Chair's Report to AGM
It has been almost two years since the last LDEG AGM, which took place online on 24th October 2020. Unfortunately we had to postpone the AGM from its original date in the Spring of this year as I came down seriously with Covid - which was followed by bouts of illness amongst other the members of our Exec, and coupled with the need to avoid disrupting campaigning in Parliamentary by-elections and the summer holidays, we finally settled on this date.
Whilst Covid has been disruptive and caused us to reimagine the way we conduct much of our work, and in some circumstances to postpone certain projects, as you will see from my report, the LDEG Exec have managed to achieve a great deal over the past two years - most of it conducted online. Indeed we shall be holding our first physical event in over three years at the Autumn Party Conference taking place in Brighton in two weeks time, where we are hosting a Fringe Debate on Sunday lunchtime 18 September on "European Security in the wake of the War in Ukraine" and will be sharing an exhibition stand with Liberal International British Group.
In January/ February 2021 a new LDEG Exec was elected to office - with several positions being contested. I myself was reelected unopposed as Chair, Graham Watson was elected as President and Catherine Bearder as Patron. I should like to take this opportunity to thank all my fellow officers and LDEG Exec members from both Executives over the past 3 and half years for their support and hard work. Since the election in 2021 we have lost several members - notably Jonathan Fryer sadly by his untimely death - and others for personal and work related reasons. However we have managed to keep all the Exec posts filled, maintaining representation from all regions of England and parts of the United Kingdom - including Northern Ireland by co-opting a representative from the Alliance Party. Caroline Voaden - Vice Chair Communications represents LDEG on the Federal International Relations Committee FIRC and Shaffaq Mohammed represents LDDEG on FIRC's Europe Sub Committee, which I chair. I refer to the attached document for the up to date list of LDEG Exec Members and Officers.
Having failed to prevent Brexit from happening, the main focus of LDEG Exec over the past two years has been to help strengthen our party's long term commitment to rejoining the EU, whilst highlighting the impact of Brexit in the different sectors across the country and to help develop policies that rebuild and strengthen the UK's relationship with the EU. I was invited to join the Federal Policy Committee FPC's Group on Europe, whose task is to take evidence and formulate motions related to Europe, that have been passed into policy at recent party conferences and have resulted in a coherent strategy towards Europe that sets us apart from the other British political parties.
The Europe motion debated and passed at the Spring 2021 Conference instructed FPC to seek wider consultation in the party when crafting future policy towards Europe, which was understood to include LDEG. LDEG Exec were encouraged to become more involved in drafting Europe motions from the outset and many LDEG Exec members have been called to speak in the debates at party Conferences, which led to policies being passed related to Europe from trade to cultural and educational links, to British farming, supply chains and Ukraine. In the upcoming Autumn Conference we shall debating a motion centred on cooperation with Europe on future foreign and security policy.
In the Autumn of 2021 to assist FPC in its consultation with party members to assess the impact of Brexit throughout the country and to help develop a consensus on future Europe policy, LDEG undertook one of the most ambitious projects in its history, which was referred to as the Lib Dems Conference on the Future of Europe - COFOE. In June last year the EU launched COFOE, whose purpose was to generate ideas for how the EU should develop and improve in the future. The Conference was the widest process of engagement that Europe has ever organised outside of elections. Citizens from across Europe, including those from non member states, were encouraged to get involved through consultation events and panels, and directly by submitting ideas through a digital platform. LDEG decided that we should offer our party members the opportunity to engage with the consultation, whilst at the same time assessing the impact of Brexit on the UK.
LDEG Exec took the view that through participation in COFOE, which would enable our party members to engage and put forward their ideas on how they would like to see the EU develop, we would burnish our credentials as the most pro Europe party in the UK, and address the concerns of those party members, for whom Europe is still the major issue in British politics. None of the other political parties in the UK had any intention to engage with COFOE on the scale of the Lib Dems and it has since become apparent that the Lib Dems have been more engaged with this process than even many of our sister parties in the EU. At ALDE events over the past year we have been heralded by its leadership as an example for the rest of Europe, which has helped to reinforce our party's continued commitment to the European project.
In all LDEG held 14 events - all online - throughout September and October 2021 - starting with a debate at the Autumn Conference and culminating in a day long event in October. Each event had a guest speaker from ALDE including the Co-Presidents Timmy Dooley and Ilhan Kyuchyuk and Vice President Henrik Bach Mortensen, Karen Melchior a Danish MEP from Radikale Venstre, Nils Torvalds MEP from Finland and Katalin Cseh, Hungarian MEP.
Through this process we have strengthened our relationship with ALDE and shown to our sister parties that we are still committed to the European project, whilst we remain outside the EU. In the past year Baroness Sal Brinton was re-elected as a Vice President of ALDE, Phil Bennion was elected to the Bureau of Liberal International and we have Lib Dem representation on the China and Security ALDE working groups and Liberal International Committees for Human Rights, Trade and the Environment.
The other important aspect of the Lib Dem COFOE was to assist the FPC led consultation amongst party members, the aim of which was to determine Lib Dem Policy on the UK's future relationship with the EU. All COFOE events had a speaker from FPC to lead this aspect of the discussions, which enabled party members throughout the country to highlight the impact of Brexit in their areas and to recommend priorities for future party policy. These discussions were insightful and for many the highlight of COFOE. The regional events lasted from 2 to 3 hours each and attracted several hundred party members as attendees and contributed to the success of the consultation.
Many of our former MEPs and Parliamentarians including our patron Catherine Bearder, Baroness Ludford, Baroness Smith, Christine Jardine MP, Layla Moran MP and Sir Ed Davey MP participated in the Conferences, In particular I would like to thank our party leader for taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to join us for a Q&A session on the national day on 30 October 2021, thereby showing his support for the project. In the end I truly believe that it has helped bring us together as a party with regards to our position on Europe and our future relations with the EU.
Despite not being able to meet physically, LDEG maintained our presence at Party Conferences hosting Fringe Debates and exhibition stands, which were some of the best attended events of each Conference. In Spring 2021 we hosted a debate on Freedom of Movement - with panellists Christine Jardine MP, Trine Skei Grande, the former leader of Venstre our sister party in Norway and Andri Silberschmidt an MP from our sister party in Switzerland FDP die Liberalen. In Autumn 2021 we held a debate on " the Vision for the Future of the EU and the UK/EU future Relationship" whose speakers included Layla Moran MP, Henrik Bach Mortensen Vice President ALDE and Lord Adonis Chair of the European Movement. In Spring of this year the Debate was on 'Europe's future relationship with China' whose speakers included Reinhard Bütikofer Green MEP from Germany, Lord Jonny Oates and Baroness Sal Brinton.
In addition LDEG have hosted regular online debates, often in association with LIBG, which have included discussions with our sister party Nowoczesna in Poland and most recently with our sister party Mouvement Radikale in France on the impact of the recent French National elections. We intend to make these online events a more regular feature of our calendar as a means of gaining a better understanding of the political situation across Europe and getting to know our sister parties.
LDEG is being encouraged to work closer with other organisations in the party including AOs and SAOs. In 2021 LDEG cooperated with LIBG and Lib Dems LGBT plus and Ed and Layla's offices to create a national campaign in support of LGBT+ rights in Poland, which was launched by Layla's office on 14 March 2021 entitled "Save our Twins". The campaign, which built on existing twinning relationships between towns in the UK and Poland, was produced in consultation with Nowoczesna our sister party in Poland and has had wide support from across Europe,with our sister parties Radikale Venstre in Denmark, D66 in Netherlands and FDP in Germany intending to roll it out in their countries. This campaign helped create the Initiative Rainbow Platform - designed to offer training for members of ALDE to encourage and support LGBT+ candidates and members. In June 34 member parties of ALDE signed the Dublin Declaration to support LGBT+ rights. Last month in Krakow Candy Piercy - the key person in the Lib Dems Training Programme - and myself instigated training for senior party officers from 18 of our sister parties providing them with the knowledge and resources to recruit and encourage LGBT+ members and candidates. It is through such projects that we can maintain the Lib Dems' influence in European politics.
Maintaining relations with our sister parties in ALDE is critical and several members of LDEG Exec have attended recent ALDE Congresses online and in Dublin, where we have ensured that motions relating from Afghanistan to China have been passed with reference to our values. In March I attended the meeting in Cardiff of the Contact Group between UK local government and EU Committee of the Regions, which called for a more formal role for local government in developing relations between the EU and the UK. There is widespread support for developing twinning relationships and acknowledging the role of local government in tackling the climate emergency. Over the next months I shall discuss with ALDC how to incorporate Europe related training for our councillors and candidates into their training programme.
LDEG Exec members are being encouraged to put themselves forward as delegates to future ALDE events and would encourage members to support candidates in the upcoming federal elections, who support and recognise the importance of the internationalist aspect of our party.
Next year we intend to reinstate our much acclaimed study trips - starting off with one to Berlin in February 2023 to meet with our German sister party the FDP and one to the Democracy Festival in Denmark in June 2023. More details of these trips should be available from our exhibition stand at the Party Conference in Brighton.
LDEG has participated in the Party Body Forum - which as I mentioned earlier has encouraged greater collaboration between the party organisations and we shall be presenting our new constitution for ratification by members at a Special Meeting before the end of the year.
It is no understatement to say that recruiting new members has been a challenge in recent years, with almost all activity being conducted on line. Despite these challenges we have increased our membership to 245 and currently have £10,995 of funds in the bank. With the return of in person Regional and National Conferences, we intend to help facilitate speakers on Europe related topics and to host stalls to better engage with party members.
Over the past two years LDEG Exec has met regularly online - usually every two months. In future it is likely that we will continue with a mix of virtual and physical meetings.
I continue to represent the LibDems on the National Council of the European Movement and am keen to encourage greater cooperation Last year two members of the LDEG Exec were elected to the EM Exec - Eleanor Rylance as Secretary and Richard Morris. Vince Cable was recently elected as a Vice Chair. EM are hosting a Fringe Debate and taking an exhibition stand at our Autumn Party Conference.
LDEG's website is constantly being developed top offer a better service for our members and promote our work. We regularly use social media to connect with our members and a wide audience. The private LDEG Facebook page has over 700 members and our twitter account @libdemeurope has 2,749 followers. We send out a regular newsletter update of news and events alongside emails from the Chair and other officers, which over 1500 supporters have signed up to receive. Many of the LDEG Exec are regular contributors to LibDemVoice and have article and letters published in the national and international media
As I mentioned at the beginning of my report the past two years have continued to be challenging ones for us in many respects - especially connecting with and attracting new members - but it has also been an exciting period for LDEG. Despite Brexit we have managed to ensure the relevance and importance of Europe is recognised to the future of our party. We have continued to develop good working relationships with many of our Parliamentarians in the Commons and the Lords, that our contributions to influencing party policy are respected and that we have improved understanding of European politics amongst party member and helped shape opinion in the wider public.
I am particularly proud of our success in developing relations with our sister parties, but our greatest achievement in the past two years has to be the contribution we have made to our party adopting the polices which will bring us back closer to the EU and which ultimately help the UK to rejoin. Going forward we have plans to hold a series of national events - looking at the impact of Brexit on different sectors of the economy - from farming, to science, to small businesses - which will build on our work from last year. Maintaining and developing relations with our sister parties is also going to be key for the future. And finally we want to make those LibDems , who are particularly interested in European affairs and politics, realise that LDEG is their natural home in the party.
Chair of LibDem European Group