Welcome to my day: 12 February 2024

My apologies for today’s late start – a minor technical glitch locked me out of the site this morning but, now that that’s remedied…

A big election, far away…

The world changes, even if nobody seems to want to tell us, as Indonesia goes to the polls this week. Two hundred million eligible voters will determine who will be the President of one of the world’s fastest growing economies and an increasingly influential player in Asia-Pacific politics. And Indonesia isn’t just a country with a large population, it stretches across thousands of miles, the equivalent of from the west of Ireland to Turkmenistan.

I’m increasingly of the view that, as a country with declining influence in the world – Brexit and nine years of increasingly English nationalist government really haven’t helped there – we should be looking to build new relationships in order to establish a new relevance, yet our foreign policy is constructed on the basis that we’re still major players, welcome participants everywhere. That’s hard to reconcile with our diminished military capacity and an attitude towards emerging economies that is unhelpful at best.

Indonesia is a prime example of that, a key producer of important materials, in particular nickel, needed in manufacture in many of the new technologies our economy will rely upon going forward. Trade deals will require a quid pro quo, as the negotiations with India demonstrate, with calls for visa-free access or, at least, easier access to visas. Are we willing to make the case that, as part of building those new trading relationships, we’re going to need to make compromises about who comes here?

Michael Gove claimed that we’d had enough of experts…

Laura Trott’s savaging at the hands of Evan Davis this week suggested that, whilst the relationship between experts and the Conservative Party is fragile at best, key positions in our Government are held by people who either have little in the way of basic knowledge, or who don’t think that it matters. And, when confronted with a journalist who has rather more knowledge of a subject and who has done even a modicum of research, it tends to end badly.

It’s a marker of an administration that seems to know that its time is up, heading over the cliff like Wile E Coyote, legs whirring away even though there’s no visible support left. The only apparent question is, when gravity takes effect, how bad will be the crash, and what will happen next. Ah well, at least Rishi Sunak wouldn’t attempt a “family values” policy… Would he?

Trump throws Europe to the wolves

The idea that an American President would effectively invite the Russians to invade a European democracy would have been absurd a decade ago. Now, Donald Trump has done just that. Ironically, European defence spending has risen across the continent, in particular since 2014, but there’ll be nervousness across the Baltic States, and in places like Moldova, given their obvious vulnerability to Russian interference.

As a Party, we’ve historically voted against a European army in debates amongst our liberal allies. But is it viable to continue with such a stance if the Americans become unreliable allies post-2024? And, if such an institution comes to pass, can we stand outside of it? Indeed, as already noted, given the parlous nature of our armed forces, we’re evidently going to have to find the funds to rebuild them from somewhere if we’re going to play the role expected of us.

Will an incoming Labour government repeat the Blair policy towards the House of Lords?

The Liberal Democrat benches in the Lords have been gradually depopulated since 2015, as our Peers age without renewal. That’s proved to be an increasing challenge in terms of covering the “waterfront” of holding the Government to account, and even if the Party has an ambivalent view of the Lords at best, we’d want to put some fresh blood in. But there hasn’t been an election for potential future nominees for some time, and you’d want the comfort of knowing that the people nominated by Ed Davey would be reliably liberal, so what’s going to happen, and who should be nominated, if Keir Starmer decides that a few extra Liberal Democrat Peers should be created?

* Mark Valladares is the Monday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice.

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  • Peter Martin 12th Feb '24 - 3:51pm

    I’m not quite sure what your point is about Nickel. There is a 0% W.T.O. tariff on all the Nickel products that I can find. So, we don’t need any additional trading agreement to import as much Nickel as we like from Indonesia or anywhere else which is a producer.

    Even in the unlikely event that Indonesia refuses to sell us any, it will be still be available at the world price from Australia, Canada and the Philippines.


  • Peter Martin 12th Feb '24 - 4:22pm

    “we’re evidently going to have to find the funds to rebuild them from somewhere if we’re going to play the role expected of us.”

    I don’t think the Americans, and it’s not just Trump, mean us when they say the European countries need to pull their weight in funding NATO. The Germans in particular have always wanted a highly discounted, if not a free, ride.

    Trump is putting it more bluntly than previous Presidents. It probably won’t mean anything in practice but it should be awake up call to those countries in Europe who haven’t been paying their fair share.

    Incidentally, as far as I know there are no serious proposals for a “a European army”. Don’t forget that most of Russia’s population, and all of Belarus’s, live in Europe and we aren’t likely to be including them! There may well be an EU army in the near future. As we aren’t in the EU any longer, this isn’t a question for us.

  • David Symonds 13th Feb '24 - 12:18pm

    How about the progressive parties working together in Rochdale to help elect a non-Tory? Rochdale was a Lib Dem seat for 25 years. I think that Lib Dems and Greens could work together, otherwise George Galloway will win.

  • @David Symonds: Someone’s not been following the news. The Lib Dem is the only progressive candidate still standing, after both Greens and Labour disowned their candidates (but after close of polls). The former Green candidate, Guy Otten (relation), while still on the ballot paper, says is not campaigning.

  • Nonconformistradical 13th Feb '24 - 2:18pm
  • Mark Valladares,

    When you refer to the Blair policy towards the House of Lords what do you mean? All I could find was his creation of many more Labour peers to reduce the opposition majority in the house. And that by 2005 Labour were the largest party in the House of Lords. However, I do remember some Liberal Democrat lords being created and the huge majority came from the list of people who were elected to a list of candidates for being made a member of the House of Lords. This ended with the election of Clegg as leader, if not before.

    It was the policy of the Coalition government to make Lords appointments with the objective of creating a second chamber that was reflective of the share of the vote secured by the political parties in the last general election.

  • By June 2012 we had 12% of the total, Labour 30% and the Tories 27% – 90, 231 and 213 (https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN03900/SN03900.pdf). If the others including bishops and crossbenchers are ignored this is 16.8%, 43.2% and 39.9%. The 2010 general election result was us 23%, Labour 29% and Conservatives 36.1%,

    According to the parliament website there are 80 Liberal Democrats, 173 Labour and
    272 Conservative members in the House of Lords (https://members.parliament.uk/parties/Lords). If the others including bishops and crossbenchers are ignored this is 14.9%, 32.3% and 50.8%.

    After the general election Labour will want to increase its number in the House of Lords. For our representation to increase we would need to have achieved a vote share of over 13.7% in the general election.

    I would be very happy if the people we nominated for the House of Lords were elected by the membership onto a list as in the past with the leader only being able to nominate one person a year. I can’t see the Federal Board bringing such a proposal to Conference or the Federal Conference Committee accepting such a business motion if proposed by members.

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