Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Committee doesn't happen by itself, you know...

So, an election took place, and six members of the new Federal International Relations Committee were elected. So far, so good, especially as one of them was me. But what happens next?

Naturally, the Committee has to meet, and someone has to organise that. But who, and who makes sure that all of the members are invited? Indeed, who has the job of finding out who the members are? In the case of FIRC (no sniggering at the back, Jennie...), the questions are made more complex because it isn't always easy to establish who you would ask in the first place. How do you contact the State Parties, for example, and who do you need to reach?

Luckily, the outgoing Committee had taken the precaution of appointing a Secretary, and whilst I have no mandate beyond 31 December, I can at least make a start. So, I've sent out a stream of e-mails far and wide, seeking answers. This is what I've found out so far...

There are fourteen voting members of the Committee;
  • Phil Bennion, Merlene Emerson, Jonathan Fryer, Paul Reynolds, Robert Woodthorpe Browne and myself, all directly elected
  • a representative of the Federal Board, who meet on 14 January and will presumably decide then
  • a representative of the Federal Policy Committee
  • a representative of the English Party, whose Executive meet on 21 January
  • Roger Williams (yes, the former MP for Brecon and Radnorshire), representing the Welsh Liberal Democrats
  • a representative of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, whose Executive also meet on 21 January
  • Hannah Bettsworth and Andrew Martin, the job-sharing International Officers of the Young Liberals (they only get one vote between them though)
  • Catherine Bearder, our sole MEP
  • Tom Brake, our Parliamentary spokesperson on Foreign Affairs
There are seven non-voting members;
  • a representative of the Liberal International British Group, whose Executive meet on 9 January
  • Nick Hopkinson, Chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group
  • a representative of the Liberal Democrat Group on the Committee of the Regions
  • a representative of the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats
  • Ros Scott, as a member of the Bureau of the ALDE Party
  • John Alderdice and Kishwer Falkner, as members of the Bureau of Liberal International
There should also be a representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but as there is no Liberal Democrat there, the position lies vacant.

We also need a Chair. According to the Federal Constitution, only those members who were directly elected are eligible to run. Accordingly, as I didn't want the job, I opened nominations to the other five, only to find that we had but one nominee, Robert Woodthorpe Browne, whom I declared elected.

We need a regulatory framework too, as specified by Article 7 of the Federal Constitution. But, because we were a sub-committee of the Federal Executive, we apparently didn't have one, so we need one fairly quickly. The good news is that there is a member of Party staff who is responsible for this sort of thing, so I've dropped him an e-mail. We'll see what comes of it, but it needs to cover transparency, conflicts of interest, diversity, and all sorts of other good things.

Finally, we need an agenda for our first meeting or, at least, an outline one. Luckily, I'm on top of that too, so a draft is with the new Chair and our International Officer, the estimable Harriet Shone, for their comment prior to circulation to the emerging Committee.

I think that we've made a pretty good start, and once we've worked out a communications and engagement policy, I sense that we might have a pretty good story to tell. There's an awful lot that can go wrong before that though...

An oath, an oath, my kingdom for an oaf... Sajid Javid needs a lesson on values...

It's never a promising sign when a Minister comes up with a proposal to promote integration that requires some of the most integrated members of civil society to swear an oath declaring their commitment to it whilst leaving many of those who are supposedly the problem unaffected. And so, Sajid Javid's idea that civil servants should swear an oath of allegiance to 'British values', is a pointer towards an administration who are desperate for anything that might deflect even a little attention from the elephant in their particular room, Brexit.

Sajid, I joined the Civil Service precisely because I believe in the democratic process, and because I understand the vital nature of civil society. You need people who believe in tolerance, the rule of law and due process because, without them, people like you have no means of governing. A politically-neutral Civil Service is the mechanism by which the aims of any administration are delivered and, believe me, regardless of what we think of you as an individual, most of us understand that, even if we don't agree with you, you're the Government, and you get what you want, so long as it's legal and possible.

I certainly didn't join for the money - indeed, I am effectively paid for a four-day week because of the impact of years of real terms cuts in pay, brought about by people like you who don't understand what happens when you consistently undermine the pay and conditions of those who are expected to deliver your priorities under fire from both the public and, more insidiously, you, your colleagues and your friends in the national media.

No, I joined for reasons that would now seem altruistic at best, naive at worst. I thought that, by doing my job well, I could make society a little bit better, government a little less impersonal. And, I like to think, I've achieved that, despite the obstacles that have littered my path.

Like you, my father came here from the Indian subcontinent, so the concept of British values comes with some mixed connotations. One might joke that British values revolved around invading someone else's country, stealing the raw materials and imposing a Parliamentary system that seldom worked well for the locals. But, seriously, there is a debate to be had about what British values really are in a country as divided as Britain is at present.

Is tolerance a British value when we've just undergone a campaign where migrants have been vilified for political advantage? Is democracy a British value when 37% of the voting population can cause a major change to our society and then insist that the rest of us blithely accept it? Is respect for the rule of law a British value when elements of our national media seek to undermine it and distort it when it doesn't agree with them?

Now, I believe that those things are part of a decent, value-based society. And I believe that most British people believe in them, and live by them most of the time, albeit occasionally grudgingly. But then, so do most people, in most countries, so why are they described as 'British values', as though other nations are somehow less principled?

And, to be honest, oath swearing is something done to convince others and is, in itself, pretty meaningless. Swearing loyalty to a concept implies that it is constant, unchanging, whereas society is fluid, adapting and changing as circumstances develop. Besides, how do you determine whether or not someone actually means it when they swear an oath? What penalty is there for breaking it, and who decides upon it?

No, it's a stupid idea from a desperate politician, and that comes from someone who has no problem with the principles of civil society, of democracy and of tolerance. Perhaps that's why I criticize Mr Javid whilst not denying him his right as a Minister of the Crown to introduce the idea, should he really believe that it's worthwhile.

My advice to him, however, would be to dedicate the effort he's expended on this to better effect. Finding a solution to the housing crisis might be more helpful, but I'm sure that my readers can come up with other ones...

Saturday, December 17, 2016

A bureaucrat on the edge - triumph and disappointment...

It's that walrus again...
Well, I managed to get myself re-elected to International Relations Committee, elected on the sixth count in third place, which was somewhat unexpected, given the quality of the opposition. Various people had been very supportive but, given the size of the electorate and my lack of 'celebrity', for want of a better word, one can never take anything for granted.

So, thank you to all those of you who supported me, regardless of where you put me on the ballot paper. I'm already hard at work preparing for the new committee, so you'll hopefully see a more visible Federal International Relations Committee over the coming weeks, months and years.

There will be a new Chair of the Committee to elect, which won't be me - I'm not running. However, one of the other five directly elected members will be taking the job on, and I have initiated a process of seeking nominations from them so that we can move forward quickly, if possible. I will  be seeking to stay on as Secretary though, and we'll see if anyone else comes forward to oppose me. 

The result of the election of the ALDE Party Council delegation was not so great. I came fifth which, given that there were five places to be elected, sounds good. However, I fell foul of Election Rule 10(b);
As required by the September 1992 conference motion elections to the ALDE Council delegation shall include a minimum of one person from each State Party and one person under the age of 26 at the time of election.
This meant that I was overtaken by Peter Price, the only Welsh candidate (there were no Scots or young people standing). There is, I would suggest, a certain irony in losing an election due to a twenty-four year old rule that very few people had realised was in existence. I'm guessing that I'll be first reserve in the event that someone drops out, but I'll need to check how that works.

So, I'm going to be busy in 2017, regardless. I'm going to have to be better with this blog though...