An open letter to the candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Democrats

Dear Ed & Jo,

In just a few short weeks, one of you will be taking on the mantle of leadership of a Liberal Democrat party with its highest ever number of members, and which appears to be on the cusp of something special.

In the last few weeks, we have seen some truly phenomenal results for our party, cementing our place as a liberal alternative to the inward-looking Conservative Party on the right, a divided Labour party on the left and Nigel Farage’s populist Brexit Party.

At the beginning of May, we saw our largest ever increase in seats in the local elections, while in the European elections we won more votes and seats in the European Parliament than ever before. Our message was unequivocal and resonated up and down the country.

I am one of those members who joined in the aftermath of the EU referendum. After some time in the political wilderness, and some time wondering whether I even wanted to be a member of a political party, it was clear to me as a liberal and a democrat at heart, there was only one party which represented me.

I know, in the grand scheme of things, I am nobody in the party; just one member among over 100,000 others. Since joining, I have committed to the party by taking up office as Treasurer in Medway and standing in last month’s local elections, but beyond that I am but one member more. However, I felt compelled to pen this open letter to you both ahead of casting my vote in the leadership election, as there is one very important issue which on which we can, and should, show leadership in Europe.

However happy I was to see 16 good, strong Liberal Democrats elected to the European Parliament, my joy turned to dismay within days upon seeing our outgoing leader photographed with the leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera. I have a lot of time for Sir Vince, and am grateful for everything he has done for our party, particularly in the wake of Brexit and the 2017 general election, but I could not help but feel a tinge of sadness at the thought that he was comfortable with us continuing our partnership with Ciudadanos.

Let me be clear, Ciudadanos are not our ideological partners.

Rivera and his party wish to reduce the competencies of Spain’s autonomous communities, and return powers to the central government in Madrid, purely because they do not like some of the decisions legally taken at regional level.

Rivera and his party are more interested in promoting judicial solutions to political problems which require political solutions than sitting down and talking them through like adults.

Rivera and his party continue to make reference to the Catalan politicians and civil society leaders currently in pre-trial detention as though they had already been convicted, showing flagrant disregard to Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, at the same time as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on Spain to release them.

Rivera and his party have shifted from being a moderate party to one which uses hatred and the stoking of division as legitimate campaign tactics, when what is needed in parts of Spain, as much as here in the UK following the Brexit referendum, is mature reflection and unity.

Most galling of all, Ciudadanos are giving legitimacy to the far-right in Spain by entering power-sharing deals with Vox, a party which seeks to repeal domestic violence legislation, roll back LGBT rights and expel tens of thousands of Muslim immigrants in a modern Reconquista.

Ciudadanos are not liberals or democrats. In recent years, they have drifted further and further to the right, using issues such as the Catalan crisis to bolster their Spanish national credentials, in an attempt to win support from people who would otherwise vote for the right-wing Partido Popular or Vox.

Carolina Punset, elected as a Ciudadanos MEP in 2014, left the party last year for this very reason. In her resignation letter, she criticised the fact that the party had shifted from “holding mild policies against nationalism … to being ‘the most Spanish’ of all”. She believes the party leadership “has made the political defection to be the ‘clean brand’ of the [scandal-hit] Partido Popular”, and as an outside observer, I am in complete agreement.

Our own leadership election provides us with an unmissable opportunity to define the next era for our movement. Of course it is right that we continue to fight against Brexit, as that is what so many people voted for Liberal Democrats to do, but we must also look beyond Brexit to other important issues.

In the European Parliamemt, we now have eight more members than Ciudadanos, and last month received over one million more votes. We have a clear duty, not only to our own values, but also to ensure that the new Renew Europe group can continue to be the great defender of liberalism and democratic rights, without being tainted by the increasing lurch to the right of Ciudadanos.

For what it’s worth, I believe that you are both good, strong candidates to lead our party, and I would be proud to be a member of a Liberal Democrat party led by either of you. However, I am a man of principal. As a liberal and a democrat, I have been calling Ciudadanos out for their policies and tactics since before I joined the party, and now that we find ourselves in the middle of a leadership election and I begin to consider which of you to support, my head and heart are aligned: I will only vote for a candidate who advocates cutting our party’s ties with Ciudadanos and seeking their expulsion from Renew Europe.

I joined the Liberal Democrats to fight for liberal and democratic values. I did not join to be associated with a dangerous nationalist party, such as Ciudadanos. I hope that, as both of you have publicly voiced your own concerns about nationalism, you will each accept that campaigning against nationalism and the dangers of the far-right whilst remaining in partnership with Ciudadanos is nothing short of an act of gross political hypocrisy, and that you will come to the conclusion that there is no alternative but to sever our ties with them as soon as possible.

I thank you both for your hard work and dedication to our party to date, and look forward to continuing the fight for the liberal and democratic vision we share over the coming weeks, months and years.

Alan Collins Rosell

Medway, 13 June 2019

Junts per Catalunya close European election campaign in London

Arriving to a standing ovation and cries of “independence”, President Carles Puigdemont and ministers Toni Comín and Clara Ponsatí brought their whistle-stop tour of European cities to The Wesley Hotel near London’s Euston Station, promising to be the voices of Catalonia’s political prisoners and exiles in the European Parliament.

Introducing them, Anna Forn, daughter of one of those political prisoners, said that the Spanish judiciary’s decision to detain the Catalan politicians, yet to be convicted of any crime, for up to a year-and-a-half (and counting) was “a shame for the European Union”. “But,” she added, “we have three free voices who have challenged the Spanish state from the first moment in exile.”

Forn referred to Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí, who head the list for Junts per Catalunya – Lliures per Europa (“Together for Catalonia – Free for Europe”) in Spain, a country they have not been able to return to since they left for exile in October 2017. Forn’s father, Quim, is the Junts per Catalunya candidate for mayor of Barcelona, an election taking place on the same day as the European Elections in Spain and Catalonia. If elected (and polling suggests he will win a seat in the town hall, but will not come close to the mayoralty), he will not be able to take up his seat or his role, in the same way other political prisoners were prevented from taking their seats in the Catalan Parliament following the election in 2017. He is, however, still allowed to campaign from the videoconference room at Soto de Real prison in Madrid. Like many of the political prisoners, he has appeared via live feed at numerous campaign events in Catalonia’s capital city, and given media interviews, all timed around the tight prison and judicial schedule.

Forn, the younger, said she was in London to give her father the voice he wanted to have, to be the spokesperson for the situation they found themselves in. For her, she said, it was with pride she introduced Puigdemont, Comín and Ponsatí, members of the government “who made the 1st October referendum possible.” She was not the only one.

Continue reading

Singing the post-vote blues

I have a confession. Shortly before Christmas, I was on the verge of leaving the Liberal Democrats.

At that time, there were a number of issues locally which were causing me great concern, and it got to the stage I was just about ready to walk away. But then one of the primary drivers of many of those issues left the party, and I became determined to stay and help the local party move forward, as treasurer.

The Liberal Democrats, after all, used to run Gillingham Borough Council, and were the second largest party when Medway Council was created. Losing our last 3 seats in 2015 was an injustice which needed to be overturned.

I therefore reaffirmed my commitment to standing as a paper candidate in Gillingham North and helping the party campaign in its target wards as much as I could.

Then, towards the end of February, as it became clear that we only had one target ward, I was asked whether I would like to stand as one of the party’s candidates there, filling the void left by a departing candidate. I gave it some thought and accepted fairly quickly.

I should point out for context that, at that stage, I did not expect to win. Putting the groundwork in and building a reputation for hard work and action – one of the primary drivers for electoral success for anyone other than the Tories and Labour at local elections – was impossible to do in the space of two months. My expectation was that we would hit the ward hard and regain some of the ground lost in 2015, but that we and Labour would cancel each other out and let the Tories win both seats.

My starting point for our base in the ward was Paul Chaplin’s result in 2015. Diana Smith had a huge personal vote which had helped her to buck the national trend and beat Labour, but Chaplin had polled behind both Labour candidates in a ward they did not seem to have taken seriously, except as far as the general election was concerned.

I was not concerned about the Conservatives, although they were, as the incumbents, our primary opposition. From day one I knew our problems would be caused by Labour. For many years the Liberal Democrats had won with the support of Labour voters who knew Labour could not win in Watling, and lent their votes to hard-working Liberal Democrats against the Tories.

The result in 2015 showed that was no longer necessarily the case: if they could beat a Liberal Democrat candidate, they could beat the Conservatives, too. And they knew it. Labour selected two strong candidates for the ward last year and they campaigned hard from day one. Winning back Labour voters would be an uphill battle.

But from the off we threw everything we had at the ward. During the campaign we delivered over 8,000 leaflets, knocked on over 2,800 doors and had over 900 conversations with residents. That was, without a doubt, more than I thought possible at the beginning of March, and I owe an undoubted debt of gratitude to every volunteer who played their part, however small, in making this possible.

It wasn’t, however, enough. To their credit, Labour threw the kitchen sink at the ward and managed to take one of the seats from the Tories on an otherwise mediocre night for them. The national trend of Labour and the Conservatives losing to the Liberal Democrats and others seemed to have passed Medway by, with only two of the Council’s 55 seats not being from either of those parties.

Overall in Medway, we increased our share of the vote by just 1.3%. Progress is progress, and it has shown that we are not entirely down and out, but it was still clearly an outlier in a nationwide Liberal Democrat surge.

So what next for the Medway Liberal Democrats? Well, that is for the party to decide together, and I look forward to working with my party colleagues on a plan for where we go from here. What I will say, however, is that no one individual is more important than the party, and our decisions will be taken, as they always have been, with the liberal and democratic values of our party at heart.

With apologies to my running mate Martin, who it has been an absolute pleasure to work with these past couple of months, and every other Liberal Democrat candidate across Medway, on a personal level it gave me a small boost when it dawned on me that I had received the highest number of votes and the highest share of the votes of any Liberal Democrat candidate in Medway. It was also a pleasure to beat UKIP in Watling when they had over 10% more of the Medway-wide share of the vote than I did.

So what next for me? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

Four years ago I vowed never to stand for election again. A lot happened in the intervening years: I moved to Barcelona, moved back, got married, got divorced, changed jobs twice and much more besides. I’m hoping the next four years will bring perhaps a little less excitement, but who knows.

In the short term, my focus will turn back to the political situation in Catalonia. Last night I spent the evening sharing Tapas with the wonderful Foreign Friends of Catalonia, and I am looking forward to returning to campaigning for Catalonia’s democratic and fundamental rights in earnest.

I will not, for many long and complex reasons, be campaigning for the European elections. I don’t even know if I’m going to vote in them yet. But that’s another story for another post…

In the long-term, who knows! Without going into detail, my present personal circumstances are not sustainable and require drastic change. I don’t know how or from where that change will come, but I know with certainty that, if it doesn’t, I won’t be here to fight an election in four years’ time – and it won’t be because I’ve moved away again!

I put that, and many other things besides, on hold to focus on the election campaign. Now it’s over, I need to focus on salvaging what’s left of my life, if it’s even still possible.

And that is a process which will take several months to complete…

Medway Council to purchase Pentagon Centre

Those intrepid investigators over at The Political Medway had the scoop last night that Medway Council are set to purchase the Pentagon Centre for up to £45 million.

The Council already own the freehold to the Pentagon Centre, that is they own the land the Pentagon Centre sits on, but it is leased to Chatham LLP, who own and manage the Pentagon Centre itself. A partnership between Bridges Ventures (a property fund manager) and Ellandi (who own a number of shopping centres in the UK), Chatham LLP also own the freehold to 205-209a and 181a-189 High Street, shops which stand at either side of the High Street entrance to the Pentagon. It is the head lease to the Pentagon and these adjoining properties Medway Council is proposing to acquire.

The devil in these kinds of acquisitions is, as they say, in the detail. And while the public have been made aware of the proposed purchase and the budget to be set aside via an agenda item for next week’s council meeting, as the capital purchase must be approved by full council, the public report barely covers four sides of A4.

Continue reading

On an evening with Alfred Bosch

I’m writing this article from the warmth and comfort of the 23:25 high speed service from London St Pancras, on what is otherwise a bitterly cold and uninviting evening, after having consumed probably one more white wine than is ordinarily healthy on a school night.

But before I evaluate the events of the past few hours, let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time there was a Catalan politician, candidate for Mayor of Barcelona, and a relatively unknown English blogger with a handful of Twitter followers and an Instagram audience barely reaching into triple figures. Said blogger had a habit of posting an eclectic array of photographs to the photo sharing platform, from political demonstrations to mundane selfies to his latest culinary disasters.

And yet somehow, inexplicably, despite the 1,000 miles separating these two individuals (I may be rounding for simplicity) and despite their markedly different levels of importance, they ended up following each other on Instagram. No one knows for sure how long this unlikely match continued. Legend has it it was only for a few hours, while some will tell you it lasted for many months. All we know for sure is that it happened, and then it ended.

Continue reading