The Liberal Democrats pride themselves on being the most internationalist of Britain’s political parties and a liberal, internationalist voice is going to be needed more than ever as the United Kingdom and several other parts of the world seem to be heading towards narrow nationalism and illiberal tendencies. Buoyed by last night’s result in the Witney by-election — where the LibDem candidate Liz Leffman quadrupled the party’s vote share, standing on a pro-EU ticket in former Prime Minister David Cameron’s seat — the new LibDem working group on Britain in the World held its inaugural meeting at party headquarters today, to begin a process that will culminate in a policy paper being taken to next autumn’s party conference in Bournemouth, effectively marking out the LibDem approach to foreign affairs up to the 2020 general election. About 17o people had applied to join the working group and the members chosen from that pool are an impressive bunch, with a wealth of expertise in foreign policy studies, diplomacy, the armed servies and the media, as well as parliamentary and Euro-parliamentary experience. An impressive proportion of the group’s members are LibDem newbies: people who only joined the Liberal Democrats since last year’s general election, even if several had long voted for the party. The group will meet regularly to hear evidence from expert witnesses, both internal and external, and to discuss issues with them. Today, we heard from two LibDem members of the House of Lords, William Wallace and Judith Jolly, who both held junior ministerial posts in the 2010-2015 Coalition government. In keeping with “Chatham House rules”, who said what shall remain confidential within the group, but I will post in general terms any interesting developments or insights over the next few months.
Posts Tagged ‘Liberal Democrats’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 21st October, 2016
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016
Tomorrow the voters of Witney in Oxfordshire will be going to the polls in a by-election caused by the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Normally this would be safe Conservative territory (despite the fact that one previous incumbent defected to Labour), but these aren’t normal times. David Cameron made the disastrous mistake of calling June’s EU Referendum, convinced that he would win, and his successor as PM, Theresa May, seems determined to march down the road to a “hard Brexit” despite all the warnings from economists about the damage that will do to Britain’s GDP. Interestingly, West Oxfordshire (of which Witney is the administrative seat) voted for Remain in the Referendum, but the Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. All this could produce a perfect storm for the Liberal Democrats as the party that is not afraid to show its European colours. The LibDem candidate, a personable local businesswoman and councillor, Liz Leffman, is well known, having fought the constituency in 2005. Several pro-EU groups have endorsed her and hundreds of LibDem volunteers have been pouring in daily to campaign for her. The Tories deliberately called the by-election quickly, to avoid any opposition head of steam building up, so it is probably not likely that Liz can win, but coming a very strong second would send a very powerful message to 10 Downing Street. And if Liz did pull off an Orpington-style victory then the whole story of Brexit could be changed.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 16th September, 2016
As Liberal Democrats gather in Brighton this weekend for Autumn Conference, it’s a timely moment to consider the challenges facing the party. Despite the turmoil within Britain’s official opposition party, Labour (graphically illustrated on BBC’s Question Time last night by a cat fight between John McDonnell MP and Alastair Campbell), the LibDems seem stuck in the national opinion polls in the range 6-8%. Pretty pathetic for a party that was in government (albeit in Coalition) between 2010 and 2015. Yet the position is nowhere near as bleak as that headline figure might imply. There has been a whole series of very strong LibDem gains in local council by-elections over the past few months; there was another one yesterday, in Derbyshire. These suggest that the party has bottomed out electorally and is now on the road to recovery (as Paddy Ashdown argues in today’s Guardian). Moreover, there is what I see as a golden opportunity in the parliamentary by-election due to be held in Witney on 20 October. Witney was of course David Cameron’s seat. Just a year after winning an unexpected overall majority in the last general election, David Cameron’s fall from grace has been spectacular. In the wake of June’s Brexit vote, he resigned as Prime Minister and then on the eve of a highly critical Foreign Affairs Committee report on his handling of the Libyan crisis, he resigned his seat. Interestingly, in West Oxfordshire (in which Witney is the seat of local government) Remain triumphed in the EU Referendum, which means that there must be many thousands of disgruntled voters there who in a by-election situation might be persuaded to vote for an explicitly pro-European party. That certainly won’t be Labour, given Jeremy Corbyn’s self-evident ambivalence about the EU. But it could be the Liberal Democrats, if the party seizes the opportunity, selects a brilliant by-election candidate with the right credentials and pours members and supporters into the constituency for an intense month-long campaign. Tim Farron is expected to make the clarion call for pro-Europeans at Brighton this week. Let that also be the trumpet sound for Witney, which, if handled well, could be a milestone in the LibDem Fight Back!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th September, 2016
Guest post by Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats:
Liberal Democrats believe that the British people should have their say on the final Brexit deal in a referendum. Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. British people have a right to have their say on whether the deal they are offered is the right one for them, their families, their communities and our country.
The Liberal Democrats remain a proudly pro-European party. Following the referendum, we are setting out clear answers to some of the big questions and what we think should happen next.
Key constitutional questions
Should we re-run the referendum to overturn the results of the first?
No. We believe that the Leave campaign lied blatantly, leading many people to believe things such as a vote to leave would mean £350 million a week for the NHS. However, we should not keep re-running the last referendum in order to get the result we wanted.
Should the British people have the final decision on the government’s negotiated deal?
Yes. In voting to leave, there was no opportunity to vote for how future trading relationships should be, or how we should work with other countries over things like criminal justice, law and order, ease of travel etc. Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. When the deal is negotiated, in however many years’ time, the British people must have a chance to say if they would prefer the new arrangement, outside the European Union, or would prefer to remain inside the European Union.
Should young people (16-18) have a vote in a future referendum?
Yes. Liberal Democrats would introduce legislation to lower the voting age to sixteen.
Should Parliament vote on Article 50?
Yes. Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom. There should be a formal vote in Parliament to give notice under Article 50 and trigger the process for withdrawal. Liberal Democrats will decide how they will vote after they see the terms on which the government proposes to negotiate.
Key issues for negotiation
Protection of rights for EU citizens and UK citizens
Those who have made the United Kingdom their home should be allowed to stay. We will seek to secure the same for UK citizens living in European Union countries.
Freedom of Movement and the Single Market
Any deal negotiated for the United Kingdom outside the European Union must include membership of the Single Market and protect freedom of movement.
Maintaining environmental standards
We have a duty to future generations to protect our environment and tackle climate change. We will ensure that everything is done to maintain those high standards in UK law.
Law enforcement and judicial co-operation
We must maintain maximum cooperation to ensure criminals are pursued quickly and effectively.
Protection of Erasmus, investment in our universities and research networks
We should do everything we can to protect Erasmus, as well as other EU funded schemes increasing opportunities for young people. We will campaign to sustain the levels of investment in UK universities and their associated research networks.
Travel and tourism
We must make every effort to ensure that we retain ‘soft’ traveller benefits such as the European Health Insurance Card, reduced roaming charges and pet passports.
The City of London must retain full rights in EU financial markets. We must also protect the support provided by the European Union to domestic industries such as farming, tourism and the creative industries, as well as regional support for deprived areas.
Like our plan for Britain in Europe? Share it on social media!
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd September, 2016
Many thousands of Britons in cities across the country today took part in a March for Europe, demonstrating our belief (despite the outcome of June’s referendum) that the UK is better off in the EU. Liberal Democrats were well represented. Theresa May’s trio of Brexit Ministers — Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox — have yet to make any credible proposal for what Brexit would look like. Some in the government hope Britain could somehow still be part of the European Single Market while others want to be completely outside that. To me, both positions are unrealistic. Why would the other 27 EU member states give us free access to the single market without our contributing to the EU budget and accepting free movement of labour? It just doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the go-it-aloners have failed to understand the implications of going into a situation where we would be operating under WTO rules. Theresa May is under great pressure from Ian Duncan Smith and other hardliners among the Brexiteers to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, but she is wisely not doing so. The special summit at Chequers the other day failed to come up with any coherent Brexit strategy and there is little likelihood one will be fashioned soon. So probably we will drift on in the curious limbo of remaining in the EU, but with a foot out of the door, for several years. An astonishing number of people who voted for Leave seem to believe we have actually already left, but we haven’t and we won’t do so for ages, maybe never at all. In the meantime, every time I post something pro-EU on twitter, such as about today’s March for Europe, Brexit trolls send me tweets, many of them offensive, accusing me of not respecting democracy. On the contrary, it is the democratic right of the millions of us who voted to stay in the EU to keep on expressing our opinion. To stifle us would be dictatorship, not democracy.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th August, 2016
Last night the relatively new Liberal Democrat Creatives group heard Lord (Tim) Clement-Jones outline some of the challenges facing the UK’s creative industries as a result of June’s vote for Brexit. He is part of the LibDems’ parliamentary team covering the Department of Culture, Media and Sport brief. We know from opinion polling that the creative sector voted overwhelmingly for Remain, but Tim argued that we now have to assume that Britain will leave the EU and that therefore we must try to make the best of it. Britain’s creative sector has been a phenomenal success in recent years, growing two or even three times as fast as the rest of the economy and accounting for an annual turnover of more than £80 billion. It’s not just the quality of content and innovation that have made this possible but also the skills of British technicians and crews, especially in the AV sector. In principle, given the global nature of the English language Britain should continue to operate at an advantage when targeting the US and Commonwealth markets, but the future situation with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU is far more problematic. Currently we have to conform with EU directives but we also have a strong voice in how EU regulations are formed, which will no longer be the case after Brexit. Even more worrying is the likely impact of an end to free movement of labour, goods and services. It will probably be more difficult for British film-makers, actors, technicians and others to work on the Continent and similarly there may be curbs on EU citizens coming to Britain, which would certainly impoverish cultural exchange. That may also effect the facility for and desire of European students coming to Britain to study such things as drama, film and television. But the central problem at the moment is that no-one knows exactly what Brexit means and what sort of deal Britain will manage to negotiate with the 27 remaining states. Some LibDem Creatives in the audience last night expressed fears that we could, for example, see a return to the need for carnets for technical crews travelling to the Continent, meticulously listing all their equipment, which could be horribly time-consuming as well as financially draining. Despite Tim Clement-Jones’s attempt to be at least a little upbeat the mood in the room — appropriately a performance space over a pub in Bermondsey — was predominantly gloomy, as most people thought Brexit would be negative for the sector. Indeed many of us continue to hope that Britain will pull back from the brink when it is clear that no Brexit deal can be anything like as good as what we enjoy at the moment as members of the EU.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2016
Across Britain yesterday, hundreds of local Liberal Democrat parties organised street stalls promoting a Remain vote in the Euro-Referendum. I briefly manned the one outside Stratford Station in Newham and although inevitably many people rushed past without stopping, anxious to catch their train or to do their Saturday shopping, it was encouraging just how many people did engage, voluntarily approaching the stall (where we had about 10 activists from across the capital) to take literature and ask questions. Newham is an ethnically very diverse area, but there was just as much interest among Asian and Afro-Caribbean passers-by as among the whites. What was very striking, though, was the difference of attitude according to age. Many older white women in particular said “I’m voting OUT!”, whereas younger people were almost all in favour of Remain. The keenest of all were 15- and 16-year-olds, not least black girls, though of course they cannot vote. If Mr Cameron had thought about things more deeply he should have tried to get the franchise reduced to 16, as happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. After all, it is the young people whose future will be most affected by the decision to stay or go. Moreover, older people tend to vote more regularly than the young, that could skew the result. Doubtless that is what UKIP and Tory Outers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove hope. Nonetheless, I feel that a narrow vote in favour of Remain is the most likely outcome, especially now that the Governor of the Bank of England and other authoritative non-politicians are weighing into the argument. Depressingly, the Brexit camp is still putting out lies, the two most common being that Britain pays £350 million into the EU every week and that the accounts of the Union have never been approved. That’s why it is so important to be out in the streets and knocking on doors putting the INtogether case.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th March, 2016
It was striking that in his speech to the Liberal Democrat spring conference in York, Tim Farron devoted a lot of time to the refugee crisis and in particular the Conservative government’s failure to step up to the plate adequately in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people, especially those fleeing the carnage in Syria. This is something Tim clearly feels passionately about and is also a fine issue on which Liberals can campaign. Moreover, an emergency motion on Syria won the ballot for debate early yesterday morning, emphasizing that the subject is uppermost in people’s minds. The fact that six of the eight LibDem MPs voted in favour of the UK joining in the US-led Coalition’s bombing of ISIS/Daesh in Syria is still a sensitive matter; both Paul Reynolds and I outlined our opposition to that at a fringe meeting of the Liberal Democrat Peace and Security Group the previous evening.
But in the emergency motion debate in the main hall I stressed how important it is that thought be given already to the reconstruction of Syria, which some UN estimates suggest could require up to US$4 trillion. There will be a difficult period of reconciliation to go through but my impression is that the vast majority of Syrian refugees would like to return to their homeland when it is safe to do so, always presuming the cities are made habitable. The situation is very complex and it is true that some areas of the country, notably those under the Assad government’s control, are relatively intact. But Assad and the Russians have bombed much of the rest to oblivion. I argued that Britain and France have a particular historic responsibility for helping resolve the Syrian mess, preferably as part of an EU diplomatic effort, which would lead to all interested parties being involved, including Russia and Iran. Understandably, much of the debate on the motion centred on short-term measures, but I underlined how vital it is that we learn from the lessons of Iraq and Libya and make sure that there is a proper, workable plan in place for what happens if or when Assad goes.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th March, 2016
The Liberal Democrats’ Spring conference in York got off to a rousing start this evening with a rally underscoring the Party’s almost unanimous support for Britain to remain in the EU. The sole remaining LibDem MEP, Catherine Bearder, highlighted how her brand of patriotism involves Brutain at the heart of Europe, but some of the most impressive interventions from the platform this evening were from young newbies to the party, notably a young Muslim criminal lawyer from Walthamstow called Mohsin, and 18-year-old Lauren, who fought a brilliant campaign in a difficult ward in the London borough of Southwark recently. Tim Farron rounded off the proceedings; he is at his best in this sort of friendly environment, half serious, half jokey, but totally committed to Britain’s future in the EU. There was also a video of messages of solidarity from MEPs from continental sister parties in the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, all basically stressing that an EU without Britain will be diminished. Personally, I believe the turnout is going to be crucial in the EU Referendum on 23 June, with a higher turnout favouring Remain. That is why it is so important that some of the impressive youngsters we saw at the rally tonight get out motivate their peers, both to register and to vote.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th February, 2016
Hearing Angela Eagle MP on the Marr Show defending the EU and the importance of British membership really drove home the importance of Labour and the LibDems working together in the EU referendum campaign, as the incurably split Conservatives tear themselves apart. Only five Labour MPs have come out as backing the LEAVE campaign, including the maverick Kate Hoey, which means that they have plenty of opportunity to make the case for REMAIN up and down the country (well, England and Wales; the Scottish Nationalists will be shouldering the burden of doing that north of the border). Labour was often vicious to and about LibDems during the 2010-2015 Coalition government which means that many LibDem activists do not see Labour as a natural ally. Indeed, anyone like me who grew up in a Labour rotten borough has a natural instinct to treat the party warily. However, given that the LibDems have only eight MPs now and the media do not pay as much attention to Peers, of which we have over 100, we need to work together on this single issue. The threat of Brexit is too great to let tribal loyalties divide us. Of course each party can work specifically among its own supporters as appropriate but out on the streets of our towns and villages we need to have a coherent, unified, simple set of messages about why being in the EU has been good for Britain, from food safety to workers’ rights and cheap flights and reduced mobile phone roaming charges. UKIP will be treating this Referendum as a life-or-death battle; if the vote is for REMAIN, Nigel Farage and Co will deflate. But we need to recognise that Labour can speak to working class voters who are natural Labour supporters, but who are wooed by UKIP, in a way not many LibDems can. And, who knows, if working in tandem in the INTogether campaign is a success we might also find other important common causes, such as exchanging our distorting electoral system for PR!