Category Archives: Europe / International

Anything to do with European / international issues

ALDE Party Congress – the Brexit resolution…

At the end of the week, liberals from across Europe come to Amsterdam to meet, debate policies, attend fringe meetings and elect new members of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Party’s Bureau. There’ll be approximately one hundred Liberal Democrats present, and Liberal Democrat Voice will be covering events as usual.

Our coverage this year starts with a review of the resolutions to be considered, and it will come as no surprise that one of the subjects for debate is Brexit, and that’s where we’ll start.

It might surprise readers to …

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Debating Europe from first principles – a new force in Romanian politics

Sometimes, opportunities come along unexpectedly, and when, two weeks ago, the opportunity to go to Timişoara came along, I grabbed at the chance, without really stopping to consider what I might find when I got there. And Eastern Europe does, beyond the classic cities such as Budapest and Prague, have a bit of an image problem given the effects of war and communism on the architectural heritage.

I was there because a new Românian political party, the Uniunea Salvați România (Save România Union), was hosting a conference entitled “The Future of Europe is …

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Now is the time for an ivory ban

Think of Africa, and you think of elephants. But sadly, these glorious and magnificent animals are under serious threat from poaching. It is estimated that one elephant is killed every fifteen minutes by poachers who are part of a chain of criminal activity that makes immense profits from selling ivory tusks onto the global market. This illegal ivory is distributed all around the world with routes mirroring those of drugs, guns and trafficked people. It is shocking to find that more raw and carved ivory is traded through the EU to …

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What a start of a new coalition! D66 both the biggest (Dutch) progressive and the biggest Liberal party

In my previous postings about the D66 contribution on entering the new Dutch coalition government (here and here), I noted that D66 surprised everybody in Dutch politics by being able to have some profiling, and indubitably progressive programmatic points in the coalition agreement. Also, D66 was the main provider of women (cabinet) ministers; and they are highly qualified women politicians!

A brief “tableau de la troupe” of the new Dutch government…

It consists of two Liberal parties: the progressive, pro-European D66 and the more eurosceptical, car-owner oriented VVD (with prime minister Mark Rutte); and two Christian Democrat …

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Protecting Nature After Brexit

Embed from Getty Images

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has put pen to paper in a letter to MIchael Gove MP, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

This joint letter to Mr Gove was also signed by Seb Dance MEP, Keith Taylor MEP and Julie Girling MEP.  Together, these MEPs form a cross-party group of UK MEPs who sit on the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.

The letter follows the successful vote on November 15th in Strasbourg on the EU Parliamentary …

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Ros Scott to run for re-election as Vice President of the ALDE Party

Two years ago, in Budapest, saw the election of six ALDE Party Vice Presidents and, after a tough nine-way contest, Baroness Ros Scott was safely elected. And, after a successful first term, she is seeking re-election.

Her manifesto spells out what she’s been up to;

  • chaired pre-Council meetings of liberal ministers at AGRIFISH, helping to form shared positions as part of our work to bring together liberals from across Europe
  • worked to get more women in politics, personally leading a fund raising campaign to support the ALDE Party’s European Women’s Academy
  • met with a potential new

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The EU Parliament Takes A Principled Liberal Stance

Despite the claims of British politicians, which in turn are echoed by their diplomats, the UK is not “within touching distance” of agreement on citizens’ rights.  Following a reiteration of this claim by UK ambassador John Marshall, at a public meeting on Wednesday in Luxembourg, MEP Charles Goerens outlined the European Parliament’s position:

  • Any application for ‘settled status’ should be a simple, cost-free and automatic process, that can be made by families as a joint declaration.
  • Applications should not depend on complex conditionality and

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News from the Liberal Democrats International Office

The Liberal Democrats took an active part in the 199th Liberal International Executive Committee meeting in Johannesburg in October. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Better Governance: Liberal Answers to Twenty-first Century Challenges”.

Delegates adopted resolutions on freedom of belief, tackling the persecution of LGBT people in Chechnya, and the rise of authoritarianism in Cambodia. The delegates elected a new Secretary General of LI, Gordon Mackay. He is a Member of the South African Assembly for Democratic Alliance.

Liberal Democrat Party President Sal Brinton held a number of meetings with key individuals at Liberal International, ALDE and …

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The Calais ‘Jungle’ One Year On

Today marks one year since the makeshift refugee camp in Calais known as the ‘Jungle’ was demolished.

Three weeks after becoming leader I got to visit the Jungle for myself, and the experience was both eye-opening and heart-breaking. The word ‘jungle’ is actually not an appropriate or accurate description of what these desperate people had built for themselves. It was more like a city. It sprawled for miles. Conditions were grim, but it was amazing to see the strength and grit of the people living there, despite the unimaginable situation they had …

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Want to meet European liberals? Applications open for the ALDE Party Congress delegation

The 38th ALDE Party Congress will take place from 1 to 3 December 2017 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Preliminary information about the programme, political deadlines, venues and logistics will soon be available on the ALDE Party website, here.

The UK Liberal Democrats are currently one of the largest voting blocs in the ALDE Party, with strong representation on the Bureau, in the Council and at the Congress. The Congress is the largest event of the year for ALDE and it is a policy-making event, with policy motions submitted by member parties for debate and voted on during the Congress.

The ALDE Party …

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Venezuela – a failure wrought by paranoia and a cause without much principle

It is noticeable that Venezuela is prominent in the British media at the moment. To be honest, the chaos of a typical Latin American banana republic seldom causes such interest, but given the links between the Venezuelan Government and Jeremy Corbyn, its failure is a convenient stick to beat him with.

And let’s be honest, things are bad there. I had the opportunity to go to Caracas in December 2015, when things were already falling apart, inflation was spiralling and the bolivar was on its way to toilet paper status. At that point, the government had stopped publishing most economic data – it was pretty meaningless anyway – and had acknowledged its exchange rate difficulties by offering an alternative exchange rate for tourists.

The official rate was six bolivars to the dollar. As a tourist, you could legally get two hundred bolivars to the dollar. The black market, usually a fair judge of reality, was offering eight hundred bolivars to the dollar. And, as the largest bank note in circulation was a one hundred bolivar note, you can easily imagine what that meant in terms of carrying money.

So, why are things so bad in Venezuela? Firstly, the economy is almost entirely underpinned by oil exports (which represented 96% of total exports) and when the price of crude fell, GDP fell catastrophically. A market economy can adjust to that, albeit painfully. Sadly for the Venezuelan people, they have a government which not only doesn’t believe in markets, it doesn’t appear to understand them either.

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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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Here, there and everywhere – a report back from Federal International Relations Committee…

So, (some of) you very kindly voted for me last year to serve for three years as a member of Federal International Relations Committee. And, as promised, I am reporting back on what I’ve done, as well as making a few comments on our recent meeting on 13 July.

I’ve spent much of the first half of 2017 bringing the Committee up to constitutional speed. I produced our first Standing Orders in January, and have since amended them to create some formal process for selecting our candidates for positions on the Bureaux of Liberal International and the ALDE Party, following …

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May’s hard Brexit is dead. Now let’s bury Brexit

Brexiters claim that 82% of voters supporting the Tories and Labour validated Brexit in last week’s General Election. This has a grain of truth in it. However subsequent polls found issues such as health, the economy, and security were more important to voters. Furthermore, the election marked a return to two party politics in which smaller parties, including ours, were squeezed. A vote for Labour was not necessarily a vote for its ambiguous Brexit stance, but arguably one for hope and an end to Tory austerity.

Shielded from many by her two former advisers and campaign managers, yet at the same time vulnerable to Tory ideological Europhobes, May’s closet premiership progressed an empty Hard Brexit. Instead of trying to unite a divided country after the 2016 referendum by reaching out to the 48% voting remain, May divided the country further by progressing a Hard Brexit which few voted for. Fully aware that half of voters wanted to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union as do most businesses, she seemed unbothered about harming the economy for the sake of meeting unrealistic immigration targets which were consistently missed when she was Home Secretary. Businesses could only engage with Government Ministers if they were enthusiastic about Brexit’s (unknown) opportunities. Her General Election bid for a personal blank cheque on Brexit (and seemingly everything else), possibly along the lines of the Canada-EU deal, left the electorate cold. So last week the people called time on her ‘bunker’ Brexit. So too it appears has business, her Cabinet, and parliamentarians.

A weakened May is now in discussion with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her minority Government. Meanwhile her Brexit secretary makes contradictory statements saying last Friday that the Government has lost its mandate for leaving the Single Market and Customs Union whilst implying the opposite on Radio 4’s Today. However, the DUP wants to avoid a hard Irish border, a demand which appears incompatible with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU customs union. Similarly, the Scottish Conservatives want an ‘open’ Brexit, which appears to conflict with the Tory manifesto pledge to leave the EU Single Market. The two, with 10 and 13 seats respectively, effectively could each veto a Hard Brexit. But let us not forget the newly emboldened, but hitherto pusillanimous, pro-European Tories. Under the new parliamentary arithmetic, a handful of them could also frustrate Hard Brexit.

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ALDE Party Council review: meanwhile, in Europe…

On Saturday, the European liberal family gathered in the Slovene capital, Ljubljana, to compare notes and to start the process of preparation for the 2019 European Parliamentary elections. It offers your correspondent an opportunity for reflection and, if you’ll excuse me, more than a hint of regret.

But first, what will be happening? The ALDE Party Bureau have appointed Taavi Roivas, the former Prime Minister of Estonia, to chair a ten member Manifesto Committee, whose task it will be to gather evidence and ideas from across Europe and beyond the narrow confines of …

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Liberal International: meanwhile, in a small country far away…

Good morning, and welcome to Liberal Democrat Voice’s coverage of the 70th Anniversary Congress of Liberal International from sunny Andorra.

Liberals from around the world have gathered in the Co-Principality to talk about human rights, debate the big global issues of the day, elect a new Bureau and, most importantly, formally adopt a newly-updated “Liberal Manifesto” which aims to express how liberal values and ideas are relevant in a rapidly changing world. For, whilst policies are forever evolving in the face of events, values offer insight into the types of solutions on offer.

The …

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Macron’s victory speech in English

There was joy in the hearts of liberals across Europe on Sunday night when the French results came through. It was certainly worrying that more than a third of voters chose a far-right extremist, but it shows that populism can be beaten.

Tim Farron was quick to congratulate Emmanuel Macron and said that his values could win the day here too:

I would like to congratulate Emmanuel Macron on his election as France’s new President. This is not just a victory for France, but a victory for Britain and the liberal values we hold dear.

A National Front win would have posed a grave threat to our national interest.

Emmanuel Macron has kept the wolves from our door, but we must never be complacent in the fight against racism, fascism and the far-right.

The liberal values of tolerance, openness and free trade that triumphed in France today can triumph in Britain too.

Together we can change Britain’s future, stand up to Theresa May’s hard Brexit agenda and keep our country open, tolerant and united.

Ambafrance has an English translation of Macron’s victory speech. Here’s an extract.

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“Dear Mrs May…”, an open letter from Catherine Bearder

Dear Mrs May,

You called an election last week so that British voters can, you claim, by electing a large Conservative parliamentary majority, give you the “strongest hand” possible in the Brexit negotiations. But I am afraid Mrs May you have already decided on the direction you are taking this country in and I think you already know that.

Today the leaders of the 27 EU countries will meet to finalise their negotiating guidelines, for what Guy Verhofstadt described to Liberal MEPs this week as probably the shortest Council meeting ever. Why? Because …

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Social Liberals: winning against Populism because we have “street force”

First of all, on behalf of the tens of thousands D66 party members (over 25.000; and we’re gaining members every week for the past year,  our heartfelt congratulations to the Lib Dems on passing the 100.000 members threshold. And you’re not done yet, I know.

If we look to our Spanish and French social-liberal, pro-EU sister parties, Ciudadános and Macrons movement “En Marche”, they too are booking spectacular results in gaining members, and getting members active on the street. According to the French Wikipedia and the Economist, En Marche (EM) claimed 88.000 members in October 2016, and  250.000 now.  The Economist reports about EM-activists canvassing the British way in Strassbourg streets (and elsewhere).

That is the big difference I noticed in the Dutch European elections (2014) and our recent General Elections (March 2017):

  • whereas D66 activists were visible on the (high) streets and at train station entrances handing out leaflets months before (and until) election day,
  • other progressive parties (PvdA/Labour, GreenLeft, and old-style Socialists\SP) were strangely absent, where they dominated the scene until about ten years ago,
  • the center-right parties (VVD/NatLibs and CDA/Christian Democrats) and PVV never were very active in that way.

D66 has also started canvassing the British way in “friendly” neighbourhoods, talking to people on the doorstep; but we seldom hear that from other Dutch parties. Only PvdA/Labour appears to do that, and the Socialists/SP say they do it.

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Join @timfarron for Euro campaign photos at conference

I’m really proud to be the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit Spokesman for the South East.  Working with Nick Clegg, our national Brexit spokesman, to hold the government to account and fight for the true national interest could not be more important.

One of the most successfully ways to communicate a message is visually. Pictures speak loudly.

I would like to mention two opportunities, if you are coming to party conference this weekend, to join photos that you can use at a local level.

First, we know that hard Brexit is putting our future under the axe. No-one voted for the Brexit axe to fall on family …

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Yabloko: Keeping Russia’s Liberal flame alight

Last September an all too rare event could be seen at the exits of some Moscow metro stations: young people were dishing out leaflets in a campaign for candidates in the municipal elections of that year. They stood before stalls and banners emblazoned with a green circle intersected by a red wedge: the emblem of the Russian United Democratic Party – Yabloko.

Whilst ever more stereotyped as a `centre of illiberalism`, the Russian Federation can boast its own liberal heritage – and one that culminated in the short-lived provisional government of early 1917. Yabloko might be viewed as the contemporary legal and constitutional heir to that facet of Russian history.

Yabloko (`apple`) emerged in 1993 and became an official political party eight years later. They adopted a unique stance of supporting the post-Soviet democratic reforms yet criticising Yeltsin’s authoritarianism and his so called `shock therapy` privatisation drive. Without doubt, they are something of a voice in the wilderness in the climate of sociocultural conservatism in Russian society.

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That extra special relationship

The Anglo-American Special Relationship is becoming the EXTRA Special Relationship – and not for the right reasons.

The Special Relationship is based on a shared historic, legal, cultural, and philosophical root buttressed by military and political alliances, a shared outlook of the world and intelligence services which are joined at the hip and just about every other part of the political anatomy.

The Extra Special Relationship is based on a shared pariah status, siege mentality and Britain and America’s  common need for friends in an increasingly friendless world.  The Brexit vote has isolated the UK from its former partners in continental Europe. Trump’s style plus his anti-Islamic, anti-EU, anti-free trade, anti-Nato, anti-Chinese and pro-Russian and pro-Israeli rhetoric has done the same.

On top of that, Prime Minister Theresa May needs a big trade deal to show that Brexit can work to Britain’s advantage. Trump is offering a massive bribe—the trade deal.

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ALDE Congress preview: day 3 – it’s make your mind up time…

The final day of Congress is when the decisions get taken – electing Bureau members, determining policy, agreeing statute changes. Everything builds up to a frenzy of voting, as delegates are asked to vote for or against as many as twenty-five resolutions in one rather manic one hour session.

This is only possible because the big arguments take place in working group sessions on day 2, where compromises are reached and recommendations made to the plenary session the next day. For Liberal Democrats, this is a source of some wonderment, especially for those who have been to too many Federal Conferences. …

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ALDE Party Congress preview : Day 2 – an energised delegation hits the dance floor…

Another snowy dawn in Warsaw, made rather brighter by news from home, and whilst some of our delegation are paying the price for staying up to wait for the result from Richmond Park, there’s a definite spring in our step.

And so, what do we have to look forward to today?

It’s all about policy, with working groups looking at a range of resolutions, as well as the proposed reforms to the Party statutes (think constitutional amendments on steroids). Our delegation will be active participants, discussing Brexit, aspects of European democracy, economics, environmental issues and civil liberties.

In terms of the big, set-piece stuff, Congress is formally launched with speeches from the likes of Cecilia Malmström and Margrethe Vestager, two of the Liberal Commissioners, Guy Verhofstadt.

There is also a plenary debate on “Brexit and the Politics of Fear”, which includes our Willie Rennie, which may be slightly different in tone after last night’s success.

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ALDE Bureau elections: the runners and riders

alde-congress-2016Yes, it’s election time again, as the ALDE Party elects different positions in alternate years, the Presidency and some Vice-Presidents in odd-numbered years, the Treasurer and a few more Vice-Presidents in even-numbered years.

This year, there is no British interest, with Ros Scott having been safely elected as a Vice-President last year. As for the Treasurer, it looks as though there will be a intra-Slovene handover, with outgoing Treasurer, Roman Jakič, expected to be replaced by the sole candidate, Gašper Koprivsek from SMC (Modern Centre Party).

There are five candidates for three Vice-Presidential slots;

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ALDE Party Congress preview – day 1: a gentle warm-up before the drama commences

alde-congress-2016Welcome to Warsaw, where the cranes are busy bringing new skyscrapers to the city’s skyscape (don’t try to say that quickly…), and a thousand liberals from across Europe are meeting over the next three days.

To some extent, the event is dominated by Brexit – our sister parties are keen to adopt a common position on a European negotiating position, whilst simultaneously showing their support for pro-European forces in the United Kingdom (that would appear, given the Labour Party’s dithering on the subject, to be us). The welcome so far appears to be …

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ALDE Party Council preview – rewriting the rules, but not in triplicate…

Yes, it’s that time once again, when liberals gather from across Europe to renew old acquaintances, make policy and debate the burning issues of the day. Hang on, wrong introduction, that’s the one I meant to write for the Congress taking place alongside it.

It is fair to say that the Council meeting isn’t as exciting, focussing as it does on rule changes and membership applications.

First, the rule changes. There have been some concerns expressed that the way that individual parties are represented in the ALDE Party is not as fair as it might be. Accordingly, a small group of crack diplomats has been assigned the task of coming up with a new system. Needless to say, it combines a complexity that makes it hard to explain with a lack of salience to our readers that makes trying to do so fairly futile. I’ll give you a summary though…

The new system rewards successful parties and national influence, whilst rebalancing the membership dues system to ease the burden on small parties from small countries, something that, as a member of the Financial Advisory Committee, I had attempted to do a few years ago. Obviously, I support that. Whether or not the new allocations of Council and Congress delegates achieves the stated aim is another matter.

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Postcard from India – monumental bank note upheaval

cow-mini-market in Goa by Paul Walter
Paul Walter is now back at home. As is often the case, this postcard arrived after the sender returned to Blighty!

We’ve had an enrapturing holiday in Goa, India. The welcome from the Goan people was wonderful. The beauty of the place was breathtaking.

By coincidence, we arrived just a couple days after a major monetary change by the government. To wrong-foot terrorists and criminals, there has been a monumentally huge exercise called “demonetisation”, going on across this, the second most populous nation in the world. All the old 500 and 1000 rupee notes have been withdrawn from circulation at two hours’ notice.

In the Times of India, Santosh Desai wrote: “86% of the currency in circulation becomes illegal virtually overnight”. That relates to an estimated $210 billion worth of money notes. $210 billion! That is a mind-boggling figure.

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Liberal International’s African Reach

When Liberal International was founded in Oxford nearly 70 years ago it was very much a European affair. With the noble exception of Canada, Liberal parties and values were largely confined to northern Europe, but since then the picture has changed dramatically. As we in Britain lick our wounds from the double whammy of the Brexit vote and the triumph of Donald Trump in the United States let us take comfort from the fact that the Liberal family is growing worldwide. This was dramatically illustrated by the Liberal International (LI) Executive in Marrakesh, at which five new African parties – …

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Perhaps the world needs Donald Trump. But we will have to learn our lessons the hard way

Just how much of a shock was Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election? As we had seen with the UK general election in 2015 and, to a lesser extent, this year’s EU referendum, the polls and last minute predictions were confounded. But, for this observer at least, the sense of shock has worn off.

Trump’s success not only corresponds with the widely documented social unrest of white Americans (working class or not – https://i.redd.it/dei5tr2kuatx.png), it fits into a far wider picture which we have seen develop across the western world in recent years. Trump’s use of Brexit to further his own campaign is, of course, no secret. But the trend goes beyond this. A world which has seen the rise of the Front National in France, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, UKIP in the UK and the New Flemish Alliance in Belgium to name but a few, appears to have been hurtling towards this moment – towards what Trump would call the liberation of the white working classes, or the reclaiming of national identities.

As we witnessed in the aftermath of the EU referendum, such groups will be heartened by Trump’s triumph. They will perceive his presidency as an opportunity to further their own ambitions and to ride the wave of his success in their own countries. Indeed, we have already seen the triumphant response of members of the Klu Klux Klan to Trump’s win. Many comparable groups around the world will feel vindicated by the US public’s apparent acceptance and endorsement of Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and minority groups. It appears inevitable that their power and influence, in the US, the UK and beyond, will only increase over the course of Trump’s presidency. No one can say what the world will look like by the time of the next US election in 2021.

But the purpose of this article is not to scaremonger. Quite the reverse.

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