Transparency is for Lib Dems, too

by Stephen Tall on June 23, 2009

The casual reader of this post – Duff-Verhofstadt drive to federal Europe sees its first Liberal casualty – over at The Yorkshire Guidon blog might not understand its full implication:

Former Belgian PM Guy Verhofstadt, in the running to lead the Liberals and Democrats group (ALDE) in the European Parliament, and his campaign manager UK Lib Dem MEP Andrew Duff make no secret of their desire to see a ‘federal Europe’. … Such Federalist credentials are impeccable and yet are starting to spook MEPs in the ALDE group. Today saw the first defection as the widely regarded Finnish MEP from the Liberal-linked Centre Party, Hannu Takkula, left ALDE to join the new UK Conservative-led grouping. … Such defections could be the first of many should Verhofstadt take over the leadership of ALDE.

A simple enough warning, you might think, that the ALDE group should be wary of supporting Guy Verhofstadt as its leader. Unfortunately, The Yorksire Guidon’s author, Stewart Arnold, does not declare his very personal interest in the decision, though there’s a hint in the concluding paragraph:

The other runner in the race to lead the ALDE group is UK Liberal Democrat, Diana Wallis. Insiders say it is too close to call at this stage.

Stewart is in fact married to Diana, something The Yorkshire Guidon’s readers have every right to know is the case when reading a piece by the husband of an MEP talking up his spouse’s candidacy while rubbishing the record of her rival. Badly done.

Update: Stewart has edited his blog-post now to declare his interest – “The Yorkshire Guidon is related to one of the other contenders in this contest”.

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If I might be so bold as to share my experience with Stewart, it is unwise to comment publicly on the activities or interests of your spouse. Either you are seen to acting as her mouthpiece, in which case why not let her say it herself, or you’re not, although nobody will believe that anyway.

Trust me, I learned that the hard way…

by Mark Valladares on June 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm. Reply #

But I’d be interested to know the real truth of this; can someone give us a view that we can be sure is unbiased?

by Martin Land on June 24, 2009 at 8:08 am. Reply #

Well Verhostadt is very very federalist. He made an awful (in my view) speech at the ALDE camapign launch in which he claimed for the EU all the competences that Belgium does not exercise at national level (or so it seemed to many).

There seems to be a play for Diana to take over one of two jobs (Watson’s or Duff’s). I can see merit in either suggestion. Stewart has been in this territory before, though. A valid story and a good candidate but he should have declared his interest. This sort of thing hinders his wife, rather than helping her.

by EastEnder on June 24, 2009 at 11:26 am. Reply #

EastEnder’s comments about Verhostadt’s views on defining federalism would appear to be in direct conflict with the Lib Dem position on federalism in the UK, where the role of the central government is defined and everything else devolved (look at the Scottish Parliament to see how this works.) If correct, then I don’t see how UK Lib Dems can support him on this.

by KL on June 24, 2009 at 11:55 am. Reply #

What does ‘federalist’ mean?

I grew up understanding it as meaning roughly, ‘devolved’. This is the American sense as spelled out in the 10th amendment to the US constitution:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

In other words, the Federal Govt can do those things – and ONLY those things – that it is specifically authorised to do. ALL other powers belong to the states (or to individual people) making this the defualt position.

This seems to me to be an excellent principle and one that lies behind the Lib Dem’s national organisational structure.

Unfortunately, that is not what the vast majority of the population understands by ‘federalist’. It has suffered a 180 degree change in meaning and now for most people ( and the serious press) it means roughly ‘centralised’ with lower tiers of Govt treated as/reduced to little more than local agents of the central power (rather like our local authorities in fact).

This view is, of course, anathema to liberals who value empowerment of people and communities.

My suspicion is that this redefinition of ‘federalist’ is down to very effective balck campaign by eurosceptics to suit themselves combined with naive liberals who have walked into their trap.

If you doubt this try asking a Conservative what he thinks of moves towards a more federal Europe. I asked a friend who is a (liberalish) Tory with spectacular results – he very nearly exploded with rage about how federalists wanted to centre all power in Brussels which had too much already etc. When he eventually calmed down we had a very sensible discussion in which we agreed that what we both wanted was Brussels to do only the minimum necessary and that other powers should be kept in national capitals and in local govt.

Notwithstanding any confusion about the meaning of ‘federalist’ the Lib Dem leadership (in both Brussels and Westminster) has some way to go to explain why they are supporting the centralising tendencies of Brussels in flat contradiction of usual Liberal instincts.

by Liberal Eye on June 24, 2009 at 1:25 pm. Reply #

Fair points in what’s been said and I amended my post.

This was less about making the case for another candidate (which would have been a different post entirely) rather more about how the word federalist is seen by politicans across the EU. There is no doubt that a drive to greater federalism has the potential to split the ALDE group because there are those in Germany, the UK and in the Nordic countries as a start that do not want to see greater integration towards a ‘United States of Europe’ as Verhofstadt advocates in his book. Indeed he himself recognises how difficult that might be to achieve and suggests an inner core of about 12 nations with the others in an outer circle which he calls the ‘Organisation of European States’. It is a recognition that taking 27 countries towards such a goal is unlikely. I think it would be incredibly difficult for him to carry this off in within the 12 countries in the present mood after June’s elections.

by The Yorkshire Guidon on June 24, 2009 at 2:38 pm. Reply #

News hot off the press:

Finland’s Takkula to stay with ALDE

24.6.2009 at 14:30

Hannu Takkula, a Finnish Centre party Euro-MP, was quoted as saying by party news website Verkkoapila on Wednesday that he would stay in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, one of the European Parliament’s political groupings.

by Robert Bleakley on June 24, 2009 at 2:52 pm. Reply #

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