Author Archives: Paul Reynolds

YEMEN: Boris bleats, Libdems lead

Headline news last week was Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s speech in Rome where he criticised Saudi Arabia for ‘puppeteering and playing proxy wars’, by implication against Iran, and promoting sectarian extremism for political ends across the Middle East. He was immediately slapped down by PM May, who had seemingly instructed him to get even closer to the Saudis for trade purposes in the wake of Brexit.

Emphasising he had the war in Yemen in mind, as well as Syria, Boris then made a further speech in Bahrain on 10th December about the Saudi bombing of civilians in Yemen, and criticising his own government … which allegedly has special forces in Yemen assisting the Saudis, has trainers in Riyadh, and is a major weapons supplier to the Saudi regime.

Boris was expressing widely held views about the Saudis’ war in Yemen … and about their role in creating Islamic State.

A few days earlier in Warsaw, Poland, the Lib Dem delegation was busy in the annual Congress of ALDE. ALDE is the pan-European party of liberals and democrats with seven parties in government currently across the EU. On the agenda in Warsaw was a motion from the UK Lib Dem delegation, on Yemen, which was passed with an overwhelming majority and greeted with loud applause.

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The UK and the rapid deterioration in global security

Members of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group are presenting their personal views as part of a wider consultation process into the party’s future policy on nuclear weapons. The full consultation paper can be found at www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-conference-16-policypapers and the consultation window runs until 28 October. Party members are invited to attend the consultation session at party conference in Brighton, to be held on Saturday 17 September at 1pm in the Balmoral Room of the Hilton.

Trident

UK nuclear defence policy does not exist in isolation. As the Lib Dem’s Nuclear Weapons Working Group Consultation Paper makes clear, nuclear defence policy exists in the context of the UK’s broader policy on defence and foreign policy. Changes to Lib Dem nuclear weapons policy are best seen in the context of a changing defence and foreign policy environment.

From a UK perspective, the key recent shifts in the foreign and defence policy context include the continuing economic and military rise of China (and our Allies’ response to this), the adversarial turn in relations with Russia, and the rise of IS in the Middle East – together with its effects on Western Middle East policy, NATO and Turkey.

The most significant change in the foreign and security policy landscape for the UK concerns China and its relationship with the US. Up until 2013 China pursued what they called a ‘peaceful rise’ policy; rapid economic development avoiding involvements in conflict.

This changed with the new leader Xi Jinping, who, for example, announced the ‘String of Pearls’ policy, otherwise known as the ‘maritime silk road’.  This is a string of Chinese-controlled ports and associated inland infrastructure that dots the world’s trade routes, with economic investment closely followed by military investment; for example in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Djibouti/Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka.

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After Brexit; what strategy for ‘Remain’?

Whilst a lot of analysis will be forthcoming on the events that led to a vote in the UK to leave the European Union, potentially of greater importance in the immediate aftermath is for a unified Post-Referendum Pro-Remain approach. Here, I am suggesting such an approach, and Lib Dems may wish to take the lead on such an approach.

First of all we need a strong institutional approach. The Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, and PC require a competent secretariat and fundraising body, with a very sharp and responsive media operation, that Pro-Remain Labour and Conservative figures can rally around.

Second, we need an end result to aim for …. or more correctly two end-results….

As democrats there is one thing we should oppose. In Parliament there is almost certainly a majority against Brexit, and it will be tempting to support the blocking of Brexit. We should oppose this, otherwise we will be accused of not listening to the voice of the public, with all the long term political consequences.

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‘Iraq 2’. Why the Lib Dem’s Syria conflict position in parliament is militarily and politically unwise

On Tuesday, Tim Farron expressed the party’s position on the coming ‘Syria conflict’ vote in parliament in a letter to PM David Cameron.

It set out five conditions for Lib Dem support for an escalation of British involvement in Syria. It will no doubt be taken by the UK government as conditions for Lib Dem support for a general major escalation.

The first ‘condition’ was that military action against Islamic State in Syria should follow international law. The letter expressed acceptance of UN Resolution 2249. This UN resolution however does not authorise actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force generally against IS in Syria or in Iraq. It only supports states in doing what they are already doing under existing international laws, specifically on IS-held territory. As such this supports existing Russian and Iranian military involvement as much as existing Western involvement.

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Policymaking reform; what the problem is and how to solve it

 

New members often ask how to find out what current policy is, on a wide range of topics, how to influence or ‘input’ on policy, and indeed what the party does with its policy once it is established.

Normally I explain that in policy Conference is supreme, at least in theory. I talk a bit about Policy Working Groups (PWGs), initiated by the Federal Policy Committee, FPC. I also explain that there is a review of policymaking underway, to be discussed at Autumn Conference.

In this context, new members may appreciate a quick summary of my personal views of some of the problems and how we might approach solving them.

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Opinion: It’s not about left or right

About an hour after Nick Clegg resigned I received a long letter by email on behalf of SLF essentially blaming the ‘Orangebookers’ for the poor Lib Dem results.

I would like to suggest that all sections of the party consider the possibility that it was not an issue of left or right. Maybe neither the left or right of the party were to blame, but that, with benefit of hindsight, there were other factors. My top 5. Other views ?

1. Obviously being in Coalition was difficult especially with our more anti-Tory supporters and Labour-facing seats…Tory ‘bedroom tax’ and ‘work-ready’ interviews for the disabled are among the most tricky on the doorstep. LD left & right had failed to counter the obvious opprobrium arising from these & other Tory policies – both in policy adjustment/veto AND in campaigning.

2. The ‘in between the two’ strategy was too negative …”vote for us because we will stop others doing stuff”, rather than what WE wanted to do post-May 2015. This was a hard sell to make pithy. ‘Stopping extremes’ was weak, since most did not see Tory or Labour as extreme.

3. We countered ‘stop Labour/SNP’ with ‘stop Tory/UKIP’ in Tory-facing seats. No-one believed however that UKIP could be coalition partners with one or two seats, on the doorstep. This strategy was a dud and left us vulnerable, and without a more credible response.

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Opinion: Ed Miliband’s march to Financial Crisis II and Wars of Choice II

Canvassing over the weekend for Simon Hughes in Canada Water, (Labour-facing) and for Ed Davey in Surbiton (Tory facing), I was again struck by how much the remaining staunch Labour voters still see their party as on the left of the political spectrum.

Sure they are planning to  borrow much more than the Liberal Democrats, and make the UK vulnerable to another crisis.  However that seems a direct result of most of their big money contributions coming courtesy of dual-hatted public sector union reps.

On everything else they are looking increasingly authoritarian, and pro-war.  A kind of ‘Blairism without the fake financial prudence’.  Whilst the combination of top-down control-freakery and sponsored superficial PR-type MPs lost them Scotland, no lessons seemed to have been learned. The likely new Labour intake looks frighteningly lightweight and malleable.

At recent hustings (I’m a candidate in West Ham and doing some Newham-wide events) Labour incumbents robotically read through lists of extra spending promises, but dodge much else with bland statements of the blindingly obvious. They peddle the myth of the 2007 ‘global crisis’.

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