Author Archives: Paul Reynolds

An Afghanistan catastrophe Part 2 (of 2)

In Part One, I offered a view of why and when the occupation of Afghanistan failed. In Part Two, I explore the future implications.

The first shorter term problem is the evacuation.

It could be used as pretext to keep a contingent of special forces in the country, and keep the conflict going. Liberal Democrats have emphasised the need for a land corridor from Kabul to Pakistan, but this would require negotiation with the Talebs, as yet absent.

A further dimension to this is the wave of Western media stories about ISIS and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, despite scant evidence on the latter, and formal ‘Western’ reports dismissing scare stories on the former.

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An Afghanistan catastrophe, Part 1 (of 2)

It is tempting for UK political figures unfamiliar with the wars in Afghanistan, to view recent events as a ‘surprise loss for the West’ that is ‘all the fault of President Biden’. Neither is true. I will attempt a summary.

The war was ‘lost’ many years ago. Talebs and other insurgents controlled a majority of the country after the first five years. By the end of 2009 ICOS (Western-funded) reported that the Talebs had a controlling presence in 97% of the country, and had de facto control of Districts representing almost two thirds of territory.

Certainly when I first arrived in 2008 the Talebs controlled the road from central Kabul and the Compound to the airport, requiring a dangerous circuitous route. Driving to Jalalabad or Kandahar, there were Taleb road blocks, some taking ‘fees’. The game was already over. Why?

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Myanmar’s simmering civil war – and the UK’s moral duty

Following the coup d’etat in Myanmar on Feb 1st this year, the ‘Tatmadaw’ military have killed more than 860 civilians and imprisoned more than 6000 people. Random bombings of civilians, burning villages and killing protestors, have made a full scale civil war likely. The de facto leader of Myanmar is now the brutal General Min Aung Hlaing, the Chairman of the State Administration Council.

The coup ended 5 years of ‘democratic’ governance. This period followed 53 years of military rule, which began in coup in 1962. Myanmar (Burma) was part of British India before 1948.

The colonial past is one reason why the UK has a duty to help.  More specifically, the flawed legacy of the British contributed to 7 decades of conflict.  After the 1962 coup, the oil and gas sector was nationalised, and oil & gas majors such as Anglo-Dutch Shell and British Gas, with the support of the British Government,  have been intimately involved.

The UK can thus have major positive role to play.

Reducing violence, and preparing for the consequences from full civil war, necessitate understanding, however.

Two thirds of the population in Myanmar are Burmese (Bamah). From independence, and as part of the British legacy,  the government has had a system of ethnic control centred on the peripheral provinces. This led to armed resistance, ‘justifying’ military rule. There have been nine major conflicts; four still persist  – involving Rakhine/Rohingya, Shan, Kachin, Kayin, and Mon. Citizens have an ethnic designation written on their ID cards. The exception is the mainly Muslim Rohingya, who do not receive ID cards, on the grounds they are ‘foreigners’.

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Britain’s role in the world… of corruption

Corruption is in the news again in the UK.

PPE contracts during the pandemic, the Greensill Capital scandal, and eye-watering local authority finance scandals, all serve to dent the historic public perception that politics and government in the UK is in the main ‘clean’.

In the early 1990s at a private lunch with senior civil servants I attended, one of them offered the view that the public’s perception of a broadly clean governance system in the UK, has been ‘the world’s most successful long-term government propaganda operation of all time’.

In my global project work, dealing with corruption at senior levels is just something you have to find a way of handling. Many times I have had to employ ‘forensic international accountants’ to trace missing tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. It just goes with the territory. In some cases I have found corruption linked back to the UK; kickbacks for visas, a market for ‘blank’ British passports, kickbacks for projects and so on.

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Open letter to the Foreign Secretary on global human rights

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The Rt. Hon. Dominic Rennie Raab MP
First Secretary of State
Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs

Dear Foreign Secretary

Please accept my best wishes.

With the merger of the FCO and DfID in mind and the incorporation of development policy into your brief, I was encouraged by your statement in Parliament on July 7th 2020 which included the words:

‘As we forge a dynamic new vision for a truly global Britain, this Government are absolutely committed to the United Kingdom becoming an even stronger force for good in the world … on human rights, where we will defend media freedoms and protect freedom of religious belief; and, with the measures we are enacting and announcing today, hold to account the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses.’

I wish to raise with you two examples where the UK has up to now supported EU efforts to impose sanctions and take other measures to apply pressure on ‘the perpetrators of the worst human rights abuses’ as you put it; Cambodia and Turkey.

As you will be aware the world’s longest-serving Prime Minister is Hun Sen of Cambodia, former member of the government of the genocidal Pol Pot regime. An international post-civil-war peace treaty in 1991, the ‘Paris Peace Accords’, set out a path to democracy, human rights and key freedoms, with UK support.

However, step-by-step Hun Sen consolidated power and eroded democracy and human rights provided for in the Accords, a process which accelerated after Hun Sen developed a close commercial relationship with Xi Jinping and his ministers in China. That is the same Xi Jinping that you condemned in an Oct 6th 2020 statement as committing ‘serious and egregious’ human right violations. The erosion of democracy and human rights in Cambodia was carefully documented by the United Nations Special Rapporteur.

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Liberal Democrat electoral and policy pact with Labour, or not?

The party has been buzzing with pro and anti ‘pact’ debate, and some parliamentarians have been espousing contrasting views.

On 11th December the Guardian featured an article ‘Starmer Urged to Start Co-operating with the Lib Dems’ on the necessity of a pact for Labour. A Liberal Democrat branch of the ‘Compass Group’ has been formed.

Here I have a stab at synthesising the two Liberal Democrat arguments. The party as a whole needs to decide. Which view do you support?

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The lurch to the right of the Conservative Party has changed the landscape for the Lib Dems. Since the Tories adopted the tool of encouraging anti-immigrant sentiment to undermine Labour in its heartlands, and since the rise of the SNP, it has become very difficult for Labour to achieve a parliamentary majority on its own. This is true however popular Keir Starmer becomes.

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The new war in Ethiopia. The first step towards peace is understanding the conflict.

For many LDV readers, Ethiopia is associated with arid land, drought and terrible famine; made famous in the 1980s by Bob Geldorf and ‘Live Aid’.

The recent resurgence of civil conflict, mass fatalities and the exodus of 200,000 refugees into Sudan, seems inexplicable for the casual British observer. Is there a well-founded explanation?

Some perceptions have to be undone. More than 90% of the 100m population live in the green, fertile west of the country. Most of Ethiopia’s cities are modern and the capital, Addis, has a hi-tech urban rail system and glitzy shopping centres. Ethiopia has recently experienced high economic growth, and is a favoured investment location for Chinese and Western investors. The new Prime Minister won the Nobel peace prize for his rapprochement with breakaway Eritrea. So what’s the problem ?

Modern Ethiopia was largely created as an ‘empire’ by conquest in the late 19th Century under Emperor Menelik II, from what is now Addis Ababa, up to World War 1, with the support of Italy.

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Why Britain should worry about Kashmir

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Kashmir is one of those decades-long conflicts which rarely makes it into the mainstream UK media;  until recently. In June this year 20 Indian soldiers died in fighting with Chinese soldiers, on the border between Indian-administered and Chinese-administered Kashmir.

So what is the nature of the conflict and why has it become much more dangerous this year ?

Central to the recent upsurge in violence, lies China-India relations. To understand, we must start with ‘British India’.

After Indian independence following WW2, Kashmir was divided into Pakistan administered and Indian administered territory, with two smaller areas controlled by China. Both the Pakistani and Indian administered sides are majority Muslim, except (Buddhist) Ladakh, on the Chinese border.

India and Pakistan have more than once gone to war over territory, and so have India and China.

When Indian administered Kashmir was established, the spectre of future Kashmiri independence was raised, and significant autonomy provided for in Article 370 of the Indian Constitutions, later also by Article 35A.

Among these provisions were restricted involvement of the Indian state (foreign policy, defence etc). Land ownership and receipt of public services like education and health were restricted to Kashmiris. Article 370, leading potentially to independence, was a factor in the measure of acceptance by Kashmiris of Indian administration early on.

However, in the late 1980s an insurgency by Muslim Kashmiris against Indian administration started, with various forms of support, overt and covert, from Pakistan. This rise in violence against Indian rule was largely a result of gradual erosion of autonomy and democracy;  and fading prospects of independence.

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Lib Dem internationalism in practice – a member’s perspective

Liberal Democrats stand for an open society receptive to new ideas, international trade, law-law rather than war-war, cooperation amongst nations, and universal human rights. Whilst proud to be British, we oppose isolationism, nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia for political gain. We recognise the difficulties of Britain’s colonial past and support making amends.

How do sentiments such as these translate into practice, internationally, and how can members become involved?

It’s a question which is often asked in all kinds of meetups.

The coordination of international activity is undertaken by the Federal International Relations Committee, (FIRC) which is one of the party’s governing, constitutional institutions.  FIRC has a sub-committee on EU exit, known by the acronym CEUB.

There is also a foreign policy group in parliament, and a foreign policy adviser to the Party Leader.

Policy Working Groups established by the Federal Policy Committee also frequently consider UK international policy – on economics, defence, Europe, international development and other dimensions. Such work frequently involves presenting policy motions for voting at party conferences.

Cooperation with other liberal-democratic parties in Europe and the rest of the world, including policy coordination, is mostly undertaken via Brussels-based ALDE, and Liberal International.

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Putting the Lib Dems in danger of being more successful

Following the Thornhill Report, I propose that a good way to formulate remedies for the many problems identified is to draw parallels between how we apply our principles to UK reform, and how we apply such principles in running our party.

The party has always supported decentralisation, holding that decisions should be taken at a level as close to those affected as practically feasible (a COVID-19 lesson!).

By contrast, the Report explains that the party had succumbed to the temptations of increasing centralised control; applying top-down decisions hidden behind the bureaucratic fog.

In contrast to principles of openness and transparency, decision-making became opaque and secretive.

By contrast with the party’s ‘strength in diversity’ principle, the Report describes a clique of people at the top who all agreed over a narrow range of tangential issues. Contrary to core liberal principles of openness to new ideas and challenges to the status quo, the party was closed to new thinking, defensive and impenetrable.

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Black Lives Matter; a new enlightenment?

In Lib Dem circles there has been much talk of the need for ‘better education’ as a necessary (but not sufficient) path to more enlightened social and governmental attitudes when it comes to race, perceptions of a colonial past, and ‘neo-colonial’ thinking.

This is very positive; but education enlightening students about what, precisely?

My proposition is that there are three areas where education will benefit from a bit of ‘light shedding’. Those are, in chronological order, the histories of BAME communities in the UK; colonial histories related to those parts of the world to which many communities in the UK are connected; and importantly, relevant global pre-colonial histories.

First, there are many surprising histories of BAME communities in the UK.

For example, in areas of East London such as Canning Town, there are many people descendant from Caribbean-origin soldiers and others returning from world wars on behalf of the British, that were given passage back to the UK but faced difficulties obtaining passage back to their home countries such as Jamaica and Trinidad.

The Windrush generation is another example, that should be better understood.

These histories, when explored, make the poor treatment of such communities by the British state all the more hard to accept.

Second, colonialism, theory and practice, has a special place in liberal-democratic thinking. Liberal-democratic ideas were forged hundreds of years ago in opposition to the European pro-colonial mercantilist view that the quantity of wealth in the world was fixed, and that one country could only become ‘rich’ at the expense of another. This gave a rationale for subjugation, war and slavery.

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Post-C19 UK economic recovery; a new economic orthodoxy beckons?

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Economic crises, and the C19 pandemic certainly is one, have a habit of initiating a major change in economic orthodoxy.

Arguable examples include mercantilism after the collapse of the feudal system, Adam Smith after two long pan-European wars, end of the Gold Standard post-WW1, Keynes after the Great Depression and WW2, ‘market reforms’ after the 1973-5 recession & crash, and the ‘Washington Consensus’ after the collapse of communism 1989-91. Then came the 2008 financial crisis, which was still unresolved when C19 hit. To a great extent, each crisis arose from the ‘flaws’ in each new orthodoxy.

Each of these changes was highly controversial at the time, at first, and even subject to ridicule. But it is easy to forget that the emerging new ideas were aimed at particular problems perceived at the time, where the prevailing orthodoxy no longer had perceived relevance for the problems faced. The new ideas that endured above others did so in that context.

We appear to have reached that point now.  But it’s very messy.

In the UK the post-2008 orthodoxy we are probably leaving behind had already become something of a hybrid. Austerity in public spending aimed at partial debt reduction, was still there, but reductions in regulations had gone. Monetisation/Quantitative Easing had been introduced to purchase bank ‘assets’ (derivative securities). These bank assets had initially been the cause of the 2008 crash, as their value evaporated. However, the asset purchases still continued twelve years later, keeping interest rates artificially low, but leaving international markets awash with cash; evidenced by a rise in international share prices, to two to four times what they used to be, relative to company profits. Culprits’ reward.

Up until Brexit, this was the hybrid orthodoxy.

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Covid-19: We are long past the point where we should give the UK government the benefit of the doubt


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Political conclusions drawn so far from the horrific tragedy of COVID-1,9 and the lamentable UK response, have often been hurriedly deployed in support of a range of political viewpoints.

Perhaps the most common is that the regrettable UK response has been due to the NHS being starved of funds due to ‘austerity’. Per person NHS budgets have been squeezed over a long period, and this almost certainly contributed to the NHS’s problems, and more money is needed, but it cannot be the whole story; or even perhaps the main story.

The UK spends the same or more on health, and a larger proportion on state health, than many other OECD countries, including Finland, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia.

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Assessing the Johnson Government’s new reform narrative

Over the last week the Johnson government’s narrative approach to reforms in the UK  has become more clear.

Johnson’s personal views on eugenics and poverty are a matter of record. ‘The poor being poor due to low IQ’ brings psychological comfort to those born into the luxuries of inherited wealth and private education. So blaming everything on Cummings might be unwise.

Policy more than personal views are however, our subject of concern. At last, the government’s underlying propositions can be clearly stated, as follows:

1. The UK’s low productivity problem is caused by a surfeit of unskilled migrant workers from Eastern Europe, enabling firms to avoid investment in new technology and avoid employee training.

2. UK poverty is the result of low IQ among sections of the population and of a self-perpetuating underclass, aided by single mums and teenage pregnancies.

3. Whilst UK unemployment is low, there are 8million ‘economically inactive’ citizens who, via further welfare reforms and eugenics, can be reduced in number and induced to take up the low paid jobs formerly taken by EU migrants, receiving training by employers who can no longer access low-skilled EU labour.

4. The core aim of a new immigration points system is thus to raise productivity and raise wage levels, and in the process reduce the cost of in-work benefits.

5. Increased national capital spending by the state will stimulate growth from construction contracts and compensate for the negative effects of EU tariffs and other barriers, creating demand for indigenous low skilled labour, (at least until such time as new global trade deals are in place)

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Huawei and 5G: the tip of the iceberg for Johnson

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What is the ‘Huawei and 5G’ mobile internet controversy really all about and why is it important for the UK ? Here’s a fly past the detail.

The British position has been clear since April 2019, up until now. The National Security Council (NSC) was advised by UK security institutions that there were no security issues with the proposed roll out of 5G mobile internet, using Huawei equipment. This was advice that followed pre-contract negotiations with different UK institutions. A formal decision was expected in May 2019, but has been delayed. Germany has taken a similar line to the UK. The UK’s largest mobile phone company, Vodafone, backs the UK position, despite Vodafone-related disinformation appearing in the pro-Brexit press.

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Understanding the Johnson-Cummings government reforms

What should Lib Dems make of the ‘radical’ constitutional, political, judicial and administrative reforms apparently pre-planned by the Johnson government and key adviser Dominic Cummings?

I shall try and shed some light.

Statements from Downing St have included scathing criticisms of the UK civil service. The substance of these, as far as can be gleaned, include major changes to recruitment, departmental ‘tenure’ of civil servants, capital spending and the ability of ministers (not the public) to hold civil servants responsible for screw-ups, wastefulness or incompetence.

They criticise the alleged ‘blame avoidance merry-go-round ’ practice of keeping civil servants in post for …

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UK complicit in biggest US cover-up since Vietnam

It took a three-year legal battle for the Washington Post to force the US government to release the ‘Afghanistan papers’, a set of lessons-learned reports on the war so far.

The Afghanistan Papers not only reveal systematic lying by the US and UK governments to the general public about the aims and progress of the war, they reveal gratuitous mass killing of civilians in the policy fog.

As if that wasn’t enough to cast opprobrium on the military effort and the capability of the forces involved, the Afghanistan Papers reveal extraordinary confusion amongst senior military personnel, and a war without …

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That NATO Summit discord, in context

The recent NATO summit in the UK filled the headlines for a few days. What was the summit really all about ?

Arguments about low defence spending amongst some members, about perceived military weakness relative to Russia in the Baltic States, spilled out. There was even an apparent threat from Turkey to delay progress on the Baltic States issue until the rest of NATO accepted that Kurdish defence forces in Syria are ‘terrorists’.

After 70 years of NATO, the irreconcilable discord dominated.

The underlying problem is that members do not agree any more on what exactly NATO is for.   What is worse is that its members are in a kind of gridlock; there is little leadership on mutual interests, lots of taboo topics, and sticking plasters everywhere.

Spending spats are really disagreements about control; some members being reluctant to extend spending until there is more equal status in NATO decision-making.

The history is key.  NATO was never part of any ‘grand plan’ at the outset. Its formation & development after WW2 was something of an accident.  NATO’s origins lie with the 1947 Dunkirk Treaty between France and the UK, and then the Brussels Treaty Organisation (BTO) in 1948 which brought in the Benelux Countries, creating the Western Union (WU) with US support. The WU was precursor both to NATO and to EU defence cooperation.

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The UK’s responses to global economic changes

High on the list of public priorities in the General Election is a sustainably improving economy. Even avid supporters of Brexit balance their new-found acceptance of economic damage from leaving the EU, with tall tales of an eventual post-Brexit boom for ‘Global Britain’.

Brexiter MPs have at different times blamed economic contraction and lower growth on ‘Remainers’ blocking Brexit and causing uncertainty, an idea which hasn’t gained much traction. Slower UK growth has also been falsely blamed on weaker global and European economic growth.

The latter claim is at least is an acknowledgement by Brexiter MPs that the UK economy is integrated …

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“Get Brexit done” – the historic big lie

In the General Election campaign, the electorate will be presented with a Tory promise to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

This is one of the slogans that will be repeated over and over again.

The message is that ‘chaos has reigned’, and now voters have a chance to vote Tory and ‘get it all over with’. The proposition is that if re-elected, PM Johnson’s regime will approve the two key pieces of Brexit legislation, and then immediately pull the UK out of the EU.

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Liberal Democrats should vigorously oppose a UK war with Iran

The UK representative in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear weapons negotiations, Sir Simon Gaas, now Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Chair, has often talked about US political perceptions. Sir Simon Gaas explained how shocked he was when it seemed some US politicians thought Iran was a desert country consisting entirely of mad Mullahs running around with Kalashnikovs.

There is such a vast and sophisticated pro-war propaganda machine against Iran that the bare facts of Iran’s alleged drive towards nuclear weapons can be lost beneath the layers.

Brutal to its people though the regime might be, if domestic brutality be …

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Ten freeports by Spring; Boris’s post-Brexit economic miracle

What should the Liberal Democrats do about Boris’s freeports idea? It is alleged that 85,000 jobs will be created.

What is a freeport?

It is a simple idea as old as customs duties themselves. Countries designate an area of land accessible in some way from outside their territory, as outwith their national boundaries for the purposes of customs, taxes and regulations. This means the freeport is a quasi-foreign territory free of all taxes and inspections, even though physically it is inside the host country.

The point is that goods or materials can come into the territory without paying any duties …

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Boris is PM.   What comes next?

That depends on what Boris’s backers are planning. All we know for sure is that he appears intent on crashing out of the EU without any trade, immigration, transition or prior obligations arrangements.

We know something else. Boris has also presented his ‘WTO-Article-24-managed-no-deal-standstill-plan’. There has been lots of media coverage explaining why this plan is impossible, including myself on LDV.

Despite that, the Brexiteers are all still going on about this as if it is still feasible. Why?

As Boris’s recent interview with Andrew Neil suggested, he doesn’t know that his ‘standstill plan’ is not viable. His backers however know very well that this plan is just ‘Brexiteer social media fodder’ and a dead end.

The most likely explanation is that it is part of the planned blame game. For the Brexiteer base and the dominant pro-Brexit press, being able to blame the EU for crashing out is vital to the patriotic tsunami that they have planned for our country. That is what the debunked ‘standstill’ is really for. This might also explain why Boris’s reported ‘first 100 days’ team seems to be populated with  TV and press executives & experts, rather than trade specialists.

Of course, parliament may still block no deal, forcing a general election. Then the Lib Dems have a different tasks. For now we have to plan for the worst.

What is the Lib Dems’ plan of action on 1st November if the UK has crashed out of the EU the day before?

To clarify, Boris’s advisers will probably attempt four paths.

One is some kind of interim EU agreement excluding (eg) services, and agriculture, but this will be full of hiccups, with outcomes anathema to the ERG.

The alternative would be a quick skeletal-but-broader trade agreement for a range of tangible goods reducing the negative economic effects of no deal in the hardest hit areas. Without a ‘divorce deal’ however, the EU, being in a strong negotiating position, will have a long list of demands and future revisions. To stay in power with Brexiteer support Boris will have to somehow conceal the detailed schedules to this potential mini-agreement.

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Bungling Boris and his baffling Brexit bravado

Likely next PM, Boris Johnson, now has the unenviable task of facing disgruntled Tory party members at hustings across the UK. Worse, he has to do this side-by-side with the bland Jeremy Hunt.

Boris is surely aware that these disgruntled souls feel that way because, after 40 years of anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning by the far-right UK press, they were then promised (and voted for) a painless easy Brexit, and a grovelling EU. Once Brexit is implemented, the UK can then go about kicking out various foreigners, as they have been led to believe. Britain as a Great Power, they believe, would be able to trade with the EU on the same easy terms as now, and on better terms with the rest of the world … whilst ending free movement in the EU and severing all links with the European Court of Justice and its supposed terrorist-loving human rights regime.

The last three years has inevitably dented such ‘true faith’ beliefs as reality has set in. However the Tory members being faced by Boris in the coming weeks have been desperate to find a saviour who can restore their faith, and preserve their whole weltanschauung. Boris has found a very willing audience indeed for the view that the stalemate of the last three years is not due to inflated expectations at all. No. They are merely due to Theresa May, Olly Robbins and Mark Sedwill being weak negotiators. These Tories desperately want to believe in Boris and believe that all the promises can be kept and their patriotic beliefs kept intact.

Thus Boris has to give them what they want, and he has made it his raison d’etre. His audience must have hope to cling on to. Boris, though vague so far, does have a discernible plan for them to lap up. It will probably be presented to Tories like this.

He will say that Article XXIV of the GATT and Article V of the GATS (WTO conditions of membership) allow the UK to declare that after Oct 31st  they are ‘in the process’ of negotiating a new trade agreement and thus the EU is allowed to give the UK special treatment and continue the current tariff & regulatory regime as an interim agreement, giving the UK 10 years to negotiate a permanent deal. He will say that the EU will be forced to agree to this interim agreement, and allow the UK to exclude free movement and ECJ jurisdiction from it, because if they don’t accept all this, the UK will refuse to pay the £39bn EU exit fee.

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Should vagrants be flogged in the street?

From the 14th century it was customary to administer punishment to vagrants in the street in Britain. Some were flogged, some clapped in irons, others dragged around on wooden frames.

At the end of the Middle Ages, society was highly stratified, and most people were not permitted to travel freely. The word vagrant means ‘wanderer’ and to an extent the wanderer was being punished for ‘not being in his or her place’. Many were escapees from rural servitude.

So the fact that the transgression of vagrancy is still on the statute books, might suggest we have not progressed sufficiently …

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The ‘Stay In Offer’: the big Liberal Democrat Brexit initiative

As the doomed ‘Chequers’ fantasy proposal bites the dust and the Labour Party moves towards a ‘vote on the deal’, mainstream public opinion is moving away from a hard Brexit and very slowly away from Brexit itself.

But there is something missing. A gap. A chasm. A canyon.

The rabid Brexiters have already started their defence against anyone suggesting Brexit might cancelled, as if we have already left and as if reversing the Article 50 process or nixing the ‘transition’ period would already be both cumbersome and painful. Their new Mendacity Mark 2 vehicle has its engine running even now.

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Britain faces a new global alliance

Next month there are planned peace talks with the Taliban … in Moscow, with the support of China.

This is a small symptom of the biggest tectonic shift in political alliances for more than 70 years. UK Liberal Democrats will be ahead of the curve if they appreciate the significance of this shift and have an opinion on the UK’s response.

As China reaches the point when its economy becomes the world’s largest, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is pressing ahead with his ‘Belt and Road’ initiative. This is the new Silk Road from China to Europe across the land mass. Unlike the old Silk Road, this time it comes with vast Chinese investments in the countries involved, as China seeks global influence and new places to put its cash resources. There is a maritime equivalent; the ‘String of Pearls’, as China takes over ports at strategic points from Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Djibouti and Greece

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Reform the Reformers. Part four CONCLUSION Key themes in reforming ourselves

The Liberal Democrats are the UK’s real reformers, with a heritage that goes way back beyond the formation of the Whigs, Liberals and Lib Dems. 

The long quest for liberal democracy has passed such milestones as the Magna Carta, abolition of serfdom, elections to a parliament, repeal of the Corn Laws, votes for women, and eventual universal suffrage and equality before the law. This fight against impunity, monopoly & mercantilism has been our fight;  checking the power of the elites and doggedly pursuing the public interest and tackling poverty, in the wake of stiff resistance.

Somehow these traditions have been diluted in the minds of the public; whittled away by unseen Marxist assumptions, and by the theft of economic liberalism in the service of wealthy corporations, whilst losing the drive against monopoly power along the way. We suffer from these dilutions, especially in the ideological schisms in left & right wings. We must address this to survive.

One wing’s is too permissive of an overbearing and inefficient state, the other too permissive of monopoly and destructive finance; but liberal democracy opposes both. 

Both wings regrettably gloss over the quality of regulation, taxation and spending, in a poorly-defined spat over quantity. Both wings of the party are relatively ‘soft on monopoly’, which thus runs against a central raison d’être of liberal democracy.

Unity is key for survival, and this is why; the public ask ‘what are the LibDems for ?’  The bare truth of it is that there are two main rival approaches to reform, LibDems & Labour, and one status quo party, the Conservatives. Few perceive it thus. We exacerbate the problem by unknowingly adopting Marxist assumptions, for example with the frequent debates about choices between more liberty and less equality or vice versa, when through the ages liberal democracy has been about equality through liberty. (Ask a former slave).

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Reform the Reformers – Part 3, The Search for a ‘Big Idea’

Liberal Democrat activists will be familiar with two apparently contradictory refrains.

One is that Liberal Democrats should pursue what is morally right for the country, regardless of public opinion. The other is that ‘no-one ever voted Lib Dem because of our policy on (… insert obscure policy…)’.

The point of the latter refrain is that the public’s problem-solving priorities should dominate policymaking effort.

There is another, potentially reconciling, refrain; that liberal democracy in the UK needs a new popular ‘big idea’. Opposition to the Iraq war is a common reference point, a major contributor to Liberal Democrats having 60+ MPs in the Commons. …

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Reform the Reformers – Part 2, Challenges in Updating Liberal Democracy

There are two types of people in this world. Those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t.

The rise of left and right wing populism points reformers towards updating liberal democracy.

The remedies that left and right populists peddle are remarkably similar; one-party regimes, state control of the economy, dismantling the ‘separation of powers’, nationalism, and a rapid increase in state spending.

Less attention, however, is paid to the parallel rise of liberal, pro-democracy parties in government; Canada, Netherlands, South Korea, Malaysia, Ireland and elsewhere.

There are many lessons to be learned from liberal-democratic parties in these countries, …

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  • John Bicknell
    The premise that we (and others) should contest the by-election, simply in order to try to 'punish the Conservatives', is the wrong mind-set. It's an attitude ...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    I believe that it is the right decision. Any liberal Democrat who thinks it would be morally considered correct or electorally gain respect, must really not un...
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    I believe that it is the right decision. Any liberal Democrat who thinks it would be morally considered correct or electorally gain respect, must really not un...
  • Joe Bourke
    At the end of this month, the Chancellor will deliver his second Budget of the year, at the time when existing COVID support measures will have recently stoppe...
  • Steve Trevethan
    Next time, and I very much hope that there will not be one, might it be worth holding a “straw poll” and /or sort consultation via LDV?...