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Monday, 24 October 2016

Leaving the Liberal Democrats

I could make this a longer piece, but I'm not going to. My Liberal Democrat party membership lapsed last month, at the end of a period in which my party had bombarded me with increasingly manic emails from the Reader's Digest playbook, saying how much the Lib Dems have "loved having me in our family", or ghastly words to that effect. To paraphrase Boston Legal, "It's not a family; it's a political party".

They say that the family that plays together, stays together, but - in Lib Dem terms - I'm not playing any more. To be a member of a political party is to proclaim that party as one's positive favourite among them all, and that is not how I feel about the Liberal Democrats (or any other party) at present. Are they even the party with which I disagree the least? Maybe. But I'm not sure.

There are many fine people in the Liberal Democrats; to paraphrase Danny Kaye (the actor, not Jacqueline's brother), "Some of my best parents are Liberal Democrats". I am proud to have campaigned as a Liberal Democrat candidate and am also proud of the record of the Coalition Government, which - thanks to Nick Clegg - was the best British government of my lifetime. I am filled with respect for my Lib Dem friends and I do think that Tim Farron is doing his best in appallingly difficult circumstances.

I promised brevity, so I shall get to the point: the final straw. It came some weeks ago, since when other straws have accumulated, but I am now about to clutch at the straw that I originally had in mind. It was, not to beat about the bush, this: It beggars belief that a person accused of sharing an article about "Jewish power" should be defended on the following grounds:

"Having reviewed your complaint, our view is that an opinion can be controversial – and even offensive – but still fall short of being racist.
"We are a liberal party that places immense value on freedom of speech…That includes the freedom to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments and the causal effects of their policies… Any desire not to offend also needs to be balanced against the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments."
Yet it is in such grounds that one of the Lib Dems' innumerable committees has defended a party member (who sits in Parliament) who has been accused of sharing such an article. Talk of "Jewish power" has nothing at all to do with "the right to criticise in the strongest terms the actions of states and governments". Any committee that does not understand this lacks the intellectual rigour, nous and sensitivity to do its job properly. There is no point trying to use such committees to achieve anything constructive. They are dancing round the mulberry bush in ever-decreasing circles.

This committee demonstrates the sort of muddled thinking that sadly got the Liberal Democrats where they are today. They can, of course, do what they like - but they can do it without me. Although it now turns out that I have a month after my membership lapses in which I can renew it after all - surely rendering my (former) party a cross between the Hotel California and the Village in The Prisoner - I shall not be doing so.
I write here in a personal capacity.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

My vote tomorrow

Do you like living in this country? I do. It's where I'm from, and I like it. Not that I couldn't quite happily live in many other countries and like them too, but the UK is a technologically advanced liberal democracy with a dynamic economy, strong public services and incredible arts, culture and restaurants.

Unlike those people (on the Left and on the Right) who I used to meet when knocking on doors politically who thought that the country had gone to the dogs and who automatically assumed that I agreed with them, I actually like some aspects of the modern world. They make me happy. I like the choice of wines in my supermarket, the variety of series on my TV and the EHIC in my wallet.

I look at those and other things and see that they have been achieved by the UK as a member of the EU, which has a single market that was actually designed on British lines by the Tory Lord Cockfield, and signed into UK law by Margaret Thatcher in the Single European Act. I have yet to be exposed to a single argument that has persuaded me that our country would be better off outside the EU and outside the single market - and, by the way, we'll still be "in Europe" if we leave the EU. A referendum can't alter geography. It's not about "leaving Europe", it's about potentially leaving the EU (and we'd still be in the Council of Europe - and still subject to the European Court of Human Rights - even if we left the EU).

I don't want to leave the EU. Just as I don't want to leave NATO, the Commonwealth or the UN, either. We gain immeasurably from being in these transnational bodies. So, every Commonwealth citizen living in the UK gets to vote in our elections. That's crazy, but it's not enough to make me want to leave. So, NATO's commanders can order British troops around without consulting our government, which is why France stayed out of full NATO membership. That infringes our sovereignty, but I still want to be in NATO. The UN Human Rights Council is ruled by human rights abusers, but I don't seriously want us to leave the UN. The UK has an unelected house of Parliament, which is an affront to our democracy, but I don't want London to leave the UK.

Don't believe half of what you hear about the EU. It's not true that its books haven't been audited. It is true that it has a lower level of corruption than do many other institutions, including many British institutions. It is no more true that all 500 million EU citizens are going to move to Britain than it is true that all 60 million British citizens are going to move to London. Millions of EU citizens live in the UK. More than a million UK citizens live elsewhere in the EU. That's part of having a successful, open market economy. People from other EU countries who live in the UK pay more in taxes than they take in benefits, etc. I have not in any way been personally inconvenienced by immigration from elsewhere in the EU. I have not been personally affected by a single EU regulation that has caused me any problems. Can you name one that has actually affected you? So I see no reason for the UK to leave the EU. I shall vote Remain.

When the Leave campaign suggested Albania's free trade deal with the EU as a model for the UK, that country's leader wrote an article in The Times saying: "You must be joking. We're trying to get into the EU. Our arrangement is terrible compared to yours." The EU and its single market, bringing together so many countries to trade together without tariffs, is a wonder of the modern world. We have more clout as a major member of this economic superpower than we ever would alone. We are part of the group known informally as EU5 (us, France, Spain, Germany and Italy), the major countries that, in reality, set the pace on EU decision-making. It would be lunacy to throw this away for no good reason, causing short-term economic chaos and political disruption that would paralyse the system (and don't say I didn't warn you if you vote Leave and this happens).

Yes, we would presumably flourish in the long term either in the EU or out of it, but I want us to be a civilised European country that values something other than the bottom dollar, rather than the harsh, Devil-take-the-hindmost countries that some among the Brexiteers want us to be.

I don't care, by the way, that my taxes are used to fund EU-wide projects that benefit people outside the UK. That is a price worth paying to make the whole thing work for countries including ours, and given how economically successful we have been in the EU, I am happy for my taxes to be spent in this way.

I write here in a personal capacity.