Author Archives: George Cunningham

A special Lib Dem Winter Crisis Conference

We are most likely heading into a bleak winter. The UK is in dire shape – the loss of our Queen, a lacklustre government, the economic downturn, energy and cost of living crises, strikes, ongoing Brexit consequences – maybe even the return of some COVID variant. Public support for Ukraine under these difficult circumstances must also be maintained.

This is the moment for the Lib Dems to show Britain that we have policies to deal with these critical issues. The answer could be a Special Lib Dem Conference on the Winter Crisis, as permitted by our constitution, to be held in November, just at the onset of winter, in substitution for our lost Autumn Conference.

The Federal Board and Federal Conference Committee rightly decided that the Autumn Conference could not go ahead at a time the country was in mourning. But what was unexpected was a single all-encompassing decision to completely cancel the conference rather than reschedule.

We cannot be absent ourselves from the political scene at this critical moment. The two main parties are proceeding with their conferences. The Trade Unions have postponed and will have theirs later. The FCC suggested that our parliamentary spokespersons could cover this off. But we need to take decisions and only the party membership can authorise policy through a fully-fledged decision-taking conference.

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Russia’s Ukrainian war must lead to Putin’s downfall

In my Lib Dem Voice article of 4th March 2022, I argued that Putin should be stopped in Ukraine for good.

Now that Putin has narrowed his war aims to take over the rest of Donbas, Luhansk, including the industrial and food producing heartland of Ukraine, having had created a land corridor to Crimea and brought Ukraine’s economy to its knees, he may well accede to calls for a ceasefire to consolidate his gains, erect strong defences in his recently-captured territories and rebuild his army into a new more effective force to recommence war whenever it suits him.

A ceasefire would be the easy way out for the West. Some western countries have already suggested it. However, we must resist this happening if the Ukrainian Government is against it.

After tens of thousands of Ukrainian deaths, disappearances of whole Ukrainian populations deported from captured war zones into Russia, the wholesale demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns (all at a cost of 25,000 dead Russian soldiers so far and many more wounded), the chaos that Putin has caused cannot be allowed to be paused to be continued later, whether against Ukraine or other neighbouring countries.

We have two and a half years before the possible return of Trump or another far-right Republican to the White House. Given Trump’s previous disparaging remarks about NATO, we cannot exclude the possibility that the US would pull out or render US membership of NATO ineffective. Coupled with Trump’s own admiration for Putin, the very survival of liberal democracy is at stake in such circumstances if Putin continues to remain in power with, of course, China taking advantage of the situation to further its own aims against the West.

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Making Putin Pay

This week, G7 finance ministers said that they – together with the international community – will be helping Ukraine to the tune of more than US$ 24 billion this year and beyond. And the door is open for more.

However, this is just a drop in the ocean of blood and destruction in Ukraine. Already three weeks into Russia’s invasion, President Zelenskyy had estimated that Ukraine had suffered half a trillion US dollars’ worth of damage to housing and infrastructure, let alone the ongoing cruel cost of human suffering and death.

Western countries are reported to have frozen at least half of the Russian Central Bank’s estimated US$ 600 billion of foreign currency reserves which are in their possession. Rather than help its own people have better lives, Russia is said to have been gradually putting aside such a colossal sum since Crimea’s 2014 annexation to have a handy “fortress Russia” war chest. They are now experiencing serious difficulties, as much of that prop is no longer available to them.

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The West must stop Putin in Ukraine for good

Many say Putin’s vision is to rebuild an empire for Russia, a policy he has been pursuing incrementally since his invasion of Georgia in 2008.

After all the suffering unleashed in Ukraine, it is imperative that Putin must be stopped in his tracks at the juncture, despite the danger this may entail.

If Putin is not dissuaded by the heavy economic cost he is suffering now, we must up the game, especially if Kyiv is subjected to a full-scale attack coupled with an attempt to decapitate the Zelensky leadership. What to do?

Firstly, increase substantially the risk for Putin. Biden was very wrong to declare from the start that NATO would not get involved in Ukraine and more recently that there would be no no-fly-zone. Putin feels he has a carte blanche from Biden to do what he wants. The rhetoric from the West must now change to: “all options are on the table” because of the Russian atrocities being committed.

Secondly, intensify cyber warfare covertly to disrupt all command and control as well as logistics to the Russian military forces.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 45 Comments

Ukraine’s Chinese characteristics

Today’s FT headline reads “China offers role as peacemaker”. The article says more carefully “China signalled it was ready to play a role in finding a ceasefire in Ukraine…” But would it be a trusted impartial negotiator?

At the Olympic Games last month, Presidents Putin and Xi said that friendship between their countries had “no limits” and no “forbidden” areas of cooperation. Beijing has joined Moscow in opposing further NATO expansion.

Since then, even if Beijing has refused to term President Putin’s assault on Ukraine as an “invasion”, it has been profoundly uneasy about Russian recklessness.

Clearly this is because of China’s unequivocal stance on sovereignty and territorial integrity concerning Taiwan, used as an excuse as well to justify its claims in the South and East China Seas which they are asserting militarily.

Hence China’s abstentions at the UN Security Council twice on the invasion of Ukraine. And comments by China’s Foreign Policy Chief Wang Yi just before the invasion at the Munich Security Conference about the importance of maintaining territorial integrity “including Ukraine’s”.

China’s fence-sitting so far allows it to take advantage of the current situation where it can: the famous win-win situation quoted often by Chinese leaders which many interpret as China wanting to have it both or all ways.

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Lib Dems Abroad about to join the party’s campaigning mainstream

This week, I was pleased to join forces with our Lib Dem Peers at the second reading of the Elections Bill at the House of Lords.

For us at Lib Dems Abroad, the Elections Bill is a gamechanger that will bring us into the campaigning mainstream of the party.

A huge 8% of all Brits are living outside the UK. The likely abolition of the 15-year rule will allow all Brits abroad of voting age the right to register and vote at the next UK General Election.

Our members, led by the three “local” party chairs – Lib Dems in Europe (Tom McAdam), France (Jenny Shorten) and Overseas (Mark Iliffe) – and myself, will fly the flag for the party by organising an extensive voter registration campaign for British citizens across the world once the law is implemented and the government’s own campaign has started.

Brits living abroad will need to be included in the party’s manifesto for the first time (previous Lib Dem manifestos had already supported the abolition of the 15-year rule and overseas constituencies).

Then, of course, Lib Dems Abroad will work in partnership with UK local parties to coordinate the party’s campaign for the overseas vote at the next UK General Election in 2-3 years’ time, groundwork for which will start shortly.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 23 Comments

Lib Dems Abroad about to join the party’s campaigning mainstream

Yesterday, I was pleased to join forces with our Lib Dem Peers at the second reading of the Elections Bill at the House of Lords.

For us at Lib Dems Abroad, the Elections Bill is a gamechanger that will bring us into the campaigning mainstream of the party.

A huge 8% of all Brits are living outside the UK. The likely abolition of the 15-year rule will allow all Brits abroad of voting age the right to register and vote at the next UK General Election.

Our members, led by the three “local” party chairs – Lib Dems in Europe (Tom McAdam), France (Jenny Shorten) and Overseas (Mark Iliffe) – and myself, will fly the flag for the party by organising an extensive voter registration campaign for British citizens across the world once the law is implemented and the government’s own campaign has started.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 5 Comments

Lib Dems Abroad: Supporting Afghans fleeing Taliban

At the Lib Dems Abroad first-ever Global Conference successfully held last weekend, I announced that a flight took off from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan that morning carrying around 200 Afghan female judges and their families bound for Athens. A first flight of Afghan female MPs arrived in Athens a few weeks ago. Another flight is expected to take more Afghan female judges and their families bound for Abu Dhabi.

However, these are the last flights envisaged for Afghans trying to flee their country in the face of the Taliban and also vengeful criminals released from prison by the Taliban who seek retribution for their previous sentences by Afghan female judges.

On board that flight to Athens were the four family members of Gul Ahmad Kamin MP, leader of the Afghan Civil Democrats, a group with whom Lib Dems Overseas has been working with for several years in the Afghan Wolesi Jirga or Parliament. And we have now succeeded in getting the leader’s family out. We will work on gaining the UK government’s support for their resettlement in the UK.

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China: What should be our long-term response?

This year’s autumn conference will see the launch of the party’s Federal International Relations Subcommittee on China to help the party and its members understand and deal with the multifaceted challenges of a rising authoritarian China.

In March 2019, when the UK was part of the EU, the Joint Communication EU-China: A Strategic Outlook came out. It defined the EU’s approach to China in the following way:

China is, simultaneously, in different policy areas, a cooperation partner with whom the EU has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the EU needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.

The broad-based nature of the relationship allows us to take such a differentiated approach, although it must be said that the possibilities of cooperation are continually narrowing as China takes more strident positions in the world, backed by its Wolf Warrior diplomacy.

Posted in Conference and Events | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Afghanistan enters a new phase in its tragedy

Afghanistan entered a new phase in its tragedy today, with the Taliban on the outskirts of Kabul. Over forty years of war have led us back to “year zero” once more.

Events have moved quickly. Only two months ago, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, members of the Afghan Civic Democrats and the UNAMA talked to Lib Dems Overseas and LIBG members about their hopes to reach an inclusive political settlement acceptable to the Afghan people.

The blame game can be shared out amongst all those on the losing side: The Afghan government for its gross corruption that siphoned off hundreds of millions that would have otherwise – if wisely spent – helped those whose poverty and ignorance have provided fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban; the Biden administration that lamely followed the disastrous US policy of speedy non-conditions-based withdrawal by the Trump administration which included the criminal act of arm-twisting the Afghan government to release 5,000 seasoned Taliban fighters from prison (including the insurgency leader who then led the Taliban assault on Herat city); and the international community for pouring billions into the country’s coffers while not tackling corruption properly and wanting to believe too much what it was being told. And much more of course.

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged | 21 Comments

Webinar: will the tragedy of Afghanistan become Europe’s tragedy?

If peace negotiations collapse and the Taliban take power in Afghanistan, the UK and Europe may well be faced again with another wave of mass migration (are we really going to turn away women and their families at deadly risk from the Taliban?), a strengthened base for the export of terrorism (Taliban have not broken links with Al Qaeda, CIA reckons even US at risk again within three years) and continued supply of opium to European youth from the largest producer in the world.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, a figure well-known in the UK who is the Afghan Government’s chief negotiator for the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban and former Chief Executive Officer of the Unity Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (2014-2020) will be addressing UK Liberal Democrats on the latest state of play 18.30-20.00hrs this Monday 7th June. You are encouraged to register for this LIBG/Lib Dems Overseas event at the Paddy Ashdown Forum.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah will be joined by members of the Afghan Civic Democrats, a parliamentary grouping in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house), with whom Lib Dems Overseas have a strong association, as well as the Head of Office from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, direct from Kandahar/Helmand province. The Lib Dems response will be given by Baroness Northover, our Foreign Affairs spokesperson in the Lords.

Posted in Europe / International and Events | Tagged and | 2 Comments

Insights from the 2020 US Elections: Webinar Report

In a highly attended and engaging Paddy Ashdown Forum / Liberal Democrats Overseas webinar, on Monday, January 18th, 150 participants heard presentations and discussed insights and lessons for Lib Dem campaigning from the 2020 US elections.

You can watch the video of the webinar HERE

After opening remarks from Nasreen Davidson, Vice-Chair, Liberal Democrats Overseas, and Robert Woodthorpe Browne MBE, Chair, The Paddy Ashdown Forum, John Surie shared insights from the recent study conducted by the LDO North American Branch.

John’s presentation focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital strategies and tactics by the Biden For President

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The geopolitics of COVID-19: Can liberalism win the day?

Embed from Getty Images

The pandemic is an unprecedented global challenge affecting all humanity, which is suffering the consequences at very considerable social and economic cost.

The world was already in disorder before COVID-19 made its appearance but the crisis has undoubtedly deepened the great power rivalry between China and the U.S., aggravated by a far-reaching trade war starting sometime before the pandemic hit.

Trust in international systems of cooperation have been impacted. Although coordination is better right now, and concrete initiatives are underway to try and ensure that the eventual vaccine is a global public good for health, the scramble between countries to be first to have their populations vaccinated will sorely test the world’s ability to cooperate together again.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 6 Comments

Everything we do now as a party must have an international dimension

As if Brexit was not enough of an economic self-inflicted wound, the pandemic has struck at our very soul.

It is predicted that the world will have changed after the pandemic with the irony that China, where the virus originated, strengthened economically (although not in perfect shape because of “Belt and Road Initiative” debts owed by others and global supply chains broken), the USA weakened and Britain and the European Union, divided from each other, struggling not to become a plaything of those two superpowers.

However, this is not to say Tom Arms’ recent LDV articles on the crisis should be panda-ring …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 3 Comments

Conference Countdown 2015: Let’s scrap the “scrapping Trident” motion

In the run-up to Autumn Conference in Bournemouth, we’ll be looking ahead to examine the highlights in the debating hall, the fringe and training rooms. You can find the papers here. You can find all the posts in the series here.

Yesterday,  the Labour Party made the historic mistake of electing Jeremy Corbyn as its new party leader. Through this decision, it has thrown away years of work (and time in government) convincing the general public that it is electable. To a lesser degree, let us not do the same.

Naturally I respect the views of the “Scrapping Trident” lobby within the party. Theirs is a noble cause. But it should be remembered that the party already threw out the idea of scrapping Trident at party conference just two years ago by coming to a compromise that we would make substantial savings by reducing the number of Successor submarines from four to three.

Posted in Conference, Events and Op-eds | Tagged and | 56 Comments

Opinion: Let’s have real “power to the people” for those of us outside the UK

power to the peopleThere is a lot wrong or out-of-date with our current political system. The Lib Dem policy paper “Power to the People” passed at the spring conference in York, addresses those issues in a typically liberal, radical way. It is worthy of our support, as a step forward, even if some find parts of it imperfect.

“Power to the People” aims to explore the viability of overseas constituencies. This would be quite radical for the UK but would – I believe – benefit it a …

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Opinion: Ukraine is a crisis which we cannot back off from

ukraineThe insertion of Russian troops into the Crimea has profound implications for the security of Europe. It is like Europe has been awoken from a deep, snug slumber.

At I said in the emergency debate on Ukraine at the Spring Conference in York last weekend, events in Crimea have shown Russia breaking every principle in the international law rule book. The fact that it has intervened covertly, supposedly to protect Ukrainians of Russian origin, has profound security implications for the European Union’s Eastern borders – and in particular in the Baltic States …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 54 Comments

Opinion: No dubious deterrent

TridentThe day after the end of Autumn conference in Glasgow, a letter appeared in The Times (£) (Sept 19) accusing the Lib Dems of having adopted a “reckless” defence strategy.

Co-signed by former Labour Secretary of State for Defence and NATO Secretary-General, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former Tory Party Defence Secretary Liam Fox and 14 other politicians and former chiefs of defence, the letter lambasts the Lib Dems for “hare-brained schemes for a part-time deterrent which in reality is no deterrent at all” and that is driven “by a Lib Dem desire to scupper Trident at any cost”. News about the letter quickly spread and was reported on BBC TV as well.

I spoke in favour of retaining the full four submarine “Continuous-at-Sea” nuclear deterrent at the Lib Dem Party conference debate on defence and would have welcomed Lord Robertson’s letter with such heavy-weight support appearing just prior to the debate to give further credence to my intervention.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 7 Comments

Opinion: A more realistic approach to Defence policy

defenceThe Liberal Democrat Working Group on Defence came out last month with its policy paper “Defending the Future: UK Defence in the 21st Century”. Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats made a detailed submission – praised by members of the working group – which also shows some alternative paths for the party’s defence policy. We suggest it is well worth a read before the party’s new defence policy motion comes up for debate at this Autumn’s party conference.

The Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats’ paper calls for a more thought-through, long-term and realistic strategic approach by the Government, including defining more precisely Britain’s role in the world, a reform of security and defence-related institutions, the constant update of the threat assessment, the creation of out-of-area alliances to share military burden, ways for less expensive procurement, the capacity to regenerate of military forces quickly in time of war – and much more.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments
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