The fight against British Euro-scepticism is on! At the opening session of the London Congress of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Howard Dawber of the Canary Wharf Group (our hosts, as the plenaries are taking place in Canary Wharf’s East Wintergarden) stressed that business and the financial sector strongly support Britain’s membership of the European Union and before handing over to ALDE President Sir Graham Watson underlined the area’s link to Liberalism and Liberal Democracy (William Beveridge did much of his investigation into poverty in the East End, and the Limehouse Declaration establishing the SDP was drawn up at David Owen’s house just up the road), which was noble, given Howard’s political affiliations elsewhere. Graham was in fine rhetorical form, the metaphors rolling off his tongue like the morning mist down the side of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands. He urged everyone to remember as we emerge from a deep recession the core values of social liberalism. Nick Clegg, of course, did not disappoint, speaking without notes about his own by now familiar mixed European heritage and his determination that the European elections will be fought by the Liberal Democrats as the unequivocal party of IN. He argued that the big division in Europe now is not so much between left and right but between those whose minds are closed and those whose minds are open (reflected in politician’s attitudes on such thing as freedom of movement within the European single market and towards others beyond Europe’s frontiers. EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom picked up the issue of Europe’s responsibility towards refugees and asylum seekers, as well as to economic migrants driven by despair to try risky passage across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. The appalling loss of life off the Italian Lampedusa is only the most striking example of an ongoing humanitarian tragedy. The finale of the opening session was a rousing speech by the (Flemish) President of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt. He is an unashamed federalist, but he made clear that he understands the true meaning of federalism, not centralisation, as Euro-sceptics often misrepresent, but empowering downwards. That should mean that there is less but better EU-level regulation. For although the ALDE Party is the most pro-European of all the transnational groups in the European Parliament it is also the party of constructive reform.
Posts Tagged ‘European elections’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th November, 2013
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: ALDE Congress, ALDE Group, ALDE Party, Canary Wharf, Cecilia Malstrom, East Wintergarden, European elections, Graham Watson, Guy Verhofstadt, Howard Dawber, Lampedusa, Nick Clegg | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 28th November, 2013
If anyone doubted that only the Liberal Democrats are the true party of IN when it comes to the European Union the opening reception of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) Party Congress at the East Wintergarden in Canary Wharf this evening would have persuaded them. It’s the biggest ever event of its kind and the turnout of members of the 12 governments in which Liberal Democrats are in power (alone or in coalition) was particularly impressive. The UK Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, was of course present and gave a brief speech, as did Sir Graham Watson, President of ALDE (and LibDem MEP for South West England). The working sesssions of the Congress will take place over the next two days, including discussion of the ALDE Manifesto for the May 2014 Euro-elections. All 28 EU member states will be voting then, and all EU citizens who are registered to vote in the UK — and sign a declaration that they will not vote in their country of origin as well — are entitled to vote here. That’s especially important in a global city like London, in which there are an estimated 300,000 French residents and countless other EU migrants. Most of them are the people who are helping London surge out of the economic doldrums (rather than being benefit scroungers, as the Daily Express and other posonous rags would have people believe). Obviously, the LibDems will be targetting them in the run up to May, being the only genuinely pro-European Party, as well as pro-Europeans who normally vote Tory, but who can;t stomach the party’s drift to Euro-phobia. Of course, we in the Liberal Democrats want to see reforms that will make the EU leaner and meaner (in a positive sense). But if you don’t succumb to the siren voices of UKIP and the Tory right, if you’re pro-Britain in the EU then LibDems are the place to be! Many thanks to the Canary Wharf Group for providing the venue, as they have for the London Liberal Democrat spring conference in recent years.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013
A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th April, 2013
Ken Clarke — the thinking man’s Conservative — has aptly described UKIP as a rallying point for waifs and strays. Though some of its members — and presumably its MEPs — are genuinely motivated by a belief that the European Union is the worst thing since the Third Reich a great many of its supporters are essentially people who look at a ballot paper marked Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and respond “None of the Above”. One reason for that is that none of the three major British political parties manifests xenophobia as overtly as does UKIP. It’s no use party leader Nigel Farage pleading that UKIP is not racist: the party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, including the latest demonisation of Bulgarians and Romanians, is distinctly racist in tone. Some of the motley crew who have been signed up to stand for UKIP in this Thursday’s County Council elections have expressed openly homophobic opinions as well; one described gays as “termites”. Farage himself has admitted that the party has not had time to vet these newbie candidates thoroughly and that there might indeed be some members of the BNP and convicted criminals among them. It is significant that the hateful English Defence League (EDL) urged that other far-right parties, including the BNP, should not stand against UKIP candidates so as not to split the vote. As Geoffrey Bloom, one of UKIP’s more colourful MEPs, has warned, the party has not had time to draw up a clear manifesto of policy either. Mr Bloom, you may recall, is the gentleman who argued that women should spend more time cleaning behind the fridge. Feminism is almost as sinful as homosexuality in the lexicon of many “Kippers”. It is a fact that several of UKIP’s MEPs later walked out of the party after they got elected, and I won’t go into the criminal activity that landed certain people in jail. But Farage is a good comedy turn and is getting blanket coverage in the media so is an attractive nanny for the “waifs and strays”. For me the most alarming thing, however, is the way that the right-wing of the Conservative Party is cosying up to UKIP because it is afraid the party is taking away Tory votes. It’s a very dangerous strategy, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider that the Tories are in a group in the European Parliament that contains some pretty intolerant and offensive right-wing parties. UKIP’s intervention could lead to some very interesting results on Thursday, with the Conservatives likely to be the biggest casualties. The number of UKIP councillors elected might be small, thanks to Britain’s quirky electoral system, but the party’s bubble needs to be burst — and its shortcomings highlighted — before next year’s European elections, when a sizeable UKIP vote under a proportional system could make them the biggest contingent, doing incalculable damage to the UK’s reputation amongst our continental partners.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th March, 2013
Direct elections to the European Parliament every five years have usually been held in Britain on the first Thursday in June, with most of the other EU member states voting on the following weekend. But next year the elections will be brought forward slightly to May (22 May in the UK’s case). The EU Council press release below explains why. It is therefore highly likely that British local elections (including the London all-out borough council elections) will be put back three weeks, to be held on the same day.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th January, 2013
An interesting opinion poll from YouGov this weekend, asking people how they will vote in next year’s European elections, has UKIP in fourth place, behind the Liberal Democrats (LAB 38%, CON 30%, LD 13%, UKIP 12%, SNP/PC 3%, Grn 3%, BNP 1%). That’s quite a bump down from even a week ago, but more significantly indicates that all the hoo-haa about UKIP over the past few months may actually have damaged the party’s prospects. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has been ubiquitous on the broadcast media, but that blanket coverage of him does not seem to have done UKIP much good. Maybe it has highlighted the fact that while Mr Farage may be an amusing cheeky chappie at times, others in the party are more disturbing. Or indeed simply that people actually don’t trust a cheeky chappie with running something important (think how Ken Livingstone ploughed in last years London Mayoral election). What does seem to be true — unless later developments prove otherwise — is that UKIP has peaked too soon. The Euro-elections are still nearly 18 months away, and public opinion appears to be becoming more objective about the benefits of Britain’s membership of the European Union, despite all the europhobic bile poured out by certain popular newspapers. Indeed, another opinion poll from YouGov released this weekend suggests that 40% of the public would vote to keep the UK in the EU as opposed to 34% who would vote to leave. That is a very dramatic turn-around from even a few months ago and gives one hope that the comments of prominent businssmen such as Richard Branson and John Browne are having some effect — despite the shilly-shallying of Prime Minister David Cameron.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 4th November, 2012
For the benefit of those who weren’t there but who have asked what I was going to say, this is the speech I gave at the European candidates’ selection hustings meeting in central London today:
Good afternoon everyone. I know it can be quite tiring listening to a whole series of speeches, but this hustings meeting is important. It’s crucial that we have a credible, committed team in London for the 2014 Euro-elections. And we need to have the right leadership at the top of the list. 2014 isn’t going to be easy. The Euro-poll will probably be on the same day as the London borough elections. So we need to have a twin-track strategy. By that I mean we must target hard in the locals to ensure that we hold what we’ve got – and maybe pick up a few new seats, if we’re lucky. But we also need to deliver a strong London-wide Euro-campaign so we can harvest votes efficiently in our weaker areas.
In that Euro-campaign, we LibDems must be the Euro-realists. The Tories will be vying with UKIP in their Europhobia. And Labour seems to be repositioning itself to become Eurosceptic, as it was in the bad old days under Michael Foot. So we’ll be the only major party setting out honestly how Britain benefits from being a member of the EU – and how the world benefits from a more united Europe. One thing I’ve been focusing on recently is how European funds help create jobs and promote regeneration in deprived areas of London such as Newham, North Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Of course, not everything about the EU is perfect. Far from it. There needs to be more democratic accountability. And excessive bureaucratic delay must be tackled. But the shortcomings in the EU do not outweigh the fact that in an increasingly competitive, globalised world European states are better off together than alone.
In this selection campaign, my team and I have been using the slogan “Expert – European – Liberal – Campaigner”. This sums up neatly in four words what I’m offering you.
Expert: because I spent seven years in Brussels as a journalist covering the EU institutions. And I’ve been writing about what’s being going on in the EU ever since.
European: because being European is an important layer of my identity, along with being a Londoner and a Brit. I speak several European languages, which comes in handy. And my work has taken me to all twenty-seven EU member states.
Liberal: because from the day the late Jo Grimond came to speak at my school, I’ve shared in the values and principles that lie at the heart of Liberalism. We Liberal Democrats believe in an efficient mixed economy that rewards creativity and endeavour. And we care passionately about social justice. We are also firmly internationalist.
Campaigner: Like many of you in this room, I’ve flown the flag for the Liberal Democrats at local, national and European elections, not just as a candidate but as a member of a hard-working team. I served for a while as a borough councillor – in Bromley. And I’ve lost count of the number of local and parliamentary by-elections I’ve helped in across London over the years – right up to the Action Day yesterday campaigning for Marisha Ray in Croydon North.
I can honestly say that I have joined in activities, both political and social, with all the local LibDem parties in London. And of course as Chairman of London region for the past three years I’ve played a key role in making the regional party more professional. Now, as I hand over my administrative responsibilities, I can concentrate full-time on campaigning in the run-up to 2014. Many of you will know that in the last two Euro-elections I was number 2 on the London list and just missed actually getting elected to the Parliament. Someone the other day asked me, “Jonathan: how do you keep up your stamina? You’ve devoted so much time, effort and money to European campaigns and all you’ve achieved is to get someone else elected!” Well, I have three answers to that. First, I’m fully committed to delivering the best possible result for London LibDems in 2014. And that means working hard to ensure maximum representation in Europe. Second, it’s essential that we have people at the top of the list who really know what they are talking about on Europe. And last but not least: I’m as determined as ever to become a London MEP. It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever really wanted. And with your help, I can make it this time! Thank you!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd November, 2012
Today ballot papers started arriving at the homes of Liberal Democrat members in London so they can choose the order of the list of candidates for the European elections in 2014. There are nine candidates for eight places (a tenth, Elaine Bagshawe, has withdrawn). The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, so everyone who has been a member for longer than a year gets the chance to take part by single transferable vote (STV). In 2004 and 2009 I was Number 2 on the list, and as such just missed actually getting elected to the European Parliament by a whisker, so no-one can be surprised that I’m going for Number 1 this time. Being an MEP is something I have always wanted, more than any other form of political office, though I did serve as a borough councillor for a while. I used to cover the European Parliament and other European institutions when I was based in Brussels, originally with Reuters but later freelance. In the early days it was something of a talking shop, whose members were appointed by their national parliaments and had almost no power. But in 1979 there were direct elections for the first time, giving the institution more democratic legitimacy. In Britain these were on a first-past-the post system in large constituencies, in London’s case usually comprising three boroughs (I fought London South East, which was made up of Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich). But in 1999, the Labour government rightly bowed to pressure from our continental partners to adopt a fairer, more proportional system.
I have often attended events at the parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg (yes, of course I am in favour of the abolition of the wasteful shuttle between the two!) and for many years I have been an elected member of the governing Council of the ELDR — the European Liberal Democrat and Reformist party, which groups like-minded parties from across Europe, including a number of states not currently members of the EU. In fact, this time next week I’ll be in Dublin at the 2012 Congress of ELDR. This moves round Europe, partly to give a boost to the host party; the last ELDR event I attended was in Yerevan, Armenia, in May. The Parliament itself now has much stronger powers than it did in the past, with many major decisions now being subject to ‘co-decision’ between the Parliament and the Council of Ministers (which is made up of Ministers from the governments of the 27 member states). MEPs usually sit on a couple of major committees; my choice ideally would be in EU external policy/foreign affairs and overseas development, but of course London concerns would figure large among my priorities, including the use of European structural funds to help create jobs and foster regenration in deprived areas of the capital, including my own home borough, Tower Hamlets. Because of my professional background, obviously culture, media and related issues are also of great interest. In fact, I write regularly for the culture website of the European Commission’s London representation. And I agree with EU founding father John Monnet that one thing maybe the European project should have stressed earlier and more strongly at the beginning is the crucial value of culture, identity and diversity.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bexley, Bromley, Brussels, Dublin, ELDR, European elections, European Parliament, Greenwich, Liberal Democrats, London, Strasbourg, Tower Hamlets, Yerevan | 3 Comments »