Liberal Democrats Overseas
Annual General Meeting: 5th November 2023
2023 Chair of Lib Dems Overseas
Welcome to the Lib Dems Overseas AGM for 2023.
I’d like to start by thanking the Executive Team and members who continue to actively support and guide our work. It is easy to forget how far we’ve come in a year … there are so many things we would love to achieve, but we have made huge steps forward to enable us to continue on a journey of supporting and championing the needs of British Citizens living overseas. But before I go into detail on these items – I’d like to remind everyone of developments in both the UK and globally over the past year.
- Within the UK, although still present, the restrictions of Covid are a seemingly distant memory and the worry of Covid has been replaced with the challenges of cost-of-living. Increasing interest rates and high inflation have left families stretched, with the IMF predicting the UK will be amongst one of the worst performing economies in the G20 in 2023 and forecasts the UK will have the highest inflation and slowest economic growth of any G7 economy during 2024.
- This is reinforced by the intensity of strikes – ranging from doctors and nurses to rail staff, teachers, border force workers and civil servants.
- Tory sleaze, cronyism and a general distrust for the current Government occupy the headlines … with the Lockdown files, party gate and subsequent revelations from the Covid enquiry reinforcing the ethical ambiguity of the current Government. Police investigations into members at the top of the SNP highlight those challenges are not just linked to the Conservatives.
- Local party elections see significant losses for the Conservatives and gains for the Lib Dems (obtaining 20% of the popular vote, 1,628 councillors (an increase of over 400), and control of 29 councils (an increase of 12)
- There were 7 by-elections this year (5 from Tory held seats, 1 Labour and 1 SNP seat) – including 3 due to fall-out from publication of the Privileges Committee report into Boris Johnson, 2 due to resignations from sexual misconduct, and 1 due to a recall petition & breaking covid rules. The Liberal Democrats confidently took Somerton and Frome, overturning a Conservative majority of 29.6%.
- We saw the formal coronation of King Charles III and Camilla, introducing him as King of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms.
- From a climate perceptive: The Met Office publishes its State of the UK Climate 2022 report. It concludes that the 40 °C heatwave was "extraordinary", but would be considered an average year by 2060 and a cool year by 2100, if current emission trends continue
- On a global level - conflict in Sudan, Gaza, Ukraine, clashing geo-political agendas between regions, the impact of climate change, rise of AI – all throw up new global challenges and an evolving power dynamic.
But where has that left Lib Dems Overseas and the 5 million British Citizens who live outside of the UK? To help answer that question, I’ll summarise what our Exec has been up to since they took up position at the start of 2023.
- Regarding contact with overseas members and voters … we have been working behind the scenes as part of Lib Dems Abroad (alongside Lib Dems in Europe and Lib Dems in France) on plans to highlight the changes to overseas voter registration (also known as removal of the 15-year rule and votes-for-life). This change looks like it will come into force mid-January 2024 at which point we will start proactively sharing this information with British Citizens overseas. We thank George Cunningham, Chair of the Lib Dems Abroad Steering Committee, Bruce Darrington, Terry Champion, Andrew Muir and the whole LDO Team for their input into the 2023 planning stage – and look forward to delivering this activity in 2024.
- From a policy perspective … LDO continue to push for an end to frozen overseas state pensions. Engagement with members of the House of Lords, Wendy Chamberlain MP’s representation on the APPG, support from Ed Davey, continued push for manifesto / party policy inclusion have widened the acknowledgement of the frozen pension issue. We will continue to lobby and intensify our communication where we can, to embed an end to frozen pensions as written Lib Dem policy. Thank you to Colin Bloodworth for his commitment, expertise and guidance in championing this cause.
- In addition, members of LDO have been linking in with Unlock Democracy’s activity to promote overseas constituencies. This is a policy area we continue to support.
- Operationally – members of the LDO started engaging with senior members of Lib Dems HQ to try and optimise our overseas operations. This included sessions with the party CEO around overseas alignment with core IT systems, discussions with the Compliance Team around GDPR and global data management and working with the Party President to highlight and identify options regarding access to funds. Thank you specifically to Nick Lord, Treasurer and George Cunningham for their work in this area.
- We introduced a suite of new technology including a new website (aligning with the new HQ platform), a new email CRM system and a new email inbox for formal communications. This technology enables us to engage with our members more effectively and efficiently. I’d like to thank John Shardlow for his work on this at both the start and throughout the year.
- As a local party we continue to connect with sister groups around the world. Victoria Bateman attended the Liberal International Executive in Ottawa Canada as a representative of the Liberal Democrats. George Cunningham and Merlene Emerson attended the ALDE Congress in Stockholm and Council in Bucharest.
- We also connect with Lib Dem members and groups in the UK. As part of the wider Lib Dems Abroad group – members from LDO attended both the Spring and Autumn Lib Dem Conferences in York and Bournemouth respectively. This helps highlight the overseas members to UK activists and party officials, through an exhibition stand, training sessions, interventions, speeches, and a one-on-one connections. In addition, as part of our role in Lib Dems Abroad and the Federal International Relations Committee – George Cunningham and myself has attended a range of Ministerial Roundtables and George attended meetings with representatives in the House of Lords to highlight the needs of Citizens Living Overseas.
- Members of LDO continue to share personal insight and perspective via Lib Dem Voice and related publications. I would specifically like to thank Christopher for his continued contribution to highlighting the situation in Hong Kong.
- Baroness Sal Brinton and Dr Mark Pack, past and present Presidents of the Liberal Democrat Party kindly joined our Exec meetings to share their insight and answer questions directly from the LDO members.
- I would like the take this opportunity to again thank everyone of the Exec who work independently, remotely and with clarity and passion to help ensure Liberal Democrat values of liberty, equality, democracy, community, human rights, internationalism, and environmentalism are appropriately reinforced where they can be.
- I look forward to seeing what 2024 brings (including a General Election in both the UK and US)
Caroline Padbury, 2023 Chair