Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Bombing Syria is a Mistake

Today, Parliament will likely vote to start British air strikes in Syria. This is a mistake. Britain should not get entangled in yet another Middle East war without a long term plan.

No-one knows how to actually defeat ISIS or end the Syrian Civil War. Do we have a timetable for a long term plan or for starting peace negotiations? No. Do we have an exit strategy? No. This war will take years, perhaps even decades to resolve.

Bombing alone will not defeat ISIS, we need strong ground forces. Is there anything that British bombs will achieve that American, Russian or French bombs can't achieve? No.

The Syrian Civil War is five-sided conflict between the Assad Government, the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Kurds, ISIS and smaller Islamist groups. Currently America, Russia, France, Australia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordon, Qatar and Bahrain are all involved in Syria. In short, Syria’s complex.

Are ISIS just in Syria and Iraq? No. ISIS are also in Libya and Nigeria, with affiliates in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Are we going to bomb all these countries? Probably not.

I’m not a pacifist, I want to stop ISIS. But bombing will not achieve this, primarily because western air strikes have been going on for months in Syria with very little results. Instead of bombing we should use our resources to arm and train the Kurds.

The Syrian Kurdish ideology “Democratic Confederalism” mixes libertarian local democracy with secularism and feminism. The Kurds are well-organised and they have been effective in combating ISIS in Northern Syria. Unfortunately, many groups like the Assad Government and several Islamist groups are almost as bad as ISIS. Also it’s unclear how many of the Free Syrian Army are still “moderates”.

I encourage all MPs to vote against British air strikes in Syria (especially Liberal Democrat MPs). Instead, we should arm, train and equip the Syrian Kurds. We also must start to negotiate a long term peace plan for Syria, post-ISIS. Britain must not bomb Syria, it would be a mistake on a par with Suez or Iraq in 2003. Wars are very easy to get into, they are much more difficult to get out of.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Why I oppose British air strikes in Syria

Westminster is gearing up for war in Syria. Following the horrific Paris Attacks, a couple of weeks ago, the war against the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) has intensified. IS are a fascist death cult using one of the world’s great religions to try and justify its crimes. The need to challenge IS is fundamental, however I am opposed to the United Kingdom joining air strikes in Syria.

It is clear that David Cameron wants Britain to join other Western Powers in bombing the so-called “Islamic State”. However, air strikes are an ineffective military strategy. Air strikes have been going on in Syria for several months with only a minimal impact. Air strikes might be able to destroy some IS ground targets, but ultimately IS will have to be defeated on the ground. A military force will have to march into IS’ territory and take it from them. Of course, there are already ground forces in Syria; the Kurds, the Syrian Government and the Free Syrian Army.

Air strikes in Syria won’t defeat IS, primarily because IS are not just in Syria and Iraq. IS also has a presence in Libya and Nigeria as well as having affiliates in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Are we going to start bombing in all these countries too? We must stop thinking in national terms. IS marry a medieval ideology with a modern globalist perspective. The impact of IS is felt across the Middle East, as well as many parts of Central Asia and North Africa.

Bombing in Syria will not make Britain safer, especially if there is no long term plan to reconstruct Syria, once the Civil War has ended. When Britain illegally invaded Iraq in 2003 and intervened in Libya in 2011, we did not have a long term plan. Following the conclusion of Western military interventions in Iraq and Libya, both countries descended into anarchy.

If Britain should not bomb in Syria, then how should we deal with the Syrian Civil War and the so-called Islamic State?

Britain should help those ground forces that are effective against IS; such as the Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq. The Kurds desperately need help from the international community. They need the equipment, the training and the arms necessary to roll back IS. The Kurds are secular, well-organised and have a relatively positive view of human rights and women’s rights. Instead of bombing IS in Syria, we should us our resources to ensure that the Kurds are properly equipped and properly trained to combat IS on the ground.

Britain and the international community must facilitate peace talks and negotiations in Syria. They must include the Syrian Government, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Kurds. The West and Russia must get Assad to stand down. In-order to end the Syrian Civil War, the international community might have to be prepared to see the partition of Syria between the Syrian Government, the Free Syrian Army and the Kurds. A similar crisis to that which emerged following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s is a real possibility. The UN therefore would have to deploy peacekeepers and establish new borders for the partitioned Syria. Furthermore the UN and the International Community would have to draw up a long term plan for Syria, once peace is achieved.

In-order to defeat IS, we will have to challenge its Salafist Islamic Fundamentalist ideology. However the antidote to Islamic Fundamentalism is not Western Liberalism. The antidote to Islamic Fundamentalism is Islamic Liberalism. The West cannot impose Liberalism. We must support liberal voices within Islam and the Islamic World through our foreign policy. For example, we should stop selling arms to oppressive regimes in the Islamic World, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also a central exporter of Salafist ideology. In Britain, the media should change its negative depiction of Islam by giving a greater platform to liberal and mainstream Muslim voices.

Britain should not start air strikes in Syria; they are symbolic at best, and ineffective at worst. We should avoid a knee-jerk reaction to recent terrorist attacks. The Syrian Civil War is a five-sided conflict between Assad, the Free Syrian Army, the Kurds, the Islamic State and smaller Islamist groups. Syria is deeply complex. Wars are easy to get involved in; they are much more difficult to get out of.

Three things that Britain should do instead of bombing Syria:
1. Arm, equip and train the Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
2. Start diplomatic negotiations between the Syrian Government, the Free Syrian Army and the Syrian Kurds.
3. Support and promote liberal voices within Islam and the Islamic World.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Labour’s Great Ideological Showdown

This summer I’ve become gripped by a new TV drama. A TV drama being played out in front of the nation’s media with episodes of this drama shown on almost every edition of the nightly news. But sadly unlike most TV dramas this isn’t a work of fiction, it’s the Labour Leadership Contest.

The Labour Leadership Contest has turning into a massive duel between the two great traditions of Labour politics. On the one side you have the New Labour establishment represented by Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. On the other side you have the Old Labour socialist insurgent, Jeremy Corbyn. These are two great titans fighting to the death for the ideological soul of the Labour Party.

What makes this political duel so interesting is that according to the latest opinion polls Jeremy Corbyn is in the lead by some margin and very well could be Labour’s next leader. Corbyn who was initially seen as a distant outsider, has to horror of Blairites, become the favourite to win the contest. Tony Blair even labelled those MPs who nominated Corbyn as “morons”. To put a Corbyn win into some context, Labour hasn’t been led by an overtly socialist leader since Neil Kinnock in 1992. Furthermore, Labour has not been led by someone outside the party’s establishment since at least before the Second World War. Even Michael Foot served as a cabinet minister before becoming Labour’s leader.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I cannot even begin to contrast the huge differences between the Labour Leadership Election and the Lib Dem Leadership Election. The Lib Dem Leadership Contest was a mostly private affair conducted at regional hustings and through social media and the internet. The short two month contest resulted in a clear victory for Tim Farron, with Norman Lamb transitioning seamlessly from leadership rival to frontbench Health Spokesperson. Tim Farron has already begun to make his mark by leading Lib Dem MPs to oppose Osborne’s latest welfare cuts. While a divided and indecisive Labour Party chose to abstain in the welfare cuts vote.

Labour quite clearly faces a big battle for the party’s soul, maybe even for the party’s very existence in the long term. But how on Earth did Labour go from promoting its own version of Thatcherism to being on the verge of electing a genuinely socialist leader? Despite New Labour’s three successive election victories, it failed to take many traditional Labour supporters with it. Tony Blair’s gamble was that Labour supporters would remain loyal to the party, despite New Labour’s embrace of the Thatcherite free market. This gamble would only work if there wasn’t a credible progressive alternative to Labour. However recently a progressive alternative emerged in Scotland in the form of the Scottish National Party (SNP). The SNP went on this year to annihilate Labour in Scotland.

New Labour didn’t just alienate people in Scotland but many progressive voters across England and Wales as well. Blair hollowed out the Labour Party leaving behind an ideological void, which Burnham, Cooper and Kendall have struggled to fill. However despite its lack of principles New Labour did achieve three successive election victories, the first and only time Labour has achieved this.

Here’s Labour’s problem, New Labour is as much an outdated project as socialism. New Labour supporters lack a distinctive message in an age of economic insecurities. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are three career driven, media managed politicians made in the model of New Labour. Corbyn is anything but.  Does Corbyn look like a potential Prime Minister? No, but it seems difficult to see how any of the candidates have the skills, charisma and imagination needed to get Labour back into power.

This Labour Leadership Contest will define the party for a generation. Will the New Labour modernisers triumph or shall socialism be resurrected from the grave? In the aftermath of the vote, there is a great potential for rifts, fractures and SDP-style breakaways. Do I judge those Labour supporters (including a couple of my friends) who back Corbyn? No, I can hardly blame them for supporting a radical candidate in line with their values, when the only alternatives are so bland and unimaginative. 

From what I have seen of Labour’s Leadership Contest, it is clear that Yvette Cooper has the best leadership ability and that Jeremy Corbyn has the strongest values and principles. Regardless of who wins Labour’s great ideological showdown it is clear that the contest will finally determine which direction Labour takes. On the chance that Corbyn does go on to win, then the 2020 General Election will be the most democratically distinctive election since 1987. A genuine socialist party led by Jeremy Corbyn, a genuine liberal party led by Tim Farron and a genuine conservative party led (most likely) by George Osborne would be a fascinating prospect.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Values, Vision and Liberalism: It’s Time for Tim

Following on from a very difficult general election result, the leadership election is on to see who will take the Lib Dems through this tough time. Despite only having eight Members of Parliament, the Liberal Democrats have fielded two fantastic leadership candidates, Tim Farron and Norman Lamb. Both of these candidates are miles ahead of anything on offer in the Labour leadership election.

During our party's time in Coalition with the Conservatives we were undoubtedly a moderating influence on the Tory right. From raising the tax threshold, to the pupil premium, to restoring our civil liberties, to ensuring same-sex marriage, to defending workers rights, the Lib Dems achieved many progressive policies. However it is clear that during our time in Coalition we lost trust and we lost identity.

The party might only have a handful of MPs but it's vital that we choose a leader who is able to inspire Liberal Democrat supporters and regain the trust of those millions of voters that we have lost. The party needs a radical vision and a reassertion of our progressive liberal values. Beyond everything else we need a leader who is going to challenge the status quo of British politics and challenge the inequalities of British society and Britain's political system. I believe Tim Farron is the man to achieve this and to revive the cause of British liberalism.

Tim Farron has grasped a fundamental truth of modern politics, which is that in order to enact change you need to create a movement. A movement from the grassroots to the green benches of the House of Commons. A liberal movement committed to liberty, equality and community. A movement that understands that people need to be free from an overbearing state but also free from poverty and social inequality. Tim Farron has correctly identified the need for a house building revolution in Britain. Such a mission should be at the heart of any liberal movement along with tackling climate change and protecting Britain's human rights, civil liberties and EU membership.

For the last two decades millions of people across the country have become disillusioned and alienated from mainstream politics. This has resulted in the rise of nationalism in both Scotland and England. Those most alienated by British politics have been the most vulnerable members of society. I for one hope that Tim Farron can give a voice to those who have often been left voiceless. A hundred years ago, the Liberal Party was at the heart of a campaign to achieve social reform and to tackle the extreme poverty of the industrial age. Today the Lib Dems need to rediscover the spirit of the new liberals and restore a sense of community and compassion to British politics. The Lib Dems must champion hope over fear.

For any party or movement to succeed it needs a strong campaigning spirit. The community politics of the 1970s proved that even a small party with a few MPs can make a big difference. Tim Farron is a committed and experienced campaigner. He understands the importance of community politics and grassroots campaigning. I've seen first-hand what a committed campaigner Tim is in Westmorland and Lonsdale. He's taken what was a Tory safe seat less than two decades ago and transformed it into the safest Lib Dem seat in the country.

Britain needs radical liberal activism. It needs a liberal movement committed to liberty, social justice, the environment, house building and the EU. It needs the Lib Dems to spearhead this movement in Parliament and at the grassroots. The Lib Dems need a committed experienced campaigner leading the party. We need someone who can restore trust in the Liberal Democrats. We need someone with values, vision and with liberalism in their heart. It’s time for Tim Farron!!!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Where the Lib Dems Went Wrong

For the Liberal Democrats the general election was the worst in terms of seats won since 1970. No one expected the Lib Dems to be reduced to just eight seats. This article will examine where the Lib Dems went wrong and what could account for such a dreadful result.

Losing Trust
The Liberal Democrats were right to go into Coalition, but we made a few massive mistakes none bigger than the decision over tuition fees. For much of the last few decades the Lib Dems prided themselves on trust. In the 2010 general election hundreds of thousands of young voters voted for the party over its policy to abolish tuition fees. Famously, Nick Clegg and a few other Lib Dem MPs broke their pledges not to increase tuition fees (although 21 Lib Dem MPs kept their pledges). This action to increase tuition fees was seen in the eyes of many young voters as a betrayal. Despite the repeated attempts by Nick Clegg and other Lib Dem ministers to explain the new tuition fees policy, their message was simply ineffective given the loss of trust. More than any other issue tuition fees destroyed the Lib Dem reputation for trust from which the party never recovered during its time in Coalition.

Coalition Conformity and the loss of Identity
The Conservative-Lib Dem Coalition was the first coalition since 1945. Therefore the leadership of the Lib Dems felt an added burden on proving that coalitions could result in stable governments. While no one would doubt that the Coalition was stable, the sense of Coalition conformity that resulted from the commitment to the Coalition ended up in a loss of identity for the party. The Lib Dem identity became almost unrecognisable with both Tory and Lib Dem ministers in every major department. The party also completely failed to successfully differentiate itself from its coalition partners. Although we undoubtedly made the Coalition fairer than it otherwise would have been; ultimately the net result of our efforts was to detoxify the Tory party and toxify our own party.

Demolition of the Local Government base
In electoral terms there was clear evidence that the party strategy was not yielding any reward. From 2011 until 2015 the party lost thousands of councillors. For a party that depends on having a strong local government base in order to win at a parliamentary level, this was a major blow to our ambitions at the general election. Added to this the party suffered massive setbacks in Scotland, Wales, London and in the European Elections. Although our local government base held up relatively well in some part of southern England, in northern England and Scotland it was annihilated. We should have realised much earlier on in 2011 or 2012 that the loss of our local government base was a harbinger of disaster in the general election.

Valueless Centrism
The leadership ditched the party's historic centre-left stance in favour of a committed centrism. Their aim was to try and revive the mythical equidistance of the past. At a time when the party leadership needed to renew its distinctive centre-left values it abandoned them. The strategy of equidistance and centrism was always doomed to fail. How can you be truly equidistance when you're in coalition with a centre-right party and refuse to defend your historic centre-left values? The party has never been truly equidistant, even in the Ashdown years the party was closer to the Labour, shown through the speculation of a Labour-Lib Dem coalition in 1992 and the Blair-Ashdown talks of the mid-1990s. Centrist equidistance was a failed strategy instead we should have outlined a much more distinctive left of centre liberal platform to engage our lost voters and to enable us to much more effectively differentiate us from the Tories.

Defending the Status Quo
People don’t vote for coalitions. I hate to say it but it's true. People vote for political parties. To frame an entire election campaign around forming a future coalition alienated voters from the radicalism of the Lib Dems. The party became the only true defender of the Coalition status quo. Instead of giving people reasons to vote for a future Lib Dem government we were giving voters early compromises on a potential future coalition. No party can both claim to be radical and defend the status quo. This was at a time when other parties were challenging the status quo; the Lib Dems became in the eyes of the public the most uninteresting of the parties. The party's leadership lost touch with its core radicalism and instead became the party of "stability, unity and decency.” The Lib Dems should know more than any other party that there are few votes in defending the status quo especially when you are a third or fourth party.

Learning the Lessons
The party has an uphill battle to regain the trust of the public, especially amongst young people. We should ensure that any future signed party pledges are amongst our election priorities. We failed to do this with tuition fees in 2010 and we paid the price.

In any future coalitions instead of trying to cover all departments we should have ministers in the leading departments and have a department entirely for our ministers to demonstrate Lib Dem policies in action. A good example of such a department would be the Department for Education.

The future leadership of the party should realise that if the current strategy is resulting in massive electoral losses that the party should change it promptly. Equidistant centrism has been a disaster for our party; the party will have to return to its centre-left roots if it is to recover its lost support.

Liberals should never defend the status quo, they should always seek to change it. Losing touch with our core radicalism was the final nail in the coffin of the party's electoral ambitions. The party must learn from its lessons so that in the future the great cause of liberalism can rise again.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Why YOU Must Vote!!!

It's that time again, politicians from left and right are out pounding the pavements across the country looking for people to vote for them. The 2015 general election campaign looks like it will be the closest election in decades. Either Labour or the Conservatives could win it and the Liberal Democrats, or the SNP are likely to be the kingmakers.

The political marketplace is now more crowded than it has ever been and yet millions of people at this election will not even bother to vote. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands may not have even bothered to register to vote, many of which will be students. I think this is nothing less than a national tragedy. Our democracy is so important and yet millions are disengaged from it.

Politicians from all parties must of course take some of the blame for the level of political disengagement. Trust in politics is at an all-time low and parties across the spectrum lack distinctive positive visions. Not to mention the fact that many politicians come from privileged social backgrounds that often seem alien to most voters. Despite this fact there are more viable choices to vote for than ever before.

One hundred years ago not a single woman or a single poor person of either gender had the right to vote and we are still one of the significant minority of countries that have a genuine democracy that is free and fair. We cannot take our democracy for granted we must use our voting rights and always seek to improve and reform our democracy.

Beyond all other things democracy embodies political equality. It is the only true and absolute equality that we have. Everyone regardless of wealth, race, gender, class, ability/disability, age and sexual orientation has just one vote. Regardless of whether you are a banker or use a food bank you have just one vote. Regardless of whether you are the Prime Minister or an ordinary person you have just one vote.

British democracy has faced many threats. We achieved universal democracy in the aftermath of the First World War, but our grandparents soon had to fight to defend it against the Nazis in the Second World War. For the five decades that followed, Britain faced an equally big threat to our democracy coming from communism and the Soviet Union.

History has shown us the tireless work of campaigners around the world to achieve democracy; from George Washington to Martin Luther King, from Emmeline Pankhurst to Aung San Suu Kyi, from Mahatma Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. All of these political campaigners had to fight against those who were prepared to deny them their fundamental democratic rights. Such people didn't struggle to achieve our democratic rights just so they could be squandered by apathy.

Over the next five weeks engage with the political parties and take the opportunity to use your fundamental democratic rights. No one will ever listen to your voice if you are not prepared to use it. Of course there is the feeling that people have been ignored by politicians; so for goodness sake MAKE THEM LISTEN TO YOU!!! Don't be passive and apathetic, MAKE YOUR VOICE COUNT!!! Use the democratic rights that your great-grandmothers chained themselves to Parliament to achieve; and your grandfathers fought a world war to defend. Don't take democracy for granted, because in many parts of the world it does not exist. People from Hong Kong to Cairo are campaigning for democracy today. Even in this so-called advanced democracy; true democracy is less than 100 years old.

There is such a wide range of political parties out there.
The Conservatives have pledged to tackle the deficit with spending cuts and tax cuts.
Labour aims to strengthen social fairness and improve living standards.
The Liberal Democrats are the only party with a commitment to fill the £8 billion funding gap in the NHS, also they have radical plans to ensure civil liberties and political reform.
UKIP want Britain to leave the European Union and stop immigration.
The Green Party wants to stop climate change and renationalise the railways.
The Scottish National Party want to make Scotland an independent country.
These are just the core issues that define the leading parties, they have many more policies as well.

On May 7th ensure your political citizenship by casting a vote. And if you really can't bring yourself to vote for any party, then you should consider standing as an independent. If no-one is prepared to listen to you, then you make them listen to you through campaigning and persuading people. Democracy has the power to radically change things. Apathy is not an option and frankly it is an insult to all those around the world who struggle for democracy.  OUR DEMOCRACY WILL ONLY REMAIN VIABLE IF PEOPLE LIKE YOU BOTHER TO VOTE!!!

Monday, 19 January 2015

My Ideas for the 2015 TV Debates

There is currently a lot of talk in the media about future television debates during the 2015 general election. In 2010 the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats were involved. However now there are calls for the leaders of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the Green Party, the Scottish National party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru to also be included.

Obviously, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party should be included in all three televised election debates. The Liberal Democrats with their record in government over the last five years and there realistic potential to hold the balance of power after the election this year means that they should be included.

UKIP should be included in two of the election debates to take account of their considerable support in the opinion polls, as well as their recent by-election and European Election victories. As for the Green Party, they have seen a notable increase in their support in recent months and this means they should be included in one of the debates. The Green party should not be included in any other debates because they will not hold the balance of power after the general election. This being said if the Green’s support continues to grow after 2015 they might be eligible for more than one debate in 2020.

The SNP have seen a massive surge in their support after the Scotland referendum. They should be included in one debate to take account of this, but due to the fact that they only stand in Scotland, they shouldn't be included in the other two debates. Furthermore there should be Scotland only debates between the main parties in Scotland. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru should be included in Wales only debates. As for the national TV debates, I see no evidence to justify why Plaid Cymru should be involved.

I suggest that there should be three TV debates and that there should be a two week period between each debate. In 2015 the general election campaign will last five weeks and with a fortnight gap it will ensure that the campaign isn't entirely dominated by the debates.

The Grand Debate

My idea for the first debate is what I am calling "The Grand Debate." The Grand Debate would include six party leaders. These leaders would be David Cameron (Conservative Party), Ed Miliband (Labour Party), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats), Nigel Farage (UKIP), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Natalie Bennett (Green Party). This debate will last for two hours (to take account of the large number of participants) and it would be entirely based on issues of any policy area. This could include questions on the economy, home affairs, foreign affairs, law and justice, the environment, health, education and welfare etc.

The Domestic and Foreign Affairs Debate

The second debate would be entirely on domestic and foreign affairs issues. The duration of this debate would be an hour and a half. 45 minutes will be on domestic affairs and 45 minutes will be on foreign affairs. Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Farage should all be included in this debate. All of these parties have expressed strong positions on domestic and foreign affairs. The Greens and the SNP should not be included for the reasons stated earlier.

The Prime Ministerial Debate

The purpose of this third and final debate is to discuss economic issues. Like the second debate it would last for one and a half hours. One hour would be devoted entirely to the economy with the final 30 minutes devoted to any policy area. This debate would include the three main party leaders; David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg. The purpose of it is to give them an opportunity to outline their economic vision and defend their economic records in government. UKIP should not be included in this final debate due to their lack of a clear narrative on the economy and their primary focus being placed on foreign affairs issues and a few domestic issues.

My TV Election Debate Format

The Grand Debate                                            2nd April 2015        
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg     Nigel Farage
Nicola Sturgeon     Natalie Bennett
Themes: Any Policy Area (2 Hours)

The Domestic and Foreign Affairs Debate   16th April 2015      
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg     Nigel Farage
Themes: Domestic Affairs (45 Minutes) Foreign Affairs (45 Minutes)

The Prime Ministerial Debate                       30th April 2015
David Cameron     Ed Miliband     Nick Clegg    

Themes: The Economy (1 Hour) Any Policy Area (30 Minutes)