Chairs Report (AGM 2022) by James Churchill

Hello everyone – wherever you are, thank you for joining us today.

It’s been an eventful year – Sadly, we not only mourned the loss of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, but as Lib Dems, we continue to watch the debacle of Tory politics unfold. With the U.K. now experiencing their third Prime Minister within 3 months, we enter 2023 with a cost of living crisis, an inflationary crunch and an out of touch leadership – not only do they continue to bumble their way through government, they expect the electorate to pick up the bill for their own mistakes. All is not lost though with the liberal way of life. In the Americas we witnessed a stronger than expected performance
for the Democrats in the mid-terms and while they lost the house, they have gained a seat in the Senate and won governorships across the country with stinging rebukes for the lies and antagonism of many of Trumps crony political mouthpieces. In Brazil, we likewise see the fall of Bolsanaro and the rise again of Lula De Silva – his comments at COP27 this week on stopping deforestation and his attempts to again raise the minimum wage and improve the social welfare net. In April in France, we saw a vindicated centrist in Macron beat the far-right machinations of Le-Pen – despite his second term struggling with a slimmer parliamentary majority. Yes, we have Italy and Poland, but we must try to remain positive. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those in the Ukraine, and we stand determined as ever to fight autocracy and the march of the far right on every front it presents itself.

As a party, we applaud the recent election of George Cunningham and Hannah Bettsworth to both the ALDE delegation and the FIRC, and our own Merlene Emmerson to the ALDE delegation. Congratulations!

The loss of the Autumn conference was deeply felt by many of us as a wasted opportunity – but the timing was poor after Queen Elizabeth’s death and a decision was made that was deemed economically better for the marginal membership. Ed Davey’s speech two weeks ago attempted to cover some of the lost ground and key topics we continue to fight for – and I urge all of you to watch it if you haven’t already. I will place a link in the chat:

We face many issues and continue to push for a more complete windfall tax on energy companies that cannot be tax offset by supposed investment in the already depleted North Sea oil fields. Ed also announced a new Mortgage Protection Fund – to help struggling families as interest rates rise, while discussing strengthening rights for renters. Other important topics included the retraining of NHS doctors, the right for compulsory visits within 7 days and 24 hours where the need arises, the abolishment of OFWAT for their appalling performance on the environment and sewage, and the push for proportional representation.

Nearer to home, LibDems Overseas were involved in supporting Liberal politics locally, and saw executive partake in women’s marches as well as several social events throughout the calendar year – in New York this culminated in a dinner with delegates from the National Liberal Club as well as an ASEAN day meet up in August that saw Lord Wallace of Saltaire update our members on the Elections bill to restore voting rights to all British citizens. Given Royal Assent on the 28 th April, we see the bill as a game changer for us as Brits overseas, and have acted to ensure our voices are heard. An estimated 1.5-2 million disenfranchised citizens will soon be brought back into the fold to have their votes counted. In May, I worked with a number of our members to create several videos discussing overseas issues and to make the case for overseas constituencies. These can be seen on our YouTube page. Despite working with the Lords for such and other edits to the bill, we were disappointed to learn that overseas constituencies, extension of time to allow for postal votes and any digitization of the vote was denied by the incumbent Tories. We are, however, the only party to have representation for overseas citizens through the House of
Lords and continue to thank Lord Stoneham and Baroness Brinton for their efforts to support us.

Votes for Life requires secondary legislation and will likely not come into effect until the next general
election. As a result, we have stipulated three main courses of action:
1. Preliminary awareness-raising campaign abroad about the Act, starting early next year.
2. Registration Campaign, when Electoral Commission is ready, starting perhaps September 2023
3. Campaigning for the party during the General Election, presumably in 2024 – although with this
government, this remains to be seen.

With the kind support of our co-chairs, and particularly Jenny Shorten in France, we have produced a Powerpoint document to start this awareness campaign in 2023. I urge any current or future executive to
request a copy to help in the education process as we enter the new year. As a result of our increasing political clout, LDO has taken the opportunity to work tirelessly across our sister organisations, Lib Dems in France and Lib Dems in Europe, to raise our profile with our national party. This culminated in our umbrella organization, Lib Dems Abroad, initiating a steering committee, chaired by Simon Marlow of our French contingent and our very own Terence Champion, who succeeded in briefing the Federal Board at the beginning of September for an official standing within the party. Our core aims were to be further involved in budgetary decisions and have more of a say for Brits abroad in the manifesto – while we have yet to receive approval as a State-lite party, further co-option on to federal boards will prove helpful in raising our voice and that of a newly burgeoning overseas electorate. Other work has included attempts to receive donations direct to our local party to improve our financial status and encourage further investment for events, talks and liberal democrat drives where necessary.

Supporting our values is essential in this age of eroding democracy, so I would like to thank every LDO member that have written articles for the Lib Dem Voice over the last twelve months. One members work
deserves special mention today. Colin Bloodworth has worked tirelessly against the despicable policy of Frozen pensions by this Conservative government. Not only has he worked with an international
consortium of interested parties such as the British Pensioners in Australia and the Canadian Pensioners Association but he has achieved an official letter of support from Ed Davey, our leader, and Sarah Olney
MP, and will be present to brief several MPs and Lords this coming Tuesday in Westminster. Really well done Colin.

Finally, I would like to thank George Cunningham personally. He has been a stalwart supporter of LDO and by extension LDA, and continues to drive new policy and ideas forward for a fairer system for our international electorate. I wish all non and potentially new executive members good luck with the upcoming vote. Personally, I will be standing aside as Chair due to professional commitments that have mounted since restarting graduate school in New York City. I do intend, however, to stand as an ordinary member, if you’ll have me, so I can stay relevant and hopefully continue to drive the North America movement when voter education begins early next year.

I would like to end my final words on a positive note. As we enter 2023, we are grateful for the health of King Charles III, a monarch that has a wealth of experience and hopefully continues his push towards a more environmentally friendly and responsible United Kingdom. I look forward to the continuing demolition of the Conservative blue wall in the south and urge the Lib Dems to reignite the discussion of Brexit, its horrific economic impact on our people and the for further alignment with our European friends in the near-term.

James Churchill

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