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

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