Sunday, October 21, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Two - Contacts and Conference

An enjoyable and busy first week to the campaign despite an initial setback. It had been my intention to send out an introductory email to all London Lib Dems as soon as the starting pistol had sounded. Unfortunately I did not know that Hotmail limits the numbers of people you can email each day to 300 with the admirable aim of combating spammers. After kicking myself for not having thought of that, I am now sending them out in batches, so it will take several days to reach everyone.

I have already received some generous invites to AGMs and social events from London local parties in my aim to meet as many London Lib Dems as I can in the weeks ahead. A special mention to Sutton who hit the right buttons with the words ‘fish and chips supper’ and ‘quiz night’ – no hesitation in accepting that one. Generally, weekend events are no problem. Those in the weekday evening depend on my ability to get the last train home – but I am working things out so far.

My email messages have resulted in a few interesting questions on a variety of topics which I am always happy to answer.

Yesterday I attended the London Liberal Democrats Regional Conference in Croydon and had an interesting day there.

The day included a Question and Answer session for the European candidates – unfortunately with only 40 minutes and nine of us present, there was just time for three questions: on our message to the voters, EU partnership arrangements, and what would we change. I gave what I thought were concise answers putting my views across. That my message is to promote the EU and the fact that the Lib Dems are the most-pro-EU party, and hence most pro-UK party - that partnership arrangements strengthen this argument, especially with states such as India where we have historic links and more likely to invest here to give access to the EU market, and that the thing I would change would be to make the EU more democratic with an elected President and elected Commissioners.

I’ve been criticised in the past for giving answers which are too brief, but once you’ve got your point across, I fail to see any reason for going on. At least, this will be an asset if I am ever invited to do BBC Question Time.

A more detailed scrutiny of the candidates, and more time for us to put our views, will be available at the hustings on 4 November.

There was also a chance to do some work for the parliamentary by-election in Croydon North, which was an excellent idea when you have so many Lib Dems present at the right time and place. Our candidate is Marisha Ray, who I had a brief chat with. She is a very impressive candidate, has done some great work in London over the years and I hope she does well.

Sadly we have to admit that we are unlikely to win the seat. It is an ironic fact that the party with the most impressive candidates has the greatest difficulty in getting them elected and vice versa. Just one look at the Conservative backbenches strengthens this point.

The rest of the conference saw speeches and reports, a fascinating guest spot from the writer Elif Shafak, and the chance to network where I had the chance to talk to some local party delegates and the other candidates. All in all, a very satisfactory day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part One - 'For London, For Europe'

I am delighted to announce that I have been successfully placed on the shortlist for the London Liberal Democrats’ candidates, European Parliament elections in 2014. It was a tough selection procedure and interview but the campaign has now started.

There is some serious talent on the shortlist, which just shows the depth of quality we enjoy in the Liberal Democrats amongst our candidates. Alongside members of the academic and financial profession, my role as an administration manager in local government seems very humble. It will be a difficult campaign but I will give it my best shot, and hope I can encourage as many of the good Liberal Democrats of London to give me their consideration.

If you are looking at my blog for the first time – then you are very welcome. As you can see from previous entries, I always have plenty to say on plenty of topics.

I have worked in London for 18 years, and for almost every one of those working days, I have been helping and advising members of the public. Whether it is guiding nurses through their training requirements, or advising people on their complaints against local councils, I have enormous experience of talking to and helping ordinary people. Knocking on thousands of doors over the years has further developed my people skills.

Must also mention my organisational skills – leading a team to provide a service to professional colleagues, participating in local campaigns such as road safety and anti-social behaviour, local party campaigns, fundraising/organising church activities, editing and writing the newsletter in my role on the parochial church council – and of course running in the last general election where, despite a tiny local party, we increased our vote. I enjoy being busy.

I want to be a MEP, for London, for the Liberal Democrats. I can help and advise, I can run campaigns, I can organise, lead and participate in teams, I am always insufferably cheerful!

And what about Europe? As a keen student of European history, and traveller to a number of states, I have a great interest and love of the continent and the role Britain could play there. I have a degree in European history, a Masters degree in international politics and a law degree as well to add to my interest and knowledge.

I have written a number of articles on this blog on the topic – but in a nutshell
(i) the EU is a bureaucratic monster in dire need of cost cutting reform
(ii) we in the UK need to be more active in the EU both to further our interests and work towards these reforms
(iii) there should be more democracy within the European Union (see my last blog entry)
(iv) I find the Con-UKIP-media Eurosceptism view frustrating and holding the UK back – for this reason I favour an in-out referendum – I believe it can be won and would then neutralise the anti-EU brigade
(v) the Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European party – and pro-Europe means pro-UK – we should not be afraid to say so.
A simple slogan – job and business, jobs and business, jobs and business.

As an MEP I would campaign primarily for the interests of Londoners, but also to increase democracy and drive down bureaucracy within the EU.

Now the campaign has started, I have begun to receive invitations and hope to meet as many London Liberal Democrats as possible, including at the regional conference at Croydon next week. And those I don’t get round to meeting, I hope will be in touch on and give me their consideration.

Keep reading here and follow me on my campaign over the next seven weeks.

Away we go! 'Keith Nevols – For London – For Europe!!'

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Ways To Bring Democracy To The European Union

We sometimes hear of the ‘democratic deficit’ with reference to the European Union – and how the EU is insufficiently accountable to the voters within the 27 states. Indeed, in the UK, the only chance we get to make an EU-vote is every five years for our MEPs, and even that result is usually based on national rather than European factors.

Increasing democracy would be a revolution to the European Union, and may even improve its image within this country, so here are three suggestions to make a start.

The European President
This is an item I originally blogged about in September 2009, when such people as Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were being suggested in the new post of President of the European Council. This position fell to Herman Van Rompuy, now in his second term of office.

My argument is, when this term expires, in November 2014, it should be the voters who decide the President. This was a missed opportunity to bring the European Union closer to the people but should not be missed again. Candidates, including Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Blair if they wish, can campaign in all 27 countries – we will get to know them and their views, ask questions, just like any other election campaign, and then vote using either STV or the Supplementary Vote system. The winner will not be someone we have never heard of who has emerged from nowhere.

When I have put this argument before, people have said ‘ah, but everyone will vote for their countryman, and the Germans will always win.’ Well, I am not convinced that everyone in the UK will vote for Tony Blair, or every German for Angela Merkel.

Whatever the details, some sort of election is better than an ‘appointment’ of arguably one of the most powerful men in Europe.

The Commission
The UK has one Commissioner on the European Commission, essentially the executive body of the EU. Traditionally this post has been seen as a consolation prize for failure in UK politics – hence previous holders have included Peter Mandelson, Neil Kinnock, Chris Patten and Leon Brittan.

These too could be elected by each individual state. We could have a national debate about which person would best represent us. Unfortunately, party politics being what it is, each party will probably have only one candidate and the winner will always be a Tory or Labour person – but again this is better than a system by appointment, and at least we could all name our Commissioner.

Members of the European Parliament
Each state had to select a system of PR to elect their MEPs - and the UK chose the party list system. This is the system whereby you get a huge ballot paper with lists of candidates, and you choose the ‘party’ (NB: NOT the individual), which, at the end of the day, gives you a group of MEPs of various parties. This gives enormous powers to the parties as it is they who choose the order of their respective list.

My proposal is to exchange this to the Single Transferable Vote – STV – a system which allows you to choose the individual to represent you, not the party. So instead of one X, you can give thought to placing 1-2-3 and so on, candidates of the same party will be competing against each other, individuals from different parties can be chosen, and this gives the voter complete control and flexibility.

Of course, Liberal Democrats don’t need lectures about fair voting systems – but, apart from Scotland, STV is unfamiliar to the people and an information campaign would be required. Once people have got the hang of it, it may then be possible to bring it into local council elections in England and Wales.

Using these techniques, the British voter will be able to select the individuals to serve as President, Commissioner, and their MEPs within the European Union. Other countries can do likewise. And the result will be a President, a Commission and a Parliament completely democratically chosen and regularly accountable to the voters, and people with a greater say and familiarity in the European Union's affairs.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Some thoughts for Europe

The European Union is a subject which excites politicians and commentators more than it does voters. While the Conservative party regularly has civil wars on the issue, and UKIP enjoys growing support, I have found the issue is very rarely raised on the doorstep, and it is a fact that turnout at European elections is often very low and results depend on national factors rather than European policy.

However this is not to say that the topic is anything but important. The EU’s fortunes are a vital part of our nation’s fate – our biggest trading partner and creator of many of our laws. Depending on your point of view, the EU is an essential trading block in a growing inter-dependent world or a German plot to subsume Britain into a European superstate.

There are things on which Europhiles and Eurosceptics agree. The EU is vast, inefficiently administered and over-bureaucratic. Having a parliament building in Strasbourg, with regular movement of staff and resources, is an unnecessary waste and expense. The EU is in dire need of cost-cutting reform. And, in my view, this is how we should be using British muscle – in mobilising those of like minds throughout the EU to this point of view.

When I put this view, I am often told, usually by sceptics, that there is no point. The EU will never change – it is on a non-stop course to full political integration because that is what the Europeans want, and are not interested in alternate views.

They are partly correct in that British views are often disregarded – but that could be due to the fact that successive governments have constantly taken a distant or cooling approach to the EU. We always go along, never take the first step. We opt out of things, maybe even veto or delay, but generally drift along with an air of disinterest. Have you heard of the UK government taking an act of initiative within EU corridors?

Sharon Bowles, Lib Dem MEP, and doing an excellent job as Chair of the Economic and Monetary Committee, once said that others had sought to remove her from this position – not because of her views or talents – but simply because she was British. Our businessmen in Europe may find a similar problem – the general assumption that Britain is a lame duck which will one day go off into isolation. Equally a company thinking of moving to the UK (and creating jobs!) has to have this prospect at the back of their mind. This is something David Cameron and the Tory media never think of – how their hostility to the EU has a knock-on effect on our influence.

So should we leave the EU? As I said, the EU is far from perfect – would our withdrawal improve it? Would our retreat from our major trading partners during a recession help our own economy? Are world powers more likely to invest in the UK if we have detached ourselves from this trading bloc? Could the UK, on its own, profit in a world of growing economies such as NAFTA and the BRIC nations? Is the EU really a German-led plot to succeed where the Wehrmacht failed and that all the other nations are conspirators along for the journey? If the EU is so evil, why is there a queue of nations wanting to join and, apart from the UK, barely a whisper from anyone about leaving?

Having said that, I would favour an in-out referendum as argued in an earlier entry. Our progress and contribution in the European project is being held back by the internal threat posed to our economic security from the Eurosceptics – so once the referendum is won (which I believe it can be) the anti-EUs will be neutralised and then we can all campaign for the type of EU we want to see.

Another expression we often hear – particularly in Conservative circles – is ‘repatriation of powers’. This is the view that the EU have taken away many powers that national states used to exert and that the state should have them back. This is a good phrase but of course deliberately vague. There have been cases, for example, where European laws have trumped UK ones – for example, the EU have often forced workers’ rights onto reluctant UK governments of both colours. It was not a UK government who granted measures of flexible working or paternity leave. By definition, ‘repatriation of powers’ is a backward step, when we should be looking forwards.

The biggest issue in Europe today, both in and out of the EU, is the Euro crisis. Again the UK, a major player on the continent, and with one of the world’s biggest economic centres of power and expertise in the City, could make a contribution to the issue. It is in our interests, after all, for a stable and prosperous Euro. However, the government have put us on the outside of the debate, with a glass on the wall listening to what others are discussing. I was particularly alarmed by David Cameron’s suggestion of the EU having two budgets – one for the 17 countries in the Eurozone and one of the 10 outside, which would move the EU into internal conflict and possibly permanent separation – at a time when all 27 should be drawing together.

We need the UK to engage positively with our EU partners, to throw our weight into solving the Euro crisis, to continue to co-operate and work together on cross-border problems such as the environment, terrorism, illegal immigration and organised crime. And to fight for the type of European Union we want to see – a streamlined organisation developing a completely free trade zone for mutual economic security and prosperity.

This is a clear issue on which we in the Liberal Democrats disagree with our national coalition partners. Where they stand on the cliffs of Dover and stick two fingers up in a south east direction, we instead stretch out our right arm to grab a hand. Where the Tories say ‘give us back our powers’, we say ‘let us all be powerful together’.

We are the most pro-European major political party – I think that is a fact we should trumpet out loud. We will be called traitors and quislings by the media, but I have found that people generally accept the importance of the European Union and the need for us to be involved – especially during difficult economic times. In terms of businesses, large and small, and jobs, continued and growing interdependence is vital.

It will not be long before we are campaigning for the 2014 European parliament elections. At the last elections in 2009, UKIP did well, mainly because the vote took place during the expenses scandal when perceptions of the three parties were very low. This time, unless there is another scandal, we should see the established parties regain some ground.

The Labour party will continue to campaign on their policy of having no policies. The Conservatives will try to be pro- and anti-European at the same time. UKIP will be, well, UKIP.

I hope the Liberal Democrats fly the flag high for Europe. Fight the elections on European issues. And continue to send a growing and talented band of MEPs to fight for our country’s interests. After all, someone has to!!