler’s simple but brilliant idea was a daily format which, with one or two minor adjustments, survives today. Rehearsals after breakfast, a mid morning lecture by an invited guest, sung mass at noon, further late afternoon rehearsals, a concert after dinner, and sung compline to end the formal proceedings. Surrounding these daily fixed points an atmosphere has been established which is incredibly informal – more like an extended and somewhat chaotic (but warmhearted) family than a more traditional residential course.

This durable but flexible format has been filled with whatever music has enthused and inspired the dedicated and talented musicians that have led the week’s activities at its different stages. Longest serving musical director (1972-96) was the composer and pianist, the late Robert Sherlaw Johnson. Other distinguished musicians who have had long associations with week include the conductor and harpsichordist the late George Malcolm, CBE, who attended the very first week and was the course’s principal conductor for many years; the opera singer Jeremy White, who has served as Chair of the organizing committee since 1997; the conductor and singer Philip Duffy (former Master of Music at Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral); organist and choral director David Bevan; and the early music specialist Dr Mary Remnant, who currently serves as one of three patrons of the week, together with Sir Nicholas Kenyon CBE, Director of the Barbican Arts Centre, and myself.

By the time that the closure of Spode House was rather suddenly announced in 1987, there was such a commitment to the week and to each other from the many attenders who came back year after year, bringing first their friends, their spouses and children, and even – latterly - their grandchildren, that there could be no thought of the course folding (or even changing its name!). Its members decided to seek a new home, committed if necessary to a peripatetic existence to ensure the survival of the course. The course is in fact now in its sixth location, a remarkable testament to the durability and sheer commitment of its members as successive venues have fallen by the wayside.

Whilst the week has always retained (indeed insisted on) a distinctive Catholic focus, one of its significant strengths has been its ability to provide a broad welcome to all who share a love of and commitment to music in the classical tradition, whether in or out of church. Several of the most loyal and longstanding members of the week are not Catholics, and its attenders also include Catholics of many different shades. They are all embraced under the benign attention of one or more course chaplains (who apart from their pastoral and liturgical duties, contribute fully to the week as singers and players).

The current chaplain is Monsignor Philip Whitmore, newly appointed Rector of the English College in Rome. He is assisted by Fr. Robert Verrill OP, who keeps alive a welcome connection to the week’s Dominican roots. The ’grandfather’ of the week is Fr. Michael Durand, currently a priest at Westminster Cathedral, who also participates in the chaplaincy team. He attended the very first week as a young man, and has been to most of the weeks since. But while the chaplains offer sterling and loyal support, the overall musical leadership, administration, and stewardship of the week is very much in lay hands. In fact, without the week-in-week-out quiet labour of a small, dedicated and largely unsung committee, the week would never have flourished as it has, let alone stayed solvent (without a penny of external subsidy).

Attendance is open to all. No formal level of musical involvement or qualification is needed, beyond a commitment to upholding the ethos of the course. There is a particular welcome for families with children, and an enduring and much loved feature of the week has been the provision of opportunities for the young and very young to play and sing together. Even finance need not be a problem, as course fees are extremely modest, and there are some special funds to support those in most need. In these respects the week serves a very different but complementary function to the excellent annual summer school of the Society of St Gregory, which is very much designed to professionally support the work of those who have official positions as liturgical or musical animateurs within parishes. Spode Music Week is simply about performing and listening to the best music that those assembled can make, in and for itself, to the greater glory of God. What happens outside the week as a result is up to the participants.

Bookings for the course each year fill up very quickly as enthusiastic repeat customers bag their places, but there are always sufficient newcomers in every year to avoid the week becoming cliqueish. There is a website ( where details about past and future courses may be found, as well as contact details. In recent years, communications have been enlivened by an ever more active Facebook page where course members share memories, photographs, and video or audio clips of treasured past moments, as well as plans and hopes for the future.

Catholics in England and Wales should be rightly proud of this unique lay-led treasure in their midst. It is a musical and friendship community rooted in the church, sustained by prayer and liturgy, but with open doors, keeping faith with a considerable number of people (including a large number of younger adults) for whom this may be the main, or even the only truly meaningful, manifestation of the Catholic Church that they experience. Long may it continue to serve the church and the wider world as it has done so fully and roundly in the last 60 years.

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Fifty Parliamentary Gems – British MPs at last begin to speak sense on military intervention

War and peacePosted by john sloboda Sat, August 31, 2013 09:37:08

Below is my personal selection of 50 important (and quotable) statements made by MPs arguing against UK military involvement in Syria, extracted from Hansard ( They are listed in time order in which they appeared in the debate, with name and political affiliation of each speaker.

In the media hype that has followed this unprecedented vote, crude brush-stroke characterisations have by and large bypassed the careful and well-made contributions from so many sides of the house.

It is important that the detail of the debate is attended to, both for what was said, and for who said it. The debate was a profound turning point for British political life, and particularly our foreign and defence policy. For the first time in living memory, the House of Commons showed itself to be mature and thoughtful about issues which, in recent years, it has shown appallingly bad judgement.

For almost the first time since I took an interest in politics, I am proud of the British Parliament, and have hope that, at last, sufficient MPs have begun to take on board perspectives that they have ignored for so long, and that we may be witnessing the beginning of a profound re-alignment of the UK’s stance on what constitutes the appropriate use of its military forces.

The 50 statements

1. In our minds should be this simple question: in upholding international law and legitimacy, how can we make the lives of the Syrian people better? Ed Milliband. (Lab)

2. It is incumbent on us to try to build the widest support among the 15 members of the Security Council, whatever the intentions of particular countries. The level of international support is vital, should we decide to take military action. It is vital in the eyes of the world. That is why it cannot be seen as some sideshow or some “moment”, but is an essential part of building the case, if intervention takes place. Ed Milliband (Lab).

3. Any proposed action to deter the use of chemical weapons must be judged against the consequences that will follow. Further work by the Government is necessary to set out what those consequences would be. Ed Milliband (Lab)

4. We all know that stability cannot be achieved by military means alone. The continued turmoil in the country and the region in recent months and years further demonstrates the need to ensure that we uphold the fate of innocent civilians, the national interest and the security and future prosperity of the whole region and the world. I know that the whole House recognises that this will not and cannot be achieved through a military solution. Ed Milliband (Lab)

5. Whatever the justification on 18 March 2003, the fact was that there was an egregious intelligence failure, and it has had profound consequences, not only across the middle east but in British politics, through the fraying of those bonds of trust between the electors and the elected that are so essential to a healthy democracy. Jack Straw (Lab).

6. This morning, we woke up to hear the President of the United States, Barack Obama, saying that by acting in “a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across”Assad’s bow. Let us pause and consider the metaphor that was chosen by the President, because it is revealing. A shot across the bow is a warning that causes no damage and no casualties—shells fired over the bridge of a naval vessel. In this case, it might be a Tomahawk missile that is targeted to fly over Damascus and land in the unoccupied deserts beyond. That cannot be what the President has in mind. We need to know what he really has in mind and what the consequences of that will be. There will be casualties from any military action—some military and almost certainly many civilian. Jack Straw (Lab).

7. This is not a choice between action and inaction; it is simply a choice of what action should be taken. Some of us worry that military action might exacerbate the situation, rather than make it better, and draw us into mission creep, over which we would have very little control. Chris Bryant (Lab)

8. To go to war with Assad—that is what it would be—without the sanction of a UN Security Council resolution would set a terrible precedent. After the mission creep of the Libyan operation, it would amount to nothing less than a clear statement by the US and its allies that we were the arbiters of international right and wrong when we felt that right was on our side. What could we do or say if, at some point, the Russians or Chinese adopted a similar argument? What could we say if they attacked a country without a UN resolution because they claimed it was right and cited our action as a precedent? Dame Tessa Jowell (Lab).

9. The US chairman of the joint chiefs of staff wrote to the Senate armed services committee last month….about having examined five options. He said that controlling chemical weapons would involve billions of dollars each month and involve risks that “not all chemical weapons would be controlled, extremists could gain better access to remaining weapons, similar risks to no-fly zone but with the added risk to…troops on the ground.” Dame Tessa Jowell (Lab)

10. It respectfully seems to me that we need to examine the matter not in response to the emotion that it undoubtedly engenders in all of us. Emotion is no substitution for judgment in matters of this kind. We must look beyond what might be achieved in the short term, to the medium term and the long term. Sir Menzies Campbell (Lib)

11. I urge the Government to renew their efforts to find a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. Do we think that Tomahawk cruise missiles fired into Syria will make that easier or more difficult? It is clearly understood that this civil war is intractable and that there is little willingness to compromise. Earlier today, I heard an appeal by Sakhr al-Makhadhi, the London-based Syria expert and commentator. He said that the people of Syria, from all backgrounds, are crying out for help to resolve the civil war. Please can the UK Government focus their attention on working with the United States and the Russian Federation, and all others who have influence in the region, including Iran, to bring the different Syrian sides to the negotiating table? Angus Robertson (SNP)

12. There is no automatic approval of, or even trust in, a prime ministerial judgment on an issue such as this involving the country in military action without overwhelming justification, evidence and thorough debate. John McDonnell (Lab)

13. It must be objectively clear that there is no practical alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved. I do not believe that it has been demonstrated that all practical alternatives have been exhausted. In particular, discussions around the permanent stationing of UN weapons inspectors in Syria to prevent the use of these weapons have not been exhausted. That, linked to an insistence on the participation of all sides in a UN peace conference, has not been exhausted. John McDonnell (Lab)

14. Military intervention does not just cost lives; it undermines the credibility of the international institutions that we look to to secure peace in the world and, in the long run, it undermines peace settlements across the globe. Therefore, I believe that we should focus on conflict prevention and conflict resolution and not support military aggression. John McDonnell (Lab)

15. The conversations that have been had with the media over the past few days have talked about Syria not having impunity for the use of chemical weapons. The word “impunity” implies that there is a new doctrine of punishment as a reason for going to war—not deterrence, not self-defence, not protection, but punishment. I believe that, if that is a new doctrine, it needs considerably wider international consensus than currently exists. James Arbuthnot (C)

16. During my time in this House, chemical weapons have been used against the Kurds; they were used in the Iran-Iraq war; and they were used against the people in Gaza, in the form of phosphorous bombs—certainly a chemical bomb. Is not the real reason we are here today not the horror at these weapons—if that horror exists—but as a result of the American President having foolishly drawn a red line, so that he is now in the position of either having to attack or face humiliation? Is that not why we are being drawn into war? Paul Flynn (Lab)

17. The timing of the decision must also be questioned. If, as some of us believe, the decision on military action has already been made in Washington and agreed by the UK Government, that is the real reason why we are here: because Washington feels that there should be some bombs falling this weekend. Many atrocities have taken place in the two years since the conflict began. Surely those seeking to take military action could wait a few days longer, to ensure that their facts are straight. Elfyn Llwyd (PC).

18. From the leaked reports on the one hand we are getting stories that the attack was ordered by Assad’s brother in retaliation for a failed assassination attempt on the leadership, and on the other hand hearing that there is intercept evidence that somebody who was unauthorised was responsible and that there was a telephone conversation in which somebody said, “Why on earth did you do this?” and a panicked reaction to the unauthorised release of poison gas. The point is that it is very far from certain that the evidence stacks up. The Intelligence and Security Committee is cleared to see classified material well up to the level of the material that the JIC and the Prime Minister have seen. I see no reason why those of us who have been cleared for such access should not have it. Julian Lewis (C)

19. If Assad is behaving irrationally and if he is so desperate, what is to prevent him, if he is attacked militarily by us on the perceived basis of intelligence supplied by Israel, from retaliating with a chemical attack against Israel? What will Israel do? It will retaliate in turn. What will America, Iran and Russia do then? I began my speech by referring to the first world war. Next year, we will commemorate the centenary of the events of August 1914. Those events have a worrying parallel. At that time, a series of actions and reactions drew in, in an escalating fashion, one country after another. Nobody thought that the assassination of an obscure archduke would lead to a world conflagration. As Admiral Lord West has said, this is a powder keg, and we should not be lobbing weapons into the heart of such combustible material. Julian Lewis (C)

20. If action is taken, what would the action be? What would its impact be? How many casualties, including among civilians, would it cause? Would Assad say, “Oh, dearie me, I must be a nice boy now”? Anyone who has been in Syria, as I was when I was shadow Foreign Secretary and was trying to liberate our hostages in Lebanon, knows that this is not a nice regime that will behave as we want. The Foreign Secretary said he wanted to punish Assad, but an Assad punished would be worse than an Assad as he is now. Sir Gerald Kaufman (Lab)

21. There is plenty of forensic evidence that will come out of the UN investigation and out of other data that we can obtain by other methods. It is not a question of panic; it is a question of getting the facts right before we act. It is very simple: when we are going to do things which will lead to the death of people, civilians in particular, we should get our facts right first. David Davis (C).

22. On a practical level, we believe that any military activity will be counter-productive and will not save lives but in fact cost them. As was said earlier, it is no more pleasant for a person to be killed by a cruise missile than by gas—they are still dead. Our objective should be to be humanitarian and protect lives. Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP).

23. I wish also to pose the question of how the sight of a British and US-led attack is likely to be perceived across the middle east, not just in Syria, especially if it is carried out without credible UN backing or on the basis of uncertain or confused intelligence. That would risk handing the Syrian regime a major propaganda victory at a pivotal point, which its supporters could rally around. The impact on the wider region is even more uncertain and potentially volatile. Even if such action could ever be morally justified, which I and my colleagues do not accept, there surely needs to be a serious prospect of an endgame that has an outcome of success and of benefit in some shape or form. Alasdair McDonnell (SDLP).

24. I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to Iraq and its consequences. We have all been left scarred by Iraq. Many in this House and in Government will have convinced themselves of the courses of action that should be taken, but they have not convinced the public. I think the public know better. The public have long and bitter memories of Iraq and Afghanistan. All the promises and assurances issued then were not worth the paper they were written on. The public remember the contrived situation, the misleading of this House and the needless deaths of so many soldiers and countless civilians. While I would find it difficult, if not impossible, ever to tolerate or support military intervention, I believe that this House should contemplate such action against Syria only if it were UN approved and if we were convinced that it would improve the situation. Alasair McDonnell (SDLP)

25. I wish the Government well. If they really can come up with a way of stopping Assad murdering his own people, nobody will be happier than me. Everyone in the House would be extremely happy. But the Government have to understand the scepticism of the British people. Assad is mad and bad and it will not be easy to stop him. I fear that we will not be able to do it in a half-hearted manner with a few cruise missiles in the hope that he will not retaliate. John Redwood (C)

26. We are told that intervention could be legally justified without a Security Council resolution under the UN’s responsibility to protect, but the 2005 UN world summit outcome document, in which the Heads of State unanimously approved the new international norm of the responsibility to protect, subsequently approved by UN Security Council resolution 1674, states clearly that it is still subject to UN Security Council agreement. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who co-chaired a working group on the responsibility to protect, again stressed that it is to be implemented in accordance with the UN charter. That means that the central decision-making authority is the UN Security Council. The conclusion from all this is clearly, if inconveniently for the Government, that military action against a sovereign state, other than in self-defence, without the authority of the Security Council cannot be justified under the responsibility to protect. Caroline Lucas (Green)

27. The Government’s position would be far stronger if instead of coming here proposing military action, they had come here to tell us that they were having serious discussions with the new Government in Iran and a new round of talks with Russia, and that they were trying to build a consensus in the region to bring about what must happen at some point—a political solution to this crisis. Jeremy Corbyn (Lab)

28. We should have seen the Attorney-General’s full legal opinion….. this one-and-a-half-side summary is simply unacceptable. Caroline Lucas (Green).

29. We need to strain every sinew to get all relevant parties around the table for peace talks. On so many levels, as others have said, this is a proxy war, which is why we need China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and many others involved as well. Caroline Lucas (Green)

30. Are we going actively to degrade chemical weapons? There are hideous practical problems in attempting that, with the potential of awful collateral damage. If we go after the command and control structure in a way that is sufficiently active to degrade it, that plainly means going after Assad himself, thus actively intervening on one side in the conduct of the war. Cristpin Blunt (C)

31. This month, the Egyptian Government have, with malice aforethought, murdered well over 1,000 of their own citizens to suppress people who were supporting what had been previously an elected Government. What are they to think about the fact that we are getting ourselves into a position to intervene over Syria, and yet we have said precious little about a crime that is on the scale of five or 10 times what we are debating here? It has not been part of an insurgency yet, but the Egyptian Government have almost certainly kicked an insurgency off as a result of what they are doing. Crispin Blunt (C)

32. Legitimacy to go to war comes not from the UN, nor from international law or international lawyers, nor even from our own National Security Council. That sort of legitimacy comes only from below, not from above. It comes from the demos and those they elect. When the time comes for that second, crunch, vote, there can be no buck-passing, no deferring to a higher authority, no delegating. It will be our responsibility alone, and all the more weighty for that. Douglas Carswell (C)

33. Democracy and liberalism will one day seem as firmly rooted in the south and east of the Mediterranean as they do to the north, but if spreading democratic values is to be the cornerstone on which we are to build British foreign policy, let us do so consistently. We cannot act in defence of democratic values in Syria two months after we failed to speak out in defence of the democratically elected Government in Egypt. We cannot act when hundreds of civilians are murdered in Damascus, but continue to arm the Egyptian junta that slaughtered a thousand in Cairo. We cannot champion the right of self-determination in one part of the Arab world, yet ignore those who seek basic human rights in another, including the Gulf. I am unconvinced that the Government’s intended course of action in Syria is part of a coherent strategy, and I will not support military action until I am convinced that it is part of such a strategy. Douglas Carswell (C)

34. What are we going to do? Apparently we are going to send in a few Tomahawk land attack missiles to give Assad a bit of a spanking because he has used chemical weapons. That is nonsense and a ridiculous proposition that will lead us to the position that a lot of people have already begun to explain. We cannot write Assad a letter and say, “By the way, the TLAM missile was only to give you a spanking over chemical weapons. It didn’t mean that we were interfering in your conflict in any way, shape or form.” Frankly, that is nonsense. We cannot compartmentalise such activities in the way suggested, and there will be an effect. What will that effect be? Dai Havard (Lab)

35. Many accuse those of us who question the idea of military intervention by saying, “You believe that nothing should be done. You’re in that camp that says, ‘We should wash our hands of it and let them get on with it.’” Utter tosh! So much more could be done on the humanitarian front. The refugee camps are desperately short of basic amenities. Britain has a good record—we have done a lot of the heavy lifting—but we could do a lot more, as could the international community. Tens of thousands of women and children are living in extremely poor conditions, and yet the west is saying, “There’s very little more we can do to help the humanitarian situation,” which is utter nonsense. John Baron (C)

36. The west could also do a lot more on the diplomatic front. It makes no sense whatever to exclude Iran from the forthcoming peace talks, but that is what we currently intend to do. Iran is a key regional player and a participant in this conflict. Excluding Iran from the talks is utter nonsense. We need to go that extra diplomatic mile. This is a cliché, but it is true: you make peace with your enemies, not with your friends. We need to talk to the Iranians if we hope for a diplomatic solution. A political and diplomatic solution, and not a military one, is the only long-term solution to this vicious civil war. John Baron (C)

37. We must never under-estimate the cynicism that surrounds our motives and those of our allies. We must never under-estimate the fact that even the most humanitarian of objectives can be misconstrued as a nefarious attempt by the west to project its power. We must never under-estimate the fact that we must first win the battle of perception above all else. Any intervention needs to be demonstrably scrupulous, must involve more than just the usual suspects and must be the last resort of a process that has visibly exhausted all diplomatic means. The recent ratcheting up of rhetoric has come at the expense of reason and has eschewed responsibility. The cacophony of tough words and the insidious indication that attacks could take place as early as this weekend have not facilitated diplomacy or the forging of alliances. David Lammy (Lab)

38. Any military action will, as I said, lead to a completely different attitude among many of our Muslim communities in this country. It will be the catalyst for the build-up of all sorts of extremism. Kate Hoey (Lab)

39. Many of us are reluctant about matters involving peace and war because we previously sat here and listened to a Prime Minister tell us from the Dispatch Box what I now believe to have been a fabric of lies. I cannot sit here and be duped again by any Prime Minister, whether of my party or the Labour party.
My constituents’ instinct is also against any direct UK military action. Like, I am sure, all my colleagues throughout the House, I have received not just form e-mails sent by some lobbying organisation but individually composed e-mails showing the strength of feeling and fear that lie in the British population. Cheryl Gillan (C)

40. This is not the debate that the House expected to have, it is certainly not the debate that No. 10 was planning, and it is not the one that the media predicted would happen, but there have none the less been some excellent contributions. Despite the fact that there will be another debate and vote next week, this has been a useful exercise in testing the issues at stake. Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)

41. There have been many contributions to the debate in which colleagues have said, “If we do this, that will happen. If we do not do that, this will happen.” Only one thing is absolutely guaranteed: nobody knows what will happen if we go down the road of military action. We have seen that too often in recent decades. The difficulty I have is the fact that we do not have an exit strategy. Jim Fitzpatrick (Lab)

42. In the run-up to the Iraq war, Colin Powell cited the Pottery Barn rule—Pottery Barn is a string of American china shops. The rule is, “You break it? You own it.” The notion that we can make a military intervention on the narrow point of chemical weapons is disingenuous to say the least. Were we to intervene militarily in Syria, we would take ownership of the outcome of the civil war. I see no endgame, no idea of what victory would look like in those circumstances. Diane Abbott (Lab)
43. Assad is lucky, of course, that we are having this debate not in 2002, but in 2013. The year 2003, which so many have referred to, intervened. We must not beat around the bush—Tony Blair and his Administration were dishonest. The result has been to injure our democracy to a degree that no other single action has done, I believe, in the 85 years since women gained full voting equality. And so we are in a position now where our decision now is being influenced by that failure in 2003, and we are asked to draw lessons from that. Ben Gummer (C)
44. What is the difference between an innocent child—a non-combatant—being killed by a conventional weapon and that child being killed with a chemical weapon? It does not much matter to them or their family, because it is still a horrendous death of an innocent. We therefore need to ask whether we are being consistent in saying that this is the red line and it is appropriate for us to take this action. Andrew George (Lib)

45. This has been a great two days for Parliament; I think we have won. This time yesterday morning, the motion would have been used to justify war, perhaps this very weekend. War is not going to happen. The Prime Minister has listened to his Back Benchers. We made it perfectly clear to our Whips yesterday afternoon that we were not prepared to vote for any motion that justified war, and so the Prime Minister has offered us another motion. This is not a motion for war. I will not vote for war. I would never vote for war against Syria. If there is a second vote, I will definitely vote against, but I do not believe there ever will be a second vote, because I do not believe that the parliamentary arithmetic stacks up. It does not stack up because MPs are doing their job and listening to what the public want, and the voice of the public is completely clear: they do not want war. They are scarred by what went on in Iraq. We were lied to in Parliament and we are not going to go down that route again. I voted against the Iraq war and I will vote against this one. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

46. What would it achieve? That is what we must ask ourselves. Why is it any of our business? Has Syria ever been a colony? Has it ever been in our sphere of interest? Has it ever posed the remotest threat to the British people? Our job in Parliament is to look after our own people. Our economy is not in very good shape. Neither are our social services, schools or hospitals. It is our job to think about problems here. If I am told that we are burying our heads in the sand, I would ask: are there anguished debates in other Parliaments all over Europe about whether to bomb Syria? No, they are getting on with running their own countries, and so should we. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

47. Although we have spoken with great moral certitude in this debate, the fact is that our contribution to an attack on Syria would be infinitesimal. Have we not degraded our own armed forces in the past three years, contrary to repeated warnings from myself and others? Do we have an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean? In reality, we would simply be hanging on to the coat tails of President Obama. He was foolish enough to issue a red line. His credibility is on the line, not the credibility of the British people or ourselves. We do not have to follow him in this foolish gesture. Sir Edward Leigh (C)

48. There are two occasions where military action can be justified. The first is where British interests are imminently threatened, and clearly that is not the case in this particular debate. The other is as part of a UN-sponsored humanitarian mission to prevent dictators from causing damage to their own people. I am not convinced that the Government have made that case this evening. The reality is this; there is an evil dictator, but the opposition to that evil dictator is even worse. These are people who will oppose the west at all costs and will cause damage to their own people. They are barbaric and inhuman and we should not support them in any shape or form. I would not support any regime change, or attempted regime change. Bob Blackman (C)

49. Syria is a satellite state of Russia. Do we think that the Russian Government will sit idly by and allow the US and Britain to bomb one of their satellite states? They will react in some way, shape or form. So we should be clear that, if we embark on military action, there will be direct military consequences for the whole region and for this country. We should send a message to President Assad, if we are convinced that he and his regime are responsible for the chemical attacks, to say, “Identify those who are responsible. Make them come before the criminal courts,” so that they can be punished in the best way possible, through due process of law. Bob Blackman (C)

Thank goodness we have a British parliamentary democracy. We MPs can come here and influence the decision of the Executive. Everybody knows that MPs from both sides of the House have influenced the Prime Minister to change the position of the Executive. In the States, there are 100 Congressmen begging the President to let them debate the issue. We are so much better off in this House. Peter Bone (C)

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