LIB DEMS OVERSEAS 2020 ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING
CHAIR’S REPORT (Abridged Version)
I want to pay tribute to the great efforts made by our activist base. Without you all, nothing would be achieved. And we want more of you present today to join us.
COVID-19 and subsequent lockdowns around the world have meant that Lib Dem Overseas activists found themselves with more time to advance our goals.
At the start of 2020. Lib Dems Overseas agreed the following key objectives. And here is what we actually did:
- CONTRIBUTING TO PROMOTING LIBERAL DEMOCRACY WORLDWIDE
On Hong Kong, Alistair Carmichael MP’s advocacy of offering of British National Overseas (BNO) passports for Hong Kong citizens and extend the scheme to provide the “right of abode” tripled LDO membership and supporters there. At the party’s autumn conference, LDO’s amendment to the Lib Dem party’s "Hong Kong's Future" motion was taken on board. We arranged for a HK protestor to participate directly from HK in the debate which took conference by storm.
LDO is also working on the Taiwan issue where the Democratic Progressive Party, the most liberal party in Asia, is in charge.
Concerning Afghanistan, twelve current and former MPs signed a declaration originating from the preamble to the UK Lib Dems constitution adapted to Afghan circumstances in December 2019 with the aim of forming a liberal democrat caucus in the Afghan parliament. The LDO Chair acted as Returning Officer in a skype meeting of interested Afghan MPs in September who elected Mr Gul Ahmad Kamin MP as its Leader. The development of this group is now hampered by the escalation of violence and fighting in this country with the future of even its limited democracy increasingly in doubt.
In North America, some twenty activists formed the first branch of Lib Dems Overseas which is undertaking important work for the party concerning the US elections. Mark Iffley, the branch’s interim chair, gave a quick rundown on what’s happening there.
In November 2020, the LDO attended the virtual Congresses of Liberal International and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) after COVID-19 closed down the physical events to be held in Sofia and Stockholm respectively. Attendance of meetings of EU institutions in Brussels on behalf of the party also could not happen for the same reasons. LDO was present and played a full role in the deliberations of the party’s Federal International Relations Committee.
Before the first lockdown, LDO organised a visit for the Liberal International’s Secretary-General and staff to the European External Action Service Task Forces working on countering disinformation to assist LI’s own anti-fake news campaign.
LDO executive members were encouraged to present themselves to local political parties affiliates of Liberal International and also to Friederich Naumen Foundations (where they exist). They also linked with groups promoting liberal causes (e.g. climate emergency, equal rights) especially in countries where liberal parties do not exist.
- CHAMPION THE NEEDS OF UK CITIZENS LIVING OVERSEAS
Work continued building on the policies espoused by the 2019 LDE and LDO joint policy proposal paper “Modernising the relationship between Britain and its citizens living abroad”.
Along with all Lib Dems Abroad parties, we continue to champion the cause of abolition of the 15 year rule for our citizens living abroad and the establishment of overseas constituencies for them to vote in.
LDO is running a campaign on unfreezing pensions which impacts on half a million Brits living abroad. Then Lib Dem party co-leader Mr Ed Davey sent a letter on behalf of Lib Dems Overseas to Ms Therese Coffey, the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions. LDO also made a detailed submission to the recently established All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Frozen British Pensions. We briefed newly appointed Lib Dem spokesperson on pensions Wendy Chamberlain MP who has confirmed she will be sitting on the APPG to promote our cause. In support for this cause, LDO organised a fringe event at the 2020 Lib Dem Autumn Conference entitled: “Frozen Pensions to Lost Pensions”.
Leader Ed Davey will shortly be appointing a peer to serve the interest of Brits overseas, our first representation in Parliament, alongside a peer for Brits living in Europe.
- INCREASE THE PROFILE OF LIB DEMS OVERSEAS WITHIN THE PARTY AND SERVICES AND ACTIVITIES FOR OUR MEMBERS OVERSEAS
We worked hard to increase our profile within the party. We briefed co-leader Mark Pack on our policies and issues which he has assiduously followed up on. Our Honorary President Baroness Sal Brinton continued to give her unstinting support,
Co-leader Ed Davey addressed the LDO executive on his own initiative by skype on 26th March. The Lib Dems Abroad Leadership Husting then took place on 16th August https://www.libdemsoverseas.com/recording_of_leadership_hustings_for_lib_dems_abroad and was followed up by LDO letters to Ed Davey and Layla Moran detailing areas where LDO’s expertise can be of help, receiving positive responses from both..
Challenges were faced throughout the year in accessing our membership database because of significant GDPR restrictions from outside Europe. Happily we have a member of the executive based in the UK now to deal with this challenging aspect of our work.
We built up our social media profile. We wrote 14 articles for Lib Dems Voice and issued two newsletters to our members.
We were very pleased that Dr Christine Cheng, University College London, and Paul Reynolds spoke at LDO’s first Webinar on “Geopolitics in the Time of COVID-19” https://www.libdemsoverseas.com/paddy_ashdown_forum_event as part of the newly established Paddy Ashdown Forum.
A new feature for services to members will be an offer to provide Duty of Care to those in need. If a case comes up, a member of the executive will be assigned to dialogue with the person concerned to give comfort and come up with a solution if possible. This service has been advertised to all our members At the end of last year, we helped with evacuating an LDO member based in Brazil to an NHS hospital in the UK for treatment.
The LDO Chair was interviewed for the Party Bodies Review Group which will lead to recommendations, including constitutional changes, to put forward to the Spring Conference.
I want to thank the fantastic enthusiasm and hard of work of the executive and all activists. The LDO Executive has met monthly via skype with regular participation from Australia, Bahamas, Canada, Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore, Thailand and the United States, a truly global liberal network with unstoppable potential. You’ve all done a great job.