Monthly Archives: January 2012

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Welcome to the Lent Term – A Message from the Chair

Welcome to the Lent Term everyone! The Michaelmas term was certainly an exciting one for CSLD: Tim Farron, Vince Cable and Michael Meadowcroft all put in appearances in Cambridge, and the CSLD executive welcomed several new members. We also took on CUCA at the Union in a debate on the Human Rights Act and met with local party councillors and strategists to communicate to them the views of the students of Cambridge.

However, if you’re interested in getting involved but haven’t yet, then don’t worry, because this term looks set to be an even more exciting one for CSLD. Politically, we’ll be spending much of it working on our campaign for a scientific approach to drugs policy – look out for a cross-party debate on that soon! We’ll also be holding our annual dinner, the speaker for which will be announced soon on this website; the event is always an exciting one, and past speakers have included some of the country’s most prominent voices in liberal politic – last year’s was none other than our leader in the House of Lords, Lord McNally.

It certainly hasn’t been easy to be both a Lib Dem and a student recently, but CSLD has been bucking the trend. At a time when the party needs our support more than ever and Lib Dem policy is finally being put into practice in government, it’s never been more important – or more difficult – to fight the liberal fight, and CSLD is proud to be doing just that.

Ieva Lismane, Chair of CSLD

Ieva Lismane, Chair

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Human Rights Act Debate

Entrenched in the ideals of the Liberal Democratic Party is a fundamental commitment to the inviolability of human rights, and there are few issues more pressing for members of the party than the preservation of those rights both in the UK and around the world. So it was in that spirit that on the 23rd of November, CSLD debated with CUCA, Cambridge University Conservative Association, at the Cambridge Union, opposing the motion ‘This House would scrap the Human Rights Act, and replace it with a British Bill of Rights’.

The Human Rights Act 1998 compels British judges to rule in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Although the Act has done much to protect the rights of vulnerable people in society, in recent years it has come under criticism from certain members of the Conservative Party and from the right-wing media who feel that it gives too much power to European judges and results in overly soft sentencing. Notably, David Cameron has publicly supported replacing the act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, and the current government has pledged to investigate the issue of whether or not to repeal the act.

First to speak in support of the Human Rights Act was Ieva Lismane, current chair of CSLD. Ieva put forward the legal argument in support of the act, pointing out that all it does is allow matters to be settled by British courts rather than European ones, saving vast amounts of time and money. Were we to reject the authority of the European Convention on Human Rights, we would have to leave or renegotiate our terms of membership with the European Union.

Next to speak in opposition to the motion was Dan Bental, a member of the executive of the Cambridge University branch of Amnesty International.  Dan began his speech by pointing out some of the inaccuracies in the cases cited by the speakers from CUCA, and then went on to reject the idea that the Act gave too much power to European Courts – the whole point of the European Convention on Human Rights, he argued, was to safeguard the rights of citizens of the EU, including British citizens, should their national governments attempt to curtail them. No British Bill of Rights, he claimed, could ever provide the same degree of security for our rights.

Last to speak from CSLD was Colin Rosenstiel, the Cambridge City Councillor for Market Ward. Colin’s speech was perhaps one of the best received of the evening – he forcefully, and emotively, ridiculed the notion that there could be specifically ‘British’ rights. Human rights, he argued, belonged to everyone in virtue solely of their humanity, and to withdraw from an international convention on human rights would be to undermine that message. In particular, he challenged CUCA on the cases they had cited of the government being unable to deport criminals back to their countries of birth because doing so would put them at risk of their human rights being violated. He argued that, if we would protect the rights of our own citizens, we ought also to protect the rights of all those living in this country.

Speaking for CUCA were Edward Turnham, David Cowan and Nick Clarke, the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. The debate was at times a heated one, at times an intellectual one, but always an engrossing one. At the end of the evening, an informal poll of the audience suggested that CSLD had – narrowly – carried the vote.

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Policy Workshop with Michael Meadowcroft

On the 27th of October, several members of Cambridge Liberal Democrats and the CSLD executive attended a policy workshop led by Michael Meadowcroft. As much of CSLD’s work involves campaigning – either on behalf of ourselves or working with CLD and their candidates – this was a fantastic opportunity to discuss the writing of campaign literature and the messages we need to be conveying.

Members of the CSLD executive with Michael Meadowcroft

Michael Meadowcroft, a former MP for Leeds West, has a wealth of political experience, both in the UK and abroad. Although currently a member of the Lib Dems, from 1989 to 2002 he was the leader of the refounded Liberal Party. He has also served as a senior visiting fellow of the Policy Studies Institute and as Chairman of the Electoral Reform Society – it was in this role that he has helped oversee the transition to democracy in 35 different countries, including Bosnia, Cambodia, the Palestinian Territories and Russia. He recently published a pamphlet, which he discussed at the meeting, entitled ‘Freedom, Liberty and Fairness: Liberal Democrat Values for the 21st Century’ in which he discusses the role of ideology in shaping policy.

At the workshop, Michael spoke about his experience working with and selecting candidates for Leeds city council and discussed new ideas that he had been helping to implement in producing campaign literature for Leeds Liberal Democrats. The thrust of his message was the need to integrate, at a basic level, key liberal values into every piece of literature produced – positions on local issues, he argued, have to be explained by referencing concepts fundamental to our beliefs. He also spoke about what he believes is the widespread support for the principles, if not all the policies, of the Lib Dems, and how the party can be tapping into this support.

During the workshop there was much lively discussion, and the CSLD members in attendance came away with a much better understanding of the thought process that goes into crafting party policy and producing local campaign literature.