At the invitation of the Tamil Friends of the Liberal Democrats my wife and I attended Mullivaikkal Remembrance Day in Trafalgar Square on 18 May. By Derek Hill
It was an impressive and moving occasion, commemorating the 14th anniversary of a massacre by the Sri Lankan Army of tens of thousands of Tamils who gathered in Mullivaikkal, a Sri Lankan village, during the final stages of the Sri Lankan Civil War. The feeling amongst the Tamils attending was palpable.
I have never visited Sri Lanka, but it is said to be beautiful with wonderful people. It reminds me of Northern Ireland, another place where two communities must share the same space in cooperation and respect.
The demands made at the Mullivaikkal commemoration were eminently reasonable.
The massacre must be properly investigated and those responsible held to account – it has been declared a genocide by the Canadian Government.
Political arrangements must also be put in place to enable the two communities to live together in harmony. Easily said, but it will take time. The demand for proper international investigation of what happened at Mullivaikkal was supported by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat representatives.
I am pleased to say that the LibDem leader, Ed Davey, was there and spoke strongly in support of an international investigation.
Ed also mentioned that the Rajapaksa regime was in power at the time of Mullivaikkal and has proved to be corrupt, violent and incompetent, with the result that many Sri Lankans – Tamil and Sinhalese - are now suffering deprivation. The Rajapaksa regime remains in power, as it has done for the past two decades, increasingly treating Sri Lanka as a family personal fiefdom.
Sri Lanka has become militarised in parts and its people are suffering. Sri Lanka deserves much better.
Harrow Lib Dems strongly support Ed Davey, our party leader. Our hearts go out to the relatives of the victims of Mullivaikkal and we hope that all Sri Lankans will enjoy a more prosperous and harmonious future and see justice done.
The last few years have been, admittedly, difficult for the LibDems. We had to cancel two autumn conferences, one due to Covid, and the other when the Queen died. And many still blame us for the coalition – not noticing what has gone on subsequently.
But despite apparently low opinion poll ratings, we’ve won every by-election where we had even a remote chance of winning. Chesham and Amersham springs to mind – it’s a local seat which we won with a huge swing. Our 20% share of the vote in the recent Council elections came as no surprise toour activists.
We are now about 18 months away at most from the next general election, an election that the Conservatives seem destined to lose. The question is by how much, and to whom?
“It’s the economy, stupid.” The words of Bill Clinton are just as apt for Great Britain, but with one subtle and crucial difference. Of course, our economy is in a mess, as are those of most other nations due to Covid and the Ukraine War. The subtle difference is that our economy is doing worse than countries in the EU, and that is projected to continue. This is the Brexit dividend.
The key issue of economic competence is tied up with Brexit. If traditional Conservative voters feel that the country would be better off either in the Single Market, or even rejoining the European Union, they may well desert the Tories and vote for the one party – the Libdems - that is prepared to abandon Brexit.
As this country’s economy underperforms its rivals, we may see a strong drift from the Tories to the LibDems. The present position is that, in marginal seats, the anti-conservative elector is voting tactically.
Let us see how that might play out in Harrow at the next general election.
Harrow East: A boundary redistribution has added the strongly Labour Queensbury ward in Barnet. Labour will be very disappointed not to win this seat back form the Conservatives.
Harrow West: Labour were surprised to win this seat in 1997 when the right was split between Tories and Referendum and have held it ever since. But the removal of Pinner, Pinner South and Hatch End wards have turned this into a safe Labour seat.
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner was a new seat carved out before the 2010 general election. In 2019, a bit of a disaster for the LibDems, we surprised ourselves by doubling our vote to over 15% not far behind the second place Labour.
Boundary redistribution means that the Conservative sitting MP loses the ward where he was a local councillor for many years, which will take away some of his personal vote.
With Labour seemingly having little chance of achieving the swing of over 15% needed to unseat the current MP, the LibDems have a better chance of winning, if we can persuade a sufficient number of anti-Brexit Tories to vote for us. The seat will not be an official LibDem target for 2024, but may well be for the following election. So we should work towards that as well as the next election.
Note added 28th June The Boundary Commission for England have now published their final report. There are no further changes to their revised boundaries for the Harrow East and Harrow West constituencies, but in Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner constituency they have gone back to their original proposals, which brings Harefield Village back into RNP while moving Ruislip Manor into Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency.
Why I support the Lib Dems by Derek Hill
Let’s face it, we are a small party in Harrow. As the recently elected Chair for the LibDems in Harrow, I want to make our country a place we want to live and thrive in. So we must go back to running this nation from the moderate and reasonable centre, not from the extreme right of Toryism or the extreme left of Labourism.
We should go back to that traditional British pragmatism, which has served us so well. The LibDems are the best placed and only party to offer voters this future.
We cannot move on by simply trying to recreate the past, or rather an imagined past, no matter how much it suits our nostalgia. The world is not what it was in past decades. We must deal with the world as it is now.
That means dealing with climate change, whose effects become daily more apparent, in a determined but realistic way, retaining democratic support for measures which at times, it is impossible to deny, will inconvenience some individuals.
It means at a national level not opening new coal mines, and in Harrow not encouraging greater car use.
It means pursuing pragmatic economic policies which provide good jobs and good incomes, and which will finance the public services we all want.
Creating a dynamic economy involves getting a lot of things right, rather like conducting an orchestra. Good education, appropriate investment incentives, a labour force with the right skills, easy access to markets, first class infrastructure and stable government are all essential.
The present Government is presiding over declining investment because, as a result of Brexit, we have much less access to markets, and we no longer can efficiently draw on talent to meet anyworkforce shortages. Simply changing taxation or allowing bankers to take bigger risks (a dubious endeavour in itself) is just one impediment.
I want to re-join the EU, and the LibDems are the only party committed to that. But that will not happen quickly and will require an unequivocal commitment from the UK to membership.
Leaving the EU has damaged our economy (as have Covid and Putin) and will do so increasingly as it is fully implemented (for example we are yet to introduce our own customs controls on imported goods). Brexit has weakened our influence in Europe and the world at a time when it is more needed than ever. Our way of life is threatened by Putin’s evil war in Ukraine. We need greater European solidarity not less.
Finally, our constitution is creaking. The gentlemanly conventions of the 19th century are no longer sufficient. MPs are now ultra-partisan and rarely change party or even listen to the other party at all. If we are to get back a pragmatic Parliament, we need proportional representation. And we need a reformed house of Lords which can help bind the varied parts of the UK.
None of this is or will be easy. But the LibDems are the only way forward.