Europe and the World
I am and have always been a pro-European. However, that does not mean I support how Brussels is currently run. There is still too much of a democratic deficit, with the Parliament having too few powers compared to the Council and the Commission. The secrecy with which these bodies operate means that national governments can use the EU as a convenient scapegoat; Britain quite regularly pushes for policies at the Council, which they then claim to oppose back home and blame on Brussels. The Government should be prepared to accept the consequences of policies it argues for! Similarly, Directives from the EU are often ‘goldplated’ when they reach Britain, with many extra provisions added by the UK government. This should not be allowed.
The other problem is that the EU fails to make a case for all the positive things that it does do, at least in a way that appeals to its population. Not enough is said of the benefits. Leaving aside long-standing peace, a huge benefit in its own right, the advantages of the free movement of people and the economic benefits are simply not sufficiently publicised.
There is an interest in reform; the passage of the Lisbon Treaty now means that the EU has a chance to get on with good governance. This includes developing a common foreign policy in the cause of peace and dealing with the consequences of climate change here and abroad.
Iraq and Afghanistan
I opposed the Iraq war, and marched against it. I believed at the time that the ties to Al Qaeda and 45-minute WMDs were weak and inaccurate. However, I am truly astonished to hear recently that Tony Blair didn’t even care what the justification was, and that he would have invaded anyway. Invading a foreign country is not something to be done on a gut feeling, and while I am no defender of Hussein’s regime, we clearly cannot just attack every world leader we dislike.
Afghanistan is a different matter; a response was required in the wake of 9/11. However, it is now clear that there was not enough long-term planning, and we are left in a poor position. I believe that it was also a profound mistake to allow Iraq to be a distraction from Afghanistan; we neglected the development of Afghanistan in the critical years when it would have been easier to make changes.
Now we need to rebuild the society in both countries, developing a true democracy and civil society, with local control, local police and local representation. Trying to maintain a democracy through force of external arms is bound to fail.
We also need to look after our troops. We have placed them in harm’s way, and they deserve to have proper equipment, well defined missions and better planning. They also deserve better treatment when they return, especially in mental health care. The state of their housing is atrocious, especially given the PFI-inflated costs of providing it, and they deserve better.
The world has moved on from the days where it made any sense for Britain to have its own ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent. It is now hard to imagine a situation where this deterrent would be effective, in a world of terrorism not superpowers. In the meantime, we are spending billions of pounds, which could be used more effectively, whether on equipping and supporting troops or on other public services.
I actively opposed the ‘fudge’ compromise at the 2007 Lib Dem conference, arguing that we should simply scrap Trident as soon as we can. The main counter-argument was that keeping Trident makes us more persuasive in later disarmament negotiations. I simply do not accept that this is the case.
The United Nations
In many ways, I came into electoral British politics out of my interest in the UN, international politics and human rights. I have been a supporter for many years of the UN, and was invited to the 50th anniversary celebrations in Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. In particular, I have been involved in running events to promote the UN to school and university students, through a program called Model United Nations. I have organised the World conference and many other more local ones, including founding a series of human rights conferences in Spain. I still run a small charity supporting this work.
Julian outside the UN headquarters