Monday, 3 February 2014

My big, open offer to the Conservatives…

I want to make a big, open offer to all those liberal Conservatives who watch with dismay as their party moves ever-more to the right in an attempt to beat UKIP at their own game with quasi-racist anti-immigrant rhetoric. An offer to all those Conservatives who despair at proposals from David Cameron which put at risk Britain's membership of the European Union and the 3 million-plus jobs which come with it. And those Tory MPs who have supported gay marriage and Lib Dem policies which properly tackle climate change who fear being de-selected by their out-of-touch local party associations...

Come join the party which has anchored this Coalition Government into the centre-ground.

Come join the party which welcomes economically productive immigration and free movement of labour within the European Union.

Come join the party which takes the risk which climate change presents to our way of life seriously and is willing to take action to fight it.

Come join the party which proposed and delivered the votes for equal marriage.

Come join the one and only party which truly wants Britain to do its patriotic duty and LEAD from within the European Union on all these issues and so much more.

Come join my fellow Liberal Democrats and I as we build a stronger economy in a fairer society so that everyone can get on in life.

Bird - Stronger Economy. Fairer Society. (white background)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

And the winner is…

ALDE Party's Presidential candidates

Further to my earlier post on the selection of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) candidate for President of the European Commission,  ALDE has just announced that our candidate will be…

GUY VERHOFSTADT

However, in accordance with an arrangement agreed between the two candidates and rubber stamped by the electoral college today. his fellow nominee Olli Rehn, whilst not officially being ALDE’s candidate for President, will be a joint co-leader of the European Liberal Democrats’ campaign on an equal footing to Guy.

I am extremely pleased that two individuals with such immense experience and talents will work together to lead the fight against narrow-minded populist forces across the whole of Europe, advancing the cause of an open, more prosperous, and truly liberal European Union.

The two candidates jointly issued the following statement:

Liberals are strong when they stand united. In these European elections we have the chance to make Europe stronger. Together with our 39 member parties in the EU member states we will both fiercely campaign for reforming Europe where necessary and taking actions to create jobs and prosperity.”

Nevertheless, as the man who would actually take up the Commission Presidency if Liberal Democrats had our way, Guy Verhofstadt is of particular interest. For anyone interested in hearing more about his vision for Europe, hear his the impassioned speech he gave to the ALDE Party Congress in November in which he also explained a little more about his federalist vision (which I was defending earlier):

Guy Verhofstadt addresses ALDE Party Congress in London’s Canary Wharf

Who will be our Presidential candidate? We wait with baited breath…

Today a special electoral college will decide who will be the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) candidate for President of the European Commission.European Commission

Following the Lisbon Treaty, the 2014 European Election (wherein the European Parliament will be directly elected by the voting populations of all 28 Member States of the European Union and in which I’m a candidate myself) will take on a special significance. This is because the Treaty requires the European Council (made up of all 28 Heads of State or Government) to consider the results of that Parliamentary vote in nominating the new President of the European Commission. The nomination of the President and all the Commissioners must be authorised by the European Parliament anyway, but this new requirement makes way for some properly (if indirect) democratic considerations to play their part in who gets to lead what is ultimately the Executive branch of the EU-level of government.

As a result, all of the parties have either already selected or are currently in the process of selecting their Presidential candidates*. The two candidates on offer for the ALDE Party are:

  • Current Vice-President of the European Commission and Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn
  • Current President of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament and Former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt

Both men have excellent credentials for the post and have been in senior leadership positions within the EU for some time. However, there is some controversy gathering here in the UK as Nick Clegg and numerous other senior Liberal Democrat figures have backed Olli Rehn, apparently because of Guy Verhofstadt’s ardently federalist principles. It is feared by some Liberal Democrats that, given the Presidential candidate’s role in being a figurehead for the campaign across the Union, including right here in the UK, having a loud and proud federalist (and author of a book entitled the United States of Europe) will be off-putting for would-be British Liberal Democrat voters.

Whilst I have some sympathy with this concern, I don’t want to see UK Liberal Democrats running scared of the terms ‘federalist’ and ‘federalism’. For liberals who believe in localism and subsidiarity, a federation is the ideal political union. The nature of a federation is that there is divided sovereignty and, as a result, there are certain lines than can never be crossed because the Member States/Territories have inalienable rights to legislate in these matters. The problem with the European Union has always been that the Treaties have allowed, and the Member State Governments have been complicit in, the European-level of Government encroaching into areas which should properly belong to Member States alone (usually when politicians have to take difficult decisions and prefer to be able to blame someone else, i.e. ‘the Brussels machine’, for those decisions despite the fact that, as Ken Clarke pointed out this week, the very same politicians have been actively supporting those measures and they would not have happened without them!) I therefore want my fellow Liberal Democrats, and especially our Presidential candidate for the Commission, to argue for the benefits of a properly defined remit for EU government which does not encroach into what must properly belong to Member States.

Anyway, we will in a matter of hours know who will be leading myself and fellow Liberal Democrat candidates across the whole EU in our battle to campaign for a more prosperous, more secure, and more sustainable Union which enables a stronger economy in a fairer society so that everyone can get on in life. I am confident that either candidate could do this job well and, given the fact that London’s MEP Sarah Ludford has endorsed Guy Verhofstadt, am quite sure that he does not represent a significant barrier to our chances of success in May’s election.

 

*A brief note of caution on the use of the term ‘Presidential candidate’ – the European Union is not a country and, as such, quite rightly has no Head of State. Each of the EU governing institutions has it’s own President, with the High Representative representing the EU as a whole in foreign policy matters (on a level akin to a country’s Foreign Secretary) alongside the Council and Commission Presidents. Later this year not only will the Presidency and overall makeup of the Commission be decided, but a new President of the European Council will be chosen to chair the meetings of Heads of State/Government of the Member States (currently its former Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy)  and, following May’s direct election, the European Parliament will a elect a new President for itself (currently Martin Schulz MEP) . All this is in addition to the rotating Presidency of the Council of Ministers (where day to day legislative and policy decisions are made by representatives from each Member State Government depending on the legislative area, eg. agriculture, economy, trade etc.) which is held by a particular Member State (currently Greece) for a six-month period. However, that all having said, because of the role of the Commission as the proposers of new policies and legislative proposals for the Union (and also enforcer of existing legislation) and the role and power of its President in setting that agenda, the post of President of the Commission is not only the most strategically important one in the whole EU institutional framework but probably the most powerful job too.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Amidst all the media furore over Lord Rennard, here’s a little note about due process…

As a longstanding member of the sovereign governing body of the Liberal Democrats in England (the English Council, as it is internally known) I am deeply concerned that an area with which we have responsibility, i.e. the rules governing the burden of proof required for complaints to be upheld, has caused such a problem for the party - both in terms of our standing with the electorate and in relation to individuals who feel, with good reason, let down by the party's processes for dealing with complaints.

I therefore welcome the commitment made last week by the President of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron MP, to review these rules. Moreover, I personally shall be doing all I can within internal structures to help move the burden of proof for disciplinary action to what seems to be an eminently more sensible balance of probabilities approach.

Nonetheless, the media have somehow turned this into a test of Nick Clegg's leadership. It is not. Whatever the rules regarding complaints say, the Liberal Democrats never have been and never will be a party where the Leader (whomever it is) can rule by diktat and overrule or ignore the results of a properly constituted, balanced, and fair inquiry led by an independent QC. And I further want to take the opportunity to point out what that Independent QC himself said about this yesterday:

'Whilst there may well be scope for a legitimate debate about the standard of proof required in these cases, neither Nick Clegg or anyone else can be expected to ignore the rules and avoid due process. That is the very antithesis of all that Liberal Democrats stand for.'

-Alistair Webster QC

Friday, 6 December 2013

A brief note on the passing of Nelson Mandela…

Last night the world drew a collective breath upon hearing the sad news of Nelson Mandela’s passing.

Many people of far greater importance than I will say things far more eloquent. None of these will come close to the power and significance of any words uttered by the man himself.

Both South Africa and the world has lost a great leader and a champion of peace. It is a sad day, but let our memory of his actions, magnanimous and kind to the highest degree, challenge us all to be our better selves in all our dealings with others.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

European candidacy–one year on

Exactly one year ago I was selected to fight the European Election in London as a Liberal Democrat candidate. One year on, here are a few thoughts on my candidacy and the wider election…

The first thing to note is that I consider successfully being selected to fight the election in the first place – with all the trials and turmoil which come with a selection contest of this kind (including an all-member selection ballot across the whole of London) - to be one of the greatest achievements in my life thus far. This is partly because when I made the decision to stand for the European Parliament I had only just graduated from University, and consequently did not yet have a stable home or job to go to. I nonetheless felt compelled to seek to represent the interests of those people struggling to build a career from scratch and make life work as a relatively young person in today’s economic climate, with a view to securing a better future for us all. I remain extremely thankful that I was then given that chance, considering it not only an achievement but an immense honour to represent my party to the voters of London.

That all having been said, being a European candidate is a very strange phenomenon. Unlike being a Council candidate or a Westminster Parliamentary candidate, your potential constituency is enormous. In fact on May 22nd next year, I and my fellow Liberal Democrat candidates will be asking approximately 5.5 million people to vote for us! This is because the whole region of Greater London (the same area governed by the Greater London Authority with the directly elected Mayor of London at its head) is represented by just 8 MEPs in the European Parliament.

However, it is not only the size of the constituency which makes being a candidate in this election so unusual but the manner in which those 8 MEPs for Greater London are actually elected. Unlike for the GLA’s London Assembly, where you have a regional list and a local representative which you elect (and therefore some Assembly candidates are constituency candidates while others are on a shared, London-wide top-up list) mirroring the systems for the devolved legislative bodies in Scotland and Wales; for the European Election there is just one list of candidates for the whole of London.

This means that as a voter you don’t vote for an individual candidate on polling day but for the party (i.e. putting an ‘X’ in the box next to ‘London Liberal Democrats’, with candidates names merely listed underneath the party name). That makes the individual candidate ‘brands’, as it were, much less important while making the party brand all the more so.

Both the size of the constituency and the relative unimportance of individual candidates (besides the sitting MEP) as compared with the standing of the party as a whole has quite an impact on what kind of activity myself and European candidate team have been, should be, and will be undertaking. In particular, we have very much been focusing on making sure that in all the various local communities across London, people know who the Liberal Democrats are and what we stand for. Most often this has involved direct, door to door canvassing alongside our talented local election candidates for Councils up and down the capital. Otherwise it has involved ensuring local leaflets and other literature mention the key issues in the European Election and what Lib Dem MEPs have been hard at work doing for local people, whether it be enhancing Britain’s job prospects, promoting the safety of Londoners, or protecting our shared environment.

In short, in addition to the usual speech giving and article writing etc. which come with candidacy for public office; the collective efforts of the London Liberal Democrat European candidates have thus far very much been focused on the ‘ground war’, as it were – living the principles of Community Politics rightly associated with our party.

So, one year on how do I feel about my and the Liberal Democrats’ prospects for next year’s election? Well, I have already mentioned that individual candidates are perhaps slightly less important in European Elections because of the list system used and I personally would consider it an achievement greater than being selected to fight the election if, as a result of the hard work myself and the rest of team are putting in, alongside the tireless efforts of local election candidates across the region, we returned Sarah Ludford MEP to Brussels next year. Sarah is a stalwart defender of both London and Britain’s interests, as well as human rights throughout Europe and beyond. Without her there in the chamber of the European Parliament, London’s voice on the continent will be diminished significantly and so it is my top priority as a candidate in this election to make sure that she is re-elected.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The European Election–fighting an integrated campaign on the issues people care about

Last week I wrote two articles for Liberal Democrat Voice. Taken together the articles were very much intended as a resource for activists and local election candidates to aid them in fighting the European Election which is to be held on the same day as local elections across the United Kingdom. This is especially important in London where we have all-out Council elections in every Borough and where, consequently, there is a risk that the European dimension is not properly engaged with when communicating with voters.

The first article focused on the issues which are important to both elections and where action is being taken by Liberal Democrats at every level of Government, including in Brussels. The three key issues are jobs, crime, and the environment. Here are a few excerpts:

As a candidate in the European Election, I am very keen that we do not end up wasting time talking about Brussels obscurities. Instead, those of us selected to stand for the European Parliament are trying to talk to voters about what they care about, just like local candidates up and down the country…

  • did you know that over 3 million jobs in the UK depend on Britain’s membership of the European Single Market? In Government Liberal Democrats have delivered a million jobs, and now we want to deliver a million more…
  • did you know that the European Arrest Warrant returned one of the failed 21/7 bombers just weeks after he fled to Italy? Without this and other vital crime fighting tools which our membership of the EU provides us with, international borders would be a huge barrier to our Police whilst providing little obstacle to the terrorists, gangsters, and paedophiles they are trying to catch…
  • There is a small window of opportunity for the global action on climate change we need if we are to avert complete disaster. Only as a member of a powerful European Union which will lead on the issue can the UK play a full part in ensuring we leave to our children an environment fit for them to live in.”

You can read the full article on Liberal Democrat Voice here:  http://www.libdemvoice.org/the-european-election-campaigning-on-the-issues-36844.html

The second article noted how crucial the European Election is and focused on the consequent need for the party to integrate campaigning for the European Election into its wider campaigning activities, seeking to give activists some resources to help them do this. Here’s an excerpt:

The Liberal Democrats’ success in the European Election is thus hugely important in making sure the EU lives up to its potential in contributing to that combination of increased economic strength and greater social fairness that we are uniquely in a position to deliver. The election is also significant from a political perspective, with the party’s eventual performance being used as a yardstick for our relative success or decline by pundits and opponents alike.

It is thus very important that we run a truly integrated campaign – one that runs in tandem with our local campaigns and seeks not to talk about work in Brussels in the abstract, but about issues – and ones that people care about. I am therefore very keen to help give local activists the resources to fight the European Election in a way fully integrated with our local Council campaigning.

One very simple thing I can do is point the way to some useful tools to help Councillors, candidates, and activists do this.”

There then followed a list of electronic resources available to activists to aid them in dealing with the European aspect of the 2014 campaign.

To view the list of resources see the full article on Liberal Democrat Voice here:  http://www.libdemvoice.org/the-european-election-fighting-an-integrated-campaign-36853.html

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Something that really gets my goat!

I don’t usually email people I know in a so-called ‘personal capacity’ about political issues… I tend to save political discussion with friends, family, co-workers etc. for conversation over coffee, in the pub, or in Facebook chat where expletives tend be used on both sides!

But, on one particular issue, I really felt compelled to contact everyone I know because it touches on something which, like equal marriage, I have been campaigning for my entire political life (which, FYI, began when I was 14!)

As Nick Clegg talks about in his email to party members this week, the Tories are trying to take credit for a tax cut which they repeatedly opposed and David Cameron himself said was undeliverable! This tax cut – removing all income tax from the first £10,000 you earn, thus taking those earning £10,000 or less out of tax altogether – is something I argued for within my party before it was official Liberal Democrat policy, then saw adopted by the party, and then campaigned for with them in both the 2005 and 2010 General Elections.

We are now delivering this tax cut. It benefits me, it benefits you (to the tune of £700 per year from next April!), and it will especially benefit anyone working on low wages (which is precisely why I have argued for it for so long).

The Conservatives are now talking about this move as if it was their idea, and enticing people to vote for them at the next election by floating the idea of what is already a Liberal Democrat policy – that of raising the income tax threshold to approximately £12,500, i.e. what you will earn when working full-time on minimum wage.

I want everyone to know that this is a Liberal Democrat policy, argued for by activists like myself and delivered by Lib Dem MPs and Ministers in the Coalition. Why? Because people need to realise that the only way to guarantee the next stage in the plan is for Liberal Democrats to once again be in Government.

The Tories cannot be trusted to deliver the extension that we all wish to see when Liberal Democrats had to twist their arm in the first place to deliver what has been done so far. Moreover, as the Deputy Prime Minister points out in his email, a condition of extending this tax cut to more hard-working people back in 2012 was to also give a tax cut to millionaires – hardly a priority during a time of recession and deficit reduction.

And so I emailed everyone I know to ask them to spread the word that the Liberal Democrats are the only party for truly fairer tax. I would now like to ask you to do the same.

Can you forward this article to 10 friends? Or, perhaps an even better idea, could you share this link on Facebook or Twitter?

Obviously the nature of Coalition is such that it is inevitable that there might be some blurring of the lines in terms of the parties taking credit for each others’ policies. But it’s just two policies which really get my goat when Tories start claiming credit for them – this tax cut for low and middle earners, and equal marriage – both proposed, argued for, and delivered by Liberal Democrats. I hope you can help me spread the word.

 

Follow my campaign for London in next year’s European Election by clicking ‘Like’ on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/mjmclaren or by following me on twitter @mattjmclaren

Thursday, 10 October 2013

If you could ask the Business Secretary one (and only one!) question, what would it be?

This evening, at the Annual Dinner of Haringey Liberal Democrats I and other guests have the chance to put questions to the esteemed Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills – Dr Vince Cable MP.

Throughout his time in Government Vince has been one of the most outspoken ministers (sometimes controversially so) and has a formidable record of achievement for his time at the helm of the Business Department. His ministry has led the rebalancing of the British economy away from the South East and financial services sector in the way detailed in the Liberal Democrat manifesto of 2010 with Regional Growth Funds, Local Enterprise Parterships, and more recently, delivering on the Liberal Democrat aim of unlocking the potential of the Royal Mail and introducing employee ownership.

Vince has also been central to the Government’s action on jobs, and tackling youth unemployment in particular. Leadership by Vince and other Liberal Democrat ministers in Government have seen 1.2 million apprenticeships created since the 2010 election. Consequently there are now more apprentices than ever before and 86% more than under Labour.

Vince was of course also at the centre of the controversial issue of tuition fees. Difficult though this issue was, I still think it important to note that the eventual Higher Education settlement Vince steered through Parliament effectively delivered what the National Union of Students had been calling for – a system more progressive than the last Labour Government had brought in, with lower monthly repayments, total repayments contingent on income, vital lifelines to struggling poorer students whilst at University, and for the first time providing loans for part-time students.

So, my question to you is a simple one. If you could ask a question of the Business Secretary, any question -  but only one question – what would it be? Answers on a postcard please, or perhaps (slightly more practically) in comments below or to matt@mattjmclaren.eu

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A nuclear weapons policy to be proud of…

I am extraordinarily pleased that Liberal Democrat Conference just voted to reject the proposed amendment to the leadership's Defence motion today.

One of the most important functions of any Government (and therefore any party seeking to form or be part of a Government) is to protect the nation from enemies both foreign and domestic. The suggestion (as the amendment proposed) that Britain should almost immediately decommission all nuclear weapons capability when we face a cross-roads with respect to international nuclear proliferation was therefore, in my view at least, both reckless and naive.

Whilst I understand the spirit with which the amendment was intended, the substantive motion already provided for a substantial reduction in Britain's nuclear posture without threatening our long-term ability to deal with any rising and as yet perhaps unforeseeable threats.

Following Conference's considered debate, with excellent speeches on all sides and a counted vote (something that it’s worth remembering would never happen on such a major national issue at either the Tory or Labour Conference!); the Liberal Democrats' policy going into 2015 will now be to remove all potentially aggressive at-sea nuclear patrols whilst retaining the capability to re-deploy precision warheads at relatively short notice should a deteriorating security picture warrant this move. This would represent the most dramatic act of de-escalation by any established nuclear power at the same time as guaranteeing the UK's ability to respond to emerging threats in the future.

In one courageous move, then, this policy will allow the UK to meet its obligations under both the spirit and letter of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty whilst also giving us greater leverage to encourage other nuclear powers to make similar moves (that is, by having further moves down the nuclear ladder which we can make should they match our de-escalation).

This is a nuclear weapons policy I will be both proud and confident to advocate on behalf of the Liberal Democrats in forthcoming elections.