Sarah's bulletin: 27th April
Good luck Team London
Of course this Thursday is election day! Such hard work has gone into the campaign both to get Brian Paddick elected Mayor and our impressive candidates elected to the London Assembly. There are several byelections being held, including in Hackney, Camden, Bromley and Tower Hamlets. Brian is a man of experience with a proven track record in the police force, not like the other two showmen! Our team of GLA candidates led by Caroline Pidgeon reflects the social and cultural diversity of our city. Everybody has put in so much work and effort and I really hope we can get the results we deserve. I shall be out and about on polling day, so hope to see you then!
International Justice: revisiting extraordinary renditionThe topic of 'extraordinary rendition' - abduction, transport, illegal and secret detention and torture - will not go away until we know the whole truth. I've been this week in Lithuania with colleagues from the European Parliament's Civil Liberties Committee. Five years on from our 2007 inquiry which I instigated and vice-chaired, which strongly indicated European states' collusion with CIA extraordinary rendition and torture as part of the American-led ‘war on terror’ and called for full investigations, I'm co-rapporteur of a new report on progress (or lack of it). You can read more here in my LibDem News column.
One of the reasons for this new report is that many countries, including the UK, have not in fact held any proper inquiries almost a decade on. (Our coalition government set up a judicial inquiry but it had to be parked while the Met police investigate alleged 2004 renditions to Libya). Small Lithuania has set an example to bigger EU states in the search for the truth, though more could and should be done.
Their parliament revealed in 2009 that CIA flights had landed and detention centres prepared - though not used, curiously. We met with the President's national security adviser, various ministers, the relevant parliamentary committee and the deputy head of the prosecution service and my conclusions can be read here in my press release of this morning.
I'm pictured with David Harrold of the London Guantanamo Campaign at one of many rallies I've participated in over the last decade since I was first appointed the EP rapporteur on Guantamamo in 2002. I am distressed to say that one of my constituents Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and children is still there after a shocking 10 years of US imprisonment without charge or trial. I have readily signed a new petition calling on the Foreign Secretary to 'undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK'. Let's see some of the claimed 'Special Relationship' in action.
International Justice 2: Charles Taylor
Accountability has worked its effects in the conviction of former Liberian leader Charles Taylor, by the UN special court, for aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war. The convening of this court in 2007 is partly the result of pressure from the European Parliament. MEPs passed resolutions in 2005 and 2007 calling on the international community to get Taylor extradited to face trial and to fund the special court. It has taken five years but this historic conviction shows leaders that the era of impunity for terrible crimes is over.
Taylor was the first former head of state to face judgment in an international court on war crimes charges since judges in Nuremberg convicted Admiral Dönitz, who led Nazi Germany for a brief period following Hitler's suicide.
The strengthening of international justice will also be a boost to the International Criminal Court, which I worked to help get set up as a member (now as then) of the 'Parliamentary Friends of the ICC.'
Another former head of state, the one-time president of Ivory Coast Laurent Gbagbo, will shortly appear at the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity. But the calling to account must also extend beyond Africa to other perpetators of human rights abuses, even if necessary in the West.
International Justice 3: shutting down criminal websites
International cooperation against crime is also crucial for 'ordinary' crime, the sort that most of us are vulnerable to. The news that several criminal websites which were illegally selling credit card and bank account details have been shut down through action coordinated by Britain’s Serious & Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) across Europe and with Australia and the US is a strong demonstration of its value; see more here. This is especially true for internet crimes which are of course global in nature, and the recently announced EU cybercrime centre as part of Europol will boost European defences; see my press release here.
EU budget proposal
The European Commission this week published its budget proposal for 2013, which is for a 6.8% increase on this year’s spending. Oh dear: whatever the justification is said to be, this is just not on. There needs to be a thorough audit of all EU expenditure, a focus on top priorities - such as investment for transport links, research and jobs - and ruthless pruning. The vast majority (94%) of EU budget expenditure is spent in the 27 EU countries, NOT on administrative costs in Brussels, and those governments need to engage with Euro-MPs in a serious effort to cut spending, not least on the Common Agricultural Policy.
But in addition, there must be a war on waste, and national capitals - including London - must publicly back MEPs in our repeated endeavours to end the farce of 2 European Parliament seats. Chopping the 'travelling circus' once a month to Strasbourg would save £180 million a year. Only the 27 governments have the power to change EU rules to liberate us from this absurdity and lift the burden on hard-pressed taxpayers. My ‘One Seat’ petition can be signed here: http://www.sarahludfordmep.org.uk/petition_one_seat.
Murdoch, Hunt and the cosiness trap
Whether or not Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is implicated in dealings with James Murdoch during Newscorp’s attempts to take over BskyB, the Leveson revelations show that there has to be reform of (some) politicians' dealing with powerful press barons. It is not the case that politicians of 'all parties' fell into the corporate trap, as Labour and Tories like to suggest. Vince Cable was careful to rebuff Murdoch’s advances when the takeover bid was being discussed in 2010 as you can read here, and when Jeremy Hunt told MPs that a lot of politicians had had close and cosy dealings with the Murdochs over the years, Nick Clegg quite rightly mouthed 'we didn’t'.
I'm not claiming the LibDems are angels, but I do think our strong reflexes for press and political freedom have safguarded us; long may they endure. Our record puts us in pole position to deliver on our key pledge of political reform. For instance, we should insist that no minister ever again has responsibility for a quasi-judicial decision such as a takeover, especially one such as in the media posing major clashes of interest. Cleaning up not only parliamentary but also government processes will give us a strong message for 2015.
I have consistently worked for the EU to make good on its pledge of fair treatment of Turkish Cypriots after the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU in 2004. Though legally part of the Republic, the North is de facto a separate Turkish administration and EU law could not be applied there, but Turkish Cypriots were promised various economic benefits which have not been delivered.
So while I am very happy about an application to Brussels by the Cyprus government for the status of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) for a traditional Cypriot cheese - the same protection Stilton has got - I am very unhappy that this application cites only its Greek name 'Halloumi' and excludes its Turkish name 'hellim'. Given that the export of hellim amounts to about 15 per cent of North Cyprus' total exports, Commission registration of this Greek Cypriot brand name would have severe consequences for Turkish Cypriot cheese production and cause major damage to the economy of the North, which is much poorer than the South of Cyprus.
I am therefore backing my colleague Andrew Duff in asking the Commission not to agree the registration of the cheese unless firstly the term 'Hellim' is included, and secondly strict supervision of the implementation of the PDO is ensured so that cheese producers in the North are not discriminated against. Since Turkish is the official second language under the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus, and since a re-united island is the official policy of the Republic, I fail to see why a single-language application should succeed.
Turkey and Kurds
Last week I mentioned that I had met Leyla Zana, the first Kurdish MP to sit in the Turkish parliament. We were discussing the Kurdish activists in Strasbourg who were on hunger strike to demand freedom for Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned since 1999 as leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Because of the risks to their health, I welcome the announcement this week that their hunger strike has been called off in the hope of political progress. I urge Prime Minister Erdogan to pursue his pledge of engagement in a political dialogue with the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) who have pursued a peaceful democratic path but whose MPs have been harassed, arrested and imprisoned. Negotiations about the new Turkish constitution are due to begin next month, and better recognition of Kurdish language and identity would go some way to beginning a new, more harmonious chapter in Turkish politics.
It's great news that the Queen has re-opened the magnificently restored Cutty Sark after fire badly damaged it some years ago, even if the work cost £50 million! I'm inclined to agree with historian (and Labour MP) Tristram Hunt that the history of the ship says more about Britain’s past and appropriate future than the more celebrated Titanic. He makes the point that while the Titanic is a story of class division and opulence, the Cutty Sark sailed the world engaging in commercial activities and put Britain on the trading map. As Hunt points out, it’s an example of ‘virtuous capitalism in action’. It has to be acknoledged that colonial exploitation also plays a strong role in our trade history, but given the worrying news this week that we are back in recession, re-creation of an enterprising if not a colonising spirit is most welcome.