Tuesday, December 31, 2019

India - a challenge ahead for HMS Brexit...

Declaring an interest as someone of half-Indian extraction, I’ve argued on occasion that, whilst much attention is given to China’s emergence as a world power, both military and economic, there should be more attention given to its democratic counterpart, India. It’s an uphill struggle, I acknowledge, but still an important one.

In terms of the domestic debate here, India falls under the category of “obvious trading partner” post-Brexit, i.e. someone we can increase exports to. Now, putting aside the fact that United Kingdom governments have treated Indian citizens in a manner akin to leprosy victims in terms of visa access over the years, the action of Theresa May in effectively vetoing the proposed EU/India Free Trade Agreement, is hardly an encouragement to the Indian Government to prioritise us over, say, the European Union.

But, of course, some of the more lacking in self-awareness supporters of Brexit believe that, as part of the (jolly old) Empire, the Indians will be only too eager to sign something - fifth largest economy in the world, you know, Commonwealth ties, old boy.

Except that, according to the Centre for Business Economics and Research, with its Conservative-friendly world view, Britain’s economy is already smaller than India’s, and with India’s trend growth rate far higher than that of the United Kingdom, the gap will grow fast. In whose interests is a trade deal then, who will be able to drive the harder bargain? Not a difficult question to answer, is it?

Any trade deal will require significant visa liberalisation, and thus more Indians coming to Britain to work and study - a tough sell to those who voted for Brexit, and indeed for the Conservatives, in order to reduce immigration. And the net figure will be worse still, as the chances are that few British citizens will wish to make the reverse journey.

It gets better though. By 2034, India is predicted to be the third largest economy, with the likes of Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh in the top twenty-five. And they know that. The bargain will get harder, not easier, and the Hindu nationalist administration that runs India is hardly likely to hold back from  using that growing power imbalance to settle some old scores.

Meanwhile, the European Union will be keen to gain preferential access to the Indian market. It has quite a lot to offer, isn’t as attractive to Indians seeking to work abroad but offers plenty of opportunities for the rapidly growing number of middle-class Indians to spend money as tourists. It also offers access to a market six times larger and, in significant cases, wealthier than that of the United Kingdom.

Negotiations with the Modi administration should be interesting, and something of an eye opener for the Johnson-led Conservative Government. How they respond to the challenge may be a guide to the future economic prospects of the United Kingdom, and the ability of the Conservatives to deliver their rather generous promises.

They’d better learn fast...

Monday, December 30, 2019

More adventures in media choice...

I wrote, a fortnight or so ago, about giving up The Times, in part because of its recruitment of Quentin Letts, but in truth because it has become a source of anger rather than disagreement. The unremittingly negative coverage of transgender issues, the continuing employment of Rod Liddle, the increasingly desperate attempts to smear Jeremy Corbyn (and, for that matter, anyone who isn’t a Conservative Party politician), all added up to a conclusion that giving them £10 per week to annoy me was a pretty poor use of the funds.

So, how am I getting on? 

Well, it’s early days yet, and as my subscription doesn’t expire for another three weeks, I’m still taking advantage of it, but I’ve made two financial commitments and taken up one newspaper that is still free online and apparently not looking for money.

I’ve always enjoyed The Economist, and whilst it can be a little dry at times, its tendency to rely on facts and, where an opinion is being offered, its clarity as to the difference, is welcome in a time where the line between news reporting and opinion is increasingly blurred. For £215 per year, I receive my weekly copy of the dead tree version, plus access to the digital version online, as well as daily e-mails with stories that might interest me. I’m still £305 a year better off, and probably less annoyed.

Ros reads the New York Times, and is quite impressed with their coverage of British politics, but there seems little point in both of us paying for it, so I’ve signed up to The Washington Post. They ask a mere $30 for an initial annual subscription to the digital edition, rising to $100 thereafter, and whilst that may turn out to be more than I really want to pay, at that price, what do I have to lose? And I’m still £282 a year better off...

I know that The Guardian is free online, merely begging for money endlessly. A bit of me wants to give them some, for I am taking advantage of their largesse whilst only offering them potential advertising revenue. But, for the time being, I will resist the temptation to contribute towards Polly Toynbee’s salary. Instead, I’ve downloaded the app for The Times of India, a newspaper my great uncle once worked for. They appear not to want any payment, although that may of course change in the future. It offers me a very different perspective on the world, links me to the family home and is likely to give me an insight into what is likely to be one of the world’s top five economies before very long.

So, there you have it, three very different mediums, each offering a very different perspective, all of which are highly respected. We’ll see how it goes...

Friday, December 13, 2019

Some light music for bedtime...

It's been a long time for many of my friends and colleagues, so here's something to soothe the troubled brow, "Ich will dir mein Herze schenken", from Johann Sebastian Bach's St Matthew Passion...

Liberal Democrats in Suffolk - how did it go?

Let's be honest, had there been any prospect of a Liberal Democrat gain in Suffolk, we'd have been in 1906 territory, but you do have to look forward some of the time, especially after a night like this one just past. And, if things go as badly as some suspect, Conservatives in local government may be the first harbingers of public unhappiness. And maybe, just maybe, if we do things better, we might persuade the electorate to turn to us.

So, how did we get on?

I'll start in Waveney, now part of East Suffolk District Council, as it has been a bit of a black hole for us for some years despite the gallant efforts of a small hardcore of activists. Our vote there over the three elections since 2015 has gone as follows;
  • 2015 - 1,055 votes, 2.0%, fifth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 1,012 votes, 1.9%, fifth place (out of six)
  • 2019 - 2,603 votes, 5.1%, fourth place (out of five)
We did save our deposit, which is great news, and it is a very "brexity" neighbourhood, with Lowestoft at its core, and thanks to Helen Korfanty for flying the flag.

Heading to the other end of the county, West Suffolk has no Liberal Democrat Councillors at County or District level, following retirements in 2015. Our vote there has gone:

  • 2015 - 2,465 votes, 5.0%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 2,180 votes, 4.2%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 4,685 votes, 9.1%, third place (out of four)
That's not a bad result from Elfreda Tealby-Watson, who must be getting used to the place by now, having fought the seat on each occasion. And, another saved deposit.

We have a presence in Ipswich, with a county councillor and three borough councillors, but as it's a key marginal, voting Conservative in 2015, Labour in 2017 and now Conservative again, we tend to get squeezed;
  • 2015 - 1,400 votes, 2.9%, fifth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 1,187 votes, 2.3%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2019 - 2,439 votes, 4.9%, third place (out of five)
Bad luck for the returning Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett, who was forty votes short of saving our deposit, but selflessly led campaigning teams to Cambridgeshire to support our more likely prospects there. Thanks, Adrian, you were a star.

Next, I turn to South Suffolk. I've always felt that it was the sort of seat where, with the right combination of candidate and activist base, Liberal Democrats could win. But, for whatever reason, we don't. This time, we improved quite sharply;
  • 2015 - 4,044 votes, 7.8%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2017 - 3,154 votes, 5.8%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 6,702 votes, 12.5%, third place (out of four)
David Beavan has dragged us back towards respectability, but it's a far cry from the 30.8% we achieved in 2010.

I can see Central Suffolk and Ipswich North from the end of our lane, and it's another seat where we had a solid vote prior to the Coalition, but not since;
  • 2015 - 3,314 votes, 6.1%, fourth place (out of six)
  • 2017 - 2,431 votes, 4.3%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 6,485 votes, 11.5%, third place (out of four)
I'm pleased for James Sandbach, in that he seemed to enjoy the campaign, and was a fine ambassador for Mid Suffolk Liberal Democrats.

The last seat contested was Suffolk Coastal, which probably saw more activity than in recent years past;
  • 2015 - 4,777 votes, 8.6%, fourth place (out of five)
  • 2017 - 4,048 votes, 7.0%, third place (out of five)
  • 2019 - 8,719 votes, 15.0%, third place (out of five)
The Jules Ewart campaign was certainly busy and prominent, and there's definitely something there to build upon going forward.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned Bury St Edmunds, my own constituency. We were stood down in favour of the Greens as part of the Unite to Remain alliance. I can't say that it went down all that well, but sometimes you have to compromise in search of an over-riding goal. The Greens came third, with 15.7% of the vote, and it's probably one of their best results in the country, but as Jo Churchill ended up with a majority of 24,988, it probably didn't affect much.

So, looking at it in the round, we're back in third place across the county, and whilst that might not seem like much of an achievement, it is at least progress in the right direction. Our vote share increase averaged out at 5.4% across the six contested seats, slightly better than the Party did nationally, and we averaged 9.7% in terms of vote share, a bit behind the national performance, but a reflection of the relative weakness of the Party in sleepy Suffolk.

Setting aside the Police and Crime Commissioner election, our next county-wide contest is the County Council election in 2021, which will be fought on new boundaries. Here in Mid Suffolk, our strategy is pretty obvious, I suspect, but it might be worth paying some attention to the boundary changes. The consultation phase ends next month...

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Thanks to Quentin Letts, I suddenly have rather more money in my pocket...

I used to be a Guardian reader which, given that I'm a Liberal Democrat, might not surprise that many people. And yes, there were annoying aspects to it - Polly Toynbee, for the most part, but I could put up with that. But, about six years ago, I switched to The Times, newspaper of record and all that. Their sports coverage was quite good, and whilst I didn't necessarily feel comfortable with either their editorial line or, to be honest, their ownership, I took the view that I'm enough of a sceptic to consciously filter out their right-wing bias.

One of the features that I follow particularly closely is the parliamentary sketch, and I'd grown used to Patrick Kidd's style but then, a few months back, I noticed that he had gone, replaced by... Quentin Letts. I loathe his writing, his rather snide, sneering approach to people who, for all of their failings, are mostly trying to do a job of work, and their best of society. They're also paid considerably less than he is, I suspect, part of which comes from my wallet.

I put up with it for a while but my sense was that the paper was drifting towards the knee-jerk right, and so, this morning, I rang the subscriptions department to cancel (interestingly, they don't appear to offer an option to do so online - at least, I couldn't find it). After pressing a few option buttons, I was put through to a very polite young (I thought) man, sitting in an office in Colchester.

"I'd like to cancel my subscription.", I said, politely. "Really,", he replied, "may I ask why that is? I see that you've been a subscriber for six years.". "Quentin Letts,", I said, "I really don't like his attitude or style.". (I paraphrase here...).

The young man tried to convince me to change my mind. "We do have some other excellent columnists - Melanie Phillips and Rachel Sylvester were the two names he used to persuade me to stay. He was unfortunate in his choice, in that I can't bring myself to read much of Melanie's diatribes, and Rachel Sylvester has not really drawn my attention.

No, I insisted, I'd like to terminate my subscription. He hesitated. "Let me talk to my manager for a moment. I'll put you on hold and get back to you.". I waited, patiently. After all, I'm a polite soul, and he was simply doing his job.

He returned. "I've spoken to my manager, and would a half-price subscription for three months change your mind?". No, I said, it's not about the money, it's about a principle. I don't like Quentin Letts and his works, you've employed him, and this is the consequence.". "Would six months at half price change that?". "No, as I said, it's not about the money.".

"It's sorry that you're leaving, you'll miss our excellent sports reporting and range of columnists. I'm sure that, in a few months, you'll be back.". "I'm afraid not,", I replied, "and as I think about it, adding Rod Liddle to the list, I'm almost surprised that I've lasted this long.".

Eventually, he gave in to the inevitable. I wasn't going to change my mind, and it was agreed that my subscription would lapse on 19 January. A reference number was generated, so that I could monitor whether or not they try to continue taking my money, and we brought our conversation to an end.

It dawns on me that many people in this country don't read a daily newspaper any more, for a range of reasons. And I don't have to either. There are plenty of free news sources online, there are more reputable options, and I can now explore those. And, best of all, I don't have to read the parliamentary sketches by Quentin Letts any more. 

Frankly, John Crace is much better...

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Democracy - it seems as though they had to destroy the concept in order to “save” it

In elections, winning matters. There are very few politicians or political activists who would suggest with an entirely straight face that, by taking part, you influence the debate and that winning is thus not so important. Yes, I acknowledge that your better, more attractive ideas will be stolen by your opponents, which is on the whole fine, but it’s how you implement them that really counts. Someone who steals something shiny probably won’t understand the basic mechanics that make an idea truly effective.

So, winning matters.

But, in a democracy, you ideally want voters to be properly informed, able to make choices based on a range of fact-based ideas so as to elect people likely to make their communities better (the definition of “better” may not be wholly inclusive, of course...). And that makes the notion of truth important.

In advertising, you are obliged to be able to demonstrate that your claim for any particular product is true. The Advertising Standards Authority takes a dim view of false claims, and this is obviously in the interests of consumers - especially when a false prospectus can have serious effects. We label food products to prevent mischance, for similar reasons.

We have no equivalent for political campaigning, of course. After all, politicians are promising that, by doing X, Y will improve. There’s no certainty - economic circumstances are not wholly within the control of nation states, political theories are only really tested in the actuality - and so there’s quite a lot of aspiration involved. If taxes are raised, what will be the likely impact? And what will be the actual impact?

Many politicians have been blurring that for some time. “We will increase the number of nurses in the NHS by 50,000.”, for example, rather depends on there being 50,000 people who want to be, or remain, nurses. Appointing people and retaining them is difficult, especially if you don’t address the underlying causes of nursing shortages. So, you would be more truthful in saying that you believe that the NHS needs 50,000 more nurses, and here are my ideas for achieving that.

For people who care about process, that can be a bit frustrating, but given that most people are only really interested in direction of travel, that level of detailed argument is probably a pipedream.

Falsehoods are a different matter though. For example, claiming that homelessness had fallen sharply over nine years of Conservative administration, as Sajid Javid did, when the truth was the reverse, is a falsehood. Deliberate or accidental, only he can tell, although the fact that the error was clearly in his favour leads one to be sceptical about his honesty. But his error was then reported as truth by a mostly friendly media with little or no incentive to fact check him.

And then there is the out and out lie. You can, for example, sieve through every policy motion passed at a Labour Conference, put an estimated price on it - your estimate, mind, not necessarily an independent one - add them all up and claim that that’s what a Labour government would cost. No government ever does everything its members want it to, it trims its coat according to the available cloth - yes, even Labour governments. And, of course, the expectation is that additional means can be found to pay for additional spending.

Social media now allows something new and altogether more troubling - the co-ordinated mass lie. The story of the young boy lying on a bed of coats on the floor of the A & E department at Leeds General Infirmary was not a good image for an administration seeking re-election. But the number of Twitter accounts all suddenly claiming to have a close friend working at Leeds Hospital who knew that the story, and the image, were a set-up, was no coincidence. The fact that they were all the same smacks of cynical news manipulation, but it will be effective. Most social media users will only see one or two of them, whereas if they saw the same claim on a poster, for example, or knew that two hundred or more people were tweeting exactly the same thing, perhaps their suspicions might be aroused.

There are those who will claim that, in order to protect the country from X, there are no tactics that are unacceptable. They will argue that, if a Corbyn-led Labour administration is elected, the country will be ruined, and so must be prevented at any cost.

The problem is that lying is cumulative, that foul play is cumulative. And, if rewarded, sends out a message that, in order to win, you have to do the same. And thus, any hope of an informed democracy is destroyed, leaving a toxic wasteland of lies, misrepresentation and voter alienation.

And, if you’re willing to do those things, what else are you willing to undermine? The independence of the judiciary? The neutrality of the Civil Service? In other words, if winning is all that counts, have you actually forgotten what you were winning to protect?...

Monday, December 09, 2019

It's been a tough few weeks for supporters of the BBC...

I am, on the whole, a glass half-full sort of person. I have a worrying tendency to assume that people are acting for the best of motives unless there is evidence to the contrary. Most people are, after all, broadly honest, kind to animals and want the best for those around them.

But, and let's be honest here, this election campaign has been to truth what Attila the Hun was to good neighbour schemes. And it's not just politicians who should carry the blame - the media have their share of responsibility too.

Today's incident when Laura Kuenssberg tweeted that one of Matt Hancock's team was punched by a Labour activist turned out not to be even vaguely accurate was perhaps the nadir of the campaign. She claimed to have two sources, neither of whom she is even now willing to name, despite the fact that the video was out there, demonstrating that her report was untrue - and no, I can't give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that it was a simple mistake.

I don't know who her two sources were, and she is within her rights not to tell, but it appears that she took their word at face value, and is happy to protect them from the consequences of their lies. In other words, she accepted the word of people who clearly had an interest in a particular slant to the story, and broadcast that to 1.1 million people without even a basic fact check. That isn't journalism, it's propaganda, and even if she didn't mean to promote the views of one or other party, that's exactly what she achieved. A lie, propagated by a notional credible, neutral source, was off around the world, and she is to blame.

She wasn't alone, of course, as Robert Peston was equally quick to point the finger. And yes, they have both subsequently apologised but the basic premise of journalism seems to have been lost by both of them.

And the sad thing is that, at a time when the BBC should be striving to be as neutral as a state broadcaster should be, and in the face of calls for it to be stripped of its state funding via the licence fee, such "mistakes" drive its natural supporters to shrug their shoulders and countenance a world without its key public sector broadcaster.

I would consider myself to be, in principle, a defender of a public broadcasting service, dedicated to entertaining and informing in equal measure. But what do you do if said institution turns out to be, in all honesty, as much part of the problem as it is the solution to media bias? Can politicians and political activists really defend the BBC against the charge that the licence fee is anti-competitive and, in an age of mass media, a subsidy from Sky TV viewers to those who watch BBC1 or BBC2? And, more importantly, will it be defended with any great enthusiasm?

And yet, there has to be an alternative to privately-owned media, free to pursue their own political agenda. For private media are, in the main, owned by the wealthy, whose interests tend not to be those of the general public. Most of our broadsheets are owned by people who prefer not to pay their tax here (or anywhere else, come to that), and thus have little interest in the quality of public services except as a stick to beat politicians with. They also tend to be less favourable towards redistribution, equality and diversity - all of which tend to work against their personal interests. And it is their right as private citizens to hold such views. It's just that they seek to persuade other people, whose interests might not be quite the same, to vote in a particular way, and have the means to do so. Not exactly an level playing field for political campaigners and perhaps worthy of scrutiny.

Today, the Leader of the Conservative Party brought into question the future of the licence fee, and there wasn't exactly a rush to defend it. In such ways do our institutions crumble and die...

Friday, November 22, 2019

General Election 2019 - the view from a comfortable seat on the sidelines...

Regular readers of this blog will know that I live and do politics in mid-Suffolk. And those of you who know mid-Suffolk will know that the district is split between two Parliamentary constituencies, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds. Creeting St Peter is on the boundary between the two seats, having been in Central Suffolk until 2010, and in Bury St Edmunds thereafter. As part of the deal making over the “Remain Alliance”, local Liberal Democrats were stood down in Bury St Edmunds in favour of the Greens.

And this “not having a candidate to support” is strangely disconcerting. There is no local activity to get involved in, no camaraderie of getting things done. It does begin to feel as though the election is happening somewhere else, even though it’s all over the media. I have at least been out and about with Ros - to Cambridge and North Norfolk - and attended campaign launches in Central Suffolk and, this evening, in Ipswich.

We’re not alone, of course. When I started this blog, I was living in south London, and was Chair of Dulwich and West Norwood Liberal Democrats. They've been stood down in favour of the Greens too.

I don’t need to be persuaded that the deals done with the Greens and with Plaid Cymru were helpful in maximising our prospects in seats we really could win - that’s a pragmatic response to the injustice that “first past the post “ doles out to smaller parties - but it does leave our activists in such seats with a dilemma. Do we campaign for the party we have stood down in favour of, or campaign for ourselves in our areas of strength just to remind people we exist, or travel somewhere more promising to lend a hand? Or, do we simply sit this one out?

The Party would (and does) urge people like me to go somewhere else, as there is never enough resource in key seats. And some of us will do that, travelling across the county boundary to deliver leaflets or canvass or whatever, whilst others telephone canvass if they can. Others will give generously to support campaigns both national and local. But some will simply stay at home because politics isn’t their lives, or because they don’t have the same stake in helping people that they don’t really know, or that travelling for a couple of hours to deliver a few leaflets doesn’t feel like a good use of their time. 

Of course, what happens with all of those Liberal Democrat campaigns out there matters deeply. Having more Liberal Democrat MPs speaking up for tolerance, decency and internationalism (amongst other things) must be a good thing. And I know (and like) some of our candidates personally, which does give me an interest which is not entirely academic.

So, the campaign continues, albeit somewhere else, and our road trips will do too...

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Is there a danger that our politics is spiralling into a moral void?

I don’t consider myself to be an exceptionally good person. I have, I admit, flaws. I have an erratic attention span, don’t always deliver entirely what I promise to, and could be better organised. But I like to think that I’m pretty loyal, prefer facts to rhetoric, and that I care about the people around me. If given a choice, I will tend to avoid personal attacks and make a positive case for the things I believe in rather than tear down my opponents.

And that, perhaps, is why I find modern retail politics so uncomfortable. I almost enjoy canvassing for myself, meeting voters and finding out what worries or concerns them. Putting out leaflets explaining what I think might be done reminds me that local government can potentially be a force for good. The problem is that, faced with opponents who make false claims, my first thought is to combat them with more positivity rather than confront their claims. The anecdotal evidence, unfortunately, is that such an approach doesn’t appear to work that well.

So, when my Conservative opponent in 2011 claimed to be the local candidate despite living miles away from the ward, I merely emphasised my local connections, leaving her misrepresentation to stand. I lost, albeit respectably, but I still lost. I am told that I should have raised the issue of her lack of connection to the ward early on, but it felt uncomfortable. Ultimately, my moral scruples may have cost me victory.

But I now find myself watching from the sidelines a contest where one side is running a campaign seemingly utterly lacking in moral scruples but without apparent consequence. Either voters have reconciled themselves to this, and polling numbers appear to suggest that, or the choices offered to them are so lacking in appeal that lying and misrepresentation are seen as legitimate tactics. That’s about as dispiriting as can be if you believe in politics as a potential force for positive change. For, if a politician is not tangibly punished for knowingly committing falsehoods, and indeed appears to be being rewarded for doing so, what incentive is there for others to play by the usual societal rules?

And thus, we see a political environment where those with integrity and decency are driven out, leaving those with the thickest skin, the least self-awareness or the greatest avarice left to “represent” us. Are such people actually what we aspire to in governance terms?

Don’t get me wrong. I still believe that many politicians are broadly decent and honourable. But tolerating such behaviour tarnishes the soul, and risks making you guilty by association. If your senior colleagues lie and dissemble, they are doing so in your name and, if you stay quiet, your complicity must be assumed.

I have no expectation that some of the more egregious committers of falsehoods will suddenly see the light and admit that they were wrong, indeed, I expect them to prosper, at least in the short term. But, in doing so they will coarsen our political debate, and the price will eventually be paid by us all, in poor government and resultant waste, inefficiency and expense. Because rules matter, and when times are tough, they matter even more...

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Creeting St Peter - a Parish Council dares to dream?

So, I’ve been chairing Creeting St Peter Parish Council for eighteen months now, and the village hasn’t suffered a plague of frogs, or forest fires so, on the whole, I’d count that as a success. But there is a danger that you allow things to drift - carrying on the way you always have because, well, it seems to be going alright, doesn’t it?

On Monday night, Parish Council met, and there were two key items on the agenda, the draft budget and our communications strategy.

I would be the first to admit that our budget isn’t very exciting - having a precept of £5,500 or so is never going to allow us to build a skate park, or that high speed rail link to London that I’d had my heart set on. But there is an alluring comfort in simply rolling over last year’s figures, adding a little for inflation and shaking hands on the numbers. After all, we charge each household about 14p per day on average, an almost imperceptible amount, right?

But one of my colleagues raised the perfectly legitimate point that we have healthy reserves, and could credibly freeze our precept and use a slither of the reserves to meet any gap between income and expenditure. And I do find myself wondering. The solution was, in the next financial year, to have a meaningful discussion about our short, medium and long term goals as a Parish Council and as a community, and draw up a financial plan on the basis of that. It gives us a potential opportunity to engage with residents, and might trigger some innovative changes in how we work.

Ironically, we were missing one key figure, i.e. the tax base, and after the meeting, that emerged. Even more ironically, the figure supplied means that we can support a small increase to the budget yet leave the precept per household unchanged. That doesn't change how I feel about a more activist approach to our finances though.

The discussion on our communication strategy is similarly thorny. We have two possibly conflicting goals, to improve how we tell people what’s happening in a more immediate way than a quarterly newsletter, and to maintain cost control. Our thoughts so far revolve around the use of e-mail and a PDF newsletter, which would allow us to reach residents much faster than we currently can, or do, but would effectively create two "classes" of residents, those who have (or want) internet access to information, and those who don't. You could get around that ethical dilemma by calling it an opt-in process, but it doesn't avoid the fact that some people simply won't be able to.

It has been suggested that we commit to distributing any information both by e-mail and by leaflet, but that acts as a disincentive to communicate by making it more difficult to do so due to the additional resource (both financial and human) that would be necessary.

There is a danger of paralysis through doubt though, and we really must improve the way we reach out to residents. So, we're going to approach residents to encourage them to opt in to e-mail communication, and then work from there. It may be that we're worrying about a very small number of households, and that we can solve that problem in an ad hoc way.

Ultimately, our goal is to help the village to be the best place it can be, and engaging with residents enables them to take control of some, perhaps minor, aspects of their lives. It certainly isn't big, and it probably isn't that clever, but one ought to try...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Shaping Suffolk" - how community engagement might influence planning and development

Yesterday found me out of the office, but not by very far, as I had signed up to take part in a conference organised by the Suffolk Association of Local Council, called "Shaping Suffolk".

The aim of the event was to look at how we might improve the way planning authorities and local councils (by which I mean town and parish councils) engage with each other and with developers.

I would be the first to admit that, in Creeting St Peter, we don't really do much about engagement in an organised sense. It can feel a bit ad hoc and, I suspect, look a bit amateurish. That, I guess, is partly due to resource and knowledge - we're a collection of concerned citizens that mean well, after all.

But a lack of planning applications due to our status as a hamlet village doesn't mean that there isn't much that we can do to improve, and so I volunteered to attend on behalf of our small, but perfectly-formed, Parish Council.

The first session was on the principles of engagement framework, and was introduced by Philip Isbell, the Chief Planning Officer of Babergh and Mid Suffolk District Councils, and he launched a good practice guide for community engagement. Now, you may argue that such a guide would be unnecessary for a well-run council, and I might agree with you, but many issues surrounding consultation and engagement require smaller councils in particular to step outside of their natural comfort zone. You know, making decisions in the public eye, rather than in virtual anonymity.

I did feel that there was a weakness, in that the document seemed only to address the stages up to and including the decision making stage, yet the question of how we engage with the post-application phase, mostly around issues of enforcement, something which has irked me in the past, appeared to be rather disregarded. So, I took the opportunity of the lunch break to ask him if he thought that there was more that could be done, and he was willing to acknowledge that it was an aspect that could be improved.

The after lunch session started with a session on how to respond to planning applications, led by Rachel Almond, from West Suffolk Council, highlighting the issues that can be reasonably considered in our submissions as statutory consultees, as well as those that really can't, but often are. There can be a tendency to assume that, because you don't like a particular aspect of a planning application, you can simply say so and be taken seriously. The National Planning Policy Framework does offer a useful guide to what a local council can, or should, do.

The final session was about infrastructure assessment, funding and delivery and, that elusive thing, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). Neil McManus and Steve Merry, from Suffolk County Council, talked about the sort of infrastructure spending that developers might be persuaded to support. Although, for parishes such as mine, we wouldn't expect to have much in the way of CIL funding ever, especially given we aren't thought of as being a likely magnet for development, nor does the Council intend to permit more housing in hamlet village due to the lack of facilities.

Nicola Parrish, from East Suffolk Council, spoke about how CIL funds are distributed, and highlighted some recent changes that specify reporting, not only in terms of how money is spent, but what happens if it isn't. And, to wrap up, Tom Newcombe, a partner at our hosts, Birketts, and head of their Planning and Environmental Team, neatly summarised some of the key issues for local councils to factor into their thinking.

All in all, a useful day, and I think that most of the attendees gained something from it, so much credit to Sally Longmate and her team at the Suffolk Association of Local Councils for organising it. Apparently, they're hoping to hold a similar event on highways and allied issues, although, from a personal perspective, I'd like to see public transport included as part of the mix. It would be fair to say that I have "views" on that particular subject.

Monday, November 18, 2019

It’s not just the Presidential contest that isn’t over yet...

One of the advantages of reading constitutions is that you tend to have a better grasp of the rules of the contest. And, if you read more than one constitution, you’re likely to have a better grasp of the intersections between them. Better still, if you had a hand in writing one of them...

When the new Federal International Relations Committee emerged from the Party’s most recent governance review, I was the Secretary of its predecessor, and I realised quite quickly that someone was going to have to deal with the constitutional niceties. Given the makeup of the Committee, that was probably always going to be me, and so I arranged for the creation of standing orders, a communications plan and all of the other stuff required by the Federal Constitution.

It would be fair to say that there was some grumbling in terms of why this stuff was necessary. But, if you’re going to have a job, you need a framework within which it can be delivered.

One of my early tasks was to suggest how the new ALDE Party Council delegation would be determined, and I concluded that, regardless of how many places we were entitled to, two of our delegates should be the Party President, given their stated role as the principle public representative of the Party, and the Chair of the Federal International Relations Committee, which seemed obvious. The rest were to be directly elected.

This was accepted by the Committee, and, in due course, advised to the Party so that this could be dealt with as part of the election cycle. I note, in passing, that this didn’t happen this year, and all six of our delegates were directly elected. And whilst that’s a problem, it’s not one that I can fix.

However, wearing one of my other hats, I was considering a proposal within the ALDE Party for revising its membership fee structure and, by extension, member party entitlements. From that sprang a revised formula for determining how many Council delegates a member party is entitled to, and this turned out to be;

1  +  number of votes received/500,000  +  percentage vote/10

where the votes received and percentage vote related to the last Parliamentary election.

2015 hadn’t been a good year for us, and so, the calculation was;

1  +  2,415,916/500,000  +  7.9/10  =   6.62

which was rounded to the nearest whole number, i.e. 7.

2017 was, almost unbelievably, worse, and so, the calculation was;

1  +  2,371,861/500,000  +  7.4/10   =   6.48

which, rounded to the nearest whole number, became 6, the number used to determine how many would be elected this time.

Those of you who “get” numbers will probably now be thinking, “ah, I see where this is going...”.

Throwing the current polling numbers into the calculation, and assuming that turnout on 12 December is similar to last time, the formula produces this;

1  +  5,120,000/500,000  +  16/10   =   12.84

or, rounded to the nearest whole number, 13.

In other words, the Returning Officer will be required to rerun the election with a revised number of vacancies, and my race may yet not be run...

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday means roast meat and all the trimmings...

After the disappointment of yesterday’s election results, today was a rather more uplifting sort of day, as Ros had planned a lunch date to celebrate my birthday (not today, but close), and had promised a proper Sunday roast in Long Melford, about forty minutes away across the heart of Suffolk.

There are many places that boast about the quality of their Sunday lunches, and they don’t always live up to the hype, but the Black Lion delivers. This delicious looking pile of roast vegetables, served with two generous slices of roast topside of beef and a perfect Yorkshire pudding, served with cauliflower cheese and lashings of gravy, plus some perfect roast potatoes, was the perfect pick-me-up, made even better by the company of Ros.

We’d started the day with a gentle stroll up and down Hall Street and Little St Mary’s, before retracing our steps and passing the entrance to Melford Hall. Long Melford is a pretty enough little place, with enough in the way of facilities to enable you to meet most of your urgent needs, whilst Sudbury is close enough for supermarkets etc.

On the way back, we stopped briefly in Lavenham, mostly to pick up some Christmas and birthday cards from the Guildhall, a National Trust property. It’s a lovely little town, with so much gorgeous architecture, and ironically this was only preserved because it had fallen on such hard times.

So, all in all, a lovely day, and a short break from the election campaign. And now, back to work...

Saturday, November 16, 2019

A bureaucrat, a glass of Transnistrian brandy and some election results...

All good things must come to an end, I am told, and my time on the Party's Federal International Relations Committee has come to an end after five occasionally glorious years, following today's publication of the Federal Party election results.

In truth, I didn't do too badly, coming seventh on first preferences in an election for six vacancies although, in the final analysis, I was pushed down to eighth on transfers, but only just. And, given that I was beaten by some very worthy candidates, I can't really complain. Some churn is necessary to keep committees fresh, and I am no exception to that desirable rule.

Indeed, of the five members who ran for re-election, only two of us survived, with some interesting new members replacing us.

Hannah Bettsworth returns to the committee in a new guise, having previously represented the Young Liberals in her past life as their International Officer.

Doreen Huddart is an old friend, a fellow Returning Officer and candidate assessor but, more saliently, has served on the EU Committee of the Regions for two decades now. She knows how Europe works, and will add her own inimitable style to proceedings. She likes to do things, rather than be things.

Philippa Leslie-Jones is, I admit, a bit of a mystery to me, but as a former diplomat, you can hardly doubt her credibility as a member of the new committee.

Ruth Coleman-Taylor is another old friend, and has been an active member of our delegations to both the ALDE Party Council and Congress for many years, and is totally committed in her internationalism.

The two survivors are Phil Bennion and Jonathan Fryer, both of whom are well known and well regarded, so it is a strong committee going forward.

So, four women and two men, which is a bit unusual in historical terms, the committee having been a bit "male heavy" in the past.

I have one final task to perform, having been asked to act as Returning Officer for the election of a new Chair. One of the above six will fill the role, as per the Federal Constitution, and I will be working with Denali Ranasinghe, FIRC's Secretary, to progress this.

I also ran to return to the ALDE Party Council delegation after a three year break and, on first sight, it looks like I lost. There is a complication though, as we elected six members. The ALDE Party Standing Orders state that a member party's entitlement of Council delegates is linked to its electoral performance and is updated on 1 January of the year following the last set of national elections. So, if we do well, I might yet be back.

I may have rather more personal interest in our performance on 12 December than I had expected...

Saturday, September 21, 2019

ALDE Party Congress, Athens 2019 - "Resolution on Transnational lists and the lead candidate process"

One of the things about the ALDE Party's Individual Members group is that it has a keen interest in what, to national parties, is rather esoteric. There is no "nation agenda" and thus they don't have an interest to protect, so to speak. The idea of transnational lists is not a new one, indeed, Andrew Duff has been championing the idea for some years now, seeing it as he does as a way of creating a "European demos".

Resolution on Transnational lists and the lead candidate process

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party convening in Athens, Greece, on 24-26 October 2019:

Notes that:
  • more than 50% of the EU citizens eligible to vote took part at the last European elections in May 2019, marking the highest turnout in 20 years and the first time since the first direct elections in 1979 in which turnout increased. Significantly more young people with a pro-European mind-set cast their vote, according to a Eurobarometer survey across all 28 Member States. Among the main reasons identified for voting were “being in favour of the EU” (25%, +11 percentage points) and “the desire to change things by voting” (18%, +6 percentage points);
  • regardless of the encouraging turnout increase, disaffection with politics, particularly but by no means exclusively among young people, is continuing to be a trend, and is one of the driving forces behind the rise of extreme and eurosceptic forces in many parts of Europe. While politicians are increasingly viewed as distant and out of touch with voters, the topics on the European agenda continue to be far-off to the voters;
  • the political struggle following the elections in nominating the President of the European Commission, was vastly seen by the European citizens as a highlight for one of the fundamental structural challenges in European integration, as it was perceived to be an embodiment of behind-closed doors policies and lack of democratic transparency in decision-making;
  • the “Lead candidate system” for the election of the President of the European Commission should therefore be maintained, but improved through the introduction of pan-European transnational lists for the European elections in 2024. This would ensure that the vote of the pro-European voters effectively matters and that a transnational, European political sphere is put in place as a precondition for the strengthening of the European citizenship.
Points out that:
  • the European Parliament has called for the introduction of transnational lists on numerous occasions, the first time being in 1998, followed by a proposal with an ALDE Group rapporteur in 2011, and just recently in the last mandate of the European Parliament with a strong support by the ALDE Group;
  • that the ALDE Party has already acknowledged in its resolutions in 2013, 2016 and 2017 that “The elections of some members of the European Parliament via transnational lists will increase the importance of European political parties and contribute to the creation of a European public sphere”, that “the ALDE Party is well positioned to bridge the gap between national and European politics; (and) transnational coalitions have the potential to strengthen European democracy and can help to reconnect European citizens with European institutions, policies and issues;” and that lead candidate system needs to be supported and “a modified process to be developed to make the appointment of the President of the European Commission even more transparent and inclusive and to put an end to non-transparent backroom politics”;
  • transnational lists will create a common European constituency for the entire European Union, alongside the constituencies of the Member states thus fostering the European citizenship and reinforcing the topics on the EU agenda. In addition, transnational lists will not affect degressive proportionality, and would be geographically and gender balanced to reflect the plurality of the European citizens;
  • transnational lists have the potential to increase the visibility of pro-European parties and at the same time improve the balance between national interests and the common European goal.
Calls on the ALDE Party and its Member organisations, Party leaders, Commissioners, members of Governments, members of European and national parliaments to:
  • work for the creation of transnational lists for the 2024 European elections that will allow citizens to vote for candidates from across the EU;
  • make sure that European political parties are equipped with the legal frameworks for European - wide campaigns and budgeting for conducting a truly transnational campaign;
  • ensure in the future, that the candidate of the party with the most votes should not necessarily become President of the European Commission, but rather the candidate who is able to unite a majority in the European Parliament and manage to gain the citizens’ support in a transnational lists’ European electoral system;
  • reaffirm the commitment to the lead candidate process, but one that is reformed and improved to an electoral process in which the European citizens can directly participate in the appointment of the President of the European Commission;
  • insist that the possibility to vote directly for lead candidates appointed by the different European political parties as heads of the transnational lists is the best way to ensure a pan-European political sphere and strengthening the interest in the European elections and the voter turnout;
  • promote such system in the discussion of a conference and in any other high level event that may be organised by the European Union's institutions for reaching the political agreement on transnational lists by all pro-European parties.

There is a part of me that supports the notion, that believes in a European demos and sees the logic of transnational lists. And yet, there is a problem that the European political groupings are not represented across the Union, and the ability of transnational parties to campaign across twenty-eight nation states is utterly underdeveloped, with little sense that Europe-wide manifestos mean very much for now.

I also sense that there isn't a lot of agreement on the way, so this may well face quite a lot of opposition.

ALDE Party Congress, Athens 2019 - "A framework directive on soil protection"

I have an unexplained fondness for Radicali Italiani, who tend to write very intellectual resolutions which read like academic texts. This is one of their more accessible efforts...

A framework directive on soil protection

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party convening in Athens, Greece, on 24-26 October 2019:

Is convinced that:
  • soil is one of the irreplaceable resources for the life of ecosystems and of man and that it is a substantially non-renewable resource;
  • soil conservation, which is one of the main reservoirs of organic carbon, is one of the tools to reduce the effects of climate change.
Notes that:
  • the main functions of the soil are: the offer of a physical and cultural environment for man and his activities, the production of biomass, food and raw materials, storage, filtration and transformation of nutrients substances and water, the provision of support for the development of biodiversity, the establishment of a carbon reserve and the conservation of the geological and archaeological heritage.
Considers that:
  • European environmental directives compelled Member States to adopt appropriate legislation that in the last years has contributed to a change in citizens' behaviour and to improve the quality of environment;
  • European policies on air and water protection, proper waste disposal, phytosanitary products influenced Member State legislation;
  • in 2006, the European Commission adopted the "Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection" (COM(2006) 231) but the draft of the framework Directive envisaged therein has never been adopted;
  • the above-mentioned strategy accurately lists the threats affecting European soils;
  • soil is one of the biggest organic carbon reservoirs, therefore soil protection is a crucial tool to combat climate change;
  • some Member States, such as Italy, don't have a specific legislation on soil protection.
Calls on all member parties of ALDE Party, Renew Europe Group members of the European Parliament and Liberal Prime ministers:
  • to promote at the European Commission a proposal for a Framework Directive on Soil Protection in order to influence Member State legislation, aiming to reverse the trends and improve the conditions of this irreplaceable environmental resource.

Again, there's not much there to argue with, and it should pass without much dissent.

Friday, September 20, 2019

ALDE Party Congress, Athens 2019 - "Chick culling – A European concern"

Sometimes, you end up with resolutions that don't appear to be terribly important, and this one is one of those. Yes, animal cruelty should be challenged, but at a time of stress, you do wonder if this is worth debating time...

Chick culling – A European concern

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party convening in Athens, Greece, on 24-26 October 2019:

Having regard to:

  • the resolution “The Link between Animal Welfare, Public Health and Resistance to Antibiotics” adopted at the ALDE Party Congress in Helsinki, Finland (October 2010).
Notes that:

  • as of 2018 around 7 billion day-old male chicks were culled per year in the egg industry worldwide;
  • not all culled chicks can be used as animal feed (e.g. for snakes);
  • the practice of chick culling produces millions of unnecessary deaths of chicks and is therefore unethical;
  • the EU needs to have equal livestock husbandry standards to ensure fair competition;
  • unilateral measures at national level cannot stop the practice of chick culling in the EU as a unilateral approach leads to millions of day-old chicks to be transported to those countries that still allow chick culling.
Calls for:

  • all EU Member States to introduce an alternative procedure to timely identify masculine chicks before they are able to feel pain;
  • all EU Member States to ban the practice of chick culling;
  • all EU Member States to decide which alternative procedure to timely identify male chicks they want to implement. Currently, countries can choose for example the ovo-gender determination or the magnetic resonance imaging;
  • the EU to invest in research projects about alternatives to culling chicks;
  • the EU to install a system that ensures the enforcement of the ban on chick culling.
I have to be honest and admit that I know nothing about this, but would expect it to be passed without much comment.

ALDE Party Congress, Athens 2019 - "Carbon Capture and Storage: Reaching the Paris Goals"

More environmental policy making, this time from our Norwegian sister party, Venstre...

Carbon Capture and Storage: Reaching the Paris Goals

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party convening in Athens, Greece, on 24-26 October 2019:

Taking note of:

  • the fact that carbon capture and storage (CCS) enables deep decarbonisation of the economy, and in particular for a number of industries that have few or no other options to significantly reduce emissions;
  • the challenge posed by waste management, as global waste is predicted to reach several billion tonnes by 2050 and a significant part of this waste is expected to be incinerated, a process which leads to high levels of CO2 emissions;
  • the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s estimate that CCS can bring about 19 percent of global CO2 emission cuts by 2050;
  • the work of countries such as the Netherlands, the UK and Norway in developing CCS through a series of pilot project;
  • the IPCC 1.5 degree report, highlighting the urgency for climate action, and the need to successfully implement affordable CCS solutions to be able to significantly reduce global emissions by mid-century.

  • cross-border cooperation on CCS can help rapidly drive down costs of decarbonising the European economy
  • in a European approach to CCS that connects infrastructure and supports research and development funding in a way to maintain the competitiveness of European industry in a low-carbon economy;
  • that CCS, rather than prolonging the life of the fossil fuelled economy, is a necessary solution to decarbonise industries where no other options currently exist;
  • that the successful reduction of costs for CCS technology will also lay the groundwork for potential carbon dioxide removal technologies in the future, which might prove necessary if global emissions aren't reduced rapidly.
Calls for:

  • recognition by all European countries that CCS technology has been deployed at scale for decades, and is readily available;
  • recognition that cooperation on CCS across Europe is a necessity to enable deep decarbonisation of the European economy;
  • all ALDE Party members to work in their respective countries to increase support and, where necessary, develop funding schemes for CCS technology;
  • all ALDE Party members to work in their respective countries towards developing storage facilities for CO2 and/or transportation infrastructure nationally, and thus contributing to realising the continent-wide uptake of CCS technology;
  • all ALDE Party members to work to support increased EU funding for CCS pilot projects.

I tend to the view that there's little in this resolution to oppose, but sense that it might be combined with the previous resolution, "A Climate Policy that Delivers on the Paris Agreement" for the sake of coherence.

ALDE Party Congress, Athens 2019 - "A Climate Policy that Delivers on the Paris Agreement"

So, as promised, here we go with the draft resolutions submitted for debate at the end of next month...

A Climate Policy that Delivers on the Paris Agreement

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party convening in Athens, Greece, on 24-26 October 2019:

Taking note of:
  • the alarming trends of climate change and environmental deterioration in the last couple of decades;
  • the fact that the rate of Antarctica ice mass loss has tripled in the last decade and that the rate of sea level rise in the last two decades, however, is nearly double of that of the last century and is accelerating every year;
  • that according to the European Environment agency, EU greenhouse gas emissions increased by 0.6% in 2017, following a 0.4% decrease in 2016, and projected reductions fall short of the 40 % emissions reduction target for 2030;
  • that human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above pre-industrial levels and global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate;
  • that shipping emissions are predicted to increase between 50% and 250% by 2050, depending on future economic and energy developments, and that global international aviation emissions are projected to increase 300-700% by 2050;
  • that global warming is a phenomenon witnessed in most land and ocean regions, causing hot extremes in most inhabited regions, heavy precipitation in several regions and the probability of drought and precipitation deficits in some regions. That this poses the rising concern of access to water and food security and climate migration; 
  • that according to the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change published in 2006, estimates that the costs and risks of climate change inaction will be equivalent to losing from 5% to 20% or more of the global GDP each year, while the estimate for the annual cost of achieving stabilisation of the levels of CO2 emissions is amounting to around 2% of global GDP per year;
  • the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol;
  • the Paris Agreement and the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UNFCCC and the 11th Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP11) held in Paris, France from 30 November to 11 December 2015;
  • the commitment of all countries under the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C;
  • the IPCC 1.5°C Special Report from October 2018 in which the world’s leading climate scientists warn there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C, and call for urgent action to require unprecedented efforts to cut fossil-fuel use in half in less than 15 years and eliminate their use almost entirely in 30 years;
  • the UN Climate Action Summit held in New York 23 September 2019;
  • the growth of employment in the environmental goods and services sector in the years 2007-2011 by 20% in spite of the crisis;
  • the global market for environmental goods and services is estimated at €1,000 billion per year and is growing fast;
  • that according to the Commission, better eco-design, waste prevention, recycling and reuse could bring net savings for EU businesses, estimated to represent up to €600 billion, or 8% of annual turnover, while also reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4%;
  • the crucial role of non-state actors, and especially the private sector, in decarbonising our economy and combating climate change;
  • the collective nature of environmental threats, meaning that no country goes unaffected by the actions of another;
  • the moderate progress for the preparatory work ahead of the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UNFCCC;
  • the European Council’s failed attempts to commit to climate neutrality by 2050;
  • the student-led climate change marches across the world against government inaction on climate change, inspired by Greta Thunberg. 
  • the Commission's strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate-neutral economy by 2050;
  • the new Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s promise to within her first 100 days to deliver a European Green Deal to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050;
  • the adoption of European Union climate and energy legislation such as Emissions Trading System (ETS), Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) and the Governance Regulation;
  • the adoption of the agreement reached at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. 
Believes that:
  • the Paris Agreement and the outlined path towards decarbonisation will give reliable guidance for decision-making, avoid costly lock-ins to high-carbon investments, provide certainty and predictability to business and investors, and encourage a shift from fossil fuel investments towards more sustainable alternative investments;
  • the adoption of the revision of the EU Emissions Trading System for the period 2021-2030 and the Effort Sharing Regulation for the same period is an important step that needs to be followed by higher ambition within a mid-term review if the Union will stay on track to meet the Paris Agreement;
  • raising the ambition, as was done in the revision of EU legislation regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy, was important in order to show that higher ambition is not only needed but also very much possible;
  • a sustainable bioeconomy and circular economy will be a crucial part of the green transition;
  • the role of private actors in ensuring the achievement of environmental goals cannot be understated, and that it is crucial that the necessary frameworks, stability for investments and long term goals exist for the private sector to fulfil their full potential in the environmental area;
  • youth engagement plays an essential role in climate policy, as it is the youth that will have to face the results of the decisions of today;
  • facilitating the development of market solutions, new technology, and green private investment is crucial if we are to reach our common environmental goals;
  • it is important that the EU shows global leadership through established climate frameworks and that they, where appropriate, are open to non-EU actors;
  • Europe must take global leadership in combating climate change through reductions of greenhouse gas emissions and the transition to a fossil free economy;
  • the EU and its Member States must take action in prevention and necessary adaptation of present and future climate change impacts, for example by strengthening its resilience in all areas and making use of all funding instruments available;
  • a robust and credible rule book on how to fully implement the Paris Agreement is needed if the aims of the agreement are to be met.
Calls on:
  • the Commission to swiftly propose an ambitious European Green Deal, including at least a trillion Euros of investments over the coming decade, and an effective climate law that raises the targets for the EU greenhouse gas emissions to be at least 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, and to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, also including considerable economic consequences, for example economic fines or withheld payments from the EU budget, for countries failing to reach their climate and energy targets, ensuring that the Union will meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement;
  • the European Council to commit, as soon as possible, to the target of climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest;
  • the Commission to come up with a strengthened governance framework to prevent and respond to climate risk and climate-related disasters in the European Union;
  • the Commission to promote sustainable agriculture practices and investments including sustainable practices to prevent and control pests;
  • the Commission to propose measures to strengthen the EU emissions trading system (EU ETS), including to increase the linear reduction factor reducing the number of allowances distributed each year, reducing the surplus more rapidly by keeping the withdrawal rate to the market stability reserve at 24% a year even after 2023, to include more sectors such as shipping and international aviation, and move to full auctioning of allowances for all sectors, in order to ensure a sufficiently high carbon price and investments in low carbon technologies and innovation to drive 142 own emissions at the rate needed to reach climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest;
  • the Commission to propose a framework at the EU level in order to promote technical solutions for negative emissions;
  • increased and binding EU energy targets for energy efficiency and renewable energy to at least 40% for 2030 in order to achieve EU climate targets;
  • the Commission to propose a strategy to promote and simplify rail transport across borders to make it more competitive with aviation;
  • the Commission to propose a strategy for greener aviation, in particular by promoting technical solutions for aviation biofuel and electric aircraft;
  • the building of bridges and common frameworks between all European countries to promote environmental and climate cooperation towards the agreed international goals of the Paris Agreement;
  • the European Parliament and the Council of the EU to agree on a Paris-compatible Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 that rules out fossil fuel subsidies and supports the transition to a more sustainable, competitive European economy;
  • all ALDE member parties to work towards ending the $65 billion (€57.5 billion) fuel tax exemption for international aviation, and insist on an update of Article 24 of the Chicago Convention from 1944 in order to end the obsolete fuel tax exemption for international aviation;
  • the Commission to propose a contingency plan on how to handle the consequences of climate change, including natural disasters, climate migration and the projections of its impact;
  • all ALDE member parties that substantial progress is needed at the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UNFCCC, in particular in finalising the outstanding issues for the rule book on how to implement the Paris Agreement from COP24 in Katowice, in particular on cooperative mechanisms under Article 6.

Well, you certainly can't describe it as sketchy or unambitious, and I suspect that it stands up well.