Author Archives: Humphrey Hawksley

A blue print for a modern, post-Putin Russia

Fears are growing for the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny whose health is deteriorating with chills, fever and severe cough. In a brave show of force, some five hundred Russian doctors have signed an open letter to Vladimir Putin demanding an end to the ‘abuse of Alexei Navalny’.

Alexi Navalny, 46, has long been the most prominent face of Russian opposition.  Even from prison, he and his team had been mapping out a road map for the emergence of a democratic, modern Russia after Putin goes.

On Thursday evening, in a Liberal Democrat European Group webinar debate, I will be in an hour-long conversation with Navalny’s close friend and former campaign chief-of-staff, Leonid Volkov, currently in exile in Lithuania. Navalny and Volkov came to prominence through the freshness of their vision, their anti-corruption campaigns and their skills at deploying the Internet and live streaming to get their message across to millions.

Posted in Europe / International and Events | Tagged , , , and | 1 Comment

Do the Liberal Democrats have a captivating Big Idea?

At the weekend Daisy Cooper was interviewed by Matt Frei on LBC about the local election results. Daisy was fluent and informative until Matt asked her to spell out the Liberal Democrats’ big idea.  Matt did not accept Daisy’s answer about dealing with the cost-of-living crisis. He rightly pointed out that the electorate were looking for more than another politician’s solution to another problem. They want to feel a vision, something that defines the Party and sets it apart from the two tired, rival beasts in the room.  Daisy had no answer, except to say that any big idea would be in the manifesto.

While congratulations are well-deserved, the results are unlikely to translate into general election success without a vision that captures the public imagination and can be shared in a few words.

Over the past decade, charismatic and strong person campaigning, often wrapped around a false narrative, has delivered populist election victories. Boris Johnson achieved this with ‘Take Back Control’.  Bongbong Marcos, son of the corrupt and repressive dictator, this week won a landslide in the Philippines with the slogan ‘Together, we shall rise again.’  Donald Trump remains hugely popular with his concept to ‘Make America Great’ again, and so on.

There is nothing shameful or cheap about a big idea. Indeed, this was the basis on which the United Nations, the European Union and NATO were founded.  The thought behind this particular one was that we must never go to war again. (Note how the populist ideas pay tribute to a mythical past, whereas the founding of the U.N. was to avoid a real and catastrophic past.)

With Ukraine, we are now in a parallel situation in which voters crave to see a way through to a new and different future.  The Conservatives and Labour, buffeted by infighting and extremism, are living on discredited ideas of nationalism and socialism in atmospheres riddled with corruption and racism.

The Liberal Democrats, therefore, have a unique opportunity.  Let us define our big idea and begin arguing its case now so that by the time the next general election is announced it will be embedded in the national conversation.

Posted in Op-eds | 68 Comments

Lithuania takes Liberal lead against authoritarianism

The Baltic country of Lithuania, with a population of fewer than three million, has become a European lightning rod for liberal democratic values in the battle against authoritarianism.

Key Belarus and Russian opposition figures are in exile there. Democratic Taiwan has opened an office in Vilnius to push for a tougher stand against Chinese expansion. Here are a few lines from my recent conversations.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, wife of opposition figure Sergei Tikhanovsky, now jailed by the Belarus regime;

It’s very important to understand that people who have been living in dictatorship for 27 years, also have to study

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 1 Comment

Liberal Democrats must acknowledge massive human rights abuse in India

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Britain’s announcement of a £1 billion trade deal with India coincided with a thundering condemnation of that country by the British-Indian artist Sir Anish Kapoor in The Times. He writes:

Sixty per cent of the population — 800 million people — live, or more accurately survive, in abject poverty and are forced into invisibility. The harshness of caste boundaries and endemic social segregation means they are the downtrodden of the earth and it matters not if they live or die.

Britain is pursuing India for post-Brexit trade deals and as a strategic ally against China’s expansion. By doing so, it is turning a blind eye to widespread human rights abuses there where individual suffering may well be equal or higher than that of China.

The voice of Liberal Democrats is close to silent on these atrocities.

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The unpalatable cause of poverty

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As arguments rage over cuts in Britain’s international aid budget, Liberal Democrats could help expose some of the mechanisms which create and sustain poverty.  On Tuesday December 1st, that brand household name Nestle is going the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that it should be allowed to use slavery to farm and ship raw cocoa from west Africa in order to make our chocolate.

Let me repeat that.  Nestle, whose profits last year were $15 billion, insists it has a right to make money from slavery.  In technical terms, it wants to be granted corporate legal immunity.

I first reported on this dreadful practice of child slavery on west African cocoa farms in 2000 for the BBC. The confectionary industry executives with their plush offices and multi-million pound executive bonuses rounded on me, with accusations that I was inventing and fabricating. I wasn’t. The BBC supported the story. I went back to the Ivory Coast, Mali and Ghana time and time again.

Despite promises from confectionary companies and the British government, the culture of slavery and poverty did not only continue, it got worse. A recent U.S. Dept of Labor report found more than two million children were now working on the west African cocoa farms from which Nestle gets its supplies. Many of the children are trafficked, held against their will with no schooling or health care. They are victims of long-standing arrangements between governments and corporations to retain cheap or free labour in favour of high profits.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 15 Comments

China and its challenge to Liberal Democracy

Anti-Chinese rhetoric is growing, and it is amazing how seamlessly our enemy number one has shifted from Islamic extremism to an expansionist China with barely the blink of an eye. 

No longer do we have a War on Terror but the spectre of a new Cold War. 

Accusations against Chinese President Xi Jinping are beginning to mirror those against Middle Eastern dictators when complexities of cultures and societies were concertinaed into cartoon-style characters of evil such as with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. 

We all know what happened there and, unless we are vigilant, we may be walking into another disastrous trap. 

With gulag-style camps in Xinjiang and the crackdown against political dissent in Hong Kong, such criticism against China are justified. 

The question is, however, what can liberal democracies do that is effective. 

A first step is to look more at ourselves and reestablish liberal democratic values that in the past two decades have fallen into a sorry state of repair. 

Liberal democracy was once heralded as a beacon for delivering security and freedom. Failure in the Middle East and North African conflicts has shredded that reputation. 

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 12 Comments

Liberal democracy needs to define and understand its enemies

A natural question arising from images of American police killing and attacking civilians is, “How on earth can this be happening? What has happened to liberal democracy?”

The answer is that, in too many places, the liberal democratic system is thought to have failed the people it claims to be serving. Authoritarian and populist governments, on the other hand, are being re-elected and seem to respond to more voters’ needs, both practically and emotionally.

Those authoritarian and populist governments are taking up—and taking aim at—issues close to liberal democratic hearts, including immigration, globalization, climate change and LGBT rights. But these …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 33 Comments

The Lib Dems must draw up a road map to take us out of the abyss

As opportunity unfolds with the current political crisis, the Liberal Democrats could appoint a unit to examine three issues on which the Party can lead. Coupled with its grass roots organization, these initiatives, messaged skillfully, could help propel the Party into government. Their aim would be to ensure that:-

The United Kingdom’s political system never again produces the geographical and economic divide that has led to a critical mass of citizens feeling ignored and left-behind.

Europe’s modern institutional structures create both regional cohesion and sovereign flexibility so that the type of divisiveness experienced in Britain is addressed long before it risks tearing the European Project apart.

The Liberal Democrats take a global lead in drafting new mechanisms for the international rules-based order and its institutions.

Once formulated, each could be presented for discussion so that minds can begin to reach beyond the acrimonious technicalities of Brexit towards a wider and more positive future.

We do not know how many of the tens of thousands new members are using the Party as a temporary ideological life-raft and how many are here for the long term to forge through to government and restore British values to the United Kingdom.

But we do know of the crying need to address issues that have led to today’s restlessness both here and around the world. On this, the Liberal Democrats, and the counter-part networks within Liberal International, are ideally placed to take the lead.

It is tempting in the middle of this crisis to focus on each twist and turn. But this is exactly the moment to task a team to take eyes off every-day events and map out a bigger picture.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 30 Comments

Liberal Democrats must lead in a new vision for Europe

Jo Johnson’s resignation underlines yet again the disaster that is Brexit.

But the repeated call for a second referendum puts a high level of responsibility on the Remain camp to flesh out details and consequences.

The Liberal Democrats, as the only party campaigning unequivocally for Britain’s membership of the European Union, must take a lead.

A second referendum would mark only the beginning of a momentum which must look far beyond the headlines and slogans of 2018.

Let us speculate, therefore, that there is a second vote and we win.

Then what?

Could Remain celebrations really light up Britain’s streets with political leaders mouthing off sound bites about healing divisions and the rest, while half the country feels cheated.

How can anyone think that will work?

Can a new government really tear up Article 50 and, tail between its legs, keep Britain in the European Union as if nothing has happened?

That will not do the business either.

There is one way out. But to take it on board we must accept that Brexit is symptomatic of a wider challenge. It accompanies an overall questioning of the European Project seen through the rise of the populist right, increased separatist demands and rebellion among the east and central European countries.

Brexit is the strand which has been put to the vote and the EU lost.

Any forward-looking institution would have reacted by looking publicly into what had gone wrong and how problems should be addressed. It would have allowed a formal debate on reform, ensuring that the discussion would be in the arc of our lives, just as the Brexit debate now is.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 39 Comments

Clegg and Alexander are pioneers for global Liberal Democracy

Let us put aside for a moment the cries of greed, hypocrisy and astonishment at Nick Clegg’s decision to take his job at Facebook and examine what it means for the cause of liberal democracy.

Facebook, together with other social media outlets, is one of two new forces upending the world order and the way we think.
The other is authoritarianism, led by China, where many countries now see government not accountable to an electorate as preferable to the muddled unpredictability of Western-style democracy.

The Liberal Democrats have two of their most senior figures in each of those camps.

Two years before Nick Clegg …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 53 Comments

High, positive impact for a hard-fighting political machine.

The Liberal Democrats are preparing for new leadership at a time when a gaping vacuum continues across the British political spectrum. Our strong and motivating voice is needed more than ever. The challenge is how to make it heard.

I wrote earlier advocating broad brush changes to the party (Get clever, get brave and reform to win,). I now follow up with four examples of initiatives that could give us high, positive impact with minimal paperwork.

First, investigate bad practice. In March, the party brilliantly uncovered EU nurses quitting the NHS through a Freedom of Information request. There needs to be a stream of such reports. Within our membership is an array of skilled investigators from the security services, lawyers, journalists and others. Investigative units could uncover bad and illegal practice in housing, the environment, the health service and so on with results fed through our MPs and peers to hold government to account.  This would require an element of top-down management, but if handled effectively, one stunning investigation after another could have the public on the edge of their seats, expectantly waiting to see what appalling misdeeds the Liberal Democrats uncover next. 

Posted in Op-eds | 170 Comments

Get clever, get brave and reform to win

As the Liberal Democrats are about to take on a new leader, one question looms large. Why, in its various incarnations, has this mainstream political party failed to win power for almost  a hundred years?

While we blame variously the right-wing press, the voting system and so on, the truth may lay closer to the party itself that needs structural modernization in three distinct areas – mission, message and management.

With the centre ground deserted, we have been handed an open goal, but have yet failed to score. Unless we act now with fast, brave and clever leadership, that goal will be scored by others.

First, the mission.

After the referendum, thousands of new members joined, believing the Liberal Democrats would design a new, big picture vision for Britain’s future and they wanted to be part of it. Instead, they were told to deliver leaflets on issues such as pot-holes and speed bumps because: “This is how we do things.”

Many began drifting away.

At September’s conference, I asked delegates how they thought we could win government.  “I don’t think we want that,” summed up a long-standing member. “It would be against our values.”

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 93 Comments

Recent Comments

  • JohnMc
    Well, given that the Tories have just announced they want to bring back National Service … and that’s their best plan, this is well timed!...
  • James Fowler
    Repeat slowly after me: Labour. Own. The. NHS....
  • David Allen
    There is such a thing as coalition phobia. It's understandable - The Lib Dems made a pig's ear of it, and rightly got punished. But if the Lib Dems can't cure...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might this question be relevant for all political parties, perhaps except for the S. N. P.?
  • Steve Trevethan
    Might the attached article be relevant?