A country gentleman attends Federal International Relations Committee…

I’d spent the afternoon attending a pension seminar (about my own, not about selling them) and there is little to beat a consideration of your post-retirement finances for reminding you that you’re beginning to get on a bit. And so it was a somewhat more thoughtful than usual rural bureaucrat who turned up at Great George Street, the Party’s London HQ, for the year’s second meeting of FIRC.

The meeting started with a presentation from Gordon Mackay, the rather dashing Secretary General of Liberal International, who outlined his plans for reinvigorating this august organisation. Talk of individual memberships, of providing added value to member parties (training, party building, policy support), and of making a big push on climate change, human rights and combatting the threats to our democratic structures was delivered with real passion, and I am more optimistic about the future of international liberal co-operation and collaboration than I have been in years past.

I noted the steps taken by the ALDE Party in terms of building an individual member structure, as well as the existence of the ALDE Political Projects Fund, and expressed the hope that the two organisations could learn from each other. There is also talk of a new constitution, and whilst I am always sceptical that change necessarily means progress, there is the possibility of designing something more fit for an age of rapid changes in how we can communication and engage with our supporters. Liberal Democrats please note…

One interesting facet of the discussion was signs that we are playing a broader role in the various international political groupings we are part of. The Liberal Democrats will be hosting the Executive Committee of Liberal International in early July, and the Young Liberals will be hosting the LYMEC (European Young Liberals) Congress in November, and these events will be held against a background of recent Party successes, which is very positive.

There was a lengthy discussion about the three overseas membership groups, Liberal Democrats in Europe, Liberal Democrats Abroad and Liberal Democrats France, each of which is a Local Party. In the hurry to get these three up and running, there were some oversights in terms of their relationships with the candidate selection process, and I shared the view of the Chair of Liberal Democrats France, Paul Fisher, that we need to make sure that we get this right as soon as possible. It strikes me that it should be possible to link non-UK based members to a Local Party for the purposes of candidate selection in the same way that American ex-patriots are for primaries and elections there, i.e. by reference to their last address in the country, and I put this point to the Committee accordingly.

We’ve also had good news, in that we have secured the future of the post of International Officer going forward. We’ve been lucky in the calibre of those holding the post in recent years – working with Harriet Shone, the previous postholder was always fun and her professionalism was of the highest order. Isabelle Pucher now brings a decidedly Swedish sense of humour to the job, and has already shown her mettle during a rather unsettled period.

There was also a brief discussion about our relationship with Federal Policy Committee. I tend to the view that we’re missing a trick here, and noted that we could, and perhaps should, be acting as a conduit of ideas from our sister Parties back to policy working groups. With so many liberal parties attempting to find solutions to the problems that beset their communities, it is surely the case that some of them are coming up with answers that we might readily adopt or adapt, and if FIRC doesn’t do that, who will?

So, all in all, a good meeting, held in good humour. Yes, I still think that FIRC has some weaknesses, some beyond its ultimate ability to influence, and others springing from a lack of resource or of imagination. But, for the first time in a while, I am optimistic that it might be able to make a contribution to strengthening the Party and creating opportunities for ordinary members to engage in something that might enthuse them.

* Mark Valladares is a directly elected member of the Party’s Federal International Relations Committee.

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  • Laurence Cox 9th May '19 - 12:06pm

    Does this mean that Liberal Democrats living in Europe will be able to be individual members of ALDE, in the same way that Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland can also be members of the Alliance Party?

  • I’m an individual member of ALDE. I thought Mark was referring to the possibility of individual membership of LI, which I would certainly welcome. Although one can, of course, join the Liberal International British Group (LIBG).

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