• Home Thoughts from Abroad

    January 06, 2019 5:10 PM

    As the European institutions get back to work, most of the talk in Brussels surrounds how the new Romanian presidency of the Council will fare in wrapping up a lot of unfinished business before the European Elections in May. Tongues are also wagging as to the political complexion of the next European Commission, which is expected to begin its mandate in December this year.

    To the extent to which non-Brit officials in Brussels still discuss Brexit, their incredulity it seems to me, stems from the fact that they see the UK taking such a huge strategic gamble based on so little understanding of the long, hard and winding process to come. Living in Brussels and working on EU legislation these last few years, I have often been struck by how little the political debate in the UK seems to relate to my day-to-day understanding of how the EU works.

    Nothing illustrates this better than references in the UK media to “The EU says” or “The EU wants”, or “Brussels says”. Nobody in Brussels would ever speak like this; for the simple reason that the EU is so multifaceted that it is impossible – especially at the outset – to discern a single EU line. Interests and opinions between member states, between political groups and within and between the institutions vary hugely. What I think most UK commentators tend to mean when they say the “the EU wants” is the European Commission, but I have often seen the descriptor appended to the personal views of single MEPs, often from smaller political groups like the Greens.

    If Brexit does go ahead on the 29th of March, the UK public and media will soon find out that the high degree of consensus between the 27 EU member states on the dry technicalities of the Withdrawal Agreement is unlikely to hold once the UK is out and discussions turn to the future trading relationship. It will be a “blind Brexit”.

    The joint political declaration appended to the legal text of the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement is little more than a goodwill statement. But if the Brits are serious about securing access to the Single Market for goods, they will have to begin negotiations with, essentially 27 other countries after March, each of which will have a veto, as will the new European Parliament. What happens to the £100 billion or so worth of services the UK sells to EU countries every year is anyone’s guess. Services are not usually included in trade deals and “passporting” is due to end.

    To give a flavour of how long it generally takes to go from vague political statements to fully-fledged regulations and directives, published in the Official Journal of the European Union, the legislation I have been working on, called the Clean Energy for All Europeans Package, first received its “political declaration” from Heads of Government in the European Council in October 2014. It is not yet complete. The EU-Canada Trade deal (CETA) took around eight years to negotiate and ratify and was held up for several months at the 11th hour by the Walloon Parliament in Belgium, one of Belgium’s three regional parliaments, all of which can block the ratification of an EU trade treaty.

    So, if Brexit goes ahead on the 29th March the UK will be taking a leap into the dark. For non-Brits, this is an unprecedented political and economic experiment on a huge scale. It still gives me the shivers.

  • Social Liberals at the Green Party Conference

    January 04, 2019 1:56 PM

    SLF Council member Paul Pettinger writes about his experience of attending Green Party conference on behalf of the SLF:

    In October 2018, the SLF had a stall at the Green Party of England and Wales’ annual conference in Bristol for the first time.

    Relations between Lib Dems and Greens have improved in recent years and in no small part thanks to the sacrifice of local Green parties who have stood down for Lib Dems in Conservative Lib Dem marginals, such as in the 2016 Richmond By-election and a host of seats at the last General Election.

    These local arrangements have not only encouraged former Green voters to vote tactically, but also allowed Lib Dem candidates to use the endorsement to better squeeze other anti-Conservative voters, something made much harder since the Coalition.

    At the 2017 general election the contribution of Greens probably made the difference between the Lib Dems winning or losing in Tim Farron’s seat, as well as Layla Moran gaining Oxford West and Abington. More generally, many social liberals and Greens agree on today’s biggest issues (Europe, environmental issues, electoral and constitutional reform), and there are demonstrably many social liberals in the Green Party.

    Pluralism should be a strength of progressive politics, not a weakness, and it is in the hands of progressives to determine whether this is the case or not. To date, SLF members have not needed to be Lib Dem members. Back in the summer a constitutional amendment was passed at our AGM allowing Green members to join the SLF. Consequently, we decided to organise a stall at their annual conference.

    Our attendees were struck by the open minds and friendliness they experienced. I am pleased to report that since the summer several Green members have joined the SLF and I would like to extend a warm welcome to them. I look forward to working with all SLF members over the year ahead towards forging a society that is more liberal, equal and green.

  • The UK's chaotic politics: How the Lib Dems could contribute to a solution

    October 12, 2018 11:41 AM

    “Massive money laundering  and a major tax haven; failing police effectiveness including official as well as unlicensed corruption; insufficiency of judges, too few prosecutions that are often ill-prepared; insanitary over-crowded prisons with endemic drug-taking and rioting; use of drug-pusher children; and epidemic of teenage knife crime; foreign assassins; declining health provision; too few schools with growing teacher shortages; crumbling railways; increasingly deficient regulatory system with conflict -of -interest ‘revolving door’ hop-on hop-off recruitment; lack of effective party leadership; government reliant on a bunch of crony unaccountable fixers; growing demagogic populism carrying ever-more fascistic overtones; increasingly impotent representative bodies at all levels; and many more deficiencies besides.”

    This is a fair description of many third world countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Yes, but it also defines contemporary England and especially its capital London.

    Thus throughout the UK varying degrees of chaos threaten the very essence of what have been accepted as the canons of representative democracy. A brief survey is revelatory.

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  • Ian Kearns: I left Labour for the Lib Dems because Jeremy Corbyn isn't radical enough

    September 21, 2018 1:08 PM

    Ian Kearns is the former Deputy Director of the IPPR thinktank and an author. He made a speech at this year's Lib Dem autumn conference which is well worth reading in which he talked about why he had left Labour for the Liberal Democrats.

    He has also written in the Independent on the same topic and about how it was the importance of the social liberal tradition that drew him to the Liberal Democrats. We reproduce the article below with his kind permission:

    There is nothing that this country needs today that cannot be drawn from a social liberal rather than a socialist tradition.

    After many years in the Labour Party, and after many months of agonising, I left the party in June of this year to join the Liberal Democrats. This is why.

    At home, the idea that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is radical is a myth. Its 2017 manifesto was a travesty of a document for a party that claims to believe in a more equal society.

    The biggest single spending commitment in it was the £11.2bn set aside to abolish university tuition fees and reintroduce student grants. The majority of those who would benefit are from the wealthier end of the income distribution. They need help, for sure, and this could be achieved by switching to a graduate tax and some additional support from general taxation but, in the same manifesto, Labour failed to commit to reverse the closures of Sure Start centres and refused to reverse all the Tory government’s welfare cuts. They refused to do this, even though we know life chances are largely locked in by age three or four, the problem Sure Start was designed to address, and even though those on welfare are some of the most vulnerable in our society. 

    Corbyn’s manifesto demonstrated that he is prepared to pour money into the middle class while screwing the poor, including the youngest of the poor, if that’s what it takes to get elected. And on top of that, his catastrophic position on Brexit would reduce tax receipts and lead to further cuts in the public services relied on most by the least well off. Labour can’t defend the poor while being complicit in making them poorer.

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  • SLF events at Lib Dem Conference

    August 20, 2018 1:11 PM

    For Liberal Democrat autumn conference this year in Brighton, the SLF are running an exciting programme of fringe events as well as our Annual Dinner with this year's guest speaker Lucy Salek. Read on for more details.

    Join us for our annual fundraising dinner on the eve of Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference. Lucy Salek will be our guest speaker for what promises to be an enjoyable and thought provoking evening.

    Panellists including Miatta Fahnbulleh (Chief Executive of the New Economics Foundation), Ann Tyler (Chair of the Employee Ownership Association's charitable arm) and Gordon Lishman (Vice Chair of the SLF) will discuss radical solutions drawing on our longstanding Liberal commitment to democracy at work.

    In particular the panellists will respond to the IPPR's recent report Broadening Company Ownership in the UK and the Employment Ownership Association’s recent publication The Ownership Effect.

    The Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable interviewed by Faisal Islam, Political Editor of Sky News.

    James Patrick (author, Alternative War) will discuss the damage caused by Cambridge Analytica. Alexandra Runswick (Director, Unlock Democracy) will then examine the Electoral Commission’s verdict on the state of our weakened electoral system. How can we combat these emerging threats to our democracy?

  • SLF Council Election Results 2018

    August 17, 2018 3:16 PM

    Nominations for SLF Council closed on Saturday 4th August. By an amazing coincidence and without any strong-arming whatsoever there were exactly 20 candidates for 20 places on the Council. As such all candidates were automatically elected.

    The new Council for the next two-year period is:

    James Baillie Gordon Lishman
    Natalie Bird Ryan Mercer
    Louise Harris Geoff Payne
    Iain Brodie-Browne Paul Pettinger
    Arif Erdogan George Potter
    David Grace Denali Ranasinghe
    Andrew Hickey Stephen Richmond
    Paul Hindley James Sandbach
    Neil Hughes Joe Toovey
    Tara Hussain Martin Walker

    Clicking on a council member's name will take you to the manifesto which they provided as part of their nomination (where available).

    The new SLF Council's first meeting will be on 1 September 2018 and the new council will be responsible for electing the officers of the SLF.

  • My passion for bold and radical Liberalism reaffirmed, as my time as SLF Chair comes to its end

    July 22, 2018 9:09 PM

    Last September, Paddy Ashdown said that since the coalition, the Lib Dems had not managed to have even “one big, dangerous idea”.  He said in a blog for Lib Dem Voice:

    Unless we are prepared to be realistic about where we are, return to being radical about what we propose, recreate ourselves as an insurgent force and rekindle our lost habit of intellectual ferment, things could get even worse for us.

    It prompted him to launch the Ashdown Prize in March this year, and the winner was announced in June—Dorothy Ford, who proposed an idea on food waste which will be debated at the Autumn Conference.  In a blog on Lib Dem Voice, Caron Lindsay said that though the idea was “worthy”, it was “neither radical or new”. This dearth of new ideas has been besieging the Lib Dems since 2010, and little seems to be changing.

    At the Social Liberal Forum, we have been keeping the flame of new liberal ideas burning since the Lib Dems went into coalition with the Tories in 2010.  We feel that new ideas and renewal/rethinking of old liberal ideas is vital to being the radical force that Liberalism should currently be and always has been. 

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  • Nominations Now Open for Biennial SLF Council Elections 2018

    July 03, 2018 12:35 PM

    Nominations are now open for the biennial election to the SLF Council. The Council is the governing body of the SLF and meets about 5 times a year, currently in Birmingham. SLF will pay travel expenses to meetings on application to the Treasurer.

    Nominations can be made by any member of the SLF. Self-nomination is allowed. All nominators and nominees must be paid-up members of the SLF on 4 August 2018. You can join SLF as a full member by clicking on the “Join” tab at the top of the page.

    Nominations should be sent to the Returning Officer, Roger Hayes, at [email protected] or at 9 Beaufort Road, Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, KT1 2TH by 12pm on 4th August. All nominations will be acknowledged when received.

    Nominations should be accompanied by an A5 manifesto (max: 2MB). Manifestos will be published on the SLF website prior to the opening of the ballot.

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  • The inspiration for European integration is part of British history too

    July 02, 2018 12:38 PM

    Two years on from the EU referendum and Walter Benjamin’s haunting observation that “the very past itself is at stake” seems appropriate.

    What sort of future Britain will have depends, to a large extent, on how a working majority of voters and politicians understand her past. For, as the UK’s former judge on the European Court of Justice, Sir Konrad Schiemann, noted in a 2012 lecture on the EU as a Source of Inspiration, “what you find inspiring depends to a degree on where you come from and what you’re looking for”. Born in 1937, Schiemann was probably the last CJEU judge to have experienced the Second World War. Growing up in Berlin hiding from British bombs and then, via Poland and the Lancashire Fusiliers, landing up as a law student in Cambridge, Schiemann is clear where his generation were coming from and what they were looking for. His generation of Brits (and many of those that followed) understood the preamble to the European Coal and Steel Community as being part of their history too, despite Britain not having been a signatory to it.

    Here is an extract of what the leaders of West Germany, France, Italy and the Benelux countries declared in 1951:

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