Remembering Srebrenica 2017


7pm 12 July 2017

St James’s Church Piccadilly

Speech by Paddy Ashdown

A few days after the fall of Srebrenica, while the killing was going on, I was driving through the battle of Igman in a battered old Renault 5 with some Bosnian friends. We were heading for the secret tunnel dug under the airfield by which we hoped to arrive in besieged Sarajevo. By the time we arrived in city, the whole place was abuzz with some terrible event – even more terrible than the other horrors of the Bosnian war – which had happened in the Srebrenica “safe haven”.

The story finally came to be revealed in all its unspeakable horror, little by little over the following days. Even to those of us used to the medievalism of the Bosnian wars, it seemed unbelievable.

But it wasn’t

Later, as International High Representative  in Bosnia, it became my job to go and see the mass graves and the broken shards of bodies in the Tuzla caves. Here they were trying to identify those who had been murdered, so that they could receive a burial in dignity in the Srebrenica memorial graveyard, where more than 8 thousand white stones, row on row point their stark finger at heaven, in accusation of man’s inhumanity to man.

And we all said “It must never happen again”.

But it has. In Rwanda in Iraq and in Syria before our very eyes – today.

And we all said that those who committed these atrocities should be brought to justice.

But they haven’t – not all of them.

The main architects of the killing have been dealt with, true enough. But many of the lower level killers still walk free in Bosnia today – some not far from the Golgotha they helped to create.

It was not part of my job as International High Representative to create the extraordinary memorial ground at Potocari. Yet it was one of the proudest moments of my life to work with Munira Subasic and the Majke Srebrenica and play a small part in creating this iconic memorial to those who died – and to our commitment to remember them all our days

It is no good pointing at religions as the cause of this. Ungodly people of every religion have committed these horrors – and Godly people of every religion have sought to stop them.

It is not the religions we must blame. It is the extremists of all religions who are the curse of our age and of every age before us.

My friend Mustafa Ceric, the Reis ul Ulema of Bosnia and Herzegovina wrote this;

“Isn’t it true then that our life is nothing but sharing the fears and hopes of our times.

We share the clay from which we all came and to which we will, once again return.

We share the belief in One God who created us from a single soul and then scattered us like seeds into countless human beings

We share the same father Adam and the same mother Eve.

We shear the air we breathe and the rise of the sun we see every day.

We share Abrahams faith and Noah’s Ark of salvation

We share the love of the Virgin Mary (Maryam) and respect for her son Jesus (Yasue).

We share the true stories of Moses and his divine leadership of his people in Sinai.

We share the clear word of the Holy Qur’an and the exemplary life of the Messenger Muhammad.

We share the joy of good tidings and the sorrow of horrors

We share the pleasures of our successes and the pain of our failures.

We share the humanity of our hearts and minds”

In a trouble and turbulent world, it is in this principle alone that our salvation lies – that we remember above those things that divide us, those things that we share as part of our common humanity and our common heritage.

It is to that principle that we rededicate ourselves as we remember the murdered of Srebrenica today.

Here is Ashdown’s second rule for the internet age: “If you see a business model that takes no account of the new technologies, you see a business model which is failing”.

This applies to most newspapers, some old fashioned businesses and nearly all political parties.

Conventional political parties remain immovably stuck in the 1870s.

They are vertical hierarchies, when the paradigm structure of our time is the network.

They are high overhead, narrow membership, high cost of entry, limited participation organisations, while successful social and commercial structures are based on a low overhead, mass membership, low (or no) cost of entry and instant participation model.

They are festooned with lumbering committees and a tangle of elections which pretend to provide accountability and transparency, but actually obscure both, when direct instant democratic participation is the rule for the most successful modern civil society movements and political structures (think Cinque Stella, Momentum, More United and En Marche).

In order to play a full part, today’s conventional political party requires its members to be obsessives prepared to spend evenings in damp village halls and bright September days when they could be on the beach, in stuffy conclaves at faded seaside resorts, passing obscure amendments to policies no-one will ever hear of again. But most ordinary people nowadays conduct their internet lives, not through consuming singular obsessions, but through multiple daily transactions which mix what they believe in, with earning a living and having fun.

Political Parties, as institutions are dying (except those who have in some form or another adopted the internet in their internal structures, like Momentum and Labour). This is one of the reasons why our politics seems so bewildering and senseless to ordinary people and voters.

Our Party is in an extremely hazardous condition. Unless we do something radical and different soon, our old members will become disheartened and our new members will fade away.

Here is my proposition. The Party Board should commission a study which would report in short order (but before the end of July) to investigate whether and if so how and in what time frame, the Lib Dems could be converted into a modern, internet based political organisation (, structured around a low overhead, low cost of entry, mass movement model in which a one person one vote internet enabled democracy, was the normal way of taking all our key decisions.

A Tale of two cities

A Tale of Two Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. The opening lines of Dickens great book about London and Paris in the French Revolution, seem peculiarly appropriate this morning, as Theresa May drags her battered authority to meet newly triumphant President Emanuel Macron in a desperate bid to show that, despite her self-inflicted defeat, it is still “business as usual” in the Downing Street bunker.

Compare and contrast.

In Paris the mood is everywhere of renewal. In London the stale smell of stagnation and paralysis hangs over Whitehall and Westminster. President Macron, with his new majority in parliament is now in total command of what happens in his country. Mrs May is more the prisoner of her Government than its triumphant leader. He has a modern, European, globalist forward-looking vision which has set France on fire. She has ridden to disaster on a closed, isolationist, right wing tide in our country, which she now does not have the authority to control. He has beaten the nationalist right wing forces back into their heartlands. She has been forced to incorporate them into her Government. He has united France behind a movement for radical change built around the moderate voices of the nation. She has tragically and deliberately divided our country from the moment she became Prime Minster and forced us to a general election which has produced an outcome so polarised  between the political extremes, that the moderate progressive voice of Britain has been crushed into silence. He has a wide selection of young, professional new comers to choose his Government from. She can only choose from the narrow pool of those stale talents who share responsibility with her for the disaster in which they have landed our country – she must even submit to bringing back a bitter enemy like Michael Gove, who she threw out only nine months ago. She depends on a Parliament which is dominated by the old failed Parties of the past, he has one which has pushed aside the worn out and exhausted structures of France for something more in tune with the modern internet age. He is head one of the two nations which now steer the European Union, whose economic growth is now running faster than the US. She is a poor friendless supplicant at the gates, in charge of an economy dominated by the dark clouds of piled up debt and stagnant productivity.

None of this is to say that the Macron enterprise will work. Maybe today will turn out to be “never again glad confident morn”, to misquote Robert Browning on the failure of another Liberal giant. But after three terrifying years in which the politics of “peoples movements” have brought forth the misshapen, the ugly, the divisive and the preposterous, is it not refreshing that we now have proof they can produce something positive and hopeful too? If, as I think true, the peoples of the advanced Western democracies are aching to sweep away the old failed structures of our politics, is it not inspiring that this can be done in favour of a change which reaches out to decency and the realities of our internationalist future, rather than back to isolationism and the dark forces of division?

That our election failed on all counts to help our country out of its current mess, is now obvious. That it has ended up by polarising us between a proto-UKIP Tory party and an neo-socialist Labour Party, both of whom have abandoned any pretence to appeal to their centrist traditions, is unquestionable. Nowhere is this more powerfully or painfully illustrated than in the most important single fact of the 2017 election – that the moderate, decent, progressive centre of British politics, the place where elections up to now have always been won and lost, now lies largely empty, voiceless and waiting for someone to claim it.

So how can we replicate what Macron has done in France?

Not easily, I fear.

No single person amongst those elected last Thursday has yet the stature – or perhaps the courage – of Emanuel Macron. It is a terrible indictment of our politics that the most powerful figureheads of the progressive centre our country needs so badly have either, like David Miliband chosen for the moment to pursue their careers elsewhere, or like Nick Clegg, been rewarded for a lifetime of putting country before party, by being kicked out at the ballot box. I do not think that we can replicate an SDP type, Macron coup de theatre in Britain. Nor do I support, except as an occasional sideshow, the so-called “Progressive Alliance” which depends more on mathematics, than principle and ideas. I believe in partnership politics. But partnerships for something constructive which we want, not just opportunistic alliances against something we hate.

Nor is it, I believe, reasonable in these turbulent times to expect any but the very bravest to leave their tribe and join another.


We probably need something which looks more like a process, than an event. Would it really impossible, for instance for politicians of the progressive centre from all parties and none, to get together and pledge to work across party divides, so as to prosecute and protect say five or six principles which we believe essential to our country as it passes through these dangerous convulsions.

I am an impatient man. I would like to move faster. Time is short for a British en marche, with another election potentially round the corner. But getting started with the possible, is probably more useful at this moment, than wasting time puzzling about perfection. Mao Tse Tung was once asked by a follower why, since his Long March was a thousand miles, they had to start that afternoon? He replied, that because it was a thousand miles, they had to start that afternoon.


Where are we after surprise Thursday?

Politics after the 2017 Election.

Saturday 10 June

Some things are clear as the smoke begins to drift way after the election – more can be sensed as dim shapes in the murk which, for the moment, remain more hinted at than certain.

Here is what can solidly be said

  1. This was the most unusual and unpredictable election of our time.
  2. That may indicate that last Thursday presages a real change to the structures and habits which have dominated our elections for the last 30 years.
  3. Most pundits claim that politics has reverted to the old two party system of the immediate post-war period. Others (me amongst them) disagree. Though the results have a retro look about them, there is no evidence that Britain below the surface has returned to the bi-polar politics of our fathers and grandfathers. The multiplicity of opinions, aspirations, wishes, ambitions and world views which are so much a function of this pluralistic internet age, remain today as much a feature of life in Britain as they are in any other Western democracy.
  4. The election results were binary, not because Britain has suddenly become binary, but because of the peculiar overlay of the Brexit in-out choice and the failure of those who represent the now voiceless centre in politics to reach out beyond their huddled tribes with a proposition capable of motivating the moderate voices in Britain in the way that Jeremy Corbin did for his neo-socialism.
  5. Mrs May was widely praised before the election for miraculously healing the chasm everyone which knows lies at the heart the Tory party. But British elections have an extraordinary habit of finding out our leaders’ flaws and weaknesses. In what will go down as the most catastrophic election campaign in history for a ruling Party, our Prime Minister for all her virtues of straight-forwardness and patriotism, was revealed, not as the re-incarnation of Margaret Thatcher, but as brittle, bad tempered, tunnel visioned and extraordinarily insensitive to her own deficiencies and the limits of her power.
  6. Nothing better illustrates these personal faults more than her decision yesterday to try to hang on to power when her continuation in Downing Street is now, not, as she preposterously claims, the means to see us through this crisis, but the greatest single road block to that happening. As the largest party, the Conservatives’ right to form the next Government is clearly established under the practices of our Constitution (our essential sheet-anchor in stormy times such as these). But the Tories go beyond the sensible limits of those rights if they think they can propose to our Parliament (or should suggest to our Queen) a legitimate Government headed by a Prime Minster who has now, not a shred of democratic legitimacy left.
  7. Mrs May has done her country, her Party, and herself no favours by trying to hang on. On the surface this appears to be an act which combines wilfulness, irrationality and the fact that she and the small cabal around her have completely lost touch. But is there another explanation for her seemingly perplexing and self-damaging behaviour? Could her Cabinet colleagues, perhaps headed by the ambitious Philip Hammond, have persuaded her that, since a Party election for yet another PM unelected by the country, would be damaging, divisive and destabilising, she must hang until they find someone by acclamation to  crown seamlessly in her place (Mr Hammond himself perhaps)?
  8. One thing however is beyond speculation. The yawning divisions in the Tory party are now laid bare. The humiliation (and danger) of begging for support from the DUP will go unnoticed and unfelt by the hard-right, hard-Brexiteers who now dominate the Mrs May’s proto-UKIP Tory Party. For them the DUP are soul-mates in policy, attitude and world view; they are welcome re-enforcements to the right wing cause – and perhaps even to an historical return to the good old days of the Conservative and Unionist Party (did you notice Mrs May used just this phrase yesterday?).
  9. But for the left of the Tory Party (as also for all who recognise the dangers to the Northern Ireland peace process), playing hard-line Ulster unionism into our already highly volatile post election political crisis, will be total anathema. Many of us have long speculated that, what Robert Peel called the “battle for the soul” which split the Tories over the Corn Laws 200 years ago, is being replicated by the issue of Europe today. We are about to discover if this is so, as Tory leaders try desperately to stop the blood letting from the wounds laid bare by Mrs May’s leadership and the pressures of a Tory/DUP partnership in a hung Parliament. Ruth Davidson the heroine leader of the Scottish Conservatives and Anna Soubry the narrowly elected Tory MP for Broxtowe appear as harbingers for this.
  10. It is not in any way to diminish Mr Corbyn’s remarkable successes in this election campaign (and before) to warn that, nevertheless for Labour, these results flattered to deceive. Many of us have been warning for two or more years that Jeremy Corbyn (like Bernie Sanders in the US) would have much wider traction than most of the tabloids and all the  Tories hoped. He has an attractive, straightforward and decent personality which has been re-enforced an appealingly under-stated public style (in sharp contrast to Mrs May). The Corbin team fought a campaign which showed real mastery of the arts of mobilisation and sectoral politics, especially when it came to using social media and targeting the youth vote.
  11. One thing will not be the same again in future elections. Political Parties will never again ignore the young vote or treat them with complacency. This is Mr Corbyn’s permanent legacy and it is a proud one.
  12. Nevertheless and withall, the hard fact is that even at the top of their game and despite the manifest and many targets presented to them by Mrs May and the Tories these last seven years, Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party still could not win – or even get close to winning. This is not a definitive verdict – and does not necessarily mean they cannot win in the future. It is only to observe that, despite all Labour’s successes in the last five weeks, there is no evidence yet that with these policies and these people, Labour can carry the wider country in the future. Indeed there is much evidence that they cannot. This presents moderate Labour MPs with a difficult dilemma. Do they, like Chukka Ummuna, gulp down as much humiliating crow as necessary to re-ingratiate themselves with those they have excoriated, in order to secure a front bench position in a Party which, all rational argument says, will never have power. Or do they, like Chris Lesley tell the truth that Labour is still far away from power and likely to remain so, unless and until it can make a wider appeal to the centre ground.

Conclusion? This election has plunged our country into a crisis no-one saw coming. Finding a way through is going to prove very difficult, especially given the deep polarisation of our politics, which, despite the ballot box results, still imposes a binary choice on a nation which remains at its heart deeply pluralist, multi-layered and multi-faceted. Nowhere is this more powerfully or painfully illustrated than in the most important single fact of the 2017 election – that the moderate, decent, progressive centre of British politics, the place where elections up to now have always been won and lost, now lies empty, voiceless and waiting for someone to claim it.

Its always a Tory Government that cuts Defence most

The Royal Marines

Plymouth Herald

23 May 2017

In this age of uncertainty and unpredictability, our national security relies on armed forces that are fast, flexible and can fight in any theatre. For more than three centuries – from Gibraltar and Trafalgar to Normandy and Afghanistan – the Royal Marines have epitomised those qualities. They have fought in more theatres and won more battles than any other British unit. In our nation’s hours of danger, they have been, as Lord St Vincent predicted in 1802, “the country’s sheet anchor”.

So the news that the Government is cutting 200 Royal Marine posts – and at such a volatile time in world affairs – should concern us all. They are committing this folly in response to a crisis of their own making. In 2010, the then-Defence Secretary Liam Fox embarked on a review of our Armed Forces, but failed to provide the leadership or strategic vision such a process requires. As a result, it descended into an undignified squabble between the heads of the different branches. That squabble placed status and prestige ahead of a sober assessment of the nation’s long-term defensive needs. Instead of “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty” as the review’s title promised, we ended up paying £6.2 billion for two huge aircraft carriers, despite not having the fighters to fly off them.

And now it’s our Royal Marines who are paying the price for this folly.. Michael Fallon, is the first ever Defence Secretary to have decided to focus his first cuts on the elite forces who serve on the front line. He’s playing fast and loose with the nation’s defences.

The cost of Conservative foolishness doesn’t end with the Royal Marines. They’ve cut personnel numbers, breaking their manifesto promise not to reduce the Army below 82,000. Troops on the frontline are deprived of basic equipment and combat training has been slashed, putting soldiers’ lives in greater peril. Navy warships sit idle at quaysides. No wonder top generals have accused the government of “deception” over defence spending.

The Tories are very practised at talking tough on defence in elections. But, look at the history and you will see that its always Tories who cut most on defence in Government. Its now clear that Mrs May will get back because of the hopelessness of the Labour Party. But it would be very dangerous to give her a big enough majority to ignore us again. Britain needs a strong opposition to stand up for our Armed Forces and hold the government to account – and only the Liberal Democrats are up to that task. We will fulfil our NATO commitment to spend 2% of national income on defence, and we’ll spend it wisely, prioritising the things that truly keep our country safe rather than prestige projects to keep the service Chiefs happy. I have launched a petition against further government cuts to the Royal Marines, and I urge you to sign at  HYPERLINK “”

The Conservatives’ misjudegements on the Armed Forces are symptomatic of their mismanagement of their wider failures in the country. Just look at the way they have neglected the South West and pushed our public services to breaking point. They’re cutting school budgets by 8%, forcing headteachers to cut back on teaching staff, equipment and training. Classrooms are getting increasingly crowded and the burden on teachers is mounting. And that’s before the big extra cuts that will hit more than 500 schools in our region when the Conservatives’ new funding system comes into force next year.

You don’t need me to tell you about the crisis in health and social care. Thousands of patients are lying on trollies in hospital corridors, waiting for a bed. Thousands more have their operations cancelled at the last minute. Nursing homes are overcrowded and understaffed. Their defence procurement is failing our defence industries. Look at the way their short-sightedness in awarding the MoD’s Apache helicopter contract to Boeing in the US without any competitive process has contributed to the closure of GKN in Yeovil and the loss of 230 local jobs

Theresa May is taking voters for granted in this election. That’s why she ducked difficult questions and public appearances on her recent visit to Cornwall. As pressure on local schools increases, she slashes their budgets. As the NHS crisis worsens, she refuses to give it the funding it needs. As the cost of food rises, she cuts support for low-paid workers.

The message is clear. We may now be on course for a Tory Government. But it would be folly to give Mrs May so big a majority that she could go on ignoring is. She needs to be held to account and, for the West Country, only the Lib Dems can do this

The Liberal Democrats will reverse the cuts to our schools, investing an extra £7 billion to make sure funding rises in line with both inflation and rising pupil numbers. We’ll also put an extra £6 billion a year into the NHS, funded by a 1p rise in income tax rates. And we’ll establish a cross-party health and care convention to work with patients, staff and the public to integrate the NHS and social care and put them on a sustainable footing for the long-term.

With your support on 8th June, our local MPs will stand up for the South West and for our schools, our hospitals and our Armed Forces.

I know that the combination of Theresa May’s cynicism and Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to provide a proper opposition can be depressing. But they don’t represent Britain. We are a wonderful country full of decent, hard-working people. Our future can be bright, but only if people vote to change it.

En Marche

“En Marche!”

“Smile at us, pay us, pass us; but do not quite forget;
For we are the moderate voice, that never have spoken yet.”

(With apologies to GK Chesterton and his poem “The Secret people”)

Indy 28 April 2017


Listen carefully and the sound you hear is the rumble of the tumbrils on the cobble stones

What has amazed, puzzled and frightened us these last three turbulent and revolutionary years, is that it has not been those inhabiting the shrinking, bewildered terrified circle of conventional politics who have changed things, but the angry beast circling it menacingly outside. It is people’s movements who have changed things, not political parties.

And yet, and yet, true to form when an election is called we still pull out our magnifying glasses and examine minutely every hair twitch and whisper inside the political circle and ignore what is happening in the wide circle of the millions outside it. Like Edmund Burke on Marie Antoinette, we examine the plumage, but ignore the dying bird.

Trump, Le Pen, UKIP, the SNP, Alternativ für Deutchland. They are ubiquitous, all pervasive, in many cases unresistable and to conventional politicians utterly, utterly terrifying. Mrs May is not an exception. If Mrs May did not want Brexit, then she is its true, if illegitimate daughter.

As Marianne to Marine le Pen, so is Britannia to Mrs May as she frog-marches our country out the exit door of Europe in this election.

Only Emanuel Macron seems – perhaps – we hope – to have found an answer.

The new voiceless and left out are not the hard left and nationalist right. They are now more than adequately represented. The new voiceless in Britain are the millions of those who are as angry as I am, as frightened as I am and as keen to change things as I am, but who have not yet found a way for their voice to be heard and make a difference. Of course I want these new left out millions to vote Lib Dem – and many now are. A strong force of Lib Dems in the next parliament is very necessary. But it is not sufficient. It is not good enough just to reduce the Tory majority. What we need now is to start building a force that can hold this Government to account in the next Parliament and replace them at the one after that. Labour cannot do that and the Lib Dems cannot do it alone.

Meanwhile the millions outside the political circle who believe as we do, remain voiceless scattered and broken, waiting for a lead.

But they are not getting one.

So far, from the progressive parties and the progressive voices within parties, there has been chiefly silence. Some braver souls, like would-be teenage lovers at a dimly lit party, have reached out furtively seeking fingers to touch across the divide, only to pull back for fear of rejection or discovery if the lights go up.

And so nothing happens. And if nothing continues to happen then we are- all of us -about to be run over by a proto-UKIP steam roller driven by Mrs May and then all we stand for will be lost for a decade. Dr Johnson used to say that the prospect of hanging in the morning sharpens a man’s mind wonderfully. But it hasn’t. We, who should be calling the progressive forces of our country to arms, remain stuck in torpor and uncertainty.

And thus will the Government of Britain be handed over, for the first time since the Great Reform Act, not to the moderate voices who represent the true political centre of gravity of our country, but to those who would divide us into extremes, isolate us from our neighbours and perhaps even break up our United Kingdom as a consequence.

What we need now is a British “En Marche”. What we need is a Macron. The problem is we haven’t got one.

But still and withal, given what is at stake here, is it really the case that sensible voices in and outside the political circle cannot find the way to make this happen? The only way to stop this election resulting in an elected dictatorship under a hard right, hard Brexit Tory Party, is to turn it, as Macron has done, into a clear choice powerfully advocated, between an open, liberal, internationalist Britain and one based on nationalism, division and isolation.

Hands up who’s up for the fight?

Home thoughts on the eve of the Election

The Independent

20 April 2017

On the Eve of the election

For the second time in 18 months, the country has to pay the price for a Prime Minister who has put the Tory Party’s interests before the nation’s interests. Last year, I predicted that Theresa May would call a snap election this spring. And now she has.

So what next?

 I have a suspicion that the surprise no one sees coming in this election will not be what happens inside the small, cramped circle where politicians and political parties live, but what happens when the voiceless millions of the moderate, progressive centre outside that circle demand to be heard. If you want to see what can happen when they do, look at what is happening now with Macron’s “En Marche!” movement in France.

 It’s worth examining for a moment what Mrs May actually said this week when she announced a general election.

 An election was needed for the country, she claimed.

 Why? We have a perfectly good Parliament with two years to run, doing its job scrutinising legislation which will affect our lives for years to come. We all know that May didn’t want Parliament to get involved at all, until the Supreme Court told her she had to. Now she wants an election which will give her what the Supreme Court wouldn’t: a Parliament whose Tory majority is so big she can simply ignore it. Theresa May was prevented by the courts from bypassing Parliament. Now she wans to make it her poodle.

 An election was needed to unite the nation, she said.

 Some cheek coming from a Prime Minister who inherited a divided country and, with every act and word since, has widened the divisions further! It was she who, in her first speeches as PM, laid into the supposed “liberal elite” who voted remain; she who said that those who thought themselves citizens of the world were citizens of nowhere; she who chose the most extreme and brutal form of Brexit which puts our country on the edge of the cliff and as far away from Europe as possible; she who, instead of trying to reach out to the 48 per cent who lost, then encouraged a campaign of insult to anyone who dared to raise their heads above the parapet and argue for a more moderate approach; she who has presided over a frightening the rise in hate crime in Britain: she who, by moving her party lock, stock and barrel onto policy positions indistinguishable from Ukip (like grammar schools), has widened the divisions in British politics and left those of the moderate centre more voiceless and scattered than ever before in my political lifetime.

 We do badly need a more united Britain. But those who believe that giving Theresa May’s Tories a bigger majority is the way to do it are indulging in the triumph of hope over our recent bitter experience of what she and they stand for.

 Lastly, Theresa May claimed that an election would strengthen her hand in the coming EU negotiations. But the real reason is somewhat different. She knows perfectly well that there are very painful Brexit times ahead. She wants to get an election in before this happens so she can simply ignore the pain when it does – and reject and claim that she should consult anyone beyond her narrow circle about the final deal she reaches.

 This election may seem like an exercise in democracy today – but it’s actually about giving Theresa May the means to ignore democracy tomorrow.

 Nevertheless, now we have an election, like it or not.

In which case, we Lib Dems say: bring it on!

 We are ready for the fight and confident that, with civilised liberal values like tolerance, respect for others, moderation and the habit of compromise more at risk then ever before in my life time, this is a battle worth fighting and one we will relish.

 We are inspired too by the thousands who have now come to join us. Our membership has doubled since the referendum, and it leapt by more than 1,000 in the hours after Theresa May’s announcement. And we are winning in the ballot box too, in by-elections both parliamentary and local.

 Having had to eat my hat last time (for the record, I have eaten five), I am not in the business of making predictions. So instead I will make an appeal to my party. This is not the time for tribalism. I believe we can achieve great successes in the next weeks. But while Lib Dem victories are necessary for a fairer Britain, they are not sufficient.

 The historic task before us is to be the catalyst for a political force capable of being a real and powerful opposition to the Tories. Labour cannot do that. And we cannot do it alone.

 It’s time to reach out beyond our tribal barriers and build a wider progressive movement which can oppose and in time replace the Tories by giving voice to the new voiceless in Britain – the thousands in politics and the millions beyond it who believe in the values of tolerance, internationalism, diversity and partnership, and do not believe these can be delivered by a divisive Tory Prime Minister with a bigger majority.

If we Lib Dems see that as our vision, we can turn what will be a good election into great one – perhaps, indeed, a historic one.

Don’t cut the Royal Marines!

Royal Marines

12 April 2017

‘I never knew an appeal made to them for honour, courage or loyalty that they did not more than realise… If ever the hour of real danger should come to England, they will be found the country’s sheet anchor.” So said Admiral Lord Vincent, a contemporary of Nelson’s, speaking more than 200 years ago about the Royal Marines.

It was the Royal Marines who captured Gibraltar in 1704, almost a hundred year before Lord St Vincent spoke those words. And since then, for three long, dangerous centuries, they have carried more of the burdens of battle in our nations defence, fought in more conflicts and played a part in more victories than any other British regiment, from Gibraltar, to the Falklands, right through to Afghanistan.

In this most uncertain and unpredictable age, what we need are forces that are fast, flexible, mobile and able to fight in any environment. This is what the Royal Marines do – and they do it better than any other force on earth.

So why on earth are we cutting the Royal Marines?

The answer is as simple as it is depressing.

Because the Navy has not got enough sailors to man the ships it has, let alone the two huge aircraft carriers shortly to enter naval service (five years after the initial target date). Many defence experts fear these are future floating white elephants which are soaking up the money to pay for the defences we need now to keep the country safe.

How did this happen?

It is precisely the outcome many predicted during the disastrous 2010 Government Defence Review. Liam Fox, then Defence Minster, was repeatedly warned that without leadership and strategic direction, that Review would descend into an undignified squabble between the Chiefs of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force to hang onto their most prestigious projects, irrespective of whether they met the nation’s needs or not. And that’s exactly what happened. The RAF hung onto fighters that couldn’t fly off aircraft carriers. And the Navy went ahead with two huge £6.2 billion carriers, even though they had no fighters to put on them.

And so we must now cut to pay for these.

When Defence Secretaries had to cut in the past, they always began with the MoD’s back-room “tail” of administrators. Our present one, Sir Michael Fallon, is different. He starts with the élite and those on front line.

The price we have to pay for this folly does not end with the Royal Marines.

Finding the sailors to man those carriers has meant that other navy warships have been left idle at quaysides, or prematurely shunted off to the Reserve Fleet.

The Army is feeling it too. Their combat training has been slashed by a billion over the next decade. The first casualty in this cut back will be the tank training in Canada – just at the moment when that training becomes more vital as we deploy British armoured units to Europe’s eastern border to face the new threat from Russia. One MoD source said “the only way (we) can (make these cuts) is to stop training” altogether. This is playing fast and loose, not just with the nations defence, but with soldiers lives as well. Anyone who has seen action knows that less training, means more dead soldiers on the battlefield.

It’s not that there is no “tail” to cut. We all love to be thrilled at our summer fetes by RAF display teams like the Red Arrows. But if front line troops are being slashed, do we really need to be funding six of these teams? Is it really sensible to spend money for our defence, on heritage aircraft for museums? If we cannot  find the cash for fighter jets, should we really be spending it on air cadet gliders scattered on disused airports up and down the country?

It seems to me someone somewhere has their priorities wrong.

This is not a time to be cutting those upon whom we depend for our defence now, like the Royal Marines, for projects of doubtful purpose in the future and schemes which, however nice, are not part of our ability to protect ourselves in an increasingly hostile and unpredictable world.


29 March – Article 50 Day
Paddy Ashdown

William Hazlett’s advice to travellers was “take your common sense with you, but leave your prejudices behind”. It’s not bad guidance for Theresa May as she sends her Article 50 missive to Brussels.

We know there are many among the Prime Minister’s closest advisors – Liam Fox, for example – whose prejudices have always been for rupture, rather than a deal, with the EU.

The question today is: does Theresa May secretly agree?

Why else choose to put Brexit Britain as far away from our neighbours as possible?

Why else the foolish early threat to walk out if we didn’t perfectly get our way (thank goodness, the government is now back tracking on this)? Why else all the insult-laden invective against the 48 per cent of Remainers, which left our country more divided today than we were on the morning that the Leavers won?

Make no mistake: this reckless brutal Brexit, yanking us out of the world’s largest single market even before she has started to negotiate, is Theresa May’s choice.
In her letter to Brussels today, the Prime Minster said she has enacted the “democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom”. She has done no such thing. It is not those who sought to soften the Brexit blow by challenging the Government who do not respect the Brexit vote. It is May, who has hijacked that vote to feed the anti-European prejudices of her own party.

Few in Britain voted to leave the Single Market; remaining in it was proposed by many Brexiteers and promised in the Conservative election manifesto. Estimates put the cost to Britain of this kind of ‘hard Brexit’ as high as £200bn over 15 years. Already companies are leaving, taking with them livelihoods, expertise and the futures of many citizens. We are now embarked on a course which will bewilder future historians as the most remarkable example in modern history of a country committing an act of monumental self-harm while still in full possession of its faculties.

So why has May moved her party onto policies indistinguishable from those of Ukip? For the same reason that Mr Cameron insisted on the Referendum in the first place: the best interests of the nation are once again being held hostage to the internal management of the Conservative Party.

Spare a thought for those Conservatives who still adhere to their Party’s proud internationalist tradition. Who is as lonely as them now?

It is still possible to stop this madness and keep Britain inside the Single Market. It is even still possible for the British people to remain in the European Union. Democracy didn’t end on 23 June 2016, and it hasn’t ended today either. The people can have their say over the final Brexit deal – and they should.

Meanwhile, the phony war of recent months, fuelled by insults against all those who dared to challenge the Government and prosecuted by a stream of completely unsubstantiated claims and undeliverable promises, is over. Now the Government will be held to account for what it does, not what it says; now we will see whether all those promises plastered on the side of campaign coaches and blithely scattered about in ministerial statements can ever be delivered.

First up will be the Great Repeal Act, devil-infested with detail and to be measured against that David Davis promise that no EU right, protection or advantage enjoyed by British citizens now will be diminished.

At the same time, we plunge into the most complex negotiations in our history. There is no chance these can be completed with a good deal inside 18 months. If that proves to be so, then the Prime Minister demands we all join hands with her and jump off a cliff into national isolation, accompanied by disaster for our trade, our influence and our economy.

If you feel depressed today, don’t be. Be fighting mad. There’s everything still to fight for.


Article 50 – Prospect Magazine 15 March 2017

Prospect Magazine 15 march 2017

Oscar Wilde said “In a democracy, the minority is always right”. This thought has given me much comfort during nearly half a century fighting for liberalism.

But the post-Brexit debate has been different. A minority we still remain – but only slimly so and that has been wonderfully comforting.

I am fairly certain (Liberals don’t do certainties) that history will marvel at Brexit as the most bewildering act of national self-harm knowingly and willingly committed by an advanced nation in full possession of its faculties. And yet that is the decision we took and we must now enact – at least for the foreseeable future – unless and until the worm turns.

But the Brexit decision is only one of the puzzles we have had to deal with these last few months.

The other is why did Mrs May – again willingly and knowingly – choose to make a difficult path much, much more difficult?

Any good Prime Minister inheriting a country so at war with itself as we were after the Referendum would have placed healing national division as their first priority. But from her first unwise Conservative Conference speech with its demonization of the “liberal elite” and the assertion that those who see themselves as citizens of the world, are citizens of nowhere, Mrs May has, quite again deliberately, sought to widen the divisions between the 52% who said YES and the 48% who said NO. She followed this divisive rhetoric with divisive action, choosing a Brexit that puts the country as far away from Europe as it is possible to get (for which she has no mandate whatsoever), moving her Party onto policies indistinguishable from UKIP and attempting to bully her way to her chosen destination by steam-rollering a by-pass around Parliament – until the Supreme Court gave her a lesson in what it is to govern in a democratic country.

And so, our country launches itself down Mrs May’s Article 50 path to exit more divided even than it was during the Referendum. The public discourse is uglier, the entrenched positions are deeper, the level of vitriol is higher and the hate crimes grow and grow. For these divisions at such a difficult time, there will be a price to pay – including in the end, by Mrs May’s Government itself.

So what now?

As an exercise in whistling in the dark, the recent budget was about as good as you get. The Chancellor’s sepulchral style is not given to optimism. His speciality is calm. But even he could not hide the fact that this was a budget focussed, not on the sunlit uplands ahead, but on the monster of Brexit hard-times stirring beneath our feet. That’s why he’s not spending windfalls, but hoarding them. Big business, also awash with money, is doing the same thing for the same reasons. They both know that true pain of Brexit will increasingly be felt the further down Mrs May’s Article 50 track we go. If public opinion is to turn, watch what happens after inflation begins to bite around the turn of the year.

But the ambushes along Mrs May’s way are not just economic ones.

We are now facing the real possibility of the break up of the United Kingdom. Viewed from the moment, it does not seem likely that a Scottish referendum would succeed. But Mrs Sturgeon knows what most modern politicians have forgotten, that politics is dynamic. Snap-shot opinion polls tell you where things are, but not the direction in which they are heading. Status quo was yesterday’s dynamic. Fissipariousness is today’s.

For evidence, see Northern Ireland. Observers have long predicted that the time would come when the demographic balance in the Province would tip away from the Unionists, towards the Nationalists. Northern Ireland now teeters on this historic knife-edge after the recent Stormont elections. In part this is because some Unionist middle class voters now see a united Ireland inside the EU, less terrifying than a Northern Ireland forced to be outside it and isolated from its neighbours by a hard border. By the way, whisper it softly, some in Gibraltar are also beginning to view the competing claims of British and Spanish sovereignty through the same prism.

Mrs May’s ridiculous attempt to persuade us she is Mrs Thatcher reincarnated in kitten shoes has brought the country to the edge of a disastrous rift with the EU and given the nationalists in Scotland and Ireland cause and space to play fast and lose with our unity.

The problem with breaking things up, is that it’s easier to start than to stop.

Finally there is, as always, the famous devil in the detail. The complexities of the Brexit negotiations are as nothing to the whole roiling devil-fest waiting to break out when the Government launches the Great Repeal Act repatriating tens of thousand of EU laws to Westminster.

What does all this add up to? It may not be in Mrs May’s mind, or in her programme, or her agenda, or her intentions. But my guess is that as the next months tick by, the temptations of an early election will become almost irresistible.