Author Archives: Geoffrey Payne

Opinion: What does the Green Alliance want the Lib Dems to do?

I was disappointed once again to hear the Green Alliance slag off the Liberal Democrats – along with all the other political parties – for its record on the environment – arguing that “None of the three main parties are currently showing the vision and courage to prepare the UK for the challenges ahead.” You can read their full report here.

What their critique amounts to is this: that although the Liberal Democrats have always led the field; and although the party has filled in the missing gaps identified previously by the Green Alliance; and although there is …

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Opinion: Why Labour can’t square the circle in Basra

Bob Ainsworth the defence minister had a torrid time on The Today Programme this week. He tried to persuade us that the British troops leaving Iraq today was a “success story”. John Humphreys put to him a quote from the police commander that “They have left me militias, they have left me gangsters, they have left me all the troubles in the world”.

On behalf of the government, Bob had to waffle on in response that “things were not perfect but they are better than before …”. Patently this was not the case, but the pretence had to be maintained in …

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Opinion: Time to revisit the Trident debate

In the coming leadership campaign, I would like to see a revisiting of the replacement of Trident debate where the party settled on a policy of fudge. Reluctantly I have to accept that we cannot do this before the next general election, but I am sure that whoever wins will be leader for at least the next two general elections, and he will have a big say in how the policy develops.

I believe that the current fudge of a policy gave the SNP a stick to beat us with in the last Scottish elections – and for them it worked. …

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Opinion: My conference awards

Best Fringe meeting:

The Liberator/ Lib Dem peace group “War on Terror”, with Craig Murray, former ambassador to Uzbekistan. There were some terrific fringe meetings this year, but this one was breathtaking.

Craig Murray was sacked from his position in Uzbekistan because he was determined to speak out against the appalling abuses of human rights in this country.

Uzbekistan is an “ally” in the war “against” terror and an important strategic country for the mining and transportation of important natural resources. It is also a totalitarian state with an appalling human rights record that easily compares with Iraq under Saddam Hussein or North Korea.

Craig spoke of how the government there claims that the opposition is part of Al-Qaeda. The government uses torture to force alleged opponents to admit they know a list of people they have never heard of before, and this “intelligence” is used by western intelligence agencies to “prove” that Al Qaeda is operating in Uzbekistan, and hence we support the government there. The “intelligence” services even know this is the case – because Craig told them – but they prefer the narrative to the truth.

The words “45 minutes” spring to mind.

I would like to write more, but it is best to read his own words in his book.

The meeting was at times very funny, and at other time horrific.

Most Important Fringe meeting:

Reinventing the State book launch – since the publication of the Orange Book, some Lib Dem members have got over-excited and started proclaiming the Lib Dems as a doctrinaire free market party. David Laws himself has claimed that his controversial chapter was misunderstood, and this fringe meeting proved to be an important correction. The anti-state rhetoric of both the Tories and the Lib Dems may sound similar at times, but the Conservative preference for a small state is very different from the Lib Dem preference for a decentralised state.

It was good to see such a wide range of speakers including Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg. And now I sense the party is a left-of-centre party again, as Ming said it would be under his leadership.

This fringe meeting was a book launch so here is the link.

Best speeches:

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Opinion: Europe – is Ming playing with fire?

This I am writing just before the Lib Dem conference gets started in Brighton. Events will take their course, and I do not know where the Lib Dems will end up by next Thursday. But I for one am feeling rattled already.

The Liberal Democrats have never been seriously divided over Europe before. Whilst Labour and the Tories tear themselves apart, the Liberal Democrats have been left sitting pretty, even though the electorate have been largely unsympathetic to our policy. Never mind, we reassure ourselves, the electorate don’t care about Europe anyway. To a large extent that is true, but it would obviously be better if they positively supported our policy.

Now all of a sudden, the most pro-European party may well inadvertently find itself supporting policies that lead the country out of the EU. How did it come to this?

The way in which the Lib Dems choose whether to support referenda or not is certainly something that I find confusing. We could have had a radical coalition in Scotland with the SNP, introducing the Local Income Tax, opposing the replacement of Trident and introducing radical Green taxes.

All that was thrown away because the party did not want a referendum on Scottish independence, which we were told would create uncertainty that would damage the Scottish economy. Now we are told that we support a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU. What effect on the uncertainty of the outcome would that have on the economy?

Quite a bit more I would have thought!

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Opinion: BBC beaten by the anti-green lobby

There is meant to be a political consensus in this country. Global warming is taking place, and humans contribute to that. There is also a scientific consensus that this is the case as well, so since we are all agreed, it is surely the case that the BBC can go ahead to what is now the important next step; try to encourage the population of this country to do something about it?

In the same way the BBC encourages us not to commit crime, it is important for our future safety and wellbeing, indeed our survival, that we do not destroy the environment in which we live.

It appears we are not there yet. There is still a powerful anti-green movement in this country. When the BBC announced it was dropping an awareness-raising programme on climate change, only Chris Huhne had the courage to speak out against the decision:

“The consensus about global warming in the science community is now overwhelming, so accusing the BBC of campaigning on such an undisputed threat is like suggesting it should be even-handed between criminals and their victims.”

Why was that? What do Brown and Cameron think? If they both publicly agreed with Huhne, then surely the BBC would have to change its mind?

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Opinion: What Brown should be saying to Bush

Recently Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell commented on three things that Gordon Brown should be saying to George Bush;

“There are three things which should be on Gordon Brown’s agenda when he meets President Bush: renegotiation of the one-sided extradition treaty; the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention centre; and a negotiated withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

“These should be the objective of a candid friend. The excessively subordinated relationship between the President and Mr Blair should be put to bed.”

I agree wholeheartedly with all three. The problem is – as Lib Dems will well remember from Harrogate, when Ming offered Brown “5 tests” – that if you list things out loud then what is not included becomes just as important.

Four obvious omissions are:

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Opinion: What do we think about ‘comrade Digby’?

When Gordon Brown became prime minister, we were briefed that he was suspect on the environment. He did not have a good record as the chancellor, and we were going to attack him on that.

So why would this be?

Labour ministers often start with good intentions on the environment, but fail to deliver. Their failure is down to how strong the anti-green movement is. Popular elements of the anti-green movement include the pro-car movement, which contains the likes of Jeremy Clarkson; the anti-tax movement (recently the Taxpayers Alliance was complaining about the amount spent on informing the public about global warming); …

Posted in Op-eds | 11 Comments

Isn’t this perfectly reasonable?

Recent criticism of Ming Campbell over the tactics of Gordon Brown has been unfair.

He should have said “no” immediately we are told by some. Well apart from silly arguments that have been made about it so far, which will soon be forgotten by the electorate, I do not see anything wrong in consulting colleagues first before giving an answer. As Liberals we are opposed to centralised power, so it must be right that Ming consults before deciding?

And I do not see anything wrong in Lib Dem members being advisors to the government. Surely it is in the national interest that …

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Opinion: Divisions between the rich and the poor

To the average person on a low income or who is unemployed, the idea that voting for a political party can make much, if any, difference to their life would seem absurd.

It has not always been this way. The Liberal government of 1906 did much to respond to the social agenda, although it did not do enough to halt the emergence the Labour party. The 1945 Labour government implemented policies such as the introduction of the NHS which secured the disproportionate support of the working class, even to this day.

Today of course the divisions between rich and poor are getting …

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments

Opinion: Why did the SNP outperform the Lib Dems?

We are assured by the Scottish Lib Dems that there is NOT an upswell of Scottish Nationalism taking hold at the moment. And indeed it is true, many SNP voters do not actually support independence. They do not mind a referendum, they will simply vote no.

Yet if you strip away the nationalism of the SNP, you are left with a party that is very similar the Liberal Democrats, only more forthright for example in not wanting to replace Trident.

That being the case, why is it that in the space of a couple of years, the SNP has suddenly done so …

Posted in Op-eds | 27 Comments
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