Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Liberal International - impressions from the 55th Congress

My chief impression of Liberal International as I came away from its 55th Congress is of health and growth. The delegates comprised not only LI stalwarts from Europe and Canada, but also newer participants from Asia, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East, including Israel - over 50 countries were represented, and they included French-speaking nations as well as British. We heard a speech in French from a liberal President of an African country: Senegal. We heard a speech in Chinese from a liberal President of Taiwan. There were thoughtful workshops on issues going beyond the core LI subject matter of civil liberties and market liberalisation, which indicates that liberal parties worldwide are widening the scope of their interests. The contribution of the UK delegation and European parties, particularly on policy, drafting and procedural matters, continues to be important but it was clear that parties from the developing world are participating actively by submitting resolutions, organising workshops and valuably networking with one another.

Those who had been involved in the organisation’s beginnings commented that its recent growth and spread were extremely encouraging and the result of tireless work by, in particular, the current President, Lord Alderdice. He passionately believes in the possibility of a better world through rejecting violence and instead respecting and finding common ground to work with those with whom one disagrees, and he has proved it can work. He has been re-elected to a well-deserved further presidential term.

The Congress's theme was "Our Shared Future". LI members can be confident that their own shared future will be of growth and success.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Tsvangarai and environmentalists address LI Congress

I am attending the Liberal International Congress in Belfast. This morning Morgan Tsvangarai, courageous leader of the Zimbabwean MDC and Presidential challenger to the disastrous rule of Robert Mugabe, was enthusiastically welcomed when he spoke at the opening session of the Congress. We were told that Mr Tsvangarai was persuaded to attend by President Aboulaye Wade of Senegal: this clear public support from a leader of another African state is perhaps an early sign that African nations are getting over the paralysis that has affected them for so long over Mugabe and the Zimbabwean crisis.
After the opening session I attended a workshop session with an African Environment Panel, of whom I was particularly impressed by Mr Wavel Ramkalawan, leader of the Seychelles National Party. He spoke of the terrible implications of global warming for his country, consisting as it does of low-lying islands that are directly threatened by rising sea levels. He also spoke of the de-oxygenating effect of ocean warming, which is posing a massive threat to marine ecology including fish stocks and coral reefs. It was clear from what he said (in response to a comment from my UK Lib Dem colleague Chris le Breton) that increasingly, he and others in Africa are coming to the view that aspiration to planet-wrecking Western-style lifestyles is simply not a feasible option: instead, our species has to act as the guardians of the well-being of nature itself, if we wish to have a future. But effective governance is necessary first, and in addition, the scale of the rethink that is now required of policymakers is breathtaking.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Mayor of London result

Well, the people of London felt - rightly, in my opinion - that Ken and his cronies had to go. I am disappointed but not surprised that Boris was the winner. Fingers crossed that he does a decent job (and doesn't keep cluttering up Trafalgar Square with bread-and-circuses events at vast expense). The man can't be all bad: at least he rides a bicycle without a chauffeur-driven limo following...

Friday, 2 May 2008

Colchester council election upset

Lib Dems last night gained from the Tories four of the 20 council seats being contested in Colchester, ending Tory control. In Shrub End, Nigel Offen snatched victory by just 11 votes after two nail-biting recounts. In Mile End ward no recount was necessary - Martin Goss's margin of victory was astounding, as he received 1500 votes, nearly twice as many as the Tory, from which we can deduce they didn't like his performance as regeneration supremo. The Tory planning portfolio holder was defeated in Stanway ward. The fourth gain was Wivenhoe Cross. In Berechurch only 53 votes separated Lib Dem John Stevens from the Labour winner, while the Tory was well beaten into third place. In Highwoods the BNP candidate was trounced into a poor fourth place behind the Independent, Tory and Lib Dem; Labour was fifth. In Castle, Lib Dem Henry Spyvee easily saw off the renewed challenge from the Greens and is now on course to be Mayor soon. What fantastic teamwork! I am delighted for my colleagues and good friends here.