Author Archives: Paul Reynolds

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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Reform the Reformers – Part 1 Policy making

The business world has its special expressions for what politicians call ‘reform’. ‘If you are standing still you are going backwards’ for example. In Japan there is the business concept of ‘kaizen’, translated as ‘continuous improvement’.

The UK Liberal Democrats are a reformist party. People join the party because they wish to improve things and solve problems.

By contrast some people join political parties to preserve the status quo, or a prior status quo. It’s not so common in business. I sometimes wonder if the CEO of the communist East German state company that made the famous plastic 2-stroke Trabant car, had a business philosophy of ‘continuously staying the same’.

The Liberal Democrats might find even greater success if they focused even more on their primary job of ‘reforming’. That means doing even more to solve problems and make improvements for the general public. Liberal Democrats are keen to tell the public about their liberal values and democratic principles. It is not always easy for the public to make the connection between Lib Dem values and principles, and improvements to their lives; how those principles and values solve real problems.

There is scope for improvement here.

The Lib Dems will surely do better if they are perceived more as a problem-solving service for the public. Indeed, at a recent Liberal International meeting in Berlin a spokesperson for the German FDP explained that this conclusion at a strategy meeting a few years ago led to their revival as a political force.

With the UK Lib Dems the deployment of our values and principles in solving problems, is undertaken by a relatively open policymaking system. This is where one might look for the scope for improvement.

The rules of an organisation reflect its culture.

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Trump; explaining the inexplicable

President Trump’s erratic and contradictory ‘negotiation’ behaviour over NATO, EU and the UK sends British officials off in a frenzy of textual analysis.

It might be more productive for UK policymaking however, to assess the underlying motives of, and domestic pressures on, Trump.

Trump’s core aim is to address US government debt, and close off a series of related economic vulnerabilities; potentially catastrophic for general US global negotiating strength.

Why?

US aggregate debt is likely to exceed 106% of GDP in 2018 according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). A level not seen since WW2. This …

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The Israel-Palestine Peace Process in 2018 and the UK Lib Dems

A cross-party Early Day Motion (EDM1169) currently in the House of Commons deals with the imminent demolition by the Israeli military of a whole Palestinian Bedouin village, Al Khan Al-Ahmar, in the Occupied Territories. This raises broader concerns over aspects of the current Israeli Government’s policy on Israeli ‘settlers’ in the West Bank.

So far only Tom Brake MP and Norman Lamb MP among the Lib Dems have signed this EDM, which to date has enjoyed the insufficient publicity. I wish to bring this EDM to the attention of our MPs with the aim of having more Lib Dem MPs sign it.

Public controversy on Israel-Palestine issues in the last two weeks has been focused on embassies moving to Jerusalem, and related protests on the Gaza/Israel ‘border’. However, this EDM refers to something more important for long-term prospects for peace.

Speaking personally, I am neither pro-Israel nor pro-Palestinian; I am ‘pro-peace & prosperity’, for the whole Eastern Mediterranean region.

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Windrush Generation (linked to policy motion for Conference)

Windrush; not just institutional racism, shocking callousness too.

Up to 1834 if you were poor and alone, and long-term sick, disabled, orphaned, or too elderly for heavy work, you were likely to be sent by the government to a workhouse.

We might look back on this time and wonder how utterly brutal our government institutions were. We live in a modern democracy now, and government departments would not be allowed to act in a knowingly callous way.

Or would they? Think again.

Think for example about Hubert Howard who arrived in the UK from Jamaica, in the 1960s aged three, legally. Who after thirteen years of trying, was denied a British passport, and was not allowed to visit his ailing mother overseas. Who as a result lost his job and the possibility of any benefits. The Home Office was the only institution that could show from their records that he was in the UK legally but denied him a passport.

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How much should the Lib Dems focus on UK foreign policy?

I once used the phrase ‘No-one is going to vote Lib Dem because of our policy on Azimstana’. The point is an obvious one; surveys show us that the average British voter is more concerned about domestic issues such as health, education, welfare, employment, immigration and crime. Understandably so.

However, there are three very good reasons why, notwithstanding, we need to invest time in foreign policy, international relations and the global economy.

First, UK foreign policy does from time to time come to the fore in the mind of the voting public and we have to be on top of the issues, …

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Yemen – obstacles and pathways to peace

Liberal International British Group, amongst other things, organise discussion events on international issues. On 19 March, they’ll be discussing the situation in Yemen.

The war in Yemen started in 2015, in the Middle East’s poorest country. Since then there have been more than ten thousand fatalities. As of now, there have been more than one million cases of cholera and more than two and a half thousands related deaths. The already-weakened economy has all but collapsed and the UN reports than two million children are suffering from acute malnutrition, with thousands reportedly dying of starvation.

It has variously been described as:

  • a civil

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Liberal International, Dictatorship and the United Kingdom in 2017

Global war followed the descent into dictatorship in parts of Europe in the 1930s. The horrors of WW2, and the dark shadow of communism that fell over east and central Europe and USSR subsequently, led to the consolidation of liberal ideals in the freer world.

A reassertion of liberal and democratic ideals and the principle of human rights was expressed in the Oxford Manifesto in 1947 at Wadham College, Oxford and in the creation of Liberal International. It was the first modern declaration of liberal and democratic principles following the defeat of Nazism, principles which contrasted starkly with the totalitarian tenets of Soviet communism.

The successor of the Oxford Manifesto was the Universal Declaration of Human rights by the UN (UN UDoHR) in 1948; a beacon for democrats and liberals the world over, since. The Oxford Manifesto and the UN UdoHR provided a common reference point for political parties across the globe who bravely opposed dictatorship and corruption, enabling Liberal International to shed light on oppression and authoritarianism and support those parties.

There were high hopes after the fall of communism in 1989 and 1991, that essential principles of liberalism, democracy and human rights would take hold in much of the world.  However, the rise of authoritarian populism a decade ago has threatened that progress.

Advocates of liberalism and democracy have fought back against this new wave of pro-dictatorship populism.  In April 2017  Liberals from around the world came together on the same spot at Wadham College, University of Oxford, where Liberal International was established 70 years earlier. A new Oxford Manifesto was born, addressing this new wave of authoritarianism and reaffirming liberalism in this more modern context.

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YEMEN: Boris bleats, Libdems lead

Headline news last week was Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s speech in Rome where he criticised Saudi Arabia for ‘puppeteering and playing proxy wars’, by implication against Iran, and promoting sectarian extremism for political ends across the Middle East. He was immediately slapped down by PM May, who had seemingly instructed him to get even closer to the Saudis for trade purposes in the wake of Brexit.

Emphasising he had the war in Yemen in mind, as well as Syria, Boris then made a further speech in Bahrain on 10th December about the Saudi bombing of civilians in Yemen, and criticising his own government … which allegedly has special forces in Yemen assisting the Saudis, has trainers in Riyadh, and is a major weapons supplier to the Saudi regime.

Boris was expressing widely held views about the Saudis’ war in Yemen … and about their role in creating Islamic State.

A few days earlier in Warsaw, Poland, the Lib Dem delegation was busy in the annual Congress of ALDE. ALDE is the pan-European party of liberals and democrats with seven parties in government currently across the EU. On the agenda in Warsaw was a motion from the UK Lib Dem delegation, on Yemen, which was passed with an overwhelming majority and greeted with loud applause.

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The UK and the rapid deterioration in global security

Members of the Nuclear Weapons Working Group are presenting their personal views as part of a wider consultation process into the party’s future policy on nuclear weapons. The full consultation paper can be found at www.libdems.org.uk/autumn-conference-16-policypapers and the consultation window runs until 28 October. Party members are invited to attend the consultation session at party conference in Brighton, to be held on Saturday 17 September at 1pm in the Balmoral Room of the Hilton.

Trident

UK nuclear defence policy does not exist in isolation. As the Lib Dem’s Nuclear Weapons Working Group Consultation Paper makes clear, nuclear defence policy exists in the context of the UK’s broader policy on defence and foreign policy. Changes to Lib Dem nuclear weapons policy are best seen in the context of a changing defence and foreign policy environment.

From a UK perspective, the key recent shifts in the foreign and defence policy context include the continuing economic and military rise of China (and our Allies’ response to this), the adversarial turn in relations with Russia, and the rise of IS in the Middle East – together with its effects on Western Middle East policy, NATO and Turkey.

The most significant change in the foreign and security policy landscape for the UK concerns China and its relationship with the US. Up until 2013 China pursued what they called a ‘peaceful rise’ policy; rapid economic development avoiding involvements in conflict.

This changed with the new leader Xi Jinping, who, for example, announced the ‘String of Pearls’ policy, otherwise known as the ‘maritime silk road’.  This is a string of Chinese-controlled ports and associated inland infrastructure that dots the world’s trade routes, with economic investment closely followed by military investment; for example in Pakistan/Afghanistan, Djibouti/Ethiopia, and Sri Lanka.

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After Brexit; what strategy for ‘Remain’?

Whilst a lot of analysis will be forthcoming on the events that led to a vote in the UK to leave the European Union, potentially of greater importance in the immediate aftermath is for a unified Post-Referendum Pro-Remain approach. Here, I am suggesting such an approach, and Lib Dems may wish to take the lead on such an approach.

First of all we need a strong institutional approach. The Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, and PC require a competent secretariat and fundraising body, with a very sharp and responsive media operation, that Pro-Remain Labour and Conservative figures can rally around.

Second, we need an end result to aim for …. or more correctly two end-results….

As democrats there is one thing we should oppose. In Parliament there is almost certainly a majority against Brexit, and it will be tempting to support the blocking of Brexit. We should oppose this, otherwise we will be accused of not listening to the voice of the public, with all the long term political consequences.

Posted in Op-eds | 27 Comments

‘Iraq 2’. Why the Lib Dem’s Syria conflict position in parliament is militarily and politically unwise

On Tuesday, Tim Farron expressed the party’s position on the coming ‘Syria conflict’ vote in parliament in a letter to PM David Cameron.

It set out five conditions for Lib Dem support for an escalation of British involvement in Syria. It will no doubt be taken by the UK government as conditions for Lib Dem support for a general major escalation.

The first ‘condition’ was that military action against Islamic State in Syria should follow international law. The letter expressed acceptance of UN Resolution 2249. This UN resolution however does not authorise actions against IS, nor does it provide a legal basis for the use of force generally against IS in Syria or in Iraq. It only supports states in doing what they are already doing under existing international laws, specifically on IS-held territory. As such this supports existing Russian and Iranian military involvement as much as existing Western involvement.

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