Tuesday, November 20, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Four - Some Sleepwalk, Others Tour

This week I had the novel experience of agreeing with Ed Miliband. This event does not happen very often but while reading his interview in the Sunday Telegraph and his speech to the CBI, I found myself nodding several times (instead of nodding off – my usual reaction to his speeches). He put it very well, referring to sleepwalking towards the EU exit and about the danger of Britain becoming a nation of low wages, low skills, ‘an off-shore low value economy’. I am sure these words were music to CBI ears.

There was no mention of an in-out referendum, of course, but it now seems that the Eurosceptics in the Conservative party are losing interest in that. There have been articles in the media, on Conservative Home, and a speech yesterday by David Davis, with all sorts of ingenious suggestions on carefully worded referendums (referring to renegotiation and repatriation etc) with the intention of luring the British people by stealth into voting to leave the EU without their realising it. Such shameless tactics do not explain why the Tory Eurosceptics are so terrified of asking a simple in-out question when they are convinced the people are on their side.

Another novel experience is feeling sorry for David Cameron as he heads into tough talks with the EU leaders on the budget while his own army are pointing their guns at his back. But seriously, it is getting to the stage where the Conservative party as a unit are becoming a major threat to Britain’s national security and well-being.

With Euro issues on the front pages again, my campaign has continued across London. I attended the AGM of the Beckenham Liberal Democrats where there was an impressive presentation by Merlene Emerson, the Chair of the Chinese Liberal Democrats, on an all-party visit to China and Tibet. I have attended a quiz night in Sutton which had a high turnout and good fish and chips. And I went to the AGM of Hammersmith and Fulham Lib Dems where we were addressed by Norman Baker MP, our Transport Minister, on fighting the Tories and he answered questions on general transport issues.

At all these events, I discussed European issues with many of the members to hear their thoughts and views. And the comments and questions by email have kept coming.

What is interesting is that, even in Lib Dem circles, much about Europe is misunderstood. More than one person has asked me about Abu Qatada – which of course is a reference to the European Court of Human Rights, a separate body to the European Union.

There is also far less enthusiasm for the EU than the media would have us believe amongst Lib Dems. Although there is general agreement that we should retain our membership, there was much disquiet about the budget, the amount we pay to the EU, and the level of immigration caused by open borders. However, there was also concern about the dangers of David Cameron leading us into the slow lane and, to repeat Ed Miliband’s point, that the PM is thinking more about the concerns of a few dozen MPs rather than pursuing the country’s interests.

My fellow Euro candidates have also been busy – we are frequently bumping into each other in our tours around the capital. Just over a week to go before voting closes. I have an inkling of how the result is shaping but will just say for now that the turnout will be bigger than that of the Police Commissioner elections! The campaign continues!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My MEP Candidate Hustings Speech

Below is my speech given to the London Liberal Democrat Hustings for MEP candidates on Sunday 4 November.

My message to the voters of London would be twofold. Firstly, the European Union is important to our country’s prospects and well-being. There is a lot of negativity about the EU and I expect you have found, as I have, that on the doorstep, the EU is rarely mentioned and it’s importance is little understood. I would explain the benefits in simple language. Trade – investment – growth – business – jobs.

Secondly, the Liberal Democrats are the only major pro-European party. We have seen yet again this week how the Conservatives are more interested in fighting each other and that Labour change their position, when they have one, on a weekly basis. Only the Liberal Democrats put the UK at the heart of Europe and would put the UK’s interest first. I want this message on the streets of London. From Enfield to Sutton, from Hillingdon to Havering, when it comes to Europe, the Liberal Democrats are on your side.

So why me? What have I got to offer?
  • Eighteen years experience of working in London in both the public and private sectors
  • Ten years experience of living in London although I am currently a commuter
  • Vast experience of leading, organising and participating in teams – in both political and non-political activities
  • Parliamentary candidate at the last general election getting one of the highest Lib Dem increases in Kent
  • Fifteen years experience of being in positions of helping the public through my employment history – helping, advising and dealing with people from all backgrounds
  • Academic qualifications in European history, politics and law
  • A regular writer and campaigner using Twitter, Facebook, blogs and media
  • A genuine love for our city and its people and the enthusiasm to conduct a good campaign across the city to get our message out.
 And what is my vision for Europe?

If elected as an MEP, I would see my role in both promoting London within Europe, and promoting Europe within London.

I want Londoners to recognise the opportunities there are across the continent for our people to visit and learn and for businesses to expand.

We often hear about people from Europe coming to the UK, usually in a negative sense, but we never hear about people from the UK going to live and work in other countries. Those that do find it a worthwhile experience.

As MEP I would aim to visit as many schools in London as I can, to encourage the study of languages and encourage our younger people to give serious consideration to other parts of the EU. Once people see things for themselves, once they get away from what the Daily Mail is telling them, I have found that people are enthused by Europe and the different cultures and experiences on offer.

And I would promote London as a place for world businesses to invest. The Olympics was a chance, which has so far been missed, to promote, not Boris, but instead our wonderful city as a home for business. I want to welcome world companies here, to invest, and develop.

As for the EU itself, I would campaign for the extension of democracy. I want to see an elected President – which I feel was a chance the EU missed. You may remember Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern were considered for the job. If the candidates campaigned across all 27 states, that would increase knowledge and legitimacy of the EU’s process. I would also like to see our Commissioners elected instead of being a consolation prize for failed politicians.

And, yes, an in-out referendum. I think this continual dithering and speculation is harmful to our interests in Europe. While we argue with each other, the other EU governments are getting on with things. Let’s have the referendum, let’s win it, and then we can commit ourselves towards campaigning for the type of EU we want to see.

Those are my policies in simple language. An active positive pro-EU campaign, jobs and business for Londoners, a city to advertise to the world, an EU which is streamlined and democratic and something of which we can be proud to be a leading member.

If you select me as your candidate, those are the principles I would be working hard for – select me and I will not let you down!

Monday, November 5, 2012

My MEP Campaign Part Three - Fireworks, Hustings and Socialists

On Saturday 3 November, I met some Lewisham and Beckenham North Liberal Democrats for a firework supper. There I chatted to several members while munching a delicious lamb curry before we all went up to Blackheath. This was the first time I had seen the Blackheath fireworks and I was mightily impressed by the colours and display on offer. I was also surprised by the thousands of people who had come out on a cold November night to be present.

It seemed rather brief, about 20 minutes, but I was later informed that this was because one of the two councils next to the park (LB Greenwich) had withdrawn their funding and hence the organisers had to cut their costs. However there were no complaints from the crowd who all appeared to be in high spirits and enjoying the spectacle.

Sunday 4 November was the Members’ Meeting – the Hustings for all the London European candidates which was held in Euston Road.

We each had to do a five minute presentation followed by five minutes of questions. My speech seemed to go down OK and I was glad to have timed it perfectly by getting the 30 second warning as I entered my final paragraph. I will publish this shortly but touched upon my policy for the campaign, my attributes as a candidate, and my vision of the EU.

While the EU is far from perfect, there are many positive benefits of UK membership which we do not push enough. The Liberal Democrats are the only positive pro-EU party, the only party to put the UK’s interests first at the heart of Europe, and this is what we should say again and again.

There was a question on education, and another on why I am running for London, before I was floored by two on the Middle East. How do I propose to solve the Arab-Israel conflict? (answer in thirty seconds!?!) and do I agree with the EU’s policy on Iran? (thinks: what is the EU policy on Iran?)

Much of this day was spent in a hallway chatting to the other candidates while waiting our turn, and this experience only emphasised my comments from an earlier entry. We are blessed to have such an effective and capable line-up of candidates to put before the party’s members. However, this makes it a lot more difficult for me! But whatever happens, the end product will be a very strong team of eight to campaign for the Lib Dems across London and that can’t be bad.

It was interesting to eavesdrop on the Socialism 2012 rally being held in the same building in a large and packed hall. They had a number of speakers who each shouted loudly about a general strike and each getting a very warm reception. The bits I heard were complete nonsense, of course, and it is safe to say that Ed Miliband would not have been very welcome, but I’ll say this for the socialists, the souvenir stands were fascinating with some very interesting publications and papers on display. Tempting as it was to buy a couple of books, I thought better of it.

After the individual presentations, there were panel sessions whereby the candidates were each asked submitted questions. My only criticism of this process was that the chairman asked the questions instead of the questioner. I understand the need for questions to be approved but I felt that if the member read out their own question, and we could answer directly to him/her, it would have increased the interaction in the room, instead of the audience listening to the top table all the time.

Overall, a tough but enjoyable day. The London Liberal Democrats have all been sent their voting papers and our manifestos and have three weeks to think about it – so the campaign goes on.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Two Speeches For Two Events

On Friday 26 October at 10.50am, Adam Rowe, my best friend since our days at university together, died at the age of 42 after a long battle with liver disease. We have known each other for 24 years and it has been heartbreaking to see how he has struggled with his health over the last few years.

So, in case you were wondering why my blog has not been updated, despite being in the middle of a campaign, then this is the reason. It has put things into perspective.

This week I have been preparing for two speeches at two important events. On Sunday 4 November, the candidates for the London Liberal Democrats MEP nominations will all be attending a hustings. I have been preparing my presentation and there will be questions and discussions afterwards.

I generally enjoy these sort of things – such as participating in the debates at the last election. Unfortunately we don’t get to hear the presentations of other candidates (which I would have found interesting as they are a talented bunch) so I am looking forward to the panel discussions. Although I have plenty of ideas, I am always keen to hear others.

The other speech I have been preparing is with a considerably heavier heart. I have been asked to speak at Adam’s funeral on Friday 9 November at Kettering Crematorium.

Two different types of speech for two different events. One speech is to promote myself, the other will be to pay tribute to a lost friend. One speech I shall try to deliver with positivity and passion, the other I shall try to deliver without breaking down.

I hope both will be received well.