Author Archives: Phil Bennion

Lai wins but DPP lose majority in Taiwan

Phil Bennion with William Lai

With other members of the Liberal International Bureau and senior members of CALD (Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats) I flew to Taiwan for a 5-day mission in solidarity with the Democratic Progressive Party, our sister party in Taiwan, who were facing a challenging election.

The emergence of the Taiwan People’s Party as a third force made the election results less predictable and unprecedented and relentless messaging from China was urging the Taiwanese to “choose peace” by ditching the Democratic Progressive Party.

Our first meeting was with the International Republican Institute, a refreshingly centrist group of people considering the current direction of their US sponsors. Their work in Taiwan is outward looking across East Asia, including mainland China, but they have now closed their office in Hong Kong and programs in China are now virtually impossible to deliver. Some of their work is related to influence and disinformation emanating from the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP narrative on voting  Kuomintang (KMT – Chinese Nationalist Party) for peace or DPP for war were being amplified by Chinese state operatives through online media.  Internally they work cross party on democratic principles with youth across Taiwan. They find that the younger KMT supporters are not interested in any form of unification with China. They are generally third generation since the 1949 influx and have grown up as Taiwanese. Hence the actual positions of the two main parties is now much closer and both are supporting the status quo, albeit with differing levels of enthusiasm.

Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF) are working on similar themes and told us that the CCP were also pushing the idea that the US is an unreliable ally and may abandon Taiwan, or that the DPP would use conscription to force young voters to take up arms against China. The CCP is now mainly using Tik-Tok to spread distrust of democracy and antipathy to the DPP amongst Taiwanese youth, but research shows that only 6% of Taiwanese support unification with China at any point in the future.

Our questions included some regarding the issue of same sex marriage introduced by the DPP, which the two opposition parties officially support, but comments by TPP leader Ko has cast doubt on this and many KMT legislators have openly stated their wish to abolish it. Despite this lack of commitment by the opposition, the DPP have been losing support from the youth vote. This is partly due to the Chinese Tik-Tok barrage of messaging, but also due to lack of affordable housing which affects young voters most. The TPP and Ko have seized on this issue in the election campaign. Ko has also attracted younger voters with his vulgar style, somewhat similar to that of Trump.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

Federal Policy Committee launches Food and Farming Policy Working Group

The decision by Federal Policy Committee to launch a Food and Farming Policy Working Group comes at a time when food security is back on the global agenda for the first time in maybe three decades. The Russian invasion of Ukraine came at a point where grain prices were already causing problems in lower income importing countries. Last week WTO Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that the conflict could cause widespread hunger. Countries such as Egypt and Sudan are already struggling for supplies. With Russia also the world’s main exporter of nitrogen fertiliser, input costs have risen even faster than …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged and | 8 Comments

2022 Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

EDITOR NOTE: some of this report contains references to torture and abuse.

I arrived in Geneva last night for the first time in two years for the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, an annual event raising the plight of political prisoners worldwide and drawing attention to human rights abuses by state actors. It is always a privilege to be in the company of the speakers, who are variously former political prisoners, family members and representatives of prisoners and front line human rights defenders.

The event at the UN was opened by the Canadian permanent mission to the UN who asked for full support for the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council this week.

The first speaker was Nazanin Boniadi, an Iranian human rights defender who focusses on the denial of due process in Iranian courts and torture of defendants. She pointed out that 72 deaths have occurred in custody in a decade.

Posted in Europe / International, Events and News | Tagged , and | 6 Comments

Conference to confirm our internationalism

For years now committed internationalists in the party have complained that our reputation for internationalism is fading and that parish pump politics has taken over. Worries are being expressed that we could lose that internationalist core vote that has identified with us for decades. Despite serial attempts at proposing emergency motions on international crises to conference, these have repeatedly fallen way behind domestic issues in the ballot and not received a debate. Similarly droves of new members who joined us as pro-Europeans to fight Brexit have not seen their key issue high enough up the agenda. The good news is that change is on the way.

At Spring Conference our Europe motion which restated our long-term aim of getting back to the centre of Europe kicked off a new international focus. Working with our European allies is fundamental to the UK reclaiming a meaningful international presence. Autumn Conference this year will see several international themes on the agenda, as well as starting a series of detailed motions to give us a road map to the closest possible relationship with the EU, and eventual membership.

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged , and | 36 Comments

ALDE Party Congress online or, how to juggle four screens and a print-out

At the weekend we met with old friends and new from our European sister parties for ALDE Congress, albeit via a Zoom link, as the Congress was online for the first time. It was my privilege to lead a diverse Lib Dem delegation of around forty, which in addition to the official categories for diversity, included several UK nationals resident in the EU and a few EU citizens resident in the UK.

Ahead of the Congress we had met to propose amendments and again to discuss the amendments tabled by other delegations. These are negotiated in the “Working Groups”, which usually take place onsite at the beginning of Congress. Online they were held several days in advance of Congress and a high proportion of delegates were unavailable. Some were unaware that this was the real forum for debate. The procedure is not unlike the European Parliament Committee stage where the political groups negotiate compromise amendments. At the final plenary voting session there is no debate and delegations work to voting lists.

The Working Groups did not go to plan, as the scheduled sessions of two and a half hours each ran to six and five hours respectively. Even delegates who started the sessions were often not there by the end. I was sat with original text on one screen, amendments on another, proceedings on my iPad, delegation WhatsApp and the voting platform both on my iPhone plus a print-out of our voting line.

Posted in Europe / International and News | Tagged | 2 Comments

Defending the Human Rights of Parliamentarians at the Inter-Parliamentary Union

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is the global club of national parliaments, so one might ask why Liberal International (LI) has signed up to the organisation as an Observer Member. The clearest reason is to further the work of LI’s highly active Human Rights Committee, which already has recognition and speaking rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The IPU has its own human rights committee specifically defending the rights of parliamentarians across the world. Many of its cases involve liberal politicians in places where opposition politics is fraught with danger. A second reason is to develop stronger collective identity and action between liberal politicians from our member parties.

Dhaka was a controversial choice of venue, as Bangladesh has itself seen considerable political strife in recent years and the last election was boycotted by the opposition. Whilst I was there their student leader in Chittagong was picked up by police then found dead hours later. A high profile court case involving the suspension from office of the opposition mayor of Sylhet was dismissed by the High Court, only for new proceedings to be instigated before he had gained access to his office. I met the opposition leader off site to discuss democratic progress.

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Phil Bennion MEP writes: It’s time we had a sensible, evidence-led debate on EU freedom of movement

Freedom of movement is one of the EU’s most cherished achievements. It has given millions of people the opportunity to work, study and retire across the continent and has brought huge economic and social gains.

But the recent debate has taken a serious turn for the worse. Both the Conservatives and Labour are dancing to the tune of UKIP.

It falls to Liberal Democrats to set the record straight and defend the benefits that freedom of movement brings, including for the 2 million or so British citizens who live across the EU. These are not just retirees in Spain or Portugal, but …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 40 Comments

Phil Bennion MEP writes… Anti-Bullying Week: The EU has a duty to share best practice on Autism-related bullying

This week is Anti-Bullying Week, now an annual UK event. It aims to raise awareness of bullying of children and young people and people with conditions such as autistic spectrum disorders which make them particularly vulnerable to abuse. Organised by the Anti Bullying Alliance (ABA) in England, which is made up of sixty member organisations, the week is an important opportunity for policy-makers to take stock of efforts to stamp out this social evil and evaluate new approaches.

As MEP for the West Midlands region, I have always believed that the European Union has an important role to play in …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , and | 1 Comment

Phil Bennion MEP writes: Manufacturers say Britain must stay in the EU

 EU flag - Some rights reserved by European ParliamentOn Monday, the UK’s manufacturing sector gave us a clear message. In Europe, in work. In a landmark report by the EEF, a trade association representing 6000 companies, manufacturers emphasised the importance of being part of the EU for their exports and business plans. 85% of firms surveyed would vote to remain in the EU.  One third said that they would be less likely to increase investment in Britain if we were to leave the EU.

Politicians across the political spectrum

Posted in News | Tagged , , and | 15 Comments

Taking stock – 20 years of the Single Market

In the current “debate” over Europe, “loss of sovereignty”, and “power grabbing by the Commission” are the central themes… what an irony on the 20th anniversary of the single market – the key achievement of the EU which was spear-headed by a British Conservative European Commissioner, and cemented by a Conservative Government in 1992 under the Maastricht treaty.

Commissioner Arthur Cockfield in 1985 published a list of 300 recommendations needed to eliminate the barriers to real free trade within Europe, to make the (then) European Community more competitive and profitable for Member States.

Since 1992 the focus has been to “complete” this …

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged , and | 34 Comments
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