I voted to leave the EU, not for a right-wing government to drive us off a cliff

Three years or so ago I was one of over seventeen million people who voted to leave the European Union.

I have for as long as I have been interested in politics been a eurosceptic, and at the risk of falling foul of the unashamedly pro-EU party I am proud to be a member of, I still am. But, in the event, I finally chose to vote to leave because I believed the rhetoric that we would agree a mutually-beneificial deal and depart with some semblance of economic security. What a fool I was.

Fundamentally, the EU is not a socialist paradise built for the enhancement of individuals, but an economic trading bloc designed around protecting member states and the movement of goods and services. For all the many advantages membership of the EU brings, the rights of free citizens and advancement of liberty cannot be counted among them, for the European elite would cast the individual aside without a second thought if the common goal of frictionless trade in a united Europe were at stake.

In October 2017, during the independence referendum in Catalonia, the EU remained silent while one of its member states ordered riot police to violently attack peaceful voters. Whatever the legality (or otherwise) of the referendum in question, such an attack on peaceful European citizens is unacceptable from a member of an organisation which wishes to present itself as the defender of individual rights, and the lack of public admonishment from the EU is shameful, to say the least.

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Are people losing interest in Catalonia’s pro-independence demonstrations?

Yesterday the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) released initial data on this year’s pro-independence rally, with the main headline being that registrations for the event have fallen 25%.

Every year since 2013, the pro-independence organisation has organised a large protest in support of independence on 11 September, Catalonia’s national day. So far 37,500 people have registered to take part in this year’s demonstration, a fall of one quarter compared to this time last year.

The drop in registrations was gleefully reported by the Madrid-based media, with El Mundo’s headline recalling that it is the lowest uptake in six years, while El País says that the reduction comes in the middle of division within the pro-independence movement. Catalan media sympathetic towards independence also recognised the fall, with El Nacional, El Punt Avui and VilaWeb all reporting the registration data.

The division between the two main secessionist political parties Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) and Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) is well documented, particularly since local elections in May, following which both parties formed post-electoral pacts with unionists across Catalonia.

In the midst of the political division, the ANC decided that this year’s demonstration should be about highlighting that, wherever people come from, their objective is the same: the independence of Catalonia. To achieve this, they are focusing the protest on Barcelona’s plaça d’Espanya, where demonstrators will merge from the five main surrounding streets and form the shape of a star. The motto for this year’s demonstration is Objectiu independència, or Objective independence.

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For the good of Europe, we need to #StopBorrell

According to Wikipedia, Josep Borrell Fontelles is a Spanish or Catalan politician (depending on which language you are reading in), member of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and, since June 2018, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation in the Spanish Government.

With a long and colourful career behind him, Borrell looks set to add another top job to his CV, as it was announced this week that he was the European Council’s choice for the role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in the 2019-2024 European Commission.

The high representative is the head of the European Union’s diplomatic corps, the 28 member states’ collective representative on the world stage. Initially created in 1999 under the Treaty of Amsterdam, with an enlarged portfolio under the Treaty of Lisbon, Borrell is set to become the fourth person to hold the post, the second from the Iberian Peninsula, following in the footsteps of Spain’s Javier Solana (1999-2009), the UK’s Catherine Ashton (2009-2014) and the incumbent Federica Mogherini of Italy (2014-).

As Charlemagne notes in The Economist, “Borrell will be the most heavyweight figure to serve as high representative”, by implication adding to the prestige of the position. And yet, paradoxically, if the European Union is serious about listening to the popular impetus for change expressed in May’s elections, if they want to be taken seriously in global diplomatic circles, and if they are serious about cleaning their image, it is imperative Josep Borrell is not appointed to the role of high representative.

It is imperative we #StopBorrell

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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.

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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…