Tag Archives: eu

Opinion: Historia est Magistra Vitae: no Grexit, no Greece

The last few days showed the EU as a very resilient organisation: the Bundestag had just approved the Greek bailout, after Finland, France and Austria. But it also showed EU stretched to the breaking point: there is no Grexit but there is no Greece either.

Let us step back and look at the recent past from the future perspective through the prism of the UK. 100 years hence the history of the UK could read like this:

At the beginning of the 21st century the UK was the only state able to offer an alternative to the Franco-German concept of unified Europe. But, rather than introducing UK’s own concept based on liberal values, individual independence and social liberal policies, the UK spent its energy on questioning the EU concept (so called ‘opting out’) and fighting in-between themselves under the then Conservative leader Cameron. This meant that the UK was not offering any viable alternative and completely lost its direction. With the diminishing role of the USA, the Anglo-Saxon governance model, so prevalent during 19th and 20th centuries ceased to play any meaningful role as ‘the bureaucratic super-state’ took on an ever increasing role.

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Opinion: Has the EU just come of age?

It sounds a daft question, given the number of articles critical of the solution to the Greece crisis which have been appearing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds, but things are not always what they seem. Looking at unconscious processes in organisations, the things that people act out without naming tend to be the really important ones

My sense is that we might just have tipped into the space where the EU functions like a truly federal entity — albeit with a deep faith in subsidiarity — and the griping is the griping one has when a government makes a difficult decision, not when it is seen as illigitimate.

What first sent my mind in this direction was the Greek referendum. Far from being an “in/out” referendum, this was one that assumed Greece was inevitably part of the EU, woven in so tightly that this bizarre stunt could not cause them to leave. The “no” vote was strong, but so was the desire to remain in the Eurozone and the EU. For Alexis Tsipras to have made such a fuss about democracy, and then ignore the referendum could seem bizarre, but it makes more sense if I compare it with the antics of a 1970s-style shop steward garnering the support of the workers as a negotiating tactic, or the rebellions of Liverpool City Council at the height of the Militant Tendency. In both cases, quite extreme behaviour is possible because people assume an underlying unity — the shop steward does not want their members to lose their jobs, and Liverpool was not going to cease to be part of the UK. As with Greece in the EU, the strong behaviour is possible because they feel they belong.

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Guy Verhofstadt tells it to Greece and the EU like it is

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, has set out a potential solution to the Greek crisis in an article for Politico. He makes it clear that there are faults on both sides and both sides need to take constructive action to resolve the crisis fairly for everyone.

We are in this mess because the Greeks never made a real reform package, or a clear break with their mistakes from the past. But also because Europe has followed wrong policies — policies of pure accountancy that slowly but steadily choked the Greek economy. Everybody can make the wrong policy choices, but we have been clinging on to them far too long.

He implores people to stop the scaremongering:

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Opinion: Lessons from Greece: why Liberal Democrats need to rethink their enthusiasm for the Euro

I can’t help but sympathise with Greece. In responding to the Eurozone’s latest debt offer, its people found themselves choosing between a rock and a hard place. The referendum was a bit like asking a vegetarian to choose between beef or chicken. The overwhelming rejection of the Eurozone’s proposals is the act of a nation with nothing left to lose: vote ‘yes’ and you sign up to breathtaking austerity and misery; vote ‘no’ and you take a huge step into the unknown that may take you down the same path, but one which also causes your creditors some pain, too.

The whole debacle clearly underlines why currency union without fiscal union does not work. It was something that Danny Alexander seized upon during the Scottish Independence referendum when he rightly pointed out that Scotland would have limited control over the direction of its economic policy if it kept Sterling in a post independence scenario.

And so it has proven to be the case with Greece. Faced with a single currency, and member countries with varying credit ratings under their old currencies, the banks concluded that all member nations should be offered the same one as the higher-rated nations. The seduction of cheap credit proved too much for Greece, which borrowed way beyond its means. A credit crunch later, and the wheels have well and truly come off.

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Catherine Bearder MEP doesn’t need men telling her what’s important

I have to say that I am incandescent with rage at a profile of the only Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder which has appeared in the New Statesman. The implied conclusion of both the journalist and the several Liberal Democrat sources quoted seems to be that Catherine is a lightweight who needs the back-up of a group of men. She’s criticised for not pursuing their agendas and her own concerns, on massive issues like wildlife and human trafficking are dismissed by the journalist as pet projects.  Yes, that’s right, protecting vulnerable people from the brutal exploitation of modern slavery somehow is a niche issue? Not in my world.

The thing is, despite the drip-drip of patronising criticism that comes through the article Catherine comes out of it really well. What I get is an impression of a politician who, heaven forfend, is well-connected to her constituency and the people she represents. Heaven forfend! It’s hard to do that across a single UK Parliamentary seat. Across a region? That’s more challenging and Catherine does it well. That is just as important as legislative achievement.

Dave Keating, the journalist laments that the lack of political heavyweights:

The Liberal Democrats lost their Brussels heavyweights like Graham Watson, Andrew Duff and Ed McMillan-Scott.

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Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens #2

I sent a postcard from Athens to LDV six months or so ago as we waited for the Greek people to elect a new government – bringing to power the curious mix of Syriza (a collection of hard left factions that would make the People’s Front of Judea blush) and the Independent Greeks (representing the Greek chauvinistic right). This odd mix of nationalism and hard –left rhetoric has been colourfully described by one academic as “ethno-bolshevism”. Since then, it has certainly been eventful and I have been very much aware that political choices have consequences.

In the Greek election campaign, Syriza promised to free Greece to make its own financial decisions without interference form the much hated “Troika” (the IMF, the Eurozone and the European Union) while, at the same time, ensuring Greece could stay within the security of the European monetary union – even receiving debt relief from its other members. Greece duly voted to have its cake and to eat it.

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Opinion: The Commonwealth and the EU

 

Pro-Europe supporters are heading to repeat the same mistake as the Fair Votes referendum campaign by ignoring multicultural Britain’s perspectives. Should the race become neck-and-neck this could well tip the balance in favour of ‘out’.

A key difference from the electoral reform vote is that the EU ‘out’ lobby can see the value of attracting diverse communities for the Euro poll. UKIP, in particular, are pushing a pro-Commonwealth argument by claiming that Britain’s trade relationships can be switched from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Americas.

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Opinion: 200 years on from Waterloo: democracy not dictators, unity not barriers, peace not war.

WaterlooThis week’s 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo is a reminder of how far Europe has come.

At Waterloo, 65,000 men were killed or wounded in one day.  In contrast, we have now had 70 years without war in Europe.  Long may peace continue.

We enjoy secure peace partly because every country in Europe now has an elected government. There are no more monarchs or dictators seeking out war for vanity or power. Most importantly, we have the European Parliament where modern opportunities and problems, which cross old national borders, can be discussed by MEPs we elect rather than fought over by armies.

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LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott: Tories might pull their hair out but they’re not going to get a parliamentary veto in the EU

Former Lib Dem MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber Edward McMillan-Scott has been writing or Politics.co.uk about the Tories’ efforts to ensure that national parliaments can veto EU laws that they don’t like.

Edward clearly knows a fair bit about how the EU works, arguably significantly more than your average Eurosceptic Tory backbencher. He’s been in on the organisation within the EU that actually does represent the rights of national parliaments and it has asserted itself in recent years.

He explains how the process works:

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Opinion: Looking forward to the EU referendum

 

With the legislation for the EU referendum now before parliament, that process is starting to feel real. I am thinking about what this might mean for Liberal Democrats, and the voice of liberal democracy.

In the General Election the consensus was not to campaign on Europe. That was probably wise, if counter-intuitive. Things are about to become very different.

In addition to the big question of which side will win, I had been thinking of the referendum in terms of its likely effect on the British political landscape — of the alliances that will form on both sides, and the possibility of splits in the Conservative party or defections leading to an early General Election, but am beginning to think more of this in terms of our distinctiveness.

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Tim Farron MP and Lord Wallace of Saltaire write…UK under threat from David Cameron and Tory Eurosceptics

Let’s not kid ourselves. What David Cameron is supposed to be asking for as he travels round other European capitals is for a package of reforms to make the European Union more open and efficient. But what many in his government and party want is a fundamental renegotiation: leading either to the position of Norway, of association with the free trade area but exit from the EU, or that of Switzerland, an international finance centre with a fractious but dependent relationship with the EU. The Eurosceptics who want the Prime Minister’s negotiations to fail are driven by myths of English exceptionalism, by a tea-party Republican vision of a shrunken state and a deregulated market, and a refusal to recognise the disastrous impact of exit from the EU on the future of the United Kingdom and its place in the world.

Britain belongs in Europe. NATO and the EU are the twin pillars of our foreign and security policy. We share political and social values most closely with our European neighbours: on human rights, on what the Germans have labelled the ‘social market’ economy, on civil societies and national communities in which all citizens have a stake. It’s also the framework through which our economic interests are best promoted: a continent-wide market into which British products and services are closely integrated, a trading bloc which enables us to bargain with the US and China on equal terms.

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Cllr Jill Shortland pays tribute to Charles Kennedy at the European Committee of the Regions

Liberal Democrat Councillor Jill Shortland, from Somerset, is Deputy Coordinator for Citizenship, Governance and External Relations in the ALDE Group of the European Committee of the Regions. Yesterday, she paid tribute to Charles Kennedy at a meeting of the Committee in Brussels. She said:

As a Liberal Democrat from the United Kingdom, I wish to use my 2 minute intervention to pay tribute to a former leader of my party who sadly and unexpectedly died yesterday.

Charles Kennedy had been a Member of Parliament for 32 years, and he was also President of the European Movement in the UK since 2008. Two years ago he wrote an article which I would like to quote.

He said: “At an age of continent-sized powers, with global ambitions, European nations are better off working together, pooling resources, joining forces.

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Opinion: Why should someone from Maputo get to vote in the EU referendum when someone from Mons doesn’t?

When we vote in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU,  it is important to understand that we will deciding on our citizenship. Currently, all holders of full UK passports are legally defined as EU citizens and if we leave, we will collectively be renouncing this citizenship and many of the associated rights, even if we manage to negotiate a Norway-style relationship within the wider European Economic Area.

The government’s decision on who will have the franchise in the referendum should be viewed in this context.

All Irish and Commonwealth nationals living legally in the UK will get a vote. The Guardian tells us there are 3.4 million people from 47 countries in this category which is certainly enough to influence the result. They include EU nationals from Cyprus and Malta by virtue of their countries’ Commonwealth membership.

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Opinion: What does Nick do next?

Given our new position in parliament with eight MPs, we’ll be handing out multiple portfolios to whoever can possibly take them – and I suspect, Lords, AMs and MSPs as well, where necessary. This is by no means a bad thing. We have fantastic members in all parliamentary institutions, and the devolved ones in particular could do with being taken more seriously. The only issue being they cannot then hold their respective ministers to account. The main question that strikes me now though is with a more or less inevitable EU referendum and being the most unapologetically pro-EU party – who takes the EU portfolio?

It has been suggested that Nick could lead the ‘In’ campaign in such a referendum, I assume doing a similar job as Alistair Darling did for Better Together. On paper, I can’t imagine anyone more qualified despite the fact I don’t think any such unified campaign being a good idea. For the purposes of this article however, I’ll work with the idea. For the merits that are pointed out in the above article;

Throughout his time in government he was an enormous asset to Cameron in international diplomacy, especially – but not exclusively – with Europe. Foreign policy was never Cameron’s forte, either as leader of the Opposition or during his first term as PM. “Abroad” was where Cameron made most of his misjudgements – all by himself.

There are few people better qualified on foreign policy and in particular Europe than Clegg. I’m hesitant to mention Tony Blair, setting aside one major caveat, perhaps a close rivalry. For obvious reasons, Blair doesn’t even make the short list for such a hypothetical position.

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Catherine Bearder MEP writes…The fight for Britain’s future starts now

As the dust settles from the elections and we lament the loss of so many talented and dedicated Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors, there will inevitably be discussions over what went wrong and how it could have been avoided. As a party we have a lot of hard thinking to do about how best we rebuild. But there is no time for a protracted period of introspection. The country stands at a crossroads: one way leading to a strong and united Britain at the heart of the EU, the other to a little England isolated from its neighbours at home and abroad. The voice of the Liberal Democrats and liberalism is needed now more than ever.

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There is no need for Clegg to make an EU Referendum a red line. This does not signify agreement to it

I have seen some consternation amongst Lib Dems today, both in real life and online, about Nick Clegg’s remarks about an EU referendum not being  a red line for us. Many party members feel very strongly that we should not agree to something which could be very unsettling and destabilising. Having come through three years of the Scottish referendum, I am more in that camp than in the other group of activists who think we should agree to it or we’ll be seen as anti-democratic.

Before we rush to judgment, let’s have a look at what Nick actually said. From the Guardian:

I am happy to insist on my red lines – they are the ones the Liberal Democratshave put on the front page of our manifesto which are much more important than some of the other red lines other parties have chosen.”

He said he disagreed with the Tory position on the EU and said he was still committed to the act of parliament passed by the coalition which would trigger a referendum if further UK sovereignty was ceded to Brussels. But he declined to rule out rejecting Cameron’s demand for a referendum.

“It’s not my responsibility to try and stare into a crystal ball. The way this works is I set out my priorities, David Cameron sets out his, Ed Miliband sets out his. People then choose. How those red lines are or are not compatible with each other is in part dependent on the mandate that the British people give each of those parties.”

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Opinion: What’s worse than a watery grave?

The news this week has been dominated by the horrendous tragedies of over 1000 deaths in the Mediterranean. With the notable exception of the vile Katie Hopkins, this tragedy has moved the hardest hearts, not least because of the number of children who have died.

For me it’s far closer to home and I confess I have spent the last couple of days fighting back the tears. I have the enormous privilege of caring for two children who made that same journey. And the danger for them didn’t begin when they climbed into a rickety boat, it began as they crossed the Sahara, in cars carrying maybe 30 passengers, many hanging on to the outside, where if one of them fell off they would be left to die in the scorching sand. Or in the insanitary, cruel and overcrowded cells of a Libyan detention centre.  And then, having reached ‘safety’ sleeping rough and eating out of bins while all around you people are dying.

As a family we have heard the horrendous stories of the children who are now part of our family, neither of them knowing where their birth families are, both very clear that they were prepared to take the risk to get here because the alternative was worse. Both now lauded by their schools for being role models for other students with their diligence, good humour and determination to succeed.

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Sir John Major certainly knows about parliamentary mayhem

If I was doing one of these word association games, the first word that comes into my mind when I think of Sir John Major is “b******ds”. This Guardian report from 1993 reminds us of the frustration he felt as a Prime Minister who was frequently embroiled in parliamentary mayhem, not knowing whether he was going to be able to win crucial Commons votes. Except it wasn’t nationalists, pesky or otherwise, who caused him the problems. It was his own party.

Mr Major: “Just think it through from my perspective. You are the prime minister, with a majority of 18, a party that is still harking back to a golden age that never was, and is now invented (clearly a reference to the time of Mrs Thatcher’s leadership). You have three rightwing members of the Cabinet who actually resign. What happens in the parliamentary party?”

Mr Brunson observes that Tory MPs would create a lot of fuss, but that Mr Major is prime minister. He could easily find three new cabinet members.

Mr Major then bares his soul. “I could bring in other people. But where do you think most of this poison is coming from? From the dispossessed and the never-possessed. You can think of ex-ministers who are going around causing all sorts of trouble.

“We don’t want another three more of the bastards out there. What’s Lyndon Johnson’s maxim?…”

Major’s words might be aimed at scaring Middle England into voting Tory while annoying Scottish voters into voting SNP to give the Conservatives more chance of winning that increasing elusive parliamentary majority, but what it actually does is remind us how dangerous the right wing of the Conservative Party, especially if combined with UKIP and the likes of the DUP, could be. A tiny Tory majority would give the likes of Nadine Dorries and Peter Bone the run of the place, a point well made by Nick Clegg last week with the launch of the Blukip site. Frankly, the Blu on its own is bad enough. The Kip would only be the sour on top of the bitter.

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William Wallace writes…Challenging Ukip’s assumptions

With Eurosceptic Tories and Ukip candidates alongside us in this campaign, we need to challenge their assumptions in every all-party panel and debate. Here are a few I’ve found useful so far:

1. To those who say we want a referendum now, or as soon as possible, without waiting for negotiations on EU reform or for the next change in the Treaties: why don’t they say straight out that they want to leave the EU, and not hide behind the call for a referendum?

2. Where do they think Britain will go to when we leave the EU? The Norwegians and the Swiss have warned us about the disadvantages of not having a say in the rules of the Single Market.  Would we find closer friends to work with in Saudi Arabia, or Russia, or China?

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Opinion: We should be alert to this threat to Europe!

There’s a new acronym doing the rounds, which I think is a vicious wolf in sheep’s clothing. And I fear the party may have fallen for the sheep’s clothing and not seen the wolf.

The acronym is TTIP. It stands for Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which sounds all well and good. And if all it’s doing is promoting free trade between Europe and America, fair enough. But the question we should all be asking is: at what cost?

TTIP has made its way into the election campaign solely as an adjunct to the NHS debate. There are fears that the TTIP agreement – still being negotiated (in secret) by EU and US trade negotiators – will threaten the state funding of medical services. Lib Dem candidates like me are advised by the party’s Policy Response unit to say that Vince Cable has been given several assurances that neither our ability to run the NHS nor our ability to protect the environment will be threatened.

But the threat is bigger than that. A few days ago, Germany’s environment agency UBA expressed serious concern that the EU’s position on the emerging TTIP could weaken environmental protection standards in Europe. It says Europe’s current proposals would breach the democratic principles at the heart of the EU by giving US companies the right to information about EU legislation before the European Parliament or European civil society groups get to hear about it. Lib Dems should be alarmed at this.

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Tim Farron MP writes…The British people deserve more than Cameron’s weak leadership on EU

European FlagThis week marks David Cameron’s last European Council as Prime Minister before the General Election and let’s hope he avoids one last blunder. It is easy to forget, given the endless Tory arguments on Europe over the past five years, that in opposition David Cameron’s ambition was for the Conservative Party to “stop banging on about Europe”. This summarises Cameron’s position well – he is simply not interested and sees the EU purely as a party management issue. If the issue of Europe is quiet then it’s a good bet that Tory backbenchers will be too.

But this abdication of leadership has caused repeated humiliations for the Prime Minister and allowed the ranks of Tory backbenchers to drive the agenda, leaving their leader looking weak, lacking in ideas and clueless.

Constantly bullied from the back benches, Cameron has time and again stirred from his self-imposed slumber, woken up too late and then mistakenly “taken a stand” before being humiliated. Famously he “vetoed” a new EU treaty in December 2011 but the result was not the triumph he portrayed – the rest of the EU went ahead anyway and concluded the treaty without the UK, leaving a legacy of bitterness in its wake and representing a low point in British diplomacy.

photos by: rockcohen & rockcohen
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Opinion: It’s time to recognise Palestine as a state

Israelis go to the polls on March 17 and no doubt the US and UK governments and most Lib Dems are hoping for a Netanyahu defeat and a more “liberal” government.  Opinion polls however suggest the opposite.  The Israeli newspaper Haaretz, in article on 1 February, suggested that Netanyahu’s re-election would be the better outcome, as then the rest of the world would see the need to keep up the pressure on Israel.  The article suggested that it could be worse if a government of the centre left was elected as this would reassure the rest of the world that peace negotiations would be renewed, while nothing would actually happen. So, whatever the outcome of the election, there is a need for EU countries to keep up the pressure on the Israelis to stop their illegal activities in the Occupied Territories, lift the cruel siege of Gaza, and settle fairly with the Palestinians.

I would suggest that now is the time, well before the general election,  for the Party to commit itself to immediate British recognition of Palestine as a sovereign state on the basis of the pre-1967 borders, as Sweden did last October, and to encourage other members of the EU to do the same. Sweden acted alone, France is getting close to doing so and others would undoubtedly follow the United Kingdom.

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Opinion: We are the world

At my United Reformed Church on Sunday the preacher was a young woman from South Africa. The two readers were from the U.S. and from Scotland. The English woman who led the prayers is married to a man of Pakistani origin. Two Australians served coffee, a German lady sat in front of me and a Swiss man across the aisle.

We are a global society, not just a global economy. We are the world.  Yes, the Lib Dems are pro-Europe and internationalist, and we should fly these colours high as these policies represent how our country actually is.

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Opinion: Refugees are people too

I recently watched a television programme in which Ross Kemp looks at the situation in Calais, where thousands of refugees are seeking to gain access to the UK in the most dangerous manner.

I have no special knowledge of the situation there, nor from what they are fleeing – who can? But I do know that seeing the programme has made me deeply ashamed of being European. Not being a citizen of the European Union, but being a member of a large community that has not yet addressed the issue of how we can help people in such dire straits.

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Nick Harvey MP writes… We mustn’t let eurosceptics spoil useful defence co-operation with our EU partners

Today in London the UK’s foreign and defence secretaries, Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon, will meet their French counterparts, Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian. Of course, there is nothing particularly out of the ordinary about this meeting: in reality, UK and French Ministers meet frequently at various EU and NATO summits.

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Opinion: A liberal postcard from Athens

Sunday morning in Kifissia, one of the leafy northern suburbs of Athens, and the view from my bedroom balcony is blue sky with dark clouds looming – a fitting scene for this very important Greek Election Day.

A product of the oil industry in Aberdeen, I am one of many Scottish expats supporting the oil and gas industry around the world (and lets not mention oil prices!). I have been working in Greece for a little over a year and after commuting between the Athens of the North and the real Athens for a year, I have been resident (and paying tax!) in Greece since November.

Greece has been going through a tough time in the last five years, unemployment is high and wages are low. Though there are few signs of austerity in the posh northern suburbs, my Greek colleagues (I am a lawyer) have lost faith in their politicians and their economy. Much though they love their country, pessimism is rife.

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LibLink: Tim Farron: Only way to make blue go green is to add yellow

Over at PoliticsHome, Tim Farron has been showing up the Tories, who voted in favour of loosening controls on air pollution. Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder opposed the plans:

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Opinion: Liberal Democrats are the only party which can be trusted to get the European question right – we should say so

At some point during the next 2-3 years the British people will probably be faced with the most crucial decision to confront them since the end of World War II: that of whether or not to leave the European Union. The importance of this issue far transcends that of the individual policies listed in the emerging manifestos of the three main parties. The impact of these policies will be felt for, at best, the span of a single Parliament. The impact of our decision on Europe will be felt for decades.

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Two Liberal Democrats win European awards

Its awards season at the moment and last week the focus shifted to Europe where the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe held its annual LeaDeR (Liberal Democrat Regional and Local Politicians) Awards. Two British Liberal Democrats were successful.

David TuttThe first was Cllr David Tutt, Lib Dem group leader of East Sussex County Council and leader of Eastbourne Borough Council who had been nominated for the Achievements in Government prize by MEP Catherine Bearder. He won for:

…his visible leadership in having put core liberal values of innovation, forward-thinking and opportunity into action in transforming what was officially the worst Council in the south-east of England into one widely recognised as among the very best in the country.

Catherine explained why she nominated David:

David has worked tirelessly in Eastbourne to ensure the town continues to go from strength to strength and when I heard about the awards I was delighted to put David’s name forward as I know the huge impact his work is having on the Eastbourne community.

 David is now a winner, just as he’s made Eastbourne a winner.

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Poll: Young people appear more tolerant, open and happy with modern Britain

A recent survey by YouGov, for Business for New Europe, indicates that teenagers have markedly more positive views towards Europe and the free movement of labour than adults. This should encourage those who appreciate the economic advantages of an outward-facing UK. It could also fuel calls for 16 and 17 year-olds to be included in any forthcoming referendum on the EU.

The poll, based on the views of young people aged between 14 and 17 years old, showed:

  • If there was a referendum, approximately twice as many of those aged 14 to 17 would vote to stay in the EU (45%) as leave (23%).
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