Thursday, May 13, 2021

A country gentleman returns to Federal International Relations Committee...

And so, this evening saw my first FIRC meeting since my restoration, and interesting it was too. So, what happened, and what did I do?

Joining a committee part way through its term can often be challenging - every committee has a dynamic all its own, and if you’ve been involved in a previous iteration, there is a danger that you respond as though nothing has changed and create something of a culture clash. Frustrating for you, and for the committee you must hope to influence. So, in truth, I tended to stay out of things whilst I get a sense of how I might fit in and what I might contribute.

There have been some changes whilst I’ve been away, with sub-committees set up to look at the European Union and Brexit, as well as China, which seem to be a positive step, and a fundraising group, which I’m going to avoid, given my professional role.

The Committee is pretty high-powered too, with a clutch of Peers (of which I approve) and former MEPs amongst its number. I may be slightly out of my league here, but we’ll see how that goes.

It was a rather longer meeting than I am used to, and quite tiring as a result, but with a new Chair, Phil Bennion, and two significant deaths (Jonathan Fryer, the Chair of the Committee until last month, and Hans van Baalen, the President of the ALDE Party) to dwell upon, it should have been predicted. I must note at this point that Adrian Hyyrylainen-Trett said some very thoughtful things about Jonathan in his tribute, and I was touched by his warmth and emotion.

In response to the discussion on China, there was some thought given to whether what is being done to the Uyghurs. There is a degree of unease about describing it as genocide, but I noted that the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention pointed to Chinese treatment of the Uyghurs meeting the definition. It may be na├»ve to suggest that it would be easy to use this as a stick to “beat” the Chinese with, and one must be aware of the “realpolitik” of the situation, but I do think that if you give anyone a free pass on such behaviour, you shouldn’t be surprised if others see it as a green light to treat their minorities in a similar fashion. It will be interesting to see what policy stances emerge from the sub-committee though.

I’m pleased to see that Isabelle, the Party’s International Officer, has survived in post, given HQ’s low prioritisation of the post in the past. She’s not been in the office for a while, but she brings a sense of Nordic calm to her work, and it’s nice to be able to work with her again.

My successor but one as the Committee’s Secretariat (the role isn’t necessarily that of just a Secretary) announced her resignation in advance of our meeting, and a replacement was sought. No, it won’t be me, although I did think about it. I’ve done the job once, and whilst I could probably do it again, I don’t want to. The danger in doing the job is twofold - that you don’t really get to contribute to the international work of the Party except by freeing up others to do it, and that, if you do it the way I think it should be done, you end up frustrated and irritable - there is very little interest in process, rules or constitutions, regardless of their importance. Life is too short for that. That said, the Committee really needs someone, and if you think that you might be that someone, do get in touch.

I will say this though, I thought that Denali Ranasinghe did an excellent job in the role, and she will be missed. She is polite, helpful and committed, and other organisations will benefit from her evident skills over many years to come.

There followed a series of reports from various groups, all of which were quite promising in terms of things that are being done to improve Party knowledge on international affairs, and indicate that the internationalist wing of the Party is a vibrant place.

The meeting concluded with discussions on the crisis in Israel and Palestine, and on India. I warned the Committee that the BJP are intent on establishing control over things such as aid from overseas for political advantage. We do need to be careful about how we relate to the current Indian Government - India would make a valuable partner in our relations with China and, as a democracy, it offers potential leadership across South Asia and beyond.

So, all in all, an interesting and stimulating meeting. I’ll try to contribute where I can going forward, although I’m not planning to join any of the sub-committees yet - I’d rather analyse their work from the outside for the time being, especially as I don’t consider myself an expert in those fields.

We meet again on 19 July, although there’s an event in between...

No comments: