25 years ago our former leader Paddy Ashdown laid out the stakes for Britain’s position in the world:
Britain’s role as the bulwark against tyranny in two wars this century was not a product of isolationism. It was the natural response of a nation used to engaging in the world and certain about its role as a European power.
25 years on, Paddy’s vision is more important than ever.
Our liberal values are under threat across the world. As proud liberals, it is our duty to stand against the scourges of warfare, authoritarianism, and inequality.
Here are 10 reasons why the world needs liberals:
1. Defending human rights
In recent months we have seen more and more evidence of the genocide unfolding in western China.
There is a genocide taking place in Xinjiang
The Chinese Government has tried to cover up this terrible violation of human rights. They have even threatened sanctions over Liberal Democrat proposals to pull out of the Beijing Winter Olympics if human rights abuses against the Uyghurs do not stop. But the world now knows the truth: there is a genocide taking place in Xinjiang.
We are tragically seeing the impact China’s authoritarian regime is having on human rights, as we did with China’s suppression of free speech protesters in Hong Kong.
As liberals, we continue to call on the UK Government to take a firm stand on the Uyghur genocide, including by implementing Magnitsky sanctions, and marshal the international community to defend human rights.
2. Demanding real climate action
The pandemic focuses our attention on other serious global problems - above all else, the climate emergency.
Liberal Democrats have a strong record of environmental protection in Britain. We know that our natural environment is precious, and that it is our responsibility to protect it.
Liberals understand that the scale of the climate crisis demands we mobilise the international community behind this struggle. The internationalism that is central to our identity as liberals is exactly what we need to tackle this global crisis.
3. Championing democracy
The sad fact is that in recent years democracy on the world stage has taken a beating.
In recent years democracy across the world has taken a beating
This has not been helped by the terrible impact of Donald Trump, who embraced strongmen leaders and abandoned traditional American values. But we have also seen democratic rule under threat recently in countries like Myanmar.
Liberals champion the democratic right of all individuals, and as such we play a vital role in creating a fairer, more equal world. We need to see more action, not just words, from the government too.
4. Tackling the challenges of tomorrow
We also need a strong, liberal voice when it comes to the big issues around technology and data.
Today a handful of global companies exert a huge amount of influence on our daily lives through their domination of digital communications and social media. While Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple have unlocked fantastic opportunities for people, they have also raised serious concerns about data privacy, tax and competition, and harmful content like disinformation and hate speech.
There must be a liberal voice in this ongoing debate: we embrace technological change but we ask the necessary, hard questions to protect the rights of the individual.
5. Rebuilding alliances and cooperation
Many across the world (myself included!) breathed a sigh of relief when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump last November. But some of Trump’s actions have wrought serious damage to important international alliances.
From castigating NATO partners, to dismissing the UN, and pulling out of the Paris climate accords, Trump tried to attack the foundations of international cooperation so important to maintaining world peace.
We have to strengthen those alliances.
As liberals, we are proud internationalists. We believe in Britain being an active and proud partner in the global community - and using our platform to argue for a fairer, more peaceful world.
6. Promoting equality
In too many countries being LGBT+ or a woman means you do not have equal opportunity or basic human rights.
Liberalism means standing up for the rights of every individual. Sadly, in too many countries today, being LGBT+ or a woman means you do not have equal opportunity or basic human rights.
As liberals, we fight their corner. Liberal Democrats led the charge for same-sex marriage in the UK, and we continue to campaign on a range of issues to tackle gender inequality.
We lead by example. But we also push the UK Government to use its international platform to stand up for these basic values of fairness and equality.
7. Opposing creeping authoritarianism
Let’s be absolutely clear about this: Vladimir Putin is an undemocratic, dangerous figure.
Under his rule, Russian actors have sewn disinformation during the 2016 US election, attempted to assassinate a dissident living in the UK, and staged a shadowy war of expansion in Ukraine. On top of this, Putin and his cronies have jailed political opponents in Russia itself.
Putin symbolises the creeping rise of authoritarianism across the world. He and other so-called strongmen are trampling over individual rights and freedom of speech in order to protect their power.
This tide of authoritarianism must be met by a strong, firm, and united liberal opposition that values the rule of law and individual rights.
8. Working with our European partners
For millions across Britain today, Brexit still feels painful.
The Brexit debate was about more than our constitutional or trade arrangements. It was a debate over identity. Over who we are as a country.
Liberal Democrats were unapologetic about what we stood for: pro-European, compassionate, internationalist. Although we lost that debate in 2019, we will continue to fight for a close relationship with our European neighbours. The UK and its people share fundamental values of liberalism, democracy and respect for the rule of law with our European neighbours and allies; the European Union is our natural home and the UK’s rightful place should be at the heart of the EU.
9. Bringing compassion to the world
Perhaps the most important role of liberals in the world today is to speak up for those with the least power.
Liberals speak up for those with the least power
The UK has a proud history of offering sanctuary to those forced to flee their homes, and providing aid to those who need it most. It’s our responsibility - our duty - to show compassion to people who, through no fault of their own, are trapped in desperate situations.
Liberal Democrats have a long record of fighting to secure safe and legal routes to sanctuary for refugees. We enshrined in law a commitment to spend 0.7% of gross national income on overseas aid, and are fighting to protect that commitment against Conservative cuts.
10. Welcoming the benefits of immigration
People from all over the world bring enormous benefits to our economy, our communities and our culture. We don’t just recognise the benefits of immigration; we celebrate them.
In contrast to the hostile policies and rhetoric that have broken our immigration system and shattered public trust, Liberal Democrats will always argue for fair, effective policies that treat everyone with dignity and respect.
It’s why we’re campaigning to scrap the Hostile Environment, end indefinite detention and lift the ban on asylum seekers working. And it’s why we’ll always welcome people to work, study or join their families in the UK for the skills and contributions that they bring.