Tag Archives: 2017 autumn conference

Discussing the European Refugee ‘Crisis’ and the UK’s Responsibilities.

We had a very well attended fringe meeting in Bournemouth on this important issue – helped and sustained by the great Dorset  High Tea, kindly provided by Liberal Democrat Voice.

There are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, 22 million of whom are refugees who have left their country of origin. Over half of refugees are children. Nearly 90% of refugees currently reside in states bordering conflict zones in the global south. A relatively minimal amount have sought and been granted safety in western European states. This insightful and fascinating fringe event explored and analysed the European response to refugee flows and the UK’s involvement in that response and their policies towards refugees.

Professor Brad Blitz, Professor of International Politics at Middlesex university, opened the discussion with the serious concern that there is very little critical evaluation or accountability of the EU and UK policies towards refugees. Aid and humanitarian polices are not currently based on enough evidence of effectiveness, and decision-making is poorly informed. Numerous reports have condemned French and in particular UK policies as failing to protect refugee children, failing to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants, and the failure of EU’s policy of containment.

Professor Blitz emphasised a note of caution in using the term European refugee ‘crisis’ as it fails to acknowledge that crossings of the Mediterranean and informal settlements have been occurring for over a decade, and the term can invite a reactionary ill-informed response rather than a well-considered and sustainable legal and political framework through which to aid and settle refugees.

A reactionary response aptly describes the majority of EU states’ policies towards the influx of refugees and migrants from 2015-2016 (Germany being a notable exception). European states responded with border enforcement, increased passport control between Schengen area countries, and the construction of fences (notable examples being the 180km fences on the Hungarian border as well as like blockades at Idomeni and Calais). These measures reflect an ‘inhospitality towards migrants’, leave thousands of refugees and migrants stranded on borders. They also have a knock on effect on Lebanon and Jordan who have similarly reinforced border controls in relation to Syrians. 

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Apologies for the “fringe of Conference”

The Social Democrat Group event last Monday was described as the “fringe of the conference” and “by far best #ldconf Brexit discussion yet“. However, hundreds may have been disappointed, and for that we apologise.
Entitled “Can Britain’s relationship with Europe be saved?”, and jointly organised with Policy Network, it was a fantastic discussion, with far too much substance to cover properly in a single LibDemVoice article. To listen to or watch a recording of the event, go to http://www.ldsdgroup.co.uk/events/can-britains-relationship-with-europe-be-saved/.
The event opened with Roger Liddle, Labour peer and co-chair of Policy Network, which jointly organised the event. He thought the Tories would stick together and do some kind of Brexit deal. He said there would be a transition deal before a final deal, and he correctly predicted that May’s speech this week in Florence would say so. He warned this would make campaigning to remain in the EU more difficult. It would mean a transitional deal where little changed for two years, so that the British public would only discover how catastrophic Brexit was two years after we had already left. Roger suggested that we would therefore leave, and the battle would then be to rejoin. However, he said this is a battle we can win.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, emphasised that we are democrats, we are not afraid of the will of the people, and so we should propose a referendum on exit terms. To convince the public how dangerous Brexit is, we need to find language to bring a divided country together. We must keep raising this issue, including “the dreaded conversation over the Christmas turkey”. We also need to persuade the EU too to change its language. Some comments from Jean-Claude Juncker have been unhelpfully divisive.
The chair of the meeting, Sarah Ludford, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on Brexit in the Lords and is a former MEP, agreed, saying that some in the EU “just saw us as a pain in the backside” without appreciating the significant positive contribution the UK has brought to the EU.
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Lib Dem Conference highlights – Neil Fawcett’s air guitar

One of the highlights of my life, let alone Conference, was Neil Fawcett accompanying Kelly-Marie Blundell’s rock set at the Disco on inflatable air guitars from Primark. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a human being look quite so happy and fulfilled. He’s in the bottom right of this video by The Mirror’s Mikey Smith:

I should add that Neil was not alone. Louise Harris and our Joe Otten also had …

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Lib Dem Conference highlights – Caron on the Fringe

So, another group of Lib Dem Conference highlights with a shamelessly self-indulgent look back at the fringe meetings I spoke at.

The Child Poverty Action Group fringe

On Monday I spoke at a fringe meeting run by the excellent Child Poverty Action Group. The work of groups like CPAG is so important in highlighting the impact of poverty and it’s great that they speak up, even when what they have to say is uncomfortable for us as Liberal Democrats to hear.

The theme of the meeting was around achieving social justice. What would that look like?

The botched implementation of Universal Credit was a major aspect. Along with the appalling family cap, it was cutting the incomes of the poorest families by £3000-£5000.

We had passed policy that very morning that tackled several of the concerns that CPAG had – like restoring a second work allowance and restoring the cuts announced by George Osborne the minute we left the Coalition.

Starring in a video with Malala and Jo Swinson

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Lib Dem Conference highlights – the Universal Credit Debate

On of my highlights of Conference was the debate on the emergency motion on delaying the rollout of Universal Credit because it is turning into a disaster for the people who are forced to claim it. People have to wait 6 weeks or longer for money. Imagine what that is like if you have no savings to get you through – a situation many people on low incomes will face.

The idea of Universal Credit is a very good one. It aimed to end the poverty trap which stopped people on benefits from getting work because it cost them to do so.

I made a speech from a Scottish perspective, outlining the principles of accessibility, fairness and confidence that were in our manifesto on social security and observing that Universal Credit meets none of them in its current form.

Other speakers gave some pretty harrowing examples of how people could lose their homes and have to rely on food banks to get by.

I am really hopeful, though, that we really are going to take this stuff to the Tories and try and get things changed.

The reason for my optimism is our new Department of Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd. Remember all that energy he put in to regaining his Eastbourne seat? He seriously never stopped campaigning after 2015. Well, that energy and determination is going in to opposing the Tory Government and building alliances across the Parliament to force the Government to think again. Here, in full, is the speech that he made in the debate:

The Tories’ reputation for competence is an oxymoron of epic proportions. This is a party who have politicised our police force with their ridiculous introduction of police and crime commissioners, prevented councils from building new council homes from the receipts of Margaret Thatcher’s huge council house sell-off programme decades ago, which is a direct cause of today’s appalling housing shortage – and then today the complete shambles of what they’ve done with Universal Credit. Competence is not a word which springs to mind!

The original concept of UC was ‘to make work pay’ and when we supported it in coalition it would have done. Since then though, over £3bn has been taken out of the programme. The work allowance, for instance, an amount people on benefits can earn before those benefits start being reduced, has been slashed to the bone. In some cases – to zero!  And the taper rate, which determines how much people get to keep of their benefits for every extra pound earned, has also been cut to ribbons!!

This has rendered the entire principle behind universal credit – to make work pay, something I and the Liberal Democrats passionately believe in – utterly worthless.

Universal credit is no longer a progressive, reliable policy; it is a complete train wreck. And the Conservatives are responsible!!

It gets worse. Housing payments made directly to the tenants; something I fiercely opposed at the time when I was on the Work and Pensions Select Committee – telling the ministers that it would lead to a shocking rise in rent defaults. And I remember so clearly the then Secretary of State chiding me for ‘not trusting that tenants would pass the money on to their landlords’….

The result?, and this is even before the full national UC rollout-out, have been every bit as bad as I feared; if not worse!

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WATCH: Nick Clegg in conversation at Conference Fringe

Happily, it doesn’t matter that I had to be in 3 other places at the time when Nick Clegg’s only fringe meeting appearance in Bournemouth, because those nice people at Prospect magazine have only gone and put it on You Tube.

Enjoy.

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A response to the Conference debate on the Balfour Declaration

Shalom alechum, alsalam ealaykum, peace be with you.

Peace, Peace in the land between the river & sea is what we should be working for.

And, to put it mildly, the motion we passed at Conference on Sunday does not do that. Indeed, by passing it, it means we probably won’t get another chance to debate the Palestine/Israel conflict again for some time.

I tried to get the motion referred back to the FPC and to ask them to bring back a better, more comprehensive motion next year as the one we passed today is the lowest common denominator that is acceptable (begrudgingly) to two interest groups in the Party, Lib Dem Friends of Palestine and Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

It does nothing to say what we, as a small political party far away from the area, can do to advance the cause of peace between Palestine & Israel and, believe me, there is much we can do.

We could be learning more from groups like “Solutions not Sides”, we could be inviting speakers from One Voice, YaLa Young Leaders, Ta’ayush and similar organisations, we could be listening to those who work every day to break down the barriers (both physical & mental) between the two nations.

The motion also contains factual errors, for example, line 35 refers to “pre-1967 borders” but no such borders existed as they were Armistice Lines that marked the end of conflict in 1949, they were never meant to be the final demarcation between Israel & its Arab neighbours.

What is worse, all amendments to correct errors and improve the motion have been rejected by FCC. No reason has been given for this rejection.

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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarAlan Brown 24th Nov - 12:56pm
    As this article shows there many diverse organisations working towards remain in the EU. It seems to me that what is lacking is a powerful...
  • User AvatarArnold Kiel 24th Nov - 12:18pm
    I have not followed the UK's budget history closely, but I see no news here. The only remarkable difference is that the OBR has finally...
  • User Avatarjames 24th Nov - 12:18pm
    why then did she complain about the same thing to Nadine Dorries?
  • User Avatartheakes 24th Nov - 12:13pm
    Nobody is saying do not make these weekly reports, it is the misleading headlines which would do justice in the Daily Mail. We could quite...
  • User AvatarPeter Martin 24th Nov - 12:06pm
    The state of the economy has been poor for the last decade. The vote for brexit is a reflection of this rather than the cause...
  • User AvatarRebecca Taylor 24th Nov - 11:54am
    @PJ - in a way a recognised qualification does a similar role to accreditation, i.e. it proves you've been trained with the skills X role(s)...