The Diary: Bye bye, Bibi: I'm so glad to see you go

Share
Related Topics
n the House of Commons tea room queue late last Monday night, I found myself behind a colleague who for many years had been a faithful friend of Israel. A non-Jew, he had admired the idealism of the Jewish state and had been a frequent visitor there.

He turned to me with a beaming smile and said, "Now I'll be able to go to Israel again." For the past three years, during the reign of the abominable Netanyahu, he had stayed away. Bibi's defeat meant that my friend could return.

I too could not bring myself to visit Israel during his premiership. Even when, last October, I had gone to Ramallah, the principal city on the West Bank administered by the Palestine National Authority, and had to cross Israeli territory to Tel Aviv for my plane home, I got out of the car only to go to the gents at a filling station. How petty can you get?

But behaving in this infantile way was the only revenge I could take on the Israelis. For, having been involved with the country for nearly 40 years, having gone there dozens of times, I felt personally let down when the wise and courageous Shimon Peres was rejected in favour of Netanyahu in the 1996 election. Moreover, whereas my parliamentary friend blamed Netanyahu for the ills of the Israelis, I blamed the Israelis for the ills inflicted by Netanyahu. He had been elected by the vote of 56 per cent of the Israeli Jews. When they bought him, they knew what he was selling. Now that it has all gone wrong they have returned him as damaged goods and exchanged him for Ehud Barak.

I hope that Barak, a gleaming new product not shop-soiled in any way, will start by refashioning Israeli politics. Under no circumstances should he include the Sephardi religious party, Shas, in his government.

Shas is now the third strongest party in the Knesset, with 17 seats. Last week a friend telephoned me from Israel to explain that Shas had won many seats by corruption - by purchasing votes from interest groups by distributing funds from the Interior Ministry, which it controlled. Peace is, rightly, top of Barak's agenda. Cleaning up Israeli politics must come a close second.

And Barak could do worse than take a look at the Israeli electoral system, which makes possible the proliferation of self-seeking and too often corrupt special interest parties. Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once told me that he wanted to get rid of the proportional system that had been foisted on him and substitute for it the more stable British first-past-the-post system. It is ironic that here in Britain attempts are being made to abolish that stable system in favour of an electoral process more akin to that which fostered the rise of Netanyahu's Likud.

NOVELS NOMINATED for the Booker Prize are now reaching me in a steady flow. As chairman of the judges I am therefore involved in the laborious but exhilarating task of reading them and arriving at opinions. Every time I open a cover, I may be in for a surprise. Some surprises are unwelcome. One author, whom I much admire, has come up with a pallid repetition of previous work. Other surprises are more pleasurable. A writer whom I have in the past respected for workmanlike ouput has come up with a novel unlike anything she has ever done and which, to my mind, is of exceptional quality.

Most welcome surprises of all are novels by writers of whom I had known little or nothing. Last weekend I read a couple that filled me with unanticipated delight. There are scores more books to come; but already I have seven that I would be happy to see on the shortlist.

n

THE ROYAL Commission on Reform of the House of Lords goes on the road this week. We are travelling to Exeter to listen to opinions from people in the West Country. There will be other hearings in different parts of England, as well as in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Sitting on a royal commission is unlike any other political work I have ever done. On the shadow cabinet, on Labour's national executive, on the Commons select committee that I chair, I have known of old and sometimes previously worked with most of the people sitting round the table. Of the 11 other royal commissioners, there are several I had never set eyes on before we first convened. During our numerous long meetings we have not only worked hard but begun getting to know one another. I think we are developing a collegiate atmosphere. This is likely to be very helpful when the time comes for us to make decisions. Those decisions will be all the more intriguing because at present I do not have the faintest idea of the views of my colleagues on any of the issues we have been appointed to confront.

n

OOPS! I WAS late at the Commons last Monday night because of the all- night sitting on the Welfare Bill, which led to the backbench revolt that took place despite - or maybe even because of - a speech I made warning darkly against the consequences of any such rebellion.

The revolt took place on Thursday, but had originally been scheduled for the Monday-into-Tuesday sitting. Wandering along a Commons corridor around 3am on Tuesday, I encountered a Labour MP with whom I have always got on very well.

He said to me, both solicitously and flatteringly, "What is a senior MP like you doing hanging around the place at this hour?" I replied, "To vote down the shits who want to demonstrate that their consciences are more tender than mine."

When I studied in Hansard the voting lists, which gave the names of the shits, I found that among them was my solicitous friend.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee