Author Archives: Guy Russo

What a Liberal Democrat PM’s 2020 New Year’s message might say

Five years ago, in response to very different political currents, I wrote an article for this site called “What a Liberal Democrat PM’s Christmas message might say”. It was grounded in the idea that our ambition as a party shouldn’t just be to offer better policies, but to offer a grander and more purposeful political language to the electorate, conveying a vision for the country.

With the ongoing confluence of crises, and the Government’s inability not just to respond to them but to mobilise language to inspire us all to pull through, it seems to me worth a go hazarding a guess at what a Liberal Democrat PM’s New Year’s message in this year of years might say. Think of it not as a counterfactual but as food for thought, as for it to be relevant it assumes that almost all these crises are still facing our imagined PM.

So here it is:

In the years that have led us to this moment in history, it has been easy to forget those rare and sombre occasions in which our country has faced awful hardships like the ones we now face. In fact, it has been tempting to treat them as extremes of the past, troubles of a magnitude that modern life had confined to history.

As your Prime Minister I have learnt the same lesson as you in this terrible year; that challenges to our resolve as individuals, to the spirit of our communities, and to the courage of our nation, never lurk far beyond the horizon. The very sense of freedom and opportunity that this government has fixed as its north-star has been rocked by all our experiences of being isolated from the people and places that give meaning to our lives.

For many families, this government’s best early efforts have yet to reverse decades of neglect. Parents are still tonight sleeping with tears of anxiety, having done all they can to give their children the best possible festive period in spite of financial insecurity and uncertainty. Beyond our economic crises those who have found no solace in the home this year, who found not care but rather cruelty simply for asserting who they are, or for no reason at all, will be lying awake dreading, not dreaming of, the future.

But the festive period, of this strange sort or the normal, is about hope. The spirit of the season is rejoicing at the coming of a new year, a new life, imbued with the dream of a chance to overcome our hardship and embrace a fresh start.

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We need to rally around bold and radical economic policies

When pondering the impact of the Second World War on his movement’s efforts to establish an independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote “crises and deadlocks when they occur have at least this advantage, that they force us to think”.

After three years of fighting in what amounted to a culture war, this party already found itself forced into reflection before this crisis. Now we find our own introspection will have to take place in the context of a national and international re-evaluation of some of the shibboleths of the last few decades.

How then, to respond? Much of the government’s economic response has been welcome. But it amounts to papering over the cracks of a society weighed down by rampant inequality and – crucially – indignity. Whether it be low-wage workers in precarious employment in the gig economy, or a generation of renters unable to settle and start a truly independent life, or countless median-wage households with unprecedented levels of personal debt looming over them, we can see now more than ever the serious threat to millions of individuals’ personal dignity, security, and space to flourish.

Faced with this, we should realise that laid out before us is the hard but necessary work of drawing on our values to refocus our efforts and meet the moment.

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

Renewing our commitment to community politics

There is a problem with the common account of Brexit as a phenomenon driven by the rising up of “neglected communities” against the London-centric establishment that put them in that state. It’s that it ignores the extent to which communities in this country have actually broken down. I’m sure that plenty of Liberal Democrats might think that local organisations, pressure groups, housing associations are still central parts of life in this country, but we have to remember that we are a poor representative sample of the country at large (through volunteering and activism, and even simply through our interest in politics at all, we are far more likely to be engaged with what is going on in our local area, and the local associations involved in decision making there).

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Leading the 48%

There is a reason why the Liberal Democrats were born to lead the 48%; it’s because we have always been on the side of the minority. Admittedly, at nearly half of those who voted, 48% is a pretty astoundingly large minority. But perhaps that is exactly why this is such an exciting moment for us. By pledging to take Britain back to the heart of Europe, we have taken on the leadership of the largest, most energised and inspired minority of voters to emerge in modern times.

For years we have sought to find a core of voters who share our fundamental values of liberal tolerance and internationalism, and indeed for years we have suffered when international issues have been relegated to the second division of political discussion. Here, now, before us, is the national sentiment that most befits our attitudes; frustration and anger towards the nationalists and the isolationists, but also passion and drive to force Britain to be the kind of member of the international community that it ought to be. It is the kind of climate where just being our liberal selves makes us poised to lead the way, and crucially, be instantly understandable to a vast portion of the electorate.

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We can’t forget about our core vote if we want to win on June 23rd

It’s been said that the case to stay within the European Union will work at its best if it successfully appeals to the varied policy interests of different types of party-aligned voters. The idea is that Labour voters will be drawn to EU achievements like the Social Chapter on worker’s rights, Greens to the bold environmentalism of the Union and Lib Dems to human rights and free trade statutes. But most interestingly (and perhaps most vitally), Conservative voters are being courted by appealing to their party emphasis on maintain the integrity of British foreign policy.

Whilst this is fascinating and deeply important, I think that only constructing a convincing case for foreign policy that suits Tory voters runs the risk of portraying our foreign policy interests within the EU in a one-sided manner – and does so in such a way that we risk alienating Liberal and Internationalist-minded voters who might still be undecided. To put it bluntly, if we only talk about foreign policy towards the EU in terms of maintaining geostrategic alliances, a significant part (admittedly not a majority) of our (and the IN campaign’s) core vote might at least switch off or at worst be turned off the campaign. We must also remind people about the often scandalously poorly- publicised work of the EU as a global humanitarian actor if we are to stimulate our core vote.

I’m proud that it was our leader who first got the ball rolling on this kind of position – by talking not about the EU simply in terms of alliances, jobs and interests but in terms of peace and common progress. We have to build on this by talking to Liberal-minded voters about the humanitarian element of the European Union. 

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The war we should be fighting

We are, on account of abiding by certain inadequacies of the global community, fighting an ill-defined war, at home and abroad, which is tearing nation-states apart and dividing our own communities in abhorrent ways, and which without further strategic solutions beyond conflict, we will continue to fight perpetually and fail miserably. No, not the War on Terror, but a similar conflict against a poorly defined enemy: the War on Drugs.

British involvement with the conflict abroad has always been subtle and at points, secretive. The Foreign Office has often refused to comment on Britain’s involvement, and in that vacuum a great number of allegations have arisen. A Guardian investigation in 2003 suggests that in Colombia, the SAS trained anti-narcotics police and provided aid, equipment and advice for military units in the drug fields. There are numerous accounts of atrocities on all sides of the Colombian conflict, including by government sponsored paramilitaries. Worse still is the situation in Mexico, where the cartel versus government conflict claimed 6,000 lives last year, and in 2012 it was 18,000. With a cumulative death toll since 2006 of at least 60,000, the Mexican Drug War is the 8th largest conflict by death toll in the world, and the largest not associated with the War on Terror.

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What a Liberal Democrat PM’s Christmas message might say

After the mild controversy about the PM’s Christmas Message, and Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of one, I wondered what a Lib Dem PM’s Christmas Message might look like. This is what I came up with:

Britain is a country of many nations, of many cultures and of many faiths. But I do believe that as we celebrate Christmas, a deep-lying common faith that unites us all rises to the fore. It is a faith that unites Christians and Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, Theists and Atheists. It is a faith in us. A faith in our capacity to build a national community here, on this island nation we call home, in which we all belong, and of which we can all take immense pride.

As one year turns to the next, my government will continue to work tirelessly to help you build that Britain. We shall approach the New Year with the same belief as we have the previous; that by empowering individuals to fulfil their greatest hopes and dreams, we can leave behind the Britain where our freedom to be who we ought to be is shackled by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We pledge to work for all those who celebrate Christmas this year with tears of frustration in their eyes, for whom our system is not working. To all those families celebrating Christmas in temporary housing, or those sleepless parents who’ve worried if their low pay check would stretch far enough this month, or those who have been bullied this year for the person that they were born to be, we are in your corner, we pledge to be your government.

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Climate change dangers show why Liberal Democrats are needed in government

Next week the fate of the world is going to be decided. That is a statement that we have rarely, if ever, been able to say with any certainty. But the consequences of another year, five years or decade without a global climate change agreement in the form of a legally binding treaty on all major global polluters could see the progress of degradation accelerate to a point where any further action would be mostly damage control. That is the solemn mandate of the Paris Cop21 Climate Conference, co-operate or face consequences, consequences that will be more tangible than ever before.

As global temperature rise being successfully held at 2 degrees Celsius looks more and more improbable, and unprecedented ice-cap melt (like that of Greenland in 2012) continues to stun Arctic communities and swell the global oceans, the level of climate disruption is now undeniably enormous. Even the kind of serious concerted action we all hope for in Paris will not be enough for those who are already set to face the horrors of the degree of environmental disruption we have now made inevitable. The most striking case of all? The chain of Pacific islands that form the state of Kiribati. Climate scientists have suggested that by 2100, or even earlier, rising sea levels will result in the full submersion of the islands.

This will be a decisive moment in human history. At this point our human capacity for destruction will have been fully realised, we will have effectively destroyed an entire nation. Global leaders in Paris who think that at their feet is placed an impossible and sobering task should be reminded of just how sobering a task lies at the feet of Anote Tong, Kiribati’s President, who every year must plan for the future awaiting a people who will lose the very land they call home to the sea, on account of our actions.

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Solution to Calais crisis lies in international development

All the unpleasantness of the last few days’ reaction to the ongoing Calais crisis is perhaps just a taste of the difficult challenge it will be for Liberals to uphold decency in the coming years. In my view, the best way to form a powerfully Liberal stance on this issue is to reinforce to the public that the solution to this crisis, as well as others (Islamic extremism, the environment etc.) lies in a field of policy often neglected by mainstream debate: International Development. But for us to form that policy, we must face some difficult home truths.

Every ideology has an extremist form. Every tool that can construct a better world can be used as a weapon to make a darker, crueller one. In the field of international development, it is time for Liberals like ourselves to recognise that we are not exempt from this fact. It is time for our party to develop a stance on development that differentiates us from the major parties and their blind stance to the free market fundamentalism of the current key institutions, the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organisation, so that Britain can play its part in reforming them when we return to government.

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Opinion: Europe is the solution to Britain’s concerns about immigration, not the cause


That statement has perhaps never been as boldly underlined as it was this week, with the continent-wide consciousness being collectively appalled at the unfolding horror in the Mediterranean. The horrific events have mobilised a pan-European discourse of outcry in a way that other EU issues often fail to do, primarily because it highlights the need for European collaboration, and the human cost of our failure to do so. It is also perhaps because it underlines to us the extent to which Europe is viewed as a single entity, or collective, by the rest of the world.

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Opinion: UKIP fails to win in London because it fails to understand its communities

nigel farageIn this week’s New Statesman, when confronted with the fact that most in London do not share his “uneasy” feelings towards immigrants speaking in their mother tongue, Nigel Farage launches another attack on the capital’s so-called “commentariat” who are “caught in the whirlpool of London thinking”. It’s his typical accusatory anti-liberal, anti-elitist, anti-London rhetoric, and so you’d think it would register just as a minor tremor on the UKIP-irritation seismometer. But it wasn’t. This was a good 7, at least, on the personal Richter Scale.

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Opinion: Compulsory political education?

Ballot boxAs a 17 year old Lib Dem, who has campaigned with two local parties and experienced my first election campaign last May, lowering the voting age is obviously of real importance to me. The party’s long term support of this policy (as well as its unique opportunities for young people) were key factors in my choosing to join the party, aged just 16, last year.

The issue is about to see a bump in publicity via the Scottish Referendum next month, and with the general election approaching there’s the real potential that any government involving Labour or the Lib Dems (or both) will legislate for the change post-May. Labour have recently adopted the policy, and supporters of the campaign “Votes at 16” include Liberty, The Co-Op, Barnardo’s and the Electoral Reform Society.

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Opinion: The final frontier of the electorate

web snoopers charterAt the core of the problems we’ve faced over the last few days is the daunting realisation that something has to change. But in the ensuing skirmish over what to change, it has become apparent that it is not the leadership. The #libdems4change movement has not provided a political coup in the party. But it has provided a mental one, a revolution of hearts and minds. Not towards a new way of thinking, but towards a new vigour in pursuing our cause. In many ways, it had to happen.

I …

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Opinion: Labour’s cheap attacks on Clegg’s integrity reflect badly on them

Labour broadcast Shrinking manThe word appalling doesn’t even begin to cover Labour’s most recent campaign video. It’s a spiteful attack ad on the character of Nick Clegg, and in case you haven’t seen it, you can find it here. Feel free to grab something to vomit into beforehand.

I’m a 16 year old student, and I joined the Liberal Democrats in 2013 for three reasons. I believe passionately that democracy in Britain is failing, and the Liberal Democrats are the only party that seek that cause with integrity. I couldn’t deal …

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