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More cooperation is needed says George Fussey, Chair of East Berks Lib Dems

August 20, 2016 4:03 PM

George Fussey, Chair of East Berks Lib Dems

It is depressing when the adversarial style of politics which is such a feature of British democracy generates more heat than light. It all too often does. One reason for this is, I believe, the historical domination of politics by males. This has meant that frequently testosterone has rather too much say in determining our political behaviour and the tone of the debates that take place. The rudeness and boorish behaviour that I have experienced in the Council Chamber was not, on the numerous occasions I witnessed it, an edifying experience. So, at one level, at least, it seems to me that we should welcome Theresa May as our second woman Prime Minister. We need more women in politics and more women in top jobs. Her appointment should also remind us of how much more work we as a party must do to increase our own diversity so that we can better represent society as a whole. However, her previous record as Home Secretary is particularly illiberal and does not fill us with optimism when she talks about her 'one nation' aspirations.

Seen through the prism of the tabloid press, adversarialism leads to an exaggeration of certain issues (like immigration in the EU referendum). It also means that any analysis of issues tends to be over-simplified and any responses tend to focus on the short-term and more immediate horizons. Decisions taken in this light can be catastrophic: Brexit was, in my view, such a decision, one that we will regret in the fullness of time.

On Europe, Theresa May voted 'remain' but will now oversee a Brexit very much approved of by the majority of Tory party members. The economic uncertainty of Brexit has already begun to affect jobs, homes and livelihoods. The contraction in the building trade of 0.7% over the last three months is a harbinger of things to come. But it is good news that the Chancellor has said that EU funding for farmers, scientists and other projects will be replaced by the Treasury after Brexit. This may cost up to £4.5bn a year as the Treasury guarantees to continue backing EU-funded projects signed before this year's Autumn Statement. However, there are still major concerns about the long-term damage that Brexit will do to the many successful EU-funded research collaborations that involve UK researchers, often in leadership roles.

Liberal Democrats accept the result of the referendum but continue to make the case for us to rejoin the heart of Europe. For this reason we have pledged to fight the next General Election on a platform of taking Britain back into Europe.
Since the referendum over 17,000 people have joined the Liberal Democrats and our local membership has increased by nearly 50%. Only the Liberal Democrats were unequivocal about the importance of European membership.

As I visit Prague on my forthcoming holiday I'll be reminded of a particular hero of mine, Vaclav Havel. He was, of course, famously a member of the human rights movement in Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. His fight for human rights reminds me how important cooperation across national boundaries is for issues such as human rights, security and the environment. Liberal Democrats are unashamedly internationalist in their approach. I believe we can be proud to be called collaborationists too. Liberal Democrats believe that coalition can lead to better politics and better policies. It's why I believe we can deliver policies that work for the whole of society and not just one part of it. We also want those policies to cross national boundaries and change the lives of continents. The Prime Minister's wish to leave the European Convention on Human Rights and her support of military intervention in Iraq suggest that she will struggle to deliver positive outcomes in Europe and beyond.

George Fussey, Chair of East Berkshire Liberal Democrats