Reporting back on the ALDE conference in Stockholm

The ALDE Party Congress in Stockholm 26-28 May 2023

Merlene Emerson, one of the 10 LibDem Council delegates to ALDE Party reporting back

Who?
ALDE Party (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) is an umbrella membership party of liberal leaning and social democratic parties in Europe. There are currently 77 members across 44 countries in Europe, both in EU as well as non-EU countries. Sadly, the LibDems have now fallen into the 2nd category but it remains a lifeline that keeps us connected with others in the liberal and democratic family in Europe.

What?
So what was the recent Congress all about and how do I encapsulate in a short blog the spirit and substance of the annual gathering? There were Policy resolutions passed (ranging from Restoration of a pro-active Trade Policy, to supporting Introduction of Civil Partnerships in Ukraine), election of new Bureau members and important amendments to internal regulations, but it was the first session, a fireside chat with Vice-President Margrethe Vestager and Commissioner Vera Jourova that I found hugely inspiring.

The world is on fire (metaphorically speaking). EU stepped up during Covid19 to protect its citizens as well as managing to export vaccines to the rest of the world. Our “liberal footprint” can be seen in the continuous championing of the rule of law, the fight against climate change and in seeking to uphold fundamental rights of free speech and an independent media. We now have to look into introduction of EU regulations of AI (…and no, this blog has not been written by Chat GPT).

Why?
Europe is an amazing continent made up of cultures and peoples who have influenced the globe for over 500 years (Portuguese explorers such as Magellan and Vasco da Gama are household names, whilst the French, Dutch and British have left their mark on many a country in the ASEAN region.) Despite the large diaspora of Chinese E & SE Asian communities in Europe, this was the first year I finally met someone else of CESEA background at an ALDE gathering. Julie Tran is an elected Swedish politician of Vietnamese heritage from our sister party Centerpartiet.

Perhaps diversity is growing within ALDE Party too as evidenced by Muharrem Demirok of Turkish heritage becoming leader of Centerpartiet earlier this year. And Malik Azmani MEP of Moroccan descent from Dutch party VVD getting elected to the Bureau this weekend. Yet populist and nationalist parties continue to grow across Europe and migration policies remain a hot potato. Let’s face it, the UK is suffering from a cost of living crisis in part due to Brexit, which was voted for as a result of scare-mongering about increased migration from UK’s EU membership.
The penny finally dropped for me sitting through a heated debate on an urgency motion censuring Mr Babis (leader of ANO in Czech Republic) showing support for Victor Orban at a CPAC event in Hungary. The DNA of liberals in Europe was forged by memories of the Holocaust and fascism. In Asia, reference points for freedom and liberalism stem from the Pacific war and the Japanese occupation (WWII) as well as the fights for independence from colonialism and imperialism. That is not to say we disagree on what are liberal values and the pursuit of democracy and human rights. But countries with different political systems (such as democracies vs autocracies) are not the same as values and beliefs. And it is clear in my mind that an Indo-Pacific strategy that tries to label and divide countries as allies for purposes of trade, security and defence is at best aspirational, and at worse divisive and deeply dangerous. The elephant (or panda) in the room was perhaps not China but Sinophobia.

It is conferences such as ALDE Party Congress where we have the opportunity to listen, learn and collaborate with European colleagues to find the best liberal solutions to global problems (including poverty, climate change, health inequalities, peace and security.)

* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Party policy and internal matters.
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20 Comments

  • richard malim 30th May '23 - 11:00am

    I am concerned to see that the LD wave against the blue wall in the SE seems to be out of power, while Labour for ll the wrong reasons seems to be making much more progress. Am I right to be concerned?

  • Peter Davies 30th May '23 - 11:33am

    The local election results suggest not.

  • Richard: you are presumably basing this on the now regular Redcliffe Wilton reporting from 40 “blue wall” seats, not all in the South.
    Firstly the latest figures for the 40 are Labour 34, Cons 33, Lib Dems 22/23%, (Cons were 49% at 2019 General Election) almost a three way set of figures : secondly not all of these will be Lib Dem targets : thirdly we only hope, not expect, to gain say at the very most 30 throughout the country, including Yorkshire, Somerset and Devon: fourthly more realistically maybe 15 or so, which would offer us perhaps 30 parliamentary seats and third place in the Commons if the SNP suffer heavily at Labours expense.
    Remember 1997 the party fell back in % terms but doubled its seat tally!
    So little to worry about really.

  • Peter Davies 30th May '23 - 3:03pm

    It’s Redfield & Wilton. You need to take into account that people have just voted in local elections where tactical voting and targeting work differently. Many have just voted Labour to remove Tory councillors but will need to vote Lib Dem to remove their Tory MP. In the General where we are targeting constituencies rather than wards, they will be reminded of this but they seem to be getting quite good at figuring it out for themselves. This never seems to show in opinion polls.

  • richard malim 30th May '23 - 3:21pm

    So the ‘protest’ vote goes Labour in local elections and LD in by-elections . I don’t buy that. In the Locals LD shd have much better results than Labour if there is to be a serious challenge to Tories’ Blue Wall at GE24, where the Tories will put the squeeze in, “Vote LD, get Starmer”. LD needed a serious result in vote percentage at the locals, and didn’t get it.

  • Peter Davies 30th May '23 - 5:19pm

    No that’s not what I said. The anti-Tory vote goes to different parties depending on the local situation. Some will vote Lib Dem in locals and Labour in the general and vice versa. Some will vote Green in locals and whichever party is best placed in the general. We didn’t get a big percentage in the locals because we were not treating them as a national opinion poll. We don’t need a big percentage in the general either providing we are as good at getting the vote where we need it as we showed ourselves to be in the locals.

  • Merlene Emerson 30th May '23 - 5:45pm

    (Hello… are you guys giving feedback on a different blog post? I know diversity issues and foreign affairs are not the fav topics on LDV but….)

    Anyone else with views on ALDE Party Congress and the meaning of liberal values? Cheers.

  • Peter Watson 30th May '23 - 9:48pm

    Merlene Emerson “are you guys giving feedback on a different blog post?”
    ALDE? ALDC? Shurely shome mishtake? 😉

  • Merlene Emerson 31st May '23 - 10:14am

    Thanks Martin for your helpful question and John for your positive comment. Whilst we the LD delegation always felt very supported and know many ALDE members who were sorry to see us leave the EU, they are now very pre-occupied by the EU elections in 2024 to which we have limited input. Also the internal regulation changes mean that there is clearly a 2 tier membership of ALDE (EU and non-EU members), the former not being allowed to hold more than a third of the voting rights.

    However we are working with other liberal parties eg in Iceland, Switzerland and Norway to see a way back into the fold. Having Sal Brinton representing non-EU members on the Bureau of 9 members also gives us some influence within the ALDE hierarchy.

    At LDHQ I gather we are trying to link leaving the single market and customs union as part cause of the cost of living crisis though we avoid using the B word. Perhaps Peter, Richard and Theakes can speak more on this?

  • Merlene Emerson 31st May '23 - 10:17am

    Correction in 1st para – the “latter” not “former” not being allowed to hold more a third of the votes.

  • richard malim 31st May '23 - 11:01am

    It is right that core-LD voters / activists should lay out LD policies on international relations, but I was trying to say that these are are not the matters that attract swing voters (who might for all the wrong reasons prefer the Tories on Defence and Foreign Affairs).What I wanted was an analysis is why LD did not make a greater impression on the Blue Wall. Why did the anti-Tory or ex-Tory vote go to Labour rather than LD? How can LD appear more relevant when the GE comes round? The question cannot be ducked. Peter Davies says “we were not treating the local elections as an opinion poll”: then they were a vote on the parties on the ground in each constituency, and very discouraging

  • @ Richard Malin, “What I wanted was an analysis is why LD did not make a greater impression on the Blue Wall”.

    Even more to the point, Richard, is what is happening – or not happening – outside the “Blue Wall”.

  • Linda Chung 31st May '23 - 1:05pm

    V good and interesting article Merlene. I understand Richard Malim’s view that it won’t draw votes in some sectors but I think it’s important we also learn about the international perspective and why it matters. I suspect many blue wall and red wall traditionalists were anti-Europe because communication from those representatives were so poor, and no one understood the point of them or what they did, apart from costing us a lot of money.

  • @ Merlene Emerson “At LDHQ I gather we are trying to link leaving the single market and customs union as part cause of the cost of living crisis though we avoid using the B word”.

    A radical party needs to spell out it’s policies and priorities. In life, timidity butters no parsnips…. in politics it wins few friends or votes, that is, of course, if it really is a radical party.

  • richard malim 31st May '23 - 4:00pm

    David Raw : Exactly: I want to be told, with the past and current polls explained and shown encouragement.

  • Alex Macfie 1st Jun '23 - 7:20am

    Trying to get back on topic: is ANO still a sister party? Or is it going the way of FIDESZ (Orban’s party, which was once upon a time in ELDR)?

  • Merlene Emerson 1st Jun '23 - 8:52am

    Good question Alex. Perhaps not for much longer. See Bureau Statement following the urgency debate I wrote about: https://www.aldeparty.eu/alde_party_bureau_statement_on_the_participation_of_mr_babi_at_cpac_event

  • Phillip Bennion 1st Jun '23 - 10:45am

    Merlene is quite right that the Indo-Pacific policies went further than we expected and hoped. Much of the China policy was drafted by ourselves, and was by no means dovish, but it was set upon by numerous hawkish amendments, many of which passed by a narrow margin. In this instance, the original was not improved by the amendments.

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